HALIFAX, MONDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2009
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee on Supply will now be called to order.
The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. KEITH BAIN: Mr. Chairman, I'm certainly pleased to stand in my place today to continue asking the minister some questions.
I want to pick up where I left off last Thursday and at that point we were talking about the Cabot Trail. As you're well aware, the Cabot Trail is the number one place to visit, not only in Canada but in North America, and from the base of Smokey to the Trans-Canada Highway at Exit 11, it's approximately 60 kilometres. The previous government announced a five-year plan for the Cabot Trail doing 31 kilometres from the base of Smokey to Barrachois. I did mention the other night that there is also a section called the St. Ann's Loop, which is about 27 kilometres.
My question would be, what are the plans to finish off the commitment that has been made for the 31-kilometre section as well as the St. Ann's Loop?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I was wondering how much time we have left.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The are 43 minutes for the Progressive Conservative Party, sir.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, 43 minutes. There could be a number of answers included in this 43 minutes for some reasons we've just suffered through. I want the member opposite to know that in no way am I going to get into the fact that I am now going to answer your question; it's going to take me awhile to get to some of the parts of the answer. But I want to encourage him after this exercise is over to take the opportunity to come to my office so we can talk further about the St. Ann's Loop.
We can talk about the need to improve some bridges, we can include the importance of making it the plan because there's no more attractive part - and I can include some wonderful stretches of highway in this province - than of course the Cabot Trail, which reminds me today, we had the opportunity to be in on an important announcement. Amidst all the announcements, and all the media, and everyone is there because somehow it ended up in the press that there was going to be an announcement about the library, which is a wonderful initiative here locally.
Please, it's a great, great commitment and all of the counsellors were there, it was a wonderful event for sure, but in the midst of that there was the opportunity to very clearly make sure of the fact that the Cabot Trail was included in that project. I know that the Cape Breton people, and the CBRM in particular, will be interested in some of the details of that particular announcement.
With that particular lead-in, I'm going to take the opportunity now to respond to what was a very important announcement this morning as we looked at not just improvements to the Cabot Trail, but improvements to other projects around this province. Of course the key headline tomorrow in the Halifax ChronicleHerald rightfully will be the library and how important it is.
I do know that there are some roads around this province, there are some projects around this province, particularly when it comes to the waterworks in certain parts of Cape Breton, and I can mention them by name. I want to enter them into the record because I'm going to table this document as part of my answer for the next number of moments.
There are various parts of the storm sewers and waste water systems in the CBRM that need improvement and they include the Wallace Road, Bruce Street, Station Street, Brookside Street, West Avenue, Hickman Street, MacIntyre Lane, Minto Street, Mitchell Avenue. Those were all important parts of this announcement and I know that the Cape Breton Post and the journalists there will do the excellent job they usually do when it comes to such items. They'll make sure that they have these important pieces of information included in the fact that federal government funding, along with matching dollars from this provincial government, are going to make sure those projects go ahead.
I just would, if I may, remind members opposite of the people involved in this project and I know you're going to be interested in this. I'm sure the Clerk is going to probably be
asked to make a number of copies of this. Here are some of the projects that were included in this federal announcement today that was made at the old Halifax Memorial Library: Route 236 in Hants County, that's Route 354 in Kennetcook easterly to the Northfield Road, 8.1 kilometres will be taken care of; Route 255 in Cape Breton, the Homeville, Round Island line, easterly to the Mira Gut Bridge, seven kilometres; Route 206 Richmond, and I know the good member from Richmond is interested in this, the 2,000 repaving to Route 320, 8.5 kilometres; Trunk 4 in Inverness, .09 kilometres west of the Nova Scotia Community College entrance to Trunk 4, Reid Street, and to the intersection. I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity - and I know the member for Victoria-The Lakes probably won't be pleased with my answer, but I'm going to make sure it's thorough - the previous member for Inverness is an example which I would hope members of this House would follow when it comes to working with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and I wish all the best to that previous member for Inverness as he moves on to other things in his career and his life.
That particular gentleman took the time when I became the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister to write me a personal note thanking the department and thanking me personally for making sure that those roads that were a priority for him when he was the MLA for Inverness and when he was the Premier of this province. When we came into government, one of the first things - and the staff will verify this - when those tenders crossed my desk, at no time did I look and say, now, which riding is this in? Of course, this is the riding of the previous Premier of this province. This is the riding of the member for Inverness who had made the decision that he was going to leave politics.
An opportunity was not there for this MLA and this Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal because those were important roads. Roads that were decided as a priority by this government but, more importantly, roads that were decided as a priority by the people in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. That's why those projects went ahead in spite of the fact that this MLA for Inverness was no longer the Premier, and then later on at this time, of course, he made the decision to switch careers. That's how business gets done when you trust the people around you and the priorities are there.
I know the member for Victoria-The Lakes is aware of the fact, and I know that some of my members on this side of the House point out the fact that Victoria-The Lakes has a number of well-known paving projects that took place this summer. Those projects were determined by this professional staff, by this Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, as projects that should go ahead, and they went ahead - no politics involved, no new government involved, no new Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal involved. Those were projects that were identified and they went ahead as planned.
Trunk 1 in Digby, and I know the member for Digby-Annapolis is always concerned about items in his community. We have the St. Bernard westerly to the Crosses -
(Interruption) Is that Clare? Well, I've got Digby here, my apologies if it is Clare. I want to mention - and it's great of course to have the new - I was going to say the new, the elder member for Digby-Annapolis back in the House. I was expecting so much to be able to share some time with him today. I want him to know that during my few minutes discussion here, we are going to be coming to that important issue which is so vital and important to you and vitally important to me when it comes, of course, to alders and how we can solve the problem, not just in your riding but in other ridings. (Applause) You might not have a chance to ask a question today, but in my own untoward way I'm going to answer it eventually, I assure you.
Trunk 8 in Queens County, the 2009 re-paving southerly to Caledonia, 8.0 kilometres - that was announced this morning at the Halifax Library. I want to point out that I hear the voice of the young woman, and I say young woman because some of you perhaps do know that the MLA for Queens at one time was educated by this teacher at Sir John A. Macdonald High School. (Interruptions) I must have had some positive influence, because I also now have the privilege of not just having this young member as a member of our caucus and our caucus Chair, but she's my ministerial assistant, and one of the tasks she's going to take on is a complete review of all gravel roads across the province, when they were last worked on, and when they last received any kind of major attention.
So you members should, of course, know that if you want to make sure - and I see the member for Kings West nodding his head. He too took the time to come into my office and made a couple of his priorities, and those questions were asked the other day by the MLA for Clare, in particular - but I want you to know that this is an important part. When you have a member for Queens who is going to be your assistant, you can trust her judgment because, after all, I taught her. But then you should also point out that the member for Sackville-Cobequid was a student of mine too, but he doesn't bother me too much about roads.
I would also like to talk about Trunk 12 in Kings County. That's the English Mountain Road southerly, and 2.8 kilometres will be paved. There's also Route 201 in Annapolis, Paradise Lane westerly to the Morse Road. I've visited Annapolis County many times. There's no greater place on earth than Paradise, right? Paradise, Annapolis County, and I want the MLA for that area to realize that in the middle of that important announcement today, with all those library dollars and all those important funds that are going around the province, in Annapolis, that particular stretch of road and Paradise Lane westerly, to the Morse Road, 8.0 kilometres will receive paving. The English Mountain Road, also in Kings County, from Trunk 1 to Trunk 12, 6.5 kilometres is included in the announcement this morning.
I think it's important that I bring these things to your attention, because we include them in the press release, we include them in the backgrounder but often some of these things get missed because the big headline tomorrow, rightly so - again no disparaging comments
about the need for this new library - will be the library; some pavement for the Cabot Trail; and, of course, the important waterworks replacements in the CBRM.
But lets look at where these roads are from, so far, they are from Hants County, they're from Richmond County, they're from Inverness, Digby, Clare, they're from Queens, now Annapolis and Kings. I want to continue because let's look at what Cape Breton is actually getting here for a couple of important trunks. Trunk 22 in Cape Breton, 6.4 kilometres east of Route 255, easterly, 6.0 kilometres will receive pavement. The Gardner Road in Cape Breton, Trunk 4 to Trunk 28, 3.9 kilometres are going to receive pavement. Route 305 in Cape Breton - this is the repaving to the Kings Road, another important priority - 2.0 kilometres included in this.
Trunk 3 in Halifax, the Cleveland Point Road, easterly 6.0 kilometres, and I do know and many times I've made the member for Chester-St. Margaret's aware of the fact when it comes to Trunk 3, that at one time it was part of my constituency and let me assure you, these are all important roads. Whether they're in St. Margarets Bay or Digby or Annapolis. Trunk 3 in Lunenburg, the Bridgewater Town Line easterly to the Mullock Road, 7.4 kilometres.
That's all important information for members here and for their information, I would like to table it at this time. I encourage you to make copies of that because I know there are going to be people interested in this particular, important announcement today, as we see across this province, the projects that were announced at the Halifax Library.
Also, I want to respond, if I may, and I'm going to take this time, so I can make it obvious to members opposite - on a previous day I had the opportunity to answer some questions about cellphones. At that time when it came to cellphones, there were a number of questions about the charges that had been laid.
For the information of that member who asked that question, and I know it sparked some comments later on during debate when we were looking at Bill No. 2 - 4,700 Nova Scotians have been charged with cellphone violations. Of that, 111 have been charged at least twice, so there are 111 that have repetitive problems when it comes to the use of cell phones. I bring that to the attention of members opposite and to the attention of members of the Progressive Conservative Party because I do know how important that is when it comes to cell phone legislation. Cellphone legislation that is not actually, in some way perhaps, as effective as it should be when 4,700 people have been charged with cellphone violations.
It has to become, as we've said a number times, privately and publicly, socially unacceptable to talk on a cellphone in this province. Personally, from my point of view, it should also be socially unacceptable to talk on a head set when you're using your cellphone.
But that's a personal choice which people have to make. I think based upon my experience, and I shared it with some members of the media on Friday afternoon, I want you to know if you can't reach me on my cellphone, the reason is I'm not answering my phone in my truck because after all that's why we have a message machine. If we're so busy and have to be in demand so much and so often, then we really need more than cellphones.
