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October 15, 2009
House Committees
Meeting topics: 

[Page 479]



4:50 P.M.


Hon. Wayne Gaudet

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Good afternoon, the Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now be called to order.

The honourable member for Cumberland South.

HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I just want to welcome the minister and her staff here this afternoon, and I do want to say at the outset that I only have, I think - what, about 28 minutes left?

MR. CHAIRMAN: That's correct - 28 minutes left.

MR. SCOTT: I'm going to take a part of that; my colleague may share that with me and he may not, and if he doesn't, then we'll defer to the Liberal caucus to finish off.

Madam Minister, I want to begin with an issue. It's a housing grant issue. On August 18th of this year I had written to the minister and the department - and by the way, so the minister would know, when a member raises in this House and brings forward a person's name, you either have written confirmation that it's okay to raise their name or the House expects the member bringing the name forward. In this case I do have the permission of this person to bring their name forward in this House.

I had written to the minister on August 18th on behalf of a gentleman in Springhill. His name is Eric Potter. Eric is someone whom I have known for most of my life, growing up in Springhill. Eric is a disabled Nova Scotian. He had applied under the Home Assistance Program for some help, and I've got to tell you, Madam Minister, that I was quite surprised that this gentleman would be turned down and denied.


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I did see the letter back from the department, talking about - originally they were talking about the fact that he only had a quick claim deed to his house, which I'm sure in Nova Scotia there are many individuals who have quick claim deeds to their property - but then when that didn't seem to hold a lot of water, the department went to the fact that this home, in the estimation of the department, basically wasn't worth fixing up.

I can tell you, you know, I was really disappointed. I've been to Mr. Potter's house subsequent to that letter being sent. I've seen the home. I've met with Mr. Potter. I know the disabilities that he has. He does not want to go into a home. He doesn't want to go to public housing. He doesn't want to go into a senior's apartment. He wants to stay in his own home, and I will say that I've had the opportunity in the last 12 years to visit many properties in my constituency that have been able to take advantage of the Home Assistance Program, and certainly in a lot worse condition than this house is in. I'm not sure if the minister is aware of this particular case or not, and I'll give her an opportunity to talk to her staff. I'm going to table the letter that I had actually sent on August 18th, bringing this to the minister and the department's attention again, after having done it earlier.

There was an assessor at the home to review this problem. Like many low income Nova Scotians, Mr. Potter could be applying for an RRAP grant of, I think, up to $16,000 for extensive work but he's not. There's a problem with a flue that he'd like to have fixed and front and rear door work as well, on locks.

I see this as a health issue for Mr. Potter, but I also see it as a safety issue. Again, keeping in mind that he is a disabled Nova Scotian, I've reviewed his documents, I believe he's entitled to access this program. I think it's important the department give him a favourable consideration. I'd like to table the letter I had sent to the minister on August 18th.

Regrettably, Madam Minister, that was August 18th. Regrettably, the response we got back was dated October 5th. Quite a bit of time has lapsed between Mr. Potter coming to me, me asking on his behalf, and here we are almost two months later and winter's closing in. Mr. Potter feels as if he's been abandoned by your department, by the province and has sought a remedy solution through me.

I will table the letter as well that the minister signed and you can have a look at what you communicated back to me. The one thing I want to point out, you said that what was communicated to Mr. Potter in writing on September 26, 2008; November 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009; in an effort to assist Mr. Potter it was suggested he explore other housing options or contact his local housing authority.

Well, Mr. Potter's a disabled Nova Scotian, he doesn't want to go into public housing. This is a home he owns, he has clear title to the home. Again, I've seen grants been given to landowners and homeowners, to homes that are in a lot worse condition than this one. I think there's an underlying reason why Mr. Potter's not receiving assistance at this

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time. I think, probably, the minister may be aware and certainly I think the staff may be. I'd like to know what the minister has to say to Mr. Potter who, again, is disabled, does not want to move, has clear title and is as aware as I am that there are many, many properties in this province that have received assistance in a lot worse condition than his. I'll table that letter from the minister as well.

HON. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Thank you to the honourable member for the question. Although I know the honourable member has mentioned he has permission to use the individual's name, I'm not permitted to talk about an individual case. I will say to the honourable member several things.

As you could probably appreciate, we receive hundreds of letters a day. There are great needs out there in the province that we're dealing with each and every day. We try to expedite those through the system as fast as possible. I will speak to my staff about it. I know we do have a system that identifies when a letter comes in and what the response time will be and when it goes out. They try to do that within an expedient time frame, usually it's three to four weeks. I will look into that.

I'm glad he brought it forth because it's important to me as the Minister of Community Services to be aware, as you can understand. There are so many needs and so many cases out there. Each one is vitally important to that individual who is dealing with the issues. One of the things that I have to say, that I'm learning too, is that there is a lot surrounding one case and there are many sides to the story. I appreciate each and every one of those sides to the story. That's my job, to be able to garner as much information as possible and to work with staff to go forth.

I will offer to the honourable member that we will review that case and I do not hesitate at all for him to come and discuss it with me. He may even have even some other information that would be pertinent and helpful in that regard. That's what I would offer to the honourable member. Thank you.

MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In your letter dated October 5th, Madam Minister, you state: Based on the information provided the application was denied as it was determined that the repairs necessary to bring his home back to a minimum level of health and safety, plus adaptations required, were beyond the scope of the department's programs.

I wonder if the minister would table in this House and provide to me a copy of that assessment that would show that that be the case?

[5:00 p.m.]

MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, certainly I have no problem with doing that, because I want to express that what we're here for at

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Community Services is to do the best that we can. As you can understand, we have parameters that we have to work within and around, and policies, but that also doesn't mean that we cannot look at it and if something is not working - and I know the honourable member understands this, that when a change is made it typically has to be made on a global level.

We're looking at all those aspects with regard to poverty reduction, the ESIA redesign. That's why I'm so excited about it, because it does give us an opportunity to make changes, consult with the public, consult with the honourable member of the Opposition, consult with our own caucus, because some of those policies have been there for a while. Maybe they're not working today, so let's go ahead and analyze those and go forward. Certainly, that information from me to you is available, and we'll sit down and work through this together with you and my staff in Community Services.

MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, Madam Minister, thank you. The letter goes on to say: In addition, the eligible funding required to complete the repairs would be in excess of what can be provided under these programs.

Could the minister tell me what the maximum amount allowable under provincial-federal agreement programs would be for a homeowner such as this?

MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Chairman, Community Services has about 13-14 different programs. What the staff tries to do is see if there is a fit there for that particular case, and the highest amount that usually - the top amount would be $16,000, and then what we have to look at is the value of the home. Often when we suggest looking at other options like public housing, as we've done in the letter from myself, it's a result of the fact that the value of the house - it would cost more to renovate and repair than the actual value of that home. You can understand some of the challenges that we face with that particular type of situation.

As I've said here today, we will certainly look at it again, and maybe we can look at it through different lenses and see if there are any opportunities there to help this fine gentleman.

MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, thank you, and thank you, Madam Minister. I appreciate that. So if I understand right, I've tabled the letter that I had sent to you and your response. Just to point out, Mr. Potter had applied in 2008, so there were actually over two years where - I don't think it's a funding issue, and I really don't believe that it's an issue of whether this home is - It's a home on a cement foundation. I've been inside and outside the home, it's in relatively good condition. I've seen a lot worse and a lot better, and I told him that. I have seen homes that were in a lot worse condition than this receive a major overhaul. I'm really at a loss to understand - Mr. Potter, in this case being a disabled person who wants to stay in his home, and all the things I've stated - why he wouldn't be afforded the opportunity to

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remain in his home as he so wishes. I'm quite sure that if a new inspector were to go back there and do a reassessment of that property, maybe someone independent, I think you'd find that it would be a good investment, I believe, for the province on behalf of Mr. Potter.

I appreciate the fact that you said you'd review that again, that you'll have your department look at it, and see if there's some way that we can help Mr. Potter because he does want to stay in his own home and I want to try to help him do that. I thank the minister for that and look forward to working with you on that issue.

There's another case, and in this case I didn't actually get permission to say their names, so I'm not going to - I will tell you that it's in the River Hebert area of my constituency. There are two brothers. I've spoken to the mother and two brothers, but again I'm reluctant to release the names because I didn't actually get permission from them to do that. Two brothers who have some health challenges, they live in public housing, their mother contacted me to meet with them and they had some questions around special needs and whether there's an opportunity to work with the department. I did encourage them to go to their workers. In fact, I called on their behalf, or wrote on their behalf, I forget which it was.

I guess I'd like to have the minister's thoughts around people with disabilities, health issues in this province when it comes to - I understand the monthly allotment, I understand the personal needs and I understand the shelter allowance and all that. What I'm wondering is if the minister could tell me what her thoughts are around specific challenges that people may face health-wise, special needs and what opportunities there may be, in her mind, to help Nova Scotians in that regard, that do require over and above what the budget allows but that may not be allowed for under your own budget?

MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member through you, my thoughts - I'll be honest, I am not proud of where we are in this province in terms of supporting people with disabilities. If you look at the stats, that is one of our largest areas, people with disabilities and often single individuals and single men. That's one of the largest pieces of the pie if you look at who's presently on IA. We do have to take affirmative action and work together to go forth and see what can be done. It's part of my commitment, I understand it.

One of the challenges that we face with persons with disability - it's not like IA, the idea behind that, and the philosophy, is that it is the end of the road for helping somebody. We have to, through our ESIA redesign and our poverty strategy, talk about the philosophies. Where do we put individuals with disabilities, because for a lot of them that's the end of the line in employability, they can't go any further? We know that's a number that we will have, and it will increase, because often there are some situations now that we're finding, as the population is aging, that there may be a son or daughter who has been looked after by the

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family, they have a disability, the parents pass on and then that individual needs our support and assistance.

You can see there are many factors involved so we can't make quick decisions that are not going to have positive results years down the road. At the same time, that's my daily struggle, to deal with individuals and have phone calls from people who are only living off of maybe $615 per month and have a disability. Those are hard calls to take and, you know, they really break my heart to deal with, but it is my job as the Minister of Community Services to see that these changes can be made. We always have the financial part that we have to be dealing with, it's the reality of the world we live in.

I would like to be able to leave a legacy that we have gone forward and that's why I am very excited about the poverty reduction and the whole ESIA redesign. We are looking at all those areas and we are consulting and inviting the consultation from all political levels. I would invite you to feel free at any point in time, honourable member, to provide me with your thoughts, your insights, your knowledge of where you think improvements can be made.

For me, as Community Services Minister, I'm here in order to improve the lives of Nova Scotians, and certainly the most vulnerable. To me, that takes teamwork. That's what I'm here for today. So I do understand the honourable member's frustration because each one of us, as members of this Legislature, have those calls each and every day. They're very difficult calls, but we also - when I do receive those calls I send them off to staff to see, to turn over every rock possible to see if there's anything that presently is in our policies and procedures that will assist that particular individual. Thank you.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I wish to point out to all members in the committee that the same rules of the House apply when the committee is sitting. No buttons or hats are to be worn on the floor of the Chamber. I would ask all honourable members who are wearing buttons to remove them, please. The honourable member for Cape Breton - pardon me, Cumberland South.

MR. SCOTT: Maybe someday, Mr. Chairman - you never know, I might move. I want to thank the minister for her answers, and I listened very closely and I appreciate your sincerity, I really do. I've listened to what you've said and I look forward to working with you on many issues that affect your department. I agree, in my 12 years here I've seen a lot of times when there was a lot of need, and I know there's a balance between financial realities but, as well, people who are living in real need on a daily basis. I think if you can make improvements there, you'll have done your job here very well. I appreciate that.

I just have two real quick questions. One is around people who - I understand the policy is that when someone applies for a grant in this province, you have to have homeowners' insurance. I believe I'm right on that? You have to have homeowners' insurance to apply for a grant? Fire and whatnot, yes.

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MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Actually, we're not quite sure on that, so I can find that information out for you.

MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Madam Minister. I think you'll find that. I ran into a lady - this happened a few times over the last few years, but I ran into a lady this summer. She's a single mom, she has several children, very, very low income, struggling to make it in a house that - she showed me her roof, and it's a disaster. Poor lady, she applied for a grant and she had to provide a copy of her insurance policy, which she didn't have. She said to me, "Murray, if I could afford to put insurance on the house, I'd just spend it on the roof and be done with it." I think the quote she got was $800 or $1,000.

Madam Minister, if you do discover that it is the policy that you have to have homeowners' insurance to receive help through one of your grant programs, it may be a federal guideline that's coming into play here as well. I'm just wondering if, in extending an opportunity for a grant - for example, if somebody's applying for a $5,000 emergency grant and they don't have the money to buy insurance, could you say that part of the offer of a grant could go toward insurance for them?

If they don't have the money to buy the insurance then they're ineligible. I think it's kind of unfair that in this particular case, this lady just does not have the money. I'm just wondering if part of the offer - if that's the only thing holding it back, if everything else is the same, if that's the only thing that's stopping this person from getting help with the roof, could you not consider - if you can't do it now, maybe in your upcoming review of the programs or changes - could you consider whether that could possibly be part of the arrangement, that if they're getting that money for a grant, part of that money could go toward purchasing a homeowners' policy?

I understand, I believe, why the department would want that - obviously to cover your investment, I think. But if a person doesn't have the money to buy insurance then it kind of puts the opportunity to receive assistance out of their reach.

MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member. The insurance situation, if someone is on IA then we have in the past provided coverage for insurance. I must also say, it often comes down to each individual case because there are so many different factors with every single case, there are no two cases that are the same. However, as I said here today, I appreciate those types of suggestions and I will go back and I will ask the questions.

[5:15 p.m.]

As you can probably appreciate, there are many different types of grants, many different types of policies, procedures, criteria, but let's look at it. That's what I'm asking of the Opposition - to feel free to come to me with those cases that you have experienced.

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Maybe I will have an immediate answer, or maybe it is something that we need to address within Community Services. Thank you for bringing that forward.

MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I do believe it is something that hopefully your department could take a look at because it's not something I've heard a lot about in the last 12 years, but certainly on occasion it has been brought to my attention. This particular lady may not even be a client of yours, she could be somebody who is on Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits, for example, where she would get $800 a month. She may or may not be a client of yours, but she is certainly someone who is a low-income, single mother.

My understanding from what she told me - I didn't see the letter - she said the response she got was, because she didn't have a homeowners insurance policy for fire and whatnot, she didn't qualify for a grant. If you could look at that, or have your department look at it, and if there's an upcoming review of some sort, that you could consider that. I know I would appreciate it and I know she would as well.

Just a last question, Madam Minister. Would you know how many students in Nova Scotia, who are in the community college system right today, who are actually clients of yours, are receiving support through your department to help them stay in community college?

MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, the answer would be approximately 405.

MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I guess I just want to end off by saying that I know in my own area, the Cumberland campus, there are 120 contract positions. Some of those are clients of Community Services, some are EI clients, some are private, but I think it goes without saying, and I'm sure the minister would agree, that the ones who are clients of yours, or under these contracts with the federal government or whatever, I think a lot of these people are back trying to find a second career in their lives. I think it would be a terrible shame if through something that is no fault of their own - and I've met with many of them who have gone to family members to borrow money, they maybe have a piece of property that they try to mortgage, they have vehicles that they're borrowing against, they've scrambled everywhere to find the money to get back into school to make a better life for their family and for themselves.

I know many of these in my own area and I know that right now if that ends for them it's going to be devastating for them. Many of them will never have an opportunity to return. For a lot of them it's a challenge just to even come see me in my office to say - someone who's 40 years old and has been out of school for 20 years and worked in a minimum-wage job for a number of years, maybe they're a single parent, they've raised their family - that they're going to go to community college, or they want to get back to school after being away for so long, that's a huge barrier for them to overcome.

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I have met with many of them over the last number of years and I can tell you right today in community colleges in Nova Scotia, there are many of those. They also realize that their best opportunity for a second career is through the community college system because the community college system in Nova Scotia has been very successful.

I'm just hoping the minister will keep in mind, when she's talking to her colleagues - and I'm not going to ask you to do something here today - that she remind them that these clients of hers are people who have overcome major challenges to get where they are today. It would be a terrible shame, for whatever reason, whether it's a strike or whether it's something that is out of their control that would cause them not to be able to follow through and dream - because for a lot of them, it's just exactly that. It's a dream.

I hope that when you're talking to your colleagues you remind them that there are many low-income, disadvantaged, poor, single - whatever - Nova Scotians that are at a stage in their life, that have finally made the huge step to try to make a better life for themselves, and if come Tuesday they're forced to give up that dream, I think that everyone in this Legislature should hang our heads in shame.

We're paid very well, and I have said this to my wife often, that I'm very fortunate that I come from an upbringing in a family that had a very low income. My father was disabled - he was hearing impaired - he didn't have the money to help his own family, so when these people come to my office, I have a special place in my heart for them, because I know where they're coming from.

Many of these people have finally reached a point in their lives - I go into the community college in my own home of Springhill and I talk to many in the hallways, and I think it would be devastating to them to end that, but I think it is a tragedy for the province, for us as legislators and for you, Madam Minister, and for your department and for those clients of yours and many more. So I hope that when you're having discussions around the table, whether it is tomorrow or over the next few days, that you'll remind your colleagues that there are people in this province depending on them to find a way to resolve the issues that are facing them, that could actually end the dream for them.

