MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee on Supply will now be called to order. We will be debating the estimates of the Department of Environment and Labour.
Resolution E6 - Resolved that a sum not exceeding $27,072,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Environment and Labour, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will now invite the honourable Minister of Environment and Labour to make some opening comments.
The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour.
HON. DAVID MORSE: I wonder if perhaps staff could now be ushered in. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, we will continue with your statement, and staff will take their place. Would you like to come to the front . . .
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, that would be my pleasure. Good day, it is my great honour, Mr. Chairman, that I address you today. I am very pleased to be representing our government as the Minister of Environment and Labour. I would also like to mention how pleased I am to have been chosen to be the first minister to speak to our government's prudent fiscal plan for the coming fiscal year.
Mr. Chairman, it is my distinct honour to present to you, my colleagues, and the people of Nova Scotia the details of this year's budget for the Department of Environment and Labour. I have with me today key members of the department's senior management team. I would like to recognize some of them up in the gallery.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, Mr. Minister, we would ask your staff to accompany you here on the floor. We would ask them to come down from the gallery now.
MR. MORSE: Yes, well, I think I am allowed two here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, you are, that is correct.
MR. MORSE: The entourage up there is perhaps some indication of the size of the department.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We welcome the department and your deputy minister who has just arrived. We welcome you, deputy minister.
MR. MORSE: Deputy Minister Kevin McNamara has joined me here on the left, and on the right, Policy Director Murrin Leim. Up in the gallery, I would like to recognize Dennis Kerr, Steve Warburton, Kate Moir, David Wigmore, Gerard MacLellan, Ross Christie, Bruce Marsh, Chuck Allen, John Leduc, Bob Langdon, Jim Leblanc and John Patterson.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We welcome you folks. Now we can continue.
MR. MORSE: They are the department's key people, and I certainly thank them for bearing with me for the next few hours and perhaps the next few days.
Mr. Chairman, last year our government launched an ambitious plan to redefine government in Nova Scotia. We clearly defined what government would do and, just as importantly, what government would no longer do, for the time has come to make those difficult choices. When we set down on this road, we knew the journey would be difficult. We are not a province with unlimited resources, we are a province that must balance expectation with true need. I am pleased to report that our government's four year financial plan is on track. Next year, as planned, we will balance our budget and, as promised, income tax will be reduced for all Nova Scotians in the year 2002-03 budget year. We have much to look forward to.
Our budget addresses immediate needs in Health and Education, as well as Environment and Labour. Our budget also takes a long-range view. It includes funding for this fiscal year, in critical areas. My Cabinet colleague, the Minister of Finance, said in his Budget Address that his budget is about finding the right balance. We feel that a suitable balance has been struck, also in our department.
Since I was given the honour of being named Environment and Labour Minister by the Premier, I have done my very best to learn about this new and dynamic department. I have asked many questions and met many staff members. I am learning from the past, so that I can lead the department to carry out a clear, efficient and effective plan. Of course, however, as Opposition members will understand, I do not have all the answers.
As Nova Scotians, we are all partners in protecting our environment and those in our workforce. As we look at the challenges this government and the people of Nova Scotia will face over the next number of years, we know a clean, healthy and safe environment is critical. Department staff are refocusing resources on priorities. We have reduced administrative costs in order to man front-line service delivery staff. Over the past year, our department has gotten slightly smaller as a result of restructuring. That has forced us to be better organized and more focused on providing the services that matter most to Nova Scotians. They are based on the cornerstones of our government, quality service, fairness to all people and regions, value for money, and accountability to all Nova Scotians.
The 2001-02 budget target for the Department of Environment and Labour is $27,072,000. Almost $17 million of the budget is targeted and focused at legislative and regulatory compliance. Almost $4 million will go to Environmental and Natural Areas Management, and a similar amount to areas including legal and communication services, as well as policy and information services. A further $1.3 million will go towards dispute resolution, and more than $1 million to provide advice and assistance to injured workers.
This year's budget cuts are minimal. I am happy to report that no programs have been eliminated. Although cost-cutting over the past year has led to 19 fewer positions, all those positions are management and administrative staff. In considering our resource needs, we continue - and I underline this commitment - to focus our staff where they are needed most. A reduction in funding for the department's protected spaces section was dropped. Since amalgamation of Environment and Labour, the number of divisions in the departments and agencies, which have been integrated to form the new department, have been reduced from 19 to 12.
Beyond the former Departments of Environment and Labour, the department's operation also includes the former Alcohol and Gaming Authority, Pension Regulation and Financial Institutions. Common functions such as Policy, Information and Business Services, and Communications have been consolidated. A number of other divisions have been combined. No front-line service delivery positions, such as inspectors or engineers, have been eliminated, for as people who criticize our department know, they are needed on the front lines. Currently, the new department employs 454 staff in a decentralized office structure. We provide direct-service delivery from offices and regions across this province.
In the budget estimates you see before you here today, you will see the funding to support our operation and to develop key strategies to ensure Nova Scotians will always have a good future, a future with cleaner water, a future that is sustainable. Many of you will know that last year, a comprehensive review of our Environment Act and regulations was carried out. The committee members are to be commended for their efforts and, as with any review, there were criticisms.
Following input from the public, the committee noted that they were concerned that the potential of the Act and the department are not being realized. We heard that the public is still critical of the department's response to environmental concerns. We believe these are fair comments. There was also criticism that our government and department does not have the political will to achieve significant improvements when it comes to protecting our environment.
The committee identified priority areas of concern. They included water, enforcement and waste. They issued a warning that we cannot ignore the renewed call for environmental progress and sustainable development. Our department's thoughtful and practical response to all 46 of the committee's recommendations will come next month. Department staff are still working hard to thoroughly review the report, and to prepare our detailed answer.
Mr. Chairman, some of the major initiatives outlined in the report must be acted on as soon as possible. Our budget was a perfect opportunity to heed this constructive criticism and act upon it.
The quality of water today is a leading public concern, Mr. Chairman, and rightly so. All Nova Scotians deserve to have clean water. As a maritime province, the ocean and our water means much more. The livelihood of our early economy is intrinsically tied to this valuable resource and today, perhaps more than ever, we must take every measure possible to protect it.
Both the government and individuals must achieve this goal together. For our part, we will target $850,000 to implement a new clean water and sewage strategy. I know critics have already jumped on this initiative, charging that details of the clean water strategy are too vague. I know one member who is quoted as saying warning bells go off whenever the province allocates money for long-term strategies.
To avoid the tragedy that Walkerton raised about the quality of drinking water, here in Nova Scotia a partnership plan is necessary. Many of you will have heard over this past year media stories on water troubles in the small Valley community of Garland. The department has been accused of lacking resources and expertise and, as an MLA in my own community, I hear from my constituents that water is a priority for them too.
In Nova Scotia we are lucky to have plentiful supplies of good drinking water sources and the government wants to keep it that way, and that is why our department has allocated more than $0.75 million to deal with these concerns. The department's main strategic focus will be protecting and improving our water. We will be launching a water resource strategy, increased resources and staff will be dedicated to these initiatives, and we are spending money to hire more water experts and consultants who can work directly with municipalities.
Our water resource management will be proactive and will emphasize pollution prevention. It will be conducted on a watershed basis and involving all stakeholders. Good water is everyone's responsibility and, although the Department of Environment and Labour is the lead department in managing our water resources, this must be a collaborative effort. We are all partners in protecting our water.
Well owners are responsible for testing their own water and the province is responsible for making sure public water suppliers keep their water clean. In the past, the department has introduced limits on the export of bulk water and regulations to ensure that drinking water in schools, hospitals and public utilities is clean. The $850,000 will be dedicated to the efficient and sustainable use of Nova Scotia's water resources, proactive management, education, and protection of our ecosystems.
One key part of our government's clean water plan, although it is not in this department's budget, is worth mentioning since it will contribute to the overall goal. The province, through Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, will also allocate $65 million to a new Canada-Nova Scotia infrastructure program that will invest in green infrastructure across the province over the next six years. With equal contributions from Ottawa, the province, and municipalities, there will be $195 million available under the plan to build new water treatment, sewage treatment, and waste water management systems in communities throughout Nova Scotia; and 40 per cent of that funding is earmarked for rural areas. Also, the Department of Education is allocating $1 million to water quality testing and remediation in schools to take some financial pressure off school boards and ensure children have safe drinking water.
Last Friday in this House I tabled a very important discussion paper. It is entitled We all have a Part To Play. It is a sewage management discussion paper and I cannot think of a more appropriate name. The 14-page booklet is an easy to read overview of Nova Scotia's situation and an invitation to Nova Scotians to help improve it. The strategy that results from this paper will be important for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. It can lead to a tomorrow that some believe could never come: it can lead to the reopening of beaches closed because of fecal contamination; it can lead to the reopening of shellfish harvesting areas; it can lead to improved drinking water; and it can lead to more ecotourism business.
The discussion paper will collect the best ideas at discussion workshops starting around the province in May. All the appropriate partners will be encouraged to participate, and public consultation sessions will be held in all 18 counties during May and June. The government will then review the comments and it expects to complete the sewage strategy by the end of March next year. Staff have been working hard to pull the materials together that provide a snapshot of sewage management issues in the province. Our goal is to create an achievable plan that establishes solutions, priorities and timelines.
It is a huge challenge, but so was being the first and only province in Canada to reach the goal of reducing our solid waste by 50 per cent last year. It is up to all of us to make this happen.
Mr. Chairman, our department has been criticized for not doing enough to enforce the laws against polluters in our province. I have heard the Opposition calls for the immediate need for enforcement and compliance. Some say the Department of Environment and Labour has been ineffective when it comes to responding to the contravention of environmental laws.
Since coming to the department, some may note that the incident of charges appears to be on the rise. Those are the few stories that make the media, but beyond those headlines are hundreds of stories that never get told; they are the stories of the successful resolution of problems. We look to the court as a last resort, and we do so because experience tells us that resolutions, where both sides agree, are far more successful than an imposed settlement.
Some of those criticisms are no doubt valid. We are not going to please everyone quickly, in fact the nature of our work means it is sometimes difficult to please period. But the more important question, I believe, is are we fair? Are we carrying out investigations that stand up in court or where the defendant is exonerated?
But as you know, sometimes other more serious approaches are needed. There is in fact a case I would like to deal with right now. I wish to advise the House today that I have issued a ministerial order against New Era Farms Limited. The Halifax area composter has been ordered to implement five comprehensive measures targeted at odour complaints regarding the facility and to hire professional consultants agreeable to the department to prepare an overall review of the facility. The terms of reference for all of the measures must be submitted by April 15th and a final report, complete with an action plan, must be in within 60 days.
The order follows charges laid last week against the owner for not complying with the terms and conditions of the company's approval.
New Era is also ordered, as of today, to keep all feedstock delivery doors and main doors at the main receiving building and curing building closed at all times unless feedstock or compost is actively being transferred to or from the building. It was also told to immediately cease the removal of compost which has not been tested for maturity and pathogens. This order requires both immediate action and longer-term action to deal with odour problems and other concerns. Among the measures the company is also being ordered to carry out are the identification of potential sources of leachate, and preparation of a report for the development and implementation of a groundwater monitoring program for the site. Failure to comply to a ministerial order is subject to a penalty of up to $1 million.
Staff enforce compliance with the department's Acts and regulations fairly and, when appropriate, with vigour. Our inspectors and engineers are also sharing their expertise and best practices. We are eliminating duplication and overlap. Over the last year smaller offices have been closed. It was no longer viable to keep them open. Former clients to those offices have been directed to deal with their nearby regional offices. This is a different way of delivering services. We are also looking at developing alternative means of service delivery, including e-mail and the Internet.
The year 2000 was a fantastic year for Nova Scotia when it came to recycling and composting. As almost every Nova Scotian now knows, last year we became the North American leaders in recycling and composting. My Cabinet colleague, the Minister of Justice and former Acting Minister of Environment, had the honour of making the original announcement, but it has been my pleasure to help educate those people who now come from around the world to see that we have accomplished this notable goal. The department has incurred significant costs as a result of its efforts to reach this goal and push beyond, and because of these costs the department will be recovering up to 10 per cent of net revenues from the Resource Recovery Fund Board.
Areas where funds from the Resource Recovery Fund Board will help to continue to improve upon our province's solid waste management reputation include the following: education and awareness activities related to solid waste resource management, including Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps activities; research and development programs related to solid waste resource management; technical support to the Resource Recovery Fund Board and municipalities; implementation and enforcement of the Solid Waste Resource Management Regulations; approvals for all landfills, transfer stations, composting facilities, recycling plants and recycling industries; and the development of voluntary and mandatory industry stewardship programs. The last area I mentioned, industry stewardship programs, has recently provided the province with two impressive initiatives to protect our recycling workers and encourage more recycling. Recycling and waste workers in Nova Scotia will now breath easier knowing their chances of getting stuck by a syringe have gone way down. The protection will result from a program designed to keep needles and syringes out of recycling and garbage bags.
I announced this Save Sharps, Bring Back Program last month at Halifax Regional Municipality's material recovery facility. The program is a joint effort of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia; the Canadian Diabetes Association, that is the Nova Scotia division; and the Department of Environment and Labour. The program is simple; a person picks up their container at a diabetes supply centre or at your pharmacy and then brings it back there when it is filled.
