HALIFAX, TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2004
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. James DeWolfe
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: I call the estimates of the Minister of Community Services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to say that this year we went for a little over eight hours, it looks like about 8.5 hours on the estimates, and that is a welcome development. Last year it was only six hours. The Department of Community Services is a large department, it's a very important department to the more vulnerable people of Nova Scotia, and I want to thank the Opposition members for their interest and their questions. It was a good debate and I also would like to acknowledge the work that was done behind the scenes by their researchers, because I know that they would depend on them just as I depend on my staff.
Specifically, I want to thank the two veterans of estimates from the Department of Community Services. At the end of the estimates yesterday I was making reference to Clem Hennebury who has been doing this for more years than he would admit to, and I can tell you that Clem understands very well all the things that happen within the department. Because everything hooks around the finances, and in order to understand the finances you have to understand the programs; clearly his manager, George Hudson, has also been a tremendous asset to the department over the years. I would like to acknowledge Cathy MacIsaac, who has patiently sat through all this taking notations up in the gallery. She's our Director of Communications - and these three dedicated staff, dedicated and capable staff, represent a great team at Community Services.
I want to thank the members opposite for their questions. This kind of scrutiny I think is a very important part of the democratic process. It's something that provides accountability to taxpayers. I understand this is not done in Ottawa, and perhaps if this was done in Ottawa, we might not have had this blow-up in the Spring. You, by virtue of your questions, safeguard the tax dollars and the programs that are there for Nova Scotians, so that is a reflection on your participation in this; it's also a reflection on the process that we have here in Nova Scotia, and a good one.
We look forward to another exciting and challenging year at the department, during which we will be providing services to approximately 165,000 Nova Scotians in various capacities. We will continue to attempt to improve and enhance our programs and services to make sure they are there when Nova Scotians need them.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, in closing, I am pleased to move Resolution E2 - "Resolved that a sum not exceeding $694,145,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Community Services, pursuant to the Estimate . . ." - and I so move.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E2 stand?
Resolution E2 stands.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
Resolution E32 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $241,009,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, pursuant to the Estimate and the business plan of Sydney Environmental Resources Limited be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I'm delighted to have the opportunity - I thought for a moment perhaps the estimates of the Department of Transportation and Public Works would not be coming before your committee, but we're delighted to be here. On my far left is Greg Penny, who is the Director of Finance for the Department of Transportation and Public Works. Adjacent to me is Brian Stonehouse, whom I'm sure most members know as Deputy Minister of the Department of Transportation and Public Works and, prior to that, of course he was with Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
Up in the gallery we have Brian Gallivan who's Director of Policy and Planning; we also have up there Al MacRae, who is the Executive Director of Public Works; Greg Lusk, the Executive Director of Government Services; and Martin Delaney, who's known I'm sure by most people here, the Executive Director of Highway Operations; and we have on the far right Ross MacLellan, who's the Director of Public Affairs and the gentleman who put my notes together for this afternoon.
I have fairly long opening remarks here and I may cut it a little bit short because, as I understand it, you do want some time available for Economic Development when I'm completed. So I will keep this as brief as I can, but it will still be reasonably lengthy. As you know, we have three operating divisions within the Department of Transportation and Public Works. We have Highways, Public Works, and Government Services and I'm going to speak to all three areas in my opening remarks. As well as Minister responsible for the Insurance Act and the Minister responsible for the Sydney Steel Corporation Act, I also intend to speak to those areas of responsibilities, and if you have any questions we can mix them up as we go along.
I'm also, as you're aware, the Minister responsible for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency and I intend to comment on that agency as well, as important things are happening there tomorrow. I'm also responsible for the Sydney Steel Corporation and SERL, which have been combined now, and John Traves will be in the gallery on occasion if you have any questions with regard to those particular portfolios. Also, and I notice it's not in my remarks, I'm responsible, as the Leader of the Opposition is aware, for the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, and I'm sure he will have some questions regarding that.
I would like to start off by sincerely thanking the members of the Department of Transportation and Public Works for their loyalty during this past year, and in years past, to keeping our roads in good shape and doing most things that come along periodically over which we have no control - and I'm speaking about the year just gone by when we had, in the Spring, severe flooding, during the latter part of the year we were struck by Hurricane Juan, and then we were struck of course with a massive snowstorm that brought things to a halt in much of the province. They've done an excellent job and they are appreciated.
I would also like to talk about the strides being taken by my government in the field of transportation investments. These investments are helping turn our roads and bridges around and they put needed dollars into our transportation system. I'm very proud of these investments because for too long our roads and bridges were being ignored. During the mid- 1990s government spending on transportation was declining. Governments were ignoring our roads and after a few years the neglect was beginning to show. In many ways we are still dealing with that neglect today. Some of the problems we face in 2004 are a result of delayed
investments in the middle to late 1990s; however I'm very pleased to report that our capital spending is increasing.
Once again, in this fiscal year, government has increased its investment in the road and bridge network of our province and for the fifth straight year our capital spending has gone up; in fact this year our capital budget for roads, bridges and machinery is more than $112 million. Including operating and capital expenditures, government will spend a total of $261 million on Nova Scotia's road network.
This is a noteworthy feature, Mr. Chairman, because this investment exceeds by $5 million to $6 million the provincial motor fuel taxes in fiscal 2004-05 or, put it another way, government expects to receive $255 million in provincial gas taxes this fiscal year and expects to expend $261 million on roads and bridges. Also the government's increased investments are evident - new bridges, new twinned highways, new pavement, are making our roads and bridges stronger and providing new opportunities for communities and businesses. I would like to point out some of the highlights of our recent work - a 3-year, $15 million, mid-life renovation to the Seal Island Bridge. Companies from across Nova Scotia completed a substantial renovation of this structure and at the same time allowed tourism and commercial traffic to continue along a very important corridor. I would also like to mention that the design work on the Seal Island Bridge recently received a Lieutenant Governor's Award for engineering design.
Mr. Chairman, I'm sure that every member of this House has driven across the Seal Island Bridge and appreciates the value of that bridge. It's a tremendous asset to this province. (Interruption) It is, indeed. As a matter of fact, those lights that we've been talking about for some considerable time will be going out to tender this year I believe. We also completed a new $10 million Margaree Harbour Bridge, and this bridge will serve as an important link to the world-famous Cabot Trail in helping to boost tourism, as well as local communities and infrastructures.
We've continued twinning along Highway No. 101. It was my good fortune to recently attend an official opening of Highway No. 101, the twinning piece between Mount Uniacke and Ellershouse. This 21 kilometres of highway serves as an important connector and does indeed improve safety. Twinned highways don't stop crashes, but they do certainly stop the appalling loss of life that we have on dual-lane highways where you have head-on collisions.
AN HON. MEMBER: And no shoulders.
MR. RUSSELL: And no shoulders, you're right. Staff are now working on the next section of twinning from Ellershouse to Windsor and from Falmouth to Avonport. This project is cost-shared with the federal government as part of the National Highway System and is expected to start this fall.
Continued investments in Highway No. 103 - this year the department expects to expend about $19 million on two sections of Highway No. 103, one near Barrington and the other near Halifax. This work represents a significant investment in Highway No. 103 and a significant investment out of our capital budget because, as I'm sure everybody realizes, Highway No. 103 is not part of the National Highway System and, therefore, is not cost-shared by the federal government.
AN HON. MEMBER: It should be.
MR. RUSSELL: It should be, absolutely. In fact, later on in my remarks I will come to that because we're going to try to increase the number of highways that we have in the National Highway System to include Highway No. 103, also Highway No. 105 and Highway No. 107. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself here.
AN HON. MEMBER: You have support, Mr. Minister, your support is behind you.
MR. RUSSELL: One of the nicest things about being the Minister of Transportation and Public Works is you've got lots of friends in the House.
Twinning of Highway No. 125 - work is continuing on this project with work on the Coxheath interchange planned for this Summer. Most of the money for this project is also coming from the province, but however there is a portion that will be contributed by the federal government. Twinning of Highway No. 104 - work is moving forward on twinning the next section of Highway No. 104 from New Glasgow to Sutherlands River. The clearing of ground to Pine Tree Road is expected to take place this Winter.
There has been a lot of work and a lot of money spent on the 100-Series Highways, and sometimes I know members say why don't we fix up the local roads and then fix up the 100-Series. Well, we have to concentrate on the 100-Series Highway because our 100-Series Highway is in good shape and it's up to us to keep it in good shape. We know what has happened to our secondary roads because of the lack of ongoing maintenance - they've fallen into disrepair. Most of them require rebuilding before repaving. With Highway No. 101, we do have to continue to expend money to keep that system going, because with no railroads carrying freight in and out of this province, of any great extent, these days most of the traffic is on the roads and, certainly, the truck traffic now takes a tremendous toll on our highways.
We have about 4,100 bridges in this province and the cost of repairs and replacements to those bridges over the next 10 years is estimated at $560 million. This figure comes from the 10-year needs study by the Department of Transportation and Public Works which we republished in 2001. The department intends to replace about 200 single-lane steel truss bridges in Nova Scotia. The expected cost of replacing those bridges is about $150 million. As everybody is aware, these are very old bridges; some of them are well over 100 years old. They are still functional, they are still safe - and I repeat, they are still safe - but, however,
they do not meet the needs of today's traffic, which is so much faster and so much larger and so much heavier. To begin the program of replacing those steel truss bridges, we're spending $50 million over the next five years to replace 66 of them. This is a pretty significant investment, but it's only the beginning. The remaining bridges will have to be replaced and that is going to have to be a continuing program for the Department of Transportation.
As a result of these expenditures, we're seeing better roads and bridges in our rural communities and this will assist rural-based businesses. Certainly we are receiving improved feedback from the public; our satisfaction levels are going up year after year. Every year the Department of Transportation, for the last, I think probably 25 years or so, has taken a customer survey to determine the satisfaction of the travelling public with our highways. It steadily decreased from 1990 forward and the reason for that was fairly obvious - because we didn't spend money, as I said before, on ongoing maintenance and the roads just deteriorated. However, that level of satisfaction which decreased about 50 per cent around about the year 1999-2000 has increased steadily since then and, in our last assessment, which was last year, in 2003, it was up to 60 per cent, which is a credible advance. It's still not good enough, but we're certainly showing some improvement.
The department can always improve and I expect it always will. However, as our investments build and as our transportation network grows stronger, I believe public satisfaction levels will continue to grow. The need to do more with the limited dollars that we receive each year in our Transportation and Public Works budget has never been more rigid. However, the department has taken on that challenge and is looking for better, and new and efficient ways to serve Nova Scotians - our method is by putting operational dollars directly into the local road work through road improvement money, the RIM program.
This year the department is spending $12.5 million on RIM, which is an increase of $2.5 million over last year. Over the last four years we've put $39 million into the local road network through RIM, and in fact this year, year five of the RIM program, brings a total investment in RIM to $51.5 million. This money, as you know, goes directly into road projects on secondary and local roads and is divided by region, based on the amount of roadway in each particular riding. This money goes towards projects such as small-scale asphalt patching, ditching, gravelling and shoulder work, and the feedback from communities has been exceptional. Most of these RIM dollars are tendered, resulting in greater cost efficiencies for taxpayers, and first-class work for residents. The thing about RIM is that, first of all, it attracts the smaller contractors into projects such as paving, gravelling . . .
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Out-of-province contractors.
MR. RUSSELL: I beg your pardon. No. No. The honourable Leader of the Opposition is probably going to ask me a question on that later, and I will be happy to answer him.
The department is also being asked to be smarter, and here we're using the latest technology to meet the needs of Nova Scotians. Take for instance the department's RWIS stations, or Road Weather Information System stations. You've seen these along the sides of the highways. They're a tower with a camera at the top, and embedded in the highway there's a little receiver about the size of a hockey puck which relays information to the radio tower, but the devices and sensors accumulate air and ground temperatures and then forward that information directly to Environment Canada. This information comes in the form that enables the staff at our garages to make decisions on salting, and with that information staff are able to put salt on the road before the ice forms, making our roads safer while requiring the use of less salt to do the same job. These towers also contain cameras which are used to provide images of highway conditions, and staff can use these cameras to watch weather patterns as they cross the province and that allows our supervisors to be prepared for rapid changes in the weather.
At the present time I believe we have 15 or 16 of the RWIS stations, I think it's about 15 or 16 this year, and we are going to try to get another nine. These are cost-shared with the federal government and we hope this year that we'll have a RWIS station installed at the Causeway. I would suggest that that's going to be very important for people in Cape Breton. We already have one, I believe, up in North Sydney, so this will bring our number in Cape Breton to two, but eventually, and probably starting next year, we're going to be going up Highway No. 104 to Sydney. These stations, as you know, you can pick them up yourselves on the Net and you can see what the weather is like before you start off.
The cameras are a popular feature and are used extensively by the travelling public. The department's Web site experiences extensive traffic during the Summer and Winter months as motorists look for weather and road information. Our goal is to improve services and safety to the travelling public and the cameras are one method by which drivers can learn more about weather conditions in Winter and Summer.
These stations also assist the department with its salt management strategy. This strategy is intended to minimize the harm to the environment from salt. As you're probably aware, salt has been labelled a toxic substance by Environment Canada and we have been ordered to cut back on the amount of salt that we use by 25 per cent. One of the ways in which we're doing that is by pre-wetting the salt before we spread it on the roads. If you've ever driven behind a salt truck, you will see the salt coming out the back and most of it's bouncing off the road onto the shoulder. When you put it down pre-wet, it goes down and it stays on the road and there's no doubt about it that that alone, the pre-wetting, is going to enable us to substantially decrease the amount of salt that we use, but still achieve the same desired effect from salting.
As a part of that strategy, I should also mention that we are improving our salt domes, or our salt sheds. We have had some problems around the province with contamination of sites and leaking into the water table from our salt sheds. We're getting rid of the old salt domes, putting up new environmentally designed salt sheds that will prevent the salt from escaping and, as I say, getting into the landscape around the shed.
Remediation is an important component of the work that goes on at Transportation and Public Works, and the department can point to valuable and successful case histories that the Department of Transportation and Public Works has been involved in. Five Island Lake is one that I'm sure the member for Timberlea-Prospect - where there was a lake that was badly polluted and it is now clear. Up in Inverness, the old mine site up there, the old coal mine site, we're remediating that, and we're also doing some considerable work at Boat Harbour, that has been ongoing now for, oh, since about 1994 I think, and it is pointed out as being one of the classic remediation efforts in this country.
I also expect that this year, in fact we have money in our budget to start the demolition of the old Halifax Infirmary, and that's a site that's going to require considerable work in pulling it down. I suggested that we might go in and just blow it up and sell tickets to watch the demolition, but I'm advised that there's so much reclaimable material within the hospital - there's also asbestos, et cetera, in there - that it will be a rather slow process demolishing it, but it will be started this year and be completed next year. The result of that, of course, will be a prime piece of downtown real estate will be available for development adjacent to Spring Garden Road.
I would also like to talk just for a moment on what we've done in the way of renovation of our historic buildings - and this is a very good example, this building. When I first came to this House, and it was a few years ago now, the building was actually black. It was black from the accumulation of soot and other contaminants, airborne contaminants, and there was great to-do about we would have to sandblast it off, et cetera, but however we went about it scientifically and the Department of Public Works brought some consultants in from the U.K. to suggest what we could do for this building, because they had, of course, years of experience in renovating buildings in London and they came here and they did the outside. As you know, a tremendous amount of the sandstone exterior was replaced.
The inside was renovated and we have restored the building back to essentially where it was - and I say essentially because not entirely - around about the turn of the century. This is a gorgeous building; it's one of the finest buildings in Canada and it certainly would be a tremendous loss if we allowed the building to deteriorate. I should also mention that we're doing some work down in Digby at the Digby Courthouse, which is an old historic building, which we're doing some exterior work on, and that is certainly another part of the province that has many historic buildings.