I also wanted to point out a point that was brought up and I thank the member for Clare for his excellent questions. The member for Clare, I want you to know, when I first got elected to this House, was the member who told me, a short 11 and a half years ago, after we'd been through a rather raucous session if you remember that time - and the member for Glace Bay thankfully was not here, because the government of the day was the Liberal Government and the member for Clare, of course, was a valued Cabinet Minister. He used to give me a lesson every time after Question Period, when he used to say to me, you used my first name, and I'm not allowed to do that, of course, but I want you to know that the microphones in this historic Chamber work. There is no need to yell, you're not talking to a Grade 8 class any more.
That member over the years that I've known him, in the 10, 11-plus years since then, constantly impresses me with his professionalism, his thoroughness, his tone and as a critic for the Liberal Party, I'd always welcome his points of view and he brought to our attention the other day that he had been in Bangor, Maine, and he had seen some crosswalk education in action. I want you to know that we're going to follow up on that.
Thus far, we are involved, this year, in a $60,000 campaign for education of young people in crosswalks. That is going to be shared with the HRM, particularly here locally, but that includes a TV and radio blitz, bus shelters, ads on the back of buses, because we have to make very sure that when young people step out into a crosswalk they know they are not infallible. They have to go out there and realize that they can't walk on water and they can't walk into crosswalks without making sure that they make very clear eye contact with that truck or car as it makes its way across that particular crosswalk.
Mr. Chairman, I would also like to bring to the members' attention a couple of priorities. When I made my opening comments here a couple of days ago, I made sure that I didn't take too much time because I knew that there were a lot of questions to be asked, a lot of questions because of the exchange back and forth when it came to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, lots of other questions that particularly come forth when you look at issues in the Energy Department or wherever else.
Considering what has transpired this afternoon, the challenge for me is to make sure that I now deal with some of these important issues that I was going to mention in my 49-page speech, which the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal prepared for me - 49 pages, but at the time I said to them, no, I'm not going to get up in my place and read 49 pages. That would be insulting to the members opposite because those members have
questions, those members have issues that they want to get on the public record. They want to get them on the public record so they could say to their constituents at home, I brought up my concerns about the bridge, I brought up my concerns about the road, I brought my concerns about alders. I brought up my concerns.
So it was decided, after we had looked at the fact that we only had a limited amount of time when it came to Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal - it always surprises me, when I look at the fact that Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is so important for members opposite - why do we have to play games as we've just gone through? Well, the lesson is going to be served here today. I'm going to deal with some issues and some priority items that I never had a chance to mention before, so I'm going to mention them now.
I would like to take you through, if I may, a couple of the important things that work so well for me. I would particularly like to point out the good working relationship that you have to have with an MLA as the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. I mentioned the MLA for Clare, I mentioned the MLA for Digby-Annapolis and the MLA for Kings West, and I would be remiss - in spite of what's happened in the last few minutes or the last 45 minutes - if I didn't mention the member for Argyle, who took his time, came to my office, and in a very thorough, professional, personal manner, as he usually does, went over an important issue for his constituents. The member for Hants West also took the opportunity to make sure his views were known. That's how you continue to work with this department. That's how you continue to work with this Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and that's how you can make sure your voice gets listened to, whether it's here on the floor during estimates or, of course, whether it's also when we have the day-to-day workings of the Legislature.
I want to point out to you, in particular, if I may, Mr. Chairman, that one of the huge commitments that I have is infrastructure renewal. Infrastructure renewal is a challenging issue, for sure. I know that I've heard from members of the House who are concerned about the to and fro, the give and take, the interaction between the federal government and the provincial government and, of course, when they're co-chaired with municipalities. It is a challenge - let's call it like it is. It is a challenge to make sure that are you are constantly in a state of flux when it comes to the dollars that are going to be assigned for whatever number of reasons, to whatever number of projects.
So again today, I had the opportunity to meet with Peter MacKay, the MP for Central Nova. Mr. MacKay, again, went out of his way to reassure us, as Nova Scotians and this government, that he was willing to work with us, making sure that the lists are right, the priorities are right, the criteria is right, and the dollars, inevitably after the to and fro and the exchange back and forth, and the work you have to do as a Minister of the Crown in this government when it comes to bargaining in good faith, looking at what is an important issue for all parts of the province.
Also at that announcement this morning was the Honourable John Baird. I know that some people are always surprised with the fact - you know, you have a certain impression of what Mr. Baird is about. I'm sure if he watched this legislative channel on certain occasions he might have a certain impression of us. I've found Mr. Baird to be personal, professional, and on a couple of occasions, very supportive of some of the issues that I've been involved with, not just with this government, but personally.
Today when I talked to Mr. Baird, he made it very clear again how much he enjoys coming to Halifax, how much he enjoys making sure that projects such as the Halifax City Library, the roads, and the waterworks that I've just mentioned - all of those things, he realizes that the important dollars, the important issues, the important projects in this province, he's going to work with this government, that is the provincial Government of Nova Scotia.
It's been a very busy paving season, Mr. Chairman, and I know you're aware of that. We have had over 640 kilometres of paving this season. I have a list that has been given to me on tenders that have been called for paving projects that is eight pages long. The concern that I have - because of course, the good help that I have here - I want to make sure that I can refer to the comments that I was going to read in that 49-page speech. So I'm not reading from that speech, as you can tell. If anyone wants to be aware of some of the projects - in the writing of Mr. Stewart, as it is here - we'll make it available to any members who are interested in looking at it, but we have had 640 kilometres of paving this season. That's the most paving in 15 years in this province. The most paving. Take it for what it's worth. Those are not my facts; that is information that was given to me by the staff.
In the last 15 years, 640 kilometres were paved. Over a million tons of asphalt. I mentioned the million tons of asphalt because one of the privileges that I'm going to have within the next couple of weeks or months is I'm going to have an opportunity to speak to the Road Builders Association of Nova Scotia. Road builders in this province are an important economic engine. They are, in many ways, the economic driver in some of the communities that we represent. When you look at the number of people who are involved in paving roads and improving roads and bringing gravel roads up to scratch as they should be across this province, the Road Builders Association is an important part of the economic driver in this province.
I encourage MLAs of all sides to take the time to make sure, whenever they have an opportunity, to express their satisfaction with some of the great, great work that we get done by the road builders of this province. Industry has been busy this summer with road building, and that is a great opportunity for us to know that there is economic vitality from one end of the province to the other.
Of course, part of the busy season that we have in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is that use of RIM money. RIM money is local money which is
important to give the flexibility to the local operators, to the local work sheds, the local depots, so they can decide that they, for one reason or another, can use this project or that project for something of real consequence to them. This year we're going to spend almost $6 million of RIM money; that's three times what's usually been spent. Now, this is where I want my good friend for Digby-Annapolis to make it very well aware of the fact that we mentioned the other day the importance when it comes to RIM money, when it comes to, of course, making sure that we are taking care of bush cutting, brush cutting, alder cutting - I know they're all different, because you've talked about it so many times in the House - and ditch work.
That's the local work that the local small contractors can get involved in. I had a letter cross my desk today, and I urge members to make sure that they continue to bring those concerns to our attention, because you know your area much better than I do, probably much better than some of the people who are working here locally in Halifax do - probably not as well, or maybe equally as well, as some of the local operators in your area. Continue to bring those concerns to our attention - those dangerous intersections where brush cutting, bush cutting, and alders have to be removed.
I thank the member for Digby-Annapolis. When I first got elected, there were two issues that I had to be prepared for from the first. It was the middle of the summer, I had just been appointed the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and in my first meeting with the deputy minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and some of his staff, I said that there were two issues that I've got to be prepared for immediately, and those two issues are, first, the member for Digby-Annapolis' concern about alders, and second, the Cobequid Pass.
So put that in perspective, good member. Over the years that we have sat and shared a seat with each other on that side, that could be one of your legacies: that we are eventually going to have a plan in place and program in place to really be concerned about the safety factor when it comes to making sure that when you come to an intersection, when you're moving along the road, you can clearly see that next car coming down because of brush or because, of course, of alders.
So those are the two issues. Of course, if I have the opportunity to talk about alders, I've got to talk, and I plan to talk for a while, on the Cobequid Pass. The Cobequid Pass is going to be closed this winter. Now, I'm no weatherman - (Interruption) I'm going to be very clear on the fact that the Cobequid Pass is going to be closed this winter. It is going to be closed, Mr. Chairman, because we, of course, know that there is nasty weather at this time of the year. Nasty weather, because on the Cobequid Pass, the Canso Causeway, the Mount Thom section of Highway No. 104, North Mountain, the notorious section of the road - part of it is, of course, is in the member for Cumberland North's riding, but I want you to know that the Tantramar Marsh will be closed this winter. Peter Coade, the good friend that he is of mine, and a neighbour of mine, and a weatherman, of course - let me assure you, let me
remind you, there will be sections of highway closed in this province this province because of the freezing conditions, because of the wind, because of the snow.
So our issue is going to be based upon our experience last November 19th , I'm sure you remember November 19th. When we had that chaotic situation on the Pass, it had no reflection, in any way, on the good, previous member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley or the member for Cumberland South, as the ministers through those issues, if they were in this seat or if they were standing in this place, they would be saying, what were the good lessons we learned from that whole process?
Let me be assured, our challenge is to make sure, this department's challenge is to make sure that there are not 1,500, there are not 1,000, there are not five - although that could happen - there are very few opportunities to make sure, let's have nobody stuck this winter on the Cobequid Pass. (Applause) Why is that going to happen? Why is this going to be a better and more improved situation? Because there were over 35 improvements that were suggested. Those improvements, I want you to know, mainly dealt with co-ordination and communication. It's important that all involved, whether it is the RCMP, EMO, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, municipal people in Truro or Oxford, all of them have to be a part of the solution or they're going to be a part of the problem.
That co-ordination, under the direction of Bruce Langille, from our department, has been a constant, ongoing thing to make sure that we are ready when the snow eventually hits the Cobequid Pass or the Cabot Trail or the Canso Causeway or the Tantramar Marsh or, of course, the legendary Mount Thom, because I can tell you, I've been in the median a few times on Mount Thom. Those are all important issues.
