HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 17, 2015
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Margaret Miller
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the Committee of the Whole on Supply to order.
The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
HON. STERLING BELLIVEAU: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, I certainly enjoy the engagement of this particular process and the opportunity to talk to the Minister of Service Nova Scotia. I know we had a night to rest and we are back and I want to quickly create some of the atmosphere that we were privileged to see last night when I tried to ask the minister a few questions in the time allotted to me, and I'm only going to ask one more question. My concern as I reflect over the several questions that I was asking the minister, one of the words or combination of words, I felt the minister had some sensitivity around, so I'm going to try to bring the minister back to where we were last night in that atmosphere.
Madam Chairman, through you, several of the words that I made note of were the cumulative effect, and also in my speech, I talked about rural Nova Scotia is in the crosshairs of this McNeil Government. It was interesting to note, when the minister took the floor he talked about visiting his community and the minister talked about the social event he participated in and he was encouraged by the message he got from that social event. The message was to "maintain the course." That's his message. I'm not disputing that, I'm just suggesting that was what he heard from his social event.
Madam Chairman, very respectfully through you, I'm suggesting that this government is off course and that it needs to alter the direction it is going in because there is a cumulative effect that is happening with the closures and I think this would probably be the sensitivity that the minister was concerned about. When I go back to my communities - and I'm going to give three or four testimonials in the next few minutes - this is the message that I'm hearing from my community.
This is the parliamentary process that we're in. We have an opportunity to bring those concerns to this floor. With all due respect, that's exactly what I intend to do. People are concerned about closures at Community Services. They are concerned about Land Registry offices being shut down. They are concerned about provincial parks having an R2D2 now as the ambassador in their provincial parks. They are concerned about seven courtrooms being closed throughout rural Nova Scotia. They're concerned about the Film Tax Credit. They're concerned about ER closures in rural Nova Scotia. That is a cumulative effect.
I suggested that in my speech last night and I also noted that the minister suggests that this member - and I heard it here today - when we are given a task to bring that message here, that we are grandstanding. You can call it what you want. The minister may call it grandstanding but I call it standing up, standing up for your community and rural Nova Scotia when the cumulative effect has such a negative effect on your community. They elected us as Opposition and it is our duty to bring that voice to this Chamber. That's exactly what we're going to do.
This government suggests that it is going to maintain the course. With all due respect, I suggest that the minister go back to the Premier's Office and get some new briefing notes because this government is off course. I'm going to give you a few testimonies before I get into my last question.
I want to point out that I have been here for nine years and I do not know all the Rules of this House, but I know one thing: I know when you ask questions - and I asked several of them in the last few minutes, including last night - I know when those questions are deep and are respectable and demand an answer and when you get up and the minister starts burning the clock, I take that as a compliment. I don't take it as - you did a bad job. I am actually complimented by that whole process. I have been here for nine years and I understand the rules. So you take the microphone away from the Opposition and you burn the clock. I just want to tell you Madam Chairman, through you, that this member is not being fooled by that.
I want to get into the testimonies here before I get to my last question. I know, with all due respect, that the minister goes to some social events and he may hear otherwise, I accept that. But I also know that I hear from my community and this is a little snapshot of what I heard just in the last week. The municipal units across Nova Scotia are saying that the government is off course. The mayor of Lunenburg said that he hopes that the Premier will reconsider the film tax cut. That's one testimony.
The warden for Barrington suggests the loss of the rental fees for the family courthouse building is going to have a devastating effect on their budget, somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000. They are requesting a meeting with the Minister of Justice. There's a testimony. The mayor of Shelburne was interesting to hear on CKBW; she wrote to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board and they talked about the benefits of the film productions in the beautiful town of Shelburne. I can go into great lengths and talk about the beauty of Shelburne, The Scarlet Letter, The Book of Negros, and most recently we have the Birchtown museum that is being opened here officially next month.
The mayor of Shelburne is deeply concerned about the cumulative effect of these closures. They want to understand, and the mayor of Shelburne talks about the cumulative effect of removing the Land Registry, talks about Community Services, child protective services being eliminated, and reducing Islands Park to a self-service provincial park.
The mayor asked the question, one question: How are we supposed to survive as a community? Now, the testimonies don't end there, Madam Chairman. I'll go to Halifax: Mike Taylor, a Halifax defence lawyer said that the closure of the satellite courts will create hardships for the communities. Now, with all due respect, these are the socials that I go to. These are the stories that I hear, and it's my job to bring it to this Chamber.
When I went home one of the most interesting phone calls that I had was from a retired politician. Now, a retired politician - I was impressed when that individual called me up and asked, what is happening to our communities and the cumulative effect that is happening? For that individual to be in retirement and to call their MLA on the weekend shows that it is important, and that's the reason I'm standing here. That is not grandstanding; it is simply standing up for your community. The voices need to be heard and they need to be taken back to their respective Cabinet. They are going in the wrong direction. Madam Chairman, through you, this government is off course.
This Wednesday I had the good fortune of attending a rally out here. The film industry was very much involved. I walked out throughout this day-long protest three or four times and I spoke to a number of individuals, like my colleagues did, and not once, not one time, all that day did I hear one individual - and they were all ranges, from youth, in baby carriages, to seniors - not one individual said this government is maintaining or they want to maintain the course. What I heard was that there was a demand for young families who wanted to stay in Nova Scotia and they wanted us, as MLAs, to take this message back that the government is going in the wrong direction and this government is off course.
I had time to reflect on this and I always like to bring a little humour to my speeches and, Madam Chairman, I think humour is certainly something that we all should have some part of the day. I'm going to give you all, all the MLAs here in the sound of my voice, I'm going to give you all some homework to do in the next little while, including our House Leader. I'm going to ask you to Google Plains, Trains, and Automobiles with the famous actor John Candy. In that there was an important scene that I was really impressed by. It was a driver, and I envision myself as that driver, going in the opposite direction, trying to get John Candy's attention and pleading with him, pleading with him saying, you're going the wrong way.
Now just for humour I would encourage you to Google that and you may get a laugh out of it, but the point is, the most serious point here is that this government is going the wrong way and it is having a negative effect on rural Nova Scotia.
I'm going to leave the humour alone and I'm going to suggest one more thing before I ask my question. I'm going to suggest that there was also another cumulative effect that we all witnessed in the last few months, and that was simply old man winter. All I've got to do is look out this window and I know that the cumulative effect of not one week, not two weeks, not six weeks, but eight weeks of winter has had a cumulative effect on this city, simply on the snow removal issue. I can assure you that I'm confident that whoever is in charge of that is going to take a different approach next year. That's the cumulative effect of not addressing things at the beginning.
Now, with that, I'm suggesting the government needs to put down their briefing notes, please do not use those again, that you are on the right course because I simply say, you are going in the wrong direction.
Now, I have the opportunity, I have the clock in my favour, I can ask my final question, which I am delighted to do. To the Minister of Service Nova Scotia I have a poll in front of me. It includes the Grants and Contributions. I'm deeply interested in the fire departments across Nova Scotia and I know a number of them are from rural Nova Scotia, and this is my question: Baddeck Fire Department, roughly $10,000; the Barneys River District Fire Department, $20,000; the St. Lawrence Fire Department, $13,000 roughly; Cape Breton Fire Department, and there's another one, Larrys River District Fire Department, $6,000.
The point I'm trying to ask my question regarding is that in that Grants and Contributions, there appears to be a wide range of contributions to those fire departments. I know the importance of these departments in all of Nova Scotia so my question to the minister is, why are these ranges high and low, and can he explain how that number has been determined? Thank you for your time.
HON. MARK FUREY: I'm pleased to rise again and respond to my colleague's comments and I will conclude with a response to his question.
I just want to clarify for the benefit of those who are listening, whether they're watching Legislative TV or in what medium they use to access government because it is critically important that Nova Scotians know the challenges we face. In order to do that we have to continue to repeat the message, and that message is quite simple: the province is broke and we can't continue to allow our expenditures to outpace our revenues.
I used the example last evening of a household budget and what we do as homeowners when we're faced with financial pressures. Now, it's a smaller scale, but it is the principle of running balance. At some point in our lives as family or family members, the opportunity to generate a little bit of savings and plan for the future.
Government is no different in principle. The methodology of revenues and expenditures is quite simple. Although we differ politically, I believe we all want to achieve the same objective but we can't do that if we don't recognize in principle the importance of finding a balance that's fair to each and every stakeholder whether you're in Yarmouth or Sydney. If we can't find that balance, it doesn't matter who's sitting on the government side of the House, we will never be able to achieve and sustain the prosperity that Nova Scotians are entitled to.
I'll expand on those comments, but first I want to touch on my colleague's response and references in his comments.