Another made-in-Nova Scotia stewardship agreement involving the Department of Environment, the dairy industry, and municipalities was announced last year. It is seeing more milk cartons recycled. As part of the agreement, the Atlantic Dairy Council is now providing funds to Nova Scotia's solid waste management regions based on the number of milk cartons collected. The cartons are collected through the municipal blue bag recycling program. This is the first voluntary arrangement of this type in Atlantic Canada. It is one of the few stewardship arrangements that includes a combination of more money for municipal solid waste management programs and an in kind advertising campaign by the dairy industry. The more cartons collected, the more municipalities earn.
Mr. Chairman, if I could, I would like very much to mention how our recycling achievements have propelled Nova Scotia into the world spotlight. In fact, just last month I personally hosted a visit by Ireland's Environment Minister, Noel Dempsey. He was here to see how we do it. The minister was very impressed and said there is room for Nova Scotia expertise in Ireland, too. Our accomplishments have also been highlighted on CNN's Web site, which is seen by 20.6 million people every month. The exposure provides an opportunity for Nova Scotia companies to market their expertise, products and services worldwide. Living green has also led to job creation. Overall, more than 3,000 jobs in the waste resource sector have been created. There are 10 times more jobs in recycling than in disposal, a promising sign. In Nova Scotia hundreds of jobs have also been created in support industries like transportation, processing and marketing.
To continue the new initiatives of the department and to build on our successes, some cost-recovery measures have been introduced. There are two principles that govern these measures: a need to recover from those who benefit from the services most, and fees that are fair to users and taxpayers. I realize the Canadian Federation of Independent Business may not be pleased with some of these measures, but we believe these measures will act as a direct incentive for industry to reduce pollution to the environment. For example, industries will pay more for the water they use, and $1.00 for every ton of sulphur dioxide released into the environment. This fee will encourage polluters to be keeping track of their emissions.
New fees will also be introduced over the next two years for industrial activities, approvals and water withdrawal approvals. For example, the department will start to charge a fee to cover the cost of processing industrial approvals required for the operation of large facilities such as power plants, refineries and pulp mills. Industrial approval fees proposed for 2001-02 are less than those applied elsewhere in Canada. These fees will only begin to
bring our fee structure in line with other provinces. These fees have been set to ensure that they neither adversely impact cost competitiveness with other provinces nor promote this province as a potential haven for polluters. Fees for environmental approvals are now standard practice in eight other provinces. Petroleum tank-tagging fees and well-driller permits are being proposed.
Mr. Chairman, parents in Nova Scotia were given a new leave option this year. They now have the option to spend more time at home with their new babies and adopted children. The provincial government was pleased to change the Labour Standard Code to extend parental leave from 17 weeks to 52 weeks. It allows parents to stay a full year at home while their jobs are protected. The government was pleased to do this because it speaks to quality of life. It supports values that we cherish.
Mr. Chairman, earlier this afternoon I tabled the Workers' Compensation Board's financial statements ending December 31, 2000. I think, given the honour that the Opposition has bestowed upon me and my department - a department of some net expenditures of $27,072,000 - that perhaps there is a message in there that they would also like to hear a little bit more about the Workers' Compensation Board because, at $254 million last year in revenues, clearly that is a very substantial institution in Nova Scotia. So I am going to spend some time discussing the statement that was distributed about an hour ago.
Assessments, fuelled by a buoyant economy last year, grew to $192 million, but what members would also know is that a very other important component of the revenue stream for any insurance company, especially one that is funding future obligations, is the net investment income and in this case earned from the accident fund. Those two total the $254 million collected last year in revenues, Mr. Chairman.
A component that was not in that total was the $4.6 million contribution from the provincial government, which ended in 1999. This was part of a former government's initiative to deal with the serious unfunded liability of the Workers' Compensation Board which stood at 27 per cent back in 1992, a serious concern for all of us but perhaps particularly those injured workers who are so dependant on the sustainability of that fund. With that final instalment of $4.6 million, again in 1999, that concludes the commitment to assist the Workers' Compensation Board in getting its accident fund back on its feet. We certainly welcome the conclusion of that program and applaud the success that they have had in addressing their unfunded liability, now at 68.3 per cent. A substantial improvement.
I mentioned again, earlier today, that the number of accidents last year was down but the number of claims was up. Happily, Mr. Chairman, the majority of those claims were the short-term variety. This is the type where, at least initially, the claimant, the injured worker, starts out at 75 per cent of their net-after-tax income; that last year amounted to
approximately $27 million. The long-term disability claims, which are the ones that are the most substantive and have the greatest long-term claim on the accident fund came in at $52 million. In addition to that, survivor benefits paid to the survivors of injured workers came in at $6 million, and something that may not be as well known to the general public is health care benefits, which are paid entirely by the Workers' Compensation Board in the case of workplace accidents, came in at $18 million; a substantial amount. Maybe one of the most important numbers there is the money that we put into rehabilitation to try to assist workers to get back on their feet and back to the job, and that came in at $1.6 million.
When we access the pressures on the accident fund, we have to look at some actuarial numbers. A claim today is not over necessarily tomorrow, unless that worker is able to successfully go back to work. Even a short-term claim, say one that happened in December, will almost certainly spill over into the new year. So what was paid last year is certainly not the conclusion of those claims, and in order to put a value on those future claims we must not only be able to predict the length of time that they are going to be off work, or if indeed the injured worker is never going to be able to come back, but some sort of life expectancy so that we can help value the resources that are needed in the accident fund to fully meet the obligations to those injured workers.
As long as we are on that subject, Mr. Chairman, I think everybody here today would be familiar with the concept of the time value of money. A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, so as these claims extend out into the future we have to discount them to get a present-day number so that we can properly access the resources that are necessary to be invested in the accident fund to meet those future claims. The growth and the present value of benefit liabilities and actuarial adjustments was $82 million in the year ended December 31, 2000; in addition to that there were administration costs of $25 million. Depending on how you measure them, the Nova Scotia Workers' Compensation Board fares well against other Workers' Compensation Boards in the country, but the actual method of measurement, whether it is based on claims paid or whether it is based on accessible payroll, does vary between the provinces.
There are also legislated obligations that are down for $7.2 million. What that is, Mr. Chairman, for those who may not be entirely familiar with workers' compensation, is their obligation to help defray expenses for the Workers' Advisory Program, which is a program that has been put in place to provide legal assistance for injured workers. The workers' WCAT, Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal, which is a mechanism to allow workers to appeal decisions of the Workers' Compensation Board without having to go to a full-blown court hearing, and their contribution to the cost of Occupational Health and Safety, which is split between the province and the Workers' Compensation Board. The Workers' Compensation Board contribution is 82 per cent and is based on some 300 insured clients under the WCB.
After taking that $221 million worth of claims on the revenue stream into consideration, that leaves an excess of revenue over expenses of some $33 million which has led to the dramatic improvement in the unfunded liability of the accident fund this year. I certainly commend all the people at the Workers' Compensation Board, and I see that Leo McKenna, their Chief Financial Officer, is here with us now in the gallery in case this prompts any good questions from Opposition members about WCB and I welcome his presence and recognize him.
So at the end of the year, Mr. Chairman, the unfunded liability was down to $307 million. There are always some very apparent truths that only come out when you get into the notes of a financial statement; sometimes the notes are just as important as the statement of income and the balance sheet.
One of the first questions I asked the Chairman of the Workers' Compensation Board and staff was, how much of this improvement in the unfunded liability has come from a growth in the stock market? Their performance on the stock market, up to the end of last year, has been an enviable one, as compared to other Workers' Compensation Boards in different provinces. My concern, Mr. Chairman, simply was that if a dramatic amount of improvement came from investments in the stock market, and with the recent decline, particularly in the TSE, that that unfunded liability could be just as quickly lost and a great concern to all of us.
I am happy to say, Mr. Chairman, the time that the Workers' Compensation Board spends in selecting money managers - and they have three firms - they evaluate them and they have a trustee to hold those funds and to make the market transactions. They have another organization to provide professional advice as to the performance of their funds and they have a very conservative accounting practice as to how they recognize those gains.
On Note No. 4 of the accident fund, which shows a net of $621 million, you will see that there is some liquidity with $86 million in the money market; that is short-term and not subject to great variations in the value. In terms of fixed-term investments, such as bonds, there is $243 million, a component of which would actually benefit from the drop in interest rates because the monies invested in those bonds would be at the rates being paid and the time they made the investment. With a drop in interest rates, it means that those bonds are now delivering a superior return. So now those fixed-term investments would, in fact, possibly sell at a premium because of the drop in interest rates.
However, the situation in the equity market has not been as favourable, but there, once again, conservative accounting practices have spread those gains that have been so prevalent over the past few years, over five years, and the whole gain that was enjoyed during that time, up until the recent drop in stock prices, was gradually being phased in at 20 per cent per year.
So, Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to say that, in addition to the $621 million shown in the accident fund, there is another $49 million, as of December 31, 2000, as deferred investment gains. What that means is that if the fund had been liquidated on December 31, 2000, the actual value of the fund would have been more in the line of $670 million. Now the flip side of this - and I know that you are anxiously awaiting this - is the liability side, because we should see just what are the culls upon that $670 million, or $621 million, depending on how you want to account for it.
We see, in Note No. 10, that under the Benefits Liabilities, we have short-term, long-term, survivor benefits, health care and rehabilitation, the same as what we saw on the income statement. What is striking here is that the short-term disability, which is basically 75 per cent of the injured workers' net income, called the TERB - temporary earnings replacement benefit - is valued at approximately $51 million. This is a charge against the accident fund. But the significant figure here is the long-term disability representing a benefit to the injured worker of 85 per cent of their net income and totalling some $697 million. So it is very apparent that the main concern is the number of ERB, extended earning replacement benefit, claimants. So the short-term and the TERB and the long-term are the ERB, the acronyms. That makes up over 70 per cent of the claims in the accident fund.
Survivor benefits to the survivors of deceased workers is $121 million and, again, those health care benefits come in at $76 million, a very substantial figure. Rehabilitation, a very positive expenditure because it helps everybody, comes in at about $8 million, leaving the balance at the end of December 31, 2000 at $955 million. If you compare back earlier, and I am sure that Opposition members are quickly checking this out, the $621 million in investments is, in fact, what we call our unfunded liability. That is what we have to work to recover and which we now feel can be done by the year 2010.
Another interesting thing about workers' compensation, which may not be widely known, is that in the assessments, which are the premiums that employers pay, there are two basic classes; there is the private sector and there are self-insured employers, most notably the provincial and federal governments, as I know the honourable member opposite was going to probably be asking me soon. So perhaps I will save him that question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, you have 10 minutes left.
MR. MORSE: I would just say that that is until I get to answer the first question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: In your turn, Mr. Minister, I thought I would just afford you 10 minutes to wrap up your comments at this stage before we recognize the Opposition Party.
MR. MORSE: I thank you for that, Mr. Chairman, and I am certainly enjoying this opportunity to share some of the finer points of the Workers' Compensation Annual Report, December 31, 2000.
The regular assessments generated an income of some $160 million, but what is interesting here is there was also a very substantial amount from self-insured employers, most notably the provincial and federal governments, which came in at some $29 million. I know that my colleague, the member for Cape Breton West, might like to be asking some of the details on that $29 million because he is from an area where there are coal mines and that plays prominently in some of these numbers and the obligations that we have to his constituents and former injured coal miners in Cape Breton. So what we do here today, Mr. Chairman, is of course especially for injured workers which would include his constituents and also the honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
Also a couple of small adjustments there, the premium adjustment charge and assessment and reporting penalties, not a particularly welcome revenue but sometimes a necessary one to collect the other $190 million makes up the $192 million in assessment. Then of course I know that everyone here in the Chamber is thinking, but let us not forget the $62 million that was earned on the accident fund. It is those two figures, the $192 million and the $62 million that make up the $254 million that provides the revenue not only to finance the annual operations of the Workers' Compensation Board but also to make those absolutely critical improvements to the unfunded liability of the accident fund.
Mr. Chairman, I sense that there is a lot of enthusiasm perhaps in this Chamber for what I have said in the last half hour, maybe particularly about the Workers' Compensation Board. Since I have only scratched the surface, I would not want to deprive the honourable members opposite the chance to ask many more pertinent questions on this and of course the Department of Environment and Labour and all the other divisions that fall under that department. I realize that I have only scratched the surface and I know that some members past have talked for hours on end, in fact, taking up days but I am told that I am only allowed an hour for my opening remarks. Maybe if I play my cards right I will get the honour of being in this Chamber for many days because I take the responsibilities of the Department and Environment and Labour very seriously.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am sure you do Minister.
MR. MORSE: I am very honoured that the Opposition would choose my department to not only start first but first in the Chamber. When one considers the size of the Health budget and the Education budget and the Community Services budget and all that we have heard about the concerns of Transportation and Public Works with their roads, I must say that I am truly honoured that the Opposition would choose me to start here today. (Interruptions)
So again I realize that I perhaps only scratched the surface in highlighting a few of our many goals for the year 2001-02 and I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, that our staff will continue to meet the needs of the Nova Scotians we serve. We also recognize a need for continued fiscal responsibility. I want to assure the members here today that we will do our part with the other government departments to help Nova Scotia, for the first time in decades,
to live within its means so we can assure Nova Scotians that these essential services including those of my department, Environment and Labour - or I wear that mantle today anyway - will be there for them, their children, their grandchildren and their great-great grandchildren.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to have gone on with some other agencies, boards or commissions or tribunals that do report to me.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. I do not want to take too much of the minister's time. It seems like it is pretty well consumed anyway but if he would be kind enough to apprise all members of the committee as to whether we are going to be dealing specifically with Environment or are we going to be dealing with Environment and Labour because it appears that he has touched on both issues.