So with that, Madam Minister, I'm going to finish. I think my colleague for Argyle wanted to have a closing remark if he has time. But I just want to thank you and your staff for listening to me today. These issues that I've brought to you - and I know there are only a few at this point, but they mean a lot to me and I know they mean a lot to the people that I represent and talk to, and I hope that collectively, between all of us here and yourself and me that we can find a way to help some of these people. Thank you.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle.

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HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, I was simply going to say that I thank the minister for her presentations today, for her answers. I thank the staff for being here today as well, and to say to her that this concludes the questioning on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party. So we'll just move on to the Liberal Party.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Community Services to make some closing comments on her estimates for the Department of Community Services.

MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: I think this is an appropriate time. I would like to table this information that the honourable member asked for last evening on the low income cut off. I offered to provide the information, and so I want to make sure that he knows that I have done that.

I would just briefly like to say thank you very much for the questions that have been presented to me. It's very important, and I've mentioned before, as the new minister and committing myself to going forward and seeing what positive changes that we can make and to make those changes, that needs to be accessible and to encourage people to have a discussion. I have offered to our honourable members on the other side of the Chamber to feel free to do that, because in our lives that is how we learn and go forward with positive change: having open discussions. I do appreciate the fact that you're like each and every one of us here as members, that you're receiving those telephone calls, and I know that it breaks your heart too.

So this is something that we need to put the political battles aside and say, look, we're going to come together to go forward and to try to make better lives for the people of Nova Scotia, especially the most vulnerable. So I would like to thank you for your questioning, because that helps and that gives me encouragement and gives me information that I can go forth with.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E2 stand?

Resolution E2 stands.

Shall Resolutions E24 and E32 carry?

The resolutions are carried.

On behalf of all committee members, we wish to thank the honourable minister and her staff for their presentation.

That concludes the debate on estimates for the Department of Community Services.

The committee will recess for a few minutes to allow us to change departments.

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[5:24 p.m. The committee recessed.]

[5:28 p.m. the committee reconvened.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, the Committee of the Whole House on Supply

will now be called to order.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, would you please call Resolution E35.

Resolution E35 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $374,333,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, pursuant to the Estimate.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The Chair will now invite the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to make some opening comments and if he so wishes, introduce his staff.

The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I thank honourable members opposite and those who are paying close attention to this important department for which I am responsible.

Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure to be in the House today and share some important information to my colleagues and, of course, all Nova Scotians. For the members opposite, I have a couple of introductory comments, which will probably take about 10 or 12 minutes. I just want to put this on the record if I may.

I would also like to this opportunity to introduce staff members who are with me here today from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. On my left is Doug Stewart, Chief Engineer for the Highway Programs, the man who answers many questions for all of us, not just when I sit here as the minister, but when we were in Opposition for those years and I thank Mr. Stewart for being here. On my right is Greg Penny, the dollars and cents man in my department, the Director of Finance. There is also staff in the gallery and I want members to know that we will be, of course, monitoring the various comments that you're making, because I know that you have some specific concerns.

Since coming to this department, I have worked closely with these gentlemen and ladies who work with us in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. In a few short months they've given me a tremendous amount of information and I appreciate their support today and every day. While we all drive on our roads, Mr. Chairman, and make

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use of government buildings, I'm certainly more familiar with the programs and services from this department than I was a few short months ago. So, I'm pleased to be able to share some of this information with the House today and to respond to questions and concerns from members.

[5:30 p.m.]

First, I would like to talk about the highways in our province. This department is responsible for over 23,000 kilometres of roads, the equivalent of driving from Sydney to Vancouver four times. This includes 100-series highways, secondary roads and, of course, bridges.

This has been a very busy year for both the department staff and road builders across Nova Scotia, as I'm sure that all members are aware. Major projects are in various stages, from planning to construction, including construction of Highway No. 101, 103, 104 and, of course, Highway No.125. The cost of building these roads is steep, as we all know. In 2009, Mr. Chairman, it cost about $3.5 million to build a single kilometre of new, two-lane 100-series highway. I think it's important that I repeat that - in this current year, it costs about $3.5 million to build a single kilometre of new, two-way 100-series highway.

I would like to turn my attention, if I could, to secondary roads. In this province, we also have one of the highest percentage of paved roads in Canada, meaning that there are many suburban and rural roads to maintain. These are roads that receive some rough treatment from our harsh winter weather, so we spend the summer patching and repaving in as many areas as we can.

Mr. Chairman, the road building industry in Nova Scotia is a large source of jobs, creating an estimated 5,000 direct and 2,500 indirect positions every year. This year we were pleased to invest $325 million in major road construction and improvements, $325 million. This has been an important economic driver at a time when our province has needed it the most and these projects are bringing a lasting benefit to Nova Scotians. They help ease traffic congestion, they make travel safer and importantly, they support our economy.

Mr. Chairman, this has been a busy summer for road builders in Nova Scotia. We want to continue making improvements while we recognize the need to live without our means, of course. We know that careful planning will be critical to making sound, informed decisions about future projects.

Mr. Chairman, we are committed to developing a five-year, road- improvement plan and I look forward in the future sharing that plan with all members of this House. In developing this plan, we're giving careful consideration to the needs, priorities and challenges facing the province, needs and priorities that are going to be determined not just

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by this minister, not just by my staff, but all members of this House. When it is complete, I look forward to sharing the plan.

Mr. Chairman, we're also focusing on making Nova Scotia roads safer to help support our economy, to reduce the burden on health care and ensure a strong connection among our communities. We're working with our partners on initiatives to reduce the number of needless deaths, disabilities and injuries on Nova Scotia's roads and highways. These programs include a mix of education and enforcement, focusing on issues like crosswalk safety, driver distraction and impaired driving.

Earlier this session, I had the pleasure to introduce two new important amendments to further road improvement road safety. The first will toughen the consequences of people caught driving with a blood alcohol level of .05. The second will help protect our first responders such as police, EHS and fire when they are at work on the highways of our province.

The trucking industry is another important partner in road safety. Commercial vehicle compliance is a key part of our work to prevent damage to our roads and support road safety. Compliance is something that I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working within my department, a department and a responsibility that we do not take lightly.

Nova Scotia's highways are among the safest in the country. Commercial vehicles are involved in a very small number of collisions, thankfully. That said, Mr. Chairman, we want to do even better. We are committed to hiring more staff to inspect commercial vehicles. We'll also be expanding the hours at fixed scale houses so they are open longer. The department has also recently put in a weigh-in-motion scale at the Enfield and Kelly Lake locations, which monitor the commercial trucks on a continual basis on that busy stretch of our highway. Each year, a similar device will be installed until they are placed at each of the five scale house locations across the province.

The other side of the Department of Transportation is Infrastructure Renewal - we work closely with government departments, contractors, and communities to build much-needed public buildings, from schools to justice centres. We're also involved in the restoration of historic provincial buildings, to preserve them for future generations while making them more environmentally friendly and accessible for people with disabilities.

Whether we're constructing a new road or a building, we want to make sure that we're doing all we can to be environmentally sustainable. Some of the initiatives that are underway include working with other departments on a sustainable transportation strategy, greening our fleet, and exploring and using new ways of building greener buildings and highways. We are committed to meeting the highest environmental standards, including LEED certification. Our department also works with partners on the important land

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remediation projects including the Sydney tar ponds clean-up, which is, of course, located in your constituency, Mr. Chairman.

This project has now successfully moved from planning to full implementation, and I again thank you personally, Mr. Chairman, as I have done many times privately and now publicly, for your input when it comes to the Sydney tar ponds clean-up. This project is not only improving the environment, but many jobs are being created during the clean-up.

One of the responsibilities I am pleased to have is the Atlantic Gateway. The Atlantic Gateway also presents tremendous opportunities for our province. Nova Scotia's gateway is a long-term investment in the province's future, and our goal is to strengthen our position as an international gateway for cargo and passengers. The Atlantic Gateway strategy is also nearing completion and will be an important tool for future action with our partners. We are working very closely with Nova Scotia's gateway partners to identify the best projects for infrastructure investments, both immediate and longer term.

As I have highlighted, there is a great deal of important work underway. We can thank the many staff across the province for working hard to get the job done. We have approximately 2,300 employees working in all parts of the province, many of whom are members of unions like CUPE and the NSGEU. These are the people who plow our roads in the middle of the night, who make sure that our roads are constructed with safety in mind and are built to last. These are people we should not take for granted. These are people that we should go out of our way and make sure to thank when the opportunity arises. I want to take this opportunity to thank these many people for their time, commitment, and talents, and their patience with me over the last number of months. They make a lasting contribution to our province and are truly appreciated.

So in closing, I thank the staff. I look forward to the questions and hopefully some of the answers that we will be able to provide members this evening or later on in the week. I look forward to all the questions, and now I would like to invite the members of the Official Opposition to begin their questioning. (Applause)

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Clare.

HON. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to begin by congratulating the minister for being named to this department. As he indicated, there is a lot that he is responsible for.

Before I start asking the minister questions, I want to take this opportunity to thank the minister and the former minister and their staff for their help, their co-operation in responding to my calls, my questions, my letters that I had forwarded to the department on behalf of many constituents along the way who have contacted me. I also want to acknowledge and thank the local staff at home. There are two individuals, Greg Newell, the

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Area Manager in Yarmouth, and Paul Dugas, the Operational Supervisor in Clare, and their staff. These individuals have always been very professional, very helpful to me when I have raised local concerns with them. So I certainly want that on the record.

Mr. Minister, I want to begin with Highway No.101. The department has been working on twinning Highway No. 101 for many years now. Currently, there is a section between Exit 4 and Exit 5, that's between St. Croix and Three Miles Plains, that's ready to be paved. So my first question to the minister is, has the paving tender for that section been called yet and if so, has it been awarded yet, and if not, when is the department planning to call that paving tender?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for being involved in the debate, I look forward to his comments and thank you for your kind comments about the staff in your particular community.

Highway No. 101, of course, is a crucially important piece of highway for safety in this province. Over the years it has been a project for various governments to make sure that we do have a safe way moving through that section of Nova Scotia.

The specific answers to your questions, member, is that the tender has not yet been called, it will be called this Fall and, of course, we will begin the construction season again when the good weather is upon us.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his answer. My next question - I'm just wondering if the department has a date in mind when that section will be open. So, to the minister, when is the department planning to open that new section next year?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite. That is the section of Highway No. 101 between St. Croix and Three Miles Plains, as you identified earlier, that, with a good construction season and making sure everything is in place will, hopefully, be completed by next August.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to move further down Highway No. 101, to the Windsor Causeway. As the minister is aware, between Windsor and Falmouth, there is no construction proceeding to twin that section at this time, it is to do, of course, with the Windsor Causeway. The minister is well aware that there has been substantial concern raised by local residents about this section and what effects it may have on the environment by possible construction. Jacques Whitford was retained by the department last year to complete an environmental assessment for that section of the highway. We understand that a draft document was submitted to the department last year for review and that was to be followed by another draft proposal to be assessed by both levels of governments.

[Page 494]

My first question is, where are we with this environmental assessment for that section of Highway No. 101?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, again, to the member opposite. As we make our way down the Highway No.101, the Windsor Causeway, of course, is an important part of that highway project and we are all well aware of important environmental implications when we deal with the sensitive parts of that part of Nova Scotia. Jacques Whitford, in particular, has been a firm which we have had a good longstanding record with. The environmental process involving various stakeholders, when it comes to the issues of that particular part of the Valley, are engaged. We're hopefully looking for the fact that next Spring we'll be able to proceed, in a timely manner, when that report is forthcoming, as we continue the project.

MR. GAUDET: So, I'm just wondering what the next step in the process will be? Is the department awaiting for this second draft to be submitted to the department or is the government in the process of reviewing the second draft that was submitted? I'm just wondering, what's the next step in this process?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member. I should point out a couple of important things which we have to work very carefully with when it comes to the federal government in this project, and I know this wasn't part of your question, but if you don't mind, I would like to make sure that you're aware, as you probably are, when it comes to negotiations, when it comes to funding projects that are shared between the federal government and ourselves.

[5:45 p.m.]

At this stage, there is not a commitment for federal funding and it's something that I want the member opposite to know, and I want the members from the Valley or Hants West in particular to be aware that this is something we're going to continue to make sure the federal government is going to be willing to step up and have their share of the money as we look at this important project.

When it comes to that environmental study, we of course are also looking at the design and the land purchasing that has to be involved when it comes to a project of this nature, particularly when it looks at the fact there will be a number of pieces of land that will have to be taken over by the government, in a timely fashion, and then of course, hopefully, we'll be on time to begin the construction process. It's one of those types of things that we're probably looking for the combined project of about two years. I know that the people in that part of the Valley will be patient as we make sure that we do this project correctly, we do it in a timely fashion, we make sure that all the stakeholders, environmentally and locally, are being consulted, and that of course the appropriate dollars from the federal government are in place.

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MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I'm just looking for clarification from the minister. Did I understand that the department is looking at the next two years in order to complete this environmental assessment or is the department looking at the next two years to basically do the assessment and do the draft for this section along the Windsor Causeway?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, my apologies if I've confused you. First of all, we're looking at next Spring that the environmental process will be a go, but then there could be as long as a two-year program when we look at the design, making sure we've got the correct design, then of course the purchase of land. We're looking at a two-year delay, or delay, a lag because of the various issues, and then construction would begin. Thank you and I apologize for any confusion.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his answer. Moving down Highway No. 101, I want to spend a few minutes on the new section between Falmouth and the Ben Jackson Road that was open back in December of last year. Last year the section between Falmouth and I think it goes a little beyond Ben Jackson Road, was open. My first question is, when that section was built, was it built to allow traffic to drive 100 kilometres per hour?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Again, thank you for the question and the tour of Highway No. 101 continues. It's an important section of road, I appreciate your attention to that particular project because of course the people in the Valley, the people in your community, have always had concerns about the safety issues there, you particularly. As we go from Falmouth down past the notorious Ben Jackson Road, that section of highway actually extends as far as Avonport. The answer, it has been built for a 120-kilometre speed limit, but of course the speed posted is 110, so it's built to make sure that we can have that appropriate 110 posting on that section of the highway.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, just to correct the minister, the current posted speed limit on that section of the twin Highway No.101 that runs between Falmouth and Avonport is 100 kilometres. Now, as the minister is well aware, when you leave the Halifax area of HRM, you get on Highway No. 101 in Lower Sackville and you drive down to St. Croix just outside of Windsor, you drive the posted speed limit, it's 110 kilometres per hour right up to where you leave, I believe, Exit 4.

I'm trying to understand why the speed limit on this new twinned section is not 110 kilometres per hour. I keep being asked by people from my area who drive along the 101, especially on this new section - I've seen many cars pulled over by the police. Some days I see three or four in a row at the same time. We have four or five police cars basically going up and down that stretch of highway.

I guess my question is, why is the speed limit on that new twinned section not increased to 110 kilometres per hour?

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MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank the member for that important question and I stand corrected first of all on the posted 100 kilometres that are there. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

Having just spoken to staff for a moment on this issue, this is something that we're going to have to check into, particularly when there should be some consistency when it comes to 100-series highways across the province. I don't have an answer at this time but I know that the staff in the gallery and Mr. Stewart, of course, on my left will get back to the member with hopefully a better explanation.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate hearing the minister indicating that they will undertake to look into this a lot closer.

As the minister fully knows, most motorists on our highways and on our streets throughout Nova Scotia will follow the posted speed limits. Now, of course there are always a few that will either drive lower than the posted speed limit or over the speed limit. Now, this has been asked, I don't know how many times because I've seen it myself many, many times, where there have been police cars basically working or driving both sides of that twinned section of the highway.

The question that I would like to ask, can the minister tell us how many motorists have been stopped on this new twinned section of Highway 101 since it opened in December 2008. The second part of that question is, how many people have been charged for speeding along that section between Falmouth to Avonport?

MR. ESTABROOKS: An excellent question. Those days when I was of course the justice critic could have perhaps stood me in good stead at this time and that law degree you promised me that of course you were going to cover last summer didn't quite work out.

That is an excellent question. We in our department do not compile those numbers but I will make an effort through my colleague at the Department of Justice, if it is available, to see that those statistics would be available. So the question, if I have it correctly and the Hansard of course will tell that - the number of motorists who were stopped on that section of highway combined with the second part, the number that have been charged. Correct? Thank you for the good question.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his answer. The honourable minister knows and probably many department staff have probably been asked that very same question because I hear it all the time. When that construction took place, obviously the road was constructed to allow motorists to drive 110 kilometres per hour on that section of twinned Highway 101. Then, since December 2008 we've seen these police cars going up and down that section of the road, stopping motorists who are speeding, of course. Obviously, the conclusion that many people have arrived at is this has to be a money-making

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game for the Government of Nova Scotia. I'm glad to hear the minister will look into this. Why, first of all, is the speed limit on that new section of the twinned Highway No. 101 between Falmouth and Avonport not 110 kph posted to begin with, and at the same time I'm curious - as I pointed out earlier, how many people have been stopped?

When I'm driving along that section, it seems as though traffic is - they're driving 110 kilometres. I understand that police cars can't patrol that small section all the time; they have other sections of Highway No. 101 to patrol as well. Again, these questions have been asked, have been raised hundreds of times, especially in the last year. I certainly would welcome the minister providing me with some information on that section.

I want to continue from Grand Pré to Coldbrook. The Eastern Kings Chamber of Commerce has been trying to find out from the previous government a date when Highway No. 101 would be twinned as far as Coldbrook. As the minister is aware, the previous government has said it was a priority to twin Highway No. 101 to Coldbrook. My question to the minister is, does your government see it as a priority to twin Highway No. 101 to Coldbrook?

MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank the member opposite for the question. I know that those many times when I travel Highway No. 101, there are certain times where I must be much more careful when it comes to posted speed limits. I thank you for that important piece of advice you've given me.

Highway No. 101 continues to be a priority for this government, balanced with the fact, of course, that there are some other needs for funding around the province for these projects. We're currently looking at the design piece which will basically come out in three separate phases to make sure that when the funds are available we'll be ready to proceed with the project.

I look forward to hearing from the folks at that end of the Valley, particularly the Coldbrook group. I encourage them to - if you may, or we can make sure we have a follow up with them specifically, that an opportune time to have a meeting to discuss the issue. This is a part of the highway system of this province that has to be completed in a timely fashion and in a safe manner. With the design process underway and the three separate phases and, hopefully, the funding committed, it will remain a priority for this government in Nova Scotia.

MR. GAUDET: With the lateness of the hour, with the moment of interruption approaching very shortly, maybe at this time it would be in order to adjourn the debate and return to it after the moment of interruption?

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Clare is right. We will now adjourn. Thank you.

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[5:58 p.m. The committee recessed.]

[6:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now resume with the estimates of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: For those who are in the gallery this evening, and for those in the province who are watching estimates, who are in the process of going, as we say, line by line at this stage - and I don't want to take time from him because he's made some great questions. At this time I think it would be inappropriate if I didn't recognize the fact that I have one of my constituents and a fellow colleague of mine from the good years of the past, a woman who I spent a lot of good times with, and I certainly hope it will continue. I would ask my colleague from Timberlea, Sue Hanham, to stand and be recognized by the House. (Applause) Sue, if this in any way reminds you of a Grade 8 class we once shared, you're perhaps quite correct.

To the member opposite, I apologize for taking that little bit of time away from you. We were talking about the three phases and the design work on that section of Highway No. 101 as it makes its way down to Coldbrook. I look forward to continuing as you do go through your tour of that particular and important section of highway.

The first phase of the design work will be the Granite Drive interchange, and the second phase will be from Avonport back to the Granite Drive interchange, and then it will go from the interchange to Coldbrook. That will be a three-phase design project and hopefully it will be completed in a timely fashion as we look at continuing to get appropriate funds in place and getting the construction underway on that section of Highway No. 101.

HON. WAYNE GAUDET: I thank the minister for providing us with that information. When I hear the minister talking about three phases of this project, one question that comes to mind - I know negotiations are always underway - is, under the new Building Canada Fund, is the minister considering using some of this infrastructure funding to continue with the twinning of Highway No. 101 from Grand Pré into Coldbrook?

MR. ESTABROOKS: To the member opposite, the Building Canada Fund, of course, is an opportunity to get resource to important dollars. At this stage we're aware of the fact that there's about $40 million still in the fund. Unfortunately, we have about $400 million worth of needs and demands and future projects - all of those considerations there and considering what our priorities will be as we continue to make sure that we get full access to that $40 million.

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I've heard from other members across the way, members from this side of the House, concerning access to these dollars, particularly when it comes to bridge projects and major highway projects. At this time, those decisions have not been made. There are going to be some tough decisions there, and the fact is that when you have a $40 million fund and $400 million ask, we'll have to make some tough decisions. But I look forward to the member opposite - when the time comes to determine some of those priorities, as he well knows, he's always welcome in my office, and I always welcome hearing from him and his particular part of the province when it comes to this important project. Thank you for the question.

MR. GAUDET: I want to continue talking about protecting highway workers on our roads. As the minister is aware, last year this House passed a piece of legislation to help protect highway workers along our roads and streets in Nova Scotia. In the past we've had highway workers working on our highways involved in fatal accidents or seriously injured on the job.

As the minister is aware, in that piece of legislation that came before this House last year, the law requires that a sign be posted in or approaching a temporary work area on our roads to advise drivers that the fines for speeding in those work areas are doubled. My first question is, can the minister provide us or tell me, or tell us members in the committee, how this new law is working in helping to reduce the number of accidents involving highway workers on our roads? Has the minister received any feedback from highway workers or highway construction companies on this new law?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, and to the member opposite, I was hoping we were going to continue our drive down Highway No. 101. We're getting back in the vehicle in a moment here, are we? On this particular topic, I do know and I again want to publicly thank the member for Clare because he of course was a strong advocate for this particular piece of legislation, considering the fact of course that fines have to be doubled to make sure that highway workers are safe as they continue to do the important jobs they do on our highways. Your advocacy on that behalf is much appreciated by the people in the department and I'm sure by highway workers out there doing their job.

We've heard from the road builders in particular that the legislation seems to be working, knock on wood if I may. Of course, I must also point out the fact that CUPE has been involved with input on this particular issue, but knocking on wood was the part of my answer that I wanted to get to, that highway fatalities in work zones with accidents of highway workers, there has not been one and I know that all members of the House hope that this will continue to be the case.

The feedback of course is that the appropriate signage, making sure that people are aware of it through the education program that we have in the province, making sure that people are concerned about the fact that they need the highway work done in a timely fashion. These men and women who are out there, particularly - and I know the member

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opposite from his own experience probably - and I recall some of the young men and women that I had as students, they always had those summer jobs of holding signs and making sure that they were well aware of some of the danger spots that they were doing.

This is an important piece of legislation that has worked well. It has worked well because of the feedback that we've gotten because of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and the education program, the advertisements that we've had, and at this stage we are satisfied. Hopefully it will continue to be an important part of the highway safety program in this province and let's hope that we don't have accidents of any kind when it comes to our workers on the highway.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, the reason I'm pursuing this right now, just outside of Coldbrook there is a working area where the department's involved in putting in some passing lanes but, again, continuing with protecting highway workers, when this law was brought in, I've seen working areas on our roads or streets where there was a temporary posted speed limit to advise motorists to drive 50 kilometres, 60 kilometres, 70 kilometres, whatever the case may be, but I've noticed, especially in the last number of months, those temporary posted speed limit signs have just vanished.

I guess my question to the minister is, why is the department no longer posting speed limits in working areas in order to inform drivers of the speed limit allowed in these areas? As the minister knows, sometimes it's on the street inside the town, other times it's on the 100-Series. Again, speeds vary, being proactive, I recall the department used to advise motorists. I guess my question is, why is the department no longer looking at advising the general public on what the acceptable speed is to drive in those working areas?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the member, I just want to remind all members that the chairman earlier today pointed out that the wearing by members of badges, buttons or pins for any cause is not permitted in the Chamber.

The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has the floor.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you again of course to the member opposite for another important question. I have been informed, in fact, and I notice the signage that I see in these work areas, "fines will be doubled" is very prominent. The answer that I've been provided by staff is that individual contractors have the discretion - if they wish to have posted speed signs, they can. In that particular section of the passing lane, obviously, that you mentioned as you come past Coldbrook, they have decided they don't feel it's necessary. It's something we could review, but at this stage it's up to the discretion of the contractors. The signs they're required to post are notification that fines will be doubled for those who are speeding in construction areas. It's up to the contractors at their discretion if they wish to post the appropriate speed signs through the construction area.

[Page 501]

MR. GAUDET: I welcome the minister's comments. It's very confusing. Other jurisdictions across Canada have similar legislation in place. This summer I had the opportunity to drive from Quebec City back to Nova Scotia. I noticed along the Trans-Canada Highway, where there were many areas where there was work being carried out, there was a posted speed limit in every working area to advise motorists of what the acceptable speed limits in those areas were.

I know here in Nova Scotia, when this legislation became law, we did have speed limits posted. I'm trying to be proactive - this is about making sure that people who are working on our roads and streets are safe. I pointed out earlier that I've seen speed limits of 50, 60, or 70, so do I have to assume, in it doesn't matter what working area, the speed limit is 50? Or is it 70?

Again, I would certainly hope the minister will take this back to his department and maybe have some discussions with the Road Builders Association. I think it certainly would help to make sure that the general public, along with the workers on our roads, knows what the maximum speed allowed is in those various working areas.

Also in Quebec, they had temporary screens set in these working areas. It was a big screen on the side of the road - a portable screen. Of course there was a radar gun nearby, so every time a vehicle would go by you could see, driver, you are driving 62 kilometres. Again, I thought it was very proactive in Quebec to advise motorists if they were following the speed limit, if they were under, if they were over. We all know the government needs to be proactive in helping motorists to slow down when driving through a working area on our highways in order to reduce the number of accidents.

I hope the minister's department will continue to be proactive in reducing accidents involving highway workers on our roads.

I want to continue with the passing lanes that are under construction just outside of Coldbrook. Back in November 2007 the government announced that planning was underway to construct passing lanes from Berwick to Kingston. The minister knows that Highway No. 101 is one of the most dangerous stretches of roads in this province. We all recall that back in March of this year the Prime Minister was in the Valley to announce $17.5 million for passing lanes. The province said they would contribute $10.75 million. Ottawa said they would make a $6.75 million contribution in constructing passing lanes.

[6:45 p.m.]

Finally, a tender was called this summer for passing lanes between Coldbrook and Kingston. My first question to the minister is, when I'm looking at this $17 million announcement back in March, how much of this $17 million is being used for the tender

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work that has been awarded to construct 2.16 kilometres of passing lanes between Coldbrook and Kingston?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, you've raised a couple of points and if you don't mind, I'd like to be involved in a discussion with that particular jurisdiction in Quebec in a moment. When it comes to the passing lanes in that announcement for the $17.5 million, we're again looking at one of these three phases over the next three years, as we look at this project, as it proceeds. Those passing lanes are an important part of the highway system as it goes down the Valley toward Kingston, and over the next three years those three phases will be each completed in a timely fashion, hopefully.

I just want to go back, if I may, for a comment, particularly when it comes to the traffic when we are encouraging them to go slower, and I thank you for bringing that example forward particularly in other jurisdictions. As the member well knows, not one particular party, or one particular minister, has a patent on good ideas and this would be something seriously that I will bring forward to the staff. I look forward to talking to the member more specifically about it in the future because it is one of the things, the more signage we have in place when it comes to the contractor who requests to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal staff that they want that signage, then the signage gets posted. Perhaps we should look at a different way of looking at it but then again, we're trusting the contractors that they, of course, have the safety - and I'm sure they do - of their workers as a top priority.

I, too, have looked at the active - particularly when we look at those signs that get your attention, you are now speeding, you are now going what particular speed. The department had, on some occasions, had use of these signs. Unfortunately, if you leave them in one location for too long, they become one of those scenes where you sort of take it for granted that people are aware of the fact that it's just like another commercial signage as you're driving down through a busy intersection or a busy street or road somewhere in the province. It is something that we should make greater use of, particularly in work zones, and it is something that I will bring up with the staff, ensuring the fact that this is another way to deter people from speeding, particularly when it comes to the areas where we have our highway staff, or contractor staff, out there working in various locations in the province.

I thank the member for bringing those two ideas to my attention.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his answer. As the minister is aware, currently those passing lanes are being built between Coldbrook and Berwick. The minister did point out they're looking at constructing passing lanes in three phases. I guess my question to that, now that I understand the department is planning to add additional passing lanes, as the minister may or may not know, from Berwick right to Bridgetown there is no passing lane on that stretch of highway. Looking at a three-phase project, can the

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minister tell us what areas the department is looking at adding passing lanes from the Berwick to the Bridgetown section?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, when the audit, of course, was done for Highway No. 101 and potential changes for passing lanes were identified in certain areas, the safety audit that was brought to the staff's attention did not include the passing lanes beyond Berwick down to Bridgetown. Now, I mean, we can review that situation and look at the possibility of these passing lanes to be extended further down into the Valley, but at this time there are no plans to have passing lanes beyond Berwick down to Bridgetown.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, is the department considering constructing any additional passing lanes on Highway No. 101?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite. Based upon the details of the safety audit and information that came out of that, based upon the dollars that are available, of course, we are addressing the need for passing lanes as the safety audit has determined, and at this time we have no plans to continue passing lanes any further down the highway beyond Berwick.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his clarification. Again, continuing down Highway No. 101, I want to stop and focus a little bit on the section between Digby and Weymouth North. As you are aware, and I'm sure all members in this Chamber are aware, there have been many debates in this House over this unfinished section of Highway No. 101 between Digby and Weymouth North. That's the only missing section on Highway No. 101.

The minister and the department are well aware of this section and I'm sure everybody is aware of all the arguments that have been brought forward by so many people trying to convince the government to finish this section of Highway No. 101. I know my colleague, the member for Digby-Annapolis has raised this concern many, many times in this House since 2003. Of course, safety is and continues to be a big concern along this stretch of highway of approximately 26 kilometres. I know the question has been asked time and time again, and I certainly will keep on with that tradition, Mr. Chairman, through you, by asking the minister when will this section of Highway No. 101 between Weymouth and Digby be built?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, of course Highway No. 101 has, many times during my years in this House, and I know the member opposite has a few more years of experience in this Legislature than I do, so we're all aware of the ongoing debate and the meaningful exchanges we've had on whatever side of the House we're on because, after all, the priority for all of us is to make sure that we have safe highways, whether they're in the Valley, Cape Breton or the South Shore of Nova Scotia.

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The complicating factor as we know is, of course, that this is one of those areas where there's no controlled access. Because of that complicating factor, we continue to proceed to look at when land is available, buying up land, because that is the first and probably the initial step that will, of course, take some time when it comes to this issue. There has been over $200 million worth of work done on Highway No. 101 over the years. Of course, there is a need for further work on that particular part of the Valley.

At this time, I would be unable to give the member any real clear answer and I certainly don't want to mislead those people who regularly use that part of the 100-Series Highway in the Valley. At this time, there is no time frame when we would be addressing this particular part of highway construction on Highway No. 101, but I do thank the member for bringing these issues to my attention. I know he has a couple of other issues on Highway No. 101. So I want to take my place and allow him to continue.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, my hope is that the government will take this matter under consideration and maybe to include it under the new infrastructure agreement that the province has with the federal government so people living on this stretch of road between Digby and Weymouth will know once and for all when to expect to see construction begin on this uncompleted section of Highway No. 101. It has been way too long and I hope, again, that the minister will certainly take it back and maybe give it some serious consideration, so we can actually provide people living on that unfinished section of Highway No. 101 with a time frame of when they can expect some work to be carried out.

Now, Mr. Chairman, I want to continue, I want to talk about the Hectanooga Road interchange. That's in my community in Clare. Now, under the Canada-Nova Scotia Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund Agreement for Highway No. 104 and Highway No. 101, which expires this year, in 2009-10, work is currently underway in constructing the ramps for the Hectanooga Road interchange, in Lake Doucette, in Digby County.

I guess my first question is, does the minister know if this work will be completed this Fall? The work that is underway right now is the construction of the ramps for this interchange.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, we're very confident of the fact that the ramps will be built this Fall. Unfortunately, for various reasons, they might not be paved, it will not be completed so it can be used by traffic, but the ramps will be constructed and finished this Fall.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I agree with the minister, sometimes there are delays beyond one's control. I'm glad to hear that the construction of these ramps will be completed this Fall.

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Does the minister know - and I suspect the department will have to call a tender to have these ramps paved in the Spring - does the minister know when the tender will be called? Does he anticipate the tender will go out this Fall or this winter?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Again, to the member, I know this is a project of some concern, particularly in your community, and I've been told, when I asked the question earlier, that the tender will be called this Fall. So thank you, again, for the good, specific question.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, a final question on the interchange with the fact that now we know that the tender for paving will be called this Fall, assuming the work is carried out next Spring, with weather permitting, of course, does the department have a date in terms of when this overpass, interchange, will actually be open to the public? Can we expect that to open in early summer, or are we looking at next Fall? So I guess what I'm looking for from the minister is, can he provide us - and again, I know, especially in road construction, there are always unexpected delays that may come about, but assuming everything goes according to plan - does the minister, or the department, have a time frame they're looking at opening this interchange?

[7:00 p.m.]

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, typically a Fall tender call would result in the fact that this particular project would be paved and ready to be used by the public by that upcoming summer. The specifics of the end of July as opposed to the middle of August, I really couldn't give you that commitment, but by next summer, hopefully, this important section of the interchange will be completed and paved and used by the public.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for his information. I want to continue right into Yarmouth. Back in May 2007, at a public meeting in Yarmouth, organized by staff from your department, Mr. Minister, several proposed changes were presented. One of them was to build a connecting road between Highway No. 101 and Highway No. 103. Has there been any further discussion on this proposal by staff in your department? Is the department considering going forward with such a proposal; if so, when?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Part of the important process, of course, when it comes to highway construction, or making sure that public input is there - that open house was an event that has had some good results because of the information that was collected at that time. Based upon that public consultation, hopefully, this will be a project which we can look at in the future, because it is, after all, from my experience in driving that particular part, whether I'm going from Highway No. 103 over to Highway No. 101 from the South Shore, or going the reverse, coming from the Valley down to Highway No. 103, it is a project that is worthy of consideration at this time.

[Page 506]

I really have no more details on that. It is a connecting road that I think has merit. Hopefully in the future it is something that we will be able to respond to in a positive manner.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, along our 100-Series Highways there are many car-pool parking lots, and I'm sure I'm not the only member who receives calls, especially in the wintertime. In Clare, we have two parking lots that have been constructed at both ends of our municipality. Motorists who carpool are very grateful for the construction of these parking lots, made by your department. Unfortunately, it seems every winter I keep hearing the same questions being asked by motorists who are travelling either to Yarmouth or to Digby for work.

