HALIFAX, MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2010
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Gordon Gosse
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, the Committee on Supply will now be called to order and we will continue with the estimates of the Department of Health Promotion and Protection.
The honourable Minister of Health Promotion and Protection.
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I want to take a moment to table some documents that are follow-ups to questions that had been raised.
I have the project summary for all of the B-FIT projects that have been approved and announced; I have a project summary report on the Recreation Facility Development Grant Program as well; I have an explanation on Communications Nova Scotia and Extreme Group - the honourable member for Richmond had asked questions about what their contract was for, and there is also information with respect to the courier services in terms of how that broke down; and an overview of the Alcohol Strategy in terms of school curriculum. I think that's it, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, and I am delighted to be back here on this Monday afternoon to begin again with some questions on Health Promotion and Protection. We appreciate the minister being here and hope that she had a good rest this weekend. (Laughter) I know that we needed some time.
I had a couple of specific questions that have come, really, from people in my community around efforts that the province may be taking, on two specific things. One of them is the product Red Bull, which is a very highly caffeinated product that young children are buying, and I know there is a lot of advertising on that product and I was asked by some parents to ask whether there is any policy move or any means that we are looking at to control who can buy that at a younger age. I don't think it is healthy. I don't have the figures before me on what damage it might do, but I know that increasing caffeine like that is not going to be good for young people - it certainly can make them hyperactive, and if they already have any issues of ADD or ADHD that's certainly not going to be good. And it is not a healthy product, so I wondered if you could speak to that one to begin with - and I know we don't have too many minutes left in this hour.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member brings up a very good point. Certainly this is something that I know that the physician community has raised as an issue that they have some concerns around. Caffeinated products such as the Red Bull products are regulated federally and we are having discussions with the federal government, as well as other provinces. There are regular discussions that go on between the provinces, the territories and the federal government with respect to emerging health issues and this certainly is one of the things that we are talking about.
MS. WHALEN: That is good to know, that it is on your radar screen. I would like you to know that there are parents who are concerned about it as well and I think it is an area where we have to be ahead of this before it takes a toll on young people's health, and anybody's health .
The second one I wanted to ask about was tanning beds and, again, young people. These businesses exist right through our community. I am a member of Nubody's and they certainly have tanning at Nubody's and there are separate stand-alone tanning salons and it's a new business; it didn't exist when we were young. I'm not sure just when it has appeared, but it suddenly is pretty mainstream and we know that people think it's attractive to have a tan, and at the same time it is damaging to your skin, without a doubt, and I was at - the minister might be interested to know last week, I think I might even have mentioned it, the Head for a Cure, where the students at Halifax West had organized more than 30 people to have their heads shaved in raising funds for cancer and they raised $15,000.
I think that's important to know, and they were also honoured at the awards that I read a resolution about today, the Haliwards, first-ever, for raising so much money in that and in some other special fundraisers they've done for cancer. But at the same time the woman from the Cancer Society who was there to say a few words and to thank them for raising the money left only one message, and it was very brief and it wasn't preaching to them, but it said to them if you want to make a difference in cancer don't go tanning, don't go to these tanning beds - and that was a message directed right at the high school students, So I am wondering if the minister is planning or has any strategy to create guidelines or stronger rules around the age or permission that might be required in order for young people to go tanning, and I would appreciate hearing about that.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: The honorable member raises another important and timely issue, I think. I know that dermatologists and specialists who specialize in various kinds of skin cancers have certainly raised their concerns about tanning beds, especially for children - but not only for children, and I think that they have expressed some concern as well as the Canadian Cancer Society, and Health Canada does have guidelines and we encourage the adherence to the guidelines.
On the weekend I had a bit of time on my hands - some people might say too much time on my hands - and I went on the Internet to see what was happening in the election in the U.K. and I went to the Labour Party Web site to have a look at their party platform, or as they say in the U.K., their manifesto, and it was interesting.
Their health chapter is really quite an interesting document to read and in fact they are talking about doing more to regulate tanning beds and what have you. Now, mind you, they have quite a different jurisdictional system than we do because they don't have provinces and so things like this would be regulated at a national level, pretty much by the national government, and you know, as I was saying, we do have national guidelines through Health Canada, but it's certainly something that I am interested in and I am very interested in getting good information, looking at how this is being dealt with in other jurisdictions, looking at the scientific research and what we're able to gain, what the evidence is in terms of the research that tells us to what extent there could be harm from these practices and at what level of exposure.
We know that this whole question of tanning, of course, is not limited to tanning beds in these commercial enterprises. As somebody who's fairly fair themselves, and in a few weeks - next week perhaps, or later on this week - we're having some folks come here to do, with members of the Legislature who would like, a 10-minute screen with respect to skin cancers, and I know that increasingly we are seeing a growing incidence of skin cancers in our society. There is so much exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays and what have you, so I think we have to be very careful and we have to do better education, we have to take personal responsibility for ensuring that we act responsibly with respect to exposure - and it's harder I suppose when you're young, you think that, you know, you're sort of immune to all of these things, but I'm very glad that people are coming later on this week to raise public awareness.
MS. WHALEN: I think we just have a couple of minutes left really in this round, but I'd like to mention on the skin cancer side that we know the evidence of skin cancer is increasing in our society, and I think we're aware that part of it is this sun worshiping that is going on and the evidence is when you have unprotected skin and you're not using sunscreen and so on and you're out in the sun as a child or as a young person the damage is much more powerful than it is even if you're older - and it's not even good for older people to spend a lot of time in the sun.
But the last time we had the dermatology screening here, I know one of my colleagues who had spent a lot of his life out in the elements had a couple of spots that they had noted, and I think a lot of people who work outside and in the sun are certainly going to fall prey to that, and we need to help the young people who think that in some way it's a status symbol to look darker. I had two opportunities actually in my international travels - when I lived in Korea, it was interesting that they found sun exposure, they didn't like it, they equated it with poverty because the poor people worked in fields and they were much darker; they were very tanned because they worked in the fields. So the office workers and the city dwellers didn't want to get a lot of sun because that might, you know, equate with not having money.
Now, in Canada, if you have a tan it looks like you've been South -it's actually a sign of status and wealth. It's sort of the opposite and so I think that's what has happened over time and we need to counter that, and I am wondering if you have anybody in the department who works and looks at that, specifically. You mentioned that you want to follow the evidence on the tanning beds - and with, I think, two minutes it might be about enough time for the minister to address this - and again with new initiatives from the emerging issues, I think you referred to, if you could let me know if you've got somebody in the department who follows that and looks for that evidence, sort of like health researchers, and I was going to say Australia is a great example where they raised awareness and got people to be much more careful in the sun.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: The area of the Department of Health Promotion and Protection that has responsibility for this particular issue is Doctor Strang, as our Chief Medical Officer and his shop within HPP. They work very carefully and closely with Health Canada, keeping track of the latest scientific research and studies that come along.
In addition to that they have had representations made to them from the Canadian Cancer Society and that relationship is a very good relationship. I anticipate that we will continue to discuss this really important issue, look at the evidence here in Nova Scotia of the incidence of skin cancer and, as well, I think there's an association of dermatologists and cancer specialists who have obviously a particular interest in this and we always like to hear from these folks as well about what they're thinking.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Official Opposition has expired.
The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Hello again to the minister, seems like weeks since we started this and we're still at it.
I do have just a few questions with respect to Health Promotion and Protection. The first one I'll start with is a line item if your staff want to look at Page 14.4, Estimates and Supplementary Detail. I notice that under Communicable Disease Prevention and Control, under Emergency Preparedness, and under Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation, there appears to be a decrease in Estimates from 2009-10 to 2010-11, and I'm looking at the bottom and I'm also seeing a decrease in the Funded FTEs. My question is, is there a correlation between the decrease of funding in those three particular line items and the decrease in funded FTEs?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: While we're looking for the information for that specific question, if I could give the member just a general explanation for the decrease. The overall decreases are due to a decrease in the HPV trust fund. This was because of H1N1, the vaccination program, if the honourable member will remember, was suspended for one year. That's one thing.
The second aspect of that is a delay in the Panorama program, and I talked about that a little bit earlier in our estimates. The delay in the Panorama program is national; it's a national delay, it's not something that was initiated here in Nova Scotia - that's also due to H1N1. And the final piece was there's a 1 per cent administrative cuts. That was a requirement that this budget had of all departments, that there be a 1 per cent administrative cut.
When we spoke about the Panorama delay the other day, I was of the understanding that staff who had been seconded had been returned back to the positions that they had previously been in. Let me just check now to find out the specifics on the full-time equivalents. Due to the Panorama project delayed for another full year, five full-time equivalents were affected but no layoffs occurred. Staff who had previous roles in HPP went back to those roles, and there were two positions that were seconded from the Capital District Health Authority and they returned to those positions.
MS. CASEY: If I can interpret that, there is a direct correlation then between those particular program decreases and the decrease in funded FTEs. I guess my next question would be, in anticipation that one of the projects in particular has been delayed, is there an expectation that that will be reactivated and we will be looking at replenishing the staffing complement?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: There has been no real increase in full-time equivalents in the department. With respect to the delay in Panorama, that is being delayed for a year and it will come back in a year, and I suppose at that time we'll be again seconding or hiring people to fulfill the requirements of that program.
MS. CASEY: With respect to that particular program, how many people were directly involved in that program and, through the secondment, what would your FTEs have been for that particular program?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I'm advised that there were five full-time equivalents, two people were seconded from the Capital District Health Authority and staff within the department had assumed roles with respect to that program, so they've returned to their previous roles.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, I appreciate that information. Before we leave that page, the decrease in the Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation, can you identify what has caused that decrease?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: That decrease is due to the transferring of a person to a senior position in the deputy's office and a 1 per cent administrative cut amounting to $25,000.
MS. CASEY: If I could, I know that you've provided some documents today, tabled some documents, and I will have a chance to look through those, so I guess maybe you can bear with me if my question is one that you've already answered, and it has to do in particular with the rink programs around the province.
I guess I speak representing an area that is very rural and where we are limited, in Colchester North, to two rinks and both are struggling, the West Colchester in Debert, and the North Colchester in Tatamagouche and, of course, because we are close to the Town of Truro we have the Colchester Stadium, in Truro, which certainly provides a lot of opportunity, but for young kids who are enrolled in hockey or other recreational programs through the rinks, that's not an option, they have to get their ice time at either Debert or Tatamagouche. Both of those communities and the communities that serve those particular rinks, as I said, are very rural and travel distances are great for kids who want to participate in those programs, and the ability of parents to carry some of the costs for those programs is a high degree of difficulty for some families.
So when it comes to looking at ways that those families and those communities can support those rinks, they are limited, and the core funding that those two rinks and other rinks across the province - these are just two examples that I know of from my own area, but I know they represent a lot throughout the province - the core funding for those, as we know, comes from a variety of sources, and the municipalities being the major contributor, but some of the other ways that funds are generated, whether it's fundraising, whether it's through concessions, whether it's rental of the ice surfaces, whether it's rental of the facility, all of those, I guess I'm trying to say, in rural Nova Scotia are sometimes huge challenges. There may be a lot of people who want to rent some space at the Colchester Legion Stadium in Truro for an event - there aren't a lot of groups looking to rent space at the rink in Debert or the rink in Tatamagouche.
So when you look at ways that those rinks can be sustained, one of the places that they look and one of the things that a program that we had in place, which I know is no longer there and I know the minister has spoken about this, was what we called rink revitalization, but it was a grant to every rink in the province to help them with some of those costs. So I guess my concern is that without that and with communities struggling to keep some of those rinks open through rentals and through program registrations and so on, they will be looking to the provincial government to help fund some of their costs and those are capital costs - those are not their operating costs, but they're capital costs.
So I guess my question to the minister is, is there any consideration or will there be any continued research to support any return to capital grants to the rinks in the province to help with some of the renovation costs, upgrades and so on - and I know there are a number of programs in place, but one that is simply an allocation of dollars that they can apply towards whatever particular project they have as their main renovations project?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, rinks are important pieces of infrastructure throughout the province in our small towns and our rural communities, without any question. We need to ensure that we have programs in place that will help these important pieces of infrastructure to be able to do the things they do so well, because they are so important to families and to communities. Some of the rink infrastructure in the province is old but some isn't - you know, there are some very, very modern facilities, but there are facilities that aren't quite as modern. The operating costs of running a rink are not costs that we at HPP get involved in. We do look at capital costs - we look at helping rinks and all of the recreational facilities do capital repairs and maintenance in their facilities. We have a number of projects and programs that people can apply for, with respect to their needs.
The big program is the Recreation Facility Development Grant Program, and this will help projects with their capital costs, anywhere from $20,000 to $150,000 I think is the maximum project that we will invest in although the project may be much more expensive than $150,000, it may be up to $450,000 as a project. So this program can include with the capital costs of rinks, playgrounds, trails, and parks.
The deadline for applications, Mr. Chairman - and I hope all the members are paying attention to this - for this particular program is the first Monday of February, so there is plenty of time for organizations to put their project together and get their proposal in and they can contact, I think, the regional office of HPP. There are six regional offices around the province and the staff there are very good at working with groups to help them develop their projects and their proposals and give them some advice in that.
Now, additionally, there is a program and it's a small community recreational grant program, and this project - it's the Community Recreation Capital Grant Program and it's to assist in the development of small-scale indoor and outdoor capital recreation projects of less than $20,000. So this, too, will help rinks with things like furnaces or roofs, some small- scale kinds of renovation and repairs. The really good thing about this program - and I hope people are listening to this as well - is there's no deadline for applications. Applications for this program can really be put in at any time. So this is another example, I think, of a program that would work for rinks.