MR. JOHN HOLM: On a point of order. It is our understanding from the discussions that we had with the Government House Leader that in fact since it is one department you go from one to the other and so one question may be directed to our eloquent Minister of Environment and the next question may be directed to the equally eloquent Minister of Labour so one can follow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is correct. I would like to address the point of order of the honourable member for Cape Breton West and also the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid. He does have both portfolios and they are joined as one now, the Department of Environment and Labour, so you can direct your questions at will. Does that answer your question?
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, thank you. Does that also include the Gaming Corporation as well?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Anything that falls under his portfolio.
MR. MACKINNON: There are certain appendices that. . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: As I was sitting here I was listing those items here. I will have them typed up and delivered later on. Minister you still have one minute in your time. (Interruptions) Yes he does.
MR. MORSE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, in terms of the question, I look forward to a diverse array of questions covering many areas. I am sure as a former Minister of Labour that the honourable member for Cape Breton West would be well aware of the many responsibilities that come with that portion of my portfolio. I look forward to those questions. I shall do my best to try to provide good answers. I have excellent staff here with me and so
as such I feel like I am being carried on the shoulders of giants here in the room. With those brief comments . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I would like to thank the Minister of Environment and Labour. Now I would like to turn the floor over to the honourable member for Halifax Fairview. I would like to tell the honourable member that he has one hour to ask the minister questions and if he should wish, he could pass his time on to another member within his own caucus before we recognize the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Mr. Chairman, the minister and I share at least one thing in common and that is a bit of newness. He is new to the Cabinet, new to this portfolio and I am new to the House. Whenever somebody is new they have an opportunity to do a bit of tone setting. Setting the tone for how departmental matters will be handled and I have to say after having heard an hour of nonsense, of filling the air with words for the sake of speaking, to be reading the financial notes to an annual report as part of this debate in the House on the government's estimates for the year, I think is not a good start, Mr. Minister, not a good start at all.
Mr. Chairman, if the tone that I am going to set is one of being sanctimonious and holier than thou, well I will do that, I will accept that mantle. I do want to say to the minister that this House has 40 hours to examine a $5 billion-plus budget. Surely to heavens the government owes it to the House, if not to the Opposition - they may not care about the Opposition - to respect that and not to simply talk for an hour for the sake of talking. There are very serious issues in the minister's portfolio that deserve to get a thorough airing, and partly because the minister has taken an hour, an hour with his nonsense, we have that much less time to spend on serious issues.
There is a group of dozens of widows who are wondering why the government has denied them, and continues to deny them, the benefits that the Court of Appeal says are not legally theirs but, in all fairness and rightness, even the Court of Appeal says belong to them. That is a serious issue. There are occupational health and safety issues, there are regulations that have never seen the light of day despite being developed over the course of years on clean air, indoor air quality, violence in the workplace, that the minister hasn't addressed.
Mr. Chairman, I am going to take the first hour - part of which I will share with my caucus colleagues - to address environmental issues. There are very many environmental issues. Let me just, before I pose my questions to the minister, review some of the environmental issues that the minister's bafflegab won't allow us to address properly. These aren't my words, the minister doesn't have to take my word for it, I am simply going to
review what is written in this report of the Legislative Review Process 2000. Let me just review some of the things that are said in this report.
The authors of the report ask, "Why has the Environment Act not translated into the actions of benefits it is capable of?" I wonder why the minister didn't address that in his speech. "Why is the public critical of the Department's responsiveness to environmental concerns? Why are key strategies stalled, voluntary and regulatory compliance initiatives constrained, and enforcement actions weak?" Those are all good questions, none of which the minister has just addressed.
The review committee goes on to suggest some of the reasons why those things have happened. "The Act, and subsequently the Department suffers from a lack of specific time-bound objectives and deliverables." Those are serious issues and the minister hasn't addressed them. Our provincial governments, it says, have not had the bureaucratic or political will to achieve significant implementation of time-specific actions. "After talking with the Department's senior management, we perceive that a clear sense of common direction is lacking." Those are serious issues, and the minister is asking for $27 million. I would think that he would have liked to address some of those concerns.
Mr. Chairman, let me go on - and remember these are not my words - "There also appears to be a lack of accountability for action and enforcement under the Act, and a significant lack of support for fulfilling the Department's mandate at the political level." That would be the minister's level, not this minister I hasten to add because he is so new to the job, but this government, the previous government and the Ministers of Environment that they had. "Indeed, there seems to be little incentive for action and even less accountability for lack of action." There is a risk adverse culture within the Public Service generally. During the course of the review, it says, ". . . the public voiced a lack of confidence in the Department's ability or intention to act decisively in accordance with the authorities within the Act."
Mr. Chairman, they want $27 million without explaining to us how they are going to address those concerns. I note that in the minister's hour-long speech, he didn't address those issues at all.
It says, "There are insufficient resources dedicated to implementing the Environment Act." Under the main headings of Water, Air and Waste, here is what this report says: Under the heading Water "implementation has been delayed," of the draft strategy on water; under Air, it says there has been "little progress"; under Waste, it says, "industry stewardship agreements . . . have largely not been achieved"; under Enforcement, it says, "The department does not maintain an enforcement and compliance policy and, therefore, has no means of communicating to the public or the regulated community their priorities for enforcement or their approach to this most important task."
This government did away with the report on the environment, the annual report on the environment, or at least it was supposed to be an annual report, but that government never delivered a full report and this government cut the funding for it. In the words of the review committee that leaves Nova Scotians "without an easily accessible and reviewable means to evaluate and monitor environmental progress."
Mr. Chairman, those are some of the serious issues in the Department of Environment and Labour dealing only with the Environment side. Yet the minister chose to give this House a discourse on the notes to the financial statements of the Workers' Compensation Board. The minister has already missed his chance to set the tone, but what I am going to do is give him another chance, I am going to ask some fairly precise and concise questions, and the minister has two choices: either he can answer me and answer this caucus and answer the Opposition in this House, he can answer in the same spirit, or he can deliver more long-winded nonsense and chew up the time allocated to his department in the budget estimates. I guess we are just going to have to see which course the minister chooses.
Mr. Chairman, my first question relates to the statements themselves. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles - which this government likes to brag they follow, and they do for the most part, good for them, because heavens knows the last government didn't - are set in the manual of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. I am going to read one. If the minister is looking for a reference, this is PS 1400.33. It says that these are Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. A comparison of the actual results with those originally forecast by the fiscal plan and with those of prior periods is necessary to identify significant variances. To facilitate meaningful comparisons, planned and prior period results would need to be reported on a basis consistent with that used to report the results of the current period.
Mr. Chairman, as it turns out the government has chosen, deliberately one must assume, to present the estimates of the Department of Environment and Labour in such a way that it is literally impossible to compare them to previous years; it is literally impossible. So this Generally Accepted Accounting Principle is being violated in this minister's first estimates to the House.
Mr. Chairman, I want to direct the question through you. I would like to ask the minister, has he or has his department or has his government a statement of reconciliation between the former unamalgamated departments and the new amalgamated department that would show the same line items for this year and previous years? Does the minister or the department or the government have such a statement anywhere?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the honourable Minister of Environment and Labour, is the honourable member for Halifax Fairview tabling that document?
MR. STEELE: I am certainly prepared to do that, if the government doesn't have the manual of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, they may want to review it. I am prepared to table that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Generally when a member reads from a document, it is tabled. We can make a copy and provide you with your original.
The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think that is a very good question, and I think that if the honourable member for Halifax Fairview would check, he would see that the Labour to Labour estimates are available, the Environment to Environment estimates are available, but the composite comparison actually comes in at $72,300 less than it would have been with all the various components that were drawn from other departments. The composite figure was $27,144,300 if you take the numbers from the year ended, March 31, 2001. So, I hope that is some help.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Minister, that was an interesting answer, but it was not an answer to the question that I asked.
Let me give an example. If I were to ask myself how much is being spent this year on environmental compliance activities compared to how much was spent last year, there is literally no place that I can look for that information and I should be able to. Any member of this House, any member of the public, should be able to look at this budget and say here is the line item in the new department and here is the comparable line item in the old department.
Just to give you an example, that figure that the minister has of $72,000 less, as far as I know - and perhaps the minister could point it out to me - in all the budget documents that were tabled in the House, where does that figure appear?
MR. MORSE: This is an estimate, a forecast number which has been compiled to make the comparison, and indeed the member asks the very question which was the first in my mind when I got the books to go over them.
The member would also be pleased to know that because of the combination of what, in essence, is regulatory affairs which includes the former Department of Environment, the former Department of Labour, the Alcohol and Gaming Authority, and a number of other organizations that deal with regulations, that certain efficiencies have been generated by this with the ability to provide a greater presence to the consumer in the service of Nova Scotians.
Your question was about the compliance, and that is primarily done through our regional offices, and of the total $27,072,000 which makes up the entire departmental budget the legislative and regulatory compliance component is $16,904,300, and we feel that because of the merger of the departments this allows us to provide more services than if they had been left on their own as stand-alone departments. Thank you.
MR. STEELE: The minister has quoted a figure which I assume he has an itemized reconciliation for. I wonder if the minister is prepared to table that statement showing precisely how the $72,000 figure was arrived at?
MR. MORSE: I would be happy to provide the member with that at a later time, but further to the points that we were touching on there in terms of trying to generate the greatest economies from the new, merged department, the member might be interested to hear of where in fact we have put our focus in the new Department of Environment and Labour. I appreciate his frustrations with not being able to compare the figures readily between the two years, but I am sure that he would welcome the improvement in service from the new, merged department.
As an example, in the area of administration, in fact in the office of the minister, as you can appreciate with fewer ministers, fewer deputy ministers, fewer administerial secretaries, that at the very top of the executive there was a saving of almost 75 per cent - $933,000. That is money that can now be targeted for the provision of services, and that of course is just one small example of some of the economies that have been realized by the merger of the departments.
MR. STEELE: My question to the minister is simple. You have quoted a figure, will you table the document that explains precisely how you arrived at that figure?
MR. MORSE: I have to give it out of my briefing notes now, but certainly at a later date I would be happy to provide you with information.
MR. CHAIRMAN: For my own clarification on this point, is the honourable minister saying that he is quoting from a document?
MR. MORSE: Briefing books.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Let me take under consideration whether or not I will ask to have a copy of that be made, but maybe you want to carry on with your questions while I do a little research in that area.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, I want to be absolutely clear about one thing here. If the minister is required to table the document, that is one thing; if he is required to table a page out of his briefing note, he may as well table his whole briefing book. I am not arguing
this on the grounds that he is required by the Rules of the House to table that document. If he is, that is great, but I am saying that the budget the minister has presented to this House violates Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and he owes it to the House to give us the information that we need in order to decide whether his budget is appropriate or not. That is the point that I am trying to make.
I would like to move on to discuss some specific environmental issues. I do not think I am going to get anywhere at the moment with this idea about whether the reorganization has actually saved any money, because the minister asserts it without showing any documents to back it up, but we will leave that for another day.
I want to ask the minister about the Tidewater Quarry in Waverley. This is a project that has a long history. A long history with the community resisting, fighting, trying to stop the quarry and then trying to stop the expansion of the quarry. This government, including the member for Bedford-Fall River, including the former Acting Minister of Environment then, and now the Minister of Justice, decided that the company's application to expand the quarry's production was a Class 2 undertaking under the Environment Act that required a full environmental assessment with a full public hearing. This minister, within weeks of taking on the job, reversed that decision and says, no, in his opinion it is a Class 1 undertaking, even though the new application is, to all intents and purposes, identical - identical for all practical purposes - to the application that was submitted before.
So my question to the minister is, in your opinion, Mr. Minister, what changed between the last minister's decision and your decision that would justify you downgrading this request for an amendment from a Class 2 undertaking to a Class 1 undertaking?
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the honourable member for giving me the opportunity to comment on this matter which is of concern to the people of Waverley, but before that I would also like to assure the honourable member that these numbers have passed the muster of the Auditor General, and so therefore this would suggest that they are our numbers and their not meeting the appropriate accounting standards is something I would suggest he might take up with the Auditor General.
As for the Tidewater Quarry application, I am well familiar with the history of this approval and I would say that, to specifically answer his question, when I became minister there was a new application and the only change that was being proposed in this was the tonnage. While that may be of considerable concern to the residents, I am sworn to uphold the legislation and the regulations as passed by this House and successive Cabinets, and I take that very seriously and I try to implement it in a manner that is fair and could not be challenged successfully in the courts.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the member for Halifax Fairview, I consulted with the Chief Clerk of the House and as long as the honourable minister undertakes to provide that document on a future date that is acceptable, with regard to the briefing note.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, on the subject of the Auditor General, I am sure the minister is aware that the only aspect of the budget that is reviewed in advance and approved by the Auditor General is the revenue estimates; the only aspect. Other members of this House have fallen afoul of that rule before as they try to enlist the Auditor General's aid or his image or his very fine reputation in support of something that has gone awry in their estimates. The Auditor General has not reviewed and has not approved the presentation of these budget estimates because the only thing that he certifies is the revenue estimates.
Mr. Chairman, back on the subject of the Tidewater Quarry. The minister had before him, to all intents and purposes, exactly the same information that the last minister had, but he made a decision with radically different implications for the company and for the community. My question to the minister is, what representations did you or your senior staff receive from the proponent of this quarry amendment?