Another important issue in this whole solution is the Wentworth Highway. That's an important part of this because the Wentworth Highway is going to be maintained. The Wentworth Highway has to be maintained because when, and not if, but when the Cobequid Pass is going to be closed, we have to have an alternative route. We have given a commitment, we have a meeting next Tuesday night, a week tomorrow, when we will be in Wentworth to meet with locals there because of their concerns. Passing lanes are going to continue on the Wentworth Highway. Passing lanes are going to continue to be part of the Wentworth Highway because when the Cobequid Pass is closed, it will be important that it can handle that extra truck traffic.
When I was there, on the Sunday of Thanksgiving, I went into the local store, a place I must tell you I stop at fairly regularly in the middle of the summer, because not that I mind paying the pass fee when it comes up on the Cobequid Pass, that's not the issue, but when you come back from Prince Edward Island, you come down through the River John Road and
you're coming through the Amherst Shore, it's a great way to cut over to come onto the Wentworth Highway.
The reception that we received because of the paving that is happening around Mahoneys Corner - there's a five year plan to have the Wentworth Highway paved from one end to the other, to make sure that it is ready and willing to be able to solve the problems in the winter and then, of course, it is also available during the summer season. It's a great tourist attraction and, of course, one of the great things is we know that the Wentworth Highway has the fabulous ski hill that is located there.
These are all important parts of the Cobequid Pass and the solution. I want to point out to the members for Cumberland County, in particular, but Colchester County also, there will be bike lanes on both sides of the Wentworth Highway when it is reconstructed; bike lanes to make sure that people who have the opportunity, in a good, green economy, have a safe way to travel from one end of the province; bike lanes on both sides of the Wentworth Highway. So I encourage you, the next time you're in northern Nova Scotia and you want to see a paving project that is well received in the community, that section from Mahoneys Corner to Streets Ridge has been exceptionally well received. That's part of the solution when it comes to the Cobequid Pass, making sure that it will be a safe place as an alternative when the Wentworth Highway has to be used.
Mr. Chairman, I have a number of other comments and I'm going to continue you to bring to your attention, if I may. One of the things that I am, of course, always concerned about is the working relationship that we have with municipal government. In my particular case, I can say that it has been a pleasure to work with Councillor Reg Rankin and Councillor Peter Long and I encourage other MLAs who have shared projects when it comes to subdivision paving and streets that are located within the municipal units. There has to be a cost-sharing benefit to this. That cost-sharing is really important to all of use as we look at how important it is to make sure that we not only have safe major roads and safe major subdivision streets. The number of dollars involved is $9 million that has been committed this year to subdivision streets across the province, those are important dollars for all of us.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, I want to move onto another important project. That important project, of course, is the Fairview Overpass. Now, the Fairview Overpass, let's look at what happens when it comes to the Fairview Overpass. I mean, we're looking at important issues and I know that some members of the opposite side, perhaps, are not aware of some of the traffic difficulties that we have as we move around in the HRM.
We have people coming from all over Nova Scotia as they make their way into the city early in the morning. That particular stretch of road was in need of improvement. There is no doubt about it. With VIA Rail and CN and, of course, because of working with the HRM, again, it was decided that particular overpass needed to be replaced.
At this time I want to thank people for their co-operation. I thank those members of the media, in particular, who have made this an important issue each and every morning. My radio of choice, of course, has a certain member who was a graduate of Sackville High as a traffic reporter and the next time you listen to Q104, listen to Lisa Blackburn when she begins to give the traffic report, because the Q, the rock of the Atlantic, is right there overlooking the overpass. When you look at how traffic is flowing through there each and every day, I want you to know that we want to thank the members of the media for constantly bringing it to people's attention.
I want to thank the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal for putting 36,000 pieces of paper in the mail, informing people how to efficiently use the Fairview Overpass when it is under construction. The suggestions that have been made to, as we say, make Metro Transit work for you, not to use exactly the term that the previous Premier made sure he used. Make sure you leave early, make sure that you look at car pooling. The response has been excellent. People have been absolutely excellent when it comes to the fact. In my particular case, some car pooling with the young member for Sackville-Cobequid and the even younger member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville is the way to come and go, if you can make sure that they want to get here early at 6:40 a.m. That's how we can make sure that we're going to have continued good service when it comes to the Fairview Overpass.
I want to thank the people of metro for their co-operation. It's been frustrating and I know I've received calls about it and I call people back and say, we had to replace this overpass. This had to be done. It is unfortunate, it is causing a problem, but you're working with us. That's after all, how you solve problems when it comes to issues such as an overpass, which brings me, of course, to the topic of bridges.
Let me assure you, Mr. Chairman, bridges are a huge concern in this province. We have over 4,000 bridges and we have 12 bridge inspectors. I want you to know that we have major bridge work that has been mentioned and there are some on the Cabot Trail that I was expecting to get some time to answer some questions about, but because of what happened here recently, I've decided that the Corson Bridge is something the member opposite will have to talk to me privately, because obviously, we're not going to have time to talk about it today.
But there has been some major work done on bridges around the province. These are all bridges that are over $10 million. Each of these bridge projects is worth $10 million. There is the bridge at Little Bras d' Or, the West River Bridge in Antigonish, the Lower South River Bridge down by Highway No.104, Sutherland's River Bridge in Pictou County, the East River Bridge in Sheet Harbour. Each and every one of those projects, if you total them right off the top, that's $50 million. Those projects are all worth more than $10 million. There are some smaller structures that are going to be repaired and replaced over the next four years.
I want to compliment those bridge inspectors, because each and every year, there is a bridge inspection done on every bridge. There are different levels of bridge inspections. Those bridge inspections are based upon the fact that these 12, very dedicated inspectors are out there making sure that the bridges are as safe as possible, and when they are not, they bring it to our attention. When they're not, they then come back to the engineering staff and they say, we've got some work to do on this particular bridge or that particular bridge. Those people are professionals. I trust their judgment. I trust the fact that they know much more about bridges than I ever will, but when the word arrives back that this important bridge has got to go to the top of the priority list, you trust their judgment and you try to make sure that the funds are available to repair and, if necessary, replace that bridge.
On the topic of not being able to be critical of someone, under no situation would I ever be critical of a bridge inspector. I've been under the Shad Bay bridge a number of times, canoeing or whatever reason, and saying, something has to be done about this bridge. I'm no engineer, I don't know what had to be done to it, but when the concern was brought to the bridge inspector's attention - and I was a member in Opposition - they went out of their way to come to my community. To come to the community of Shad Bay to inspect that bridge, to make some necessary improvements to the decking and to the railing because of the fact that it had to be brought forward; this is something they should have a look at.
Today I had a very positive thing happen to me and I want to bring it to your attention. I'm not talking just about the federal announcement or the numerous compliments about the new hairstyle I have or the important things that are happening in my life. I want you to know that today I had the opportunity to sign 39 snow fighters certificates and I want you to know they are really attractive. We have - and I could be wrong about this, if I'm remiss, I apologize - 38 men and one woman who completed their snow fighters course and have received their certificates. Those snow fighter courses show that these are professional people who are going to make sure that they are ready when it comes to the removal of snow. Let me tell you - (Interruptions)
We, of course, are going to have snow in all kinds of parts around this province, but I want you to know that we have people ready, willing, and able - professionally capable people - to remove that snow. I want the member opposite to know that last Thursday night when it looked like it was going to snow, it looked like we were going to have freezing rain on the Cobequid Pass, there was a plow on the Cobequid Pass. There was a plow ready, willing, and able. Again, there's another situation. You know, we all have concerns about snow removal, and I know we have concerns particularly when it comes down to the fact that at times we think they could do it differently.
I had the member from Hants West talk about the schedule. He brought it to my attention that perhaps there's a better way to look at the scheduling of snow removal in his particular part of Nova Scotia. I urge all members, if you've got a concern about the snow removal schedule and how snow is removed, go visit your local depot - drop in and see them.
They will give you the time, they'll explain the reason for why the schedule is done that way, and after all, that's how we continue to have a really good, positive working relationship with these professional people when it comes to snow removal.
One of the most interesting programs that we have in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is the Sammy Snowplow program. I want you to know, when a snowplow pulls into an elementary schoolyard and the school bus driver suddenly begins to realize this is his or her best friend and the snowplow operator gets out and talks to those little guys and little girls in an elementary school or junior high school about what a snowplow is all about and how they should be safe when a snowplow is working on their roads and streets, that's a wonderful opportunity. Those men and women who take that course, who take that time to go through the Sammy Snowplow program, it is very, very well received in the schools around this province.
I have a couple of other important topics that I'm going to bring to your attention, and I hope you're going to be willing to listen to me because I know one of them is of real important consequence to you. On Thursday of this week, I will have the opportunity to put in the time capsule at Government House a particular piece of memorabilia. When we look at the importance that Government House, which is - (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order. The honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has the floor.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I had a very clear, important role here because I know that when it comes to the opportunity for the Lieutenant Governor to move back into Government House it will be a great day. It will be a great day because of the history involved and the tradition involved. It will also be a great day because I want you to know I had a wonderful tour of the building and that particular gentleman who is in charge of the inspection, it was a great opportunity to be taken through. The Premier and myself went through Government House. We went in there and made sure that we looked at this wonderful historic building, how it's now going to be ready, we are able to make sure that it's open for visitors and, of course, that our Lieutenant Governor will have the opportunity to be there.
This Thursday the time capsule that will be placed (Interruptions) Mr. Chairman, it's hard enough dealing with the members opposite here. It's hard enough dealing with the members opposite, I'm now getting comments from my own caucus. (Laughter) I encourage them to come when the historic Government House is opened and Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis moves in, that's going to be a proud day for Nova Scotians, a proud day to make sure that we have our Lieutenant Governor back in her rightful place. (Interruptions)
Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that I'm looking forward to that historic day. I'm looking forward to that day because that will be an important day for the history of this province, to make sure that when we have our Lieutenant Governor in Government House,
it will be a great day for all of us as we move into the next stage of this government. A great day for all Nova Scotians, that's for sure, I hear my good friend, the member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank bringing it to my attention.
I've heard members of the opposite side point out to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal that we are not listening to our backbenchers, the backbenchers are not being listened to. Well, I want to assure those members opposite, this Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is listening to the backbenchers.