One of the things that my department requires is that all new buildings and new leases be barrier free and incorporate the barrier-free design into renovations of existing buildings. We're also exploring ways and new opportunities whereby we can meet the government's energy strategy. Our latest steps in this field include energy-efficient building construction, which is resulting in substantial cost savings to government. This is something that we will continue on in the future as we build more buildings and as we renovate existing buildings.
One of the interesting items we have just recently started in our own provincial buildings is the use of fish oil in heating fuel. About 20 government buildings are taking part in this test of a Nova Scotia product - it's a mixture of fuel oil and fish oil. It seems to work very, very well. I'm told that there's only one furnace that we had some problems with originally, but it's working okay now. This shows a determination to do our best to better the environment.
Now, speaking of the environment, as you know, there's going to be an announcement tomorrow with regard to the Sydney tar ponds. I first encountered the Sydney tar ponds when I became Chairman of Management Board back in 1982. My Deputy Minister, Mr. Byron Anthony, whom some of you may or may not remember, gave me a briefing on the Sydney tar ponds and I learned from him about the problems in Sydney. I never dreamed that it would take 22-odd years before we finally got around to cleaning up that particular mess. It took 22 years, five Premiers and a similar number of Prime Ministers for the three levels of government to get started.
The Canadian press recently reported that Canada and Nova Scotia had reached an agreement in principle on a $400 million plan to clean up the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens. I guess I can't tell you too much more about it, but the methodology that we're going to be using to clean up the tar ponds and to remediate the coke oven site are not new technologies. They are technologies based on successful application in other parts of Canada and other parts of North America and the world.
Mr. Chairman, it is absolutely essential that we stop talking about the tar ponds and the coke oven site and get on with the job. The people in Sydney say, we don't care, as long as you've got a plan, as long as you've got a technique that is safe and is proven, get on with it - just cut out all the chatter and get on with it. I honestly believe that this time something is going to happen. I honestly believe that this year something is going to happen. (Interruptions) Well, I'm not going there so I won't have a shovel up there, but I'm sure there are other people who will be there tomorrow for the announcement. Indeed, I would suggest for Sydney this is probably the most important announcement that's being made for many years with regard to those two environmental problems.
These areas, when they are remedied, there's no limit to what you can do with them, particularly the coke oven site. I understand that people are already designing a golf course to go there and it would be a wonderful location for a downtown golf course in Sydney. All
those things are possible. This project can transform Sydney and turn the unusable parts into a very, very beautiful part of that great community.
In conjunction with the tar ponds, of course, we have the Sysco site, the old Sydney Steel site. That has been under the management of Sysco and SERL - Sydney Environmental Resources Limited. We have wound up SERL now and combined it with Sysco and, as a result of that, we can have one organization which will be responsible for the Sysco site and for the other jobs that SERL has done.
It's interesting that SERL has delivered on its commitment to provide opportunities to severed workers to find work on the site of Sydney Steel. To date, almost 400,000 hours of work at $16.55 per hour has been supplied directly to Sysco's former employees working on the Sysco site. Tens of thousands of additional hours of labour for former steelworkers have been provided by subcontractors.
The province has delivered on its commitment to liquidate the assets from the site. We held a very successful auction and sold all of the larger steelmaking pieces directly to other buyers. As of today, we have sold all of the marketable pieces of the Sysco plant and the last few items are presently being removed by a company called Zoom and they're taking out the arc furnace and the rolling mill. We have demolished over 30 buildings on site and already over 60 per cent of that planned activity is completed. By the end of this year, over 80 per cent of the projected demolition work will have been completed and there are also some buildings there which we will do some work on which will be available for people who wish to establish businesses on the site.
We have five new private sector tenants on the site that provide employment for 150 local people. The anchor tenant there is PEVL, which is providing a critical infrastructure service that has resulted in approximately 3,000 carloads of coal being shipped on the Cape Breton railroad. The province, with financial input from Nova Scotia Power, has also made a major investment in the Sydney Ports access road which is now open to commercial traffic and will hopefully be open for regular traffic later on this year. That road is a great asset, it connects onto Highway 125 and runs down to the Nova Scotia piers and allows for better and safer traffic flow in and out of the Sysco site.
Earlier this year, following a decision to not use the existing incinerator on site for tar ponds clean-up work, the government combined the operations of Sydney Environmental Resources Limited and Sysco. I said that a moment ago, this will lead to better efficiencies and better coordination of the remediation efforts on site.
Finally, as minister responsible for Sysco, I can say I'm very proud and perhaps most proud that we have managed to live up to our commitments on time and within budget with regard to the Sydney Steel site. The management team at site have done their job exceptionally well.
This year the combined budget for SERL and Sysco operations will be about $23 million - that's an increase of about $8 million for that organization. The reason for that increase is that we'll simply be doing a great deal more work there this year. There will be much more demolition work done to pull down the remaining structures that house the arc furnace and the rolling mill.
Our environmental and remediation activity will intensify this year with Phase III environmental studies being completed on the areas from the Victoria Road overpass to the coke ovens brook and on the areas around the administration building and north to the mobile shops. This year environmental management plans will be developed for the high dump and blast furnace areas. These plans will provide the actual clean-up strategies for those sites. Additional environmental remediation activities scheduled and budgeted for this year will include the cleaning and removal of 2.5 million gallon oil tanks, removal of 50,000 kilograms of PCBs, cleaning and removal of about 2 kilometres of oil pipelines and the removal of thousands of kilograms of the remaining industrial chemicals and materials with asbestos.
We don't expect to have too much scrap steel this year, something in the order of about 41,000 tons, but we will be continuing with the slag operation with an estimated 100,000 tons being sold of the aggregate. To those of you who are familiar with the site, there is what is called the high dump. It's a Sydney landmark - it's a huge dump where all the slag from the steel mill has been dumped. That dump is now a mine and we're mining the slag and we're getting aggregate from that which has a very high value as aggregate and it's selling as rapidly as we can mine and crush it. I think some of it is actually being exported out of the country. I think some of it's going to the northern United States as aggregate.
Lastly, and I think I'm getting to the end here, I'd like to speak about insurance. As we all know, the rise in insurance rates is an issue that has been experienced across the country. The situation has been especially challenging for Nova Scotians on fixed incomes such as seniors as well as for working families, students and small business. However, I'm pleased to note that the auto insurance reforms we introduced last Fall are showing clear and considerable results. Our insurance amendments have resulted in 277,000 Nova Scotians sharing in over $55 million in rebates to date.
The Nova Scotia Insurance Review Board continues to work diligently to implement the statutory requirements it has been charged with under the Insurance Act. Nelson Blackburn is the Chairman of the review board and they are up and running. They will be reporting back to government on November 1st on the availability of fire, property, casualty and liability insurance in Nova Scotia and also on the consideration of gender as a rating factor in auto insurance. Public input on those two studies will be sought through public hearings that will take place around the province starting later this month. Through our auto
insurance reforms we have developed a solution that meets the needs of all stakeholders, particularly, of course, the consumers of Nova Scotia.
Part of the Department of Transportation and Public Works is the Government Services Division. Government Services, as its name suggests, provides common services to government users. Under this umbrella falls everything from postal services to accommodation services to a government-wide provision of information technology and telecommunications services. This division also manages accommodations for all departments, boards, agencies and commissions. They sell surplus land and manage inventory. They also protect our computers from outside attacks, they also manage 100,000 e-mails that flow in and out of government offices each day - that's 100,000 a day and I guess there's a lot of spam in that.
Under Government Services you have the staff who handle government-wide contracts for telecommunications. These are the staff who last year negotiated new tendered agreements for local and long distance telephone service as well as data and cell phone service. These contracts will save the mass sector - the municipalities, universities, hospitals, school boards, et cetera - about $1 million a year as well as saving about $1 million a year for the government, for a total saving of about $2 million in our telecommunications side of our operation.
The Public Safety Communications Program Office which is responsible for the trunk mobile radio system or TMR is also located in the department. This mobile radio communications system which cost more than $20 million to build links virtually all emergency services in the province. The system links 5,000 users with over 68 tower sites across the province. It's a first-class system which links police to EMO staff, volunteer firefighters and many others.
Following Hurricane Juan, the feedback from national experts at a conference gave this system an enthusiastic vote of confidence. They said Nova Scotia's mobile communications system makes us a leader across North America. This is also the feedback we received from the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference. In 2001 they awarded the department the national distinction award bronze medal for the development of our mobile communications system in Nova Scotia.
This province also continues to assist volunteer groups with donated radios and free air time. The department is also working towards a stronger province with our policy decisions and lobbying of the federal government - this is with respect to the two other sides of the Department of Transportation and that is the airport and the seaport. We've had our differences with the federal government on both the airport and the seaport. We have been pushing Ottawa to liberalize air access to new carriers to serve Nova Scotia, but most importantly we've been pushing the Government of Canada to approve pre-clearance services at the Halifax International Airport. As you know, if you're in Toronto and you're heading
south, you're pre-cleared by U.S. customs at Toronto Pearson before you board the aircraft so at the other end, you're just an in-transit passenger.
Halifax is the only major airport in Canada which does not have pre-clearance and we're the only area in Canada - that is Atlantic Canada - which does not have pre-clearance. We've had endless discussions over the past three or four years, I think we're finally getting somewhere and I'm very, very hopeful that perhaps by the end of this year, we will have some kind of an agreement with the U.S. Customs Service. We see that as a great advantage for our trade and passenger traffic out of Halifax.
We're also concerned about small airport viability. We have two airports - Yarmouth and Sydney - which were built to accommodate commercial traffic and they've both been very successful, but unfortunately, over the last few years, traffic in Yarmouth has declined. Certainly we're doing our best to revitalize that airport. The airport in Sydney is still going strong, however, that is another small airport that is going to require our continuing attention.
The last thing that I'd like to comment on, Mr. Chairman, one I've mentioned over and over again, without knocking the federal government, but nevertheless, I think it's well worthwhile considering that every year we lose $140 million in motor fuel taxes from this province. What we get back is something in the order of $4 million. When the 100-Series Highways were built, it was on the premise that the federal government would share 50 per cent of the costs of establishing the National Highway System as well as 50 per cent of the ongoing major maintenance on those highways. To be quite honest, the federal government hasn't lived up to that promise. We must continue to pursue the federal government to not only cost share on the existing national highway system, but also to include in our National Highway System those other important 100-Series Highways that we have that at the present time are not cost shared.
I could go on, I've been skipping pages here right, left and centre, but I did want to bring those items to the committee's attention and I look forward to any questions that they may have. I'm hopeful the staff can assist me in answering those questions. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, minister.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his rather lengthy address. It's unfortunate we're at the end of estimates here with Transportation. I'm sure we could use more than the four hours that we have allotted, but, nonetheless, I look forward to some questions to you, Mr. Minister, and certainly I welcome your staff here today on the floor and in our gallery as well.
I do have a number of questions so I guess I'm going to get right to them and I thought perhaps I would start off where I left off in Question Period. We were sort of cut off rather abruptly and the last question during the time period, I didn't really get the answers perhaps I was looking for. As you remember, Mr. Minister, that was around toll roads. I'm just a little unclear I guess on what your position or what the government's position is around toll roads. As you know, we do have a toll highway here in this province and I'm going to come to that shortly, but on future toll roads is really what I'm trying to figure out where your stand is. You have told me here in Question Period previously no more toll roads, pretty clear, but then when we attended the bill briefing the week before last, I believe it was, you said you might allow toll roads if municipalities would initiate it and so you would permit that.
We've heard from your own government members that perhaps they would like to see a toll road here in HRM and just yesterday, as I mentioned earlier, the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission has permission I guess from a study, perhaps funded by your government, to allow toll roads. So I'm a little unclear on where we're at with toll roads in Nova Scotia. I wonder, first of all, if you could clear up what is the government's position on toll highways?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, I can be pretty clear on this I think. The province has no intention of building any more toll roads in the foreseeable future. We have one toll road in place. It has been a remarkably successful venture actually but, however, that is the end of that experiment. The road to which the honourable member is referring, Mr. Chairman, is the Burnside Expressway which is a proposal, as I understand it, coming forward from a private developer who owns the land that the highway would be built on and that he had approached, I believe the municipal government, HRM, with regard to that particular proposal.
What I have said with regard to a proposal coming forward from HRM, if HRM comes forward with a proposal for a toll highway within the HRM, then we will give it some consideration, but it is not our intention to build that highway or to do anything to promote it. However, our commitment would have to be, of course, subject to negotiation, to provide an interchange at each end of that highway.
MR. PARKER: So you're saying your government then in and of itself is not committed to toll roads, but if there's another entity in the province, whether it's private or whether it's a municipality, or the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission, whatever agency, you would allow them then to build toll roads. In today's Daily News there was an article that the bridge commission is going to spend some money on a study for the proposed Burnside toll highway. I know that's not directly under your department, but it's certainly under the auspices of this government. Where is the money coming from for that study to see whether the toll highway would be feasible or not?
MR. RUSSELL: All that I know about it, Mr. Chairman, is what I read in the paper this morning in The Daily News which would indicate that the bridge commission is contemplating a study for an interconnect to that toll highway should it be built and that they were evidently going to fund that study, as I understand it, from their own revenues. The bridge commission comes under the Department of Finance so that question would be better asked of the Minister of Finance, but I can tell you quite truthfully I don't know anything about it at all. All that I know is that there was a proposal made to the city with regard to that stretch of highway across private land, and I emphasize it's private land, and that if such a request is made by HRM, we would give it due consideration. I'm not saying that we would provide the necessary linkages to the provincial system.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, again then I guess just to sum up on this aspect of it, is that you're certainly not opposed if a municipality or a private interest is interested in pursuing a toll road anywhere in the province. I will move on from there then to our toll highway we do have in Nova Scotia, the Cobequid Pass, and as we know, that corporation has done very well. Certainly tolls are exceeding expectations. The amount of traffic going through that toll booth is well above expectations. The report I have here in hand says the actual project tolling revenues exceed the original projections by 24 per cent, but in spite of that, certainly this year, the tolls went up. I think they're $4 now for a car and I believe it's $3, is it, per axle on commercial vehicles? So I guess my question is, why have tolls increased even though there has been considerably more revenue coming in?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, in response, the agreement itself contained contractually various stages during that agreement when increases would be made and it has no tie-in to whether the toll road is in a profit or loss situation. The only advantage that we're getting, yes, I guess we're getting, when I say that, the Province of Nova Scotia is getting, from the fact that we are indeed continually increasing those rates every four years or so, is that the amortization period for the road has decreased considerably. I think originally it was 35 years. (Interruption) Twenty-five years and now it is down I believe to 15 or 16 years. I can get you the actual numbers for the honourable member, Mr. Chairman, if he would like them. I can get them and deliver them to him tomorrow.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, the annual report that I have shows the original payback was 30 years and we're into that now by, what, five or six years, is it? I forget exactly when it started, but based on the revenue that's coming in, it's obvious then it's going to be paid off well before the 30-year period and I'm just wondering, is it the intention then at some point less than 30 years we're going to be paid off and there will be no more tolls or will it continue for the 30-year period, or is the extra revenue paying down the mortgage, or is it going to other uses?
MR. RUSSELL: The decision was made, to the best of my knowledge, about five years ago that at the conclusion of the retirement of the bonds, the toll booths would vanish and the road would be open to the public. I should also mention, Mr. Chairman, if I may, that this has been a successful venture, not only from the point of view that revenues have come in at a greater rate than we had anticipated - higher traffic was the main reason - but also that the road was built to last that 30 or 35 years of the use of the road. It has been a very good highway from the point of view of maintenance and within the corporation itself there is funding that is accumulating for ongoing maintenance for the road. So it is kept up to high standards and it was a high standard when it was originally built.
MR. PARKER: Well, I guess, Mr. Minister, my question really was based on the increased projections of revenue. What year, or how many of those 30 years before tolls will be done away with completely? I think, it was 1997 it started, so 30 years would be 2027, but because of the increased revenue, what year do we expect to be completely free of tolls in the Cobequid Pass?
MR. RUSSELL: I can tell you approximately. I know it's something around about 15 years remaining. So that would take it to 2019.