He spoke about the cumulative effect. Those weren't my words; those were the words of my colleague when he spoke last evening. We recognize as government that the decisions we are making are tough decisions. There have been tough discussions that have preceded those decisions. At the same time, if we continue to focus on the balance, the fairness for one and all regardless of which industry they represent, regardless of which community they represent, regardless of their political stripe, we have to find a balance that is fair to all Nova Scotians.
When we asked that, we were asking all Nova Scotians to be part of that solution. I have talked to colleagues on both sides of the Opposition, since our comments last night, and we agree in principle. We have to find a solution, but we cannot do it if we continue to align ourselves with political positions or political past. The Ivany report spoke clearly on that very issue: we have to take politics out of the equation. We cannot continue to pretend to find the solution for Nova Scotians if we don't work collectively together, respectful of individual differences, I understand that, I get that, but the reality is we have to work together to find that solution.
The other reference that my colleague used in his comments today, and he referenced the same comments last evening, and they were his words that he presented when he talked about rural Nova Scotia is in the crosshairs of this government. In making those comments, my colleague was presenting an opinion, his views as an elected representative of this House. I fully respect that. As a matter of fact, I endorse what my colleague has said that it is our responsibility to bring those concerns forward to this Legislature so that we can engage in respectful debate that finds a solution. But we all know through our own experiences in life, whether it's work, school or relationships, there are times where we can agree to disagree. In these circumstances, I simply want to present my position as the MLA for Lunenburg West and a member of this government.
I want to assure my colleague that rural Nova Scotia is not in the crosshairs of this government. We recognize the value of rural Nova Scotia and the mayor of HRM has said it best: in order for HRM to be successful, rural Nova Scotia has to be successful, and we'll continue with those thoughts in mind.
The other comment that my colleague has used is he is suggesting, based on the feedback he has received, that this government is off course. Nova Scotia is off course, Madam Chairman. This Premier and this government are trying to find a solution, a solution that is inclusive, recognizing that each and every one of us is going to have to play a part in that. That means finding solutions and that means there will be times when we don't agree.
When we look at the circumstances we are facing, and when I engage my municipal colleagues in Municipal Affairs, 18 months ago when I was fortunate to first assume that chair and my first engagement was the UNSM Fall conference that my colleague referenced and spoke of last night, from that point forward we have entered into discussions and dialogue that are respectful, a significant shift in municipality's relationships with government, and we have entered into discussions openly knowing that the discussions were going to be difficult and that the decisions were going to be difficult.
My colleague has rightly acknowledged and recognized that there are municipalities that are impacted by these circumstances. Each and every municipality is impacted by these circumstances and when I engage my municipal colleagues I engage them with the intent of finding solutions, recognizing that the discussions will be difficult and the decisions will be difficult.
My colleague identified a number of areas: Community Services, Land Registry offices, parks, seven satellite courthouses, the Film Tax Credit, and ER closures. We recognize that. We recognize that those decisions will have an impact on municipalities but the model that this government is advancing is a model that continues to sustain services. So, yes, I recognize the changes for Community Services in the Municipality of Barrington but the resources remain available. Those resources will now go to the clients.
I recognize that Nova Scotians are used to convenience of service within the Land Registry environment but here are the facts: 75 per cent of Nova Scotians use Land Registry in an online format; 20 per cent, mail in; and just shy of 5 per cent is pedestrian traffic or foot traffic. With the analysis of that program, it made no sense for the government to continue to spend $1.86 million to provide a service where there is 5 per cent traffic.
If I ran my household like that, the bank would repossess my house. If I ran a business like that, the bank would foreclose. Government cannot continue to expend those revenues, taxpayers' dollars, when we're hearing from Nova Scotians and we're hearing from both Opposition Parties, we have to be responsible for taxpayers' dollars. I appreciate that individual MLAs, on both sides of the floor, are going to speak their minds and express the opinions and views and concerns of their constituents. I commend my colleague, the member for Queens-Shelburne, for doing that. It is appropriate and it's democratic.
We have to take emotions out of difficult decisions, as hard as that is. I'm sensitive to how it impacts individuals because I hear those stories. I'm sensitive to small communities. When you raise ferry fees it has an impact. I'm sensitive to the Film Tax Credit and the commitment of that industry and the young people, and I want to emphasize the young people, who are challenged. They have a dream and they have a passion for creative art. They have a dream and they have passion for the creative industry. They pursue education to work in those fields. I understand that. We have to continue to afford to provide those opportunities but we cannot do it if we continue to write cheques. The objective of this government is simply to find a balance. I'll speak to that in a moment.
The other reference that my colleague spoke of was grandstanding. If my colleague misunderstood the direction of my comments, I simply want to extend the opportunity to clarify that. I was not talking about the member's responsibilities in this Legislature to stand and represent his constituents. I did not make that reference in this House. My references were to the external actions where the people are putting politics ahead of people. It serves no purpose to go out and engage any group that feels they have been disadvantaged, for the soul purpose of a camera opportunity. The objective in engaging individuals who are disadvantaged is to hear them in a genuine and fair manner and to have discussions and explain reasons why government does the things they have to do.
Last night I shared with my colleague that on Easter Monday I attended a protest in the community of LaHave over the increased ferry fee in that community and our cable ferry services in our province. Prior to the protest I reached out to that group and I asked for the opportunity to meet with them. We sat for two hours and had tremendous discussions. It was informative for me, they shared with me; it was informative for them because they had not previously understood how the mechanisms of government worked. We're all, every one of us in this Legislature, responsible for that gap, for that shortcoming.
The point of my comments specific to grandstanding were not, Madam Chairman, directed at my colleague in this Legislature; they were specific to external behaviours and activities outside this House. I want to qualify, I fully respect the right to peaceful protest. It's embedded in our constitution, I understand that. I, too, want to complement, as one of my colleagues did earlier, the respectful nature of that assembly.
Madam Chairman, I left the building, walked through that group, early on the day of the protest, and we engaged in genuine discussion. It was not confrontational; it was respectful and I want to commend the group for the presence and the behaviour and the professionalism that they demonstrated, peacefully protesting, as they are entitled to do, expressing their point of view, no different than the constituents in Lunenburg West and the community of LaHave did on Easter Monday.
The other point that I wanted to touch on that my colleague referenced, and I will get to my point before I conclude my comments, my colleague used the phrase referring to me that I was burning the clock. I want to share, Madam Chairman, that my intent, no different than I am standing here today - and I guess maybe it's 32 years of policing that comes out in me. You make extensive notes and you analyze your notes and you take the opportunity to present your position, specific to those arguments or notes that are shared in discussion.
That's no different than any one of my colleagues would choose to do, specific to any other department going through Budget Estimates or any other discussion where you would want reasonable time to express your opinions, your views, to openly debate those subject matters in the forum that we have been afforded and provided to do just that.
I know my colleague referenced a number of communities and municipal leaders around the province, particularly the South Shore and close proximity to his provincial constituency. As I said earlier I know these decisions impact these communities and the mayors, wardens, and councillors are elected, no different than my colleague or I, to represent the people who put us in public office. I respect their right to express their opinion and I've engaged some of those leaders in one-on-one discussions since they've expressed concerns and I understand.
I also want to recognize, Madam Chairman, that collectively, as a province, specific to municipalities, the advantages for them that we have been able to leverage in this budget.
Madam Chairman, I want to table a piece of correspondence that speaks to just that point. There are two articles I want to table that are specific to the challenges municipalities face and the comments of the municipal leadership. The president of the UNSM himself, who is responsible for his membership, in an article in The Chronicle Herald on April 10th, these were the words of Mr. Keith Hunter who is the warden of the County of Cumberland, and also the president of the UNSM. He says: "From a municipal standpoint, we'd call it a stable budget. We're satisfied with the budget. Most provincial departments took a hit, whereas the Department of Municipal Affairs didn't." He identifies that the budget for Municipal Affairs was increased. I'll table that article for the benefit of my colleague.
I also want to table a second article, a CBRM press release. These are the words of the mayor of CBRM who states: "After two difficult budget years, we are pleased this year that we have received the stability we sought. I commend the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs for working with us to better manage these challenges."
I recognize that in isolation, individual communities would be challenged and impacted by these decisions. As government, we have a responsibility to find efficiencies so we can continue to provide core services. Those examples of municipal leadership are speaking collectively of the province and their desire to see that Nova Scotia sustains itself and goes forward.
It is no different in a government caucus, Madam Chairman, individual caucus members express their concerns and their feelings much like my colleague does. When we have the opportunity to chat about the overall objective, my caucus colleagues and I come to an understanding that yes, we are conscious of tough discussions; we're now more aware of the need for tough decisions and collectively - not in isolation but collectively - as a voice of government, to move a strategy and initiatives that we believe are in the best interests of all Nova Scotians.