I've heard from the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. I had the opportunity to sit and make sure I had a chance to listen to him as he identified some of the priorities that he has for work. I met with the member for Guysborough-Sheet Harbour who continually brings to my attention the fact that he has a number of neglected roads. Guysborough-Sheet Harbour is a riding that's as big as Prince Edward Island, geographically, and that particular MLA has roads in that part of the province that are in bad need of attention. Let me assure that member, because of how he conscientiously has gone about doing his job, those roads and those issues are going to be addressed.
I've heard from the members for Lunenburg and Lunenburg West. I've heard from the members for Kings North and Kings South. They too have brought concerns to my attention about roads in their particular constituencies. I've also heard from the member for Pictou East. The member for Pictou East has been more than patient as he constantly brings to my attention, as the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, his concerns and the member for Pictou West has also done the same thing, as has the member for Shelburne, the member for Hants West, the member for Cape Breton Centre and, of course, the member for Pictou Centre.
The one member I want you to know who has been most patient with my decisions, Mr. Chairman, is the member for Cape Breton Nova. The member for Cape Breton Nova, in his usual professional way, has constantly pointed out that he has a couple of particular projects, in his constituency, that he wants to be brought to his attention.
Some of the members opposite have the chance, during this particular time, during estimates, to stand in their place and bring topics to the public's attention. I want those members, I want those people to know, the constituents of the members of this side of the House, that those members constantly bring their concerns to my attention. They do it in a professional manner. They do it in a manner that's respectful. They do it in a manner that has been more than patient. So I urge them to continue to do that. I urge them to follow the example of the member from Whitney Pier. That's what we should do. It has been a pleasure to answer those questions and I thank you for your time. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E35 stand?
Resolution E35 stands.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Now we'll be taking a short break.
[5:47 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[5:54 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now be called back to order.
Resolution E6 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $40,090,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Energy, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Energy to start his estimates and introduce his staff with him today.
HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Thank you. I'd like to introduce, on my left, the Acting Deputy Minister of the Department of Energy, Bruce Cameron. On my right, Allan Crandlemire, the Executive Director of Conserve Nova Scotia. I'm aware of the fact, of course, there could be questions for both of these gentlemen so before we begin, I encourage members opposite, when they ask their questions and if they're asking Conserve Nova Scotia questions, Mr. Crandlemire will be my main man and it could be the other side when it comes to looking at how we're going to look at Energy.
I'm here to present an overview of activities in both the Department of Energy and Conserve Nova Scotia. I thank you for the opportunity. I will try to offer as broad and clear a picture as possible of what we're doing.
I'm grateful of the support and expertise of the staff in both Conserve Nova Scotia and the Department of Energy. I want you to know it is an absolute pleasure for me, in the midst of the various commitments I have in another department, to also share the responsibilities to work in the Department of Energy and to work with the people at Conserve Nova Scotia.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend an open house at Exhibition Park, which is located on the Prospect Road in my riding. Nothing more gratifying happened that day when I was approached by a particular person who was looking for information on some programs from Conserve Nova Scotia. In the middle of the questions, this lady asked me this very simple question, are you Donald Dodge? I said to her, no, I am not Donald Dodge, Donald
Dodge is a valued member of the Conserve Nova Scotia team. If you've ever had any of your constituents call Conserve Nova Scotia, Donald Dodge - Double D as we call him - is one of those great resourceful people. It was so ironic when I told her, no, I'm not Mr. Dodge, I'm the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Conserve Nova Scotia, she said, that's too bad, I don't want to talk to you, I want to talk to Mr. Dodge. If she saw what I just went through, she would have known I really was Dr. Dodge.
While these two portfolios overlap in many places, I'd like to begin with Energy. It's an exciting but challenging time in Nova Scotia's offshore energy industry, especially this year with hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in our offshore projects. That's the Sable Offshore Energy Project and the Deep Panuke natural gas project. The Sable project has undergone an extensive maintenance program, plus Sable operators have drilled one production well this year.
EnCana is busy with Deep Panuke, with money being invested in projects around the province, plus the conversion of four exploration wells and the drilling of a new gas injection well. We believe that EnCana is on its way to meet, and exceed, its commitment to provide at least 1.35 million hours of work in Nova Scotia, leading up to the production of first gas and 850,000 hours of that, by Nova Scotians. EnCana is going to meet that commitment and they're going to exceed it.
This agreement has resulted in hundreds of jobs to date. The Deep Panuke project has generated jobs in locations around the province including the supply vessel being built in Halifax, protection structures in Dartmouth, pipe coating work on the Eastern Shore, fabrication work in Pictou, as well as engineering and other work. These are good paying jobs for Nova Scotia families.
As well, an onshore rig building program has been extended by two years, thanks to the positive working relationship that this government has with EnCana. I know that it's good news in Cape Breton. This extension will give Laurentian Energy more time to wait out the decline in the western Canadian drilling activity. This $35 million project represents real opportunity for Nova Scotia workers, so I'm pleased to be able to say that we're keeping this project moving ahead.
First, let's be clear. We've had a relatively small natural gas find like Deep Panuke, but still it's of great interest to one of the world's biggest players. This is encouraging for us and shows that our plans for offshore renewal are working for Nova Scotians. Most of our offshore resource, about 400,000 square kilometres, still remains unexplored. There are only about 200 wells in our province compared to 40,000 to 50,000 in the Gulf of Mexico. We believe that seismic records show that the same geological features present in other productive areas. Our province cannot just wait around and hope for another wave of exploration activity. We need to be proactive and we need a plan.
As a first step to get petroleum explorers to take a closer look at our offshore, we need to give them more information and that's exactly what we're doing. We're taking a few pages out of the play books of other countries such as Australia and investing in our geoscience in a big way. In total, our government's offshore research investment will reach $30 million in the geoscience by next year. Right now, the Offshore Energy Technical Research Association has awarded about a million dollars to create a new, 400-kilometre refraction line in our offshore. This seismic line will generate the new information from an area that geologists believe to have good offshore oil and gas potential. Once that data is complete, it will be immediately available online at no charge with the Offshore Board's Data Management Centre or - as we call it in the Department of Energy - the DMC.
We are making policy changes to make exploration easier also. We reviewed our approach to exploration rights and some changes have been made. Licenses are now more flexible and the entry levels are lower. We now have a three-year evaluation period for exploration with features that include cutting the minimum bid in half from $1 million to $500,000; giving companies 150 per cent credit on exploration costs during the first three years; and lower up-front licence deposit costs of $50,000, or 1 per cent of the company's work expenditure plan, which is ever greater. That is going to be a great help with this work as it continues. This new approach rewards early exploration and it encourages smaller, less capitalized companies to explore offshore Nova Scotia and generate ideas and opportunities on their own.
In addition to geoscience, we continue to work on regulatory efficiency and to market these efforts around the world. We're making a real effort to make the offshore an attractive place to do business. We are very clear about what we want. Our geoscience, our regulation, our policy work and our marketing efforts are all designed to attract more customers to our offshore. This industry is a big contributor to the provincial economy. It creates jobs and generates royalties that help pay for hospitals, schools and roads.
Nova Scotia's ocean renewable energy sector is also starting to pay dividends and I'd like to bring some of these details to the attention of members opposite and members of my government. We recognize that the skills and expertise earned from years in offshore oil and gas can also be successful in the tidal energy industry.
Nova Scotia Power's Irish technology partner, OpenHydro, selected a Nova Scotian company called Cherubini to build its gravity base to secure their devices on the ocean floor. We will see this sub-sea base and OpenHydro's turbine in the water as early as this month. We hope Fundy will become the world's ultimate testing ground for tidal energy devices. This province is proud to play a role of contributing $70 million to the cost of the demonstration facility and another $2 million toward tidal research.
Recently, Mr. Chairman, as you're aware, I had a visit from the ambassador to Canada from Chile, and that particular gentleman wanted to know about Nova Scotia's expertise when it comes to tidal power. Chile is interested in making sure that they can come to a source that knows what they're doing when it comes to tidal, and they are looking at what our successes are going to be when it comes to Fundy Tidal. We believe this assessment is worth it for all Nova Scotians and also for our potential new industry - that we can be a part of it right from the start.
Tidal is exciting for many reasons. A big one is the jobs it's creating and can create in the future. Another one is the potential contribution to our renewable and environmental goals, and you know we're moving toward a greener and cleaner world. Oil and gas are getting harder to find. Energy prices are volatile and there is a consensus that we need to tackle climate change. We also know that the public wants lower energy prices. This is an important driver for citizens. They want and expect low-cost energy and affordable gasoline. At the same time, Nova Scotians want economic growth and a green agenda. As a government, we will try to balance these priorities.
In Nova Scotia, electricity generation is far and away the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions - almost half of the total emissions. This is because about 75 per cent, as you know, Mr. Chairman, of Nova Scotia's electricity is coal-based due to our limited hydro. This is challenging not only from an environmental perspective but also in terms of economics and planning. We are vulnerable to the unpredictable cost of world energy prices.
By 2020, we will reduce greenhouse gases to 10 per cent below 1990 levels. This legislation is supported by all political Parties in this House of Assembly, and we look forward to working with all involved to make sure it is reality. A significant part of this target will be met through energy efficiency. We've made our GHG policy much stronger since taking office by capping Nova Scotia Power's emissions, and we went further still. One month after taking office we increased our renewable goals to 25 per cent total electricity supply by the year 2020. In a market as small as Nova Scotia this change is dramatic, and it will result in dramatic challenges. Take the credit crisis and its impact on new wind projects in North America - just after Nova Scotia Power secured 240 megawatts of wind from independent developers, many of them lost their financial backing. This government responded to that crisis by extending the RES deadline and helping to protect independent green power projects.
Ignoring the economic reality the last year would not get us any closer to our green targets, Mr. Chairman. Many of these projects were facing cancellation and/or serious financial penalties for falling behind schedule. This change will give projects more time to secure financing, avoid penalty, and finish the job they started. We considered many options as a government, but we believe this change is the right one for both independent producers
and for Nova Scotians. This will allow and it will help us to get to our renewable targets while being responsible to taxpayers.
If we had to go back to the market now it's likely the price of this wind would be higher, but we will go back to the market again and exactly how we will do that will be greatly informed. We'll be helped by the great informed work of Dr. David Wheeler from Dalhousie. The consultation process led by Dr. Wheeler is focused on a longer-range strategy on how to meet the 25 per cent renewable energy by 2015. We expect the process will provide broad-reaching advice on everything from wind to biomass, community-based projects, and ideas on how to make all projects more viable.