MR. PARKER: I'm going to move on, Mr. Chairman, to a favourite topic of all rural members, I guess, the state of our rural roads in Nova Scotia. As has been stated a number of times in this House and by yourself, Mr. Minister, we do have an infrastructure deficit in this province. It's a huge deficit in relative terms. It's $3.5 billion that has been identified by your department staff, I believe, as the amount of money that we're behind in our highway infrastructure, highways and bridges, in this province. That's a lot of money, no two ways about it, and it's certainly obvious for anybody who drives around rural Nova Scotia, the roads are crumbling. They're falling apart and I can give you lots of examples from my riding and I'm sure you've heard them from almost every member in this House that, you know, the secondary roads are just very, very poor. Constituents are telling me and other MLAs, and you, I'm sure, that they're really not getting any better. They're costing people money. There are car repairs that are piling up for front-end alignments, and wheels and rims and mufflers and on it goes for repairs.
I think I've heard you mention before there's a 10-year plan to address this issue and if you take that $3.4 billion and divide it out by 10 years, you're at about $345 million per year. Now, I haven't seen this 10-year plan, but maybe it's rolling and maybe it's already underway. I know it has been talked about for a number of years. So I guess I wanted to ask first of all, are we into the 10-year plan and, if so, how far along are we, or is it just a hope and a wish that it will get started at some point? We're certainly not up to $345 million in your budget obviously. When did the 10-year plan start and is there a copy available that I could see?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member raises a very interesting point because it's one I think that perhaps I'm at fault in not making sure that members did receive a copy of the 10-year plan. I tabled it in the House in 2001 or 2000, one or the other, 2001 I believe was the year that the 10-year plan came out. I tabled it in the House and I think I made a ministerial statement at that time. The 10-year plan is not a fixed 10 years. It's 10 years of progression. The first 10-year plan came out in, I think it was 1995 or 1996. It was put out by the then Liberal Government. In 2001 we revised the original plan and updated it and it was an ongoing 10 years. I can suggest to you that probably in another four or five years we'll come out with another 10-year plan. It's just a progression of what we intend to try to achieve over the next 10 years. It certainly is not going to solve that deficit that we have which is around, as you say, $3.5 billion.
One of our problems, and it's one that's very, very hard to argue, is that highways in the overall scheme of things are not considered to be very important. Health is considered to be very, very important. Education is very, very important. Community Services is very, very important and so on. In consequence, our percentage of the total provincial budget has steadily decreased. Back in the mid-1980s we were spending about the same amount on capital construction as we're spending today. That was in mid-1980's dollars. At that time we were getting something in the order of 9 per cent or 10 per cent of the provincial budget coming to the Department of Transportation and Public Works. It has gradually decreased so that when we came back into government in 1999, it was down to 4 point-something per cent. Since then it has increased, not anywhere near as rapidly as I would like to see it, but now I believe it's up to something like 7 per cent. I'm sorry, I'm exaggerating, it's 5.5 per cent of the provincial budget is coming to the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
Mr. Chairman, $112 million a year in capital just doesn't cut it. We need about $200 million a year in capital to adequately maintain what we have. We need about $300 million to make progressive strides to increase the number of twinned highways, better overpasses, better interchanges, et cetera, and to do a wholesale job on our rebridging of those rivers and streams that are presently crossed by steel truss bridges. How much chance are we going to have to have, $300 million a year? Not for awhile. Can we get $200 million? It may be possible, it may be possible, and hopefully we can work towards that. At the present time we're increasing our expenditures on capital by about $10 million a year. We can get to $200 million though if the feds step up to the plate and give us on a steady, ongoing basis a portion of the motor fuel taxes that they cart out of the province every year.
If we had assured funding every year, we could come out with a 10-year plan and say, yes, this is what we're going to do, this is our plan for the next 10 years, but we don't know because the feds at the present time have ad hoc arrangements where they come forward with an individual province and work out a Transportation agreement with that province and provide 50/50 funding, or something along that line. For instance, New Brunswick has received a tremendous infusion of federal money over the past seven, eight and 10 years. Just
very recently, about three years ago, I think it was, or maybe even just two years ago, they received a $400 million agreement with Ottawa. We can only dream about that in Nova Scotia.
If we could get something like that and we could get that funding on a steady basis, Mr. Chairman, we could do great things. Unfortunately, we haven't got those kinds of monies available to us so we have to do the best we can. We have to spend smart. We have to be parsimonious in how much work we do in various parts of the province each year. I appreciate the frustration of every member in this House who all, including myself, have roads which are badly potholed. They are in bad shape and the only answer to them is to rebuild the road and then pave it. So, yes, we have a problem.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, no question, we do have a problem. I get calls from constituents saying that their road is deplorable or their road is atrocious, you know, I don't know what other adjectives I can use, but I could go on. They're very, very poor (Interruption) and the Minister of Education would know that the road between Scotsburn and Tony River is very poor. I can give you lots of other examples where it's costing people money to drive on those roads because of the cost of fixing their vehicles, the cost of the distances they have to travel around. Some of the roads are just extremely poor, they've crumbled. Some people are saying they'd be better off with a gravel road than with pavement, and perhaps they're correct in that assumption. Potholes and ruts and grass growing in the middle and cracks across the road - it's very hard on modern vehicles, and it's costing rural residents a lot of dollars.
It's also a safety issue. People hit a pothole - especially after dark and they don't see it coming and the next thing they're off the road. It happens to cars, it happens to motorcycles, just because of the poor roads that are there. It's also an economic development issue. Some companies are not willing to invest in rural areas because the roads are so poor they don't want to send their vehicles over those highways.
Two or three months back, one of the tourist operators in my riding had an article in the paper - you may have seen, Stonehome Chalets, back of Scotsburn - the owner there feels very much that the roads are costing him money. Tourists are not coming back because of the poor condition of the road. I'm sure you've heard that from other tourist operators as well. It's an economic development issue, it's a safety issue, and it's a cost-to-residents issue. No question, we need to invest more money in our secondary infrastructure in particular.
Mr. Minister, you've mentioned that our neighbouring Province of New Brunswick has been quite successful in obtaining dollars from the federal government for their highways. I think you mentioned a $400 million project on their 100-Series Highway there. First, I'm wondering, why it is that they've been more successful than this government in funnelling
those dollars into their highways? Secondly, what effort has your government initiated with the federal government to get dollars, badly needed dollars, for Nova Scotia?
MR. RUSSELL: Every day in every way possible, we bring to the attention of the federal Department of Transport what our needs are and our desires and our willingness to talk to them about a transportation agreement. I would like to point out that there's something that has happened in the Department of Transport federally that is very worrisome, and that is their funding now is tied to what is called infrastructure funding and they came out with an infrastructure fund, a federal funding to provinces in the form of infrastructure funding which covers such things as environmental projects, water and sewage - all very necessary things and all very worthy I'm sure. It also covers such things as hockey rinks and arenas and libraries - you name it - they all come under that umbrella of the infrastructure fund.
So we, as a Department of Transportation - and this applies to all provinces - now have to be in competition with other users of federal funding arrangements, and we are fighting to get money for a highway and somebody else is fighting to get money for instance, to build an arena. That is not good. What we are encouraging the federal government to do, and at our last meeting of ministers about three or four months ago it was pointed out to Minister Tony Valeri that we weren't interested in the continuation of that kind of federal funding. We wanted an established highway funding program that was linked and tied to the amount of motor fuel taxes that they take out of the province every year and to bring that money back to us as a percentage of that total. It doesn't have to be a huge percentage, but we would then know that next year we're going to get 10 per cent, we'll say, of the federal taxes - $140 million, we'd get $14 million in cost-shared dollars for us to use on our highways.
The advantage of that is beyond belief. The present ad hoc arrangements don't work and this new-found methodology of using infrastructure funding doesn't work. I should also point out that the past Minister of Transportation federally, Mr. Collenette, came from Toronto. Nothing wrong with anybody coming from Toronto, I used to live in Toronto myself once, but the problem is he had in his mind the need for the Department of Transport to put in place those things that would improve traffic in large metropolitan areas. So you've got GO trains, and buses and ferries - all those things - which he was interested in funding, and unfortunately much of the money was funded towards those kinds of programs rather than going into what is the basic need in this country, and that is highways.
It's not only in Nova Scotia, you can go across Canada and the roads are in bad shape. So, yes, we have brought it to the attention of the federal minister. Why has New Brunswick been successful? Well it might have been the fact that when the Liberal Government was in power there, they did a bang-up job. I don't know. I know when the Liberal Government was in power in Nova Scotia, nothing very much happened, but anyway I leave that with you.
MR. PARKER: Since 1999, we've had a Progressive Conservative Government in New Brunswick, the same as here in Nova Scotia. Yet, since those years, they've assessed us $140 million, and presently our Minister of Transport federally is from the Ontario area as well - Hamilton I believe - but, regardless of that, I certainly think your department's role is to press the federal government as hard as you possibly can to get dollars for our transportation infrastructure here in Nova Scotia.
Obviously, your counterparts in New Brunswick have a more successful method of trying to allocate dollars from the feds and they've been successful, but have you talked with your New Brunswick counterparts to see what magic they're using to get many more dollars for their highways? I'll just ask you that one more time. Have you worked with your New Brunswick counterparts to see what they're using to get dollars for their highways? It might work here in this province.
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, I certainly have. We have regular meetings, actually. The Atlantic ministers get together and discuss matters of mutual concern. I should tell you that the funding arrangement that brought the $400 million into New Brunswick was one that was negotiated back, I think, about 1998 or something and it just started to trigger through the system recently. The first section took the highway from Moncton to Fredericton - I don't know if you've driven that new highway yet - then the next section, which was part of that original funding, takes the highway from Fredericton through to Rivière-du-Loup. That was put in place quite some time ago - well, I shouldn't say in place quite some time ago, but the arrangements and the agreements were in place back in the 1990s. I think that answers the question.
MR. PARKER: I would encourage you, Mr. Minister, or your department staff to keep in touch with anybody who's successful in allocating more dollars, whether it's New Brunswick or Saskatchewan or whoever. I know other provinces have done quite well in getting federal allocations for transportation and I would certainly encourage you to continue to press the federal government for a fair share of the gas tax. I certainly agree with you that we're not getting our fair share. It's a very small percentage of what goes out of this province and, no question, that would make a tremendous difference.
I want to come now to your particular budget. I believe your total budget for the whole Department of Transportation and Public Works is approximately $241 million. I heard you mention earlier that you'd spend $261 million this year on Transportation and Public Works, the whole department, or was it just on highways? First of all, I'd like to get some clarification on that.
Secondly, can you give us a breakdown on this year's budget estimate of $241 million? What portion of that is for highways, what portion of that is for public works and other parts of your total department? I'd just like to see it broken down, especially for highways and bridges and other parts of your budget?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, actually I was asked the question the other evening in the House when we were having the late debate, about the same type of question whereby it appears that we are not spending that much money on highways. The numbers that you're quoting are our operations budget - on top of that, of course, you have to add the capital budget, which is separate.
To give you some indication, on Highway Operations, this year we'll be spending $186,694,000; Government Services, we'll be spending $16 million on top of that; Public Works, $30 million; then we have Policy and Planning, and Corporate Services, and Senior Management, which comes in at approximately $8 million - for a total of $241 million.
MR. PARKER: Okay, so your total budget is $241 million broken down into those four different departments. Highway Operations was $186 million. Can you break down further then that $186 million? What portion of that was on maintenance and what portion was on capital?
MR. RUSSELL: There is no capital in that amount, Mr. Chairman. We work under the Tangible Capital Assets, with regard to capital spending, which means it's like we build a school. That school is amortized over a certain number of years and then during those certain number of years we make the payments on that capital borrowing, and these assets are depreciated the same as any other asset. It could be roads, bridges, what have you. The clincher as to what comes under Tangible Capital Assets however is where some difficulty occurs. I think the number right now is $500,000 - any expenditure under $500,000 goes in as maintenance, and any expenditure over $500,000 is eligible to be considered as a Tangible Capital Asset. Did I confuse the water at all?
MR. PARKER: Okay, I understand that now, Mr. Minister. I want to ask you about your capital plans, I guess then, for this fiscal year, and I don't know if it's, again, in your Budget Book - I'm not sure, but I couldn't seem to see it, but you do some planning for the 100-Series Highway and you do some planning for secondary roads and for bridges and other capital projects. Maybe we'll start with the 100-Series projects. What capital investment will you be making in Nova Scotia this budget year?
MR. RUSSELL: I know the number that the honourable member is looking for, and I don't know if I can help him directly. Let me tell you that the capital expenditure, Highways and Bridges, that's exclusive, is $112,270,000, and you'll find that on Page 1.8 in the Estimates Book. Also under that same item, Transportation and Public Works, you'll find another item there of $20, 735,000 for Buildings and Infrastructure. That is the amount that we are spending on courthouses, jails, schools, and hospitals, et cetera.
MR. PARKER: I found that in the Budget Book, the $112 million as you mentioned earlier. So is it possible to get a breakdown on that $112 million as far as 100-Series and secondary roads and bridges?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, we can get you those numbers, like for instance the amount we're spending on 100-Series, what we're spending on roads, what we're spending on bridges. I know that our spending on bridges this year is $34.5 million I believe. I don't know if that's all capital though. Yes, I've just been informed that is capital and operating both, but there's $34.5 million, some of it capital. Obviously the bridge replacement under the steel truss bridge program and other major bridges that we're replacing, for instance - the one up in your area, that all comes under capital.
MR. PARKER: I guess I'll come back to the 100-Series Highway because that's a little easier to grasp, there are far less of them. Could you give us a brief outline then what plans there are? I know Highway No. 104 between Sutherlands River and New Glasgow, you'd mentioned earlier is under planning - I don't think it's actual construction this year, but there's certainly some of the preliminary work being done. What about the other 100-Series highways in the province? I know Highway No. 101, there's some ongoing work, but what about Highway No. 103, or Highway No. 105? Can you just give us an overall view on the 100-Series Highway plans for this particular budget year?
MR. RUSSELL: If my memory serves me correctly, I think we're spending somewhere between $50 million, and $60 million on 100-Series Highways this year. It's a little bit lower than that, so it's in the $40 million range on the 100-Series Highway. Of that $40-odd million - and I'll get you the exact number for tomorrow - there's $19 million alone of provincial money going into Highway No. 103. There's another, I believe it's $4 million going to Highway No. 125 this year. There is no large amount of money going on Highway No. 101 this year. The money going to Highway No. 101 is primarily for grubbing out the route, so it's a fairly minor expenditure. On Highway No. 104, we have a piece of work that we're doing to connect the section that we did last year, just in front of Rita's Tea Room, about five or six kilometres - a very expensive five or six kilometres though. We have work on Highway Nos. 103, 102, and 101. I think that's about it. As I say, I will get you the exact number, Mr. Chairman. I'll provide that to the member tomorrow.
MR. PARKER: Okay, I'll look forward to getting that material on the 100-Series capital estimates, or capital plans I guess, for this year.
I want to ask you then about the secondary roads, and of course we have thousands of miles of secondary roads in this province. I used to know the exact number. I think was it 26,000 kilometres or something was it? It's quite a large number anyway of secondary roads in this province, both paved and unpaved. Can you give us or share with us roughly what
amount of your $112 million will be spent on capital construction on secondary roads in this province, any specifics you can share with us on that?
MR. RUSSELL: I think approximately 50 per cent of our total capital expenditure is on secondary roads and collector roads - and I'll get you that number for tomorrow as well, the capital program and an ongoing program. As you know, we get recommendations in from
the districts as to what their priorities are. We try to accommodate those priorities, but I can tell you this, at the present time if you said what roads do you positively, absolutely have to do, you could cover just about every road that we haven't dealt with over the past three or four years. There are a tremendous number of roads - we have about 23,000 kilometres of roads in this province that the Department of Transportation is responsible for. Of that 23,000, approximately 10,000 - I think it's a little bit less than that - around about 7,000 are unpaved.