We cannot, Madam Chairman, I would suggest, start to isolate individual communities; we cannot go that course. We would never be able to right the ship, if that's the avenue we pursued.
I want to speak briefly to the cumulative effect statement that my colleague had shared last evening and we have each spoken to briefly. My reference to cumulative effect, recognizing my colleague's position with various services impacted in individual communities, I want to qualify that those same services were impacted in the constituencies of members of the government caucus.
The cumulative effect that I presented and shared last night was specific to labour wage settlements, past labour wage settlements, the predicament that has put us in today, and the need for government to mitigate the cumulative effect that those wage settlements have had on government's ability to provide service. So instead of cutting ferry fees, we could retain ferry fees at a previous rate. But if our expenditures continue to outpace our revenues, we have to find those options and opportunities where we can find balance, and to the best of our ability apply a level of fairness.
Last night I spoke to the discussions I've had with municipal leaders and there is a discussion that I recall frequently, and I use it in many of the discussions I have with municipal leaders who are impacted individually, but an opportunity to talk with them, sit down and chat; they understand. It was the former president of the UNSM who said we have to be fair. They recognize that when decisions are made, there will be municipalities that are disadvantaged, but they also recognize that it's a necessary step to find the stability that both the mayor of CBRM and the president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities have referenced in their comments following the budget.
So my objective in the departments that I'm responsible for is to include and engage stakeholders; it is to have tough discussions and come to tough decisions, but importantly, do that in a manner where we best demonstrate, to the best of our ability, a level of fairness in those discussions.
I used two examples yesterday. One example was Victoria County where the satellite course in the Baddeck village will not continue, but with the change in equalization, specific to Nova Scotia Power assets in Victoria County, the Municipality of Victoria will generate, as a result of those decisions, more revenue than they had previously, recognizing that there is some level of fairness but at the same time inherent difficult decisions that have had an impact in one area of their community.
It's not the objective of this government to present intentional complications or challenges on municipalities. It is about working with them and finding solutions. As I stated last night, I believe we've achieved that with municipalities. We've done it, including them in the discussion. We've done it, including my caucus colleagues, who have expressed and shared their concerns, but given the opportunity for input and discussion, collectively understand the impact that has on Nova Scotia.
It is and will be my objective in my new responsibilities in the Department of Business to pursue and try to apply the same methodology with the stakeholders and the partners in the Department of Business. We will continue to do that in Municipal Affairs and we will continue to do that in Service Nova Scotia.
I want to wrap up my comments with my own little financial analogy of where we are as a province. Many of my colleagues have been team players in their own communities, multiple sports teams, some legends in baseball and hockey, but you know, the most important part of those environments and those experiences is the understanding of a team and how individuals contribute to that team.
AN HON. MEMBER: And you know what "team" stands for: together each achieves more.
MR. FUREY: I like that, but here is the reality of "team" as we apply it to the Province of Nova Scotia. Everybody has a role on the team, and I'll use the hockey analogy: there is the regular shift, the power play, and there's the penalty kill unit. We call on every team member, much like we call on individual municipalities and industry across the province, to provide input to the team objective. Not everybody gets to play on the power play; some are disadvantaged in their minds. Not everybody gets to play on the penalty kill unit; some will sit on the bench. It's not intended to be punitive. The strategy is to find a greater outcome for the team, and as my colleague just mentioned, it is about finding greater solutions collectively.
That may sound like a simple analogy but that's the reality of where we find ourselves in this Legislature, within this caucus, within this group of elected MLAs, collectively, for the betterment of the province, finding a greater outcome. I simply want to present to my colleague that we believe this is demonstrating a government that is on course. Yes, we're sensitive to the groups that decisions impact. These are necessary; these are tough decisions. It doesn't matter which Party sits on this side of the House; the government of that day will experience the very same decisions.
I want to use one example and give credit to my colleague who was a minister in the previous government. It is specific to the Land Registry offices. It was my colleague's government at the time who advanced the facility strategy around Land Registry offices. It was the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations at the time, in May 2011, who advanced that bill to change the landscape of Land Registries in Nova Scotia.
I'm not criticizing my colleague or his Party for doing that. It was innovative, it was creative at the time, and staff in that department did unbelievable work to achieve the objectives of that government of the day. A decision was made to not carry that forward. I'm not criticizing my colleagues for that decision, I'm simply identifying what they were thinking at the time. They were recognizing at the time that there were challenges and that governments had to find efficiencies.
I tabled these documents yesterday and I want to table them again today, for the benefit of my colleagues on this side of the House and my colleagues in Opposition. It was Bill No. 30 in May 2011 that the former Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations advanced.
I want to make reference to the comments that the minister of the day had stated. It was these words: ". . . it may make sense in the future for the department to be able to locate offices outside the county boundaries, where they are now required by law to be." So he was rationalizing his decision on behalf of their government to advance that legislative change. The minister also went on to say: ". . . it may help us to deliver services more efficiently or to improve customer service. We need the flexibility to do that."
Those circumstances are consistent with the strategy that this government applied, based on the work of the previous government and the staff within the department. Yes, we recognize it's a tough decision but it is about finding efficiencies and the savings that we will realize in that department, recognizing the circumstances that drove that, the low foot traffic, less than 5 per cent that utilize that service. The objective in that environment is to increase the online service to 95 per cent.
The other component of that, and again I do want to acknowledge my colleague's comments when he speaks for the interest of his constituents, one of the decisions in those discussions was to relocate the Land Registry office and creating that centre of excellence, from the Pictou County community, placing it in Amherst. One of the factors that we considered was the balance and numbers of government services and government employees in those communities, recognizing that Cumberland County just recently experienced the movement of multiple government employee positions to accommodate the needs of the new jail facility in Pictou County.
We recognize that community was impacted by that decision, a decision of the previous government to build that facility in Pictou County. Again, I want to qualify, I'm not being critical, I am simply identifying that we recognize those circumstances and to try to find a balance, to try to bring some fairness to the Cumberland County community where we could, to relocate a service and government resources in those communities.
In making those decisions, the responsibilities that I have as a minister and my input at both Treasury Board and Cabinet is to find that balance, to find that level of fairness. I believe with the budget the minister has presented, as difficult as some of those decisions are, it will meet our collective objectives going forward.
The last piece that I will comment on and provide an answer for is specifically the question that my colleague presented around the importance of fire departments in his community. I know his relationship with the fire department in his community quite well and I know he is a significant supporter of that particular fire department and other fire departments that fall within his constituency. My colleague, the member for Lunenburg and I have 27 fire departments in our communities. I want to first recognize and acknowledge the services they provide because it is unparalleled. I had the opportunity to speak at a volunteer reception and to see the presence of firefighters and know the roles they fulfill as emergency first responders; they require our support in our communities.
The question that my colleague presented was specific to the Emergency Services Provider Fund. That responsibility actually falls in the Department of Municipal Affairs but I will utilize this time to provide an answer to the question. My colleague identified varied numbers of financial support extended to those individual fire departments, and they do vary: some as small as $800 or $1,000, and others up to the maximum of $20,000.
The Emergency Services Provider Fund, for the benefit of everybody in the Legislature, because we all have volunteer fire departments, it's an application-based program to fire services and Ground Search and Rescue teams once every three years. It is not an annual funding program. There are criteria assigned to that. It's based on an application, based on a project and submission that individual fire departments would present, and based on available revenues in the department within that funding envelope, individual fire departments are approved.
One of the contributing factors to the difference in the amount of money that's released to individual fire departments is based on the application. It may be six new portable radios that cost $6,000 but it may be a roof repair that costs $20,000. I only use that as an example as to why my colleague and others could or would see a difference in the amount of money extended.
I hope that I've answered my colleague's question. I appreciate the opportunity to provide some additional clarity and really emphasize how important it is for all of us to contribute to the solutions that this province faces, not this government, this province, the value of our efforts collectively to find those solutions and work towards a model of government that provides a level playing field of balance of revenues and expenditures, no different than we would hope to achieve in our household, and at some point in time in our future, in government finding surpluses to continue to provide or expand services, or in our homes to create a little bit of savings so that our future is a little more comfortable. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Time has elapsed for the NDP caucus. Do we have any more questions from the House? If there are none then we will go back to the NDP caucus for another question.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
HON. DAVID WILSON: Madam Chairman, I want to thank the minister for allowing me to have a few moments to ask some questions. It has been brought to my attention today with the concern over the direction of some of the programs that fall under the minister's jurisdiction. I represent a community that for many, many years had no access to an Access Nova Scotia office. The catchment area out in the Sackville area is over 100,000 and growing. I know that because of the Cobequid Community Health Center and the data that is used to guide what they do that the surrounding area that utilizes that is over 100,000.