Biomass is one solution. This is an obvious answer with a mature and at times troubled forest industry in this province. Sustainability is a big part of the biomass future and a big part of any renewable discussion must be the grid, both inside the province and with our neighbours. Regional demand and connections will play a large role in how we grow and how we expand our grid, and potentially our exports.
Mr. Chairman, as you are aware, I had the pleasure to represent this government - along with the Deputy Minister of Energy and some other staff - at the meeting of energy ministers in St. John's, Newfoundland, recently. There is a cooperative tone among all of the governments in this province, but within the Atlantic Provinces in particular. With the expertise from Prince Edward Island when it comes to wind power and with the success of the proposed Lower Churchill process, it is an exciting time to be working, not just in Nova Scotia in the Department of Energy, but working with energy ministers from one end of the country to the other.
I want you to know, as we open the power grid to more renewable energy, we need to ensure grid investments are driven by smart decisions, smart decisions because we listen to all the players in all parts of the country and all parts of the region. We need to balance price, reliability and environmental goals.
A stronger grid inside the region includes the Atlantic Provinces, Quebec and the United States. This would enable the import and export of clean energy and help system operators balance supply and demand. I am also hoping to tie part of this future discussion into the recently announced Atlantic Energy Gateway initiative. It is our hope the $4 million investment by Ottawa becomes a vehicle for federal leadership on this important file. I know we'll be looking for more dialogue on renewable energy with Ottawa in the next few years. Transmission upgrades will be an important discussion and I'm sure other provinces feel the same way.
Finally, let us remember that energy is a sector that connects provinces, states and industries. We need to keep talking and working together to make sure we get it right. The most important people to be talking to, and listening to, are Nova Scotians when it comes to
challenges to the energy sector. To create practical, everyday solutions to energy use, we want to continue to hear from Nova Scotians and that's where Conserve Nova Scotia comes in, Mr. Chairman. Our government is working to make life better for Nova Scotian families and our communities and Conserve Nova Scotia is making life more affordable for Nova Scotians by creating a culture of energy efficiency and conservation, and by helping thousands of Nova Scotians to use less energy and save money.
During my comments that I am going to make in the few moments I have here ahead of me, I'm going to be making sure that all members are aware of the number of Nova Scotians who have applied for some of these wonderful programs at Conserve Nova Scotia. Our investments in efficiency and conservation today will help Nova Scotia's families use less energy for years to come. We cannot do it alone, much of the credit goes to our many partners, businesses, ecology action groups and various other stakeholders around the province that share our goal of helping Nova Scotians make efficiency and conservation a part of our daily lives.
Thousands of Nova Scotians - more than 21,000 to be specific, Mr. Chairman - have completed home energy evaluations and they're making energy saving upgrades to their homes. In 2007, there were 15 certified energy advisers in this province. With the success of the EnerGuide for Houses programs, we now have 63. We had 15 in 2007, we now have 63 doing this job. Government is in the process of making home energy upgrades for more than 900 low-income homeowners, at no cost to them.
Homeowners participating in the EnerGuide program are also helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our province. Through this program, homeowners have achieved average energy savings of 25 per cent a year, a greenhouse gas reduction of five tons per household. These upgrades will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 21,000 tons each year. The EnerGuide for new houses and R-2000 programs ensure new homes have built-in efficiencies. Since 2007, more than 700 homes have registered in these programs. Plans are underway to introduce minimum energy standards in Nova Scotia's Building Code so at the end of the year this will save consumers money and reduce both energy use and greenhouse gas emission. Implementation will be a year ahead of deadline, set in the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Property Act. This is good news for new homeowners in our province.
Affordable energy, Mr. Chairman, is a great concern for many Nova Scotians and Conserve Nova Scotia offers programs to help those in need. Zero interest EnerGuide loans were introduced in the Fall of 2008 to help homeowners finance the recommended upgrades to their homes. A maximum of $5,000 is available per homeowner, to be repaid monthly over five years; 414 applications, and I hope members are aware of some of these numbers, 414 applications have been received as of August 31st, 2009. To date there have been 253 loan preapprovals and 66 modest income homeowners have received loan advances up to $1,500.
Last year, the Energy Efficient Furnace Initiative was launched to encourage homeowners to replace old furnaces with energy-efficient ones. Homeowners could save up to 25 per cent on home heating. Conserve Nova Scotia has already received more than 2,000 applications for furnaces. This means that more than 2,000 homeowners could be saving up to $750 per year on their oil bills this winter, and for years to come.
The Solar Heating Rebate Program also provides incentives for Nova Scotians to use clean, renewable energies in their home and in their business. A rebate of 15 per cent is available on solar hot water or air systems installed in Nova Scotia, and hundreds of Nova Scotians are now accessing the abundant renewable energy.
Mr. Chairman, energy is a huge issue and Conserve Nova Scotia is one of the most well-respected parts of the Energy Department. In the year ahead, our government wants to ensure that Nova Scotians can continue to access these programs. To do this, our government committed another $8.3 million in this year's budget. Conserve Nova Scotia has a valuable role and we look forward to continuing to work with them.
We've listened to what the experts and Nova Scotians have had to say and plans are underway to establish an independent administrative electricity efficient programs as soon as possible. We want to ensure that electricity remains affordable for Nova Scotia and energy efficiency and conservation are key to helping people save money on their power bills.
This year's budget of $27.7 million reflects our commitment to energy-efficient programs in Nova Scotia. Our efforts will focus on helping all Nova Scotians save energy and money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are many opportunities, Mr. Chairman, to help Nova Scotians use less energy in the residential, transportation, commercial and industrial government sectors.
Our efficiency efforts provide Nova Scotians with practical, meaningful and affordable solutions to help them (1) make better energy choices; (2) use energy more efficiently; (3) reduce their energy consumption and (4) reduce the effects of Nova Scotia's collective energy use on the environment and its climate. I can assure you this will contribute to a cleaner, greener and more sustainable province for all Nova Scotians and move us closer to our shared goal to have one of the cleanest and most sustainable environments in the world, by 2020.
With those few short comments, I will take my place. I look forward to hearing questions from the members of the Liberal Party.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. How much time is remaining now at this point? (Interruption) Fifty-five minutes, there you go, all right. Hopefully, at least the games are over for a little while, now that we've seen that the Liberal Party is the only one that wants to make this House work, while the other two Parties wanted to play games.
For a couple of days we've been trying to get to these questions, but here we are, and hopefully in the next 54 minutes we can go through them fairly quickly and I might get more than one asked.
The first question, there has been a lot of talk with respect to Conserve Nova Scotia. Recently this kick-started with your discussion around - or not your discussion, sorry, the Minister of Finance and his comments to the Herald editorial board that perhaps the programs for energy rebates should be reviewed. He seemed to express concern, assuming he was quoted correctly, he was concerned there was no cap on that program. I'm just wondering what you see as the future for programs to assist people in improving the energy efficiency of their homes?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Energy.
HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to the Chair. I thank the member for Dartmouth East for his question and during the remaining 55 minutes you're going to have lots of opportunities to ask questions. That's because of the fact that there are obviously some issues that you, as the critic, and as the new MLA for Dartmouth East want to bring to the attention of your constituents and during the next 50-plus minutes you'll have ample opportunity to do that.
We can discuss this issue at length and I'm not going to do that. I want you to know the Minister of Finance and I, I've made it very clear and he's responsive to the fact that these programs are important ones for Nova Scotians and we must make every effort to match the enthusiasm when it comes to what Nova Scotians want help with, whatever the program that's available by this government, we want to make sure that we can be there for them as they face the long winter and the tough decisions ahead when it comes to energy and programs. Part of the comments that the minister was making was concerning planning but I can assure the member opposite that I have a good working relationship with the Minister of Finance and we're going to make sure that programs are available to Nova Scotians because they are what Nova Scotians need.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, through you I thank the minister. I'm glad to hear that's the case because I think that those comments, whether they were taken out of context or they were correct and he was just musing maybe offhandedly, did raise some concern for a number of people. On May 30, 2009 - although I suspect it was probably May 29th it came out - the news reported that the now Premier was promising new $1,000 grants that would
start in 2011 at a cost of $1 million, specifically for hiring contractors aimed at low income families that wouldn't be able to do the insulation work themselves and I'm just wondering if you're still planning to proceed with that?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, already this year we've added homes to this low income program and it's continuing to be part of the plan of this government that we'll make it as available as possible when it comes to making those tough decisions.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, minister, and I do appreciate the length of the answers, it's much appreciated given the time we have left and maybe we can get answers that short in Question Period too. (Interruptions) It was worth asking, wasn't it?
I would like to ask you a little bit about, as you probably know, Nova Scotia Power Inc. is before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board at the moment with the Nuttby wind project. Now, I recognize that you probably would not wish to comment on the actual ruling that the URB should make on this but where my question is - you are no doubt aware that Nova Scotia Power has asked to essentially build and then sell off a 51 per cent stake in the project after it's completed, thus allowing them to use the project towards their renewable energy credits. I'm just wondering what your position, as minister, is on them selling that 51 per cent after it's built and then using that towards their credits?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, the Nuttby wind project is one, of course, that we're looking at carefully because basically this project was rescued because of the decision that was made. Nova Scotia Power does not control it but it is an important example of how we continue to work with operators to make sure that projects of this nature will be allowed to continue and will be allowed to help individual Nova Scotians.
MR. YOUNGER: So, do you feel that Nova Scotia Power should be allowed to own - does the department under your leadership feel Nova Scotia Power should be able to have direct ownership of wind projects like this and other renewable projects?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, we have had a ruling when it comes to the Nuttby wind project and, of course, the Administrator from the Department of Energy, Scott McCoombs, has always given us some great advice when it comes to all of these types of projects.