One of the things that I always find very interesting - and I don't know if other people have the same kind of interest that I do - is the fact that in Nova Scotia we have a population of about 900,000 people and we have about 23,000 kilometres of road that the Department of Transportation looks after. If you go to Ontario, they have about 13 times our population, a much larger province, the provincial Department of Transportation in the Province of Ontario, the total road that they look after is about 27,000 kilometres - only about 4,000 or 5,000 more than we have in this province.
You say, well, that can't be right - but it is right, because in Ontario, and in a large number of other provinces, the municipalities are responsible for roads. Unfortunately - I shouldn't say unfortunately, but that's how it is - in this province we are responsible by far for the majority of roads. So when the federal government talks about providing money for roads to municipalities, quite frankly they don't know what the situation is in Nova Scotia. For instance, this HRM that we're in at the present time, the total number of kilometres that HRM look after is about 1,500 kilometres.
When the feds say we're going to provide a percentage of the federal excise tax on fuel to the municipalities, it's not going to help the roads in Nova Scotia at all because, as I said, the majority of roads are looked after by the province and only a very, very small minority are looked after by the municipalities.
MR. PARKER: From your remarks, approximately half of the $112 million capital expenditures will be on the secondary roads themselves, the rest on bridges and the 100-Series Highway. Half of $112 million is approximately $56 million, and I know from our discussion last week on Opposition Day, we had a bill that we discussed around priorities for roads and fairness for roads and making sure every area of Nova Scotia is treated fairly and equally and the capital is spread across the whole province and everybody is treated with fairness, so of that $56 million, is it possible, Mr. Minister, you can share with me what portion of that capital expenditure of secondary roads would be spent in Pictou County?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, I'll get to that in just a moment.
My director of finance here is telling me that we actually have $24 million allocated to the 100-Series Highway this year. That leaves $82 million which is split between bridges, interchanges and secondary roads and collector roads. I'll have more accurate numbers for you tomorrow.
Getting back to the prioritizing of roads. It's very, very difficult to say that one road has a higher priority than others, because for instance we have roads going to an industry, and it's very important to the industry - nobody lives on the road, but it's essential that road be open year-round to provide road service to that industry. So we have to give a certain element of priority to that.
We have other roads that are tourist roads. In Winter, they don't get a lot of traffic, but in Summer they get a lot of traffic; for instance the roads around the Cabot Trail, et cetera. Then you have other roads which are enablers - they enable people to get to the hospitals, to get to schools, to the city to work and what have you.
"Highways are enablers." This is a quote from our new Minister of Transport federally. They enable things to happen. When you're allocating funds, you have to be very, very careful that you're getting the maximum buck insofar as the economy is concerned, and then insofar as accommodating the needs of the travelling public. It's not an easy thing to do, to prioritize.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I realize it is always a difficult decision to determine which roads are most in need because, as mentioned, they're almost all in need. Some of them perhaps are a higher priority based on the economic development opportunities or a business on a certain road; for example, the Michelin road, as we talked about one other day, which passes the plant at Granton. I know it's allocated this year for the rubber asphalt pilot project, to see how that will work out using conventional and the new method with the rubber asphalt - and that's great to see, and of course we're hoping that not only half the road will be done, but the whole road would be done from Alma to Abercrombie, past the Michelin plant.
Again, I want to come back to my question - you indicted there might be as much as $82 million allocated for capital construction on secondary roads - $82 million or $84 million, I didn't catch the figure - but, again, can you give us any indication, in Pictou County, what capital projects will be expended dollar-wise or road-wise at this particular time? If not, can you get it for me tomorrow or when possible?
MR. RUSSELL: I must tell the honourable member that I missed the first part of his remarks when that - whatever it was - went by the front door.
MR. FRANK CORBETT: Fire engine.
MR. RUSSELL: A fire engine, okay. I'm glad Frank is keeping an eye on those things.
I can get you the numbers for Pictou County, but I can't get them for you overnight because of the fact that we're still working on the capital program. The capital program won't be finalized for another three or four weeks at least, and even then it isn't finalized because we also have capital programs that we put out to tender in the Fall that probably won't get done that year, but are carried forward to the next year.
We're trying desperately to iron out the level of work that contractors have. If we put out all our tenders at once, then you're going to get, perhaps, higher tenders than you would if you spread them out. So we're trying to encourage the construction industry to keep their workforce even throughout the year.
I should also mention, while we're on that subject, that one of the problems that we have in the province is that during the lean years - that was pre-2000 - a number of contractors were going out of business. There wasn't a sufficient level of work there for them to remain in business, so the number of contractors that we had in this province drastically declined. As a result of that, we now have one or two, maybe three, fairly large contractors and a lot of smaller contractors. It's our hope that we can get those smaller contractors bigger so that we get a more competitive environment in tendering for contracts.
The honourable member mentioned our rubberized road. Yes, that's something that we're doing up at the Michelin plant. We're doing it - I won't say in co-operation with Michelin, they are providing the material but that's about it. It's certainly interesting from the point of view that this is a new departure for Nova Scotia; it's not something new in North America. I think it's something that's perhaps going to be of great benefit not only in disposing of rubber crumbs, surface rubber crumbs, but also from the point of view of getting a pavement that's elastic and less prone to cracking. So we have lots of good thoughts on that.
We're also using concrete more than we have in the past. On the next section of Highway No. 101, we'll be doing some more work with concrete, and quite possibly we'll be trying it on Highway No. 104 as well. Those roads, we found with the Cobequid Pass, they stand up very well. It costs a little more initially, but in the long term it's a very good investment. We would expect to get about 30 years out of a concrete road without too much in the way of maintenance along the way, whereas with an asphalt surface you're getting maybe 15 years - about 15 years? - I'm searching the heavens for an answer - around about 15 years..
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, well, it's good to know the minister is still working on priority lists for our province and I assume for Pictou County, and I'll look forward to getting the updated list on what projects are going to be done, when that's available. Just in case there are still some blanks on that list, I want to bring to his attention a couple of roads that I feel are very much in need of repaving, or being rebuilt basically from the ground up. I would particularly point out the White Hill Road, which is back of Westville, approximately five kilometres long. It could probably win the prize as the worst road in Pictou County, probably the worst road in Nova Scotia. It is atrocious. Maybe the minister knows of another road that might win that contest, but I think this one would be right up there near the top.
I'm also going to point out the Trunk 4 Highway, through Salt Springs and Mount Thom, heading into the member's riding in Colchester North, into Kemptown. That road, the Economic Development Committee - known as the Alma-Mount Thom Strategic Planning Group - have identified the importance of getting that road repaved to bring in business opportunities and tourism. They see it as a very important part of their plan to create economic development in that area.
I would point out the Scotch Hill Road and the West Branch Road, also, as very poor roads that need to be invested in. There are just four examples I'm giving, if there are still some blanks on that priority list that you're looking to fill.
I'm going to move on now because my time is limited, Mr. Minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have five minutes, member.
MR. PARKER: I believe I have until 4:10 p.m. I want to ask about the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia. They have been quite concerned about the lack of work. First of all, they don't find they're getting enough work for their members to keep them going, and their costs have gone up considerably, with fuel and insurance and the capital costs of their vehicles and so on, but yet they tell me their trucking rates are far less than what they were in 1990. They've been reduced considerably. In spite of a 20 per cent, 30 per cent, 40 per cent cost increase even in the last year for some of those things I mentioned, they feel they're behind the eight ball with not a lot of work and, when they do go to work, they're lined up for long periods of time, waiting for their particular truck to be in use. Also, the haulage rates in particular, they're a real major concern. I wonder, Mr. Minister, could you address that?
MR. RUSSELL: First of all, I think TANS, the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia, has had a pretty good couple of years actually. I think they've been busy right across this province. I know that there's always a complaint with regard to rates. You remarked that the rates are less now than they were back in the 1990s - well, back in the 1990s they were complaining as well. So we altered the rates; we actually increased the rates, but we didn't increase the rates right across the board because they're paid different rates for trucking
different materials, and also for the length of the haul from the pit or from the plant site to the job.
Late last year there were meetings between the department and TANS, and I believe we came to an agreement. That agreement is in place. As I say, the truckers I talk to - and I talk to quite a few - they would like more money; however they feel that the rates are now fairer than they were and better reflect the actual cost. I should point out that we have a system in Nova Scotia which is called the 80/20 rule. Most people who are involved in construction around the province, whether it be on roads or anything at all, are aware of the 80/20 rule. It's something that's unique to Nova Scotia. I don't know who the minister was who got this thing on the road, but whoever it was unfortunately put in place a system that I don't think reflects the true free-market system.
As a province, we pay in Nova Scotia more for a truck to deliver 12 yards, say, of Class A gravel over 20 kilometres than what a private individual would pay who just phoned up the truck driver and said I want 12 yards of gravel. We pay under a rate that we set and negotiated with the Truckers Association. The Truckers Association also controls the workplace in that 80 per cent of the trucks that are used on jobs that are funded by the province must be provided by the local Truckers Association. So they have a captive market, and they also have a guaranteed rate, and the guaranteed rate is higher in most cases than what other municipalities or other contractors, et cetera, pay for those trucks - and they also have the advantage of choosing any trucker they wish, whereas the contractors who are contracting to the government do not have that capability.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I know my time is limited, so on behalf of the Truckers Association that I deal with in my county, the Pictou County Truckers Association, they're still not happy, they're still not feeling they're getting fair haulage rates, and I'm sure you'll continue to hear that from both local associations and the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia. Some of them have gone out of business just from lack of work. Perhaps it's just in our county, but they're feeling real hard cost pressures on insurance and gasoline or diesel oil and so on.
I want to come for a minute to the RIM project. The Leader of our Party mentioned earlier to you that if there were contracts let to out-of-province companies - I wonder if you can give us the details on how many contracts are awarded to out-of-province operations?
MR. RUSSELL: There are no out-of-province contractors involved in the RIM program - short answer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member for Pictou West, with 10 seconds.
MR. PARKER: What can you do in 10 seconds? I want to thank the minister and his staff for answering my questions and, if I get a further opportunity, I will be back to see you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We would like to thank the NDP caucus this afternoon for their questioning.
At this time I would like to recognize a member from the Liberal caucus, the honourable member for Cape Breton West. Your starting time is 4:10 p.m. and you have one hour in turn.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West. Good afternoon to you, sir.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, what an elaborate introduction.
My first question to the minister is, can the minister confirm if 100 per cent of all motive fuel tax is going towards highways?
MR. RUSSELL: They are going to highways and bridges and other structures associated with the highways; in other words we're putting 100 per cent - more than 100 per cent, probably 101-point something per cent - of the funding that we receive in motive fuel taxes back into the road system.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, perhaps the minister can enlighten me then, in the budget - I'll send one over - on Page B6, Schedule 3, it says Transportation and Public Works, $241,009,000, but in Schedule 8, Page B17, it says Motive Fuel Taxes, $255,872,000. That's a difference of about $14 million, a deficit. Where's the other $14 million?
MR. RUSSELL: There's a lot more than $14 million, it's $112 million more.
MR. MACKINNON: Will you show me . . .
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, if you go to your Estimates Book - I found it a moment ago - Page 1.8 in the Estimates Book, Tangible Capital Assets, Net Capital Purchase Requirements - Summary Highways and Bridges are $112,227,000 and then there are other capital expenditures as well, Buildings and Infrastructure, et cetera. But essentially, of that $241 million that is shown on the page you so kindly sent across to me, that is the operational expenditures on all items within Transportation and Public Works, exclusive of capital.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I want to address an issue that was raised by the member for Pictou West on a previous date, and it was in regard to the impasse between the Nova Scotia Highway Workers Union and the Department of Transportation and Public Works. As I recall, the minister indicated that this was following the normal collective bargaining process. I was a little surprised to find that in fact that is not quite the case, and maybe the minister can enlighten me if I'm misguided on this. Given the fact that this issue has been taken to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia by the Nova Scotia Department of
Transportation and Public Works, calling into question the arbitrator as well as the legislation itself, would the minister be kind enough to enlighten members of the committee as to why the department decided to balk at the arbitrator's decision?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I don't want to get involved in the actual negotiating stance of either the union or of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. The workers who are employed by the Department of Transportation and Public Works - I think it's approximately 2,000, in round numbers, employees who come under the CUPE umbrella, they are subject to arbitration rather than strike; in other words if they have any difficulties with their contract or in their negotiations and an amicable agreement cannot be reached, rather than picking up their signs and walking off the job, they are required to go to arbitration. That isn't a bad thing, either for the union or for the province.
First of all, as far as the province is concerned, it means that in Winter, if you had a severe snowstorm, et cetera, and your workers were on strike, then the province would virtually come to a standstill - and the same thing could actually apply in the Summer if there was a bridge or something of that nature under repair. So, that's the advantage to the province. For the workers, they have the advantage of going to compulsory arbitration, and there are lots of workers who would love to do that; in fact, at one time I think our provincial Civil Service wanted to give up the right to strike and go into compulsory arbitration. I know that there are a number of entities the province deals with that employ that method of settling negotiations.
The arbitrator, when he . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: That's she.
MR. RUSSELL: Pardon? She, okay, sorry about that. The arbitrator, when she looked at the list of arbitrable matters that the union submitted and that the province submitted, decided that there were certain items on the union side that did fall under the right of the arbitrator to decide on. Contracting out was one item that in the last contract the union also appealed, and the arbitrator decided that that didn't come under her umbrella of arbitrator. This time around, she decided that it was. We feel that is beyond her purview, beyond her mandate, therefore we are appealing it, as we are permitted under the arrangement that we have for arbitration as a method of negotiation. There are other matters as well that were also decided by this particular arbitrator, and they are also subject to review by the Supreme Court.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, I beg to differ with the minister, because Section 45(1) and (2) in particular, speak to the issue that he refers to; however my understanding is more for the issue of correctness and not the reasonableness of the issue. What I'm interpreting by
the government's action is that they are trying to delay the process, which I believe will ultimately end up costing the government more in the end. It will cause disharmony within the labour force of his department; it will call into question a number of other issues as well; and the relationship that the government prides itself on which, in many cases, is justified, but - well, let's leave it at that for now.
Would the minister not agree that this issue that the government has taken to the Supreme Court at the eleventh hour, after a contract that had expired more than a year ago, and it's only going to delay it, and this could take upwards of another year before there's any resolve to this - my question is what's the benefit to the Province of Nova Scotia, and the end result?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, that honourable member used to be in government, and he's perfectly aware of what negotiations are all about. He's done that in private practice as well. Private practice or government, it makes no difference, when you are negotiating a settlement with either one or many workers, either unionized or non-unionized, there are negotiations that take place and there are rules for those negotiations and in the rules that we have with CUPE, with regard to the highway workers, arbitration is there and there's an appeal process there if we do not agree with what is arbitrable in the eyes of the arbitrator. That's what we've done. It's a perfectly legitimate practice. To say that we're trying to stretch out the rival at that end where we have a settlement is absolute nonsense. We'd love to settle tomorrow. However, we want to ensure that the ground rules that have been established are abided by.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the minister is getting a little exercised on this. The fact of the matter is, it's a delay tactic that's going to hurt Nova Scotians. It's going to hurt the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, and it's going to create disharmony within his department that's unnecessary. I guess the question is, why did the minister and his department allow it to go to the eleventh hour before they dropped this on the process? I mean, this is a rather high-handed approach, I would suggest, given the fact that the arbitrator spoke to the issues that the minister referred to. Would the minister not agree that this is unconventional to say the least?
MR. RUSSELL: I should sit down and cool off a little bit, but that is absolute nonsense, Mr. Chairman. There is a process - the process is always slow for negotiating, as the honourable member is aware of, whether he's talking about the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union or the Nurses' Union or anybody else. There's always a process leading up to when the new contract should be in place, but it doesn't come in place the day after. It goes on maybe for another 12 months or so while negotiations continue. In the end everybody walks away happy and have been through the process. I'm sure he's not suggesting that we just say to any union that comes along, look we want to settle this and this is what we want, and we say, sure and sign, no.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister, before I recognize the member for Cape Breton West, would you permit an introduction this afternoon? Thank you member. I would like at this time, to recognize the good member for Queens and also the Minister of Environment and Labour on an introduction.