When the previous Progressive Conservative Government were in they allowed for an Access Nova Scotia to be built there. I know that those members of my community that I represent and out to Mount Uniacke and even farther - Fall River and Waverley - appreciate the opportunity to not have to drive to downtown Halifax to register, get a new licence, and register the vehicle and that.
I'd like to ask the minister, I know he mentioned a model of government that levels the playing field, does that include and will the minister give us some information around the possibility of a bid that will go out to businesses to take over the Registry of Motor Vehicles? Is that something that the government is looking at? If so, when will they announce that?
MR. FUREY: Madam Chairman, I appreciate the question from my colleague. The discussions that we have embarked upon, I spoke to here yesterday in Budget Estimates, is an alternate service delivery model that creates a partnership between government, labour, and industry. The discussions and work that we have embarked upon have included a review of those alternate service delivery models that exist in other jurisdictions. In identifying those I was fortunate to travel with a couple of my colleagues to those jurisdictions and have discussions with industry, with labour, and with government to better understand how that model is delivered.
We continue with that work in both exploratory and preliminary ways. As we speak there has been no decision made to move with that model because there is work to do to determine whether it would even be worthwhile for the province. To my colleague's question, is there an RFP prepared for purposes of those purposes, no, there is not.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I thank the minister for that answer. It's no secret, we've heard through the last number of weeks - it's the budget - and previous that this potentially would be an area that you are looking at. Do you have a timeline on when you would come back or when you would announce to Nova Scotians that this is what we're going to do? Is it months away? Is it weeks away? Is it in next year's budget? Just give some kind of timeline because there are people who are concerned.
Whenever you hear the government talk about potentially looking at an alternate delivery model, which I would say privatization of a service that the government currently holds, then people who work within that industry are concerned. I don't doubt for a moment that I will be hearing from those working in the offices in Sackville, and throughout the province, in Access Nova Scotia about what does this mean? Does it mean a cut in full-time positions?
I know that there are models out there that the government might be looking at. In Ontario they've done this. In Manitoba, and I know the Ontario model for example, there was over 50 per cent reduction in full-time positions when they moved in that province to look at an alternate way of delivering that service. So a timeline, if the minister could provide it, and maybe what model you're looking at. Are you looking at a model that will definitely reduce the number of employees that are working currently providing this service?
MR. FUREY: The two points my colleague has identified specific to timeline and impact on labour, are two very important components within the alternate service delivery model. The timeline, and this is based on our experience in discussions with other provinces - Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan - can be an extended period and process. In the circumstances of Manitoba, which I use more often as the example simply because of the comparables to Nova Scotia, was just shy of 24 months and that was once a decision was made by their government to pursue an alternate service delivery model.
We are not there at that decision point yet. There is work to do. I am hoping that by early to mid-June we may have some idea, some finality to the preliminary work that staff are doing and certainly be in a better position to determine if, in fact, this government will pursue the alternate service delivery model.
The second point my colleague identified was around labour. He used the Ontario example and I'll really premise my comments on the Manitoba model. I'm very conscious, Madam Chairman, of the rights and privileges that our Public Service has imbedded in their contacts, and we fully respect those rights and privileges. This is not about cutting positions; this is about cost avoidance. The example I used last night, much of government's work in the technology field is challenging because many of our platforms are dated and there is a need to update those platforms.
Specific to Land Registry, we're looking at an expenditure of somewhere in the area of $5.6 million to upgrade the platform for Land Registry to continue to function and to enhance that service. It's those types of factors that have objectively, due diligence on the part of our Public Service and government, and I would suggest, Madam Chairman, what Nova Scotians expect of their government is to find options and opportunities that continue to provide the service, respectful of the contracts and bargaining privileges and rights that our Public Service has been so fortunate to have.
In Manitoba the transition of their Land Registry to the partnership arrangement of government, labour, and industry experienced in the area of 97 per cent transition of those Public Service employees to that environment, with a condition that their privileges, rights, and contractual obligations of government in their previous contract within government was retained in a unionized environment in the Manitoba model. Another condition available to the employees was that within the first two years of that transition, should they choose to revert to government, they had that opportunity.
To my colleague's question, there is a tremendous amount of attention given to our workforce and I can tell you, on each and every discussion we embarked upon in those three provinces, my colleagues in the department spoke about the policies, the objectives, and the opportunities, and my questions were focused, Madam Chairman, on our human resources and the concerns that I would have for those individuals who are employed within government in that area of responsibility.
I am very sensitive to our workforce and want to assure the member that that is forefront in my mind as well.
MR. DAVID WILSON: We know the Manitoba model and where Manitoba went with it, I believe Teranet is the company name, but they also provide that service for Ontario. The key will be, if the government chooses to do this, on what are they going to negotiate with them? The minister stated that he likes the Manitoba model and in Manitoba he was correct that the employees in Manitoba were kept on and that their benefits were protected but there is some concern when you go down that path, especially if a company who provides that service in different jurisdictions and has different agreements.
As I said in Ontario, for example, there was a reduction in staffing levels of over 50 per cent. It's not a secret. We're not a fan of the privatization of services here in Nova Scotia, as a Party, as a caucus. We know that when those types of introductions or services are being transferred to the private sector, you usually see an erosion of benefits. We have a history here in Nova Scotia, usually an erosion of benefit for the workers, number-one concern, but also an increase in the cost.
I know in Manitoba, for example, the fees that we see, of course the government is in control now of the fees we have and we've just seen them, they've raised all the fees in the province; that includes registering your vehicle and your licence. The point is, Madam Chairman, the government is in control of that. When you introduce outside or private companies, there is a profit component to the request of what an increase will be like, or a request for an increase down the road. A perfect example of that is Nova Scotia Power.
This government utilized Nova Scotia Power and the displeasure that many Nova Scotians have with the company and with the power rates that we see in this province to their advantage in the last election. Interesting enough they are the same Party that contributed to privatizing Nova Scotia Power. It was a company that was in-house and was overseen by government; it was a publicly-owned company, and we see how that has turned out.
I believe in the Manitoba model that the increases are cost of living plus one, or consumer price index plus one. We tend to see here in Nova Scotia an increase in the fees of consumer price index, or close to 3 per cent, I believe most of them, even this year, even though we've found out that some of them went up a much higher rate.
I'm concerned that we're going to see this happen and in Ontario and in Manitoba, part of doing this is to get some kind of revenue from this company to allow them to go forward. I believe in Manitoba there may be a 30-year licensing agreement. Once this is decided, if this is the route the government is going to take, it's going to be very hard to go back and change it if it doesn't work out.
Yes, you could say the first year or two there might be clauses in there that can revert it back to the province but usually you won't see too many issues in the first few years, it's years later. Look at Nova Scotia Power and we're how many years after that, decades after that happening and now there's a cry from many that we should buy it back and we should put it back into the hands of public ownership, and that's very difficult.
Our own caucus and our own Party, over the years, were strong advocates not to privatize Nova Scotia Power. We're not going to waver from that because we know the results; we're living it today.
I hope the minister understands our concerns, I hope he recognizes that this step jeopardizes, I think, the control government has on those fees and the increases that we're going to see over the years. These fees are not going to go down. Nova Scotians are going to continue to see an increase in how much it costs to renew your licence and renew your vehicle registration.
I think that's where I'm at with this, Madam Chairman, in our caucus. We are extremely concerned on a number of fronts, as I said: the concern of the employees who currently work in this sector across our province, many of them in rural Nova Scotia. That's the last place we need to see an erosion of good-paying jobs.
It won't happen overnight, I believe that. I don't think, if the government decides this, all of a sudden they're going to go and pay these employees minimum wage. There is some protection in there that government could put but ultimately, in the end, that will be in the hands of a private company. We know, Madam Chairman, that tends to lead to lower wages for those employees and we're concerned about that.
Have the minister and his department done some analysis to date? Is there analysis done on the two models that they looked at, or three - I think he mentioned Saskatchewan also. If so, can he provide that to the members of the House?
MR. FUREY: If I may take a moment to correct the statement I made earlier when I talked about cost avoidance and I referenced a project, the platform project that was on hold, I think I said Land Registry when, in fact, it was Registry of Joint Stocks. I just wanted to correct that for the record.
Specific to my colleague's last question, we have not done an analysis of other governments' transitions to those partnerships. What we have done is gathered, in consultation with industry, government and labour in the workforce, kind of an overall collective package of the options and opportunities that may present themselves, should we decide to pursue an alternate service delivery model or partnership in these particular areas.
MR. DAVID WILSON: On that I would like to ask if the minister could provide who, in those categories, did the department consult and more specifically, when he mentioned labour, did the department consult with the unions that represent these employees? If not, will he be consulting with the unions that represent these workers, before any changes?