When it comes to the fact that Nova Scotia Power works closely with independent power producers, again I want to repeat that they don't control it. They don't have the controlling interest. It's important that Nova Scotia Power continues to work with all of these independent power producers. Everything we can do to help these particular projects, we're planning to continue to do so. Each of them, in their own way, can present challenges as we look at the programs ahead but, hopefully, with good planning and the good advice of Scott
McCoombs from our department, in particular, we'll continue to make the correct decision for Nova Scotians.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Minister, in the application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, Nova Scotia Power is effectively suggesting it owns it because one of the things they're asking for is to be able to sell 51 per cent. I would suggest that, effectively, they have a controlling interest because they're looking at selling an ownership in the project. In order to sell an ownership share in the project, they would have to really own it. So, I'm just trying to get my head around how you feel, or your government feels, about Nova Scotia Power directly owning projects like that. Maybe it's not going to be made to make it easier if we call it the Hypothetical Digby - no, that's a bad one too because there's one being built there, but a Hypothetical Clear Wind Field.
MR. ESTABROOKS: The understanding that I have is, in future, beyond 2013, they can compete, but at this stage there's a good working relationship and I might have misunderstood your question earlier when the topic of selling became involved. Nova Scotia Power is in the situation of making sure, and we in the Department of Energy are making sure, that the best interests of Nova Scotians are going to continue to be met. That's the priority when it comes to this government and that's the priority when it comes to the Department of Energy. When it comes to projects of this nature, we're going to continue to work with Nova Scotia Power. We're going to make sure that all involved are going to have the opportunity to work with us as a government because in the long run we want to make the decision that's right for Nova Scotians.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Minister. In terms of the independent projects, we've seen a number of independent projects run into financial difficulty and we'll see that again. Some of them, in all honesty, probably were never properly financed in the first place and some of them are impacted by the economy. I certainly don't blame you or your department for that, but I do wonder if you believe that these independent projects - whether they're wind or other types of independent renewable projects - should go under some sort of financial review by your government before they're allowed to proceed?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for that insightful question. Many of these independent power projects, at times, have faced certain challenges because of the economy. You're well aware of that and you've brought it to our attention a number of times during Question Period. Nova Scotia Power has done its due diligence when it comes to looking at these various projects and we continue to work with them to make sure that we can do anything possible to make sure that we have as much portable power for Nova Scotians as possible - a power that will be produced in a clean, green way that Nova Scotians will benefit from.
If there are things that we can do by making sure that we extend deadlines, that we allow these companies to be given the opportunity to arrange financing over a longer term, those are decisions that we've made and we're going to continue to make. I think it's extremely important that we continue to assist these independent producers because, in their good work with Nova Scotia Power, they'll be able to help out and make sure that Nova Scotians get clean, green, efficient and as cheap as possible power in the years ahead.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, specifically I would go back to March 16, 2009, when the now Premier stated that all of these wind projects, these independent projects, should go through Nova Scotia Business Inc. to make sure that they are viable and that was put out as a press release from the Leader of the Official Opposition at the time - now the Premier, of course. He further went on to say that NSBI should then provide the loan guarantees so that the companies can get the capital they need.
Is your department still looking - obviously NSBI is under a different minister, but this would have to, I would guess, be a recommendation from your department. Is that something that your government still supports and endorses?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, working with my colleague at the Department of Economic and Rural Development and discussing the initiatives of some of these companies and some of the difficulties that they've faced, I think it's important that we are aware of the fact that these are challenging times when it comes to financing, and there have been some bankruptcies, there have been problems with capital when it comes to making sure that they are in a sound financial basis.
You know, we're going to continue to work with each project as it's brought forward and to work with my colleagues around the Cabinet table to make sure that we're there to make sure that these companies are given the proper assistance when the time comes, when it comes to changing the regulation, when it comes to extending deadlines, when it comes to the fact that if they are going to need some future help when it comes to financial assistance, we should be considering these plans.
These are things that we will be discussing, or I will be discussing in the future with the Minister of Economic and Rural Development because, as we well know, whatever the project is, whether it's down in Digby or whether it's up in Nuttby Mountain or in various little locations around the province, these are projects which indicate to the world and to Nova Scotians that we're out there on the cutting edge when it comes to energy and if we can do anything possible to help these projects ahead, particularly when it comes to sound financial footing, we have to be there in a meaningful way.
That doesn't mean that if their financial plan isn't a good one in our view or in the Department of Economic and Rural Development or from the perspective of the Department of Energy - I mean, we have to make sure we help these folks out, but then again, they have
to be in good financial sound footing. Hopefully we'll be there to make sure that they do supply the important energy alternative, which we hope they're going to do in the future.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, I'm very happy to hear what sounds like very supportive comments about the independent energy producers. I guess where I get confused is, March 16th there's a press release put out by the now-Premier saying, these should all have loan guarantees but they should first go through a financial model and a financial test. Two months before that, the now-Deputy Premier put out a press release that seems to say the opposite when he suggests that the government should do everything it can to ensure that the Canso wind project goes ahead. I'll table both of these.
It's confusing to me that on the one hand you have the now-Premier saying that we should be very careful, go ahead, make sure that they go through Nova Scotia Business Inc. to make sure they're financial viable, and you have the now-Deputy Premier saying, well, hold it, wind is very important, developing renewable energy is a sort of developing industry here and the project is vital to the community of Canso and therefore should just go ahead, when in fact it turns out that was one of the ones that was perhaps least financially viable when we look at it now. I'm happy to table these two.
It's not so much that I'm picking on the Premier versus the Deputy Premier, I just want to try and get (Interruptions) In fairness, Mr. Minister, all I'm really trying to get at is, they're both potentially sound positions, but the question is, which one is your department, and you as minister, which one are you advocating? There is a slight difference between two positions put out two months apart.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, the last thing that this minister is going to do is to get involved in a discussion of the semantics when it comes to not the Premier, but the Deputy Premier. The semantics and the Deputy Premier would be about as subtle as a punch in the mouth, I think, or a sledgehammer attack, let's put it that way. I shouldn't advocate violence. I want you to know that when it comes to rescuing these projects - because on occasion some of these projects have to be given assistance, a hand, whether it's Nova Scotia Power or whether it's other loans that become possible, to whatever the alternative - that the goal is to make sure that we have renewable energy projects that are working in Nova Scotia. I understand the point you've made. (Interruption) I understand the point you've made and if it continues in this manner, the Chairman has to make sure that he has to, has been told a number of times by this minister during debates on Friday and now, to get the Deputy Premier under control, not just in his comments, but checking his comments now compared to when he was in Opposition. (Interruptions) I'm getting some rabbit tracks here from the member for Cape Breton North.
I want the member to know that the key in the issue here is to make sure that there are as many renewable energy projects as possible up and operating, and that's the key. Now, as a government, how can we be of assistance when the time comes? (a) Is there a good financial plan in place? (b) Is this something that would be a good bang for our buck when it comes to taxpayers' dollars? Whether it's Nova Scotia Power helping out these independent producers or whether it's a government agency, the key thing is we want to make sure that we have as many viable, renewable energy projects as possible because that's, after all, the way that we're going to deliver the product for Nova Scotians.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, rest assured that you will be happy to know, if you need to know what any of your folks said in Opposition, we printed off all the press releases before you deleted them off the Web site. We have them all and we can remind you of them at any time you need. Hopefully, the minister took that in the lighthearted manner that it was meant.
I did want to ask, you talked about supporting renewable energy industries, and again I'm very glad to hear that, recommendation No. 51 of the 2003 Electricity Marketplace Governance Committee suggested that renewable energy producers in Nova Scotia be allowed to sell their energy directly to the public. Now, interestingly enough, it was one of the few recommendations that was never implemented, as far as I can tell, although I understand legislation was promised in 2006, then 2007. So can you just tell me whether your department has any plans to move that forward?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Again thank you for that specific question. You know, opening the market to the public is an important way that we continue to make sure that as many possible alternatives are available when it comes to making these decisions. We can look at other options in the future as they come forward, but when it comes to the particular specifics of a case like this, this would have to be something that I would have to look at in more depth, to be quite truthful with you.
It does present some interesting challenges ahead and it's something that we're going to have to continue to make some tough decisions about. I encourage the member to continue to bring his suggestions forward as we hear from other people, not just in the Department of Energy, but other people around the province, other people who have expertise in this particular topic, and those are the sorts of decisions that will be made because if we get the right information, we'll be making the right decisions.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, I just want to follow up on that and certainly I understand if you're not directly familiar with that, I would be happy with an answer that's just from your staff, or you'll get back to me later when you have more information. What I would like to know in respect to that, understanding that you don't have a decision right now on that particular recommendation is, I would like to get a sense of what happened in the department.
Now, this would have been before your time, but these other recommendations moved forward and this one didn't. I'm wondering, was it the renewable energy producers in Nova Scotia or was it Nova Scotia Power, or was there some other reason why there was concern in bringing that forward? Because, on the balance of it, when you look at this committee's report, this seems to be a very important recommendation in ensuring the viability of the industry, and ensuring the long-term viability of the industry, and even the profitability and financial success. I'm willing to accept that there may have been reasons why we were concerned, and again, as I say, if you don't have the answers right now, I'm happy if you want to get back to me later, but if you have something to add, I would appreciate it.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank the member for that alternative when it comes to understanding basically what is a pretty complex recommendation. Some of the complications have to be very carefully considered before ultimately the final decision is going to be made. Costs to ratepayers continue to be a priority and in many ways the decisions that we make are driven by that.
Again, I just want to bring to the attention of the member opposite, we are fortunate enough to have Dr. David Wheeler, and Dr. Wheeler, of course, is engaging Nova Scotians. At this time we're looking forward to seeing Dr. Wheeler's report and we're looking forward to some of the details that will be coming forth with his specific recommendations. Those recommendations, and those details from Dr. Wheeler, will be something that we will look forward to later this year, when we have the opportunity to see his report.
I urge all Nova Scotians, and I urge the member for Dartmouth East, members of the House, members of all three political Parties, to make sure their views get known when it comes to some of the types of recommendations and some of the advice that I will willingly be accepting, and my department will willingly be accepting, as it comes down to us making the correct decisions on a complicated issue such as the one you brought to my attention this evening.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, minister. Since you mentioned Dr. Wheeler's report, I would like to go in that direction. So many reports are going on, sometimes you can't remember which one is in which, but I am fairly certain that he is also looking at the governance around the fuel adjustment - or not the fuel adjustment mechanism, the DSM funding, the demand-side management funding.