These people who are travelling, who are carpooling, fail to understand why the car pools aren't cleaned when the snowplow goes by and it cleans the road, why the car-pool parking lots aren't cleaned, because most of the time these motorists will park on the side of the road, and we know what danger that may create. Other times some of these individuals will go and park in someone's yard and then, again, that creates other problems.

So my first question is, on behalf of these individuals who fail to understand why the department staff, the snowplow operators, when they are going by plowing these roads, why can't they plow these car-pool parking lots? I understand the department's policy is to plow these parking lots only when the roads have been cleaned. I guess for the sake of a few minutes, I'm sure it wouldn't take that long for snowplow operators to clean these car-pool parking lots. I guess my question is, will the department review its policy and reconsider plowing out these lots at the same time when plows happen to be in those immediate areas?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I too, on occasion, have been asked about the snow removal in car-pool parking lots, because it is an important part of the transportation system as people are urged, as we have done at some occasion, to make sure that we travel more efficiently from one part of the province to the other. The priority when it comes to snow removal is that those heavy pieces of gear, as they move around from one part of the highway system to the other, is getting the highways cleared and cleaned as soon as possible.

Sometimes it is complicated because of the heavy equipment that could be used plowing that particular section of highway when that piece of gear has to be used, and a little bit tricky - and I am no expert at driving a plow, let alone forward or backward - taking one of those pieces of equipment and moving it into a parking lot when a smaller piece of gear would be more appropriate to be used. On certain cases, I know that when you see the plow going on that section of the highway, shouldn't they stop and take a swing through it at that time? The priority for the plow operators according to the schedule that is given to them, and it has been agreed upon, is of course you knock down the snow, you clear away the sides of the roads, you make sure the highways come first, and the priority, of course, is to make sure

[Page 507]

they're clear. Later on during this cleanup process, the highway workers are encouraged to go back and make sure they get at these car-pool lots.

I suppose we could confirm the fact that it is something we should review. It gets even more complicated if they get to it later during the day when people have the lot in use, and of course there are vehicles that have made their way in there, and there are difficulties with that big piece of equipment trying to remove snow in an efficient manner from one end of the car-pool lot to the other.

I will take the member at his word; it is a good suggestion, and I know we all have questions that we asked each year when we were on that particular side of the House, and I was well aware of the fact that I could expect a question from the MLA for Clare on the review of snowplow action in car-pool parking lots. I thank you again for bringing it to our attention for the first time with me as the minister, and let me see what I can do for you when it comes to review.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to hear that the minister is willing and ready to review the policy on clearing car-pool parking lots. I'm pleased to hear that he has received calls from constituents as well regarding clearing car-pool parking lots.

I want to talk a little bit abut trimming the side of the road. Of course, safety on our highways should always be a priority. I've noticed, driving from Halifax to home, there are a number of areas along Highway No. 101 where the bushes and alders need to be cut right now, as a matter of fact. I guess my first question is, does the department have a schedule when bushes and alders are cut along Highway No. 101? Do they have a schedule?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you for the question. In fact, your colleague, the member for Digby-Annapolis when I first - and this is not a laughing matter, but let's be clear on the fact that when I first assumed the responsibility for Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the first topic that I was interested in was, of course, the Cobequid Pass. It was a warm summer's day, if you remember through that particular part, and the very first topic that crossed my mind was what exactly was going to happen to the Cobequid Pass as we look forward to the winter ahead.

The second thing, of course, is that we have to be ready for the member for Digby-Annapolis's question on alders. There is a cycle involved, if my information is correct, and I remember the answer was given to me at that time that, of course, we're looking at the fact that hopefully the sides of roads are mowed every year, but there is a five- to seven-year cycle to make sure that the alders are cut back, the brush is cut back, along the sides of highways around the province. I've taken too much of the member's time, is that what you've just told me?

[Page 508]

MR. CHAIRMAN: No, I'm just letting you know that the honourable member has 30 seconds left in his time.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Well, I've gained a bit of notoriety for ragging the puck. But if you have a further question, go for it and I will pop an answer at you.

MR. GAUDET: A very quick question, does the department have a list of where bushes and alders will be cut along Highway No. 101 next year; if so, will the minister undertake to table that information?

MR. ESTABROOKS: That was a quick snapper - the teacher in you came out. We do not have that at this time. That plan is made during the winter for the upcoming season when it comes to dealing with alders and roadwork. Perhaps you could remind me of that at an appropriate time in the Spring and I will make it available to you.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants West.

MR. CHUCK PORTER: Mr. Chairman, minister, thank you for being with us this evening, and also your staff. It's always great to have a chance to talk about this issue, and I know that we've have had a few sidebars outside of the House and in the House with regard to some issues, and I appreciate the time that you've given those issues and gotten back to me with some answers on that. So I appreciate that very much.

Just where the honourable member for Clare left off on the bush cutting, I might as well start there. He mentioned Highway No. 101, generally speaking, at least in my area, it's not Highway No. 101 that seems to be the issue, it's more the side roads: Highway Nos. 215, 14, 1. The more major roads are where we seem to have more issues with the alders or bushes growing and the visibility with vehicles making turns or coming through crossroads, et cetera. Those are where all my calls generally come from. It's not so much the 100-Series Highways, it's more the secondary highways.

We call our local supervisor, OS, I guess we call them now, and they've been very good and co-operative in getting that work done. But I'm wondering, have we over the last few years cut back on that or is the plan to cut back at all? It's an ongoing issue, I know you can't help but have the bushes and so on grow, unless you were to dig them all out, and for some that might may make them happy as well, but there would still be areas that I think you would have problems. We do take a number of calls in my area and I'm just wondering if the schedule for the upcoming year, as well as this past summer, have there been any changes to that and where does that fall under? Is that RIM work or is that something else?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I welcome the member for Hants West to the exchanges tonight and I look forward to his comments as we proceed over the next number of minutes and hours on some of these important issues. As we are all well aware, brush

[Page 509]

cutting is an important issue, not just on the 100-Series Highways but important to sections, as you mentioned Highway No. 215 and various other roads in your community.

It has been - and let's call it what it is - an ongoing battle against Mother Nature, but the department has increased funding for this particular task of our highway workers. It is one of the priorities when we're using those RIM dollars that become available. It is a service that is of crucial importance and we spent, over the last number of years, hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue to address this issue.

From my personal experience - and I know the member opposite has his own experiences - I've always had prior to - and hopefully even more now that I'm the minister, although I'm not taking advantage of that. I want you to know when I have an opportunity to drop into my local government shed, as we call it in Beechville - "depot" I guess is the correct term, particularly after they've had a long night and have been working out all night, I encourage all members on all sides of the House to pop by with some Timmies - if I can do an endorsement of a great coffee, although not much of a hockey player - but if you have the opportunity to drop by (Interruption) Okay, I will withdraw that. That could draw some division here in the House.

But I want you to know that I would encourage all members present, aside from dropping by with some Tim Horton's for the guys and women who are operating the equipment, it would also be appropriate to drop by and make sure that your area supervisor is aware of the fact that you've got this particular concern about the needs for brush cutting, particularly when it comes to those intersections where you know the tourists are poking around, if I could use that expression, and getting off the so-called beaten track and getting into areas of Nova Scotia where they have a greater appreciation. They come up to a four-way and at the stop signs they have to, in some situations, almost get into the intersection to make sure they can see a clear path.

[7:15 p.m.]

Again, I want you to know that there has been an increase in funding for this over the last number of years. It remains a priority of the department. We will continue to use RIM dollars, especially for this particular project, and I encourage all members, and the member for Hants West in particular in this case, to be in regular contact with your manager making sure. I'm sure they are aware of the need for it, but it's from a friendly reminder basis. It is a good use of our time as elected officials to make sure they are aware of the fact that we consider this a priority for safety on roads all across the province and all across our constituencies.

MR. PORTER: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for that answer. I couldn't agree more. I want to say that the folks who I have working at Hants West are as good as you will find anywhere in this province and the two OS's that I deal with out there, Hal Lavers and

[Page 510]

Larry Lowthers, have been more than good to me as far as far as looking after the issues and the people out there. It's constant contact, as you've said. We talk often, we meet often and discuss issues that we have; some days go by, it's almost every day we're talking about calls that are coming in, whether it's wintertime, summertime, or whatever it might be, and these folks are working hard out there. I don't think a lot of people realize that or compliment them. They only think about the troubles they're having at the time, and I appreciate that very much as well, but they need to know - the public of Nova Scotia - that these folks are working hard for them, and I appreciate your comments on that.

As well, the member left off on some snowplowing, but he was talking about the car pools. Now, I've had calls - we have a lot of car pools in the Valley area, and in my area as well, traffic coming to the city here or going farther down the Valley. Plowing is but one issue. So is the lighting. This time of the year and as the winter moves on, a lot of folks will mention how come we don't have lighting at all of these car-pool parking lots. We've written before on some of these things, we've tried to accommodate, but we understand as well that there are dollars and cents involved and there's only so much money in the bucket that you can spend in certain areas. It is an issue that does get raised, however, and we'll start hearing about it again now with the days growing shorter and the early darkness - both morning and night. We will get calls on that and it's a safety issue, there's no question.

We need to figure something out there. I don't know what that is, exactly; I don't know where the extra money is going to come from. I know that the budget - there's a lot of money in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal that gets spent on a whole variety of things, and it's hard and getting harder, I think, to get dollars to put toward things, but I would appreciate some consideration. I know your department has probably heard this all before - the members beside you and other members of your department - but again, I just wanted to get on the record that it is important for our folks back home to be considered.

Snowplowing, like I say, that's one issue - but more than that on the snowplowing, I might as well stay there and stay right with that. The member talked about getting these areas plowed out. That's fine, I agree with his comments, and I appreciate your answer on that, but more so, when the plows are going down the main arteries, the secondary roads - Route 215, Highway No. 1, Route 14, my main routes in the area, and I know that you're familiar with it - why aren't they going into the side roads is the biggest question I get. They'll bypass all the side roads, and I don't know what class you put on them, but we'll say they're going down Highway No. 1, but they wouldn't turn into the Old Irishmans Road and plow that. They would drive by, and I can see in the midst of a storm trying to keep most main arteries open, but even when that's over we have these vehicles driving by and they're making sure almost everything is as bare as could be and plowed up before they're coming in and getting the side roads.

[Page 511]

Now, I know I grew up in Newport Station when I was a kid. The plow would come down Wentworth Road, or what's now called Wentworth Road Extension - the Station Road as we used to know it - and they would come in the road I lived, on which was a side road. They would go up Burn's Hill and back down - which is actually the Stark Road, not Burn's Road, but that's what we always called it. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Those roads got plowed as they made their way through.

That's not happening as much, and it seems to me that there would be a cost saving there by looking after that road when they're coming through, opening it up. Generally they only go in that road the one time, but what they're doing, they'll come in two or three times now. They'll bypass it and bypass it - a day might go by. Again in our area, though, we're fortunate our guys are working hard and they're trying to have everything open within 24 hours or so once the storm is complete, and I think that's probably policy there somewhere, if I recall.

Anyway, when they're going by, they go in when they do get a chance - they'll take a smaller vehicle, maybe, and they'll duck in and duck back out and then they'll come back in again and they'll wing it back. I don't know why. I get a lot of questions on this: why wouldn't we just plow the road when we were going by - not necessarily, again, in the midst of a storm on a dirty night or a dirty day, but when the storm has subsided and passed, why aren't we plowing on the way back? It happens a lot. We'll go down Route 215, just as an example, and get down the shore - Bramber and that area. There's a couple of dirt roads still down there. So what they'll do is, they'll go down Route 215 and they'll plow that. When that's cleaned up, they'll go back down again and they'll plow the paved roads that are side roads, and then the dirt road.

I know there are these classifications and there's this policy that has been explained to me but, again, the very simple question is, why wouldn't you do it when you were already down there? Now, there are issues about gravel roads, I guess - softer, needing a grader, maybe a different weight of truck, I'm not sure on all of that - but the people are asking. I would just like to get your thoughts, minister, on whether there's any consideration going to be given to making some changes there. Given the price of fuel and things like that, the least number of times that we need to go down and do such a job would be cost effective, and it would also be good to open up the roads for safety issues and things like that for EMS vehicles, et cetera. So I'll give you a chance to speak to that.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank the member opposite for the question and, Mr. Chairman, back to that reputation of having a bit to say when I get asked a question, you've given me a wonderful opportunity and I'm not going to take it because I know you've got lots of other questions and this is no time to do some grandstanding. Is that what I do during Question Period?

[Page 512]

I'd like to touch on a couple of things. First of all, I've had the opportunity to visit bases in your community when I'm on the road for one reason or another, and dropping into the bases, the depot, it is very gratifying to see the response, that you take the time, not as the new minister, but as MLAs. You don't need a reason to go to visit these bases, just the opportunity as a good citizen to be able to stop in for a moment, you don't have to take Tim Horton's every time.

The response that I've had when I've been in that particular section of Windsor, or the Brooklyn Base, is very rewarding - to see the professionalism and to have an opportunity to have an exchange or two on how they're doing that day, or how my hockey team is taking another beating. It's ironic, I want you to know that I was in that particular part of the Valley and there was a particular young engineer who knew that I was down there on tour and he wore a Boston Bruin's hockey hat that day. Needless to say he took a huge amount of abuse from his fellow workers in terms of what he was trying to impress the new Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal with, but that aside.

I'd also like to talk, if I may - just a couple more moments I assure you - that when it comes to lighting and car pools, there has been a review of the issue, particularly when it comes to the fact that there is a need, in some areas, for better lighting. At this stage it's coming down to the fact of priority when it comes to dollars but we are well aware of the fact, for safety reasons and other reasons, a car-pool lot, with our short days and our long nights, it's important that people feel safe when they leave their valuable car or truck in those areas.

I too have addressed the issue with the folks who work out of the Beechville Base about side roads and gravel roads. The route priority is determined because of the expertise of the people who are making those decisions. As an MLA, I have on occasion asked why the route priority does not include going down a particular side road or, for one reason or another, addressing the issue of gravel roads. Based upon my experience and the open exchanges I've had with the people who work in my area, I encourage the member to continue to bring those concerns forward. If it's a heavy piece of gear and that piece of gear - as that famous ad says, this ain't no feather duster or this isn't any feather duster - it always rings true with me, particularly when we see that in some situations we can't put those heavy pieces of equipment on gravel roads because of their weight.

In addition to that, of course, the priority has to be that we have to service the most number of people as quickly as possible. I'm sure that, considering the good relationship that you have in your local area with your operational supervisor or your area manager, perhaps they could go over the route and the priorities that they've done it for that reason. I encourage the member to do that. It's something I've done locally at my base and I encourage him to continue to bring those concerns forward, but as you well know, based upon my experience, not just as an MLA but of course living in a rural area much like yours, that concern has been brought to my attention.

[Page 513]

I guess the answer which I said to many people when it comes to snowplow operators, it's not a job that I could be critical of in any way because I couldn't, under any circumstances, do their job. They are professionals, they do a great job. Yes, on certain occasions there might be a problem once in a while but the working relationship that we have with our highway workers, as MLAs, has been a good one, and I continue to look forward to support them in every possible way because they are doing a job that under no circumstances could I do.

MR. PORTER: Thank you, minister, and I agree as well with all of your comments as far as those workers go. It's not a job that I would value in any way, shape or form, I can tell you that, but they do a great job and they're doing their very best. I think that most people are certainly reasonable people and they understand that and as you said, there is sometimes the odd occasion when things will happen that are beyond our control, breakdowns and things like that.

I just want to move on a bit as well. I want to talk a little bit about Highway No. 101 through my area and I am going to start with signage. In the last few months I've had calls from a fellow by the name of John Pothier who owns Pothier Motors. You may be familiar with the car dealership. John has been there for, well, my lifetime anyway, a long time. He used to have - still does, I guess, to some degree - a large advertising sign like you see along some of the highways, Pothier Motors, et cetera, advertising his business. I'm not sure how far back off the highway it is, it's a considerable way back off the highway, and I know that you have rules and regulations around this signage bit.

I drive around the province, too, and I can point out different places where the same rule doesn't seem to apply across the board. I know some of these signs - maybe there's a grandfather type thing, maybe it's because they're still there, the shape they're in, maybe there will come a time where those will be taken down and moved, but at the present time, that sign was beginning to fall down, the maintenance of it needed to be kept up and John wanted to put a new sign up.

Now, John has a great business there, he employs a lot of people, and all he wants to do is put a sign back up. I know I've written the department on this back awhile ago and I just don't recall the response at present. I don't think I actually got one just yet, it is recent. John's saying, I don't understand why we can't put our sign back up and the local fellow there, Brad MacInnis, my area manager, good fellow, says, no, can't have it, they sent out a letter. We've got to go over and deliver John a letter saying you've got to take your sign down. Well, we're not even going through there yet, and I heard you talk a little bit earlier about it's going to be a little while before we even get through there, and we'll come back to that piece.

If John were to go - just as an example - and put his sign up based on the distance that's required today by the department, or what he's being asked to do, he'd be about

[Page 514]

halfway across the Minas Channel, because it runs out, the land actually runs out. But it's filling in there so there would probably be some property out there he might be able to plant it on at some point in the future, but as of today he'd be out in the middle of the water. It's not reasonable. I mean, that's certainly the case, it's just not reasonable to say, John, you've got to go 3,000 feet, metres, whatever it might be currently. I'm thinking he's maybe half of that at best guess. I didn't measure it, but he's a considerable way off the road, a nice big sign. As I said, it needs some maintenance, it's falling down, it's old. He wants to be able to go back and put that up.