MR. MORSE: As would be appropriate under the circumstances, staff have had meetings with both parties; I have been approached by some of the residents, but not by the proponent personally.
MR. STEELE: Just to be very clear, apart from the application documents themselves, has the minister ever received correspondence from, received a phone call from . . .
AN. HON. MEMBER: Or his staff.
MR. STEELE: No, I am asking about the minister now. Has the minister personally received a telephone call, a visit, or received communication of any kind, other than the documents within the four corners of the application, from the proponent of this quarry expansion?
MR. MORSE: Subject to my memory, I certainly know that I have never received a telephone call, and I get a great deal of correspondence but I have no recollection of having one from the proponents.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, I am just wondering if he didn't receive any substantial representations, why - and perhaps when the minister is answering this he can picture himself speaking to the residents of Waverley - did he decide that this was a Class 1 undertaking, with significantly lower requirements under the Act than the previous minister, if the information he had in front of him was, to all intents and purposes, identical and he received no personal representations, why was his decision so different?
MR. MORSE: Given that the application only pertained to the amount of tonnage, that is something that could be handled quite adequately under a Class 1. I would also like to point out that, under a Class 1, at the conclusion, we are able to focus on concerns that come out through the process, and the necessary further investigations can be taken to address those concerns, hopefully to the agreement of all parties, but in this case I regret that may not be possible.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, this issue about whether the quarry can move from producing 90,000 tons per year to unlimited production has been on the table for at least a decade or more. This is what the quarry operators have been after all along and every minister has so far refused that request. Certain promises were made under the Cameron Government about whether that would ever be granted and under what conditions it might be if it ever were. This minister, within weeks of assuming office, has reversed a 10 or 12 or 18 year fight of the residents of Waverley. So much for the environment.
Mr. Chairman, I want to move on to the Halifax Harbour Solutions project, a $350 million proposal to begin the cleanup of Halifax Harbour. So far the provincial government has resisted any requests for a financial contribution - at least I believe that is the case, and if I am wrong I am sure the minister will correct me - my question to the minister, why has this government refused to support one of the two biggest and most important environmental cleanup projects currently underway in Nova Scotia?
MR. MORSE: As the member for Halifax Fairview would know, the Department of Environment and Labour is not a funding agency and those discussions would be more appropriately carried out with the Department of Transportation and Public Works. Oh, excuse me, I would like to take that back, where it is a municipality, through Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Affairs.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, it is funny, when the minister began his speech well over an hour ago he talked about the government's whole budget and that everybody needed to balance expectations and true needs, so I was mistaken that as Minister of Environment and Labour he felt that he could address one of the most important environmental projects currently underway in Nova Scotia, but I guess he doesn't feel he can address that.
The other of the two large, important, necessary environmental cleanups is, of course, the Sydney tar ponds. The JAG process is in some difficulty. The provincial government, of course, is an important player in the cleanup as a whole and in the JAG process. I wonder if the minister could comment on his approach, his attitude, toward the JAG process, whether he supports it and if he supports modifications, what those might be.
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member for that question. In fact the Sydney tar ponds, the coke ovens site and many ancillary concerns in and about that area of that fine part of this province were a concern for me right from the outset. The honourable member
would know that the operative department in government is Transportation and Public Works but with regard to the JAG process, I was very pleased to have met with their chairman and some of their key staff and members. In fact, very soon within assuming the portfolio I am completely familiar with the site and we have committed a full-time inspector to work with the people in JAG on preparing the plan for remediation. We have also made the services of an engineer, a substantial amount of his time, available to them to forward the process.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the minister his view on buffer zones, on his department's role. Perhaps the minister could explain his approach to buffer zones, whether they are necessary and how large it should be?
MR. MORSE: The process is ongoing, trying to determine the extent of the contamination around the various sites. So, it is hard to determine a buffer zone until we determine what the boundaries are. We continue to drill wells and unfortunately the pollution, the contamination, is pervasive and continues to show up further afield than was first thought which is a concern. So it is hard to put a buffer zone down until you know the limitations of the contamination.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, the government in the last year or two has set aside literally hundreds of millions of dollars in its budget for the tar ponds cleanup. I wonder if the minister could explain when he anticipates that the cleanup will begin in earnest, when some of that money will be spent and on what?
MR. MORSE: I think that I would just have to point out that the role of the Department of Environment here is regulatory. There is a separation of responsibilities within the provincial government between Transportation and Public Works, which is the actual operative arm that is the partner in carrying out the remediation, and the Department of Environment and Labour, which makes sure that they comply with the appropriate legislation and regulation so as to safeguard the people of Sydney. So this, as it is brought into the JAG process as the community input, makes for many players but really it is not the Department of Environment's job to set the timetable. We have made our people available to try to expedite the process so that there will be no delays in terms of environmental approval, unnecessary delays.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to move on now to the question of protected spaces, protected areas. I am wondering whether the minister supports the idea that the province is still open to protecting more Crown lands as wilderness areas. I was wondering if the minister could or could not agree to that statement, that the province is still open to protecting more Crown lands as wilderness areas.
MR. MORSE: The member would be aware that the Department of Environment is an active participant with the Department of Natural Resources in defining the final integrated resource management plan for the remaining Crown lands that have not already been designated as protected areas so we are working with the Department of Natural Resources and we look forward to a successful conclusion to those discussions.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, the IRM process is completely separate, is different from wilderness protection areas. The government has so far identified a certain number of areas as wilderness protection areas. My question to the minister again is, is this government open to the idea that more wilderness areas will be named in future over and above the wilderness areas that have already been named?
MR. MORSE: The short answer is yes. But whenever there are areas that come up for consideration we have to consider all the competing land uses for a limited supply of Crown land. That has to be taken under consideration but it is my personal hope that as we work through this process there will be more land set aside for protection.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, one of the things that gets in the way of designating more wilderness protection areas is that many of them are subject to Crown land timber agreements but as they come due for renewal, more flexibility is opened up for designation of wilderness areas so my question to the minister is, does the minister support reviewing Crown timber agreements to see what flexibility there might be for more protected areas?
MR. MORSE: Even prior to when the leases expire we are always interested in evaluating all Crown land within the province for possible designation so again, there are competing land uses but it is not necessarily something that would, we would have to wait for the expiry of the lease to decide whether there should be the possibility of some designation.
MR. STEELE: Still on the subject of wilderness protection areas, Mr. Chairman, I have a question but a very specific one, that is Ship Harbour/Long Lake. While the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environment dither about what to do about it, the land is being logged. The land is being logged while two departments decide what to do about it. My question to the minister is on that specific proposed wilderness protection area, Ship Harbour/Long Lake. When will the Department of Environment, with or without the Department of Natural Resources, make a decision about whether it will be designated as a wilderness protection area?
MR. MORSE: As the member may be aware, we are working with the Department of Natural Resources on two parcels of land in northern Nova Scotia, those being Eigg Mountain, James River and Gully Lake and until we determine the process with them, which are considered to be priorities because of the lack of protected areas in that part of the
province, we won't be able to move on into taking new things on our agenda until we have first dealt with them.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, I am not sure that I quite see the logic of that. Just because two areas are under consideration doesn't mean somehow that a third can't be considered at the same time. I am not quite sure that I understand that. In any event, let's assume then that what the minister says is the case and they need to make a decision on those two that are under review, Eigg Mountain in James River, Antigonish County and the Gully Lake on the Colchester-Pictou County line. Let's assume that a decision needs to be made on those before any decision can be made on Ship Harbour/Long Lake. When will a decision be made on those before any decision can be made on Ship Harbour-Long Lake? When will a decision be made on those other two parcels?
MR. MORSE: The first one that has been assessed by both the Department of Environment and Labour and the Department of Natural Resources, as the member may be aware, is that of the Eigg Mountain-James River. Both reports have come back. We are now conferring with the Department of Natural Resources. Out of this, we hope to establish a template for moving ahead with similar projects. The next one on the list for consideration being Gully Lake. Once we have that in place, we will have a process to do the proper evaluations and we can move forward at a very deliberate and appropriate manner.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, while the department fiddles, land is being logged. I would like to move on to the question of enforcement and compliance. As the legislative review pointed out, enforcement action is weak and is considered by the public to be weak. Let me ask the minister this question. How many inspectors does the department expect to have this year, and you can express it in people, positions or full-time equivalents? How many inspectors do you have this year and how many did you have last year in the business of environmental inspection and compliance?
MR. MORSE: The short answer is, it is the same. If you want a specific number, we can look that up and we will have it shortly. Again, that was one of my questions when first coming into the department, where we focused our cuts in administration in fact, to protect the front-line service. So it is a very legitimate concern that the member brings up and we, at the department, share that concern.
MR. STEELE: My next question to the minister is, how many prosecutions were there last year and how many were successful?
MR. MORSE: We are not comfortable with supplying a specific number here, but we will endeavour to get that information. There were a significant number, but the exact number I am not prepared to enter into the records on April 2nd, two days after the end of the fiscal year.
MR. STEELE: I just want to make sure that I understand the reason being given by the minister. The reason is because, when I say the last year, you interpret that as being the fiscal year, and since the fiscal year ended two days ago you are not sure what the total is? Is that the reason?
MR. MORSE: The nature of these cases is that they are always ongoing. So just where you take your cut-offs would determine the actual answer. So the short answer is, we are not comfortable in giving a specific number here today, but we will endeavour to get the honourable member that information.
MR. STEELE: For the last year for which the minister has figures, how many prosecutions were there?
MR. MORSE: Once again, we do not have that specific information available here today, but we will be endeavouring to get you that information.
MR. STEELE: For the last complete year for which the minister has information, how many ministerial orders were issued?
MR. MORSE: That has also been noted for a specific number, but one must remember that the purpose of the ministerial order is not necessarily to put the company that is in default into the court system, it is to lay out the grounds that have to be covered in order to bring them into compliance. Yes, it does provide a little bit of a legal incentive for them to be co-operative, but our hope is that companies that are trying to be players in the waste management, as an example, are helped to become contributors and good members of their community; welcomed by their community. So if the ministerial order, in some instances, is able to help with bringing about that outcome, it becomes an effective tool, but it does not necessarily mean that it is going to lead to a prosecution.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, there is a legitimate debate here about under what circumstances ministerial orders should be issued and under what circumstances prosecution should be instituted. I understand that. It is a legitimate debate about which is most effective. Is it more effective to bring people along in voluntary compliance or is it more effective to make an example of them to themselves and others when they violate the Environment Act. I certainly wouldn't suggest that there is a correct answer to that question. There is a balance and different people, different ministers, will strike the balance in different ways.
However, I think the public expects and demands that where the circumstances are appropriate, that those orders will be issued and that those prosecutions will be instituted. One of the points in the Legislative Review Committee's report is simply that there is no enforcement and compliance policy, so the public never knows what to expect. It seems to be almost random that the minister would order over here, but not over there, a prosecution
over here, but not over there. My question to the minister is, does the department have a written policy on the circumstances under which a ministerial order will be issued?
MR. MORSE: We do have a written policy. It is presently under review for the purpose of upgrading it and, hopefully, to bring it more in line with the expectations of the public that we try to serve.
MR. STEELE: Is there an inspection and enforcement policy manual that is used by departmental staff when deciding how, when, where to undertake enforcement and compliance actions?
MR. MORSE: There is such a wide variety of circumstances in Environment that it is hard to capture it in just one policy. Therefore, as things occur that are out of the ordinary, which is more the norm in environmental matters, staff, that being the inspectors, work with management to try to take the appropriate actions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Halifax Fairview, you have 10 minutes left in your hour.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, I am going to share some of my time, in a minute, with the member for Timberlea-Prospect. First, I have another question. On the subject of enforcement and compliance, in the Government Business Plan, under this department, under Goal 6, there are a number of statements made about enforcement and compliance and the department's future intentions, which, frankly, I find baffling. I hope the minister can enlighten me about what they mean. It is the department's stated goal to "Streamline the regulatory process by implementing an approval delivery alternatives process in order to streamline the application process for selected low-risk activities that currently require an environmental approval." Is it the department's intention to exempt certain classes of activity from the environmental approval process? If that is not what it means, what does it mean?
MR. MORSE: The purpose here is to try to free up the department's resources, the professionals who we have working in our regional offices and, indeed, our head office so that they can better take their expertise to the more difficult cases and, as such, the way to do this is to streamline the ones that would be rather routine. So that is, hopefully, good for the applicant, good for the community and good for Nova Scotians because it frees up those resources to deal with the more serious matters that come before the Department of Environment.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, at this point I would like to share the remainder of my time with the member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect, you have eight minutes left.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for a few moments of his time and I thank the member for Halifax Fairview for assisting me. I have my daybook here, Mr. Minister, and I want you to note that if I did my count correctly, May 30th is 60 days from the announcement that was made by you here during estimates regarding New Era Farms. I believe that is the date.
That will be a date of some consequence for the community which I represent and I want you to know that on that date there will after all be a community that is watching when it comes to the fact that this has been a longstanding problem in the community and the buck has been passed, if I can use that expression, from one to the other, from the HRM to the provincial department, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank you and the department. I know there are some people here above who have been through the grinder with us. I draw my attention particularly to Stephen Warburton and other members of your staff.
My question is this, if I have the date right and 60 days hence, (Interruptions) I cannot make out what you are saying. You can interject something if you wish. I want to know the day after, if this company does not meet the commitments as outlined, exactly what will happen? I have placed a call to the community to a number of the activists. They want me to express to you their thanks for this ministerial order, but the question I have to ask is, is this ministerial order going to be worth the paper that it is written on here for me in this release on the day after if compliance isn't there with New Era Farms?