We also have a program in the department I should mention, which I think might help groups in terms of if they needed professional assistance in planning or designing and researching a proposed, or an existing, sports and recreational facility that they wanted some capital investment in - there's a Planning Assistance Program and it generally funds up to 50 per cent of the total cost to a maximum of $5,000 for some planning services, to get some professional assistance and, I think, particularly for small voluntary organizations it might be a very useful program to know about.
Of course, we had the B-FIT program, which is a sizable program, to say the least, of $68 million intended to help in the construction of new capital recreational facilities or to really upgrade significant projects around the province. All of the money for the B-FIT program has been allocated, Mr. Chairman, and we have been able to fund 38 projects out of that - 36 of which have been announced and two more, the decisions have been taken but we will be announcing those soon.
MS. CASEY: Thank you for the information - and I'm sure people paid attention to the deadline. My question to you would be, how many applications were received prior to your deadline of the first Monday in February?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, we'll have that information for the honourable member shortly. I'm sure we're very busy in the department reviewing the applications for that program - we always have a greater demand for our programs, I think it is fair to say, than we have revenue available to support programs.
So I have to say that I'm very impressed with how the staff approach the assessment of programs in the department. They have a very detailed appreciation of what the infrastructure is around the province, what we have, what communities have, what is needed, and so they are, I think, very fair in the way they approach funding for these programs in terms of looking at what communities already have, looking at where there are deficiencies in recreational infrastructure, looking at the demands on a program, and attempting to be sure that there is fairness in how money is allocated - you know, spreading it around in an equitable way and trying to identify recreational gaps that need to be addressed. So I'm advised that we've had 107 prospective applicants.
MS. CASEY: Thank you - and thank you, I think it came from on high - I saw you looking up, so it's fine.
My question will be a follow-up to that. And I'm pleased to hear that staff of the department have a good idea of the facilities around the province and the needs around the province, and that that does play into the decision making as to what grants will be approved. My question is this - and I guess it's a process question from within staff - if there's a facility that has been identified as needing some capital dollars for renovation upgrade, and if that particular facility does not submit an application for funding, is there any dialogue between staff and the community, or that particular facility, to encourage them, to help them with the application program?
Is there anything to help some, because I know I have, when we had some assistance to volunteer fire departments, we had some small departments that really didn't have the staff and the expertise to put together an application - they did well to get firemen, enough volunteers to go out to fight a fire. So they needed help in putting that together and, without some help, they would not have put in an application and they would not have been able to benefit from that program.
So I guess my question is if we have communities, if we have facilities that just don't have the capacity on their board or as volunteers, but knowing that the department knows the needs, is there some dialogue, some support, some assistance, not dollar assistance but planning and application assistance?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Indeed, Mr. Chairman, the staff in the regional offices are very proactive and they're very connected to the sports and recreation activities in the communities that they have underneath their jurisdiction for responsibility. They work very closely with groups and they will assist a group in getting an application ready - they meet with people in their homes, they attempt to minimize the layers of bureaucracy and the difficulty in filling out applications and what have you. My perception certainly is that it's not an onerous process, but one where staff are very happy to assist groups.
Since I've been minister, I have had a fair number of groups approach me, and the regional staff in the offices are just excellent in terms of taking the information and really working with people. I think that's why we have such good infrastructure and good recreational facilities around the province. In addition to that, we have a person in our department, whose name is Dave Molloy, and he is an architect who specializes in recreational facilities and he also meets with groups and with the regional representatives and has many, many years of experience working with groups and organizations that are attempting to develop recreational facilities - he is a wealth of knowledge and information and very helpful for organizations.
I would encourage any of the members, if you have groups in your constituency, don't hesitate to get them in contact with the regional reps of HPP, and if you, yourselves, as members haven't had an opportunity to make an appointment and go and meet with the regional reps, I would encourage that you do it so that you know them. They're very accommodating in terms of trying to do the kinds of community development work that will give us good recreational infrastructure around the province.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to hear that because I do know that small groups struggle sometimes to fulfill a requirement of an application process, yet their group is in need of assistance. I have had a chance to work with the representative in the Fundy region, Jim Campbell, and I can speak from personal experience that what you've described here I think would aptly describe Jim and his willingness to do whatever is in the best interest of the community, and try to help people put together an application that is going to be given some consideration.
I want to go to one of the other sources of funding, the one you said had no deadline for application. My question is can you give me the amount of funding in that particular budget line?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: This particular program is called the Community Recreation Capital Grant Program. It has, in this year's budget, $300,000 in the program and applicants are eligible for up to one-third of the total capital cost of a project that they submit, up to a maximum of $5,000. They're only eligible for the program once in every four-year period and, again, capital projects include furnaces, roofs, something that's small scale - and there is no deadline, it's year-round. They help a lot with small-scale indoor and outdoor capital recreation projects.
I think about projects like outdoor rinks, for example, that are being developed on tennis pads that exist. This is an ideal program for a neighbourhood rink. If you already have a basic infrastructure there - which is the concrete surface of a tennis court - as I understand it, you need to have sort of boards that you put around it and they put down some kind of a plastic over the surface that they are then able to flood. They need to have a water source somewhere nearby, and sometimes that might require a special installation of some kind.
I know the two outdoor pads in the community that I represent, they had to work with the municipality to look at a water installation of some kind so they could make those rinks possible. But they were both built for fairly small amounts of money - like under $20,000. Certainly the first one, the North End outdoor rink off of Robie Street - up in the North End, off of Agricola, I guess, and Robie, and there's at least one other small project that I'm aware of, that has been able to get access to this small capital grant.
So it takes some of the burden off volunteers for having to do the 100 per cent fundraising of a project. If they know they have some little chunk of the project's cost that's covered, it means there's one less ham and bean supper or something like that that they have to organize, and that sure can make a big difference. There is $300,000 in that program; it's year-round; and there is no deadline. Again, I'm sure it's a program that the regional reps will work with local community groups when they approach them for what kinds of programs can we apply for, and they'll help them with the application process, which is pretty straightforward.
MS. CASEY: You've been pretty clear in the different programs and the criteria that are used and the process for application. Again, I guess this might be a process question, but are community groups eligible to make application for more than one grant at the same time?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I'm being advised that, no, they're not eligible for more than one program at the same time, and I can get you some more information on the rationale for that, if you wish.
MS. CASEY: I would appreciate that. The reason I would is because the programs target different needs. If there's more than one need, I guess the question the organization, association, will have is which one can I make application for? And, sometimes, we know you might cast the net and hope you catch one of them. Perhaps I can reword my question - are they eligible to make application, but they're only eligible to receive funding from one?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: The answer to that question is yes. I think this is why working with the regional reps is so important, because they have a good understanding of the different programs and they also would have a pretty good understanding of where a group might be best able to succeed in terms of a program application. So they would help that group get a focus and steer their focus rather than a scattergun approach, which may not result in a good quality application that would be successful.
This way, they can focus, get the assistance of the regional staff people, and have a much greater possibility of succeeding in the process.
MS. CASEY: I do have one more question and then I will ask to share my time with the member for Victoria-The Lakes. My question would be this, do all applicants work with the regional representative prior to submitting or is it just they may, they may not - I guess to get back to your question, what's the best program for them to make application to?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Just to go back and be really clear about the former questions that we were answering - an application to more than one program for the same project is not advisable; it's not something we would do.
Let's say a group needed a furnace and they applied to the Recreation Facility Development Grant Program for that program to help them with the furnace and then this small capital grants project for help to deal with the furnace - HPP wouldn't entertain providing money for a furnace from two different programs, that's the same furnace. However, if a group needed a furnace, but they also needed a roof, the same group could have two applications, but to two different programs for the two different capital projects. So that is possible. I believe that is the correct answer. I think so - I'll find out later if that's the case or not.
That's the first thing, and the second thing is I think most groups do work with the regional reps. They've become very well known in their communities. They generally, as I understand it, are people who come out of the recreational field, so they know the local communities and they know the players. But there's no requirement that you have to work with the regional reps and you have to have your application vetted or assisted. Any group can apply. I think our programs are listed on our Web site, and the application forms are probably there to be downloaded and all of that kind of thing.
I don't think an application that wasn't worked on would be just tossed aside and not assessed, but I think there is a great advantage to working with the regional offices and the regional reps. The benefit of not just their expertise, but the fact that they work so closely with the department means that applications come in and nothing has been overlooked, and that's very important when you're doing applications of this sort.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. KEITH BAIN: It gives me pleasure to stand up and ask the minister a few questions. I have to say she has great fortitude. I think by the end of this evening's session it will be over 25 hours that she has been here.
Before I ask my question, I do have to give kudos to the department for some of the funding that was made available in my constituency. Most recently would be the expansion of the soccer field at Rankin School of the Narrows in Iona. That field was built and it wasn't up to regulation size, and the community put forward a valiant effort and were able to convince the funders that the field could be expanded and I want to thank the department for that.
I'd like to talk though about some issues that exist in the North of Smokey area and the lack of facilities. There are two in particular I'd like to bring forward to the minister this evening. First would be the Northern Victoria Community Centre which is situated in Cape North. The building is over 30 years old, it was originally built during the Canada Games and it was never finished, to be quite honest about it. I know that over the years, the group in Cape North-Bay St. Lawrence - actually it serves from Ingonish to Meat Cove. They've been trying to get the building upgraded, the ice surface is not regulation size, and there are a lot of activities that take place in the facility.
On the rink surface itself, the closest rink for the people in that area would be in Cheticamp, and that's about 80 kilometres to drive and you have to go over two mountain ranges to get there. I guess the chances of having organized hockey, as such, are next to nil in the North of Smokey area. As a matter of fact, I believe last year, they have a small minor hockey program and there were 42 children enrolled in it, but only six actually played organized hockey and that was only because their parents would drive them to Cheticamp.
There are also a lot of dangers that are there when you're driving to Cheticamp, when you're going over the ranges. The weather is changeable all the time in that North of Smokey area, you have moose on the roads (Interruption) It's beautiful, North Mountain, yes it is, but it does present its hazards as well. I think one of the main reasons that the group is wanting to upgrade the facility, even beyond having the ice surface made larger and an ice plant put in, is the fact there are not a lot of recreational facilities in that North of Smokey area. I think the Department of Justice has recognized that with the Lighthouse Program that provides funding to the Bay St. Lawrence Community Centre.
We all know that idle kids sometimes aren't good kids. It opens up the opportunity for alcohol and drug abuse and everything else, and I think this is what the community is actually looking at. The venue that they're looking at, and the expansion, is in the vicinity of $440,000, I believe, to bring the facility to where they want it. I know the Municipality of the County of Victoria has committed $50,000 to the project with the proviso that the other funding partners will be in place. The group themselves, I think, are willing to put in approximately $45,000 plus any donated labour and materials that might be required.
My question to the minister would be whether or not she would look favourably on a request from those people who really need a venue in the North of Smokey area?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I know that this particular organization does have an application in under the Recreation Facility Development Program. They have met with staff as well. It sounds like it is a really important facility for that community, 80 kilometres is a long way to have to drive. I think - did I possibly see a television program about some kind of figure skating or ice skating program up in that part of Cape Breton? I know that I saw something one evening, it was lovely, I mean it was really very lovely. Was it an outdoor skating rink? It was just amazing, this gentleman who has been doing this work.
All of these small community initiatives, they have amazing people involved who are pretty passionate about giving kids some really healthy opportunities in communities. The honourable member is absolutely correct that it's so much more preferable to have children involved in skating in a local community centre rink than sitting in front of a computer playing video games, or these kinds of things, or just hanging or whatever it is that isn't all that productive.
In this year, our Department of Health Promotion and Protection will be doing a youth and childhood obesity strategy. This strategy, I think, will have to look at a variety of things and obviously recreation and physical activity needs to be a piece of that. I'm sure that we will be looking at the infrastructure around the province that kids have access to and what would be required to make sure that those pieces of recreational infrastructure are used to the greatest capacity.
I like to think that we look at all applications that come to us favourably and I know that we will look fairly at all applications and I'm sure the staff and the department will find the information that the member has presented here today a useful piece of information when they come to do their review of this application.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, I guess my reason for bringing it forward is the youth - not only the youth, seniors as well - in the area are really at a disadvantage because of their location and the lack of facilities. The North Victoria Community Centre is also not just a skating rink, it's a multi-purpose venue and it's used at different times during the summer months as well. I guess one of the problems that exists is once September or October comes, they can't use it because the building is too cold for them to have something but they can play hockey. If they sweat enough, they'll be warm enough.
I'd like to move now to another project that has been submitted to your department as well and that's from the Neils Harbour/New Haven Development Association. They're looking at the possibility of putting an outdoor rink facility next to the fire station, the Neils Harbour/New Haven Fire Department. The fire department has willingly donated the land and what they're looking at was putting a skating rink there with a walking track around. The plan would be that in the summer when the rink wouldn't be used, it would be a basketball court and it would also provide - an outdoor multi-purpose centre is basically what it would be. A much smaller scale, we're talking in the vicinity of about $165,000 in total for that project, and again, the Municipality of the County of Victoria has very graciously been willing to pay one-third of the cost.