Now, he and I have had this discussion, even if he was able to put that sign back up until the highway was finalized, there would be a point, the sign will have to move, I think, given whatever plans may exist, especially if it's going on that same side of the causeway, the current road that's there today, that his sign is currently on.

These are simple things, you know, good business people, anybody as far as that goes, good people out there trying to make a living, advertising their business, which they're allowed to do. We were always sort of pro-business in our government, I know that. I know there are rules and regulations, at the same time, that have to be followed. I know there's an issue with visibility deterrence. I come from an EMS world, as you know, I know what that means, the safety of driving on our highways.

I want to ask you two questions and I'll start with this one. Is any consideration going to be given to examples like John Pothier's? The second part of that, minister, I'll ask you as well, how does the sign of John Pothier's - now, in saying this, he's willing to conform, I think, if he were able to put the sign up to whatever the need may be - how does that sign, or any other sign along the highway, differ from the nice big blue sign or green sign or whatever color signs the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has posted along the main highway going through the 100-Series?

To me, there's little difference, if any, they're still a distraction. Nesbitt Street, Exit 6, Windsor, I'm driving along, I look, I see that. How would it be different to see a Pothier sign or advertising? You'll see on some of our big signs, Exit 5A, as an example, and under Exit 5A Windsor you see "Land of Giant Pumpkins" and "Birthplace of Hockey". Then you'll see a little sign that says golfing and then skiing, and then over here there's another one representing gas stations and hotels. You know what I'm getting at there? I don't know what the great terminology is, it's a sign.

[7:30 p.m.]

Anyway, how does this differ - we certainly allow those signs, our signs, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal signs, to be right there. They're right beside the road. So to me, it would seem to make more sense if the signs that were advertising were actually not so far over there to take your eyes off the road, but they actually

[Page 515]

met somewhere in line safely, that you could see that driving by and make your decision as to whether you were getting off or not. I know that's a lot of question, I'll leave that with you and look forward to your answers on that. Thank you.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to the Chair. I'm looking forward to your good guidance as we continue our estimates comments. I don't know if you're aware of the fact that I've been given a number of opportunities where I could go on and wax eloquent - isn't that what the member for Bedford-Birch Cove calls it when I get up during Question Period?

The issue of signage is a complicated one. Mr. Pothier's business is a specific example. Perhaps we could talk further about Mr. Pothier's situation and the fact that it was grandfathered and blew down and so on, but that particular sign is on our property. Because of legislation that was introduced in 2001 by a certain government of the past - which we're not going to get into that - it's a piece of legislation that I supported, it's a piece of legislation that we need some standards when it comes to signage.

As in all these situations, it's not the rule, it's the exception to the rule. In other parts of the province when we see those particular issues - but Pothier Motors Limited's sign is one that I know has caused the member some consternation and that particular business also. The 1,000 metres is a guideline that we supported at that time sitting in Opposition. It's a particular guideline that - particularly when it comes to 100-Series Highways - has to work now.

I hear your message about the blue signs, the green, if I'm doing the coloured signs thing. Let me assure you that I can - I'm not going to do this, I assure the member, okay? I can look at the Prince Edward Island example. Prince Edward Island is a dear spot to me and my family. They have a real handle on the signage issue. I'm not necessarily talking about the mom and pops and the bed and breakfasts and so on. The blue attraction signs, in my view, are of great use. They have to be prominent at certain intersections in particular or ramps because it tells us where to pull off for gas or pull off for - here we are again, back at Tim Hortons. Of course, the green signs are important for other directional reasons.

But when it comes to signage dealing with the 100-Series Highways and the fact is, if an older sign blows down based upon the fact of grandfathering, it is not going to be replaced. That's a matter of policy. In this case, with Pothier Motors, it's a very credible business and its unfortunate, but those are the rules of the day and those are the rules that we're going to consider to apply.

MR. PORTER: Thank you for your answer, Mr. Minister. I guess in a roundabout way that means that there would be no exceptions and no consideration at this time to be given to such policy that exists with regard to signage. What I'm getting at there is if Mr.

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Pothier were to say to the department, okay, I'm interested in conforming to a sign that may be - something that works.

I guess you also said it's on Transportation property, so on that - now, I know you don't own the piece across the way, Butch MacIsaac owns a big piece of property just opposite on the core-Falmouth side of Highway No. 101, in that area. If Mr. Pothier said, hey, Butch, I want to put my sign up here, he would have to be 3,000 feet back, is that right? Oh, 1,000 metres - I'm still in feet, I apologize, 1,000 metres - back from the road regardless of which property, even if he owned it, he would need to be back that far.

Mr. Pothier's sign has not blown down, it is somewhat in disrepair, but it's still very much standing. Again, he's not even able to go out and, from what I saw, repair that sign and make it look like something even though it's still standing. I just want to be clear on that for the record, is that what you're saying?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Everybody be in your seat, here's the answer. You are correct.

MR. PORTER: Very clear and I guess I could almost write the response back to Mr. Pothier myself and get you to sign it. It is a sore point with him and I can appreciate that and I know you can. He's a businessman who has been there a long time and we're going to need to come up with something else. So, yes, it may have been put in 2001. Perhaps I'll introduce some kind of an amendment after I do some more research, who knows, and that's fine. Let's move on, we've spent some time on that, we needed to spend some time on it just for the clarity and I appreciate the time on that, Mr. Minister.

We talked about - I heard the other member as well, the member for Clare, talking about the Ben Jackson Road area and the speed limit issue and I just had made a note here. The speed limit does change there for some reason and I do know there are areas like the Windsor causeway, for example, where it goes down to 90 kilometres. I know it's probably some rule about passing through a town or whatever. I do know in some areas, Antigonish used to be one, I remember the speed limits used to drop there, and actually you came to a stop there. Maybe you still do, it has been awhile since I've been through there.

Anyway, if I heard you right, again, I just want to be clear on that, if I heard you right, you're going to have someone look into that speed-limit issue, because I know, I take calls regularly from people who are upset, who are driving through my area, they just cross the Kings County line and there's the RCMP planted with three, four or five cars waiting, and bang.

I'm all about safety, don't get me wrong, I want to be clear on that and I know you know that. There's zero tolerance from what I've been told out there. If you're over that 100 kilometres, you might as well count on getting a ticket. It has been that way, and it's not just right there, as you make your way down through the Grand Pré-Wolfville area, I had the

[Page 517]

unfortunate experience of finding it out first-hand. At 106 kilometres or 107 kilometres, I was fined a couple of hundred dollars and it didn't make my day either. I guess in the back of people's minds there's a little bit of leeway that always exists, you know, 110 kilometres meant you could probably get away with 115 kilometres or 118 kilometres. Some do more than that and have experienced that. They would drive by, there would be no getting stopped, and then all of a sudden you're into this spot and, bang, you're getting a ticket.

I can understand and appreciate people being upset, especially on this brand-new, twinned, double section of highway separated by a median, very safe. I know what it used to be like prior to, because I've had my share of hours spent on the highway up there doing motor vehicle accidents, so we appreciate the fact that highway is now twinned and operating as it is. Just this point of clarity on that again, you were going to review the speed-limit zone there, and I know the traffic authority has to go out and do some things there, but I'll give you a chance to speak to that.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite. To the member for Clare, I committed earlier to the fact that I would be looking for answers on that and I will make sure that you're copied, too, because of the requests that you had in your area. Perhaps, if I understood it correctly, the exchange that was taking place over there, the young member for Argyle should be copied on it, too, because I hear his wallet is a little lighter because of that particular section of highway.

Let's look at the fact that if I'm on a 100-Series Highway, I'm under the impression that I'm going 110 kilometres in that particular section and why that's happening. I commit to you, to the member for Argyle, and of course the member for Clare, why that's the situation and why it isn't 110 kilometres but, if I may, I would just like to go to the Windsor causeway situation.

If I remember the turn as you come down off Nesbitt, that makes common sense to me that the speed has to be reduced just because of the very design of that particular section of road and that's something that I certainly can support in the times that I've travelled up and down that particular section of road. It makes a lot of sense to drop it back to 90 kilometres because of the design. On the other matter that the member for Clare brought up earlier, I can assure you it's something that I'm going to try to get some answers to.

MR. PORTER: Thank you, minister, for that and I agree with you wholeheartedly. Knowing that highway very well, that causeway area, as it sits today, should remain at 90 kilometres per hour. That's more than enough through that area. A lot of drivers, when that gets cold and freezes up there, don't realize the actual bend both ways in that road. It's very dangerous, actually, and we've seen, not only accidents occur there, but death occur there because of those turns and people not being able to make them at the speeds that they've been travelling in less than suitable weather conditions.

[Page 518]

I might as well stay with the causeway as we're talking about it. I know that you and the member for Clare spoke about it as well, but I know awhile ago - and I can't remember the date, but I'm going to say recent, within a year. My understanding was that the plan was already in place for the Windsor causeway. From what I heard you say earlier, I'm now confused because it appears as though environment studies have not been done. I was under the understanding that - and I'll just give you a little preamble on this - the Windsor causeway was to have a federal study as well as a provincial environment study done. My understanding was that both were either complete or close to complete.

I was also under the impression that there was a plan in place for the actual construction of that highway, that design was already complete. I mean, I've heard that Exit 6 and Nesbitt Street will have a whole different look than it has today, a diamond shape versus the sort of round exits that it currently has. We've heard all kinds of rumours, of course, that there would be bridges, that there would be whatever, that it would be straightened out. Anyway, there has been a plan, and what I'm really confused about is, members of your department have met with councils in my area, Joint Council Windsor - Town of Windsor, West Hants, and Hantsport. I believe they actually went out to Hantsport sometime - I'm going to say early Spring - and explained all of this out in detail, what the plan for the Windsor causeway was.

I heard you talking about a couple of years out even earlier today, so I really would like you to clarify or help me get past the confusion that I currently have, because most people in my area believe this will continue on as the phases go. I'll give you a few minutes on that to just bring me up to speed and we'll continue from there.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I should clarify this, and it's something that we've talked about earlier as the member for Clare was taking us on his tour of Highway No. 101. The functional design is done. That's completed and done. Environmental assessment is almost complete. The part that is not done and over the next couple of years will be the detailed design, and there is a difference between the functional design and the detailed design. (Interruption) Excuse me?

MR. PORTER: Do you want to take the time just to explain the difference?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Well, if you give me a chance to ask the detailed design I would, but the concern that we have, of course, is we want to make sure that we get input from the people in the community. We want to make sure that the folks who are most concerned about that particular challenging situation are aware of the fact that this is a complicated issue that's going to take some time, but hopefully that there will be a detailed design in place so they can proceed in a timely fashion to make sure this is the right way of completing this particular section of the highway.

[Page 519]

MR. PORTER: As I was saying there, a functional design versus a detailed design sounds easy enough, but I'll get you to clarify that point - sorry, I lost my train of thought on that, so we'll just go there and then I'll come back to my next question.

MR. ESTABROOKS: It's great to be able to actually listen to these folks as they give me the appropriate answer. If I am in any way not explaining it, we'll take the opportunity for staff to get back to you.

[7:45 p.m.]

The detailed design is based on a lot of the work that comes out of the environmental assessment, particularly when it comes to grades or something more specific, as opposed to the functional design, which we might have looked at or I might have looked at. Perhaps in your case, based upon your experience locally, you're looking at the fact that this is sort of the big picture as opposed to the actual detail that's involved in the design.

Coming out of the environmental assessment, which is almost completed, there will be detailed designs, which will deal with the specifics of the issue and the best section of highway that we can have. If you're not satisfied with that and you want more details, I encourage you at your opportune time to meet with the staff here locally and we can address the issue at that time.

MR. PORTER: Thank you, minister, and where I was going there is, how long? This seems like it has been going on, this whole talk about the causeway, for some years now. I know when I was elected in 2006 this was a topic then. We've seen - I'm going to call it a design map for lack of a better word, different phases, different updates. The map would arrive at my office when I asked for it, where are we, what's next, and it appeared as though there was something complete, I'm going to say for lack of a better word, realizing that there were still some environmental assessments to be done out there by way of the causeway and I understand the issues. I've lived there my whole life. I know the comments from all sides on this issue and it's going to be one of controversy. I have no doubt at all there will be people who will not be happy with what happens there and there will be lots who are.

Most people are saying, get the darn road built, because they want it twinned. So it will be interesting to see it and I guess I was just kind of curious then, I wasn't able to be at the meeting that I spoke of in Hantsport, I think we were actually here in the House, but can you tell me then, what you have just explained to me, minister, would that have been what was told, to what detail would the council - because my understanding in talking to the mayor of Windsor, just as an example, he was the one who outlined for me what I just spoke of a few minutes ago, there appeared to be some changes.

There was a plan in place but maybe they just didn't understand the detail or the framework of this project. They were shown maps, I think, and things like that. I'm not even

[Page 520]

sure who was out to visit them. I also know that they came to town here and met with somebody in the department, although when I asked the current minister at the time, there was no record. Nobody could tell me that they even were here, which I found kind of odd. It was no great secret, but one of my fears, to be perfectly honest with you, minister, was I didn't really want the meetings going on because I didn't want people to be where they are today - thinking that there was a plan in place, like myself, when there really wasn't, only to be told one thing and then later on, well, that's not what you said. That just creates more of a problem and more controversies, as I'm sure you can appreciate.

So I'm curious, how long has all of this been going on and how much longer do we think that this is going to take? I know it has been a long time. How much longer are we looking at? You talked about two years. Is that really reasonable given all the things that we've seen and heard about already?

MR. ESTABROOKS: You know the Reader's Digest answer, not to be dismissive of this, of course, is that hopefully by 2011 we'll have things in place so this will proceed. The issue comes down to the fact that from my explanation what the municipality and those officials received was the functional design and I'm sure that we'll be hearing back now. This is a meeting that I would like to be able to attend, when these particular councillors and mayors come or, of course, we could make the opportune time to go to them with a detailed design.

The controversy always involves wetlands and having grown up - and I'm not going to do what I do in Question Period, please be assured - but wetlands, and the controversy that results because of environmental issues, as we are well aware of, you know, you do the environmental assessment, you're looking at the fact that Ducks Unlimited, for example, where I grew up in the marshes on Tantramar, was a huge influence, particularly when it comes to how roads were constructed, where ramps were placed, one particular reason or another responding to the concerns.

The priority is to make sure that people can move around our province in a safe, timely fashion. This is part of the highway system of Highway No. 101 that we have to make sure is completed in as timely a fashion as possible. We have to make the right decision based upon the information we receive. Environmental assessment is almost complete. That will then respond, to make sure that we get the detailed design as we've been asking. I agree with you in terms of how things have to get done sometimes, making sure that all people involved, all stakeholders involved, have their opportunity for their say, but inevitably, eventually the decision has to be made. Do we proceed? I've heard you speak out on this, I know publicly some of the things you have said, and I endorse your stand. It's a part of the highway system that I look forward to supporting.

MR. PORTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, minister, for that. We'll stay with that just a bit. Right now, as you know, we're working - our phase is from St.

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Croix, Exit 4, through to Garlands Crossing at Exit 5. That roadbed looks to be just about all done and I'm going to assume, at this point in time, that will settle through the winter as we've seen typically before there's asphalt put on that next year, or would I be incorrect in thinking that, and maybe there will be asphalt this year?

MR. ESTABROOKS: To the member opposite, that's the plan. You're quite correct. I guess now your task as a member of the Opposition is to hold me to it. Let me assure you that's what we plan, to proceed in that timely fashion, and I compliment you on your successful answer to the question you already asked.

MR. PORTER: Thank you, I think. Always a good question and a good answer. So that's fine, we're now working at Exit 5A, as you are aware. I dropped some information in your lap earlier yesterday with regard to some of the complications there. I'll come back to that.

People's assumption is that we're ready to see a structure at some point built at Exit 5, the new bridge where we've stopped. We've jumped ahead one, we're up at 5A doing the roundabout. That's creating its own havoc, and it will through the course of construction, as we know always happens. From there, given what you've said earlier about the causeway, we would then anticipate a bit of a delay, I guess.

Is the next phase the final phase? Exit 5, Garlands Crossing to Falmouth where the highway stopped west of Exit 7 - is that the final phase, all one section piece to be done, or is it going to get broken up again based on the causeway concerns and issues?

MR. ESTABROOKS: To the member opposite, first of all, how the member for Hants West has brought the concerns about the roundabout to my attention is the exact way that I offer your example. I'll do it here publicly, although I've done it at caucus meetings before to the members of this side of the House when they have a concern of that nature. The manner in which you did it, the manner in which you presented it to me and then followed up in written form is the exact reason, an example that people in the House on all sides could follow because that's the way that I can then proceed to get the proper information back to you in a timely fashion.

On the question that you brought in terms of the timing, a lot of that is going to depend upon funding at this stage. Please don't consider it a dismissive answer, but that's basically what drives the engine here when it comes to this particular project. The funding is in place and it's deemed that this should be where we're going; we'll do it in as timely a fashion as possible to make sure this particular section of the highway is safe and well-built as early as possible.

MR. PORTER: I realize the funding is always an issue, and there has been a commitment in years past. I think there's a federal component, obviously, to this

[Page 522]

commitment as well. I'm wondering, is the federal commitment there? Has it been made at this point in time for - let's say next year, even in the coming 12 months to help with the completion of the asphalt in the section I just talked about, the roundabout, and then whatever may happen in between with new structures? How far are we able to go right now with funding that's been committed? Or perhaps there hasn't been a commitment, so just a point of clarity if you would.