I'm interested to know - the demand-side management charges, we understand why they're there, but I think as people start to see these appear on the bill, every member of this House is going to start to get calls from people, why is there another surcharge or why is there a charge on their electric bills. That will take some explaining for a lot of people, especially people who have trouble paying their electric bills now. Understanding why it's there, and I don't really want to get into a debate of why it is there, but one of the
recommendations has been who is going to manage this funding and how that is going to be done. I'm just wondering where we're at in terms of the governance around that. We obviously want that shifted away from Nova Scotia Power as soon as possible but I know that there has to be some governance around that as quickly as possible.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the member for Dartmouth East. Dr. Wheeler's expertise is invaluable to us as a government, is invaluable to me in the Department of Energy and to our Energy staff. Dr. Wheeler, of course, has a number of parameters that he's working within and I'm looking forward to eventually reading his latest report.
He has reported on DSM, of course, a couple of years ago, and we'll be making decisions on this during this legislative session when legislation is brought forward. Legislation that hopefully will meet the approval of Nova Scotians who have had their say on this issue, and hopefully the members of the Liberal Party will also be supportive of some of the recommendations that will be included, based upon Dr. Wheeler's suggestions.
This legislation will soon be brought to the House. Hopefully, in advance of that, there will be a bill briefing so we'll make sure that - because as the member knows, and I compliment him on his quick study that he's been involved as the Energy Critic, a great deal of information to make sure that you understand and absorb, and not all by osmosis I know - that you make yourself aware of the fact that the many details and challenges that we have ahead of us. We are expecting legislation to be introduced this session. I look forward to bringing it to your attention at that time.
Of course, as we go through the House and debate the bill, as it goes across into the Red Room for Law Amendments Committee, hopefully making the bill stronger, as the legislation does in this province, it is legislation that will be based on some pretty solid recommendations from my perspective, legislation that hopefully will have the proper amount of input from Nova Scotians, and it is legislation that I look forward to having all sides of this House support.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Minister. I am very excited, actually, to hear that legislation will be coming forward in this session. I think the public and I think all members of the House should be excited that legislation is coming forward because when the first bill comes and somebody notices the DSM charge on there, I guarantee they're going to get calls and when they have to answer, well, Nova Scotia Power is managing that, as good a company as they may be, I'm sure that will raise the hackles of many and to know that it would go somewhere else.
I wonder whether - and I'm not sure if this is a question you can answer, Mr. Minister, or whether this is a question I'll have to ask the Deputy Premier and Government House Leader out in the hall - we don't know when the session is going to end, obviously,
but it would be a shame to see that legislation hold over until the Spring session before it goes into place. That would certainly be of great concern, I think, because it would mean that Nova Scotia Power is managing those funds, which they were never intended to manage, for a longer period of time.
Is it your intent to try and give the Opposition Parties some advance briefing on that bill and try and get some co-operation to get that through in this session?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. To the member for Dartmouth East, although I've been here a few more years than you, I've never publicly said this, I've been waiting to say it, I'll lay it on you now: Soon, soon, very soon. (Laughter) All joking aside (Interruption) I believe the first time I heard that line was used by a Liberal Cabinet Minister a number of years ago and I believe it was, of course, a piece of memorabilia that comes back to haunt us all.
Legislation will be coming soon, the plan is to deal with it in this session, this Fall session. The limited amount of influence I have with the Deputy Premier, however, is often counterbalanced by the amount of immense influence I have with the Premier. So I can assure you that it is a top priority for me, as the Energy Minister, to make sure that we have this legislation before the House this Fall.
Hopefully we'll have an opportunity to make sure that Opposition Critics will have the chance, if they wish, to make sure, before the legislation is actually introduced in the House, they and their researchers will have an opportunity to meet with the Department of Energy staff. I am not sure that they will need the expertise to have it explained to them in great detail, because I know the young member is capable of many of these things, but when this happened in years past, when we went to bill briefings, you were always encouraged to bring along members of your staff.
So the answer is that soon - I'm going to say it again, aren't I - soon, very soon.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I guess soon, soon, soon we'll find out whether the Deputy Premier and Government House Leader, or you, have more sway with the Premier in terms of the length of the House session. I think that is something we should deal with. Obviously we don't - it's hard for me to comment on that particular piece of legislation and the direction it will take until I see it, but it is an issue one way or the other that does, I believe, have to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
Let's talk a little bit about heating oil. I'm not going to ask you about the HARP program because we spent a lot of time with the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations on that. I am wondering, about a year ago, the now Premier suggested
that Nova Scotia should create a - I'm trying to look at exactly what he called it here - basically an oil reserve, a strategic petroleum reserve for Eastern Canada. I'm wondering how things are coming on creating that strategic petroleum reserve?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the member opposite. You know we continue to work with Natural Resources Canada, particularly to make sure that sources for one reason or another would not be interrupted. This is the sort of strategic petroleum reserve idea that has merit but it does take some co-operation and it does take some coordination with other levels of government.
It is an idea that we will continue to work with NRCan, Natural Resources Canada, to make sure that there's a continuous supply and that for one reason or another there wouldn't be an interruption of this important energy reserve. The unfortunate part is, if the next part of the question is, when will some of these details be forthcoming, at this time I'm just not at liberty to discuss that. Was that your next question?
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, although that would have been a good follow-up question, the reason it wasn't my question was because I knew you wouldn't answer that one. My follow-up questions is, I hear that your department is thinking about it, obviously this came forward because heating oil ran out in Cape Breton. Now I understand why the member opposite, the member for Glace Bay, asked me to ask the question, I didn't realize that until I read the rest of it. I understand it may take other provinces and the federal government but is it something that your department is seriously working towards or is it, just sort of one of those ideas on the back burner where there are no real serious efforts being made. In other words, is there somebody assigned to deal with this?
MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank the member for Dartmouth East for bringing forward a question well delivered and very nicely put because the member for Glace Bay of course, might not get the answer - I might not be as forthright as I am with you. I want you to know this is a question of some significance, not just for the member for Glace Bay but for Nova Scotians generally. This particular issue is constantly monitored by the federal government and we're going to do everything possible to make sure that disruptions do not take place because after all this is an idea that has merit, an idea that takes some planning and coordination, and an idea that hopefully we'll be able to, with proper input from all levels of government, make sure that we have no disruption when it comes to this important reserve.
I do encourage the member for Glace Bay to bring these concerns to my attention personally at any time. Perhaps he doesn't want to do it in the House at this time but I'll always welcome his suggestions on this topic.
AN. HON. MEMBER: Soon, soon, very soon.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, through you I thank the minister. Yes, soon, soon, soon.
On the issue of heating, I would like to talk a little bit about natural gas and I'm hoping we have time so I can get to the offshore portion of that but, I would like to talk about the distribution of natural gas within Nova Scotia. One of the areas I'm concerned about is that the distribution to residential homes has not been as prolific as we might have hoped, certainly in HRM and as well as to the rest of the province.
Specifically, you hear about this I'm sure, there are a number of communities that are close to a gas line, maybe just down the street, and yet the current gas provider, who is effectively a monopoly at the moment, is unwilling to extend those pipes. Now, I've had many discussions with them on this issue, both in my current role and in my previous role on the municipal council, and their argument is that they need - I think it's usually around a 50 per cent household sign up before they'll go into some of these areas and move along. The problem is, as you probably well know, there are many residents who have leases on furnaces and so forth but if gas was in front of them, they would probably partake in that.
So what is your department doing to try and move the issue of natural gas distribution to homes in Nova Scotia along, to try and encourage the support, and are you looking at any financial incentives or other methods to move natural gas availability to more homes at a quicker pace?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, member, and thank you again for an important question - the distribution of natural gas. Natural gas is a great deal for Nova Scotians, particularly when it comes to the matter of cost, and I too have heard concerns from constituents and businesses in terms of, is it a customer-driven decision? Heritage Gas is in the business of laying down this expensive pipe. It's an expensive business to make sure that you're connecting Nova Scotians to this wonderful resource. Heritage Gas is ready to respond but when it comes to making these decisions, when it comes to the dollars involved, they have to make sure that they have the opportunity to make a decision that's business wise and good for them.
We will continue to work with it, we'll continue to get out the message - particularly when it comes to natural gas - to make sure that it's a great deal for Nova Scotians. I look forward to encouraging your constituents to continue to bring forward their concerns. Whether it's residential homes or whether it's businesses, it's something that we want to continue to work with. Heritage Gas offers a great alternative to Nova Scotians and we have to, in our own way, make it as available as possible to all Nova Scotians.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, I guess that's the same line that I hear from Heritage Gas, that they're in business and they have to make money. The problem I have with it is most of the natural gas from our offshore is being shipped to the United States
where they're able to make more money when really Nova Scotians are not getting the benefit of it. We're not having the reduced greenhouse gases by switching from furnace oils and other products - that's of great concern to me - and when we look at lower middle income families, there's an opportunity, in many cases, to save money.
There are a couple of issues that really come around this. They do not get the approvals from the Utility and Review Board to move ahead unless they have, obviously, this financial model in place, which makes sense, we don't want Heritage Gas going bankrupt. They also have - I don't know if you've seen it, minister - a very cumbersome form that people have to fill out. The problem with that form is that - I've seen the form and I had to get someone to explain to me how to fill it out because it's how many kilojoules of gas am I going to use in a year, before you can even sign up to get on their list. I don't know how many kilojoules I would use. I'm sure the minister doesn't know how many kilojoules he would use and they claim, rightly or wrongly, that they're stuck by legislation as a result and that changes would have to come through the Department of Energy in legislation that governs them to make it easier to distribute gas.
I'm wondering if you've looked at that, if you haven't looked at it, whether you're willing to look at it, and whether the government is willing to discuss with Heritage Gas opportunities to find ways to expand residential distribution.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, all good points, and points that I can take under advisement, but I want you to know that my deputy - further to your question, prior to your question - will be meeting with Heritage Gas. I can tell you that with my limited expertise in physics, I have no idea what a kilojoule is and if those forms are complicated, in the opinion of the learned member, I'm sure that Nova Scotians are probably as frustrated. Perhaps it is something that we will take under advisement. The deputy plans to be meeting with Heritage Gas and this will be a topic that we will bring to their attention, if these forms are as complicated, I have no reason to question that they are not.