MR. FUREY: I do want to clarify, when I speak about labour, I'm talking about the workforce and those work environments where we travelled. Part of the process going forward, obviously, in the partnership, should government decide to pursue alternative service delivery, is to engage labour and industry, if the decision is made to advance this service delivery model.
MR. DAVID WILSON: One more time I want to ask - and hopefully he could be specific - when you say labour that's very broad. What I'm asking is has the minister consulted with the union - I believe it's the union not unions, it could be more than one union but I believe union - that represents these workers who might be affected. If not, will he guarantee today that he or his department will consult directly with the union that represents the workers that might be affected by a possible change in how this is delivered to Nova Scotians?
MR. FUREY: I do want to clarify that when I speak of labour - and my colleague is correct, "labour" is a broad term - I'm talking about discussions that we had with the workforce in those environments that we visited. I did not speak to labour leadership in those circumstances. What I do want to share with my colleague, and I think it will put his mind at ease, if government chooses to pursue the alternative service delivery model that partnership includes government, labour, and industry, and if we're pursuing a partnership, we will be compelled to engage those stakeholders.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I know I'm persistent on this but in recent days we've seen the lack of consultation. That's why I'm concerned. I'm going to take the minister's word for that that labour and the unions that represent those who work within the sector will be consulted prior to any changes. I hope that's what I heard from the minister.
Last couple of questions and I'll give my hat off to the minister to finish up. The first part is, can you give us the breakdown of how many vacancies currently are within Access Nova Scotia - and it's not specific to motor vehicle because they do many. What are the vacancies available now across the province within the sector that provides those services within his department?
MR. FUREY: The existing vacancies in Service Nova Scotia, which is the total department, is 77 - 63 of those are bargaining positions and 14 are excluded classification. As my colleague would know, having been a former minister, there is a process within the budgetary process, the human resource process, which creates vacancies for purposes of balancing our ability to provide service while at the same time balancing our ability to manage costs.
MR. DAVID WILSON: My last piece here on this is I'm wondering if the minister and his department, maybe not today, can provide us a breakdown of the vacancies within the Access Nova Scotia offices throughout the province. The last bit is that I hope the minister and the government do not go down this road but reality states that you have a majority government, or the government has the majority, and if they choose to do this, they do.
It's interesting to note that the two jurisdictions that I referred to today that went down this road, one in Ontario and one in Manitoba, I'm glad that the minister is looking towards the Manitoba model because what stands out for me in that one is that they agreed not to lay off. They agreed to maintain employee benefits and that's what I am most concerned about, the people who are working today providing this important service to Nova Scotians, that their jobs are protected. It's interesting to note that maybe the reason that those jobs were protected was because I think it was an NDP Government that brought that through. I encourage him to do the same but I hope he can provide me with the vacancies at the Access Nova Scotia offices, more specifically, and I want to thank the minister for his time today. Thank you.
MR. FUREY: Madam Chairman, I'll be brief in response to my colleague's final comments. We will certainly source the information specific to those vacancies in the Access Nova Scotia workplace and provide that information. I certainly respect his strong position and concerns around the workforce, and if I can use his words "don't go down that road" - he strongly encourages us not to.
I talked earlier about finding a balance and fairness. I think as a government we owe it to Nova Scotians to explore all options and opportunities that will contribute to the overall collective objective of righting the ship, positioning government and the province in a better place financially so that at some point in our future we're able to create surpluses and expand and enhance the services that Nova Scotians deserve.
I believe it is incumbent upon us to explore these opportunities. I know my colleagues on the opposite side of the House understand that need, and as I indicated, I believe that we owe that to Nova Scotia, to be fiscally responsible and to find efficiencies that continue to provide the service that Nova Scotians have come to expect. If I may, with a couple of concluding comments, I do want to thank my colleagues from both Opposition Parties for the dialogue and the discussion and my offer to engage my colleagues in their critic roles, to assist them in better understanding the objectives of the departments and the mandates of the departments, certainly remains.
I hope that I've been able to answer the questions that my colleagues have presented, to their satisfaction, and I certainly appreciate their interest in Service Nova Scotia. As I said in my opening remarks, there is no other office of government that interacts on a daily basis with Nova Scotians more than Service Nova Scotia. Each day we have thousands of interactions, with citizens, businesses, non-profit organizations, and municipalities through our various client channels: in person, online, or on the phone.
To ensure that we are responding to the needs of our clients, our focus this year will be on making client interaction with government easier; reducing red tape and creating regulatory excellence; making the Government of Nova Scotia a digital service leader; building an engaged and motivated workforce; and creating a new corporate culture that is client-centred, collaborative, innovative, and integrated.
We recognize that this year will be a busy but productive one for Service Nova Scotia as we take our mandate and our work to the next level, while ensuring that everything we do aligns with the provincial government's overarching directions and priorities and support that the Nova Scotia public has extended to us.
Again, I want to thank my colleagues for their questions and their time specific to Service Nova Scotia.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E35 stand?
Resolution E35 stands.
We will now take a short recess to allow for a departmental change.
[1:15 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the Committee of the Whole on Supply back to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Madam Chairman, would you please call the estimates for the Department of Internal Services.
Resolution E12 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $180,300,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Internal Services, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Internal Services.
HON. LABI KOUSOULIS: It's my honour to present this year's budget for the Department of Internal Services. I'd like to begin by introducing Jeff Conrad, Deputy Minister of Internal Services, and Diana Surette, Executive Director of Finance and Strategic Capital Planning. They will be assisting me as I answer your questions today.
Madam Chairman, before I get into specifics about my department I want to speak about the overall budget. It is a budget that holds the line on spending, restructures and reduces the size of government, and continues to clear the way for private sector growth. It is a budget that focuses on the core responsibilities of government and makes the changes needed to protect key government priorities like health care, education, and support for seniors and low-income Nova Scotians.
Madam Chairman, we were able to focus on these key areas by making structural changes in government that will make it work better and cost less. By making thoughtful, strategic spending decisions and reductions, overall department spending is up only 0.7 per cent over 2014 and 2015. That takes into account wage increases that were some of the highest in Canada for our sectors.
I would also like to note that the net debt to GDP ratio is regarded as the most comprehensive indicator of the province's financial position. It hit a recent peak of 37.7 per cent at the end of 2014. This ratio is expected to improve over this fiscal year, reaching 33.4 per cent by 2018-19, bringing us closer to the goals set out in the One Nova Scotia report of reaching 30 per cent.
Madam Chairman, let's have a talk about the debt, which is one of the key reasons why this province has been on a track that it has to move off of. In 2009 the net funded debt of the Province of Nova Scotia was $12.18 billion. By the following year it was $13.32 billion, rising the following year to $14.6 billion and then $14.98 billion. In 2013 it reached $15.35 billion. In 2014 it levelled off to $15.3 billion. That is an increase of $4.3 billion of debt when we started at $12 billion, over a short five years in our 150-year history.
Let's put that in perspective: $4 billion of debt would amount to approximately $250 million of interest we are spending now. What do we have to show over the last five years? Are we booming as an economy as a province? No, in the last 25 years we have been the worst-performing economy in Canada and that has to change.
Other measures in this budget include beginning to right-size the Public Service by reducing 320 full-time-equivalent jobs, including layoffs, as government restructures programs and services. The program review to date will save taxpayers $119 million. The program review has become a permanent initiative with future savings contributing to sustainable finances. The Department of Health and Wellness spending will rise in line with inflation, the smallest increase in more than a decade.
Procurement savings have helped offset rising costs of health care. Nova Scotia will save $1.2 million on linear accelerators and another $1 million on catheters and stents, through joint tendering in the health sector. Imagine, if we had broken down the nine health authorities earlier and we could all use our buying power to buy together, how much more savings there would be. Those are two items with $2 million of savings. They stayed in the health care sector to provide better care for Nova Scotians.
Investing an additional $20.4 million this year to renew, refocus, and rebuild our education system, we are protecting our vulnerable citizens by maintaining or increasing funding to a number of key programs.
Madam Chairman, as government we need to protect the things that matter, like health care, education, and support for seniors. The only way to do that, given our challenge, is to reduce spending and let the private sector grow the economy. That means making changes. We cannot continue to do all the things government has been doing. We must ensure we get value for the money we spend on behalf of Nova Scotians. It is going to take an effort on everyone's part, including the Public Service. That's why we undertook the program review and made difficult decisions to eliminate programs and reduce the size of the Public Service.
Madam Chairman, government takes seriously the fiscal challenges that lie before our province. This budget reflects our business plan and the core responsibilities. We are ensuring delivery of services to all Nova Scotians. My department plays a key role in addressing those challenges. We are well positioned to rise and meet the challenges in front of us by making smart fiscal decisions today that will pay dividends tomorrow.