MR. ESTABROOKS: As the member opposite would know, based on some of the questions that I have during Question Period, of course when it comes to making sure we get the federal commitments for dollars there is some give and take. There is the need to make sure all the partners are going to be able to pony up, if that's the appropriate expression - to ante up, I guess is a better way to do it, from the poker-playing experience - to make sure the dollars are in place, whether it's the Town of Windsor making sure they have stepped up. To their credit, that's not been an issue.

When it comes to federal dollars, making sure we can complete some of these projects in a timely fashion, it will continue to be something we will be negotiating with. Hopefully through your influence and my influence as the minister, those dollars will be in place so this particular section of Highway No. 101 can be completed in a timely fashion.

MR. PORTER: Mr. Chairman, I just had the opportunity today to quickly go down through this list of infrastructure projects that was put out and I did not see any for Hants West in here, commitments, federal dollars being made to highway projects. I don't know if you've seen that list or not. I can table it if you would like to look at it but it's quite extensive. It mentions many things - exits, sections of highways around the province, and things like that - but it does not mention any commitment to where we're currently working. That's why I was wondering - and you'll not have to worry about me lobbying the federal government or the regional minister, or whatever we're calling Mr. MacKay and Gerald Keddy, and whomever, in this province federally to make sure that the dollars are there to drive this project where it needs to go.

It's important that money comes because the people want the road complete. They would really hate to see a delay from where we're at now, even if it's from Exit 5A, the exhibition grounds, where they're working across that causeway. Any delay, the fear is we'll delay that causeway project and we'll move on further down the Valley, not that they shouldn't get the work, they should too, don't take that the wrong way, but people will be of the perception if we bypass it, we'll never come back because it will get harder and harder to get the dollars. I'm trying to assure them that we're on schedule. We have a schedule and I hope that will be done first as the highway proceeds. So thank you for your answers on that.

Just another question on Highway No. 101, Hantsport, and I call it the Halfway River Bridge, I don't know what the right term is, but just west of Exit 8 as you turn to go into the Town of Hantsport. There were some issues recently with the old bridge there. Now we've

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got a new one right beside it, but the old bridge had some cement or rock falling out from under that. I also know our bridges - all of our bridges - get inspected annually. I have spoken to the OS, again, we have a good relationship there, and he tells me bridges, et cetera, are examined all the time, as they should be, appropriately.

I'm not sure what the conclusion ever was there though. I know that there were some issues. There were calls coming in and all of a sudden they stopped. Did we do some repairs there? We've been busy in Halifax, as you know, but I was just curious, did we have to do anything there or did we go out and do something? Was it minor? It appeared again, perception, and what came to me was great big chunks of cement were falling out from under the bridge, but the bridge is open every day and truck traffic and everything, normal traffic is driving over it. So just, again, if you can clarify for me what has been done there, if anything was required.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Again, here's the opportunity for some great answers to bridge questions and I want to make sure that you're very aware of the fact that the bridge division has huge responsibilities as they go through the inspections around the province on all these structures. This particular bridge, the cleanup of the loose concrete has taken place. I've been assured by staff, when this was brought to the attention of the public, that there are no structural concerns here. This remains a safe bridge, the concrete that came loose has been completed.

It's one of those types of issues where we have to make sure, when we go to do bridge inspections, we constantly make sure that when our staff has the opportunity to do a thorough review of the bridges, whether it's on the rotational basis that they do it, but this was a bridge that received a great deal of attention, because of media concerns and because of public concerns and I want to reassure the member, it's a bridge that's structurally sound, in the opinion of the staff.

MR. PORTER: Mr. Chairman, as I said, everything seemed to be travelling across that as per normal so I couldn't imagine that we would allow that if there were, in fact, some cases, but it's good to have that on the record from the minister that things have been looked at. I know our folks out there are doing their inspections and doing them well.

[8:00 p.m.]

I wanted to talk a little bit about - how much time do I have left, Mr. Chairman?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Ten minutes.

MR. PORTER: Ten minutes, okay. You talked about wetlands, minister. Along Highway No. 101, I know the process we go through, we acquire the property if we don't already own it - and I say we, as a government, a province, acquire. Wetland has been a big

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issue in the area that I represent. Meadow Pond is right there around Exit 5. There are a lot of comments about how we're in there destructing things and so on, but so far it has been closely watched by the wildlife organization in my local area. They're quite concerned as to fish habitats and things like that. I think that the workers there have been quite diligent around the area of the pond, the lake, but down the road further on this end, there's something that's been of great controversy by folks who live in my area, in St. Croix where the big hill was.

Harley Ross owned the property. We acquired that and took a great deal of mud off it, et cetera, et cetera, and built the road through. There was another pond there. There was a wetland issue. So if I understand correctly what has been done, we destroy, for lack of a better term at this point in time, wetlands that may be in the way, and we replace them somewhere else with a new area. Is that correct? Is that what we're doing out there right now?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, that habitat alteration is an assurance that when, if, or after all people have been concerned - and, of course, they've expressed their reservations about plans that have been made by the highway department as we make these plans and decisions - there's compensation in terms of the fact that based upon habitat alterations that appropriate arrangements are made.

I do know the amount of time that it involves staff here, whether it's environmental remediation or listening to all concerned. It's a timely decision which, of course, we all want as we look at these projects as they go ahead, but I do encourage people to be particularly patient when it comes to making these types of decisions in this department. Everyone should have their say and feel that staff is very competent when it comes to addressing these issues, that they are willing to listen, and eventually, of course, they are going to make a decision that we can all support.

MR. PORTER: Mr. Chairman, right there in that area of St. Croix what they did is they opened up the dyke. Where the river used to flow in, and still does, they've opened the dyke and created a new wetlands so every time the tide comes in that area floods. It had a lot of issues with a resident there, who used to put his cattle down there - and you may have heard all of this - for 30-odd years, realizing that he didn't own the property to begin with. I think it was probably Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal property that was likely acquired when we came through there in the late 1960s with the first stretch of highway and maybe afterward. I don't know, but we did have it. It was fenced, it was farmed, cattle were let there for, well, 30-odd years probably.

When that was taken away, I think the gentleman, who was into his 80s, was probably somewhat hurt by that, but it had to be explained and I think at the end of the day he probably understood that - but there was consensus around how could we ever pick this particular spot, we would open up that dyke and let it be flooded. They couldn't figure why this was the best

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location, so the question really is, how was the location determined? Is it based on cost? Is it based on - I don't know, and I couldn't answer his question. I know Environment has a great deal to say, probably the most power in the province as to wetlands and stopping projects or starting them, et cetera. So the question is, how could you decide that that wetland, newly-created wetland, was going to be put where it is and how it is?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite for bringing this issue forward. I remember following it at the time and, you know, it's one of those environmental issues from both sides. You eventually have to make what is the best fit, the best fit financially, but the best fit that would be most acceptable to all involved. This is one of those types of things that you listen to all stakeholders involved, but inevitably or eventually, as I said before, the decision is made. It is one that I feel comfortable with and hopefully the member opposite does. It's one of those types of situations in government, or making decisions of this sort, that you necessarily can't please all the people all the time, but this was a decision that was made and it's one that I continue to support, and I know the member opposite is aware of some of the reasons for the decision.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants West, you have about four minutes left.

MR. PORTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that. Thank you, minister, for your answer, and I've got a question that will probably take a lot longer - and the answer even longer - with regard to Highway No. 101 pre-prep and things like that, but I'm going to just bounce back again, one that you and I have talked about. I call it Kates bridge, Tannery Road bridge, whatever you might want to call it, but again for the record, you and I spoke about this bridge. Just to confirm, what is the plan going forward for Kates bridge, Tannery Road bridge, whatever the correct name is, in Hantsport? It separates the Town of Hantsport from Kings County. This is a route that has been blocked off now for, I'm going to guess, 18 months or so because of some issues there.

I think there were some environmental issues around that road, culverts, et cetera. It's an issue for the folks in town, it's an issue of safety for emergency vehicles to get in and out down around the mill, it's the second entrance in if something were to ever happen over on the other side of town. I know our time is running short, we've got a couple of minutes left, but if you want to just confirm the plan for Kates bridge in Hantsport.

MR. ESTABROOKS: To the member opposite, I again thank you for how we've been handling this situation. I'm under the impression it's Kates bridge, then I'm told it's the Tannery Road bridge. I guess the key thing is that we have a plan that's in place. Originally, a tender had been awarded, but because of environmental assessment issues, this will be completed by next summer. The bridge will be operational by that time. I thank the community for their patience on it. Let's make sure that we do it correctly and do it in a

[Page 526]

timely fashion, because of the holdup and so on, but I can assure you that by next summer this bridge will be fully operational.

MR. PORTER: I'll just bounce back to another Highway No.101 question and it would apply to any 100-Series Highway or any highway we were building, I think. I know on the other end, the phase prior to this one, from Falmouth through to Avonport, which we've talked a bit about this evening, the issues raised there were diverting water. Where there wasn't a road before we put a road in, which was on a hill or a higher level ground, and water travels downhill, as we all know, for a lot of residents, the complaints were, we never had this problem before the highway was built, now when it rains all the water washes down through my backyard, destroys my driveway. What are you going to do about it?

We talked with our local transportation folks out home, they assessed it and assessed it. We actually went through a whole winter. There was one family who claimed their well, which was a dug well, was having issues, dirty water had got down in there, et cetera. After awhile they finally realized, well, maybe we do have a problem, there has been quite a bit of water diverted down.

Now, my understanding is - and please correct me on this - we're not allowed to divert water onto somebody else's property. Is that correct?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Will you just take a nod or do you want me to say yes? You're correct, and again it's one of those types of issues, particularly when we're constructing highways, it's important to look at the ramifications when we begin to look at water runoff because of rain or for whatever reasons, but you're quite correct, member.

MR. PORTER: Mr. Chairman, we'll come back to that, there are a lot more of those issues to talk about. I know I won't get back tonight, probably, but I look forward to whenever our next day for estimates again will be. I thank you for your time this evening and I'll now yield the floor to the member for Clare.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Clare.

HON. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to begin with two quick questions from my colleague, the honourable member for Kings West. He did indicate to me that the department staff is aware of these two questions. The first question is, when will the next section of the Aylesford Road be tendered?

MR. ESTABROOKS: To the member for Kings West, and I thank the member for Clare for bringing in the issue. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for bringing forward this question that your colleague, the member for Kings West, has brought to my attention. We're looking at a tender next year. Of course some of those things are determined when it comes to dollars involved, but when it comes to the Aylesford Road, it is something that I know the member

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for Kings West is very concerned about. He has met and talked to me about it, sent me a number of notes, and we're not going to forget the Aylesford Road for the member for Kings West.

MR. GAUDET: The second question is, what is the plan for the Rainforth Road bridge, which has been out since May?

MR. ESTABROOKS: To the member for Clare, through to his colleague the member for Kings West, I'm under the impression that there are two bridges involved here, but the bridge you're particularly concerned about, I assume, is on the gravel section of the road. Is that correct? Thank you. That bridge is going to be repaired this Fall, although I guess we're very much into the winter season if we look at the weather outside. But that particular bridge will be taken care of - I was going to say before the snow flies, but that might not be the case. It's something that's going to be addressed as soon as possible.

MR. GAUDET: To the minister, thank you for providing my colleague, the member for Kings West, with that information.

I want to begin my hour talking about Bay Ferries. Bay Ferries operates two ferries in western Nova Scotia. We have The Cat that runs from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine and we have the Princess of Acadia that runs out of Digby to Saint John, New Brunswick. These are two very important transportation links for Nova Scotia. Of course, with challenging economic times, with the cost of fuel, the province has assisted Bay Ferries with financial help in order to protect and operate these two vital transportation links to western Nova Scotia.

I want to begin first with the ferry from Yarmouth to Maine. In January of this year the province announced up to $12 million, I believe, from the Industrial Expansion Fund to help Bay Ferries cover losses encountered on its Yarmouth to Maine service for the 2009 season, which runs from May 31st to October 12th. My first question is, has Bay Ferries contacted the province yet for assistance for the 2010 season?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you to the member for his question. We're all well aware of the integral role of both ferries, the one to Maine with The Cat, a fabulous service, and the one to Saint John, the Princess of Acadia, and how important they are to that section of Nova Scotia. I'm not under the impression that anyone within the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has been approached. I believe the Economic and Rural Development Department would be the lead on this particular topic. If I'm incorrect on that, I'm remiss.

I would like to assure the member opposite that it will be something I will address with the Minister of Economic and Rural Development in terms of the ongoing plans for the assistance to the ferries at that particular end of Nova Scotia.

[Page 528]

[8:15 p.m.]

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for his answer. I guess, looking at next season, and it will be here quicker than we think, I would encourage the minister and his department staff to sit down with the Department of Economic and Rural Development, if that's the department that's involved with negotiations with Bay Ferries. I think it's vital, it's critical. I don't need to tell the minister, he certainly is fully aware of how critical those two ferry services are for the western part of the province.

The Digby to Saint John ferry, the Princess of Acadia, currently the agreement that's in place is supposed to run out on January 31, 2011. We may recall when that agreement was reached, the federal government came to the table with $11.1 million. The Province of Nova Scotia came to the agreement of investing $2 million, and the Province of New Brunswick as well invested $2 million in order to continue providing ferry service to run between Saint John, New Brunswick, and Digby. I guess my question again, is the province currently involved in talking with Bay Ferries Limited in order to extend that service past January 31, 2011, when that agreement expires?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, listening closely to my good friend, the member for Clare, you referenced in your wrap-up Bay Ferries, but I believe you're talking about the Princess of Acadia, correct? (Interruption) Yes, okay, thank you.

The deadline of course of January 2011 is not that far off and I think it's important in the assurance that I give you, that we will work with and I plan to have the opportunity to discuss this matter at great length with my colleague in Cabinet who's responsible for Economic and Rural Development, because at that particular end of the province, their entry into the province, this is a huge issue, an issue that's of some real consequence when it comes not just to tourism but, of course, the moving of goods to and from our province in a timely fashion whether it's going across the bay to Saint John or across to the United States of America.

Please be assured that this will be something that I'll follow up with my colleague and I encourage the member opposite at any time to meet and discuss the issue with both of us at his convenience. Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, if I may, I'm remiss, and the member for Digby-Annapolis is always welcome for that discussion.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his invitation and his comments. The minister is probably aware that the federal government is currently involved in another study into the transportation requirements of southwestern Nova Scotia. The Ottawa based, I think it's CPSC Transcom Limited was awarded the contract to do yet another study. I've been hearing, especially from people in my area, living in western Nova Scotia, again, they can't understand why there's a need for more studies. What new information this study will reveal that previous studies haven't revealed makes people

[Page 529]

wonder if government truly knows what they're doing and at the same time if there's a hidden agenda here. So I guess my question to the minister is, is the province involved in assisting the federal government with this current study that's taking place?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for Clare for this particular question. From the information that I've received as the minister, I have never been consulted on this particular project. I do share that another study for whatever reason - there are times when you need good information for one reason or another so you have a study, but considering the fact that there are some topics that are literally studied to death, if we could say that, but particularly when it comes to this issue, ACOA, from what I've been told, is the lead agency and the federal government, of course, in its involvement with that particular fund. It's of some consequence that I guess we're in regular contact with Mr. Greg Kerr as the MP for the area and all other MPs at that particular part of western Nova Scotia.

As the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal provincially, I have not been contacted by anyone involved either with the study or when it comes to the federal government. Please be assured that's not a hidden agenda, that's exactly where I'm coming from.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, maybe I can leave the minister with this comment. I would certainly encourage the minister, or his department officials, to approach the federal government to find out what the current status of the study is. At the same time, when they anticipate the study will be released, I'm sure by providing the information to the general public we can reassure them, there are no hidden agendas, but when - especially with the ferry running from Digby to Saint John, and I fully agree with the minister - there have been many studies that have been undertaken over the years, especially to cover that ferry service. Again, I would encourage the minister to direct his staff to do a follow-up with the federal government in terms of trying to gather some information with regard to that study.

Coming back to the agreement that will be expiring in 2011, again, maybe I have the wrong minister or wrong department. Has the minister or his staff or the government been talking with the federal government, and the government in New Brunswick, in order to continue to have a ferry service between Digby and Saint John after January 11th? If not, will the minister start immediately in contacting the federal government, and the government in New Brunswick, to make sure that the ferry service continues after January 2011?

MR. ESTABROOKS: First of all, I think we concur on the fact of studies and the front time after a certain amount of information is collected. The decision and the long-term consequences of the decision have to be very clearly considered. We do have a representative on that particular ACOA study, I've been told. I'm not aware of some of the intricacies involved, but I can assure you that I will make myself aware of it, particularly when I do know the stress and strain it causes as deadlines like this begin to loom and people literally -

[Page 530]

and we, as politicians, begin to play with - not the correct term - begin to consider some of the consequences of our decisions.

It's truly unfortunate, as we come down to January 2011, that we have to make a decision in a timely fashion and don't leave the operators, the business people, the regular travellers to and from that end of Nova Scotia, out on the proverbial limb. I will take the initiative that you've suggested, member, particularly when it comes to making sure that we contact the federal government and look at the fact along with the Government of New Brunswick so that this isn't a decision that's made at the last minute for any number of reasons and among those reasons, of course, are political consequences.