MR. MORSE: I would like to thank the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect for his comments. I think that all the department here appreciates getting that kind of feedback at times. It is sometimes a difficult job to be an inspector or in the compliance business, so to speak, at the Department of Environment. There are a few dates that I would like to share with the honourable member and then I would also like to answer his question.
The actual time frame is that terms of reference have to be back to the department by April 15th; 45 days thereafter there has to be a report from the consultant with recommendations; and then by June 15th an action plan. Your concern is that the business, New Era Farms, may not comply and what would the ramifications be. It is a good question because inherent in your question begs the question of what do we do with 50 per cent of HRM's compost and perhaps to give some extra assurance, apart from the fact that clearly we are going to see what develops within that time frame, there are measures available within the ministerial order to step in and take the necessary steps and to bill it back to the owners of New Era Farms. So I hope that provides some comfort to the member and I think that June 15th is perhaps the date that he should hold on to more than May 30th.
MR. ESTABROOKS: June 6th was D-Day for Normandy and I guess June 15th will be D-Day for Timberlea-Prospect. I would like to point out to the operators of the New Era Farms, New Era Composting, I wish them the best of luck. However, the community has absolutely reached the end of its patience.
I would like to move on to another concern and if I have the wrong department, but I know the concern and I know the Environment Department's involvement in this. This is the Five Island Lake cleanup and I am sure that Public Works has a role here, but as the minister is aware, this has been a longstanding, difficult project in a notorious PCB-laced site. The problem is that the containers still sit in the community of Hubley which is within 300 metres of Sir John A. Macdonald High School and whether it is your responsibility or that of the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, I would like to have the minister give this community some kind of assurance that there will be a timely removal, in combination with the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, of these containers that sit within a locked, fenced-in area in Five Island Lake. Those containers have to go and I would like to ask the minister if he would use his influence to have this expedited as soon as possible?
MR. MORSE: I would like to thank the member again for that question. My suspicion is that Five Island Lake may fall within the constituency boundaries of Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. ESTABROOKS: That is right.
MR. MORSE: I would also like to point out to the good constituents of Timberlea-Prospect that their member has been vigilant in following up on this ever since he has been elected to office and I suspect maybe before that time which may in part explain his presence here today. My understanding is that the Department of Transportation and Public Works is expected to conclude that this year and we will be discussing with them the removal, using whatever influence we can to get those barrels out of there.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, those containers are containers the size that are on flatbeds and I understand the term barrel, but I won't quibble on that. I also would like to point out to the Minister of Environment that you responded to a concern, as you are well aware that in a fast growing community there are many developments and the concern, of course, is that lake pollution with storm runoff and the streets that, of course, are salted and then when there is improper drainage, those drainage systems in the suburban areas run right into the lakes. I know my time is close here. You said in a letter - and I can quote it to you if you don't mind, Mr. Minister - but I know that you said in a letter of February 15th in response to a letter, new policy is currently under development in the areas you are concerned about, namely storm drainage and watercourse alterations. Can you give me some kind of guidelines as to when this new policy will be developed?
MR. MORSE: Would completion and implementation by the end of this month be satisfactory to the honourable member?
MR. ESTABROOKS: I would like to point out to the new minister, I ask them, you answer them, but I will tell you that would be absolutely terrific and I thank you. If I may - and I know my time is up - but it is so positive to no longer be dealing with an acting minister. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I would like to congratulate the minister personally for his appointment to the Executive Council. Unlike others, I believe his opening remarks were very appropriate and very insightful although I must say that it would have been perhaps a little more helpful if he had focused on some of the other divisions within his department because, as we all know, there have been quite a few that were not even touched on.
My first set of questions, Mr. Chairman, is with regard to municipal landfills in the Province of Nova Scotia. Would the minister be kind enough to apprise the committee as to how many municipal landfills there are in the province under his jurisdiction?
MR. MORSE: We seem to be unanimous in thinking that the number is 18 and we are going to say approximately 18.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that appears to be one per county on average. The responsibility for municipal landfills, is that a provincial jurisdiction or is that a municipal jurisdiction?
MR. MORSE: Thank you to the honourable member for the question. Indeed, I also appreciate his opening remarks and I apologize for not acknowledging them at the first opportunity. As the honourable member might be aware, we issue the approval and we expect the municipality to operate the landfills within the appropriate legislation and regulations that apply to them.
MR. MACKINNON: So essentially, if I understand what the minister is saying, for example, let's say in CBRM, the municipal landfill and incinerator module that is in effect, the same as in the other 18 municipalities, it is the full responsibility of the municipality to ensure that the operation and the maintenance of that particular landfill and facility is in
accordance with the provincial regulations, and any deviation from that would be completely a municipal responsibility?
MR. MORSE: They would be expected to operate within the terms and conditions of their approval and the existing legislation and regulations as they pertain to the landfill operations, yes.
MR. MACKINNON: Should the municipality fail to abide or live up to the legislation or the regulations and there were some adverse effects to the community, is it the responsibility of the municipality to accept that financial responsibility?
MR. MORSE: The short answer is yes, and I might point out that quite often it is appropriate for municipalities to carry the environmental insurance so that while they may be charged with it, the insurance company may end up having to defend and ultimately pay any damages that are awarded by the courts.
MR. MACKINNON: Am I to interpret from that that the province - not to my knowledge anyway, in my experience in government - has never had to accept financial responsibility for any deviation or any remedial work or property damage because of such deviation from adherence to the Act or the regulations?
MR. MORSE: I would say that the laws and the legislation, as they exist today, make the municipalities responsible.
MR. MACKINNON: I would like to focus on another municipality, the Municipality of Kings, with regard to a particular landfill site there called Meadowview landfill. Could the minister confirm as to whether the provincial government has, or is, contemplating a settlement with the landowners who have been adversely affected by the presence of that landfill?
MR. MORSE: There are some matters that pertain to the Meadowview situation that date back for decades and there were concerns brought forward, and as a result of that there was a settlement and a confidentiality agreement.
MR. MACKINNON: Would the minister please apprise the committee as to how much that settlement cost the provincial taxpayers of Nova Scotia?
MR. MORSE: The amount was part of the confidentiality agreement.
MR. MACKINNON: Am I to interpret from the minister's comments that we have expended, in an unprecedented fashion, provincial taxpayers' money because of environmental damage that was the responsibility of the local municipality, as per the
minister's previous statements, and yet we are not permitted to know how much the taxpayers of Nova Scotia have been required to spend for this damage?
MR. MORSE: I think that the operative clause here is that this happened some decades ago, long before there was an Environment Act and it was felt by my department, with their recommendation to me, that this was of financial benefit to the taxpayer to reach a settlement, without going through the expense of a lengthy litigation.
MR. MACKINNON: If it was of financial benefit to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, would the minister be kind enough to apprise the committee as to how much the taxpayers of Nova Scotia are saving by this agreement?
MR. MORSE: I have to refer to the confidentiality agreement, but I would suggest to the honourable member that we felt quite comfortable that there was a substantial saving - and I am going to say to both parties - by avoiding a very expensive and protracted litigation.
MR. MACKINNON: This is unprecedented in two fashions. Number one, it is the first time in the history of the Province of Nova Scotia that the province is accepting responsibility for a municipal matter, coincidentally, which is in the minister's own constituency. Second of all, the minister has stated publicly that we as taxpayers are not allowed to know how much this backroom deal, this secret deal, is costing the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. But yet, the same minister states that this is of financial benefit to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. I would again ask the honourable minister, if he could please, without compromising the confidentiality sections of the so-called agreement in terms of names and who would get how much and so on, what is the total cost of this liability to the Province of Nova Scotia?
MR. MORSE: Given that a confidentiality agreement was part of the conclusion to this matter, I would say that it would only be appropriate for me to say that our feeling was that we avoided a very expensive litigation that would have surely taken place. Perhaps to provide some comfort to the member, he might be aware that the municipality, which was the operator of this site, also made compensation in its own manner to the affected residents.
MR. MACKINNON: It is getting more interesting by the moment. Now we have two levels of government that have contributed taxpayers' money to a settlement for some type of environmental damage to the adjoining landowners of the Meadowview landfill. As taxpayers, both municipal and provincial, we are not allowed to know how much we are paying to avoid this so-called expensive litigation. Would the minister be kind enough to apprise the committee as to what the anticipated cost was of this lengthy litigation?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member for his persistence and I appreciate the spirit he brings to the estimates. I think I have perhaps seen that before in another committee where we have jousted on the Legislature floor in the Public Accounts Committee.
To answer the honourable member's question, our feeling is that we were looking at, at least, $0.25 million in litigation, plus the various court costs over and above. We felt somewhere in the vicinity of $0.5 million.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, just to be clear, the $0.5 million, is that just for the litigation? Is that for the legal fees and the anticipated court costs?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member continues to press for the details and I respect that in the honourable member. We feel that the legal costs would have been at least $0.25 million, plus whatever as a minimum came out of the court case - sorry, $0.25 million for the legal fees and then another $0.25 million minimum for what came out of the ultimate cost of going through the court decision. That is where we came up with the $500,000.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, we are slowly ferreting this information out because $0.25 million would obviously be for litigation and the court costs. So we are looking at, at least, somewhere in the vicinity of a $0.25 million settlement to the adjoining landowners.
I am given to understand that a gentleman by the name of Walter Newton represented the residents living next to the Meadowview landfill. Can the minister confirm if that is in fact correct?
MR. MORSE: As the spokesperson for a law firm in which I understand he is a partner.
MR. MACKINNON: Is this the same Walter Newton that was a very prominent and active member of the Progressive Conservative Party for Kings County? Can the minister confirm that? I state that because he has held executive positions, as I understand, so that would be public knowledge. Is this one and the same individual?
MR. MORSE: One would not have much difficulty in finding a Tory in Kings County. We have a lot of them. (Laughter)
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am to assume yes on that particular question; the minister is shaking his head yes. I suppose that if I were in Kings County and these types of sweetheart backroom deals were being offered, I would want to be on that side of the team too, although I am not so sure it is really appropriate for a public policy. Out of that $0.25 million, what percentage is supposed to be the municipality's cost to this agreement?
MR. MORSE: I am not sure that the question really applies to the situation. The municipality settled with the Meadowview Property Owners Association, as represented by that law firm, some years ago. Really the municipality's settlement was done prior to any negotiations with the province.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the minister suggested that this particular landfill preceded legislation and as such the government gave it special consideration in terms of resolving these claims for environmental damage. Can the minister confirm as to whether there are any other municipal landfills in the province that would fit that particular scope?
MR. MORSE: We are not presently aware of any that fit that situation.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, herein lies the problem. We seem to be breaking new ground that could, in effect, cost the Province of Nova Scotia millions and millions of dollars by this precedent. That is my concern. The minister has laid out quite clearly that we have legislation, that we have regulations and we have obligations to various levels of government, whether it be provincial or municipal or what have you. Yet, the minister stands in his place and states that he has readily come to an agreement to which no one knows how much the taxpayers of Nova Scotia are paying; nobody knows how much the taxpayers of the Municipality of Kings County are paying; and even more disturbingly, that this will open up the door for a lot of other landfill claims, adverse or, somewhat called, injurious affection.
Is there anything in this particular agreement that precludes the Province of Nova Scotia or protects the Department of Environment and Labour, or indeed the Province of Nova Scotia, against opening up Pandora's box as I have suggested? Clearly that seems to be the case.
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member for his question and I would suggest that this was a special case because of its long history, predating the applicable legislation and regulations, and we had to deal with it on its own merits for that reason.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I agree with the minister that it is a special case. It is a special case because it seems to satisfy some political needs in Kings County and that is what concerns me. It concerns me because perhaps the minister has been unwittingly duped and has unwittingly been politically capitulated in a very serious matter. I lay that before the committee because the minister by his own words has admitted that they have not reviewed the other 17 landfills in the province to find out if in fact they would fall within the same scope. To me that is very concerning.
I guess my question to the minister is, has Mr. Newton made any representation to the minister directly at any point in time - verbally, written or otherwise - on this particular matter, upon his appointment to the Executive Council?
MR. MORSE: The short answer is no. This apparently had been in the works prior to my arrival there. There had been extensive, I guess, consultation by our legislative lawyers to come up with this recommendation.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that is good to know because it draws to another line of thought. Why would two, three, possibly four previous administrations reject becoming involved in what clearly is a municipal responsibility of various political stripes and then for some strange reason, as the minister has alluded to, just shortly before his arrival somebody decides to cut a deal and involve the Province of Nova Scotia, in a rather unprecedented fashion, that perhaps will have major negative repercussions for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia? I can certainly identify with the landfill in Dutch Brook, Cape Breton County, the Cape Breton County Landfill, as you may be familiar with, that was in existence for almost 30 years and phased out in favour of the new one.
What the minister is saying here before the committee is that all the adjoining landowners are now in a very favourable position to file suit against the Province of Nova Scotia, and because the province has decided to enter into this agreement they stand a very good chance. Not only that, but if you look at the Sydney River watershed report that was done several years ago under a previous government administration, the Conservative Administration, that could very easily lay the foundation, excuse the Freudian slip, for a claim by nearly 500 residents within Floral Heights Subdivision. I would refer the honourable minister to that watershed report, and the implications of what this minister and this government has allowed to transpire, even more disturbing is that they have done it under a veil of secrecy, to the detriment of the municipal and the provincial taxpayers.