Last April, Premier Stephen McNeil named me as the first Minister of Internal Services, when this department was created. I know many of the members will be interested to hear why government made the move to create this department. Simply put, we have realigned several functions to provide better service to Nova Scotians. We took a broad look at the workings of government and saw opportunities to do things differently. We are able to drive savings by looking at the services we deliver across departments and bringing them together under one roof.
Internal Services combines government's corporate support functions into one department. They include: information technology, accounting, payroll, procurement, and properties, just to name a few. The realignment is meant to find efficiencies for us and most importantly, provide better services for Nova Scotians. Across the province, Internal Services employees manage and maintain public buildings, process one million financial transactions each year, meet government space and inventory needs, audit operations, make best use of technology, manage major purchases for the public sector, and help public bodies fulfill requests for records and information.
Our mandate is to provide supports that help the public sector deliver programs and services that Nova Scotians rely upon. We are well positioned to meet our goals so that other departments can focus on delivering important programs for Nova Scotia.
Because Internal Services is a new and evolving entity, I want to give the members a brief overview of what we do. My department is structured into five operational branches, including Public Works; Financial Services; Internal Audit; Procurement Services; and Information, Communications and Technology Services.
The Public Works branch manages provincial buildings and infrastructure and remediates contaminated sites. There are five positions within the Public Works branch. The Environmental Services and Remediation Division funds environmental site assessments and manages the remediation of contaminated sites. The division also provides project management expertise for water quality, on-site sewage disposal, and building demolition. Over the past 12 to 18 months employees have undertaken 31 Phase II environmental site assessments, 39 regulated material assessments, six wetland assessments, and nine environmental site remediations across the province.
The Public Safety and Field Communications Division manages the Trunked Mobile Radio system, which is essential for public safety. This radio system is used by the police, RCMP, volunteer firefighters, ambulances, ground search and rescue, municipal emergency management organizations, health authorities, school boards, Nova Scotia Power, rural broadband providers, ham radio operators, and others. This year we're investing in upgrades to a next-generation, all-digital radio system. We're providing leadership across the public sector to ensure first responders and public organizations have the communication tools they need to do their jobs.
Government has approved replacing aging telecommunication towers and provided $10 million worth of mobile radio equipment. This year the budget for the Public Safety and Field Communications Office is increasing to $15.3 million as we look to the Trunked Mobile Radio 2 project, which will replace the mobile radio field communication system that RCMP, EMO, volunteer fire departments, and ground search and rescue use to keep Nova Scotians safe. The existing system is more than 15 years old and all the electronic components will be replaced through a 10-year service agreement with Bell. We have also committed to funding annual radio maintenance worth over $3 million a year.
The Insurance Risk and Management Division acts as government's insurer. The division insures the physical security needs of government and the public are looked after. They also provide insurance claims and management services to all departments and all agencies. Presently the division manages 13 insurance policies for government. The group recently completed a security review of key government buildings including our very own Province House.
The Real Properties Services Division meets government's space needs, provides real estate acquisition and disposal services, and manages government's inventory. Presently we lease about 2.3 million square feet and manage 1.7 million square feet of office, warehouse, specialty, and courthouse space. Last year the division generated $1.5 million in revenue by disposing surplus properties such as land parcels, furniture, and equipment through public auction, recycling, scrap waste, and donation for non-profits.
The Building Services Division maintains and does capital planning for government properties, including 2,400 buildings and other infrastructure. Government owns approximately 7.8 million square feet of space valued at $2.5 billion. This year their work expands as they take on operation of eight buildings at Perennia in Truro and operations of the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou County. That's an overview of the responsibilities of the Public Works branch. I would like to switch now to Financial Services Delivery.
Financial Services Delivery manages accounting, payroll, and financial reporting for governments, school boards, and pensioners; the branch has three divisions. The Payroll Client Relations Division runs an integrated and centrally managed payroll centre. The Operational Accounting Division provides centralized payments for all departments, including accounts receivables and accounts payables, social assistance, rebate programs, and loans. The division also produces payroll payments and tax slips for the government, school boards, retired teachers, and public servants. Last year employees in the division received an award for outstanding program achievement from Scotiabank, for instituting billing and payment standards.
The Payment Transaction Services Division processes and audits expense claims and ensures government travel and expense policies are upheld. Together the employees who make up this branch manage one million transactions a year, including processing 60,000 travel claims, 240,000 cheques, 700,000 remittances, and 70,000 T4 slips. These financial professionals came together when Internal Services was created. I believe by working together they will continue to find operational efficiencies.
The Internal Audit branch supports departments by reviewing their operations, and predicting and evaluating financial risks in order to minimize their impact. Last year they completed a rigorous quality review that confirms our auditors continue to meet the high professional standards set by their industry.
The Internal Audit Centre is currently planning the staffing and operations for a new procurement audit team. Last year the provincial government spend nearly $1 billion on goods, services, and construction, all this with 80 per cent invested back in Nova Scotia. We need to make sure that public dollars are spent wisely, and that's why we're making a greater effort to ensure the best purchasing decisions are being made and that the public's confidence in the procurement process remains high.
Madam Chairman, before I began my career in politics I worked as a commercial lender and owned various small businesses; I'm also a certified management accountant. Now as the minister responsible for public sector procurement, my focus is to provide the most efficient service to Nova Scotians while getting the best value for our dollar.
Procurement is the next branch I will speak about. It is made up of two divisions. The Procurement Services Division manages major purchases for government departments, and agencies, boards and commissions; they do so using fair and open purchasing practices. Nova Scotia was recently honoured with the Achievement in Excellence in Procurement Award for 2014 from the National Procurement Institute. I was very pleased to hear our employees earned this recognition.
The Queen's Printer Division supplies, produces, and distributes regular and confidential documents for government departments, and agencies, boards and commissions. The Information, Communications and Technology Services Branch, which was formally the Chief Information Office, ensures technology and information management practices align with the plans and strategies of government. The branch is made up of four divisions that cover infrastructure management, corporate information strategies, support for SAP, and information access and privacy.
In addition to providing daily IT support to government employees, the branch manages nearly 11,400 desktop computers and laptops, 3,700 mobile and wireless devices, over 1,000 servers, and 600 business applications. They work across public sectors supporting departments, agencies, and other public sector entities, with solutions that enable them to deliver their services to Nova Scotians. They also work closely with the Emergency Management Office to ensure business continuity, allowing government to be prepared to effectively respond to adverse situations and serve Nova Scotians during a disaster. I will speak in more detail about some of the exciting projects coming from this branch later in this speech.
The department is also served by a Corporate Policy branch, which guides the design, development, and delivery of our programs and services. Communications Nova Scotia professionals provide communication support to the department and the Shared Services initiative. As well, the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal financial CSU provides financial services, budgeting, and forecasting to my department. Our human resources strategy and services are provided by the Public Service Commission.
That's an overview of what my department does each day. The work is as diverse as it is important to Nova Scotians and the public sector. Government undertook an extensive program review last year. We needed to determine if government should be delivering certain programs and services and if the way we delivered them made sense.
Over the decades, our system of government has become a complex web of often overlapping programs that needed vigorous examination and review. That's why we needed to look closely to see if these programs were meeting their objectives and providing real return on investment of tax dollars for the benefit of Nova Scotians. We found that some of our agencies had overlapping mandates so it makes sense for us to bring them together so they can complete the work as one entity. As a result, Nova Scotia Lands Inc. and the Waterfront Development Corporation will be merging later this year. Both organizations are mandated to develop and manage Crown property so this move makes sense.
This move eliminates that administrative duplication and supports the important work done by both agencies. Nova Scotia Lands Inc. is managing two major environmental projects at the moment: the removal of the MV Miner wreckage and the closure of the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility. As the honourable members know, the MV Miner was a container ship being towed to a scrap yard when it broke free and ran aground on Scatarie Island. This is an island which is a provincial wilderness area off of Cape Breton.
The provincial government stepped up and cleaned up the site. Working with the community of Main-à-Dieu, Nova Scotia Lands Inc. established a site office and construction camp at Scatarie Island and began the complicated work of removing contaminates from the vessel and beginning the large salvage and cleanup operation. The cleanup was delayed by the discovery of 18,000 litres of diesel and 30 tons of asbestos in the wreckage. We had a brutal winter that has battered the entire province; the end is in sight though. The majority of the wreckage has been removed and the rest should be gone by the end April, in time for lobster season.
Nova Scotia Lands Inc. is managing the remediation of Boat Harbour in Pictou County. Government is honouring the commitment it made to the Pictou Landing First Nation last June to make Boat Harbour a place the community can enjoy once again.