HON. KERRY MORASH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to, through you, draw the attention of the House to the Speaker's Gallery, where there are two young ladies up there, one, Mary Morash, who happens to be my aunt, and her good friend Elsie Hooley, who are here visiting from New Brunswick and enjoying the riveting debate in the House. So I'd ask them to stand and enjoy the appreciation from the House. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, and we certainly welcome you to the House.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, with all due respect to the minister, he's misleading the committee. The minister and his department are calling into question (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Member, you well know that comment would be inappropriate for the committee. You're not allowed to use the word misleading in this House. Member, please refrain from using that type of language in the committee. You do have the floor. I'll check on that and make a ruling shortly.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, if I had suggested that he was deliberately misleading the committee, I would agree with you, but I'm suggesting he is misleading the committee. Whether he's doing it by intent or not, with malice or not, I would suggest not. (Laughter) However, . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Member, you're quite right. If you're not suggesting that he's misleading, if you just use it in a very gentle approach, then it's allowed here this afternoon. I hope you accept that ruling. You do have the floor.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I cannot help but be gentle with this honourable minister, because he deserves the respect with his experience and knowledge of this House and the legislative process, but he does have to admit, by doing what he is doing, he and his department, he is calling into question the integrity of the legislation that he is subscribing to abide by. I wanted to put that on the record, because the minister, he can get a little exercised if he likes, and that's his prerogative too, but I suggest that this is a rather high-handed and inappropriate way to deal with the collective bargaining process. But the minister has a different view, and he's entitled to his view, and I am entitled to my view, so we will agree to disagree, and we'll leave the powers to be to make that decision in the end.
My next question, Mr. Chairman, is with regard to inspections on the highway. With regard to these weigh scales and, in particular, with regard to the trucking industry. I hear complaints from various parties that the number of inspections that are being carried out is down substantially from years past. Can the minister confirm as to how many inspections have been done? How does that reflect the industry? Is it fairly representative? Is it 10 per cent, 20 per cent of the trucking operation, or what have you?
MR. RUSSELL: I presume that the member, Mr. Chairman, is speaking about the mobile inspection force or are you talking about inspections of bridges and that kind of thing?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, we'll take it in sections. The first with regard to these weigh stations. You have one out at the airport, I believe, just out towards Enfield. There's one in Port Hawkesbury, and maybe others, it escapes me. How many inspections have been done in the last year? What does that represent to the industry?
MR. RUSSELL: I'm advised that we don't have that number with us, but however, it is a number that we can get because we can get it from the weigh stations. I presume that the member is aware that we only just recently re-assumed the responsibility for weigh stations and vehicle inspectors from Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, and that was just done in the last two or three months.
MR. MACKINNON: So the minister will give me an undertaking he will provide that information? Great, thank you.
With regard to the mobile unit, you'll see them do periodic spot checks. How many inspections were carried out by that division?
MR. RUSSELL: I think I'll have to get that number for the honourable member too, but I think he was asking for the number of mobile inspectors and if memory serves me correctly, there were 12. Nobody seems to really know, but however, I will get that number for the honourable member. It's quite interesting, Mr. Chairman, that we only have a very small number of inspectors. Do we need more? Probably we do, but there is another methodology that we did contemplate using at one time and that was to have the RCMP utilize their force which is on the road at all times, doing inspections that would normally be done by our own forces. Unfortunately, the RCMP decided that they didn't want to undertake that particular task, so we're still where we were about two or three years ago.
MR. MACKINNON: How many inspections are done at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border? Can you tell me that?
MR. RUSSELL: The honourable member seems to be striking on these questions that I don't have the answers for. These numbers are available and I will have them for the honourable member tomorrow. I did just get confirmation though that the number of mobile inspectors of vehicles are 12. There are 12 of those.
MR. MACKINNON: I thank the minister for that information, but that wasn't quite what I asked. What I asked is the number of inspections, and what the results of those inspections were in general. I suppose in focus, is there an increase in the amount of delinquency in the way people care for their vehicles generally? The spot inspections - are they yielding that 80, 90 or 100 per cent of all vehicles that are stopped have the proper inspection, they're up to standard and so on? That's the type of detail I'm looking for if the minister could provide that.
MR. RUSSELL: Certainly the requirements of the vehicle inspection have not decreased. In fact, I believe, it's elevated, particularly with regard to braking systems and wheel-lock nuts, as I understand it so we don't have wheels flying off our 18-wheelers.
With regard to the actual number of vehicles that are pulled over in a given month or a given year, I don't have those numbers off the top of my head, but I'll make a commitment to provide them to the member tout suite.
MR. MACKINNON: Switching the focus just slightly again, with regard to the piece of legislation that is now before the House, the Capital Region Transportation Authority Bill, what is the stage of negotiations between the province and the Halifax Regional Municipality on this particular topic?
MR. RUSSELL: I spoke to the Mayor of HRM very recently. With the House going on, everything is sort of at a halt at the moment. However, when the House rises we'll be proceeding again apace to consult between my staff and the staff of HRM to arrive at a proposal that will be incorporated into the framework that the Capital transportation bill envisages as being the authority.
MR. MACKINNON: Is the proposal to have this particular legislation when it's activated, revenue neutral?
MR. RUSSELL: It's a quid pro quo kind of situation. In other words, neither the HRM nor the province would be impacted directly with regard to the authority. To be quite honest, I don't want to cut the honourable member off, but I don't want to get too far out on a limb. As I said, this is strictly going to be a co-operative effort between the province and HRM. It's going to be mutually advantageous, particularly with regard to planning. At the present time, for instance, the city may agree to a subdivision with another 1,000 or 1,500
homes in some area and insofar as the city is concerned, that's fine. But, insofar as the Department of Transportation and Public Works is concerned, it may not be fine with regard to our planning for feeder traffic into the city. There's that kind of co-operation that we're missing at the present time. That will certainly be one of the things that will be resolved under the Capital Transportation Authority when it's up and running.
MR. MACKINNON: The minister hasn't given with all clarity that it will be revenue neutral, so I have to presume that it may not be. We'll look at it from both perspectives, number one, if it is revenue neutral, there has been considerable concern and it has been raised a little earlier today as well, the issue of toll roads - whether it be on bridges or future road construction or what in HRM. First of all, and I appreciate the minister's position that it is the government's policy, no toll roads. Okay. Now, my question is to the minister, has there been any discussion between the minister and/or his department officials with HRM officials with the issue of toll roads being put in place by this Capital Transportation Authority as one of the mechanisms once this legislation is activated?
MR. RUSSELL: I want the honourable member to understand that I'm not involved directly in the talks, but it's my understanding that there has been nothing along that line involved with the HRM contingent and the contingent from the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
I wonder if I might also advise the honourable member with regard to inspections - inspections and charges laid during the Spring weight exemption period were up significantly over last year. Also, there were more roadside checks this Spring than in the past year.
MR. MACKINNON: I presume I'll still receive the information, the detail. We're left in a very peculiar position here because the minister has offered absolutely no detail whatsoever on the mechanics of this Capital Transportation Authority. Is the minister able to tell us, first of all, I know it was in the Throne Speech, it was included there as a government commitment, but, surely to heavens, somebody in the department must be able to give us some detail as to at what stage the discussions or negotiations are. I believe it was perhaps a month or so before the House opened when Mr. McLellan from HRM appeared before the Economic Development Committee and indicated there had been considerable discussion up to that point, but things seem to have just died off altogether because the province chose not to pursue further discussions. That was my interpretation of his words.
Can the minister give us something a little more substantive to better understand this issue?
MR. RUSSELL: All I can tell the honourable member, quite truthfully, is that the discussions at the present time are not in limbo, but they are on hold until such time as I get more time to arrange some meetings.
With regard to the talks, I think we have a tacit agreement with HRM that we're not going to talk publicly about our own respective positions until such time as the talks have gelled and some decision making has taken place.
MR. MACKINNON: We're getting a little closer. Who is carrying on the discussions or negotiations for the province?
MR. RUSSELL: I can tell you that it's the CEO for the HRM, George McLellan, and my Deputy Minister, Mr. Stonehouse.
MR. MACKINNON: The leads. Are there any other officials involved in the discussions or negotiations?
MR. RUSSELL: There have been a number of staff people involved in the periphery, but not really directly. As I said, this is very, very early and it's quite a complicated process. All I can say is that hopefully by the end of this calendar year, we will have in place an authority.
MR. MACKINNON: It was in the Throne Speech document. Who came up with the initial idea? Did it come from HRM or did it come from the province? (Interruption) And, no, it wasn't the member for Dartmouth North.
MR. RUSSELL: I think the idea of the Capital Transportation Authority has been kicked around for quite a long time. It certainly was in our blueprint in the past election. I wasn't privy to discussions prior to that because I'd taken a leave of absence from the Department of Transportation and Public Works and I was down looking after insurance matters in the Department of Environment and Labour. I presume perhaps, in the period between when I left Transportation and Public Works and came back again, that somebody had some discussions somewhere along the line and it was included in our blueprint that we would be proceeding with legislation.
MR. MACKINNON: I would like to ascertain from the minister as to whether the minister issues a letter indicating specifically that a road, a piece of highway, in the province will be paved in this particular fiscal year - if it's a letter issued, is that binding on the government? If a minister issues a letter to the people of a particular community indicating unequivocally, that a road in their community will be paved, for example in this fiscal year, is that binding on the government to fulfill that obligation?
MR. RUSSELL: Any letters that I issue are binding, yes. Other letters, as I say, I don't know, but I can gather we're going somewhere with this particular question.
MR. MACKINNON: I wouldn't do that to you, Ron.
MR. RUSSELL: Thank you very much, but I know you would. As the honourable member knows - and we're not talking to a neophyte in this House, this gentleman was a Cabinet Minister at one time - he knows full well that you don't spend your budget before you've even taken a look at what your cut is of the budget. You have to divvy it up. For instance, if somebody promised to pave Highway No. 104 and straighten out the road between Sydney and Port Hawkesbury, they made that promise but it's impossible to fulfill. As I said, I would have to know more details from the honourable member, just where this road runs.
MR. MACKINNON: We will be tabling some documents in a moment. I just wanted some clarity - if a Minister of the Crown, particularly the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, indicates quite clearly to the residents of a community that a road in their community will be paved in this fiscal year, is that not binding on the department and the government?
MR. RUSSELL: This leads me back to an old story, and that was back in 1993 when we had an election and the then Minister of Transportation not only gave me a letter that a certain bridge was going to be replaced, but he also let the tender and the contractor was on-site. There was a successive Minister of Transportation who took over the portfolio and he cancelled that contract, sent the contractor home - and I believe he built a bridge in his own riding.
MR. MACKINNON: Well one thing we can safely say is that that bridge went to somewhere - it didn't go to nowhere, like a certain one down on the Eastern Shore.
Perhaps we'll just shift the focus slightly for the time being and go to the Public Accounts Supplement for his department, Page 179. I notice there's a line item there, Buckleys Music Centre Ltd., $157,575.82 . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: For pianos.
MR. MACKINNON: Was that for piano lessons? Perhaps we should get a little more detail on how many piano lessons that included.
MR. RUSSELL: This was part of our capital program, we purchased musical equipment for schools.
MR. MACKINNON: I notice the department in the last fiscal year or so moved from Purdy's Wharf to the complex across from the Legislature here. I would like to focus on the amount of money being spent by the department on rental fees. I know the department has its own properties and so on - can the minister confirm if his department is renting any
properties for his department specifically? I know they do the negotiations and the management for other departments, but specifically for his. Can he identify where properties are being rented in various locations throughout the province and how much is being paid per square foot for each of those?
I can take it on notice if the minister doesn't have it at hand.
MR. RUSSELL: As the honourable member has brought to the attention of the committee, we rent a tremendous amount of property because all rentals in the Public Service go through the Department of Transportation. Insofar as the department itself is concerned, we own all our properties.
MR. MACKINNON: The minister's department looks after the issue of property rentals for other departments, the lead agent. Would the minister give an undertaking to the committee that he will provide a list of those properties that are being leased by each of those departments, and where those properties are and the amount per square foot?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, we can do that. The honourable member understands the quantity of paper that's going to be generated to put that report together, but yes, we can do that.
MR. MACKINNON: I thank the minister for that undertaking because I think that's very important.
On a few local issues in my constituency. I'd like to recognize and thank the minister and his staff, the deputy minister, for the commitment to do further upgrading on the No. 4 highway. It's desperately needed, as you well know. There is some RIM money being expended as well, albeit not a lot but I know that you're certainly working within constraints. Point blank - yes or no on some of these questions will tell me what will or will not be done.
Last year the minister clearly indicated, on the issue of the Marion Bridge highway, no, it would not be paved. Is that the case again this year? Will there be anything done on that road?
MR. RUSSELL: Well, you picked a project that we are looking at. I know that he brought it to the attention of the deputy and myself, but there's been no decision on that as yet. As I explained to the honourable member for Pictou West, the capital program is not as yet solidified. There are contracts going out, tenders going out, however we will be continuing that process right through until the Fall. As I said, we're trying to level out the tender process so that contractors can reasonably assign their workforce to a variety of projects, and also accumulate maybe two or three tenders in the same area so they can operate out of the same plant - it's to their advantage and certainly to ours in getting a price.
If I can just leave that subject for one moment, the deputy gave me a table which shows we have 231 leases in the province, almost 1.6 million square feet of property rental for an annual rental fee of $27,177,739.50. I will have the detail of those leases and the rental arrangements, each one by square footage, and I will try to have it before the House rises.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his undertaking. I have a few other local issues - well there are so many that I think it would be unfair to take so much time of the committee to go into great detail because I know our time is limited. I will just make reference to a few of them for future consideration.
The issue of the Trout Brook Road in the Mira district, the minister will be familiar, that is where his former colleague lived before his passing. That highway runs along the south side of the Mira River basically, and there are locations on that road where it's very close to the Mira River and there are guardrails and that is fine. On the high side it's a very steep bank and it precludes the sun from getting to the road in a reasonable period of time during the Winter months and wet periods, and as a result that road is in constant need of repair. If some consideration could be given, there are a few locations there that the minister or his staff may want to take a look at to claw that bank down some - maybe if they're looking for fill for another location. It's really an issue that is not going away and there are always road problems there with ice buildup and so on. I will leave that with the minister.
I have already addressed the Main-à-Dieu Road with the minister. He knows that the Donkin-Morien highway is a washboard - that is what it is, so there are issues there. The Louisbourg highway, you have to have a back brace if you go out there. I don't know how many tourists go out there but, if they think they're going back in time when the do go to the Fortress, they're back in time before they even get there when they drive over that highway. You get out of your car and you have the shakes, that's about the size of it. There are so many others but I think that gives the minister a sense.
I want to acknowledge, actually, the staff at the local level. They do a great job, they're very responsive. They can't always do what people like myself request, but they're very obliging and I think the there is a high level of professionalism extended, I am sure not only to myself but to the people at large, who are sometimes very frustrated. I think it is important to recognize that.
I will table this letter for the minister, if I could be so bold, July 4, 2003. It was addressed to the Honourable Gordon Balser, MLA, Constituency of Digby Annapolis, P.O. Box 1827, and so on. "Dear Gordon: I'm writing to advise you that the Department of Transportation and Public Works will be repaving a section of the Sissiboo Road, from 3.2 kilometres east of Trunk 1 in Weymouth, easterly to the end of the road during the 2004 construction season. Our infrastructure provides a vital transportation link for both commercial and domestic travellers. I trust that this project will assist in improving the road
infrastructure in the constituency of Digby-Annapolis. Yours truly, Michael." - Signed "Michael G. Baker, Q.C. cc to Martin Delaney, Executive Director of Highway Operations."
Can the minister confirm if that road will be paved this year?