I know, in both cases, both groups, the Neils Harbour/New Haven people and the people for the Northern Victoria Community Centre, are also in discussions with ECBC for possible funding. I don't know how aware the minister is of the project in Neils Harbour, but I would like to get some comments on that facility as well if I could, please?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, as much as I like hockey rinks - and I spent a fair amount of time in hockey rinks as a younger person in the Antigonish area; the rivalry between the Strait Pirates and the Antigonish Bulldogs was really a growing concern at that time - I really have a soft spot, I have to admit, for outdoor rinks. I think they are the best thing going. As I indicated, there is one in my constituency. It reminds me of pond skating when I was a kid. We did a lot of skating outdoors - you turned blue and you still wouldn't go home. It just was a wonderful, wonderful way to enjoy Canadian winters, which I think we all recognize were a lot harsher - I won't say how many years ago, but a certain number of years ago - than they are today. So I think it's really quite lovely when you see groups and organizations looking and planning outdoor rinks. Not that I have anything against the other kind of rinks, but they make me a little nostalgic.
This particular group also has an application in front of us and has been working with the local regional rep. Again, I would say that all applications that come before us are looked at very fairly and will be assessed on their merit. We do take into consideration community partners; we do take into consideration the needs of the community and the proximity of the community to other recreational facilities and the difficulties, let's say, that people might have in gaining access to recreational opportunities when we look at where the places where we need to be investing are.
The member brings up another really important issue, one that we haven't discussed here to any extent, and that is the role of the federal government with respect to recreation and recreational infrastructure in our country. As a new minister, back in the summer I had an opportunity to go to the meeting of ministers from all of the provinces and territories, along with the federal government, which was held in Charlottetown, just in front of the Canada Summer Games. One of the discussions that the provincial ministers had one morning at breakfast with the federal minister was the importance of the federal government having a recreational program for recreational infrastructure.
We tried to impress upon the federal minister, the Honourable Gary Lunn, that we really would like the federal government to play some role in terms of being a partner, that recreational infrastructure all across the country is not what it should be, and if we are going to tackle issues like childhood obesity then we really need to have a national effort in this regard. So at that point I don't think we got that far, to be honest, with the federal minister. However, I think that our resolve as a group is that we will raise this with the federal government again.
My understanding is that a lot of the rinks, if you look around the Province of Nova Scotia, a lot of our rink infrastructure actually was built around Canada's Centennial back in 1967, 1965-66 leading up to the Centennial. I think that infrastructure is quite old now but clearly the occasion of having the federal government come to the table with some dollars made a significant difference in allowing us to build some of our infrastructure.
I think we all recognize the importance of recreational infrastructure. The difficulty, of course, is that as a small province with a limited financial capability, particularly right now, it's hard to really invest as much as we probably would like or as much as is required to deal with the shortfall.
There are a lot of pressures, of course, in other areas of expenditure, namely health care capital construction, I think the honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park reminded me is approximately a $2 billion deficit right now in terms of what our needs are for health care capital construction around the province, based on what the DHAs themselves estimate their needs are.
So when you think about these pressures, it is very difficult. But I make no apology for saying that if I had a choice, I prefer to be able to invest in keeping people well than having to treat people after they become ill. The more we can do I think to try to have good quality accessible, barrier free, affordable, recreational opportunities for people, the better our population will be in terms of our health status. We have such a high rate of chronic disease in Nova Scotia and we really need to do more to turn that around. Having, at a local community level, recreational opportunities like outdoor rinks and places where kids can play ball hockey and stuff like that safely and securely is very important.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, when the minister was speaking about the Strait Pirates and the Antigonish Bulldogs, I guess I went back in time and it made me think of the Sydney Millionaires and the Glace Bay Miners and the Northside Vics. I am sure the honourable member for Cape Breton Centre could remember those teams as well.
I agree, minister, that we do need facilities that will ensure the health and well-being of our communities. I guess, that is the main goal, especially of those in the Neils Harbour- New Haven area. When you look at the distances they have to travel, the time to get there to other facilities is discouraging for people. I think if by looking at the whole picture, people will benefit from it.
I know they have letters of support in the package that I was given by the doctors in the area, from the health centre and senior groups. I guess that's the big thing, the seniors would finally have access to go on a walking track that's within a kilometre of their home, can we say, rather than having to walk on the side of the road where maybe the shoulders are good, maybe they're not, I will talk to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal about that later on. But I guess that the whole thing is to provide that access for people.
The minister did mention about an outdoor rink and I think she might have been referring to the rink that is in Ingonish Beach which is an outdoor facility and I believe they might even have an application in to your department as well. (Interruptions) That is a rink that is known, as a matter of fact, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles will hold a practice there in support of the community and it's a great uplift for the community to see it but, again, when you look at the geography of the area, you have Ingonish, you have Neils Harbour, and then you have Cape North, the Bay St. Lawrence area, the population is small but the distance is large. The weather conditions can change in a matter of minutes. I did mention about the moose being on the road and everything else. So I guess what I would do at this point, Mr. Chairman, is ask the minister if she would consider these two or even three projects in her further deliberations?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, again to the member, of course, we will consider these applications, we will consider all of the applications we get, but we'll certainly consider these applications. The points that the honourable member has made here are noted, and will be noted, as we do the review of the applications and, as I said, I am very favourably impressed with how the staff approach the evaluation of projects. They are wanting to ensure fairness and that people do have access to good recreational facilities within a reasonable distance of where they live so that it truly is accessible to them and that location doesn't become a barrier to having recreational opportunities.
We have a stellar group of staff in the regional offices. They work closely with the communities and we have people in the department as well who work closely with the regional offices. I think that our recreational groups in our province are one of the true assets that this province has and we want to support people to the extent that we can with the work they do. They do a tremendous amount of work. It's all voluntary, it's all because they are so highly motivated and committed to sports and recreation and community, really, it's a strength of our communities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has expired on this round.
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to rise in my place tonight and to have the opportunity to welcome the Minister of Health Promotion and Protection and her staff to the proceedings this evening. One of your staff, I'm very familiar with, of course, with his time in the Valley, but I certainly welcome you as well. And also the minister, you know, the minister is closing in on a significant number, you know, 26 miles is a marathon and having run nine marathons, minister, I'm very familiar that it is a challenging ordeal. So you could go on the record as the minister who was in estimates the longest and having talked for a marathon length.
Anyway, here we go. First of all, I was not available for the minister's introduction but having a quick look today I see that it's pretty comprehensive in the areas that were touched upon. One of the things that, when a new government does come into place, you hear lots of rumour and wonderment perhaps about smaller and more recently created departments. I know the minister and the department see this as an integral part of Health policy and development in Nova Scotia but in terms of the actual structure and future existence of the department, are there any plans at least for a review or are you and your government pleased with the direction that Health Promotion and Protection is going?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I think it is fair to say that there are quite a few things that we have under review in government. Certainly the whole issue of the future of health and wellness in the province is something that we are looking at. We're looking at what the priorities need to be. We certainly have to tackle the chronic disease problem in the Province of Nova Scotia. This is a situation that results in a huge cost to our illness-based health care system.
The key to tackling this, on one hand, is strengthening the approaches we take around health promotion. So much of what this department does is collaborating with other departments in government. For example, take the Department of Education and the work this department has done with respect to nutrition policy in the schools, tremendous work, but in many respects, it's only a beginning. There are many other areas where we need to advance that nutrition policy. I think about the child care centres, I think about our other health care facilities, for example, be that long-term care, be it our hospital facilities or what have you.
There's much work to be done. I myself have not ruled out any changes, let's say, at the same time I tend to be, personally, much more action-oriented rather than spending a lot of time trying to plan the perfect plan and the perfect organizational structure. An awful lot of your energy can go into reorganization and organizational structure and at the end of the day, very little happens in terms of moving the goal posts around the big issues that you want an organizational structure to be able to address.
I don't know, that's probably not a very clear answer. It's kind of an on-the-one-hand answer and on-the-other-hand answer. What I can say is that Health Promotion and Protection, as a department, plays an extremely important role and will continue to play a really important role. We have mapped out some of the initiatives that we have underway. The department has a very solid track record with respect to the Tobacco Control Strategy and a new, sort of a relaunched next phase of tobacco control is coming and it is something that is being worked on and we're very close to being able to launch additional work with new focus and new purpose.
The department has an Injury Prevention Strategy and it's working in a variety of areas that are fundamentally important, that have a piece of that work. Things such as reducing falls for seniors, working with ski hill operators around the use of helmets, working with skateboard folks around the use of helmets. This is very important work when you think about the incidence of head injury and other injuries that are entirely preventable and will take a great burden off our community, our health care system, families who end up having to become the caregivers and the caretakers of people who have maybe experienced injuries that will then follow them for the rest of their lives.
In addition to that, our government has tasked the department with developing a strategy around childhood obesity, which is reaching epidemic proportions in North America. This is an initiative that we will see great emphasis on in the coming years, and so the important role that HPP can play in terms of leveraging their ability to collaborate. It's a small department, but it has an extraordinary capacity to link with and work with a whole variety of other organizations in our province.
The work of this department has really been quite extraordinary and there is a strong association, in many respects, between the Department of Health and the Department of Health Promotion and Protection. I saw that first-hand during H1N1. The vast majority of the effort around the public health hazard around H1N1 and the need to protect people through the vaccine program - that was all handled in this small department under the leadership of Dr. Strang and his team. While the acute care system in the Department of Health was really busy planning for the impact of a pandemic on the health care system and how to keep an emergency room going and how to keep hospital personnel on the job and how to make sure that the ICUs were there if we had great numbers of people being hospitalized, HPP really played a very big role working with the Department of Health in planning for that and looking at the vaccine program for the health care workers in the acute care system, looking at the assessment clinics to be able to help divert people.
As minister, I think that the idea that you have this large divide and this big dichotomy, with the Department of Health over here and the Department of Health Promotion and Protection over there, is exaggerated. I see them as much more collaborative, much more integrated than perhaps is recognized. They don't work in lockstep on everything, because there is a division of roles and responsibilities, but there is also quite a significant overlap between areas of responsibility - and there has to be. Whether the arrangement we have now is the optimum arrangement is not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I spend more time thinking about, what are those big health and wellness issues that are the issues of our time that confront us? In the time that I have as minister with this extraordinary opportunity to have both portfolios at the same time, what is it that I might be able to do that could make a real difference in the health outcomes of people? So I tend to think in those terms.
I said the other day in debate, when we first started on HPP's budget, that the rumour that HPP's death was imminent was greatly exaggerated. If I ever found the person who started the rumour I would certainly speak to them quite sternly because it's not accurate. It is precisely that, a rumour.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, I'm definitely going to have to change my strategy here because I just got a 13-minute answer and I'm looking at getting about four or five questions in. I appreciated the background behind how the minister actually looks at this department. While there may be some change, I didn't pick up so much on the rumour mill but I know new governments look at, and we're at a time of really looking at how we spend all taxpayer dollars in our province. I do appreciate the connection that the minister makes with the disease side and the acute care health dollars that we spend here in the province - $3.6 million - and the small budget of Health Promotion and Protection, but a very, very vital one.
We were at the first annual Pharmacy Association MLA get-together recently and to hear somebody like Dr. Giacomantonio and how he sees health prevention in his work and also in the role of the pharmacists of Nova Scotia who we know have a tremendous background around what are some of the elements of wellness.
That being said, minister, we do have the highest rate of cancer in Canada in our province. We have four or five counties in western Nova Scotia that have the highest incidence of stoke and cardiovascular disease. I'm wondering if you're actually using HPP to perhaps target some areas that do have chronic disease and diseases like cancer, stroke and the like, because we know that, based on some jurisdictions - and I'm thinking in particular of Finland where there is an area that has the highest rate of heart attack and death from heart attack of any place in Europe, and they actually did a comprehensive plan to change those statistics and, of course, with education of whole populations, the end result was a dramatic reversal. I like the minister's thinking that all health professionals have a role to play, but how about in terms of even targeting some of our worst statistical areas?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I don't know if the member had a chance to look at my opening remarks when I talked about the Valley school project, which I think is an excellent project, a partnership between the municipality, the school board and the department, at a minimal cost that is providing after school activity for young people, particularly young people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to participate in recreation.
One of the things that I do, Mr. Chairman, as a new minister, is go around the province and meet with the various district health authorities. I make it a point to also go to Public Health and meet with Public Health nurses and our HPP staff as well. I want to tell the honourable member that out in the district health authorities, HPP staff are working very hard looking at the demographics and the data with respect to chronic disease in the different DHAs and they are developing some excellent health promotion programs, delivering those programs and evaluating the impact of those programs. This is precisely I think what the honourable member is talking about. Not so long ago I was in the GASHA, Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority and I met with one of our staff there. She had developed this chronic disease program in conjunction with, I believe, the nurse practitioner. In the DHA, the DHA has a unit, a program that works with cardiac patients and they have hired a nurse practitioner whose area of specialization is around cardiac disease and she runs a regular program with the cardiac patients.
Meanwhile, the health education coordinator, health promotion coordinator, I can't remember exactly what her job title was, but this just amazing young woman had developed this program out in, I think, the Guysborough-Canso area where they had been able to find a small room, it wasn't a very large room. I think it might have been in a fire hall or a small community centre of some kind. They had set up an exercise room with all of the equipment, the treadmill and the stationary bike and all of these pieces of equipment, the stability balls and what have you.
On a regular basis - I don't know if it was a couple of days a week - a number of residents of that area and people who had been identified through, I think, a hypertension clinic of some kind were coming on a regular basis. They made this program a social event as well as a time for exercise. They combined the exercise component, the social component with some educational work, as well, so that people were able to gain a better appreciation of what hypertension is and how it affects your body and what's going on when you have hypertension. They were finding remarkable outcomes for the people who were participating in this program.