Earlier this morning I stood in this Chamber and introduced legislation that sets out the timeline for the closure of the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility. Our planning is well underway. We have a very good understanding of what is in Boat Harbour and we know what must be done to deal with it. Our government has earmarked more than $50 million for the remediation of Boat Harbour, including an additional $32 million added in 2014-15. This will not be a quick fix. It will take several years to plan and remediate this site but we are committed to getting the job done.
I want to talk now about how we are supporting government's priorities. We committed to Nova Scotians that we would balance the budget by 2017-18 and achieve an ongoing fiscally sustainable government. Several of our key initiatives support the fiscal goals of government.
In 2015-16 we will focus on the following key fiscal priorities. The cost of government lease space continues to rise, as does the cost of operating it. All departments, including Internal Services, must do their part to be fiscally responsible. One of the ways my department will do that is to be strategic in managing government space. We want to reduce the footprint and with it the cost of leasing, owning, and operating. These savings can then be redirected back into programs and services. In partnership with other departments, we are evaluating our space requirements and looking at options where regional or joint locations make sense.
The Department of Community Services, for example, recently determined it could no longer support operations of one of its satellite offices. They looked for alternate ways of delivering services to their clients, including relocating employees to a nearby office and using meeting facilities in other government spaces.
In another example, we recently tendered for office space for the downtown Department of Community Services location. Soon they will move into a smaller office space at a lower cost per square foot. The square-footage savings there was approximately 30,000 square feet. It is a significant savings for government.
Further, we will update space-design standards, consolidate office locations, digitize records, dispose of property no longer required, and consider flexible work arrangements.
We're also working closely with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to dispose of surplus and non-essential properties where we can. Some of these actions are already underway and others will start later this year.
Internal Services will lead a government-wide program that will achieve efficient, streamlined processes and operations. The lean government initiative will focus on quality, client value, and emphasize continuous learning and process improvement.
I'm very excited to see the results of the many qualitative studies of service planning and delivery that are underway. I expect those results will translate into improved quality and reduce waste over time.
Shared Services is the third fiscal priority of Internal Services. Last Fall the Legislature passed the Shared Services Act to support this important initiative. This enabled us to make necessary changes in a way the public sector does business. Shared Services is the consolidation of some Public Sector Support Services such as procurement, information technology, and large construction projects into the provincial government. These groups currently working together are the provincial government, school boards, the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the IWK, and some Crown Corporations.
The goal is to strategically consolidate resources over time and to standardize our processes, reduce duplication, increase efficiency, and reduce costs across the public sector. Work has been underway on this initiative for some time, but April 1st saw the first phase of this project roll out as procurement, IT, and Finance employees from across the provincial government move to Internal Services, and all major construction staff move to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
On April 1st we welcome 239 employees transferring into ICT Services; 54 employees into Financial Services Delivery; 29 employees into procurement; and seven positions into the Information Access and Privacy Division. In total, 329 positions have transferred to Internal Services from other provincial departments.
By October 2015, the next phase of Shared Services will be implemented when health sector IT staff come into the provincial government. This change will not only apply to employees who look after specialized clinical applications.
We are still in early days, but this model is already working. We have already seen substantial savings by working collaboratively with the health sector. Government recently made a joint purchase of service software with the health sector and earned a 59 per cent discount by volume. This will provide cost avoidance savings of $3 million in three years and up to $5 million between four and five years. That is evidence that there are substantial savings to be found for Nova Scotians by working together.
I have a few more examples of savings. The provincial government is saving about $4 million a year in copying and printing costs through a manage-print service. Those are just a few of the opportunities we have identified where we can save money by working together. All those savings will go back into the programs and services that are delivered to Nova Scotians. While some changes may happen more quickly than others, full implementation could take up to five years to complete. This is an exciting new direction for government and for Nova Scotia, as we aim to improve our services to Nova Scotians.
Although we welcomed many new employees on April 1st, Internal Services was still able to meet our FT reduction target. We reduced our FTE count by 1 per cent, or six positions, and saved $217,000 in salary costs. We saw further reduction of three and a half FTEs achieved by the IT Shared Services stream.
The well-being of the economy is government's second core priority we are supporting. We recognize that creating good sustainable jobs for Nova Scotians is the role of the private sector and social enterprises. Government's role is to create a climate that fosters growth in the private sector. In the coming year Internal Services will support this economic priority with the open government initiative. We will establish a portal to publish user-friendly government data so it can be used by individuals, academics, and businesses alike, in a way that can stimulate economic growth.
Education is the third core priority we will support this year. We recognize that a strong economy begins with a skilled workforce. The role of government is to help ensure every Nova Scotian can achieve his or her potential. Government's goal is to build a strong and capable workforce by improving early childhood and P to 12 education, and continually improving opportunities for skills development and knowledge through post- secondary education, training, and apprenticeship.
Responsibility rests across all departments to support the conditions that enable young Nova Scotians to have the best possible start in life and continued success into adulthood and the workforce. In keeping with government's youth strategy this year the Public Works branch will recruit and employ apprentices in co-op placements and as summer students. These opportunities will offer young people the work experience they need to become certified and find good jobs in Nova Scotia.
I have just outlined how we are supporting government's core priorities in 2015-16. I want to share how we have planned to meet our department-level strategic goals for this year. Madam Chairman, as part of this budget process Internal Services published its first Statement of Mandate. It outlines our strategic goals which have been set to ensure quality, sustainable results. It will guide our activities in the coming year. Much work has gone into understanding the needs of our clients so we can support them in delivering their mandates. Through this process we created our mandate, mission, and vision.
Our mandate focuses on four strategic goals: quality; client service; sustainability; and an engaged, supportive workplace. Each of our priority projects for 2015-16 supports at least one of these strategic goals. I would like to take you through each of them now.
Quality will underpin everything we do. It is our first strategic goal. This year Internal Services will apply to be a partner with Excellence Canada. Excellence Canada is an independent, not-for-profit institute that helps other organizations focus their principles and practices on quality. The criteria for bronze certification align with our objectives and the application process will provide us with additional guidance and establish benchmarks to help measure our progress.
Our second strategic goal is client service. In 2015-16 we will focus on continuous improvement in this area with two initiatives each geared towards meeting the needs of Nova Scotians and other clients. First we are bringing government's information access and privacy resources together under Internal Services to better serve Nova Scotians and the public sector.
Government takes its accountability seriously under the FOIPOP Act. Centralization will strengthen our program through greater consistency, capacity, and expertise in responding to requests for information and records. Administrators will work as part of a broader team with expertise in privacy and best practices. Together they will be better able to apply the legislation, and support privacy assessments, breach investigators, and reviews.
The second initiative that supports our client service goal is greater online service delivery. Internal Services is developing an Identity Access Management project so that Nova Scotians can access government services through a single secure entry point. With a personal secure log-in, individuals and businesses will be able to submit applications, access forms, and complete other transactions. This simplified process will save time, reduce errors, and effectively protect personal information by not requiring users to enter the same data multiple times.
Sustainability is our third strategic goal. We aim for our services to be efficient and sustainable over the long-term. There are three priorities for the coming year. First, Internal Services will identify ways to make government buildings more energy efficient. We will also continue to review our buildings to ensure they are cost effective and meeting the needs of clients.
Second, government will work with the private sector to design, build, and operate the next generation mobile radio service for 10 years. Part of this work includes migrating 9,000 users to the Trunked Mobile Radio 2 system. Third, we will update government's purchasing policy to ensure the best use of public funds by maximizing competition and adopting more modern business practices. We will establish a new procurement audit function that will give additional oversight and support our cost-effective, competitive, and fair procurement processes.
Achieving an engaged and supportive workforce is our fourth and final strategic goal for 2015-16. Our employees are key to our success in Internal Services and across the public sector. We will continue to invest in people and adopt the positive and supportive workplace culture. Recently my department established several employee committees to look at topics like employee engagement, diversity, and healthy workplaces. They are collaborative forums to generate new and innovative ways to increase engagement and job satisfaction. My senior team is also engaged, serving as champions and overseeing their recommendations and action plans.
In closing, Nova Scotia's fiscal situation is challenging us to be innovative in the way we deliver services in the public sector. Nova Scotians want to know government is making careful, responsible, and wise use of their hard-earned tax dollars. Our strategic goals, which I have just outlined, will ensure quality, sustainable results for government and for Nova Scotians. We are well-positioned to lead several of government's priorities such as shared services, strategic procurement, lean government, and strategic facility management.
As I've demonstrated today we are finding new and innovative ways to deliver the quality services and supports that allow other government departments and the Public Service entities to deliver the programs and services Nova Scotians rely upon. We have accomplished many great things in our first year. I'm certain we will build on these accomplishments in the year ahead. I'm very proud of the direction we are headed.