MR. RUSSELL: There was a commitment made, I believe - and I don't know what kind of a commitment it was - to actually pave two roads. One was the Sissaboo Road and the other one was the highway on Long Island. I must tell you that yes, that was a commitment that was made but, unfortunately, we can't do both this year, it is just physically impossible within the framework of the dollars that we have.
What we are going to do is probably not do the Sissaboo Road, we're going to do a portion of the highway on Long Island and that will be going to tender very shortly. But insofar as that commitment, yes, the only thing is it is going to have to be delayed simply because of the funding requirements and the situation. But the other one, I think I have actually signed off on the tender for that other one.
MR. MACKINNON: I thank the minister for his answer on that. There was quite a flurry of letters that were signed by the former Minister of Transportation and Public Works on commitments, such as the one I just referenced, in June and July of 2003, undertakings in various constituencies across the province - I'm sure none of that had anything to do with the provincial election. It was probably just coincidental, as I know the honourable minister certainly would not do that. Would the present minister be kind enough to provide a list of letters similar to that, undertakings that were made by the former Minister of Transportation and Public Works, during the months of June and July 2003?
MR. RUSSELL: As the member is well aware, the previous minister was a lawyer and lawyers like to write letters. (Laughter) I'm not a lawyer so I don't like writing letters, I just do things verbally and that's why you are not getting too many notes sent across to you. But I would like to assure the honourable member that, if I say I'm going to do something, I will do it. I don't know if I can retrieve the letters that he wrote to members that members may have. I'm aware of one letter to be quite honest, besides that one to Mr. Balser, that went out during the election and that's the only one that I can think of. If I can locate that I will get it for you.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, he may be a lawyer but he was also Minister of Transportation and Public Works, which obviously would suggest that he had a responsibility. I was receiving quite a few concerns about letters like this circulating. I know there was one circulated in my constituency, I believe, on July 20, 2003, of a similar-type nature. I know that the good Minister of Justice, when he was Minister of Transportation and Public Works, wouldn't engage in that type of politics, I just can't see that he would do that. So whatever the minister can find in the archives of his department would certainly be appreciated, and he has give me an undertaking to that effect, so that's great.
There's another issue, on Page 181 of the Supplement to the Public Accounts, there's Corpfinance International Ltd., slightly more than $1.7 million. Could the minister indicate what that was for?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, those were leases for the trunk mobile radio system, various equipment for that system.
MR. MACKINNON: D & J's Cleaning Services Ltd., there's an item there, and it seems like a small amount. It may have been for pressing the minister's suit, I don't know. It was for a little over $24,000. I know your suit is perhaps not quite worth that much, so would the minister tell us what that was for?
MR. RUSSELL: It's for janitorial services up at the Archives, Mr. Chairman. That would be dry cleaning and laundry, et cetera.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, when the minister and members of his government came to power in 1999, there were three federal-provincial agreements in place, highway agreements: SHIP, Strategic Highway Improvement Project; HIP, Highway Improvement Program; and I forget what the acronym was for the third. Would the minister apprise members of the committee as to what the status is and what agreements we have with the federal government now, and what's being contemplated for the upcoming fiscal year?
MR. RUSSELL: We're just spending the last of the Strategic Highway Improvement Program funding, and the other one, the Highway Improvement Program, is all spent. The other one, the Infrastructure Program, we are in the process of negotiating a final agreement on that particular program at the present time. The Infrastructure Program is the one that I was referring to when I was speaking to the honourable member for Pictou West. These are infrastructure programs that come out and are open to a variety of different projects. They could be arenas, they could be sewage works, water works, art galleries, or they could be libraries, and highways is just a portion of that funding. Under this last Infrastructure Program, as I say, we're still negotiating the highway portion.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, on Page 183 of the Supplement, there's a line item there for $1.6 million to General Chemical Canada Ltd. Would the minister indicate what that's for?
MR. RUSSELL: That's for calcium chloride.
MR. MACKINNON: I notice there are a number of line items there for different oil companies, and I would presume that's for fuel supplies and so on. What's the department's purchasing policy on that? Do they put it out for a proposal call, do they get a preferred rate
from the oil companies? I know there's one line item here for nearly $4.8 million from Irving Oil alone. What rate does the province pay for their fuel? Is it a little cheaper than if we went to the gas pumps?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, in response to the honourable member. Some of those contracts are for heating fuel, and we go out to tender and we tender for furnace oil. The gasoline comes from a variety of suppliers, but it's all credit card purchases and there's no specific supplier determined in advance for supplying fuel, gasoline and diesel, to the province.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that would seem to suggest that the government has a particular preference in buying from Irving Oil over other stations, by the amount of money that's in the line item here - I'll just leave that on notice.
One of the issues that's been raised is with regard to the damage to vehicles, actually the number of claims since 1999, claims for damage to vehicles has doubled, effectively - I think that was verified by the FOIPOP that I tabled in the last session for the minister - however the amount of payout was reduced from about 36 per cent down to about 6 or 7 per cent. It strikes me as a little unusual that so many Nova Scotians would be putting in claims with mal-intent. Why has the department become so hard on this particular issue?
That's one thing, and to give you an example: on Kings Road in Sydney River, in front of Lady of Fatima Church, even as we speak I'm sure someone is receiving damage to their vehicle. I know last week there were seven wheel disc covers - hubcaps as we used to call them - in the church parking lot, and that's over one day. There's a very bad situation there and it hasn't been addressed. The department has quite a task of continually going and standing the bump sign up. Would it not be better just to fix that section?
It's not just one pothole, it's a string - it's one large pothole that strings upwards of probably 150 to 200 feet in length, and wide enough that a tire would go down and gouge out. Would the minister give an undertaking to address that? This issue about claims, I'm inundated with constituents and people from across Nova Scotia claiming that the department is being unreasonable on this particular issue.
MR. RUSSELL: I'll have somebody take a look at that pothole. Having said that, we have rather stringent guidelines for payment of claims. I'm sure the honourable member is aware that sometimes, particularly in the cooler months, it's very difficult to adequately patch a hole. You purchase hot asphalt at a very high premium in the Winter months, you put it in a hole, it stays there overnight and, the next day, the first truck that passes across it it pops out, there's a lump and you have the pothole back again.
AN HON. MEMBER: You have an extra hazard.
MR. RUSSELL: Yes. So those things happen. I'm not saying they're an act of God, because they're not, they're an act of a truck that's coming along, probably running over the pothole. But we do have stringent guidelines insofar as paying claims is concerned. Every claim is investigated by our claims officer. One of the things is, for instance if the pothole has been reported and we've had a reasonable length of time to get there to either repair the pothole or to put up a sign, then we assume no responsibility. The majority of claims, unfortunately for the people who make the claims, are rejected.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member has about 45 seconds left.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the minister and his staff for their undertakings and commitments. Just in closing, I would be remiss if I didn't comment on Armstrong's hill, going out to Gabarus on the Gabarus Highway. I think the Minister of Education would be familiar with this site. Perhaps this year, you would be kind enough to put a sign on top of Armstrong's hill showing deer grazing. The grass is growing up in the centre line and the deer are coming out of the woods to feed on the grass. So if they can't fix the road, at least a sign warning motorists that the deer are grazing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for your closing remarks, member.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to share my time with several of my colleagues, because as everybody knows there's a road or a transportation issue in just about every corner of the province. I really wanted to ask something that we've been dealing with throughout this entire exercise, and I know that it was brought up earlier. It's around the issue of municipal versus provincial roads, more specifically around the issue of ex-federal roads. There are, in fact, a couple of roads in my constituency which used to service federal property and, because they are no longer used by the federal government, they are not being maintained by the federal government but, in reliance, households have developed over the years along those. Now the municipality is not accepting responsibility for those roads, and I believe a couple of years ago the minister wrote saying that the province was not accepting more roads either. I'm just wondering, what does happen in those kinds of impasses?
MR. RUSSELL: The difficulty with these roads that are more or less abandoned by any authority, whether it be municipal, provincial or federal, is that people are seduced by country living to finagle a building permit and building a residence on that particular abandoned highway or abandoned road, and then they, of course, expect service, and they don't get it. We have a rule in the province, and I hope I'm still correct, it used to be that if there were three houses on a private road - oh, I'm getting a shake of the head, I guess that is no longer a policy, but at one time we did have a policy with regard to certain roads.
Can I ask a question of the honourable member? Are the roads in HRM? You can nod your head. Okay, they are in HRM. Well, then I would suggest that you should contact the city, which you've probably already done, and ask them if they have any plans to take those roads over. Once again, I also want to know how many houses are there - a lot, okay, 12 of them. This is like a fishing expedition. (Laughter)
What I'm going to say is this, there are ways out of the quandary that those people face, but it depends on a whole variety of things, and I would encourage the honourable member to speak to me sometime when we're out in the coffee shop here, and maybe we can do something.
MS. RAYMOND: I will just clarify that those 12 houses were built before the abandonment of the road, so they weren't built on an abandoned road. I don't think there was any question of finagling a permit, but yes, I would love to talk to you about that further.
The other question, somewhat related, is on the Capital District Transportation Authority. I realize that's a very live issue and the constitution of it is still in flux. I was wondering whether there have been or are going to be discussions, or any mechanisms, for including the interests of the municipalities which border HRM, simply because the Transportation Authority, its effects will obviously extend to the very outermost limits of HRM, and I would imagine that will have an impact on development patterns - is there any mechanism proposed for ensuring the interests of those municipalities?
MR. RUSSELL: That is an excellent question because, as the member may or may not be aware we have in HRM, about 700 kilometres of roads which the province services and for which HRM pays us a certain amount of money each year - I'm getting mixed signals here from upstairs and downstairs, so maybe I should give you my interpretation. (Laughter) That's always difficult.
I can tell you that there are 700 kilometres of roads that we look after in the city, and whether or not we get paid for them, I see is a matter of some discussion. We would love, eventually, with the city, to have some kind of exchange somewhere down the road, so that the city took over all the roads.
One of the problems that I'm told happens in HRM is that people phone up and say an HRM plow went right by the end of my road and didn't come up and plow it, and what are you guys doing? Then they say well, that's the province, and then the province comes along and plows a couple of roads, and they blame the province because they didn't plow such and such a road. So it's not a very clean system, it's not a good system, and hopefully as we get into discussions with HRM on the Capital Transportation Authority, we will
perhaps be able to work out some kind of an agreement that's mutually advantageous not only to HRM, but also to the province.
MS. RAYMOND: Mr. Minister, I hope that it will in fact be possible to include the concerns of those areas that are at the border of HRM as well, because they do stand to be significantly impacted by whatever transportation decisions are made at that level, 700 kilometres or more. I had one other question which is perhaps your field, perhaps not, I'm not sure. It may seem strange, but it's simply about dump trucks, commercial vehicles. There are a number of occasions when I have had people reporting that this load of whatever quite unexpectedly went somewhere else. I wondered whether there is, apart from driver's licences, which are a little difficult, any system or has there ever been a system of identification of construction vehicles which are on the road, just numbers, anything like that?
MR. RUSSELL: I can't answer your question directly, because I'm not quite sure where you're coming from. If you're speaking about contractors' vehicles, they would have a certain class of licence and they would be traceable.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your time is being passed. I recognize the honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: Mr. Chairman, I am honoured to rise here today to ask the Minister of Transportation and Public Works a couple of questions. In my riding I have one of the most dangerous roads in all of Nova Scotia, known as the Sydney-Glace Bay Highway. When that road was designed, it was designed so terribly that there's not even a pull-off lane on that road. If your car breaks down, you can't pull off anywhere in an area of safety from oncoming traffic. If a police car stops a vehicle on that road, or an ambulance stops to help somebody, you cannot pull off anywhere for safety. There are no pull-off lanes on that road.
And the hydroplaning on that road - I recently went to the University College of Cape Breton in a rainstorm and it was all I could do to hold my car on the road at such a low speed. Mr. Chairman, the road is treacherous. It's the Sydney-Glace Bay Highway. I know, presently, right now, there's a corridor study underway on that piece of road. The day I was elected to this Legislature, on September 4th I was sworn in at this Legislature, and when I was sworn in the news from home was a young man was hit by a car trying to catch the school bus on that piece of highway. I'll never forget that day, September 4, 2003.
Mr. Chairman, my question for the minister is, the corridor study that's underway right now, could the minister please tell me when it's going to be completed, or has he seen any of it - and the date for completion on that study, please?
MR. RUSSELL: I'm pleased to confirm what the honourable member has said with regard to the corridor study, and the fact that it's a very busy highway. It's one that certainly requires study to determine how we're going to control the traffic on that highway. Insofar
as the finish date or the projected date for the finish of the study, I don't know. It's not on my briefing sheet down here. However, perhaps somebody can send me down a projected date. I would think that it's probably going to be towards the end of the year. There's quite a lot of work. They've had one open house, I believe, in February, and I believe there's another open house when they're getting towards the end of the projects to take a look at the report, and perhaps adjust it to meet local consumer needs.
MR. GOSSE: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I know all about the study and the open house and many of my constituents attended that open house. I was just trying to get the process speeded up because it's such a dangerous highway, not knowing when it's going to be completed. The engineering firm CBCL, are currently doing that study. My other question on that matter is, when the study comes back, the study on the Grand Lake Road - Sydney corridor, I was just wondering, will the department honour the recommendations in that report? Thank you.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, this is a mutual study, as the honourable member is aware, between CBRM and the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and together we will review the report and if it's doable it'll be done.
MR. GOSSE: Mr. Chairman, it's just that the people out on the Kytes Hill Drive extension and along that corridor - I'll tell you a story before I sit down, a very short story. I have to pass off some time to my colleague, the member for Dartmouth North, so I'll just give you a quick story, I guess. There's a World War II veteran who lives on the other side of that highway, Mr. Minister, and he fought overseas during World War II and at this present time he's getting up in age. He'll probably be 80 years of age this year, and he did go to the open house and express his concerns about the study itself and what was going on there, and he told me that in all those years he spent overseas that he had a better chance of getting killed trying to cross that piece of highway, right now in his present day. He's afraid that he's going to be going into a motorized wheelchair at some time in his life very shortly, and he's just concerned about his safety and some things about slowing the traffic down.
I spoke to a Cape Breton Regional police officer recently who had ticketed a young man there doing 140 in a 60 km. zone. We've tried everything, and I know the minister has been involved in this since day one. We've tried everything to slow the people down on this highway. We've tried signs, we've tried everything. It just doesn't seem that anything has been working. So the constituents in my riding in that area are looking forward to going to the second open house, having a look at what CBCL is bringing back, the engineering firm, and getting on with trying to make that highway a safer place for all people. I think it's 20,000 vehicles a day, minister, that travel back and forth on that highway. We have call centres now located on that highway, call centres in Glace Bay. The University College of Cape Breton is located there. The sooner we get that study back from the CBCL group it'll be greatly appreciated, and I know it's a joint venture between the CBRM and the province. I guess I'm just looking forward to getting the study back in. I know the minister has been
involved in this since day one and the sooner we get it done the better for all the people in my riding sir, and I appreciate it.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to advise the honourable member that in late June, July, there will be the second public consult, and the report should be completed in late Summer. That'll be around about August, September, somewhere in that area.
MR. GOSSE: I would just like to thank the minister for those comments and I think my constituents would thank him when the report is done, and I would like to pass my time off to my esteemed colleague, the member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Minister, you do write good letters, and I know earlier you said you weren't a lawyer, but I have a letter here from you about February 24, 2004, concerning the Lynwood Bridge. That's one of those bridges that was blown out in the, if that's the correct term, Brookside subdivision. You said, we plan to tender the new structure in the Spring of 2004 with an award in June, and a completion date of August 31, 2004. I was wondering if you can confirm that project is on time, and those deadlines will be met? That's the Lynwood Bridge, which connects the Club Road to Sarah, to Bens Court and to Lynwood Drive in the community of Brookside?
MR. RUSSELL: I wrote the letter. I'll confirm the letter, and those dates will be met, unless something entirely unusual happens, but, yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister for your commitment.