This program was being written up, the results of the program were being written up and no doubt that information would come back into the DHA and into the department and what have you. These programs are being developed around the province and it's very much at the community level. It's very much targeting those high rates of chronic illness and disease and we know where they are because of the clinical information that we can get at the DHA level.
In a nutshell, Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, in fact, this very much is the approach that we're taking in the Department of Health Promotion and Protection, as well as in the Department of Health. There is more and more work in the Department of Health now that is informed by the need to better manage chronic disease. To have people who have already developed chronic diseases to be able to maintain their diseases better and arrest the development of those diseases and take better care if they have opportunities for exercise, better diet, better information, some support. The group support as well can be a feature of whether people succeed or not in these programs.
I expect that we will see more of this kind of work around the province. We increasingly, because of technology, have the capacity to be able to look at the utilization patterns of health care services, and from that we can map where we see populations with particular kinds of illnesses, high incidence, high rates of particular kinds of diseases. It will then allow us to program, plan, and target into particular areas and communities and that is occurring.
MR. GLAVINE: Just quickly, I know the deputy minister is well aware of the power of having such a program in our schools. I know in the community where I reside, Kingston, they have this after school program. I'm told by the people who are the leaders in this program, that very often it is children who will not be in the hockey program or even, maybe, a low cost soccer program who are participating.
I think it's a wonderful model, it's a wonderful opportunity, because also, children can discover some of the things that are providing fitness and well-being, and also that they enjoy and could become lifelong activities. I'm wondering if you're looking at moving this to some of the other counties, DHAs, or some manner of implementing this across Nova Scotia? You did say it was a lower cost program, but the merits and benefits are extremely strong. I'm just wondering if you have any plans to migrate and move across the province?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I guess I would say a couple of things. There are some elements of what we do at HPP that we standardize and promote throughout the province. For example, the nutrition program in the schools. Its effect is clear, good kinds of food, a particular kind of menu, and certain kinds of foods are important no matter where you live. If you're in Cape North or if you're in Argyle, it's all important. You can standardize those kinds of things.
I think it's fair to say that our department uses a community development approach with respect to quite a few of the programs that we do. What we mean by that, I think, is that we allow there to be a fair amount of variation that reflects the particular communities that have particular programs. The programs come from the community, we support those programs, but they may be quite unique and not necessarily transferable to another community. Another community might have a very different idea about what would work for their community, and so we allow that kind of diversity. I think the outcome is you get a very mixed number of programs that all have their own sort of local logic and they don't necessarily all look the same.
I think the Valley program is very interesting. It uses the university at Acadia and the fact that there are students there, and a strong recreational program. That kind of relationship between the school board, the municipalities in the Annapolis Valley are well known for their commitment to health. They were leaders around the smoke-free public places in many respects.
So they do have, I think there's a uniqueness there that you may not necessarily reproduce in let's say, not to single Bridgewater out in a negative way, but no university let's say in the Bridgewater area, for example, so you don't have those elements that seem to be a feature of what is unique in the Valley. At the same time I have to say, since I've talked about this particular after school program in the Valley, I've had at least one and maybe two members of this Assembly approach me as to whether or not we would be able to help another community start that kind of a program. So it's very obvious to me that that program has many attractive features for other areas. I'm sure they would be happy to use their experience to inform other communities that were interested in going this route.
We don't necessarily have a plan to use that as a pilot and then go and start doing them all over the province. I think our approach is more, you know, it's more organic than that. It sort of lets communities develop based on their own natural established relationships and patterns, and then we support and work with them. I think that's the approach.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to hear how strongly the minister feels about an existing program that is having good results and while it may not take the exact same structure and plan in other communities, at least that concept is there. I'm sure by now the minister knows that she has to keep an eye on the short term with the health needs of Nova Scotia, but if we can make some fundamental changes for the long term that won't require as much infusion, with disease, rehabilitation and emergency care, et cetera, we know that we can make quite a difference.
One of the areas that I often noted, especially in my last 10 years at West Kings High School, we seemed to always have two or three students from Scandinavia, in particular Sweden, Norway and Finland. I remember asking some of them during perhaps the second half of the school year, are you going to look at joining one of the clubs? You've got friends now, you know the school, you know the community, you've got great family support with the family you're staying with. So often their response was, well yes, that's okay, I have friends, but I go to the gym five days a week. It just seemed part of their thinking and their way of being fit. So I think this kind of program may have those kinds of impacts on young people that they'll discover some of the things that they do like.
I know the Valley has been a leader in an area and an area that the minister talked about in her opening remarks which I can't quite put my finger on now, but certainly the collaboration among a whole lot of sectors. I think of a model school and all the things that are going well in terms of promoting fitness. I think the deputy minister is familiar with this lady who has had an enormous impact on the AVRSB system but, in particular, on the Somerset and District Elementary School where a principal by the name of Heather Morse, who is a physical education teacher, started there probably 10 or 12 years ago. The fruits of her labour are well seen because a few years ago when Dalhousie did a study to take a look at fit children and fit schools, the Somerset and District Elementary School was in the top five in Nova Scotia. They have been pioneers in nutrition, in fitness, and just a whole positive well-being for the school community from the time the child arrives until the end of day. I'm just wondering if you use a kind of model school concept in changing the culture of fitness and well-being as a future part of HPP?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, it is really an interesting question. I, myself, certainly don't have a lot of expertise with what the theories are about what is the best way to promote fitness, but I have to say that I have a whole department full of people who we pay and they know this stuff cold, know all of the research.
One of the things that I am noticing, though, about what we're doing is that we're doing a lot of different things, which suggests to me that, maybe, again, it is the diversity that is what will allow you to be successful. I am just reminded by staff about the after school program at Palooka's Gym in the North End of Halifax, in the Gottingen Street area. This is an area that has strong traditions in the arena of boxing. There are many successful African Nova Scotian boxers who have come out of that community, beginning with George Dixon, quite long time ago; and we have had Ricky Anderson, certainly; and Mr. Downey, David Downey; Buddy Daye; we've had so many successful boxers.
Not so long ago, we had Mr. Mickey MacDonald open Palooka's Gym on Gottingen Street and it is a place where they have an after school program for young people and they're working with young people between the ages of 8 and 13. They have two hour/five days a week programs there that provide some physical activity for the young people, with trainers, and they have other programs as well. They provide some healthy snacks, so they have the nutrition component. There is also a literacy component there with computers at the gym. So, again, that's the kind of thing that appeals in part of the constituency that I represent, in that particular hood, as they would say.
I think, again, that it's not necessarily having one program. I think about when I was a young person, how regimented some of the physical activity was. If you didn't fall into that regimentation, then there was nothing for you. It didn't necessarily mean, I guess, that you had no interest in physical activity, it was just that the variety of choice that would appeal to people wasn't there. I think that increasingly, maybe that is what we're learning.
In Bible Hill, there is a program called the Cha-Ching Bike Club and it is a project that was recently approved for female students at Bible Hill Junior High. A survey of female students revealed that the two biggest barriers that adolescent girls face is the feeling of intimidation when they participate in activities with their male counterparts, and as well, very few girls actually owned a mountain bike. About 10 per cent to 15 per cent of junior high school students who are involved in interscholastic sports are girls. The rest are boys. So the participation of young women in sports in schools is very, very low, as the member probably knows. This particular bike club's aim is to get the participation of young junior high school girls up, so the bike club has a girls-only bike club component. They're provided with equipment such as helmets and mountain bikes. There, again, it is a different approach, it is a different activity. It is not necessarily all of the same activities.
I also understand that in the school curriculum now there have been yoga and dance classes, and some of these programs have been added in and they're very appealing to young women in particular. I think that ultimately that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to offer a broad variety of recreational opportunities that will capture the interest and the imagination of young people who would not necessarily find that comfort level that they need to participate in some of the traditional competitive kind of sports. It seems to suggest that variety is indeed the spice of life, and this might be the key that we need to get people involved in changing the culture.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, I know the minister referred to how sometimes physical education programs and concepts of fitness have been very regimented. One of the long-lasting recreations in Nova Scotia has been street hockey. We know that in recent weeks it has been under attack a little bit. We know where the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal stands on this - I think he's got a definite bias - but anyway, road hockey is one of those areas that, obviously, children of all ages and physical conditions can get out to participate in a very unstructured way.
That being said, we all know that good recreation facilities are part of the very fabric of some of our communities. When we talk about the soccer pitch, I think about the old Apple Bowl in Greenwood, for example - again, the deputy minister might be quite familiar with it - and it was a fixture in the community arenas, ball fields and so forth. We know that the B-FIT dollars did not unfold in the manner which we all would have liked to have seen in a 10-year plan.
That being said, there will be an ongoing need in our communities for both renovating recreation facilities as well as meeting population growth areas. We do have five counties in Nova Scotia that continue to grow their population, and so when we get to those areas, there will be needs. So I'm wondering how the minister, through HPP, will look at addressing the renovation of facilities and the building of new facilities in communities across Nova Scotia?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, this is a really important subject. First of all, on the B-FIT, the B-FIT, as the member indicates, was quite a large investment. It was intended to be an investment of $68 million that would last over a 10-year period, until 2017, I think. It is now fully committed, and what we have said is that the B- FIT program is closed to applications although there still were a number of outstanding applications at the point that the money was all committed. We are going to take a period of time out to assess where we are and what the impact of all of this new recreational infrastructure development will mean for recreational opportunities across the province.
Some of those B-FIT programs - and just so the honourable member is aware, I tabled a copy earlier today of all of the B-FIT projects, that itemizes what they were, for how much and I think it even had dates in about when they were to be completed. So, some have already been completed. Some have yet to be started. So, we need to take a period of time, really, to assess this program and to look at what it is that we have created and what we have addressed in terms of recreational needs around the province. It will give us an opportunity, I think, to also reflect on where the gaps are, where the ongoing need is in the province as we do some planning for what the future might hold.
In the meantime, however, we do have some other programs in the department that are there to help in the development of recreational facilities. We don't do any operational funding to recreational facilities. The operation of facilities is either the responsibility of local and municipal governments or it is the responsibility of a private operator, which might be the YMCA, for example. However, we do have programs to assist in the capital improvement of recreational facilities.
So we have a program that is called the Recreational Facilities Development Program, that's a $2.4 million program in our budget this year. It allows our department to provide up to one-third of the total capital cost of a project up to a maximum of $150,000. It is to cover eligible projects that are anywhere between $20,000 to $450,000. An organization is eligible to receive one grant in a four-year period for the same project or facility, so every four years, conceivably, a facility could be eligible for money through this program.
Routine maintenance and/or projects to purchase equipment that is worn or carried by participants is not eligible, so the kind of routine maintenance, but certainly capital expansions and larger maintenance projects that aren't routine would certainly be eligible, I think. This program covers rinks, it includes playgrounds, trails, parks and the deadline has passed for this year, it was the first Monday in February. I've been advised that we had about 107 applications and staff will be in the process now of doing an evaluation of the applications.
In addition to this, we have two other programs in the department. We have a small grants program that is called the Community Recreation Capital Grant Program. There are $300,000 in this year's budget for this program and an eligible project can get up to a maximum of $5,000 so it's really a small grants program for smaller scale indoor and outdoor capital recreation projects that are under $20,000. I was using the example of an outdoor rink that a community might want to build in the wintertime, you know, if you have a tennis court, you have an ideal space to do an outdoor pad, you just need these additional boards and the plastic and a water source and what have you. It also could include furnaces and roofs on a small scale.
It's a year-round program, there's no deadline, you don't have to get an application in by a certain time, you can submit it at any time. Again, you're only eligible for this grant once every four years so it's got this kind of four-year cycle for organizations.
Finally, there's also a Planning Assistance Program. So there's a small grant program that assists community organizations and municipalities as well to obtain professional assistance in planning, designing and researching a proposed or existing sport and physical recreation facility. A small municipality that might want to build a skateboard park, for example, that doesn't have that planning expertise on their staff, might qualify for a small grant up to $5,000 to secure that kind of expertise to help them plan a proposal. These are the programs that we currently have in the department to help people.
That line item in our budget, the Planning Assistance Program, we have $120,000 so a maximum of $5,000 per applicant. We could get a fair number of $5,000 grants out the door to help people. You could plan a horseshoe field or lots of small projects, for sure.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, just in the remaining, I think maybe roughly 10 minutes, I hope to get maybe a couple of questions in, just really two I'd like to ask about. One is in relation to the testing of community water. The other one - and this is where the minister may get a little bit lengthy - I'm wondering how you see the role of government has changed, in terms of perhaps taking on a stronger role in relation to the Gaming Commission in Nova Scotia in terms of promoting responsible gaming in our province. It's an area sometimes that I think while we have some initiatives, perhaps not as strong and not as comprehensive as what I hear from some of my constituents from time to time. I'm wondering if this is an area that will be related to what the Minister of Finance has been talking about with the development of a new five-year Gaming Strategy.
Will HPP take on perhaps a stronger role? Sometimes there seems to be some conflict with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. I know they do some work in this area but I still think it's an area that the Department of Health Promotion and Protection needs to be engaged in, in a much more aggressive manner.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to tell the honourable member that I've had an opportunity to meet with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation and, as well, I know that staff at HPP have been part of the discussion around the new Gaming Strategy. They've had an opportunity to meet with the minister responsible for the gaming authority - I can never remember what their name is - so this is really important that we all communicate together. I'm very much looking forward to the new strategy and having an opportunity to hear from the public, as well, with respect to this strategy.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, possibly my last question here for this part of estimates, one of the communities in my riding has a chemical in the water. It hit the news media a little bit this week that at 14 Wing Greenwood, PFO, which is the short version, has been tested at higher than Health Canada regulations and, of course, they've been very good in my connections with them. I've had contact, initially with Dr. Strang, but then he passed it over to Dr. Gould who has informed me on a couple of occasions when I've asked questions.