I leave that with the minister, because what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I can assure the honourable minister that this has opened up a very serious can of worms, if you want to use that. I am not sure the honourable minister understands the implication of what has transpired here. Senior members in that government would certainly know. It behooves me as to who initiated, on the government's behalf - would be my question - a desire for this settlement. If it wasn't this minister, was it the previous minister who finally gave the green light to agree to this settlement?
MR. MORSE: The recommendation was made by the litigator from the Department of Justice, and came to me as a recommendation from my deputy.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, is the minister aware who gave direction to the litigator? Is he aware of any member of the Executive Council who may have or did give direction to the representative within the Department of Justice to agree to the province accepting financial responsibility, in part, for this matter?
MR. MORSE: The deputy would have instructed the litigator from the Department of Justice to review all the evidence and come forward with a recommendation. This was the recommendation of the litigator.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, is the minister indicating that the deputy minister has provided a policy direction that is totally contrary to public policy legislation and regulation and precedent in this province regarding these municipal landfills?
MR. MORSE: Once again, I would refer to the fact that the litigator was asked for an opinion based on the time frame that this had all transpired, and to advise us accordingly as to the appropriateness of what action should be taken by the department. We accepted the recommendation of the litigator from the Department of Justice.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, something is not adding up here. I am not sure what it is but we will get to it sooner or later. Is the minister aware of anybody within the Executive Council who may have given direction to either the deputy minister, who provided that direction to the litigator, or directly to the litigator himself, as to their intentions for the Province of Nova Scotia to settle and make a financial contribution to this agreement?
MR. MORSE: No.
MR. MACKINNON: This is very interesting. Now we are saying that the deputy minister of the department has given advice contrary to the legislation, the regulation and public policy, and has set the province in an unprecedented direction of opening up the door for a flood of liability claims by adjoining landowners to all municipal landfills in the Province of Nova Scotia. That, to me, is extremely concerning.
Mr. Chairman, I can't accept that because I know this particular deputy minister and my experience is that is not the type of advice that I would have received if I were minister. That having been said - well, I am going to let that one go for now. We will come back to this issue a little later, if that is okay with the minister.
In regard to - we are going to shift the focus just slightly, it might be a pleasure for the minister - the Sydney tar ponds and the coke ovens cleanup, I understand that the government has before it three different options as to which way to proceed. Can the minister confirm that?
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the honourable member for Cape Breton West for showing his concern for the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds and the adjacent areas. I would suggest to him that when the honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works does his estimates that he would perhaps be better able to answer those questions, as the lead department in actually affecting the cleanup of the tar ponds. The Department of Environment and Labour's role, as the honourable member would know, is that of regulator, to see that they comply with existing legislation and regulations.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am a little concerned that the minister doesn't know what is going on in his department because, as I see before me, if the department is the regulator in this process, obviously the Department of Environment and Labour would have to be quite familiar with the various options for remediation in order to be able to partake in the environmental assessment. It appears that the minister is not really up to speed on this particular issue. So, I will table the document for the timetable of the environmental assessments and the proposed cleanup timetable that was prepared jointly by the province and in part by the Department of Environment and Labour, as well the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and Canada. I will provide the minister with a copy of that because obviously he is not familiar, and I will make another copy available for the committee. I will allow a minute for the minister to take a look at that because I am very surprised he hasn't seen it since he is the minister responsible for the regulatory process. As the minister should be able to see by now there are three options available; option A, B and C. Would the minister please advise the committee as to when he became aware of the fact that the federal government was requiring a full-scale environmental review?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member would rest assured, perhaps, that not only will the federal government be doing a full environmental assessment but so will the provincial government through my Department of Environment and Labour once the Department of Transportation and Public Works has chosen the appropriate technology to proceed with this cleanup project.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that being said, which of the three technology processes is the minister indicating that his department is supporting, option A, B or C?
MR. MORSE: We would be very pleased to consider whichever option is brought forth by the Department of Transportation and Public Works at that time.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, is the minister indicating that the Department of Transportation and Public Works has not brought forward an option, to date?
MR. MORSE: We are not aware that they have made a decision as to which option they wish to pursue.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I can see why the Minister of Finance booked several hundred million dollars for this cleanup project and only spent approximately $1.5 million; because the government is clearly smokescreening this entire issue to the people of Nova Scotia, in particular, to the citizens of Sydney. If the Minister of Environment isn't even familiar as to what process the Department of Transportation and Public Works is focusing on at this juncture, then it is clear that we will not see anything any closer than what is outlined here in option C, which would bring us between April 2005 and April 2006.
Surely the minister would readily agree that in the absence of the department's participation to date, and with the federal government's desire to proceed with a full-scale environmental review that that's the only option that can be undertaken.
MR. MORSE: The honourable member will be reassured to hear that since the outset there has been a full-time inspector assigned to the cleanup of the tar ponds project to assist the other partners in the process in terms of advising them or being a reference for them, plus the services of one of our engineers has been made available to them, such as they need to call upon him for his special expertise.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, special expertise, there is plenty of that. It is just that it is simply a question of getting the Department of Transportation and Public Works to communicate with the Department of Labour and Environment. That is all we're asking, we will know exactly when and if the Government of Nova Scotia is actually going to really do anything on this or are they going to hide behind the JAG process and use the JAG process as a smokescreen to alleviate itself of its legal responsibility. That's really what we were asking. That having been said, clearly the minister doesn't seem to have a handle on this particular topic either so we'll move onto another one.
I understand that in recent years, commencing, I believe, 1997-98, certainly when I was minister, there was a reassessment or assessment of all the different responsibilities of staff within the Department of Labour then, I guess Labour and Environment now. There were several requests for reclassifications by the various divisions such as within public safety, the Fire Marshal's office, Occupational Health and Safety, Central Services and so on. Certainly some with secretarial staff. Can the minister confirm as to whether some reclassifications have been confirmed and, if so, what divisions?
MR. MORSE: One would almost think that the honourable member is fairly familiar with the inner workings of the Department of Labour and, of course, everybody here is well aware of that as he is a former minister and he's showing that here today with his line of questioning. In a general sense, there have been a minimal number of reclassifications within the department. We will undertake to get that information back to the honourable member.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, would be the minister be kind enough to confirm which classifications have been confirmed, in which divisions?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member for that question and it is good to see that he still cares deeply about the internal workings of the Department of Environment, and we will see to it that that information is included with the written response that comes back.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that is one of the dangers of having this deputy minister sit next to a minister because he's good. You have a good staff and I would like to compliment you, Mr. Minister. One particular division that I am somewhat focused on is
within the Fire Marshal's Office. I understand that within the fire marshal's division of the Department of Environment and Labour, there was a request for reclassification for all the deputy fire marshals and perhaps the fire marshal himself, for that matter, I am not sure, but certainly for the deputy fire marshals, can the minister confirm as to whether there was a formal request for that reclassification?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, can the minister confirm whether that reclassification has been confirmed and approved?
MR. MORSE: This request was reviewed by the Department of Human Resources through the classification process and there was no recommendation for any change.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, was there a recommendation for change made by his department?
MR. MORSE: By recommending it for review, that, in itself, is asking to have it taken under consideration.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it appears the minister is quite familiar with this topic, so I would ask the minister if he can confirm with the committee as to the approximate date, what year and what month was the request for reclassification made?
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the member for that question, and his savour for detail never seems to leave him. That is certainly a very good attribute for estimates and the Public Accounts Committee. I would advise the honourable member that it has happened within the last year, and when we get the rest of that detail back to him we will confirm the actual date.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, can the minister confirm as to whether that request was made prior to him being appointed minister?
MR. MORSE: Once again the honourable member seeks a great deal of detail, and in answer to his question, this did precede my being appointed minister.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, just as I suspected. My understanding is that the deputy fire marshals made this particular request for reclassification on or about the time when a previous minister occupied that particular portfolio, I believe the honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's was minister. The darndest thing, when that minister came under fire for certain violations of the Fire Marshal's Office, that reclassification seemed to have died somewhere in the system despite the fact that several other requests for reclassification came subsequent to that and made it through the process.
Given the fact that the Fire Marshal's Office is probably one of the most pertinent divisions within the Department of Environment and Labour, and the fact that it has been quite an extended period of time since this division has been re-evaluated, reclassified, I would ask the minister, is he aware of any particular reason as to why the Department of Human Resources rejected that particular reclassification?
MR. MORSE: I think it is perhaps a question that would be better answered by the Department of Human Resources.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it might be better answered by the Department of Human Resources, but clearly the Department of Human Resources would have to give a reason to the Department of Environment and Labour as to why they were rejecting that. Is the minister aware of the particular reason or reasons why the classification was rejected as per the request of his department?
MR. MORSE: I would say that staff have advised me that there was no compelling reason to give them an upgrade based on the review by the Department of Human Resources.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it may not have been compelling but what was the reason? That is what I am asking, compelling or not compelling.
MR. MORSE: I would encourage the honourable member to perhaps ask that question to the Minister of Human Resources, during his time in estimates.
MR. MACKINNON: I guess, clearly, we will have to do that because what the minister is saying is he is either a puppet for senior voices in Cabinet or he is trying to avoid and evade a very important issue. The fact that the Fire Marshal's Office, all the deputy fire marshals in the province were turned down for a reclassification on or about the time that the minister for the department was being investigated. Put two and two together. The government has now announced, in its Speech from the Throne, that they are going to set up a Select Committee of the Legislature to review the Fire Prevention Act. Sounds pretty good, but here is the flaw. There is a new Fire Prevention Act ready to be tabled in this House, after several years of extensive consultation with stakeholders from one end of this province to the other. What is the game plan? What input did the Minister of Environment and Labour have in the decision, as per the Speech from the Throne, to delay the new Fire Prevention Act? What input, and what was his rationale?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member continues to pursue an interesting line of questioning. I would refer back to the Speech from the Throne that indicates that we will be going out and trying to get public consultation on the draft bill. Upon concluding that consultation we will look forward to addressing it at that time.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the whole thing seems to be coming together, if you just take your time and go one department after the other. It started last year with the previous minister, when he brought in the sunset clause for the occupational health and safety regulations. Then the number of accidents goes up, the claims, the injuries, lost in the marketplace, which means an increased cost to the employers, which will mean increased employer costs.
Now we have another jab at the integrity of public service here before us, at least the attempt by this government to violate that integrity by delaying this particular new Fire Prevention Act. It is common knowledge among certain business circles that lobby this government that they don't want any decision of the deputy fire marshal or the fire marshal service to be appealable to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, or to any court. They would rather have it appealable to the minister, because that way they can get their own business interests served, compromising public safety and the integrity of the process.
Mr. Chairman, to me, when you join all the dots, that is exactly what is happening within this department. I find it very disturbing. Unfortunately, this minister, who is a new minister, I don't believe fully understands the implications of everything that is coming at him. I remember when I was in that department, I would work from sun-up until sundown, and certainly before and after, and it was very difficult to keep on top of these things. I would raise that as a flag for this minister, because I know in his heart, and from what I have witnessed of this minister, he is a rather fair-minded individual. He will take issue with any opportunity to violate public safety. It is important that he be aware.
It is not the enemies, in general terminology, that he should be worried about, he should be worried about the friends who are around him. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. He has lot of those, when they continue to violate the safety laws of this province. I find that very distressing. The implications on the volunteer fire service in this province is going to be profound should the integrity of this particular piece of legislation be tampered with under the guise of a select committee travelling the province. We saw what happened with the red tape task force - well, that was a farce. It was supposed to go out with a mandate and an objective to reduce red tape, and the Minister of Transportation and Public Works stands up in his place during Question Period and says, we have to regulate all these small transport services because of their competition to the large busing services in the province. That, to me, clearly indicates there was a preconceived notion as to what this government wanted to do, much the same as the Sunday shopping and a few other issues. So I would raise that as a concern to the honourable minister.
I realize my time is getting a little short, but I want to focus on the Resource Recovery Fund Board. During recent deliberations with the Public Accounts Committee, indication was given that there will be a new user fee coming in with regard to paint cans, the fact that there will be a surcharge on paint cans, anywhere from 25 cents to $1.00, and indications are that that will take place in July of this year, or thereabouts. Has the minister calculated in his
budget for the revenues that the provincial government will transfer into general revenues of his department because of these additional revenues, because we all know that 10 per cent clawback, for lack of a better phrase or word - has the minister calculated those anticipated revenues into his revenue stream in the department?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member has asked a financial question during estimates and I certainly welcome that question. The anticipated contribution from the Resource Recovery Fund Board to help defray some of the cost of solid waste management has taken all the anticipated net revenues from the Resource Recovery Fund into account when it came up with that number.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the minister hasn't answered the question. Is there a dollar figure attached to these anticipated revenues that will be generated by the RRFP?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member brings up an important topic because, as the honourable member, I am sure, is aware, paint accounts for 50 per cent of the hazardous household waste that goes into the waste stream and actually ends up being buried at our landfills. The honourable member, I know, is also aware that based on 20 per cent to 25 per cent of paint not being used by the purchaser, that that would amount to some 400,000 gallons a year. This is a grievous problem to our environment and, yes, we are pursuing a stewardship agreement with the industry, but I think it is premature at this time to announce that we have concluded one and be sharing those financial details until they have been negotiated with the successful proponent.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I can't believe what the minister has just said. He has indicated that the province is allowing these 18 municipal landfills to accept toxic and dangerous chemicals, of which he has opened up Pandora's box with a secret backroom deal for which he will not identify a figure. What monitoring has taken place to ensure that all the adjoining landowners and property owners in the other 17 municipal landfills have not been compromised by the process that you yourself have just identified?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member would know that we have to deal with this leftover paint, which has been handled through paint swaps. It has not been a permanent solution to what is a considerable problem. The honourable member would also know that, since 1996, paint has not been allowed to be buried in the landfills. This is a means of disposing of the leftover paint, trying to address a serious concern.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it is baffling because you ask him financial questions, he says it is a secret. He can't tell you how much it is costing the taxpayers. We may figure out, at one point or another, how much the revenue side is but we are not allowed to find out how much the expense side to his department is. Then when you do ask him, finally, on a specific user fee or some type of an environmental fee, he can't even answer
that. So I am not so sure I should even bother to continue asking anything with regard to figures because there doesn't seem to be any answers.