MR. ESTABROOKS: On the topic of commitments, Mr. Minister, I would like to draw recognition to those men and women who work out of the Beechville base. There are people who work very hard from the Department of Transportation base out of Beachville. They are prompt in getting back to constituents and to me. In particular, I'd like to draw recognition to Derill Campbell and Randy Pulsifer. They are professionals and they are good people to work with.
I'd like to switch, not negatively, but I'd like to switch to an issue of dealing with the HRM Councillors in my area. I'd like to, if I could, send over to you by way of the Page, the list of roads that are within my constituency that are shared with the HRM. In 2001, the top seven roads were paved because of the cost-sharing between the Halifax Regional Municipality and the province. In 2002, the next six - you'll notice the large print incidently, that's not just for your benefit, Mr. Minister, it's for mine. In 2003, there were a few more roads paved. Nine of the next 12 roads, and these are roads in subdivisions, and let's be clear, these are roads in exclusive subdivisions in some cases, with people who pay big assessments, and the councillors have said, this is a list that's generated based on the date of petition by the
Halifax Regional Municipality, and they will say, councillors and the mayor will say, we can't do any more paving because there's been no cost-sharing of whatever amount for this amount of roads over the next paving season.
Nine of the next 12 roads on that list are in the constituency of Timberlea-Prospect. Can you confirm the amount of money that you have available to the HRM on this cost-sharing basis?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, when we instituted the program, Mr. Chairman, we came up with $1 million to be cost-shared with the municipal units to generate $2 million worth of activity. The amount for HRM this year is $400,000 as I understand, and that would escalate to $800,000 of work.
Within the department, Mr. Chairman, we do not prioritize what the municipality - I don't know if the member there can hear me or not - we do not prioritize what the municipalities send in. We go down the list and do it in order. However, there is a little catch to this because if, as I say, we have an allocation this year of $400,000, if there were maybe three roads that came to $490,000, we might say, well we can't afford that additional $90,000 and take one road out and insert another one that better accommodates that final figure.
Mr. Chairman, can I ask you to recess for about two minutes?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll have a two minute recess.
[5:29 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[5:31 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll return to the business of the day.
The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, I don't think I quite completed my statement with regard to how we chose the roads, but we also, last year I believe, went a little bit over the $1 million, up to about $1.2 million, I think, or something of that nature. We are taking this program very seriously, Mr. Chairman, because these people are caught in a Catch-22 situation, in that their subdivisions were established before the municipal bylaws that came into effect that a developer must bring his roads up to provincial standards and pave the roads. That is an excellent bylaw, and one that means that eventually, we will no longer have to have a need
for this program because all those roads that are not accommodated under the bylaw will be non-existent, they'll be paved.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Before I turn my time over to my friend, the member for Dartmouth North, I want to give the minister a heads-up on a situation concerning the Hammonds Plains Road, the end of it, where it meets up with the St. Margarets Bay Road. This is Route 213, you'll receive some correspondence about this. The Minister of Education is involved hopefully in this discussion.
There's a two kilometre stretch from the St. Margarets Bay Road up to Highway No. 103. On that two kilometre stretch currently, is Tantallon Junior High School, Tantallon Elementary School, Crossroads Academy, two growing subdivisions and, not to presuppose what the Minister of Education is going to announce, but Sir John A. Macdonald, new and improved, will be built on that stretch of road.
We have two kilometres on Route 213 that need a major upgrade, and that major upgrade involves the possibility of some directional lights and some other work, which is very necessary because all of these students, of course, will be bussed to these schools. This is a section of road that I point out to you that's between Highway No. 103, down toward the St. Margarets Bay Road, to Highway No. 3, two kilometres of road, and I would ask your department to please consider before the new high school is opened, presupposing that is the choice of the Department of Education, it is the choice incidently of the community, the first choice for our new high school, and again, my compliments to the minister for the support of that projects. So I would ask your department to have a heads-up on that section of road. It is not necessary to respond to that, Mr. Minister, but you're always welcome to respond. With that I would like to turn my time over to my friend, the member for Dartmouth North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I was just waiting for the minister to see if he wanted to respond to my honourable colleague's comments. First of all I want to thank our critic, the honourable member for Pictou West, for allowing us to have the opportunity to put some questions forward to the Minister of Transportation. Minister, I want to thank your department first of all with respect to the improved lighting and the installation of the new lighting system along the Victoria Road, and in fact, the access and egress to the 100-Series Circumferential Highway. I know that was a significant cost and I want to thank you for doing that as well and it came in at an appropriate time during the election period, so I don't know if that is reflected in the increased number of voters support, but at least it was an opportune time for it to come forward. As well, I want to thank the minister, you and your department, at least when I first was elected to the Legislature we did not get a letter from the Department of Transportation and Public Works asking us to list the items of priority and since, in fact, your government came to power, my office has received letters from the
department asking us for input and listing of the priority items that we might like to see in our constituency, and I have forwarded them on.
As well, I also want to thank your department again for the improvements along that 100-Series Highway with respect to the shrubbery, cleaning up and doing the landscaping along that area. It's quite a treat knowing that is one of the gateways to the former City of Dartmouth now called the community of Dartmouth.
I want to go on to ask the minister with respect to a commitment that he and I had talked about. I shouldn't say commitment, but at least an issue that we've had some conversation on, that was with respect to, in fact, the Circumferential Highway, which is part of the 100-Series Highway from the bridgehead of the A. Murray MacKay Bridge, up two kilometres and I asked him to have a conversation with the Bridge Commission with respect to taking over that. This would save the Department of Transportation a tremendous amount of dollars. It would become the responsibility of the Bridge Commission. The Bridge Commission then would maintain it because they're continuously collecting the tolls from that bridge, and it would add to the improvement of the gateway to the City of Dartmouth.
I guess, through you, Mr. Chairman, to the minister, where are those talks now? Are they ongoing? Have you had conversations with the Bridge Commission on this? If you can enlighten me and my constituents, then I'd truly appreciate it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, with the member's permission, I'll allow a member to make an introduction.
The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. JAMES MUIR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to draw the attention of House to the west gallery, where a resident of Truro, a constituent of mine and also a member of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, is viewing the proceedings in the House today, Raymond Tynes, and I would ask Raymond to rise and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause)
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, the member for Dartmouth North and myself did have a number of discussions with regard to the approaches to the bridge. There's no doubt at all there's a dramatic difference on the Halifax side to the Dartmouth side, and unfortunately to the detriment of the former City of Dartmouth. That area has been quite neglected. It's overrun with scrub and what have you, and the road and curbing, et cetera, are certainly sub-par.
We did, as the honourable member mentioned earlier in his remarks, upgrade the lighting on the Dartmouth side and it is a tremendous improvement over what was there. It was done just before the election, but that wasn't to light up any voters or anything, it just happened to work out that way.
Yes, we have had discussions with the Bridge Commission, with the objective of turning over the other side of the bridge to the Bridge Commission for maintenance and for landscaping and what have you. There are however, certain reservations that the Bridge Commissions has because of the state of the highway, and a few other things with regard to the tight circle coming off Victoria Road to the on-ramp, which makes it very difficult for the semi-trailers coming around the corner to avoid having their wheels run up on the curb and what have you. So those things are going to have to be fixed before the Bridge Commission will take it over and that's quite understandable. We are still in the discussion stages with the Bridge Commission, but, Mr. Chairman, those talks are moving forward and I would hope that very shortly, we will have something concrete to demonstrate that we are moving, in other words, that we're actually doing something.
MR. PYE: The reason why I asked about the ongoing talks with the Bridge Commission is because I do know that the Capital Transportation Authority is still in its infancy. As a matter of fact, the bill still has to come before the House so I don't want to go into a long debate during your estimates. That in itself will take time. But, we need to have that matter addressed.
One thing I will ask you though is with respect to toll highways. I know you've been asked questions around this, but I want to ask a specific question - will the government entertain private toll roads in the Province of Nova Scotia?
MR. RUSSELL: I know that the honourable member wants a yes/no answer, but he's not going to get it. The answer is going to be a little convoluted. When you say a private toll highway, if somebody wants to put a toll highway across their property going from their house down to the lake or something, that's no business of ours. However, I know that he's referring to the toll highway which is known as the Burnside Connector to connect to the bridge. That's a different kettle of fish.
What we have said is, if HRM will come forward with a proposal, we will look at it. We won't necessarily agree with it, but we will look at it and give it due consideration. Someday, sometime, somewhere there is going to have to be some other methodology of getting from the Valley to Burnside to avoid Magazine Hill. Magazine Hill at the present time is a very bad choke point along the highway into the city and something has to be done. We can't afford to build a by-pass at the present time, to be quite frank, so if the city comes forward with an alternate plan, we would look at it.
MR. PYE: My response to the minister would be is that you can't afford not to build a highway on the Burnside Connector. I would remind the honourable minister when the Savage Government was in power, I served on Dartmouth City Council. That government could not afford the extension of the Highway No. 107 by-pass; the city council of that day decided to pay for it and at a later date would be reimbursed by the province and that's exactly what happened.
I just want to ask a couple more questions and then I will pass it on. The next question to the minister is with respect to the Woodland Avenue signalled intersection. Has your department had conversation with HRM with respect to changing the structure and the accesses to that intersection along with flashing signals and/or the cutting out of right-hand turns?
MR. RUSSELL: I'm a little lost. Quite honestly, every time I go to Dartmouth and I come off the bridge, I usually end up some place I hadn't intended going to. I can always get lost. (Laughter) Are you speaking about the interchange that comes off and goes into the shopping centre?
MR. PYE: Yes. The Woodland Avenue interchange that links to Mic Mac Mall.
MR. RUSSELL: I know what you're talking about now. Yes, indeed, there are plans afoot and they will be solidified very shortly. When we get something definite, we'll let the member know, but something is going to happen.
MR. PYE: I'm glad to hear that something is going to happen. I'm hoping that will happen this year.
My final question is, minister, when the Capital Transportation Authority is comprised and the structure is there, or the body is there, will it be comprised of the Bridge Commission as well?
MR. RUSSELL: I can't answer that question because I don't want to compromise the negotiations that will ensue later on this Spring with HRM. However, I'm sure the city will have some things to bring forward, as we will.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: I want to join back in the questioning here. As you can see, we are a team here, we shared our time. I think it's important that all members that want to, have an opportunity to ask some questions of the minister when he's available. I know before our hour is over, we may well have some other members that may wish to join in and ask a few questions.
I want to come back to some of the questioning I was on a little earlier, but I want to take a moment to thank the staff from the Pictou County Department of Transportation and Public Works that I work with - from the district engineer, Mr. Roger Garby, right down to the various operations supervisors and to the various CUPE staff and people that work on the ground on a daily basis. They've all been very co-operative and I would say especially during
the time of the big snowstorm in February - I guess we called it, White Juan - it was devastating in my county as it was throughout the province. I certainly commend all the staff for their excellent work, working long hours to get the roads open. They're to be commended for an excellent effort in that regard.
I want to come around to the highway workers in the CUPE union. I know we discussed this a little earlier, but the RIM projects that are involved in the province right now - I understand it's around $12.5 million, an increase from previous years. When those contracts - gravelling, ditching, asphalt patching and so on - are let, in addition to the private contracts that are out there, do you also look at your own highway staff and the CUPE workers to get a shadow bid or a second bid? I know they're capable individuals, as I just said. Do they also have the opportunity to put in a bid on some of these RIM projects? They are as capable and qualified as anybody, I believe. I'd just like the minister's comments on that.
MR. RUSSELL: I should say first of all that I'm delighted that we have a staff that is so universally admired. When I say that, I'm not trying to earn any brownie points, I'm telling it as it is. I haven't been around the circuit of our various garages for awhile, but I intend to this Summer, but I did a couple of years or so ago and it was just amazing - the opinion held by people who had phoned the garage, who had little jobs done, et cetera - universally admired the type of service they got and more importantly, the fact that they were treated politely. Sometimes I know that civil servants are accused of not being civil, well, that's just not true. It's certainly not true in the Department of Transportation and Public Works. They get a lot of irate people on the phone who start off by castigating them and they have to keep their cool and listen to what the person has to say and perhaps try and take care of their problems. I'm delighted when members say on the floor of the House how well they get along with their local Department of Transportation staff.
Having said that, getting back to the business of CUPE and RIM - RIM was put in place originally for small, private contractors to enable them to purchase the machinery and to get to a stage where perhaps they could become bigger contractors along the way. We reserve the RIM program strictly for tenders. It's not our own forces. However, there are jobs that are done under our own forces and they are similar-type jobs. I think, for instance, about 20 per cent or so of our guardrail work is done by our own forces. We do a great deal of patching, of course. We do some shouldering. We do those things but however, under that program, which as the member so correctly just said, that $12.5 million, that's all for private contractors, and we get good value for our money.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, again I guess coming back to the projects that you do tender out, I believe they're tendered on the RIM program. Do you decide first, is the staff that we have, we've talked about they're good quality people, they work hard. Do they get the opportunity first within the department to do some of this work? How do you determine what is done by your own staff and what is actually tendered out to private contractors, either
within Nova Scotia or within the Maritimes, wherever these private contractors are coming from? What's the criteria for determining which projects are done in-house so called, and by private contractors?
MR. RUSSELL: The area engineer knows what his budget is under the RIM program and a portion is set out.(Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Would members of the committee afford the Minister of Transportation some latitude to be able to hear himself as well as to express himself? Thank you.
MR. RUSSELL: My difficulty, Mr. Chairman, is not hearing myself, it's hearing everybody else. I'm rapidly joining the deaf club. Anyway, he has a certain amount of money allocated under the RIM program to his district or her district and that is a portion in accordance with a fairly broad program that is given to the district: such and such a percentage of your funds will be spent on guardrails; such and such a percentage of your funds will be spent on brush clearing. Such and such a percentage on paving and what have you. He allocates the money up among those particular projects that he knows needs to be done within his district. He or she then advises the department and a tender is let for each one of those projects. There are however, always more projects than there are dollars in the RIM program, so then the allocation would be to our own forces doing certain work, which would be very similar to what's out in RIM.
MR. PARKER: I tried to ask this question just as our time ran out last time, and I want to know about out-of-province contractors. I thought I heard you say something about they were all within Nova Scotia, but I had some information that at least in Guysborough County and perhaps elsewhere there were some contracts let to out-of-province contractors and I'd just like to get your answer on that. Were there any contracts under the RIM program to out-of-province people?
MR. RUSSELL: Not to my knowledge - I can't foresee how it could happen but however, things do happen sometimes that you can't foresee. So maybe it did happen. Under the RIM program it is a made-in-Nova Scotia program, and it's tendered by Nova Scotian companies. There are some projects however, and when I'm talking about that I mean major tenders, not under the RIM program but under the capital program, which go out to tender and we do occasionally get tenders from out of province and occasionally they win a tender. For argument's sake, there was something that we did a few years back. I think it was the first time we used recycled asphalt in the province, where we used an emulsion mixer and I think for those first tenders, we had people come in, I believe, from either Quebec or New Brunswick, but now we have the equipment here and now that work, of course, can be done.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition on an introduction.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me this opportunity to make an introduction. I wonder if I could draw the attention of the House to the west gallery, there are two individuals I'd like to introduce. One, of course, is no stranger to this House, the former Leader of the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia, the former Leader of Canada's New Democratic Party and MP for Halifax, Alexa McDonough, (Applause) and a fellow who is a former city councillor for the City of Toronto, a former Head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and currently the Leader of the Federal New Democratic Party, Jack Layton. (Applause) Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, thank you, and I, too, on behalf of the entire House, welcome our two distinguished guests.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I, too, welcome our special guests here. We're certainly very glad to see both our Leaders here today.