However, the surrounding community now is becoming more concerned and they are not involved in testing. I'm wondering how that community should perhaps best proceed to get some comfort and actual good data on whether PFOs could have migrated, moved through the water table into their well water systems. Most of the surrounding community are on wells and so it is a growing concern, if the minister could comment.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate the honourable member bringing this issue and expressing your interest in knowing what else can be done. I did have an opportunity to be briefed by my department a while ago when this first came to public attention. I know the honourable member has been at a public meeting that was held in the area with residents to discuss the situation and I must say I was a little surprised when I read the news accounts this week that there was some concern expressed, that this wasn't being handled in an open manner, because I knew that there had been at least a public meeting with respect to this issue.
If residents beyond the base, in the community that the member represents, are concerned, and I'm sure there will be concerns, then I think it would be best to bring those concerns to the Department of Environment because the Department of Environment has been working very closely with DND and as well with the medical officer of health in that area. I'm sure that not only have they been monitoring the situation at CFB Greenwood, but they will continue to monitor that situation. I'm sure that they will be looking at the issue of water quality beyond the base to ensure that the drinking water is safe.
I know that DND is providing bottled water to families as well as the schools on the base. They have issued advisories and are providing good information to people. They are of the view that the contamination poses no health risk as long as residents of the area aren't consuming the drinking water, but I think any additional concerns, the Department of Environment are certainly the folks to go to.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much and the minister was well-versed on this issue. However, I can see, perhaps, in the next few days and weeks, once it gets out there, gets some public attention - I know that the base has taken a very responsible approach and, as I said, Dr. Gould is involved. I think in those cases surrounding the base, perhaps more attention will be needed. I think we all want to handle it, not in a panic mode, but in a balanced way to find out if there is potentially a long-term problem on the base, and also potentially in surrounding communities as well.
I just want to end off by thanking the minister, the deputy, and her staff for being here and providing very informative responses.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I want to say to the minister, you've done an excellent job working through many hours of being in the Chamber, through many different topics. Hopefully none of this will come as too pressing as the hour moves on this evening. I also want to welcome the deputy and your senior staff with you this evening.
I'm going to go down the way, down to Cape Breton. They say up, but when you're from Cape Breton you go up to Halifax and down to Cape Breton. If we can go down to Cape Breton and one of the areas that, in terms of moving forward - and I do note the minister's discussion around recreational infrastructure. I would say health and wellness infrastructure because it has taken on a whole new dynamic from what it was before. I know that even with the Northside Community Pool reopening, it actually became part of the prescription of doctors to prescribe swimming programs and aqua fitness as a better way to deal with remediating some health issues or maintaining a balance than it was to merely look to drugs, medication, and other more obtrusive forms of correction matters.
With that, I'll go to the YMCA because the Cape Breton Family YMCA has done a great job within the community. As the minister would know, they embarked upon a capital campaign. It's now $12.3 million and admittedly, both the YMCA would say, as we would have in the government previous, that the project started at one point, we hit a point as well where construction costs spiked in the province and it put a major strain on the capital budgets for the YMCA. So they legitimately came in with a good number, they've moved forward and the challenge that they're running into is the level of investment from the federal government at this time, which would be $5 million versus where they're hoping the province would be. I know the province has provided some funding.
The project has moved along, they've done a great job with the Empower Building Program Capital Campaign in the community. As the minister would also know, the honourable member for Cape Breton Nova and myself have served on the Cape Breton Family YMCA board, and have a great affinity toward the YMCA and want to see it move forward.
Minister, I guess right now, aside from some of the other challenges, where the YMCA Capital Program is, to finish the expansion project, the last remaining element right now is the pool. The pool would have been, when it was put in a few decades ago now - it ended up being covered over and being used as the gym area because they didn't have that. They ended up using the pool down in the basement, but they want to reopen that pool and it's $1 million to finish it - and really they're looking to the province. Given that if the pool doesn't proceed, it's a major component of the building and it was a major portion of programming for the YMCA and I'm wondering if the minister has an update on that project as you see it at this point.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I want to thank the honourable member for the question. I have a great affinity for the YWCA and the YMCA. I think most people do. These are fine community-based organizations.
The situation with this particular project is that the department provided some funding to this project back in 2005 - $1.5 million through a strategic initiative grant. However, by the time this project put together an application for the B-FIT money, the B-FIT money was pretty well exhausted. The reality is, when I came into the minister's office, the B-FIT money, $68 million, was all committed with the exception of $5 million which had yet to be committed. We had at least, I would say, 14 unfunded proposals in front of us - including at least one other Y, as a matter of fact.
It was very difficult. The number of projects in front of us and the amount of money we had left simply did not correspond. Choices were made, and the last $5 million has all been allocated. $2 million went to the 4 PAD, the skating facility in the Hammonds Plains area. Some people will remember it was a very high priority for HRM Council. In fact, I think it was their highest priority on their infrastructure request around infrastructure investment with the federal government.
At this stage, I will say to the honourable member what I have had to say to a number of other very worthy projects: the B-FIT money has been fully committed and what we have now in the department are a couple of other, albeit much smaller, programs. We do have the Recreational Facilities Development program, which will provide up to $150,000 for a project. I would encourage those other projects to consider making an application under the RFD program for what it is that we do have available.
MR. CLARKE: To the minister, one of the things I do recognize - and of course you can never get into the exercise of what projects are more worthy or unworthy, but there is the timing issue with regard to the projects. This project, which has significant investment that was there - I was there the day former Premier Hamm went in to make that investment at the Cape Breton Family YMCA, and it was a great day at that time. In fairness, the conditions, as I indicated before, had changed; the financial undertakings that were committed had changed.
However, the YMCA, working through their numbers - and the question really is because it's such a large project, because the last significant component, which is getting the pool reactivated - when you look at it, it's $1 million because, quite frankly, it had been abandoned a number of years ago, but now it's been reconfigured, the new additions added on. My question is - appreciating there are other projects and they're worthy - but with this project underway with a known and reported reason, with the community accelerating and increasing their fundraising efforts from this, with the YMCA being able to grow revenues, I and the member for Cape Breton Nova were on the board when we had to take it out of literally bankruptcy. So for that organization and through the leadership and the great work of the staff for programming to be available- to take from their reserves, to get from bankruptcy almost into $1 million in reserve that they can contribute into $1.8 million net that they could get from the wider community.
I know Dr. Rex Dunn was key with the medical community who saw the value of what the YMCA would mean for the wider goodness and wellness of the community. With that being said and done and with the project being identified - and elections come and go, but it was very much an area where we would have moved to other commitments being made. How do you deal with a project that had been underway, the conditions changing with appreciation? The federal government has added more money to the project, the community has added more money, the municipality contributed their $1.5 million, yet between the election and now, there are other projects.
How do you qualify that when you have projects underway versus starting new projects when there's one major one that can't get finished?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: As I said, there were a number of really valid proposals. This proposal wasn't the only project that was underway which had those components that the member points to. There were other projects that weren't being built from scratch, that were existing facilities looking for B-FIT money.
Frankly, I don't have any difficulty squaring it away. I would like to be able to fund all of the projects, however, I'm very realistic. I have to have the money in my budget to be able to fund all of the projects. The money in the budget was $68 million. It was almost all allocated when I arrived in the department. There were a number of proposals in front of us and choices had to be made on where the last remaining dollars would go.
We still have to announce, actually, a couple of the final choices that were made and that will be coming fairly soon. Perhaps at that time it will be clearer what my thinking was. I felt very compelled to look at the proposals that were in front of us and to try to make the best choices that I could. I'm prepared to defend those choices.
There weren't a lot of choices, I got to make very few choices on this program. I got to make $5 million worth of choices in a $68 million program. I know it was difficult, it wasn't easy to make the choices that we had to make. As I said, there were other projects that were underway that had strong community involvement and support, that had federal money on the table, that had municipal money on the table. I still hear from applicants who, in spite of the fact that they know B-FIT has all been fully committed, they still think that somewhere in the department of HPP there's a cushion or something with some money behind it where we can just magically find a few million dollars toward another recreational endeavour but that's not going to happen. We have to live within our means in this province. We have to get the province back to balance.
I guess one of the things about being Minister of Health as well as Minister of Health Promotion and Protection is that I see all of the asks on the health side as well as on the HPP side. I know the magnitude of the pressures across both of these departments and I know that I'm going to have to say no a fair amount. I've already said no a fair amount, and I don't particularly like it, but I know it has to be done and it has to be done in the interest of the province to make us stronger in the future.
So this is where we are right now. There were some good projects left on the table, I know that, and I would put this project among those projects, that was a good project that was left on the table, but there were 14 projects that were left on the table and there were difficult decisions that had to be made.
MR. CLARKE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm just wondering, Madam Minister, and I know we're going to take a break shortly, but with those 14 projects, do you have a sense of what the provincial portion of requested funding would be of the 14? In other words, how much provincial funding, of the 14 other projects, was being requested?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: It's kind of hard to quantify the projects that we weren't able to advance in any way but I think it's fair, Mr. Chairman, to say that most of the projects that were brought forward were looking for a third of the overall cost of the project. There was a lot of communicating that was going on with the federal government, as well as the municipalities, as well as the province. So I think many organizations were looking for either a third, a third, a third, federal/provincial/municipal money, or they were coming to the table with some money that they had fundraised as a third, perhaps, and they were looking for a third from the province and a third from the municipalities quite often. So I think that would be a fair thing to say, one-third.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will take a short recess and the minister and her staff can take a short break. Thank you.
[7:59 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[8:09 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now resume.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I just want to continue with the Cape Breton Family YMCA in relation to the 14 other projects. I do appreciate the fact that if you look at the time and era, I'm not going to fault the minister if you only have $5 million of a set pool of dollars because of the point in time taking over the commitment that was made. I also know that part of this process that we embarked upon was talking about the things that would stimulate the economy, things that would make sure that infrastructure was accelerated, and many of these projects by their very nature would leverage other dollars, whether that's federal, municipal, community, or corporate dollars to realize. A provincial dollar should produce an outcome that would be far more.
I guess where I'm going is, if you look at the 14 other projects, if you look at other commitments, I also know, and my question really is - and I've been part in the past where you have to team and partner with other departments - whether that's an initiative. I know the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, or in the case of the Department of Economic and Rural Development, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage would have some roles from within the department and that you could build on that. I know in the past, where one department didn't have the capacity, other resources were put in. I guess the reason is, how people in the community see it and what they have seen, with all due respect, is $100 million spent on land acquisitions, direct dollars that the provincial government spent, and it has been a flashpoint in context with other priorities that $100 million toward assets, or asset investment, could be where those dollars could have been leveraged with greater outcomes. Also, when we are trying to come out of a recession, we're trying to put as many people to work as possible, we also know the benefit that is derived, so $100 million gets spent on land with little or no impact with regard to income tax generated because of jobs that are generated, the clustering of activity that occurs as a result of projects throughout the province, helping businesses and people get back up on their feet at a time when government will play the role.
Part of the stimulus initiatives across various levels of government and across communities was to achieve that outcome and so I guess, when you look at places like the Cape Breton Family Y that had a $1 million shortfall, that has immediate work that can be done, yet the government is putting capital money into other areas. So I guess my question would be, has there been a discussion with your Cabinet colleagues such as Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Economic and Rural Development, or Tourism, Culture and Heritage, where some of that teaming of effort could help to finalize and to top up some of these projects?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, there were 14 projects left on the B-FIT list totalling about $20 million in unrealized investment. My understanding, and I could stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that federal stimulus money had a maximum allowable proportion for sports facilities, that the federal stimulus money initially wasn't intended for sports facilities at all, and at some point some decision was made by the federal government that, okay, they would allow a certain amount of that money to be spent on sports facilities, but it wasn't an unlimited amount of money that could be spent. In other words, all of the stimulus money coming to Nova Scotia could not be spent on sports facilities.
I don't know what the final outcome is because I don't track, I don't have access to the information around the federal planning for the province, but my perception certainly is that the federal stimulus money that could be spent on sports and recreation facilities has also been maxed out now. That may not be entirely correct but I think it is, actually.
So, the member asks about working with other departments and, in fact, HPP works quite a bit with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, I am advised, and some of the projects, in fact, I think may even have had access to land acquisition at a better rate, or whatever, if there was provincial ownership of this land.
The member also questions the government's decision to acquire land and, guess what - and whether or not we talk about these choices and, of course, we do talk about these choices - I want to say that I think the Minister of Natural Resources kind of sums it up quite well when he talks about some of the land that has been acquired - in fact, not some of the land, a lot of the land that has been acquired - when land becomes available, it is kind of a one-time only proposition. Many of these places that we want to be protected places, wilderness, pristine, protected places, which I remind the member are also being protected for future generations and for the recreation that they offer, as well, for future generations in a kind of pristine way, is very important and I see it actually as reflecting some aspect of the mandate of HPP in terms of the health and well-being of people in the province.
When these pieces of land come up, they don't come up every day; we never see them on the market again; we may never have an opportunity to ever acquire these pieces of land that the member sometimes like to call dirt, we may never get a chance to get these particular pieces of land again and once they're gone, they can be gone forever to the people of the province.