With regard to the issue of these well log reports that are prepared every time a well is dug, the department has, I believe, announced that it will be charging a fee of $100 or $150, it escapes me, I don't have the exact number here in front of me, but one of the two (Interruptions) $100. Can the minister confirm how much revenue he anticipates will be generated by that process?
MR. MORSE: Somewhere in the vicinity of $350,000 or $360,000. We are still working with the groundwater association to work out the details of this. This is a step forward in working with Nova Scotians to provide a greater security for the drinking water supply. It is something that I know the member welcomes as an additional safeguard through this department.
MR. MACKINNON: Really what the minister is indicating is that his department hasn't been doing an adequate job with the resources that it has. So he is conceding that his government has been failing on the inspection side of things, because he is indicating that this money is required to do an adequate job. So, clearly, his department has failed in the last year to deal with that particular issue.
The minister has indicated that there will be an industrial fee charged for certain aspects on that particular issue on landfills and industrial waste. Is the minister aware as to how much money he anticipates will be generated in this fiscal year because of that?
MR. MORSE: As with anything in the budgeting process, it depends on the actual number of applications but, based on our anticipated experience, we would expect somewhere in the vicinity of $275,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the minister and wish the minister well in his new appointment, and his staff being here to help us, hopefully, get through some of these questions we will have in the next short while. I would hope that I can stay somewhat consistent, and most of my questions will be around the labour component of your department.
One of the questions I really want to ask revolves around Page 11.9 in the Estimates Book. The final number on your Labour Services is $698,000. Now, I would like to know, I think, in respect to the point in the Budget Speech, that the Minister of Finance alluded to, the fact that this may be a fairly busy year when it comes to using those services, in particular remediation, conciliation and so on. I would like the minister to tell me what the estimates and the actual were for 1999-2000, and how he arrived at this figure for this year.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could I have a Page to the member for Cape Breton Centre, please, to pass the Estimates Book over to the Minister of Environment and Labour.
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the member for his question and his interest in following the finances. Such as I understand the question, this represents a merger of various components within the Department of Environment and Labour. There are certain efficiencies that we hope to realize through this merger, as was mentioned earlier in the session, pointing out some of the savings in administration so that we can safeguard the front-line service providers. That is how we came up with the $698,000.
MR. CORBETT: I think we can go back to that, because I don't believe the member for Halifax Fairview would appreciate that answer either, as much as I don't appreciate it. If you can tell me - let's not look at $698,000 - what was estimated for 1999-2000, and then tell me what the actual was for this group? This has not been as a result of a merge, it is how you deal with labour dispute resolutions by and large.
MR. MORSE: I think the honourable member's concern about the number may be answered by the fact that Labour Standards is no longer part of that $698,000. The forecast for last year for Labour Standards is $930,000. So, if you factor that in, I think you will find that the number is pretty similar to what was there the year before. Would you like the number in the Estimates Books, the page number?
MR. CORBETT: Yes.
MR. MORSE: Check Page 19.2.
MR. CORBETT: As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Minister, there was a reference in the speech from the Minister of Finance that there is an anticipation there will be many collective agreements coming open this year. This would be reflected in investment in the services we see under Labour Standards, such as - I would suspect - arbitrators, conciliators and so forth. Does your department have a handle on how many collective agreements are coming due this fiscal year, plus a breakdown of private industry versus government or Public Service unions?
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the member for a very insightful question. I think the point he is getting at is that with the anticipated pressures on the department for conciliation and mediation services, are we going to be able to meet those pressures. Perhaps he would take some comfort in knowing that we are now up to our full complement of conciliators. We just hired a fourth one; we had been operating with three. With that, our staff has increased, effectively by one-third, and we expect that that will be sufficient to handle the demand placed on that service.
MR. CORBETT: I appreciate the minister's answer, but again it only answers part of it. What I am looking for - and if you don't have it that is fair - is the number of collective agreements and the percentage that would be private sector versus public sector. I think there is an appreciation, there is a whole lot of difference in the resolve of a public sector dispute compared to a private sector dispute. If the minister has those, I would appreciate it; if not, he could table them and I could get access to them at some point.
MR. MORSE: We have taken that question and we will endeavour to provide the honourable member with that information at a future time.
MR. CORBETT: I appreciate that, and the breakdown would be gratefully appreciated. The minister was right before, part of the reason I wanted to know was because of where it was at, vis-a-vis staffing. That was part of it; another more pertinent reason why I asked that is because many times, especially in the part of the province where I come from, we are tagged with this idea that we are constantly in a state of mismanagement when it comes to our labour force, and that there is this whole plethora of strikes all the time in industrial Cape Breton.
Where I was going was with the fact that I wanted to try to get a handle on how many collective agreements were under the realm of the provincial Department of Environment and Labour, trying to work towards dispelling that myth that what we have, in particular in what would be referred to by a lot of people as industrial Cape Breton is this bunch of renegade unions and all they want to do is go on strike. That would be an enormous help to me, just to go forward with that point. When you get that information for me, I would greatly appreciate it.
In this province, a lot of our public sector are well into a negotiation process now - I think that is a fair comment - between people represented directly by NSGEU, and I believe the various nurses unions are in the midst of contract negotiations.
How to put this gently? I know this is crystal-balling in some ways and that is not your job. How closely are you monitoring those - because we are perceived to be in a time of restraint - how optimistic are you that these negotiations will meet a successful end without having a work stoppage?
MR. MORSE: Before answering his question, I would like to commend him for helping to dispel the myth that surrounds the area which he represents in terms of time lost due to strike or block-out. That is actually one of the measures we use in the department to measure our own success. Of course, everybody is interested in seeing it minimized in the run of a year, so that is one of our benchmarks. I suspect the honourable member is well aware of this, and I commend him for speaking well of his home constituency located in the heart of beautiful Cape Breton.
With regard to the process, in terms of avoiding strikes, clearly the responsibility, first and foremost, lies between management and labour, and in this case we are talking about labour unions. Should problems develop in the process, I think the member is aware that conciliation services certainly often provide a very useful tool to help conclude settlements when negotiations get into difficulty, but clearly the onus is on them to first of all call on us should they need the assistance of conciliator or a mediator, and ultimately it is the decision of the two parties to determine whether there is going to be a work interruption. Clearly it is our wish that there never is a need for a work interruption.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I think all parties by and large wish that. We have had some work stoppages lately in this province, some in the Pictou County area and so on. Again, it is a fine line you walk sometimes in trying to resolve disputes. In particular, I think of one recently at Pioneer Coal - I appreciate you weren't minister at the time - that was somewhat of a protracted dispute and there were some allegations to come out of that; indeed I believe maybe even some criminal charges. With that thought in mind, I want to ask the minister, what is his feeling toward what is referred to in many jurisdictions as anti-scab legislation?
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the member for a very pointed question. I think I would say that the Department of Environment and Labour, and the provisions that are in place to handle industrial work, potential strife in the workplace between management and labour has evolved a system that serves us well. I am supportive of the system we have in place.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I disagree. I couldn't disagree with you more, Mr. Minister. The system doesn't work, and that is why you have incidents like you did on that picket line. You are allowed to bring in replacement workers. We have a strike going on as we speak today, in HRM. They are bringing in scabs - some people call them replacement workers, we can be polite and say that, but that is what they are, scabs - this heightens the problem with some people. They are there fighting for their livelihood, and someone else is coming in and taking it away.
What it is also doing, Mr. Minister, is taking what should be a level playing field and tilting it in the way of the employer. The employer has the hammer, if you will, because the employer can continue to operate. What hammer does the worker have? The worker can withdraw their services, but it has absolutely no impact if the employer can fill in behind them, regardless of the situation.
Another thing I may add too, and I think if you look in jurisdictions where the anti-scab legislation was or is still an Act, I think in Quebec in particular, it gives you a great deal of labour peace on the picket line. You do not have this problem of employer-employee clashing, bringing replacement workers over the line. My question to you, Mr. Minister, is
what makes you think that the system as it exists in this province today is working in favour of both parties and not weighted in favour of the employer?
MR. MORSE: I think the member cares passionately about this question. I would suggest to the member, and I would suggest to all Nova Scotians, and indeed any members of any union who may in fact find themselves in that unfortunate situation, that they should never undervalue the contribution that they make to that workplace. The fact that they have been and they bring that experience to the job every day is an integral part of those organizations, and to think that by simply bringing in somebody on a temporary basis to replace them could in any way compensate for the loss of their services would just not be so.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I could be flippant and say talk is cheap. I will try not to be too flippant. That is not the reality of those particular strikes when they get a little nasty like that. People don't see it so cerebral. It is a problem. You have your livelihood here, you have that person there taking it away from you. It is not thought out that far. What I am trying to flag for you, Mr. Minister, is that this is a real problem. I would suspect, and I would go on record as saying that you see strikes lasting half as long in the Province of Quebec as they do here because of that very reason.
I think it is something that this government should seriously look at, because it goes back to what I said in an earlier question, it balances it out. What I would like to hear from you minister is, why do you think the system as it exists now is fair?
MR. MORSE: Again, not being disrespectful of the passion and compassion being shown by my honourable colleague across the aisle, in fact, Nova Scotia's record, as he alluded to earlier within his own area of the province, is actually a rather enviable one as compared to the rest of the country in terms of man days lost due to work interruption. So one would have to look to that as some sort of objective measure of the performance of our system although I do appreciate how he cares for those people, and so do I and so does our government, who find themselves in that difficult situation where they see somebody else performing their duties on the job, but the people who step in for that temporary period of time in no way could possibly replace what the full-time regular employees bring to the job.
MR. CORBETT: I have asked you three times now, Mr. Minister, what is in our Trade Union Act that makes that system that we have fair, where the employer has the ability to hire replacement workers? Tell me how that is fair and how that system works to the advantage of both parties?
MR. MORSE: Going back a very long time ago when I was in university, there was a concept called human resources accounting and I know in our government, and I am sure you would be aware of this, and indeed with many enlightened employers and usually the successful ones, a great deal is invested in their employees. The concept of human resources
accounting capitalizes this, recognizes it as an investment in their employees, something that they should value even to the point of putting it on their balance sheet.
When those employees are not on the job site, the employer is denied access to all that value and, as the honourable member points out, certainly the culture that comes from an interruption in services is not something that bodes well either for the employer or an employee and perhaps that is why conciliation in this province has been such an effective vehicle because I really think that both parties fully understand not only the financial, but the emotional costs of a work interruption, especially a work interruption that involves replacement workers. So we feel that the Trade Union Act does provide a balance and perhaps if the honourable member might reflect on some of these comments also from the employer's point of view, he would recognize that the employer is also the loser in these situations.
MR. CORBETT: You talked about your accounting class, Mr. Minister, and the reality is these things are all decided by money. If the employer can afford to keep the person out longer, they can wear them down. It is as simple as that. That is the weighted issue I am talking about. So I don't see how you can tell me that system that is fair. What tool does the employee who has been locked out, how do they level the playing field with the employer if he can bring someone in to do his job?
MR. MORSE: Employees bring that to the job every day in how they perform and successful employers will recognize this in the negotiations. In our area, although it is not with a union, we have a very successful employer and they pay their employees very well. We also have unionized employers who do very well and they also pay well above the market. So I think that this is not only a reflection on the employer, but I think it is a reflection on what the employees bring to the job. I would suggest that there are not many successful, large employers out there who do not value their employees.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Minister, I have asked that question to you at least five times in five different ways and you have not answered it and, therefore, my only conclusion can be that you agree with the fact that replacement workers should be allowed in this province. I think that is a blight on labour relations and it is something that no employer or no minister should be proud of. So let me ask you another question in the realm of the Trade Union Act. Do you believe in automatic certification?
MR. MORSE: I think it is very important to follow through and have that official vote. Once they sign up the requisite number of cards, then there should be a vote where both sides have a chance to express their point of view so the affected employees can make an informed decision that, hopefully, is in their best interests.
MR. CORBETT: So, again, we fall down on the side of weighting this again for the employer. The employer has more than ample access to sway these votes. The system works federally. Why won't it work provincially?
MR. MORSE: I am quite comfortable in discussing any matters that pertain to the Province of Nova Scotia. I would respectfully defer to the federal government to answer whatever programs they have in place federally, but what we have here in Nova Scotia seems to be working just fine.
MR. CORBETT: So what we have garnered so far tonight is that you believe in replacement workers as a Labour Minister. You don't believe in automatic certification even if a union was to go in and sign up 90 per cent. You have said earlier that you have seen the value of unions. It is proven that union shops are safer shops than non-union shops. There is the data there to prove that. You understand some of the ideas that unions put forward, whether it is benefits or direct wages, but yet you don't see them being able to play on the same level as an employer. They have to be that step down. You cannot trust them with union cards and you cannot trust them because of all the efforts you go through to get a collective agreement, you find yourself out on the street, replaced them. So I guess it leads to the third, Mr. Minister, do you believe in first contract legislation?