We're talking about the lifelines economically, for tourism, and various other reasons year-round at that end of the province. It's something that I'd look forward to working with you on and the MLAs from that particular part, the member for Yarmouth, the member for Digby-Annapolis. It has to be done in a timely fashion. We will give assurances that we are going to make sure that southwestern Nova Scotia continues to play a prominent role economically in this province.

The deferring to the Minister of Economic and Rural Development, I hope you don't consider that I'm dismissive of your suggestion, but it is something that I'm going to become more involved in because of my responsibilities with the Gateways and Border Crossings Fund and various other initiatives. It is an important part of the province when it comes to all kinds of economic development, as I mentioned earlier in my comments.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I certainly appreciate hearing the minister's comments. I want to talk a little bit about the Building Canada Fund. Under the Building Canada Fund, there's a program called the Gateways and Border Crossings Fund. My first question is, does the minister know how much money the province will receive under the Gateways and Border Crossings Fund, in total, over the duration of this federal-provincial agreement?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, the Building Canada Fund, or Canada Building Fund, whichever way we want to describe it, is something of real consequence when we look at some long-term planning for important projects throughout our province. This is one of these merit-driven funds in that we are not actually given an amount, but it's something that we're going to continue to work for.

I'm looking at the fact that at this stage we've spent $172 million of the projects that have been - he's telling me that it has been approved for $172 million - but this is one of these types of funds where we're continually making sure that we have access to them, based upon the projects that we submit and based upon the decisions that are made on their merit, on their each and individual merit.

[Page 531]

The Building Canada Fund is something that we constantly have to be in negotiations with the federal government, making sure that they are aware of the fact that we have certain priorities that we want them to listen to, whether these projects are particular bridges or whether these projects are certain sections of highway that we see as priorities, we want to make sure that our priorities become their priorities at the federal government level when it comes to the Building Canada Fund.

At this stage I don't have all have the information and I don't think it's available, that there's an actual dollar amount and then, when it is spent, we no longer have the Building Canada Fund. It's a merit-driven fund and at this stage we're going to continue to ask until they basically say the money is gone.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, again we've indicated these two vital transportation links in western Nova Scotia. We have to make sure that the province, when they do develop their priority list of projects that will be submitted under this program, under the Building Canada Fund, and this program is entitled Gateways and Border Crossings Fund, I hope the province will consider adding our two ferry services under that Gateways and Border Crossings Fund.

I guess my last question, under this Gateways and Border Crossings Fund, has the province announced any infrastructure projects yet that will receive funding from this particular fund?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Firstly, I'd like to respond to the suggestion that the fate of these two ferries and their ongoing need for funding, in my view, fits within the criteria for these particular dollars. Again, I want you to know that I would have to make a strong case on behalf of the Cabinet, on the government, of course, in terms of making sure that the federal government is going to be listened to when it comes to the appropriation of those particular dollars. That would be something that, based upon our discussion and conversation here this evening, I will have to follow up on.

I just point out, though, for the information of those who are following, or those here in the House, the number of projects that have been approved and the $172 million that have been included, at this stage are: the Burnside Expressway, the Route 344 upgrade, the interchange when it comes to Highway Nos. 102 and 104, Halterm and the Port of Halifax. That, of course, doesn't include the Richmond Terminal 2 from the Port of Halifax. These continue to be some of the types of important issues that we have to do in the to and fro of negotiations when it comes to these appropriate dollars. These are some of the projects that make up the $172 million.

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[8:30 p.m.]

Your suggestion has merit, in my opinion, and is something that I'll have to follow up, particularly when it comes to where the ferries fit in this particular request. I give you assurances that it is something I'll follow up on with staff.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his commitment. I want to move to the Cobequid Pass. The Cobequid Pass opened back in, I believe, 1997. Up until last November 19th, we've never had chaos as we did where around 1,500 vehicles got stranded overnight on the Cobequid Pass. Many have said that the department wasn't prepared for this early snowfall. Many have asked why this fiasco, this mess, happened in the first place. We do know that a consultant was hired to conduct a safety review of the Cobequid Pass and to make recommendations to government to make sure that this situation does not happen again.

The report made recommendations in a number of areas - I believe there were 12 recommendations - such as communications with motorists, road signs and markers, road closures implementation, maintenance operation, weather and road condition monitoring. I know one of the recommendations from the consultant's report was to ensure that all equipment and personnel assigned to winter maintenance activities on the Cobequid Pass are mobilized by November of each year.

Now, Mr. Chairman, November 1st is just a couple of weeks away. I guess my first question to the minister is, will the department make sure that all equipment and personnel assigned to winter activities on the Cobequid Pass be ready by November 1st?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you to the member opposite. As we prepare for Question Period each day, we receive this proverbial hot book of hot topics. I was going to go over to the member and say to him, could he ask me this question because the weather was bad, there was a forecast. My good friend, Peter Coade, is a neighbour of mine. There was going to be snow in Oxford, and I wanted him to ask that question because on that particular night there was a plow ready, willing, and able on the Cobequid Pass - not that we wished an early snowstorm to that particular part of the province, but that was the degree of preparation that staff has learned from the experience of November 19th.

It's not necessarily a standing joke, but the other morning when I was coming in early, I was greeted by someone on how cold it was. The expression was it was a little damp out, and at that stage I said, well, at least it's wet, it's not white and we don't have to shovel it yet. The response from that particular person as they walked toward the elevator with me was, there will be days that you dreaded saying that in this department.

There were 34 recommendations, if my memory serves me correctly, and those 34 recommendations included everything with better communication, better signage, making

[Page 533]

sure the public is more fully engaged in the process. I can assure you that everything will be mobilized by November 1st. In fact, with the preparations that have been coordinated thus far, I've had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Langille on a number of occasions on a number of different topics, and the Cobequid Pass remains one of the huge concerns that hopefully we have learned from.

If I may, and I want the member opposite to know, and I want those viewing and members here, of course, to know that the Cobequid Pass, sometime this winter, inevitably - although that's not a word I would like to use, as a history teacher - will be closed. There will be a time sometime this winter. It's usually the time when I was driving to Sackville, New Brunswick, the home of Mount Allison University, to pick up my children, because inevitably when I got on the Cobequid Pass, those days in mid-December, sure enough, it would be snowing. There could be a likelihood, of course, that the Cobequid Pass could be closed.

Cobequid Pass is going to be closed a number of times based upon the weather and the location and so on. The assurances that we want to give the motoring public in this province is that there will not be 1,500 people - 1,000 or whatever number of people - stuck on the pass based upon, as you aptly described before, the fiasco which we had to endure. That's the key thing that we've learned from this lesson.

Based upon that, and based upon the fact that staff has been that cognizant of the need for communication and more coordination, one of the key issues and commitments that we've given is that the Wentworth Highway will continue to be built, and rebuilt, up to scratch so that, when the necessity arrives, passing lanes will be included, that there will be pavement in appropriate places along the Wentworth Highway. I was on the Wentworth Highway this past Thanksgiving weekend and the paving that has been taking place there has been very well received in the community.

That's a road that is not just used by people who for one reason or another don't want to pay the heavy tolls on the Cobequid Pass but it is a road that I use quite regularly in the summertime as you come off the Sunrise Trail and make your way back to Truro. More important, the Wentworth Highway has the ski hill, it has great tourist attraction possibilities. We want to make sure that the Wentworth Highway is continuing as a positive alternative when the need comes when, not if, the Cobequid Pass is closed.

Based upon the experience that I've had thus far in the department, and I guess if I could just put it to you this way, my paranoia when it comes to that particular issue, I hope that these words do not ring hollow here in a couple of months' time or a couple weeks' time. The staff has reassured me on many occasions that we are ready. Communication is much improved. A number of the recommendations have been acted upon and hopefully the lessons have been learned and they have been learned well, but I want the motoring public to know that without a doubt, the pass will be closed sometime this winter for one reason or

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another. The key issue, of course, is to stay tuned to make sure that they are well aware of the fact that when it's closed, use the Wentworth Highway.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I'm glad to hear the minister indicating that the department has been ready for quite some time now. That certainly is assuring to the general public.

Another recommendation in the report relates to road and sign improvements. It mentioned paving the full width of the right shoulder along the hilly problem areas to allow more room for disabled vehicles and to allow maintenance vehicles more flexibility in maneuvering around them. My question to the minister is, has the department started to respond, or is the department planning to respond, to this recommendation any time soon?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I know the members of my caucus are in rapt attention to this, although at times I'm competing for their attention. I'm going to have to become the school principal here and tell them to keep the noise down because we're dealing with an important issue, particularly when it comes to the Cobequid Pass. The Cobequid Pass is one of those types of issues that, unfortunately, will be making a headline when the time comes but I want you to be assured that when the repaving of the Cobequid Pass continues, those shoulders of the highways will be built to that particular specification that you mentioned earlier, particularly when it comes to vehicles that have to make sure they safely get off the road and on the Cobequid Pass, but I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

MR. GAUDET: I guess I was interested in finding out, has the department called any tenders out yet, or is it planning to call any tender work soon, in order to carry out the work that was recommended in this report? I want to make sure that this fiasco never happens again. We hope not. But there is always a "but." I guess we've learned some lessons from November 19th. Is the department ready to respond if another emergency, if another snowfall hits the Cobequid Pass, in order to respond to the motorists who were basically stuck, I guess, along that pass? Is the department ready for any future emergencies that may happen on the Cobequid Pass?

MR. ESTABROOKS: If I may, one of the issues that I brought up in my travels this summer with my new responsibilities - I'd like to go back to the idea that when it comes to calling tenders for the repavement of shoulders, whether on the Cobequid Pass or on other major highways across the province, that there will be a widened section there for the shoulders. Also, one of the most improved ideas when it comes to the repaving projects on 100-Series Highways is when rumble strips are part of these projects. You know that racket that suddenly happens if you happen to wander off to the side of the road - those rumble strips are a real consequence and a help when it comes to making sure people are aware of the fact that they're drifting a little bit one way or the other.

[Page 535]

The coordinated response to the Cobequid Pass is the key issue. Based upon the experience that my good friend, the new member responsible for the Emergency Management division of her department - from my perspective that new Cabinet Minister has shown exemplary leadership when it comes to EMO. When I look at the fact that the RCMP and volunteer fire departments and various other people in that particular part of Nova Scotia all have to be included in making sure there's a coordinated, timely response when it comes to not just getting out the information to the public but making sure the information is correct, and that it is information people are going to be prepared to listen to because they are trusting the good judgment of all those involved.

That particular minister, along with other people, has been consulted - whether it's the RCMP, the EMO, local people who work at either end of the Cobequid Pass - particularly when we look at the good services that are available in Oxford, in Masstown. That's part of where we are, as the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, to make sure that we can address this issue in a safe manner.

I would like to repeat the key factors again for the motoring public to know in the wintertime, whether it's Mount Thom, the Canso Causeway, the Tantramar Marsh - of course, the Cobequid Pass is now at the top of the media's attention when it comes to the fact there are problems when it comes to the Cobequid Pass. You know, the member opposite is well aware of the part of New Brunswick that I grew up in. There were so many occasions when the Tantramar Marsh was closed. We knew about it in advance, and for one reason or another - whether we were on the Amherst side or the New Brunswick side in Sackville or Aulac - we made a good judgment and stayed off that particular section of highway until the winds had gone down and the snow was no longer a hazard.

I guess - I see that smile on your face. I'm not going to do one of my rag the puck things here, I assure you. It's important the motoring public looks in the - pardon me, Mr. Chairman?

MR. CHAIRMAN: I said I believe you're offside, Mr. Minister.

[8:45 p.m.]

MR. ESTABROOKS: Yes, I know constituents in my constituency, for one reason or another, must need a break from whatever they're watching on television, they might be tuned in this evening, but there's a certain obligation on behalf of the government officials involved. There's a certain obligation on behalf of the police and, of course, those people working in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, but there's also a huge obligation on behalf of the motoring public. People travelling to and from Cape Breton on many occasions are aware of the fact there are certain sections of Highway No. 104 that you have to make sure you know the weather, because if it blows in quickly you could be in a tight situation in the wintertime. That's true on Mount Thom, and I can speak from

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personal experience on that, as there was a time when my truck spent more time in the median than it did on the main road.

But the Cobequid Pass continues to be of real consequence because of what happened last year on November 19th. Does that mean this minister is going to breathe a sigh of relief on November 20th and say, we're past our best due date? No. There will inevitably be times when the calls will have to be made, the coordinated response will have to be made, and the motoring public will have to be aware of the fact in advance that the advice that was given by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is to stay off of the Cobequid Pass. If you must travel and if it's safe and it's not a complete whiteout situation, use the Wentworth Highway, but still it comes down to a matter of judgment. Hopefully we've learned from the experience, and I guess I could put it to you this way - time will tell.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to talk about crosswalk safety, but I see my time is coming to a close here soon and I have one local question I need some clarification on - it's on the Meteghan River Bridge.

On July 22nd, the government awarded a contract to Dexter Construction Company Ltd. to replace the Meteghan River Bridge, which collapsed in the river back on August 13, 2003. No work has started yet on the site and stories have been circulating. Can the minister provide me with an update on the status of that tender that was awarded to Dexter Construction to construct a new Meteghan River Bridge?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I was aware of the fact that everything was a go basically, from what I understand, when it came to the tender and the design and so on. The Theriault shipyard however expressed some reservations and because of that there had to be some changes made. They are key players in that particular use of that bridge - not using the bridge, but using the waterway, and therefore there were some changes that had to follow and delays have resulted.

MR. GAUDET: My question through you, Mr. Chairman, is Dexter Construction planning to do any work this Fall? The rumour that I heard was they were having some difficulties in obtaining the steel for the construction and chances were that project may have to be delayed until next Spring. We know after the bridge is up, the paving, finding any asphalt in January or February, it is not available then. Again, the story is - or at least what I've been hearing - there is a possibility that Dexter may have to delay construction on that project until next Spring. I'm just looking for the minister to indicate whether that is or is not the case.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, the key thing, of course, is there would not be the possibility of putting up with detours all winter. The steel work will be done this winter - and it has just been confirmed by the staff, as we've been listening to your question, that construction will take place this Spring, and thank you for bringing it to our attention.

[Page 537]

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to move to crosswalk safety for the few minutes that I have left. Crosswalk safety continues to be a major problem in our province. On a regular basis we keep hearing that people are being injured in our crosswalks, yet we all realize that using crosswalks is a shared responsibility between pedestrians and drivers, but everyone recognizes it is the pedestrians who have the most to lose.

I'm sure Nova Scotia is not unique with the problem of crosswalk safety. My question to the minister is, has the department looked at how other jurisdictions across Canada, or outside the country, have addressed the issue of crosswalk safety?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you for this important issue. I know that the member opposite at one time actually had a very near miss and brought it to the attention of the House, and by the description of the vehicle that was involved my wife identified the fact that she thought she knew the good member for Clare, but that she had missed him that day in the crosswalk. God bless her for that great thought that she had and the wonderful laugh we had in return - not because of the near miss - and that's a standing joke between the member for Clare and myself.

We regularly participate in various national committees and this is one of them when it comes to crosswalk safety. I'll be unable to attend the transportation ministers national conference in Vancouver because the House will be sitting, but our deputy will be there representing us, and the following year we will actually be hosting the conference here in Nova Scotia. Crosswalk safety, of course, is a huge issue because of the fact that on so many occasions we say you can have all the traffic control devices you want but it's based upon a great deal of common sense, whether it comes down to the issue brought to our attention by the new member for Dartmouth East - it is the key thing, of course, that there is a shared responsibility when it comes to these crosswalks.

As a school principal - and I know we shared that career prior to politics - I would say to kids of whatever age, you make eye contact with the driver. Make eye contact with him or her to make sure that she or he actually understands the fact that, yes, I'm in a crosswalk. The unfortunate thing is that there is, particularly I guess when it comes to teenagers, that invincibility, that not only can they walk on water, but they can walk in crosswalks with the feeling of invincibility because once they step out there, everybody is going to stop for them - and that is just not the case. It has become an issue of huge consequence locally because of a number of families who have made it their cause - not just their cause, but in remembrance of the loss of loved ones that they have suffered, the consequence of accidents in crosswalks.

I urge all parents and adults, school teachers, anyone with any kind of example when it comes to crosswalks, to make sure that they understand it's a shared responsibility. Our department will continue to participate in these national committees. Our department will continue to make sure that there are lessons to be learned in other jurisdictions when it comes to safety in crosswalks, we'll continue to do that, but the key thing is the education piece -

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the education piece particularly when it comes to children as they are crossing from one particular side of the road to the other.

I have people all the time who ask for signage when it comes to crosswalks, overhead lighting when it comes to crosswalks, you know the key thing is that after awhile people just - and I know the member opposite has heard me speak about this, I actually got rid of my headset, my hands-free, because I do no longer answer the cellphone in my truck because I was in a situation on a cellphone, returning a call, when I realized I had gone through a crosswalk. Thankfully no one was there, but crosswalk safety had just completely slipped my mind, with the distractions that day. I want all members to continue to remind themselves and their children, and ourselves of course, when you're crossing you have to make eye contact. It's a shared responsibility - and this department will continue to make sure that we do everything possible to make crosswalks as safe as possible all across our province.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I think the minister said it very well, you know the education piece is so critical in making crosswalk safety work in our province. According to a discussion paper that was released by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on crosswalk safety - and I believe it was in late 2007 - it said that proper and frequent education is the single biggest key to improving pedestrian safety. So the minister had it right on - so he certainly passes his test this evening. I was quite impressed.