That, I think, is the discussion that informs, it's certainly what the Minister of Natural Resources reminds us all when he talks about the work of his department and the work that he has done and the work of government in terms of acquiring this land. So, we're not necessarily here to talk about the land acquisition, but I would put that forward as an argument, certainly, that I think has a valid perspective and that is the perspective that we as a government and the members of the Executive Council all share and I, as a member, share that perspective.
I don't live in an either/or world that you're either with us or you're against us, that kind of George Bush drawing the hard line in the sand. I think the choices we have are more complex than that and the considerations that we have to weigh can't be reduced to - you're not balancing a lot of very important issues at one time.
So, the reality is that we have $68 million for recreational facilities under the B-FIT program. That's not an insignificant chunk of change. We had $100 million for land acquisitions that will help us protect parts of the province, pristine and important parts of the province. I can actually live with both of those things. I don't think it's, spend all the resources that you have on recreational facilities and forget about protecting parts of the province, I think you have to be balanced.
So we had a program, the B-FIT program, it had $68 million in it; we had more than 30 projects approved for B-FIT money; all of the $68 million has been exhausted, $5 million was left when I came to office. We still have yet to announce the last two projects, but there were 14, as I've said, worthy projects, they were all worthy projects that were left. The reality is that all of those 14 projects weren't going to be funded and choices would have to be made and the choices that were made were made with a variety of considerations. Were there projects that I would have liked to have had resources to fund, left on the table? Yes, there were. Would I like to be able to see those projects go forward? Sure. But I'm not in that situation and choices did have to be made and they were made and, unfortunately, the Cape Breton YMCA was not a recipient of any money from the B-FIT program.
Now, the honourable member is, I think, wanting to know what might be done in the future for the YMCA program. I have indicated that we do have this one program, I know it is a much more modest program than the B-FIT program. I would encourage the member to at least start at that level with that local organization and don't shut the door on the potential of receiving $150,000 from that program. I would be willing to discuss this matter with the honourable member further in the coming days.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, as with the YMCA project, the minister would also be aware of the Centre 200 project to deal with the whole revitalization and upgrade, and important upgrade, to that facility, as well, that are being sought. I appreciate the minister has been able to put in context her position and I respect that with regard to having a $68 million program, coming into the office and only having $5 million left. But what the minister is not describing are the choices the government would make and the key priorities they would invest in and that is something when we talk about the reference with regard to land purchases. There was a modest amount, which was reasonable given the economic circumstances we're put in, government, Cabinet, made a choice and a decision to invest more dollars.
What I hear continually in the House and I've heard from the Minister of Finance as well and others when referencing these items was that we had to make choices. But the government chose not to invest in key health and wellness infrastructure. Health and wellness infrastructure that has women and men and youth working in those environments who earn their living from that, for instance, with the pool for the YMCA. If you were to ask the employees who will not have a job at a time when there is an economic downturn and government should be investing to stimulate that, not only the construction jobs, but the longer-term jobs that are going for the health and wellness and the vitality of a community and its ability in a regional centre. So there is no difference with the Y than is the case for the funding request with the Centre 200 as a regional facility.
Again I'll say, with all due respect, and I appreciate the minister has a perspective, but quite frankly, as I've referred to, dirt over people investment, I know where my investment would be. The government has come up short, really short, with regard to striking the appropriate balance. Madam Minister, if you got up and said there was only 14 but we decided to put 30 or 40 because we have to appease special interests that we committed to on our platform. What we're going to realize is that the other investments that are throughout the province that deal with infrastructure but also provide opportunities for the wellness, for job creation, for the vitality of communities, so we want to have that discussion - I was more or less asking.
My point is that government made a choice, it was a political choice, it was a funding choice and it was a deficit financing choice to do that over key infrastructure. Madam Minister I would not fault the Minister of Finance if he stood in this House and invested more money to top up your $68 million to make $100 million, to do the $20 million in the shortfall. The real question that is being asked is how come the government will invest in one area, if we're talking balance, and not have a balanced approach to invest in another area that directly deals with infrastructure, that supports health and safety, that supports the economic and social vitality of a community?
So, that is part of the discussion that we're finding and there is a disjunct. In the process, as I say, decisions were made of the $5 million, that you referenced, that you only had, but government had a choice and my question is, Madam Minister, why wouldn't the government see this as just as equal? If it was a 50/50 split, you would add $50 million to this and some of these pristine lands that you talk about aren't as pristine if the analysis is done and no one else was lined up to buy them, so they weren't going to go away, it wasn't a one-time opportunity.
Maybe I can leave the land debate, maybe not between you and I, and the Minister of Natural Resources can defend that investment, but government saw fit to invest in one item but not to top up another. So they topped off funding for land. How come the priority of topping off funding for infrastructure for communities would not have been equal in that balance even if there was a 50/50 split?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I don't know where the honourable member has been for the past little while, but I want to remind the honourable member of the investment that this government has made in people and in health and in wellness. I want to remind the honourable member of the $24.5 million for the Colchester Regional Hospital, after it was so dramatically over budget previously. (Interruption) I think the previous Cabinet had to approve an additional $55 million before the additional $24.5 million.
I want to remind the honourable member of the $10 million that went into new radiation therapy here and at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital. I want to remind the honourable member of the $23 million this government spent on H1N1. That's only some of the money that has been invested. There are five new digital mammography machines around the province at probably in excess of $6 million or $7 million.
This is a government that has to do, and will do, and has been doing, more than one thing. So, one of the things that we have been doing is investing in land acquisition. In addition to that, we have been investing heavily in the infrastructure of our health care system around the province so that we can bring wait times in line with national benchmarks and we can ensure that members of our community, when they find themselves in need of treatment, can be assured that they are going to get the same high-quality care and treatment that they would find any place else in the world.
In addition to that, we are building an enormous amount of new recreational infrastructure around the province. So it is not the case that it is not an either/or proposition between recreational facilities and land acquisition.
This government has been investing in an enormous amount of other infrastructure, and as minister who is both the Minister of Health Promotion and Protection as well as Health, I understand only too well where the demands are for additional infrastructure investment on the health side as well as on the wellness side. I'm very committed to ensuring that we take our resources, we use them as effectively as we possibly can and we look for the kind of balance in those decisions that I think the people of this province would expect from their government.
I think, when I look at the statement that the honourable member makes, that we haven't been investing in people, I am just astounded by that. Look at the increase in the Department of Health budget this year over last year. It is $212 million additional in the budget this year over last year and the vast majority of that money, in fact, is investing directly in jobs and in people. I would say that probably 60 or 70 per cent of that increase in spending is all on human health resources, which is basically the way we get to have health care services in the province.
So there is, in spite of the fact that we have a very serious financial situation, in spite of the fact that we have just come out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, despite the fact that there are literally, probably $300 million less in offshore royalties than the previous government were able to bring to bear in terms of investing in all of the things people in this province need, we still have a budget that respects the people of the province. It respects the people in the workforce in the province. It is a balanced approach. It has not been an approach that has cut and slashed services across the province, especially those important services that people need.
It has been an approach that the Minister of Finance has been criticized for trying to be fair to everyone and as he has said, this really isn't what he understands to be a criticism. He readily acknowledges that his approach is an attempt to be fair to everyone. I would say that the approach that I and people in the Department of Health Promotion and Protection take is an approach that is an attempt to be fair to the people who are coming to our department and asking for support for the various projects that they have in front of them. We will continue to use this approach.
We have what we think are going to be some terrific recreational facilities at the end of the day. We already see some really fine outcomes from the B-FIT program. Not so long ago I was in Antigonish and the St. Francis Xavier track, there was a recipient of the B-FIT money, and what a beautiful job has been done in finishing that facility. If you look at that particular location in Antigonish and the fact that students are able to use this when the school year is in, but certainly the community has access to it both during the university year and outside the university term.
So, again, there are many excellent examples of increased recreational opportunities for people and I don't know if the honourable member has ever seen a map of how the B-FIT money was distributed and where the B-FIT money went around the province, but it is a very interesting map. Perhaps I will bring it and table it here some day. You can see the distribution of the B-FIT money and the choices that were made. I'm very doubtful that the honourable member would have a lot to be critical of, having reviewed the map.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I am expecting the minister will table that map and I would be happy to take a look at that map - I'm happy to see that map with 14 other projects added to it, and with as many other projects as possible.
With all due respect, Madam Minister, when you start providing your shopping list that folks want to communicate, I have merely said that what we have seen is Health Promotion and Protection has fallen up short at the Cabinet Table when it came to a priority to deal with core infrastructure needs. We have not heard of any partnering or twinning from Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, we have not heard that from Economic and Rural Development, and we have not heard it from Tourism, Culture and Heritage. That's the reality.
Now, Madam Minister, I would say to you, yes, we dealt with the Colchester Hospital, if you want to reference something that, yes, is over budget. As you know as a minister in dealing with things - you're the Minister of Health as well - you would also know that when people go out to do that undertaking. I think the people of that area deserve that. If engineers and architects and project costs go askew - and I admit they are very largely out of whack there - you deal with it, and I would hope that you and your officials are dealing appropriately with that, but in context with other spending the government has done.
The other thing that we haven't had is the type of balance that people would look at. I would be happy, Madam Minister, to take a look at your map with all your colours, to look at the previous investments and look at the regional centres throughout Nova Scotia where those projects are, and I would be happy to bring in the municipalities, to bring in the federal representatives, to bring in the community representatives with those projects as well. I would be happy for them to come in and take a look at the map that you're so keen to bring forward and you want to suggest that it was politically driven. I would be happy for you to bring them in and have a full dialogue.
I would be happy for the people of this province to see where those other 14 projects would fit within it. I would be happy if your government could get their priorities straight and get real balance. I would be happy to see the projects brought forward and dealt with. But what I've heard is that the people of Cape Breton are unhappy that their project doesn't meet the grade, and apparently it's substandard to be financed but otherwise would be a good project. So that's the Cape Breton Family YMCA.
I wouldn't mind, Madam Minister, if we were talking about projects you see as frivolous or not of substance and value to a community to get into a political discussion. But I can tell you that the people of Cape Breton who have committed and invested in this would expect that there also would be balance and understanding from this government when it comes to making sure projects can be realized, that there would be balance and understanding and the types of deficit financing that this government has thrown out the door and is taxing people, taxing the working class of Nova Scotia to fund, just so that your Cabinet can try and find the wallpapering over some of the issues.
I would be happy if your government would go to Ottawa to deal with some of the negotiations, because a negotiated outcome of what projects can or cannot get funded. You can have your minister or Attorney General insult people in this House about referencing our travel costs to Ottawa, but I can tell you, Madam Minister, our time and energy was well invested. The minister or Attorney General, Minister of Justice, doesn't get it. He is quite willing to abandon commitments. Your Premier has abandoned commitments, so why would we be surprised or looking to say why these wouldn't be priorities? When I'm talking about - and we want to get into this - when a balance can't be struck about infrastructure that supports people and community and the jobs that support it versus other initiatives. That's what we've really heard here with the estimates for Health Promotion and Protection and again when you say, well, there is $68 million and I only had $5 million.
Well, the Minister of Natural Resources went to the table and had a readjusted budget, yet you couldn't or wouldn't, or it just wasn't a political priority. You'd rather say, I'll table a map that shows the distribution, when that map would be totally different. Madam Minister, you know that and you can talk about health, we all agree with the priorities for health investment - how in the heck can anyone argue with that? I'm not trying to dispute those types of investments. What I am saying is that the sincerity of this government in dealing with these priorities and trying to communicate - so you can take all of the spin doctors and communications staff you want, it doesn't mitigate the fact that this NDP Government - which you would think as a socialist side we wouldn't be having this discussion because you would want to make all happy and well. But the Dexter NDP have been very clear that, depending where you are and where you sit, there's a difference. Madam Minister, you could bring in that map - the Premier and Cabinet and fill in all the other colour that you'd want for political distribution purposes. Bring it in. You can't and you won't, but you've invested in things you can't substantiate and to suggest only that there's some pristine wilderness areas versus the core infrastructure of key communities.
If you're trying to suggest for me that I'm advocating for the Cape Breton Family YMCA, well, it's not in Cape Breton North, but it's very important to Cape Breton. Just as much as I'd advocate for Cape Breton University or St. F.X. You know, oh my gosh. Well, St. F.X. flipped, so not against that now because it was a Progressive Conservative seat and if it's an NDP one, that's right, but you can find money at the last minute to invest in libraries - $3 million, I think - during the heat of a by-election. Interesting how priorities shifted then, Madam Minister, to find money for that.
That's really what we're having when we talk about this estimates debate, is where the priorities of the government are, or more importantly, where they're not. I can tell you, the issue is not going to wane and the people of Cape Breton with the YMCA project, very important to the community, Centre 200 having the infrastructure reinvested - Mr. Chairman, I know you go there, you know and see the value of those types of infrastructure investments that could be made but won't be made, but maybe can be made.
I'm sure the honourable chairman and the Deputy Premier might step up and ensure the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal - and I hope, Madam Minister, that your colleagues will support you in getting some more money. In fact, I'm trying to be co-operative in saying, why aren't they working with you to team and add up those dollars to meet some of those outcomes. I don't know why they're not supporting you. I would think someone as avid a sports fan as the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, that half of these discussions wouldn't be. I don't care whose political jurisdiction they're in. I couldn't tell you where those 14 projects you referenced are. (Interruptions)
You've just thrown all the cupboards out. This government has ripped the cabinets out and is tearing apart the very fabric of the Nova Scotia home. The minister can say what she wants with regard to these numbers, but Madam Minister, I would hope that in the ensuing days your Cabinet colleagues might have a change of heart and hope to support you with some additional dollars so that these projects, regardless of where they are - maybe the member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville, I'm sure he must have a project or two that would be worthy of it. I would hope you get it.