I guess the key thing when it comes to dealing with natural gas is to make sure that we have to continue to educate Nova Scotians on how important it is as a resource, an acceptable alternative that should be used as much as possible. If Heritage Gas can benefit from some of the examples and some of the suggestions that have come forward here during the last few minutes of our discussion, we'll be bringing them - I won't be bringing them but the deputy will be bringing them - to the Heritage Gas company's attention and if possible, I will try to make a point of getting to that meeting myself. Thank you for the good suggestion.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to assume, judging by the fact the seats are filling up, that we're running short of time, so I'm going to move (Interruptions) Believe me, I could go for days on this.
I want to talk a little bit about offshore royalties. Now, in the budget put forward by the Third Party, it was suggested that there would be $196 million in royalties from the Sable Project in 2009-10, and in your budget the royalty estimate has changed since the Spring, down to $151 million, and so I'm wondering - I guess first if you can tell me a little bit about the change and why that is.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member for Dartmouth East for the good question. What's largely an issue of gas prices and how the bottom fell out of them recently, it fell out of the gas prices, you know we've gone to the idea that we no longer have $4 and $5, we have $3 as a price. Some of these types of decisions are based on the economy and what we've all been going through, not just here on the East Coast but in other parts of the country.
Offshore royalties continue to remain a concern because, you know - call it like it is - this is an important part of the economy of Nova Scotia. This is how hospitals are going to continue to be built, schools to be built, roads to be paved, and hopefully we will not be suffering that much longer through this economic downturn. As things improve, and just based upon recent conversations I've had, and the conference which I was fortunate enough to attend here a couple of weeks ago, these are all some of the types of issues - and I said this to the member publicly and I say it to him again publicly, we've had discussions along this line - there's a confidence within the workforce of Nova Scotia. A confidence that the offshore has a future.
It's a future that we're going to have to work very carefully with to make sure that we get the most bang for our buck, but it's something that hopefully with time and economic recovery that we'll be back and making sure that it's just as strong as it was earlier.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, according to the Department of Finance, since December 1999 the province has brought in about $1.3 billion in royalties. Now, the irony is that's about $200 million more than what was estimated five years ago. I know that part of this drop in royalty numbers from the May budget to this budget is related to price. However, production at Sable is down 19 per cent in the first six months of the year - it appears to not be climbing, and so what are your government's plans, what are your department's plans in order to get this back up, to encourage more exploration?
I would suggest to the minister that, oh, a good 12 years ago - maybe more than that now, I guess - 15 years ago when I worked for Fisheries and Oceans, one of the projects I worked on was air-gun testing for trying to find deposits of natural gas and certainly the estimates were far higher than they are today. I realize they've been reduced, but you have to assume that there's a lot of undiscovered gas, and oil reserves, out there. I'm wondering
what your department is doing to try to encourage more active exploration and development of the offshore?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member for Dartmouth East for the question. You know the issue of volatility in the markets, of course, has had a grave effect on many of the economic challenges which we're facing as a province and as a country. Further to the earlier comments that I made, when it comes to research, and as you explained earlier in your comments, we've invested $15 million in research to make sure that we're going to have as much good science out there as possible so we can make sure that we get the strongest value possible when it comes to the energy offshore.
These are challenging times that we're going through right now, but we're going to continue to promote the offshore, we're going to continue to make sure that the research is available so that, again, and I've said a number of times, we get the right amount of information, the correct amount of information, and then we make the right and correct decisions.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Minister, I guess what I'm concerned about primarily is - you know when you go and you listen to industry executives talk and they talk about where their location of choice is for exploration, we don't often fall on that list. During the past few years, and I understand these are different areas, but exploration has increased in Newfoundland and Labrador, it has increased in the Gulf of Mexico, and it has increased in the North Sea. All are areas we've historically liked to compare ourselves to, and yet it seems that here we've gone in the other direction - we don't seem to have garnered as many and the variety of offshore players here that we've seen in other areas.
I guess part of this comes down to marketing, and I know that your department is out there doing the mapping and is going to make that mapping available to the industry for free. I am aware of that program and I think that's a good program frankly, but what is your department doing to make Nova Scotia a location of choice for natural gas and oil exploration as opposed to a location of last resort?
MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank the member opposite for the question and this is the sort of time that if it was Question Period I could perhaps take a few moments off the clock on you. I'd rather not get into a debate on your comment "location of choice" as compared to "location of last resort" - that's the sort of hyperbole that could perhaps set the Minister of Energy off on a tirade that we wouldn't want to have today.(Interruptions) Thank you for that.
Exploration is cyclical, there's no doubt about it. We've been issuing some new licences and it's going to take some time; I have confidence however in the fact that we'll continue to have an offshore that will rebound. It will rebound because of the fact of the promotion of the department, it will have an opportunity to rebound because of the fact of
the commitment of the people in the Department of Energy specifically as we continue to market our locations.
I think it's always possible to make sure that we emphasize the positives, we emphasize the workforce, we emphasize the fact that we continue to work in the offshore in a safe manner, a safe manner that's important because it's the sort of place where you want your company to come and invest, whether it's the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board or whatever else.
Again, I want to point out that exploration is cyclical and that I have confidence in the fact that we will be rebounding, and it will take some time but we do still have in Nova Scotia a bright future in the offshore. If you possibly heard in my comments, in spite of the interruptions you received from the member for Richmond, I wish you all the best. (Interruption)
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, the minister will be happy to know I now know what it's like to be heckled by your own Party, so we share something now in the House.
I am concerned that we're seeing other areas increase their offshore exploration at a time that Nova Scotia appears to be going the other way. It's cyclical, I agree, but generally speaking when you look at these things, they're cyclical together - so that's of great concern to me.
There are only a couple of minutes, so I did want to ask you one other question, which is: The Premier has spoken recently about Lower Churchill Falls and obviously the Liberal Party is happy to hear him finally talk about that since we've been talking about it for a couple of years, and what I want to know is what are the discussions and what involvement is your government prepared to have with the Lower Churchill Falls project to make sure that Nova Scotia is the beneficiary of that energy?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I again thank the member from Dartmouth East for this important question.
Kathy Dunderdale, the Deputy Premier and also the Minister of Energy in Newfoundland and Labrador recently hosted a session in St. John's. During the discussion and the opportunity we had during that three-day period that we were there, Minister Dunderdale on a number of occasions very clearly outlined the future of Lower Churchill. When I returned from that Energy Ministers conference with staff from the Department of Energy, I can tell you, there is an example of a province that is doing a great job marketing itself - I'm not just talking about their fabulous tourism ads, I'm talking about the dynamic overviews that we saw of the Lower Churchill.
Minister Dunderdale has expressed the fact that she wants to very clearly work with her partners in Atlantic Canada, and Quebec in particular - she wants to make sure that she is. We all know that Newfoundland and Labrador has something to offer to the rest of the region and we are going to continue to work as closely as possible with her. Further to the discussions that I had with Minister Dunderdale and her staff, we took some of those discussion comments back here to our government and to our Cabinet, and I want you to know it is something that's going to be a priority for this government because Newfoundland and Labrador looks forward to working with Nova Scotians and in return we have offered to them some of the expertise that we have when it comes to funding. in particular, to other projects.
Lower Churchill has a potential that is exciting to say the least. It's not just exciting for Newfoundland and Labrador, it's exciting for Atlantic Canada, it's exciting for the Eastern Seaboard, the New England States through to all parts of our region, and I can assure you that I personally and professionally have a good working relationship with Minister Dunderdale. She's the sort of Deputy Premier who is doing an excellent job. You don't become Danny Williams' Deputy Premier without knowing what you're talking about, and let me assure you she has huge credibility as an Energy Minister and I look forward to continuing to work with her.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Chairman, I would agree with you on the marketing side of Newfoundland and Labrador and, in fact, that was exactly the reason for my line of questioning earlier which is that I think there's a lot we can learn from Newfoundland and Labrador in terms of them marketing themselves around energy issues because they are very much seen as a growing area and an area of choice - so I hope that you will take that opportunity. Now, Newfoundland and Labrador has choices. They can go to New Brunswick for an energy corridor, they can go through Quebec - and you hear them talking about Quebec as one of the options. Is your government preparing a contingency plan for energy export, should the project with Newfoundland and Labrador not ultimately succeed?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member for Dartmouth East. We have many options when it comes to this particular project and the working relationship that we each are going to have as Energy Ministers in provincial governments. And let's call it like it is - if we strengthen the transmission system we can be part of the process and if we have some planning in effect and we look at long-term and short-term solutions, but we have to make sure that they know we're willing to come to the table and work with them.
This minister - and the Premier at his recent meetings in Saskatchewan - made it very clear that we are interested in the potential when it comes to the transmission lines, we're interested in Lower Churchill, and we're going to do everything possible over the next number of months and years to be part of a green grid that will, of course, help us from Newfoundland and Labrador, will help all parts of the region, and of course will help Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E35 stand?
Resolution E35 stands.
The time allotted for debate in Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired.
On behalf of all members of the Committee of the Whole House on Supply, I wish to thank the honourable Minister of Energy and his staff for their presentation.
I will now recognize the honourable Chairman of the Subcommittee on Supply to report on the subcommittee, please.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Supply, I'm pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Supply has met and completed its maximum 40 hours of debate allowed for the consideration of various estimates by the Subcommittee on Supply.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The report is tabled.
Shall all remaining resolutions carry?
I hear several Noes.
A recorded vote is being called for.
Ring the bells. Call in the members.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
The Committee of the Whole House on Supply is now called to order.
The motion before the committee is shall all remaining resolutions carry.
A recorded vote was requested.
Are the Whips satisfied?
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Landry Mr. Samson
Ms. More Mr. Glavine
Mr. Estabrooks Mr. Manning MacDonald
Ms. Peterson-Rafuse Mr. Scott
Mr. Corbett Ms. Casey
Mr. Steele Mr. Clarke
Ms. Maureen MacDonald Mr. d'Entremont
Mr. Paris Mr. MacLeod
Ms. Jennex Mr. Hurlburt
Mr. MacDonell Mr. Bain
Mr. Belliveau Mr. Porter
Ms. Zann Mr. Younger
Mr. Zinck Ms. Regan
Ms. Conrad Mr. David Wilson (Glace Bay)
Mr. MacKinnon Mr. Theriault
Mr. Gosse Mr. Colwell
Mr. David Wilson (Sackville-Cobequid)
THE CLERK: For, 29. Against, 16.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, I move that the committee do now rise and recommend the estimates to the favourable consideration of the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 8:15 p.m.]