MR. MORSE: I believe it is important that the negotiation process be allowed to follow its natural course. There are two sides that bring something valuable to the negotiating table. The employees bring their expertise that, in fact, for all intents and purposes, is the company because without the employees there clearly would be no company. The employer brings to the table the opportunity for them to productively and profitably employ those abilities, so as hopefully to yield a profit in which the two sides will share through a negotiation process, I think that it is always important to allow the negotiation process to work and, failing that, then we can go to conciliation.
MR. CORBETT: It is only even if the process is level and I have already pointed out to the minister that it is not even that it is weighted on the side of the employer. You go to the bargaining process, a conciliator is taken in, you say that you are not in favour of first contract legislation. Is that fact?
MR. MORSE: I am in favour of a mature process we have here in Nova Scotia in labour relations, and it is my job to enforce the legislation, the regulations, to see that the process works according to the approved plan. That plan accounts for the opportunity for both the employer and the employees to undertake meaningful negotiations, and clearly the best agreements are ones that are agreed to by all the parties. It would be our preference not to have to impose an agreement, although clearly the point that you bring out is that sometimes the first agreement can be the most difficult one, and your point is well taken.
MR. CORBETT: So, you don't like automatic certs, you're not against anti scabs, or you are for scab labour, and maybe in special circumstances you may agree with first contract legislation.
In this day and age, these are not ideas that are way out there. We have a Trade Union Act that is over 25 years old. Many times we talk about doing things and dragging them into this century with us, yet you are quite happy to sit there and administer an Act that is over 25 years old without any serious revisions, especially as it relates to collective bargaining and what revolves around it. So you are telling me now that you are satisfied with the Trade Union Act as it sits and there should be no changes.
MR. MORSE: I am very pleased that here in Nova Scotia we are experiencing a somewhat unprecedented level of economic growth. Things are going well. The unemployment rate is lower than it has been in decades. Our labour laws and regulations are mature, and we have been very successful as a province in avoiding work stoppages as measured by time lost due to strike or lockout and, as such, at this point in time until something is brought to my attention that would suggest that there is something wrong with this system, I would stick with the present system which has been worked out by many people ahead of me. I feel as though I perhaps am lifted on the shoulder of giants - my predecessors.
MR. CORBETT: I would have thought someone barging through a picket line with a front-end loader would get my attention; that would say there is something wrong with the process here.
There are problems here. You may want to put your head in the sand and say there is nothing wrong with the process here, but you go and talk to employees who want to unionize in this province, and you go talk to trade unions and they will tell you that this is one of the hardest provinces in this country to organize in.
If that is what you are getting to, that it is great that we keep the unions out, then please tell me that, but if you are serious about advancing the Trade Union Act, then I think there has been a wake-up call, there has been a front-end loader in somebody's car. Are you saying that you find nothing wrong with these laws, that it is a fair system that works for all involved?
MR. MORSE: That is certainly a grievous circumstance that the member has shared with us here today in the Legislature and I think the member would know well that there are laws in place to deal with those kinds of circumstances.
MR. CORBETT: I thought there were laws in place to deal with deaths in the workplace, but we still have a little problem in this province called Westray. If we are going to back off and say, oh, that is fine, we will take that, that could just as easily have been a
fatality and to say that we have laws to cover that, well it is not good enough. Your predecessor brought in Bill No. 68 and now we are going to regulations, now we are going to see sunset clauses on regulations. It all flows together. This is important and for you to stand in this House today and say que sera, sera; we have laws to look after you; if a guy dies, what the heck.
A few years back a Mr. Jessome in Cape Breton, while working for a company was killed in the workplace. Charges against that company were stayed. Tell me then why were those charges stayed in Mr. Jessome's death? Tell me that.
MR. MORSE: I think that the honourable member should refer back to the decision of the court. I am assuming that this decision was heard by the appropriate authority and based on the evidence they reached a decision. I personally am not familiar with this particular decision, but there is a process of checks and balances through the court system and we should be supportive of the justice system.
MR. CORBETT: It is not a matter of being supportive or non-supportive of the justice system. Do you think that the Westray families feel that the justice system gave them an even shake? I doubt that. What we are dealing with, not so much as the justice system, is the labour system, your department. As someone who sits there in that chair as Minister of Labour and you talked about the weight of your predecessors - whether that was tongue-in-cheek or not - I could think of some of your predecessors that I would not be too proud to be around. If you look through Justice Richard's report, there were some of them who did not do the best job they were capable of.
For you to merely say that you believe that the justice system will do its job is not good enough; it is not good enough at all. I pointed out to you in the previous question that the acting minister brought in Bill No. 68 that saw sunsets on certain health and safety regulations and workplace regulations. Tell me if you can, how you could put this system together then if there is a workplace fatality, how do you tell the affected families to have faith in the justice system? Is that what you are going to do?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member would know that we have a whole complement of occupational health and safety officers who are out auditing firms. It is a major concern and the member would also probably be aware that whenever there is a workplace accident, a report comes to the Minister of Labour, today the Minister of Environment and Labour.
It never gives me any pleasure to see those e-mails pop up, and we do get a couple a week of the more serious ones that require perhaps hospitalization. What the member I am sure would want to ensure is that just like with the justice system, which I do have faith in, although there has been improvement over the years, and that's what I am referring to, my predecessors in this role as Minister of the Environment, indeed Justice Ministers, and in fact
the whole evaluation of government is in a state of constant improvement. I mean that is what we would all aspire to and that is what you would aspire to if you were in fact over here in government. I am sure that that is the case.
So when there is a workplace accident, and one would hope it is not a fatality, although we know that fatalities do happen, a process is undertaken to make sure that everything possible to ensure the health and safety of that workplace and in fact, the victim, was done. If we have the process in place, one would have to conclude that we had minimized the accidents and indeed potential fatalities that could happen in the workplace, and that is why we have an occupational health and safety and that is why were reviewing another four sets of regulations this year. That is why we constantly want to review them to make sure that they are up to date and providing the appropriate levels of health and safety on the workplace. That is good for the employees and that is good for the employer and that is good for the province.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, well you say you get reports from workplace accidents. Just this past week there was an accident, I believe an employee's legs were crushed at Cherubinis in Amherst. Was that the first time there was a reportable accident to your department in that workplace?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I make reference to my previous answer. Unfortunately, workplace accidents, when you have over 361,000 Nova Scotians out in the workplace, inevitably the law of probabilities indicates that regardless of how careful everybody is in the workplace, with regard to occupational health and safety, it is unfortunate that accidents are going to happen. What we have to do is ensure that we minimize the occurrence. Accidents that occur because of poor occupational health and safety, that is the focus of our department, and again referring back to my earlier answer, accidents have been reported on a fairly regular basis; I get at least two or three a week This one unfortunately is a more serious one, and we certainly wish the injured worker well and hope that he regains the full use of his legs. I do know the accident you are speaking of and the company.
MR. CORBETT: Okay, you know the employee and you know the company. What I am asking you, as I asked in the previous question, Mr. Minister, has this company had any other accidents, and are they known to you? As you say, you get two or three e-mails a day, do you know of this company and have there been previous accidents?
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member for his question, and it is a very pertinent question. To answer the question as to whether there has been a history of other accidents with this particular employer group, the answer is yes; and at this particular location, the answer is yes. Therefore we had a whole team of occupational health and safety inspectors in just prior to the accident and a number of orders were given to require the employer to comply with appropriate occupational health and safety.
MR. CORBETT: I guess it leads to the next question. Did it relate to these accidents? Were the orders that were issued relatable to what you investigated, and was it relatable to this accident where the gentlemen's legs were damaged?
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member for his concern over this particular accident and while there was some preliminary discussion as to what took place, it would be premature for me to comment until the officer has filed his final report.
MR. CORBETT: Can the minister then tell me who was on the team that visited that work site?
MR. MORSE: I want to thank the member for his question and, as to the specific staff who were assigned to inspect the plant on that day, I will endeavour to get him the specific names of the officers.
MR. CORBETT: I would hope I could have them by tomorrow, and could you at least tell me who was the inspector from the Amherst area and was he involved with that team, do you know?
MR. MORSE: I would be happy to provide that information to the honourable member at the same time as we provide the other information, but the inspector for Amherst was also part of the investigation.
MR. CORBETT: Well, I would like to if at all possible, impress upon you and your staff that if we could get that tomorrow it would be appreciated. My time is getting short here tonight, Mr. Chairman, so I would like to ask a few questions especially as it relates to the Workers' Compensation Board.
You have just recently named a committee to do the review of workers' compensation legislation. Now will there be any parameters set on that committee, areas they can and cannot look at as it relates to the WCB and its Act?
MR. MORSE: The member would be aware that extensive time has been spent first of all reviewing the Act in the mid-1990's, whereas as a result of the Hayden decision we moved to the appropriate earnings replacement model and away from the meat chart. This is a much more compassionate approach to workers' compensation that had been there previously, and as somebody who comes from a background that involved the provision of disability products, I think it is certainly an appropriate change and perhaps a long overdue one.
Again, there was a select committee of this Legislature that travelled the province and garnered a lot of information subsequent to the new Act and, as a result of that, this Legislature introduced and passed Bill No. 90. I understand that the year was 1999, which among other things provided for some pensions to the widows.
What has taken place here is there has been a pretty careful scrutiny of the Act over the last five years, or thereabouts, and many good decisions made, as was shared with the Legislature here today with the Annual Report, and substantial improvement in the security of the benefits for the injured workers by reducing the unfunded liability of the accident fund. Accordingly, what we wanted to do was focus this legislated review to very specific terms of reference, to try to address those matters that were not addressed in the two previous looks at workers' compensation.
MR. CORBETT: One could say that is a lot. We have an Act in this province since 1917, are you saying that part of this is going to look at chronic pain and how it affects the pre-Haydens, are you willing to look at automatic assumption for firefighters? Can you be more specific?
MR. MORSE: I would like to advise the honourable member that we would be very happy to supply him with the terms of reference, they are presently available on the Web-site, but we would be happy to provide him with a hard copy. In addition to that, he made reference to chronic pain, of course, this is under appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. I think that we should wait for the court to rule on that one.
MR. CORBETT: I guess then I can ask you about one group that I know has just gotten an unfavourable decision from the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Are you or your department or officials from WCB willing to sit down and negotiate with the disenfranchised widows?
MR. MORSE: There was a very difficult decision that was undertaken by this government to have to pursue this case. I think the member would well appreciate the difficulties of making benefits retroactive, prior to the passage of programs. In this case, it would be the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think that as a government we have not taken any great pleasure in having to fight this case. We look forward to studying the decision and seeing the decision of the widows, as to whether they want to pursue it further.
MR. CORBETT: I don't know if I understand that last part of that answer, pursue it further. Are you willing to engage this group in a discussion or negotiations about settling their dispute, rather than having this go to the Supreme Court of Canada?
MR. MORSE: I would think the honourable member would be well aware that Nova Scotia has taken a slightly different approach in trying to meet the concerns of the widows. In fact, by legislation but voluntary legislation on the part of this Legislature, a pension was
put in place, it started January 1, 1999. I understand the amount is about $750 a month. The anticipated actuarial value of that pension is somewhere in the vicinity, as I understand it, of about $111,000. I know the Province of New Brunswick, as an example, settled with the widows for a lump sum of $80,000. We feel, given that the widows' concern is that of financial security, a lifetime pension is a compassionate attempt to try to deal with their concerns.
MR. CORBETT: Well, I think we can do both. Again, we are not talking about the general revenue of the province, we are talking about the accident fund, probably, at WCB. I probably have a little more than four minutes left, so a couple of things around WCB, in closing. One is that I had asked you, probably in a group of questions - it is becoming more and more apparent by studies that firefighters with more than 20 years experience have been shown to have higher rates of cancers, in particular brain cancer. Some provinces are moving towards automatic assumption. Has the WCB in this province looked at those studies and, if they have, what is their reaction?
MR. MORSE: Your question is specific as to whether the WCB has looked at automatic assumption for the brain cancer?
MR. CORBETT: For firefighters.
MR. MORSE: Yes, for firefighters. I am not aware if they have looked at this. I was asked this question, as you may be aware, shortly after Ontario looked at automatic assumption. My response remains the same today, no firefighters or municipalities, that often would be the ones that would be paying the increased workers' compensation premiums, or volunteer fire departments or fire departments have come forward and asked me, as Minister of Labour, to pursue automatic assumption. To answer your question, I am not aware of whether they have considered this, but nobody has come forward to me from any of those affected groups and asked for automatic assumption for brain cancer for 20 year-plus firefighters.
MR. CORBETT: I will give you one quick question. Mr. Minister, on the line of automatic assumption. You are obviously well aware that Devco is trying to wrap up operations in industrial Cape Breton. Many coal miners are eligible for automatic assumption, but they have been having one hard time trying to collect on it. Now it seems that WCB is really drawing a hard line around what is 20 years of service. What they are saying is if you have been on lay-off for periods of time, they are factoring that in to be included as time not worked. Is that something that you believe WCB should be pursuing, or is 20 years 20 years?
MR. MORSE: I think . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for consideration of the estimates has expired.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise, report progress and beg leave to sit again on another day.
[The committee rose at 9:29 p.m.]