I know with the Canada Games coming here, the people would see that. I guess I don't have a Canada Games to offer up to suggest we should get funding. When you're sitting in Cape Breton, there's no shortage of money and projects for Halifax. Funny enough, you go somewhere else, but that's the perspective people have with regard to this.
Mr. Chairman, how much time is there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your time elapses at 8:52 p.m. You've got eight minutes.
MR. CLARKE: Oh, well, I'm just getting warmed up. The member over there, the minister emeritus for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, I can say I've heard lots over the course of time from that member. I've heard lots - that's all it has been is talk, nothing done. Oh, that's right, I remember when the Progressive Conservatives were in - they invested in that constituency, invested in Saint Mary's University, invested in infrastructure that was important to Health Promotion and Protection. That's right. He doesn't want to talk about the good things. He just wants to sit and do some of the horse calls from across the way from time to time.
I know he's upset that he can't speak to the real issues because he's not allowed to where he sits now in the House, because they're not allowed to. There's no one allowed to. Here we have other projects around this province. I would say Cape Breton University with the indoor soccer facility and track - again, a great project. Madam Minister, I'm not disputing the validity of these, but my question really started, without getting into this, about the priorities and the balance with regard to how government could find a way to meet those objectives rather than saying that was the budget we got, that's the budget, that's all it is, when your Cabinet has chosen to alter budget allocations for other initiatives within government. When it's so important at such a key time, as you indicated that this is the worst recession that we've had since the Great Depression, and there are projects on the books that your government could invest in, not only to put people to work but help to deal with the infrastructure deficit we have in the Province of Nova Scotia.
I would see that as a good opportunity for people and for the Dexter NDP to want to take advantage of. But when you raise those questions, obviously I'm getting a litany of other examples being thrown back at me rather than addressing why the budget shortfall could not be addressed in light of other decisions that Nova Scotians are starting and would disagree with the government, disagree with the Minister of Finance in terms of how astute or balanced they really are because we have an entire process that has been manipulated from the consultancy on through. Spending money, by the way, for consultants, there has been no lack of money there for that and, Madam Minister, I don't disagree whatsoever.
If any community can leverage B-FIT and if any community can take advantage of $5,000 or $150,000, well they should. Because I also know that no community in Nova Scotia would be out there not doing work that wouldn't benefit the common good of the communities they serve so there is no need to go about that. I know, as is the case in terms of your political map that you have, that you're going to table for the House, in that political map there would be (Interruption) Oh, yes, the Northside Civic Centre, a project that was many years in the making. You know when you talk about making good decisions, that project had been funded a couple of times and we kept going back and saying, no, it's not the right project. It's very difficult in your own constituency to have to say that that's not going to get funded right now because we need to make sure the project is done right.
Here we have, Madam Minister, where there are other projects where people are doing the right things and yet the Cabinet and government failed to recognize and even to put in supports to fill in the gaps for the projects they know about and/or support other ones in terms of accelerating. Whether it's under the federal stimulus dollars or not, there are community dollars and other program dollars that are outside of those that can help communities. I don't hear that. We don't hear the negotiations. We don't hear the dialogue with Ottawa. We do hear communities that are concerned that this government is not listening to them, is not putting their priorities into those communities they are supposed to serve, is not doing it. Madam Minister, if you would have come in and suggested that you've got a great political map for me to table and put before the House, that's great.
I will tell you one thing, Madam Minister, I won't make an apology for one of those because every one of those projects has a community supporting them and volunteers, in most cases, who are supporting them. Volunteers are going door to door to raise money. They're putting out coin cards in their community. They're doing their draws. They're doing everything they need so there's nothing you can produce for me today - and I hope if you have the map, present it this evening because it speaks to a government previous, and I would hope that a government current would want to fund them whatever. I hope that the 14 projects you have that are $20 million, your Cabinet colleagues might step up to the plate and do the right thing for those communities because if they had found balance, they would have put that in in the first place. But apparently the special interests lobbying the Minister of Natural Resources outweigh those for Health Promotion and Protection.
That's the real message we've heard and what we've seen is that not all matters are equal when it comes to the Dexter NDP. In fact, when the going gets tough, what do we do - I'll produce a map. It will be interesting to see that map, where the projects are. I can't wait to see that map. If that map has anything to do with the B-FIT list you produced right here, well, I can go through where those communities are and I would be happy to take a look at them. I would be happy to look at it, but what it is, Mr. Chairman, (Interruption)
It won't be much longer, it won't be much longer. (Interruption) Yes, she did. The point being is I would hope that your Cabinet colleagues, Madam Minister, would support you in these projects. I don't think it's fair for you to come in and say I had a $68 million program, only $5 million was left, when you and the other colleagues have added up and topped up their core capital budgets to support their priorities. That's just ill-headed to suggest that and to try to hide behind a previous government and blame them because, well, they spent the lion's share of the money, that's just not good enough. We committed those dollars.
You have other ministers whose priorities are more equal than yours and that is not in balance, that's imbalance. Mr. Chairman, I would hope that between now and the budget process the good minister will be able to lobby her colleagues to support her good causes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Bedford-Birch Cove.
MS. KELLY REGAN: We just have 15 minutes left here so I'll be short. When I look at the summary of the B-FIT projects (Interruptions) 20 minutes, half an hour, okay. When I go through the list there and I mark off which projects were in HRM, I notice that if I add them up I come to just over $4 million, out of a project of basically $68 million. When I go through, we have the Dartmouth YMCA; Halifax Regional Municipality 4-Pad; HRM Prospect Recreation Centre; the Maritime Muslim Academy; World Canoe 2009 and the World Laser 2009; so when I add those up we get to just a little over $4 million. I'm wondering how it is, where we have the vast majority of the population living in the HRM, and yet very few of those dollars have been allocated to HRM?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I guess what I would say to the honourable member is that we still have projects to announce, so I'm not really prepared at this stage to speculate on the distribution of the entire program until it is all fully committed and announced. There is still an announcement to come.
MS. REGAN: I do see on your chart there that there's still $4 million worth of money to come to B-FIT projects. I would just like to point out that if you felt it was a good idea to put some of that money into the rink project in Bedford-Birch Cove, which is really close to Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville I want to point out, that would be okay. Even if the other $4 million that is left to be allocated goes into HRM, that's still only $8 million out of $68 million projects. With all due respect to my colleague for Cape Breton, I don't know how you can say that too much money went to HRM when, in fact, it went everywhere but HRM.
I note that since the time your government took power, there were really only two projects that have been announced so far and both of those did go into HRM, which I very much appreciate and perhaps that's what the honourable member is talking about, that the two ones that have been announced since then did go into HRM, that would be the 4-Pad and the Prospect Recreation Centre, according to this July 1, 2009. I'm just wondering if you could just speak to what happened there.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, there was $5 million in unallocated B-FIT money when we took over government, and we have announced $2 million for the 4-Pad, but there is still $4 million that hasn't been announced. We have made a decision, we just haven't announced that yet. We will be doing that in the coming weeks.
In addition to B-FIT, you will notice that there's infrastructure in recreational facilities happening in the HRM area that is Canada Games money. That is separate from B-FIT. We have some infrastructure investment there. I think you will see that we have that beautiful facility that is being built out in Clayton Park for the Games. I'm just looking to see - I think our commitment to that facility is around $12 million dollars. I think it might give the impression people don't know what pot of money that's coming out of, but it's not B-FIT money.
One of the things I was saying about the B-FIT program and about recreational investment facility development more generally - I think there is an honest effort to try to get recreational facilities into communities that need them. The B-FIT money really opened up the ability for communities to get recreational facilities that otherwise they wouldn't have had. We're seeing that around the province, be it in Truro or Pictou or wherever.
I didn't have an opportunity to respond to the honourable member prior to you, but from the B-FIT money in Cape Breton, $7,886,000 was invested in Cape Breton, which is not an inconsequential amount of money. It is a significant amount of investment. I'm sure it was needed and probably very much appreciated by perhaps most but not all residents of Cape Breton Island.
MS. REGAN: Perhaps we could move on now to deer ticks and the continuing problem in Admirals Cove. When I am talking to people from HRM, staff and elected members, they are quite frustrated with the lack of progress in dealing with this particular problem. I do understand that it's not like H1N1, where we have vast amounts of people getting sick or anything like that. We have a few people who have gotten extremely ill, and this has been an illness that we seem to be sort of lagging on, in terms of identifying it when people have it.
One of the things that HRM is asking for is an emergency use application for a deer bait station in Admirals Cove. I understand the federal government has a pilot project underway in Lunenburg, but they are not using the Tickicide there. My understanding is they are counting the ticks, and I don't know if they're performing tick autopsies or how it works, but they're trying to check that out.
What HRM wants to do - what HRM needs to do - is a pilot project with, I believe it is the Y-Tex Tickicide for the four-poster deer bait station, and at least see if we can control the ticks on deer, the ticks that have Lyme disease. HRM staff are extremely frustrated by the fact that staff members from HPP seem to be throwing it back to HRM and saying this is a tick problem. Ticks aren't nice, it's not a tick problem, it's a Lyme disease problem. We would be uncomfortable, we would get bitten by ticks but the problem is that they are coming home, that pets, that people are coming home with the disease or with ticks that have the disease.
The area that I am talking about that is in my riding, this is a well-established area, this is not something that has just been built into a wilderness area or anything like this. It is true that they are up against DND lands and a park, but the residents, I have to say, are quite frustrated by what they view as the slow pace of things. HRM is quite frustrated by the slow pace and gosh, if we could just move along on that Tickicide application, it would be a huge help.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I know this is a very serious matter and I know that the member is very concerned about this matter and has worked very hard on behalf of the people in her constituency who are concerned about this.
There are a few things I would say as a preface to answering the question that the member has posed, Mr. Chairman. There have been 48 cases of confirmed Lyme disease in Nova Scotia since 2002 and 13 of these new cases occurred over the past year which suggests either that there's a growing problem or that we're getting better at recognizing the problem or some combination of both.
Lyme disease apparently can be difficult to diagnose, I am told. There is a test and we can do that test here in the province. If the test is done and Lyme disease is confirmed by that test, then the tests are sent off to a national testing site. The treatment for Lyme disease apparently is pretty straightforward; people are treated by infectious disease specialists and we have people in the province who can treat Lyme disease and the treatment is with antibiotics.
I don't know a great deal about Lyme disease, I'm just learning a bit about it from the briefings I receive. It sounds like very nasty stuff and I can certainly appreciate why people would be concerned. Apparently if left untreated, that's when it can really be quite vile, so I understand why people would be concerned.
Ticks have to be the most reprehensible little creatures on the planet, as far as I'm concerned, and anything we can do to eradicate them I'm all for it. But having said that, my understanding is that the pesticides for these deer bait stations have not been approved by Health Canada. I don't know if the honourable member knows this or not and I don't know what the implications of that are then for using these materials in deer bait stations. I do know that Dr. Strang, our Chief Medical Officer, stays very up-to-date on this issue. There is a program of surveillance in HPP to keep track of the numbers of incidents that we are aware of in the department.
I know that officials from our department, from HPP, have held some information sessions in the past out in the community that the honourable member represents and where there have been concerns about this.
The other thing I would say is that HPP is working very closely with the Department of Natural Resources and the Public Health Agency of Canada on this in terms of surveillance and the National Microbiology Lab is testing the ticks to determine whether they are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
We do follow the standards and guidelines of the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and keep very close track on what it is that we are being advised with respect to diagnosis and treatments.
I also know that in this particular case with respect to HRM, it is the Medical Officer of Health in the Capital District Health Authority, Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, who is essentially taking the lead in working with the local community and, no doubt, I would think with the HRM personnel as well, on this. I would say to the honourable member, anything we can do at HPP to provide good information about what the current status is of any of the work we would be happy to do. There's nothing worse than anxiety in a community, it will take on a life of its own and the way to try to prevent panic from setting in is to communicate well with a community, to hear their concerns and to respond appropriately.
I don't know what else to tell the member with respect to this pesticide. We know that we also have so many concerns now around the use of pesticides. I don't know to what extent these deer bait stations would be allowed to step outside the use of a pesticide that doesn't have Health Canada approval, I guess. Maybe that is something that I can make inquiries into, but perhaps there's a good reason why they are not allowed to use that pesticide, I don't know.
MS. REGAN: According to some notes I have here, there's no pest management regulatory agency approved pesticide for blacklegged ticks in Canada at this time. Collaboratively, the federal Public Health Agency of Canada and the provincial Department of Health Promotion and Protection have been investigating suitable pesticide control solutions. Currently the solution that seems most promising is the 4-Poster Deer Treatment Bait Station and the Y-Tex Tickicide. That is why I keep harping on that.
The primary reason that the Halifax Regional Municipality staff favour inclusion of this control solution at Admirals Cove is that instead of broadcast sprays, which would have implications for large areas, this basically is a targeted, topical treatment directly to the deer. It would be akin to putting a flea collar on a cat.