Mr. Chairman, I know we only have a few minutes left and I'm going to move on to a different topic. I want to ask about Boat Harbour and some of the remediation work that's being done there. I know your department is responsible for that under Public Works. Could I ask then, to the minister, what remediation work is being done at Boat Harbour? There's some concern there, certainly in Pictou County about the work that's being done and perhaps the danger to the fishery, and lobster fishermen in particular, are concerned about the dredging that will occur there and the outflow that will be going into the Northumberland Strait. Could I ask, Mr. Minister, what the plans of your department are there, and just how soon is it going to take place?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works, there are approximately two and a half minutes left before the moment of interruption.
MR. RUSSELL: I won't have enough time to answer the question really, Mr. Chairman, so I might just skate around it for a minute or two, but I promise the honourable member I'll address it when we come back after the moment of interruption.
I was looking up there at Ms. McDonough, I remember in Question Period when she was sitting over there and she was the only member in the House from the New Democratic Party, so from little things, bigger things have grown. It's taken a long time mind you, but (Laughter) you're sort of getting there.
Anyway, with regard to Boat Harbour, yes, I will cover that. We have done - I shouldn't say we have done - but the band and the people involved from the mill and the department, have done a fantastic job with Boat Harbour, and it's an ongoing process, but compared to what it was originally, it certainly a brand new ball game. So if the honourable
member would permit me, I'll come back to that afterward and give him an up-to-date rendition of what's going on, and also I can pass him on a briefing note I think as well, regarding Boat Harbour.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West, you have approximately one minute.
MR. PARKER: I'll just ask a couple of other questions in relation to Boat Harbour and I guess you're going to come back after the moment of interruption. I guess the concern there was for the fishermen. They want to know that their industry is going to be protected, and I just need what assurances you're taking to safeguard the fishery. Secondly, are there any plans to perhaps turn over that whole Boat Harbour project to the polluter, to the company, to Kimberly-Clark? Will they be responsible for that project in time? So I'll leave that with you until after the interruption then.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps the minister will have half an hour to contemplate an answer to that.
We'll now recess until 6:30 p.m., after the late show debate.
[5:59 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize the honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. PARKER: I was going to share my time with the member for Hants East, but I think the minister had a reply for me and then we'll turn it over to the member for Hants East.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, before we recessed for the moment of interruption, the honourable member for Pictou West had questions regarding Boat Harbour. We have a plan that's presently going forward and I'll be pleased to give the honourable member a briefing note on that - but not this one that I have in my hand.
We're working on a plan to address the accumulated sediments in the bottom of the basin. We're going to have a plan to remove some of those sediments and then finally to return the estuary back to tidal action, to do that we have to take out the present causeway and put a bridge in.
There are four components to this program: First the mill is going to construct an underwater pipeline which will discharge effluent on the two outgoing tides per day - this is the plan, mind you, this is not locked in stone yet; then when that's on the way, TPW will take out the restrictions on the tidal flow in and out of the estuary; we'll replace that with a bridge,
and then we'll remove the accumulated sediments from the bottom of the tidal basin and the weir structure will be removed, allowing the tide to flow freely in and out of the basin.
So there are four different projects that will be undertaken to return the estuary back to a possibly fishery. It will be done in conjunction with co-operation from the mill and from the band and from the surrounding populous, with the Department of Transportation and Public Works and the Department of Environment and all others who have been involved in this project. It's been a long project, I know, for those members, and the member behind me and yourself, who have had a particular interest because of the proximity of the problem to your neighbourhoods. But, rest assured, it is moving and hopefully it will be - not by the next time around in here, but by the next time around after the next election, whenever that should occur, probably we'll have a solution in place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I wish to thank my colleague and I thank the minister. I'm very glad to hear your comments on Boat Harbour, but I'm not going to go there.
I have real concerns about my constituency and roads in my constituency. I think the minister got my wish list the other day and I know he would recognize it as being particularly extensive. There's something that concerns me more and that's the idea I'm not entirely sure exactly what's happening in terms of the budgeting process around the sheds in Hants East. My impression of roads in my area is that they're getting worse rather than getting better. I want to ask the minister, we used to have three sheds in Hants East - in Rawdon, in Noel and in Milford - and now we have two. My thought from what I've been able to determine, is that we have one-third of the men in all of Hants East that we used to; in other words the number of men in the two sheds in Hants East are what we used to have in one shed out of three, so we're down to one-third of the men.
I tried to quiz my area manager to get information out of him and he wasn't all that forthcoming. He indicated that the budget for Hants East was the same as Hants West - or he seemed to indicate that to me - but he didn't seem to want to tell me just exactly how that budget was being managed. So I want to know, is there more work in Hants East or the Hants East budget has gone to rural impact mitigation, more money to the private sector and less to the public, to the DOT side of getting work done by the men, can you tell me that?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes. As we have expanded the RIM program, naturally there's been increased work going to the private sector as a total. The amount of work done in Hants East though, I can assure the honourable member, has been fairly high. Hants East covers a very large area for instance, compared to my riding. It's also of a much higher density because of its proximity to HRM. There's been a fair bit of work done in Hants East every year, and in fact some of my colleagues will probably tell me that I've been favouring Hants East. So I leave that thought with you.
As I've said to other persons who have asked about various roads, et cetera, at the present time the capital plan is by no means completed for this year. We'll be working on it right up until probably the end of July before we have the capital plan finalized.
MR. MACDONELL: I thank the minister. I guess for me, after doing this for six years, certainly it seems like I used to be able to call if there was a problem and I would be told we can't do that this year, we can do that in three months, we can do that in two weeks, or we'll be on that tomorrow. Now I can't seem to get any direction at all, like whether or not it will ever be done - and last Summer it seemed to me that there were roads that by Fall didn't have the Spring potholes fixed when it came to patching. My impression is there's been a deterioration in resources there and I'm quite concerned. I know from the level of calls that I'm getting, things don't seem to get addressed in the same fashion. I would like to know from the minister, when he says the capital budget isn't determined, I'd like to know exactly what that covers.
MR. RUSSELL: I think what the honourable member is speaking about, potholes, et cetera would be done under the operational budget and probably separate from the RIM because it would be more isolated patching than the kind of spreader patching that you get under the RIM program.
You know Mr. Kelly, I presume, as well as I do. He's a very effective and efficient user of DOT funding and he invariably gets the job done. If you have particular problems with regard to potholes, I would advise you to get hold of David and tell him or, if you wish, you can pass it on to me and I'll get hold of David.
MR. MACDONELL: I know my time's running out. I have a high regard for Mr. Kelly; he has been good to work with.
My concern is around the issue of - we had that pothole patcher, that machine that fills holes. I was told that it costs $100 an hour to use that machine or rent it, whatever the department does and that I could put a crew of men with a truck and cover more ground for the $100 an hour. I'm wondering, who comes up with those decisions about which is the most appropriate way to effectively deal with potholes?
MR. RUSSELL: That is done at the local level. The machine compacted pothole job is a lot better than somebody going out with a shovel and shovelling it in and stamping it down with his boot. The difficulty with putting in asphalt, particularly in the Spring, is that unless the conditions are right, it's just a waste of money. Also, asphalt costs about twice as much in the Spring as it does during the Summer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect on an introduction.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: I thank the member for Preston for giving me this quick opportunity. As we are doing estimates here and talking about Route 213 and Hammonds Plains, it's appropriate to introduce these 12 cubs. I'm not going to introduce them as they are shared between the members for Sackville, Hammonds Plains, and myself. They are here with their leaders: Eileen Smith, Chip Maddock, Natalie Wilson and Erin MacIntyre; and also parents Gary Russell, Kim Conway, Bob McDermott, Steve Hiltz and Chris Richardson. I was wondering if the group would stand and receive the recognition of the House. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Preston.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: I just have a couple of questions for the minister and these are local issues more than the global issues you've been dealing with here today.
I have a road, O'Connell Drive in Porters Lake. It's an unusual situation: a part of that road services a school and it runs from Highway No. 7 up to the school and then beyond that into a subdivision, but the area from Highway No. 7 - actually the school driveway is owned by the Province of Nova Scotia and the area above that is in the municipality, under the new arrangement you have.
Now, the problem with O'Connell Drive is there's just a tremendous amount of traffic and it's a gravel road. So the school buses every day, there are 450 to 460 children in the school and they come from all over, and a lot of traffic, cars, service vehicles and everything, and despite the best efforts of the department - and they do work on it when they can considering it's a gravel road and they can't work on it in rainy days and the other things - the road is almost impassable from time to time. There are people driving on the wrong side of the road. I don't know why there hasn't been some difficulty from Occupational Health and Safety for the school bus drivers, the students, and the school buses because they don't ride very well anyway and the road is just a disaster. They grade it one day and two days later it's a disaster again and, if it rains in those two days, it's even worse.
So is there anything we can do with a road like that in the immediate future to resolve the problem? Now, past that is not a problem because the traffic isn't the problem. The problem is caused by the school being there. Now, it's great to have the school there - don't get me wrong - but the road is a really bad situation. Is there anything we can do to get that resolved?
MR. RUSSELL: Maybe I'll just run by what I think the thing looks like and you can tell me if I'm right or wrong. We're coming from a paved highway up to a school, a gravel road, and beyond that there's a subdivision with gravel roads, too, I assume?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSELL: And it's within HRM. So the gravel roads within the subdivision could be put on the priority list for subdivision paving and it would be possible to do it. I would suggest to you if it's just a short run - I'm not getting and shakings of heads up there - we could probably add that on to the subdivision road. How big is the subdivision? (Interruption) Okay, well, I think we could probably work something out under the J-class road program and accommodate that, particularly if there's a school there.
MR. COLWELL: I appreciate the minister's answer on that and I appreciate his concern, and I'm sure the residents will, too. The problem is the residents who live on the short section of the road that the province owns aren't willing to petition to get it paved because it's not caused by their traffic, it's caused by the school traffic. That's the problem and, right or wrong, that's their position. I've talked to each one of them. Past the school driveway, where HRM owns the rest of the roads, the road is in excellent condition because the traffic isn't there. That's simply the problem. It's just a traffic problem and there's so much traffic. Once the school closes in the Summer, they grade the road, put some calcium chloride on it, the road is fine all Summer until the school opens again in the Fall.
It was so bad this Spring that the road was just about impassable, absolutely impassable, but still the school buses had to go in. The residents had to go in and the residents don't mind the school there, they don't mind the traffic, but they have got to have a road that they can handle, and I would ask the minister again: is there's anything we can do? I don't know what the answer is, maybe chip seal it or add some more material to it, something so that the road will stand up in that high traffic time - and just that short section.
MR. RUSSELL: We will have a look at it to see if something can be done. As I say, I think we may be able to do something under the J-class road program.
MR. COLWELL: I appreciate your answer and, without seeing the road and knowing about it, I know you can't give me a definitive answer, but I do appreciate that.
I'm going to turn the rest of my time over to my honourable colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In the essence of time, honourable minister, I will give a list of topics. Maybe we will have time to discuss one or two, but I will start off with the entrance to Cape Breton, where the causeway meets the bridge. Each and every time I travel to and from it's slam, bang, crash, away go your shocks. You come out with a few colourful words and you look up and read the sign "Welcome to Cape Breton" - that's your introduction to Cape Breton. They did do some patching around there, Mr. Minister, but I don't know why the bridge had to be left the way it is, but it's an atrocious way to enter Cape Breton.
I have the issue of jake brakes, I have the crews who are plowing and paving, fearful of losing jobs, not being replaced, that the RIM program is continuing to be expanded and that they don't feel that they have security in their jobs - also the paving projects that would be done in Victoria-The Lakes, I understand there's some paving being done in The Lakes area, but I've had request from the truck operators in Victoria County, are they going to be able to get any work for paving? So you can take your pick or I can focus on one at a time, whatever you chose, Mr. Minister.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the only thing I can remember with regard to the roundabout coming into Cape Breton, as you come off the swing bridge, that road, I believe, if I remember correctly, that piece of the road is on somebody's program for resurfacing, probably spreader patching I would think, but however I'm not absolutely sure about that. You were speaking about - what in the heck were you speaking about now? Okay, just give me another one.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Jake brakes.
MR. RUSSELL: Jake brakes, we have a policy for jake brakes and if the road that you're speaking of has a speed limit of less than 50 kilometres, we will sign it and that will take care of the problem; if it's more than 50 kilometres, well, then I don't think we can do too much for you.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Mr. Minister, we've had public meetings. The speed limit - with the police, the Sydney police, CBRM police, they were the highest promoter of this, to reduce the speed limit to 50 kilometres from 70 kilometres, because at 70 kilometres the trucks can go up to 87 kilometres before they get a ticket; at 50 kilometres they can go up to 67 kilometres before they get a ticket. So therefore, by reducing it down to 50 kilometres, the jake brakes would be illegal. They're keeping the rural community up all night long - and the community is in full agreement that economic development must take place with the trucks and the gravel, but they're looking to have a bit of peace and quiet where they can live in peace in their own area.
We've gone through that. There's an education program taking place right now, and from what the residents are telling me it's not working. It's a voluntary program and I attribute it to a voluntary speed limit, nobody will observe it and, to date, they're even taking the baffles out of their mufflers, Mr. Minister, and keeping the community awake morning, noon, and night. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: You told me that there was going to be a policy or a pilot project announced for jake brakes within the next week or 10 days. Could you expand on that for me, please?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, we have a pilot program that we're putting in place. I don't know when it's coming out - I'm told in the next two or three weeks, where it will apply to the Bicentennial Highway as you come down to Bayers Road, and that is, as I say, a pilot program. We're going to see how well that works. Also I've had my deputy minister write to the various truckers' associations advising them about their jake brakes and that we would be inspecting them to see if they removed - what is that thing? There's a device they can take off, the baffle, yes, to make them even louder and we will be checking to make sure that those are in place. Generally speaking, we're trying a number of different approaches to getting some reasonable use of jake brakes. Having said that, we have to remember that jake brakes are a safety feature, and a very essential safety feature particularly for large heavily laden trucks.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: Mr. Minister, it's in the realm of safety that the residents of the area concerned are interested in slowing the traffic down, for safety for local traffic and local residents just a short distance from the gravel pits where the trucks are being loaded onto the Trans Canada Highway - it's safety and noise, but safety is the ultimate concern.
Another topic, Mr. Minister, the plowing crews and the paving crews, the fear of not have a reliable job because of the expansion of the RIM program and the contracting out to private contractors - is it the intention of the minister to keep expanding the RIM program and the contracting out?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, we will continue to expand the RIM program. It is a very popular program and we will continue to expand that program because we get good return for our dollar, and it certainly helps the small contractor and it certainly pleases the people whose roads we fix. With regard to snowplow operators, et cetera, losing their jobs because of (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Minister of Transportation and Public Works has the floor.
MR. RUSSELL: With regard to alternate source, we are only doing that whereby we have a vacancy and we are not laying any people off who are permanent employees.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: One final question - and I hope we have time - you had quite a bit of conversation on potholes. There are numerous areas in the area that the patching of the pothole is not sufficient, that spreader patches are going to be required because the pothole has expanded so much that there are areas of the road that are six and eight feet wide, and there are several layers of paving missing over and above the pothole itself. Would the
minister instruct the department to maybe - I know it's an additional expense, but a spreader patch would be far more effective than filling in a hole. You fill in a hole, but yet you still leave a bump or a hollow because of the area around the hole - maybe you would consider the department increasing the use of spreader patching rather than pothole filling?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable minister, with 47 seconds.
MR. RUSSELL: The quick answer is we put more money into RIM this year that will cause more spreader patching to occur - and I agree with the honourable member that, where there is a large pothole area, individual patching does not cut the mustard and we have to go into spreader patching.
MR. GERALD SAMPSON: I just want to take the opportunity to thank the minister and hope that the answers that were given - and I think him being an honourable minster, he will follow through with that and I look forward to the developments in my area.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I think it would be safe to say the time has elapsed for estimates. The 40 hours is now concluded.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. MARK PARENT: I'm pleased to report that the Committee on Supply has met for the time allotted to it and considered the various estimates assigned to it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall all remaining resolutions carry?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Carried.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that your committee do now rise and report these estimates.
[6:55 p.m. The committee rose.]