Mr. Minister, what I wanted to share with you this evening - last month, or maybe a month and a half ago, I was in Bangor, Maine, and noticed in some parts of the city they had some markers standing in the middle of the crosswalks to remind motorists that pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks. These markers were about four-feet tall and I thought they were a very effective tool in promoting crosswalk safety. Some of these markers said "pedestrians have the right-of-way" just to remind motorists, and on some other markers they said "vehicles need to yield right-of-way to pedestrians."

Of course, this was a summer campaign in order to do some promotion on crosswalk safety in that city. These markers were pretty well spread all around - not in every single crosswalk, but it certainly would be something for the department maybe to consider approaching HRM for next summer. We know that many people from outside the city come into the city over the summer months to attend various activities that are taking place but, again, I thought the message was very simple, very clear and very appropriate, that pedestrians have the right-of-way. And, like I said, they were about four-feet tall and standing in the middle of the crosswalk, right in the middle of the road so they weren't directly in the lane of traffic moving in either way. So traffic would basically go by these markers without any problem. Again, I think it's critical, so my question to the minister is, what is your government doing to promote safety and awareness in crosswalks in our province?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for Clare for this important topic. You were mentioning this example, and this was in Bangor, Maine this summer, okay -

[Page 539]

and I know that the member for Argyle obviously either knows about them or was doing some kind of demonstration of what these particular four-foot-high moorings were. I thank you for the suggestion. It's something that I will follow up on with staff.

Here within the HRM, and based upon my experience as an MLA within the metropolitan area, there was a task force formed in combination with the HRM, a task force that reviewed crosswalks and how important it is to make sure the education piece is in place. I guess the key thing is to make sure, as we've said a number of times already, that crosswalks, they have to be considered a safe way to get from one side of the road to the other - but the location of crosswalks baffle me sometimes, to be quite truthful.

The one that I was always concerned with is when I'm going around the Halifax Commons and when the crosswalk light comes on when I'm coming to work in the morning. Based on my experience - you know you're coming along and there is nobody in the crosswalk and the lights are still flashing because they have a delay and the person has made his or her way, if they're out jogging in the morning in particular when I'm coming in, and the light continues to flash.

[9:00 p.m.]

Now I've checked on this and, when that light is flashing, we are to stop. We are to give the right-of-way to the person who has either made his or her way across - and when they're coming across the median in particular, not to get into the specifics and I can take the member and show this to him, and anyone present, that I hope they enforce the legislation that when the lights are flashing, nobody goes through the crosswalk. Why is the light flashing? The jogger has crossed from the Canada Games Diamond in particular at this stage, and made his or her way across to the Commons, but the light is still flashing which says, stop, somebody could be coming into the crosswalk.

So based upon that and the suggestions that you've given, and the task force that we've had here locally, I thank you for your suggestion - that sort of suggestion makes it worthwhile to have estimates when it comes to this particular topic.

Our great hope, of course, is that there are no more further injuries, certainly there are no more tragedies, as we know of some terribly unfortunate ones, particularly in the old City of Dartmouth, on that side of the harbour. My full compliments to those parents and those activists in the community for responding so appropriately, because anyone who is injured or in any way harmed in a crosswalk, it is a terrible, terrible consequence, particularly for a young person. But I thank you for your question and your suggestion.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, last year the provincial government announced $300,000 over three years for cost-shared projects with municipalities to improve crosswalks. When you look at $100,000 a year for the entire province, it's not much money to address

[Page 540]

a very serious issue in our province. The minister knows full well this is simply not enough money, so my question to the minister is, will the government commit additional funding to help promote crosswalk safety and awareness and improve crosswalks?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite. Further to the comment that I made earlier in the first part, I was remiss in not mentioning the task force that has been formed here locally within HRM. There was $300,000 contributed from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal provincially and there was $300,000 from the HRM (Interruption) Yes, it's based on $100,000 a year over a three-year period.

There are still funds that are within that amount of money that have not been used and that's after all - some of the dollars that have been used thus far are for upgrading warning devices, making sure that people are as well aware as possible that there are crosswalks ahead and there is appropriate signage and so on. All that money has not been used, not that we want to spend it just frivolously, but I'm sure that when we continue to assess the need for improvements to crosswalks those dollars will all be used to make sure that we have the safest crosswalks in the province as possible.

MR. GAUDET: Will the minister undertake to table a list of projects that have received funding from that fund?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Based upon the comments that I've had over the last few minutes on the crosswalks, that would be one of my requests to staff that I would like to see that report and I would like to see where the funds have been allocated, and when I receive that I will make it available to the member for Clare and any member of the House who - and I assume all members of the House are interested in this particular issue, and at the time when I receive that report, I will make it available to the members of the House.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I know my time is closing - I think have five minutes. I want to turn to cellphones. Since it is now law in Nova Scotia - the law came into effect in April 2008, banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving - we've seen reports in the last few months throughout the media to confirm what we already know, many drivers are still using cellphones.

My first question is, does the department have some statistics on how many people have been ticketed, province-wide, since April 2008 when the law was passed?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Well, to the members who have joined us for this debate, I've kept my answers as brief as possible because I know there are a lot of important issues, and I know there are some members who will find that hard to believe, but I want you to know that I do not have access to that information at this time but I will see if I can get that particular type of information.

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What concerns me, member, about this cellphone legislation, it's good legislation but it is widely ignored. Is it because of the consequences, is it because of the dollars, or is it just based on the fact that it's socially still acceptable to see people use their cellphone while they are driving?

It is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive in this province, thankfully. Right? It's just not acceptable anymore, under any circumstances, to make any of those sort of standard jokes - you know, he had too much to drink, he couldn't walk, so he drove. Those were sort of really dumb comments that were made by university freshmen many years ago at Mount Allison, myself being one of them. It is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive.

The issue has to come down to the fact it's not socially acceptable to use your cellphone while driving; of course if you have a hands-free cellphone, that's a different set of circumstances. We haven't reached that goal yet, and it's something that each of us in our own way has to continue to make sure that we do not. I've been in situations - recently I saw a young woman, she will remain unnamed, who basically just drifted through, if that's an appropriate expression, a red light because she was on a cellphone. She was in the middle of the intersection.

I must tell you, quite candidly, I knew that woman because of her living in my constituency. I laid on the horn, she looked at me in response, realized this was her MLA - who probably just lost a vote - the response that I gave back to her, in as explicit language as I could use in that situation, what are you doing? Unfortunately, let me tell you, Mr. Chairman (Interruptions) I'm getting some rabbit tracks here - this is an important topic, the social unacceptability of using a cellphone and all the other distractions.

I know there are people who might be watching this now who will say, well the next thing he's going to want is you won't be able to eat, you won't be able to - well, you shouldn't be able to have a smoke in there anyway - you won't be able to do some of the other things.

I received a call while I was on one of the talk shows recently from Brian Warshick who, of course, calls regularly because I think he was campaigning for something at the time. When he called he said, you know my concern, of course, is those people who put their makeup on while they're driving, and I said to Mr. Warshick, because I recognized his voice, I said surely, Mr. Warshick, you're not wearing makeup.

But let me tell you, all joking aside, people driving need as few distractions as possible. A hot cup of coffee would be my limit, to be truthful. I've seen people read a book, if they come to a stop sign and they want to look at an important sports score they're looking at something in the sports pages. All those things combined, the member opposite is quite correct, cellphone legislation looks good on paper, but it has not had the desired effect.

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Does it mean greater fines? We'll have to wait and see. Let me assure you it is, in my view and in my family's view, socially unacceptable to use a cellphone while you're driving - and in my case that includes a hands-free also.

MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I know I have one minute left. I indicated to the minister if he would provide us with some statistics on how many people have been charged or ticketed while using a cellphone, a hand-held cellphone, while driving, and I would also be curious in finding out how many people have been charged on a second offence, if that's available.

My last question to the minister is, is the province considering taking any action to address this problem of enforcing this legislation? So I guess I will leave the minister with that question.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I give the commitment to my friend, the member for Clare, that I will have that information collected, if possible, particularly when it comes to second offences and the consequences of it, cellphone legislation, that I think was unanimously passed in the House at the time and, of course, making sure that if it was a good law, that it is appropriately placed - and now I'm getting the wrap-up sign from a member of my caucus who says that I'm going on too long.

I'll give you that commitment and I thank you for the good idea, particularly when it comes to cellphone legislation.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle.

HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I have just a few questions for the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. I welcome him for being here and taking some questions on his department, and of course welcome the members of his staff being here as well.

Mr. Chairman, I am going to simply ask three very specific questions - so very specific answers - which are around the Indian Sluice Bridge which, as the minister knows, is quite a large bridge in my constituency, and it just celebrated its 100th Anniversary. It is, of course, one of those big, green bridges. It is three spans long - I forget exactly how many feet it is, but it's a lot.

I thank the previous ministers for coming down and committing to getting a plan ready for the replacement of that bridge. Of course the population, the citizens of Surettes Island, Morris Island, and those who live in Sluice Point and those areas, have been asking for a plan for the last, I don't know, 20 years. The two previous ministers had the opportunity to come down and see the bridge and make some commitments on moving that forward and I believe having construction begin or complete by 2012.

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So, Mr. Chairman, my question to the minister is, are you aware of the Indian Sluice Bridge, and what kind of commitment can I get tonight on replacing or at least having a plan to replace the Indian Sluice Bridge?

MR. ESTABROOKS: I welcome the honourable member for Argyle to our discussion this evening. I have members of my caucus you should know who are in my tent who could learn some lessons from the member for Argyle and the member for Hants West when it comes to having the proper way to get attention to a particular project. We met at a time during the summer in my office and you clearly made your request in terms of - and provided me with some great pictures, in fact the great pictures actually included the honourable member for Cumberland South who was in the picture at the time, if you notice, when he was the guest speaker at your AGM and you took him on a tour of that particular bridge at that time. This is . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: You do it next year.

MR. ESTABROOKS: As guest speaker at the AGM - that would be a bit hit.

I want you to know that at this stage this bridge was submitted to the federal government and put on the list. The question, did it meet the criteria? In the give and take that we've had with the federal government on this issue, I gave him a commitment that I was going to put something in writing, but the way that this has been working with the federal government at this stage is that it is something that was on the list and now it is off the list, for whatever reasons.

The survey work is done, the geotech will be done this winter, okay? Oh, I didn't read his lips that well - it's next summer. Of course the design would follow.

For the members of the House, you should be aware of the fact that this is a $15 million project - those people on Surettes Island have been more than patient over the years with the need for this job - $50 million, and the need for this major bridge is something that I assure the members opposite is not going to be forgotten - it is going to continue to be an issue that we'll raise through the Build Canada Fund federal dollars.

I encourage my old football roommate, Mr. Kerr, to be in touch with me on this issue so that I can advocate on - not that he needs help - behalf of the member opposite, to make sure that Mr. Kerr is aware of the fact that his football team captain from the 70s considers this an important project. That $15 million is a fair chunk of change, yet considering the fact that this bridge has celebrated its 100th birthday, we could be in a situation where this should become a priority for all involved.

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[9:15 p.m.]

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much for that commitment, Mr. Chairman. What we did want to see in the Fall though, with the original commitment, was to have some geotechnical work done on the site so that the planning for the bridge could sort of happen over the winter, into Spring. Without that geotechnical, we don't know exactly what kind of structure can go in.

Mr. Chairman, I just want to ask, do we have a better idea of when that geotechnical can happen? I know the community was expecting to see those drills being done this Fall and what I'm hearing from you is that they're not going to get done this Fall, so I just want to see when that placement may be, and whether they need to do that anyway? I see Doug sort of talking to you there - but it was my understanding that the geotechnical had to be done before design work can really begin, so we're sort of trying to catch up here.

MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 10 minutes remaining, until 9:26 p.m.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you for the clarity and the patience as this answer has been explained to me a couple of times - maybe it is the amount of time that we've been in the House today.

A barge will be involved in the geotech and, because of that and the time of the year, if I misled you earlier that the work would be done this Fall - it will not be done this Fall, but I can assure you that it is a project that is of some consequence for those particular constituents of yours and it will not be forgotten.

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, I know that the residents of Surettes Island, Morris Island are watching this closely. They did have some commitments and we want to make sure that that goes forward.

I did have the opportunity today to talk to Greg Kerr's office and what they do need, though, in order for them to sort of take the football and run with it is they need to have a number, they need to have a project number of some kind. So as that information comes back from the federal government, I would hope that maybe you could share that number with me, that I can give to Greg so that they can start to do their work on the other side.

So thank you very much for that comment. What I'll do is I'll ask two quick snappers. When it comes to business signage on Highway No. 103, we're having some issues when it comes to Tusket. There's really no opportunity to post. I have a Harley-Davidson dealer who would sorely love to have the Harley-Davidson logo put up on the highway somewhere, sort of like what we have at Exit 12 in Bridgewater where they have food establishments there, can that be used for something like a Harley-Davidson dealership, which does bring lots of people into a community? So that's one quick question.

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And bilingual signage is very important in our Acadian areas, and I want to make sure that when a sign is replaced that it is replaced with a bilingual sign. What we're finding is, in a lot of cases, village names and other signage is not being replaced with a bilingual sign and it's starting to upset the community because they started off being bilingual and then they're not.

So, Mr. Chairman, those are my two quick snappers and I thank the minister for that and I know there are a couple of other members who would love to ask a couple of questions before our time expires.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Signage - and I know that some members have some questions - continues to be a major challenge. Those large blue signs are for travel information only, although I come back to this particular fact, I see where they advertise Tim Hortons so, in return, perhaps the Harley-Davidson information would be just as helpful. I'll have to get back to him on that particular thing.

The bilingual signage thing is something, and I apologize for never actually having noticed that, to be quite candid with you, but that would be something that I think we should deal with with the area manager. It is something that has huge merit, not just in your particular part of the province but in some other parts of the province where the need is there, right? Anyway, thank you - good ideas on both counts.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.

MR. KEITH BAIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I certainly welcome the opportunity to be here this evening to ask the minister some questions. Having, I believe, probably the most paved roads in any constituency in the province, I could probably spend all . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: . . . repaving.

MR. BAIN: Yes, but a lot more need paving, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Minister, I'm very fortunate, as are other members here, to have two excellent area managers and four OS's in my constituency, and certainly they try their best with the limited dollars that they have to get their job done and they do it well, along with the crews that work for them.

I have a number of questions, but the first one I'm going to ask is that over the years, in previous years - a long time ago actually - a lot of major construction work was done in-house, and over the past number of years of course a lot of that major work has been contracted out, and I know that in a lot of cases we don't have the heavy equipment around

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that was once there, but I think members of TIR can prove that jobs can be done as well and maybe, in some cases, cheaper if they were done in-house. I guess my question to the minister would be, do you have any plans to include some of this in-house work in the RIM projects that are taking place - this is not to get rid of the contractors, but whether or not the consideration is being given to in-house work?

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, and I welcome the member to the conversation and look forward to having an exchange with him on a number of topics over the next hour or so, or minutes.

We always look at getting the best bang for our buck, particularly when it comes to RIM projects. I guess the key thing is, of course, if we have local people on-site, local people who can do the job better, with more care, whether it comes to bush cutting, brush cutting, or alder cutting, or whether it comes to any kind of a project of that sort, any way that we can get a better bang for our buck, we're certainly willing to consider it.

MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, I want also to address the issue of seasonal workers, especially those who are being laid off for short periods of time, and we witnessed that just a short time ago. Recently two previous ministers would put enough money into the pot, can we say, so that these seasonal workers would not have to be laid off. I think the goal of both ministers at the time was to make those seasonal employees permanent employees. I would be interested, Mr. Minister, in hearing what your plans are for those workers.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite. I want him to know that we've made every effort to make sure that is the case, that our valued employees are full-time employees and layoffs are as minimal as possible, but this is done in accordance with the collective agreement. Those are some tough budgetary decisions that are made at this particular time of the year - or not just recently, over the last number of weeks.

The valued employees that we have, it would be great if we could be able to continue to have them on full time all the time. That's not the case at this time, but we're within our collective agreement. These highway workers have been more than flexible in the past and we ask them again for some patience. Budgetary decisions aside, collective agreements aside, we make every effort to make sure that in the future that would be the case, but I can't give you a firm assurance that that will necessarily be cut in stone.

MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, I realize the time for this evening is getting short. I'm going to ask the minister if he could provide me with the status on the construction of the new Bras d'Or Bridge, because I know both the member for Cape Breton North and myself are being asked by residents, what's happening and when are we going to see some activity? So I wonder, could you bring us up to date on how far that has progressed to this point?

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MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member for Victoria-The Lakes. We are under the impression, or I was under the impression, and I could be wrong, that the tender has been in the paper either last week or it has been in this week and that necessary step is well underway. If I'm wrong, my apologies, but I'm under the impression that the tender has been called.

MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, the tender has been called but hasn't been awarded - I guess that's what it is at this point. Okay, at least that will be progress, I guess, in the eyes of the residents.

I would like to talk now about the Cabot Trail, and I'm sure that there's not a person in this House this evening who's not familiar with the Cabot Trail. Previously our government made a commitment over five years to pave 31 kilometres and I would hope that your government will be honouring that, but there's also an area of about 27 kilometres called the St. Anns Loop and I would like to know, where does the St. Anns Loop stand in your plans for the upcoming year?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for debate in Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and ask leave to sit again on another day.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.

[The committee adjourned at 9:26 p.m.]