In order to get this pesticide approved in Canada, among other requirements, there has to be an efficacy study and the federal Public Health Agency of Canada has initiated this study in Nova Scotia by collecting "before" samples with a deer station without the Tickicide, in Lunenburg. The next step is to test the station with the Tickicide to determine the efficacy and the impact. Upon request, the Public Health Agency of Canada has agreed that with the efficacy test initiated in Lunenburg, Admirals Cove would not need to do a before sampling on theirs, so when the product is available for testing we would just put it on HRM property. They would do that and we could study it at the same time it's introduced.
Normally the supplier of the Tickicide - and this is sort of a budget thing again - would have to run the tests. Because Canada is such a small part of the market, because we're talking about one deer station, they don't particularly want to do it. If the Minister of Health Promotion and Protection would assist with this process and allow this testing to proceed, then we could at least find out if it works.
I have to say, not a lot of people that we know of have Lyme disease so far here in Nova Scotia, but the fact of the matter is, the people who have it in my riding did not present with rashes or if they did present with rashes they were underneath their hair. What happened was, these people and their two neighbours were directly beside each other. One is a man a little older than me and one is a child. The problem is that that man now has neurological problems that will be with him for the rest of his life. The child will have arthritis for the rest of his life - and they got treatment. As you said, the treatment is pretty straightforward. The problem is that we don't always know that people have it and we don't always catch it in time, and so there is permanent damage.
My concern is that by doing something that is pretty simple and that from all indications does not have a large impact - it's not a spray or anything like that - if we could move and get that approved for testing in that one area, I think that we could make huge steps. The other thing is, will Lyme disease spread? Well, that potential is there, but I would think that if we have a possibility of at least curbing its spread that we should take it, because Nova Scotians are an outdoors people and we're not used to checking for ticks and all that kind of thing. I just realized my son was camping last weekend and came home with a cold, and I'm thinking that it was a cold or allergies, but maybe it was this. Nobody checked him over because we're not used to doing that.
The Department of Health Promotion and Protection has been doing a very good job of telling people what to do and how to handle things, but I think we need to be just a little more proactive here and see if we can't deal with the deer. I realize deer are not the only way that Lyme disease is spread, but they're a major cause, we believe.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I do agree with the honourable member that we have to be very vigilant, and I think we do need to continue to work with the Public Health Agency of Canada. I think, as well, we need to work with the Department of Natural Resources and HRM and all of the individuals who are involved in terms of really monitoring this and taking whatever steps we possibly can to deal with the problem.
I would be happy to look into what we might do at a provincial level to facilitate this process further, if that is writing a letter to my federal counterpart or whatever. I think the thing that I need to do is have a good discussion with Dr. Strang, who is in regular contact with the Medical Officer of Health for CDHA. I want to make sure that I'm very aware of what it is that she's doing so that we're working all in the same way and we get the maximum impact of any of our efforts.
Camping season will be upon us fairly soon - I think fairly soon - and kids will be outside and what have you. I know that this is a concern for people, particularly in certain parts of the province, and it certainly doesn't hurt us to at least get the information and know what Health Canada's concern is about the use of this particular product, why it hasn't been approved, is it just going through the regular approval process, and what have you. What does it mean for how long it would take them to get it to be approved? Is there any ability to grant some kind of special permit for a particular period of time or something? I don't know if they do clinical trials with this kind of product, but we can certainly check into that, get that information, and share it with the honourable member. I'd be happy to do that.
MS. REGAN: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to say that I've met with Dr. Watson-Creed. She's terrific at her job, very good at explaining things, I really appreciate how thorough she is. I think, from the reading I've done, that this particular Tickicide is fairly new and that is part of why it hasn't been in use here in Canada, because we haven't had this Lyme disease issue for very long here in Canada and here in Nova Scotia. I do appreciate the minister's offer and I will certainly take it up with her.
I'd like to move now over to the Healthy Eating Nova Scotia Strategy, which was implemented in 2005, and the vision for that indicated some benchmarks for 2010 where we wanted to be; that all Nova Scotians would have access to safe, affordable, locally-grown, nutritionally-adequate and culturally-acceptable foods; that breast-feeding would have become the cultural norm and people of all ages and abilities enjoy healthy eating and active lifestyles. This is reflected in our media, our schools and child care programs and our workplaces. The fourth point is that organizations from many sectors, including food, health, education, agriculture and community work together to ensure the policies, programs and resources are in place to support these cultural changes.
I was going to ask a few questions about where we are in terms of that healthy eating strategy because it seems to me, from what I remember or what I've seen, that breast-feeding is, in fact, not the cultural norm yet, despite a lot of really good work done at the IWK. I'm just wondering what we are doing to encourage women to breast-feed, because, quite frankly, it's the best form of food and you don't have to heat anything up and you don't have to worry about sterilizing anything. We know that it's the best thing for babies in terms of dealing with allergies and kids who are breast-fed generally have fewer ear infections and things like that. I'm just wondering, is there anything in particular that we're doing around breast-feeding to encourage more of that?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, one of the things that I was very pleased to be able to do last Fall, in spite of all the activity around H1N1, was to launch a major breast-feeding social marketing campaign around this. The member may have seen some of the advertisements that have been running around breast-feeding. Nova Scotian breast-feeding rates are, indeed, below the national average and among the lowest in the country; 74.8 per cent of women start breast-feeding and 15.8 per cent are still doing so at six months, so there is quite a significant dropout range.
We are spending almost $700,000 over three years to promote breast-feeding. This money will be used, it has already been used, to do some research and we produced TV, radio, print ads and bookmarks. There is a Web site, there are presentations being done with stakeholders. A whole campaign has been developed and supported by mothers and mothers- to-be, fathers, partners, along with the district health authorities and family resource centres and experts like the La Leche League.
It is something that is very important to start making some fundamental changes in the statistics that we see in the province. We're hoping, very much, to have the involvement of the IWK in this shift. We know that all of the things the member said, babies are healthier for sure, but there is also a possibility that it lowers the rate of breast cancer in women.
MS. R EGAN: I am just wondering how we benchmark a cultural norm. How do we sort of make that shift? How do we make something more acceptable, more normal? My understanding is that among educated women you tend to get more breast-feeding happening than among those who aren't but I could be wrong about that. It just seems to me that, how do we make it so that women understand that this is the way it is supposed to be, that it is not something out of the ordinary?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, the member is right. It is a challenge. It is a challenge on a variety of levels. I think it is a challenge to make sure that the maternity hospitals, for example, are not using formula. It is that basic and it starts that early. But I think that the research that was done before the social marketing campaign, one of the things that research did was expose some myths, the idea that breast-feeding just comes naturally, that it is easy and that you should know how to do it because, if you've got the equipment then you should be able to figure it out very easily, right?
So, I think that the reality is quite different and so the ads kind of reinforce that. The ads say, it is not really natural, don't give up. It is something that you have to learn. So this is the approach. It is the approach that is being used in the classes. I've talked a bit about developing the childhood obesity strategy and we'll be looking, I think, at nutrition for children from day one along quite a long range in their lifespans. So, the social marketing campaign we're doing on this is designed to be a three-year program and we've just started it in the Fall. So, how do you make a cultural shift, you really have to be focused and you have to work at it and we have started that work.
MS. REGAN: I would like to thank the minister and her staff for answering, actually answering all my questions, today, and with that I think we conclude.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have approximately, 12 minutes. So I will invite the minister to make some closing comments if she so wishes.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to discuss the 2010 budget for the Department of Health Promotion and Protection, as well as our department's priorities for the next year.
First of all, I would like to thank Duff Montgomery, HPP's deputy minister and I would also like to thank Tanga Roche, HPP's manager of budgets and financial planning, for joining me over the past few days. I'd like to thank the staff from HPP who have been helping us out from the gallery very late into this evening and the cast of thousands who are behind these folks as well.
I'd also like to thank the honourable members for their very thoughtful questions during these estimates debates. Between the Department of Health and the Department of Health Promotion and Protection budget estimates, it feels as though I've run the Boston Marathon today. However, I must say I have enjoyed it. I appreciate everything we have discussed and the issues that have been put on the table because they're extremely important to Nova Scotians.
The Department of Health Promotion and Protection oversees a wide range of challenges and opportunities facing the health of Nova Scotians. Our time here in estimates has covered many areas of my department. Although Health Promotion and Protection has seen a budget decrease of 1 per cent, I can assure the House that this adjustment was made with the greatest of care.
As this government moves forward with our promise of getting this province back to balance, I can assure the honourable members that any change in budget is taken very seriously. As I said in my closing remarks for the Department of Health estimates, our plan to get back to balance must be realistic and reasonable. We must ensure that we don't needlessly burden Nova Scotian families and that the services they rely on continue to be in place.
I believe that Health Promotion and Protection's budget for 2010-11 does this. As I said, these past few days in budget estimates for Health Promotion and Protection have covered a wide range of topics, from Lyme disease and H1N1 to sports facility funding and alcohol use. Nova Scotians look to HPP to help them stay healthy and safe. Our department has a staff of experts dedicated to doing just that. They work long and hard to get the job done, and I am grateful for their passionate commitment and dedication to the people of this province.
In making my closing remarks, I'd like to focus on a few key themes that came through during the estimates. First, I'd like to touch on the topic of sport and recreational facility funding. Recreation facilities are the heart of our communities. For many, their local rink was where they learned to skate, scored their first goal, and experienced the thrill that comes with sport. Although the funds under the B-FIT program have been committed, Nova Scotian communities will see this money flow over the next six years. That's six years of new facilities in which Nova Scotians can get fit, play, and gather.
Although these funds were committed in a much shorter time frame than originally planned, make no mistake, Nova Scotians will benefit from the B-FIT program for years to come. With B-FIT complete, HPP continues to offer other grant programs for physical activity and sport and recreational facilities across the province.
Our department's Recreational Facility Development program provides up to one-third of the total capital costs of a project, up to $150,000. Under the RFD program, playgrounds, trails, parks, and a variety of other recreational facilities have been funded. Our staff also works closely with community groups to ensure their projects are well researched, well planned, and viable. Health Promotion and Protection will continue to work with our communities to ensure access to modern and safe sport and recreational facilities.
Secondly, I felt the HPP estimates debate this year contained a very thoughtful dialogue surrounding the use and overuse of alcohol in Nova Scotia. Alcohol is such an accepted part of our culture and society that the harms that can be created by alcohol use are often overlooked. As a province, we need to better understand the many negative ways that the overuse of alcohol impacts on our lives.
In 2007, Mr. Chairman, it was reported that the annual health, social and economic costs of harmful alcohol use to Nova Scotia are significant. Our challenge, therefore, is to ensure the responsible use of alcohol while at the same time recognizing and working to educate Nova Scotians surrounding the harms that can result when people over consume. The annual alcohol forum, which will be hosted by Health Promotion and Protection in early May, is an excellent opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the role that alcohol plays as a public health concern and how to best address harmful alcohol consumption.
Finally, I would like to discuss a subject that we weren't able to touch on very much in estimates. The H1N1 pandemic proved that Nova Scotia had the ability to respond to a widespread pandemic quickly and effectively. I know it has been said before, but last year's H1N1 outbreak was the largest immunization campaign in the history of this province. Hundreds of thousands of Nova Scotians were vaccinated in a timely and safe manner. I'm very confident in saying that Nova Scotia, in working with our partners across the province, responded in a responsible and reasonable manner. I would like to thank Dr. Robert Strang and his team at HPP for their hard work during the H1N1 outbreak. I would also like to thank all Department of Health staff for their good work during the H1N1 pandemic. This group worked long hours and showed incredible skill as they responded to this unprecedented issue.
Mr. Chairman, HPP and the Department of Health are in the middle of an extensive, lessons-learned exercise related to H1N1. Although we were prepared and able to respond, we want to ensure that every bit of knowledge that was gained from this most recent outbreak will be used to further inform our future work.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to end my closing remarks by thanking the honourable members for their excellent questions. It gives me great pleasure to be able to discuss all of the good work that has taken place at the Department of Health Promotion and Protection. While the estimates process allows us to touch on only a few issues, I can assure the House that HPP is working on an incredible range of issues that are important to all Nova Scotians. Some of the particular issues that we will be working on this year are with respect to childhood obesity. The department has been tasked with the responsibility of developing a strategy around childhood obesity. This is a growing problem throughout North America, our jurisdiction is no different, and I very much look forward to the work that they will do on this.
I know that they have such a strong team in the Department of Health Promotion and Protection. We've seen their work on other very effective health promotion strategies and certainly the Tobacco Control Strategy is the one that comes to mind. We've seen rates of tobacco use in Nova Scotia, particularly among young people, drop rather significantly and in the coming weeks I will be able to bring forward the next phase of the tobacco strategy. I'm very much looking forward to being able to refocus our efforts in this regard because, although we've done much good work, there still is work to be done to prevent people from taking up a habit which has such a terrible impact on their health over the long-term use of tobacco and being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Mr. Chairman, from breast-feeding, healthy eating and active living to injury prevention, addiction and chronic disease, the dedicated staff at HPP continue to work to make life healthier and better for families in every region. It has been my pleasure to have an opportunity to talk further about my department and the responsibilities within that department. I hear the peanut gallery back there (Interruption) Do I need any help at this point in the night from the peanut gallery, do you think? (Applause)
I think at this point it's probably okay for me to move the resolution for the Department of Health Promotion and Protection.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E12 stand?
Resolution E12 stands.
Resolution E23 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $10,226,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Government Offices, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E23 carry?
Resolution E23 is carried.
On behalf of the committee members, we wish to thank the honourable minister and her staff for their presentation.
The time allotted for debate in Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I move the committee now rise and report progress.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 9:39 p.m.]