Finally the successes and accomplishments I've pointed out this evening are products of our nearly 900 employees throughout this province. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank my colleagues at Internal Services for their ongoing professionalism and hard work. Thank you, Madam Chairman, I will now take your questions.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Our first hour of questioning will come from the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: Madam Chairman, I thank the minister for the opening remarks and the incredibly impressive list of accomplishments he has had. It is refreshing to hear how successful he has been in all of his initiatives in the past year. The minister referred to the well-being of the economy and the budget-making changes necessary to support Nova Scotians. I think he said that they had made some thoughtful changes that make the government work better for Nova Scotians. My first question for the minister was, in that context, I would like to ask the minister, does he support cutting the Film Tax Credit as part of his initiatives to make the economy better?
MR. KOUSOULIS: I would say that is a direction that you would want to be asking the Department of Finance and Treasury as this is the Internal Services Department. But in the context of an overall budget, as I spoke about, we have had to make many tough decisions this year. One of the hardest ones for us was the reduction of 340 FTEs. In reducing 340 FTEs it was very unfortunate that there were 109 layoffs. We did our best to manage this but it was a difficult process.
Looking ahead to those 109 layoffs, we have held many positions open in the Public Service Commission as we have not filled vacancies in the last short period, knowing that these were coming, and I hope that many of these positions will be filled within government, if they choose to stay. I will say that at the start of my speech I spoke about the deficits that were run up in this province by the previous two governments and when you're adding a billion dollars a year to the debt of the province and you have added over $4 billion over the last five years, you're paying $250 million in interest on it. Where's it going to come from? Can we tax more? We're already at 15 per cent HST. We have the highest tax in Canada. Where are we going to get it from? Tax more so that we squeeze industry out of this province? Then there are fewer taxpayers.
We put together a budget that will move this province forward and I believe that we will see prosperity for Nova Scotia and I am certain that we are not going to be the worst performing economy in the next 25 years in Canada. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: Mr. Chairman, I think every member of this House is pretty well aware of the financial situation, also probably well aware that there was legislation on the table to repeal some of those tax increases that were taken away as well. In the context of the government taking steps to grow the economy, I didn't take down the minister's exact words but he talked about the well-being of the economy being, I think, the second core to his initiatives, and I know that in his role as Minister of Internal Services he works with many departments and is probably finding himself speaking about budgets and changes quite frequently. I would like to ask again, very specifically, does the minister support cutting the Film Tax Credit?
MR. KOUSOULIS: In regard to the Film Tax Credit, our government has put out a plan for the industry. The industry came back and told us that plan did not work for them. There are meetings which are currently being held right now at the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. I look forward to a resolution that works for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia and for the film industry. We value the film industry and I look forward to their future prosperity in the Province of Nova Scotia. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: It was interesting to hear the minister talk about FTEs because I know that FTEs are real people and the layoffs are certainly a sad thing for those families. I was interested to hear him talking about FTEs, because obviously, when I explained FTEs to him last year, I guess by this year he maybe has a bit of an understanding of what FTEs mean. That's progress. In the context of people losing their jobs and industries being shrunk down, I think it's important for Nova Scotians to understand what their government is thinking, in terms of where the economy will go, and I think the residents of Nova Scotia certainly have a right to know who is pushing in which direction. The Film Tax Credit is a very serious issue; it has the potential to change the livelihoods of over 2,000 Nova Scotians; 2,700 Nova Scotians - lots of Nova Scotians.
When we think about the people who work in the civil service and what happens to them when they go up and get a pink slip, then we remember that there are thousands of other people out there who are impacted by decisions the government is making and rationale that the government may or may not have for making those decisions. I certainly have the impression that the minister is very involved in the workings of government. He referenced many times the work he has done across departments and the influence he has had over certain government decisions.
In that context I do believe it is very important that Nova Scotians understand exactly where this very influential minister sits on the status of the Film Tax Credit. The film industry, we heard all week from the Premier that there would be meetings - they would be meeting and then we heard today, well, somebody else is going to meet with them.
I do think it is important that Nova Scotians understand exactly where this minister is on the Film Tax Credit, so I will ask the simple question one more time. Does the minister support cutting the Film Tax Credit or does the minister have another proposal to maybe repeal it back to what it was? Where exactly is this minister at on the Film Tax Credit?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, the member might understand what FTEs are but I don't think he understands where ministerial responsibilities lie. I am not the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. The industry is having a meeting with the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. The Department of Finance and Treasury Board is up in estimates next week and I'm sure they would love to answer these questions.
MR. HOUSTON: We will be asking the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board these very same questions but the reason I ask, Mr. Chairman, is in the minister's dissertation about his list of accomplishments during the year, he was very forceful in his interaction with other departments and steps he has taken in other departments, and information and influence he has had over other ministers. He was very forceful in his comments about his own opinion about the state of the economy in Nova Scotia and some of the thoughtful changes that he was championing to make government work better, some of the initiatives that he was taking.
My question is, in that context only, was the Film Tax Credit actually one of this minister's initiatives? Was it this minister who proposed to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board that this was good idea to cut the Film Tax Credit? I will ask a very direct question to the minister, does the minister support the Film Tax Credit and further, was it his idea?
MR. KOUSOULIS: If the member was paying close attention to my speech he would have realized that the department supports all other departments in meeting the goals and objectives of Nova Scotia. At no time did I say that I or our department have accomplished these goals. We are the supporting body for all departments in Nova Scotia, all agencies. I will add that with our support, we have helped departments meet their objectives and meet the objectives laid out by this government of the people of Nova Scotia. If he has specific questions about the Film Tax Credit, I would direct those questions to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board who is at this very moment meeting with the industry.
MR. HOUSTON: In the minister's capacity as Minister of Internal Services I believe he referenced a certain amount of real estate that he was responsible for, provincially owned buildings, and also quite a bit of space that they lease from other landlords. I would like to ask the minister, in his capacity as minister and real estate owned by the province, are there any tenants in any provincial buildings that are companies directly involved in the film industry?
MR. KOUSOULIS: I will look to get any specifics but I can say some of the arts community is in our buildings; one example would be right across the street: the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is in a provincially owned building. If the member is looking for specific organizations that might or might not be in the government building, feel free to provide those organizations and we can check and see if they are in provincially leased or owned spaces.
MR. HOUSTON: The reason I ask is because I believe there are tenants in provincially owned buildings that work in the film industry. You know, sometimes we have to explain to the government and try to get them to understand that every action has a reaction. In the context of the Film Tax Credit cut, it is certainly my opinion - and I am not alone in this opinion - that the cut will have a tremendous negative effect on the film industry in this province. In fact, it will drive a lot of companies away from this province and out of this province.
I'm just wondering if the minister has given any thought to how his Film Tax Credit cut and the implications it has on businesses that are also tenants of the province, what impact will that have on the minister's portfolio should those companies have to vacate their leases? That's the context of my question. I'm curious if the minister has done any specific analysis of that particular issue. In other words, did the minister say to staff or to himself or to his Premier that if we make this cut, there will be ramifications on the industry, and one direct ramification back to the province is that we risk losing tenants for X square footage?
We heard from the minister that he was aware of at least one but he wasn't sure of any other tenants who may be impacted. I think that is a symptom of what we see with this government when they take an action and they don't properly think through - well, what might that trigger? Then maybe they have to go back and start over again. We have seen it with various legislation and that's why I was specifically interested in the minister's involvement with the Film Tax Credit and his support of the Film Tax Credit, because it does have an impact on his department.
I know it has an impact on his department and I'm wondering if the minister had thought that through, that there might be an impact on his department. My question for the minister is, what would be the impact on the province if every tenant that is involved in the film industry had to leave the province because of this cut? What would be the impact on the province in terms of vacated leased space?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, in the department with all the managed space we have, we manage our vacancies, we manage different requirements, we're constantly flowing. There are changes that happen every day as departments might grow, such as ours, or might decrease, such as the example of Community Services. There is one example where they went from approximately 70,000 square feet down to 30,000 square feet in their requirement.
We have vacancies that come up in our office space requirements and what we do is we fill those very quickly. I have seen the department managing vacancies and filling them within a very short period of time of two to three months, and moving other departments into those properties as their leases end and their space requirements change. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: So the minister hadn't considered what the impact might be on his department? He's talking in general terms but he didn't think about what might be the impact on his department when he supported the Film Tax Credit cut.
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, it's a very odd question because it doesn't make sense to me. If the member could provide what organizations in the film industry are specifically leasing space from the government - up to now we have had no information of leases or anyone cancelling a lease. We have many leases across the province. We have subleases where a little cafeteria might be, for example, like the one that was in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. If the member can specifically provide which organizations, what square footage they have, and where they are located, we'll get that information to him. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the response. I'm not surprised by the response. We oftentimes see where this minister is asking me to provide information about his department. That's what we have here. I'm not surprised by that, I'm disappointed by that. We have seen in the last couple of weeks that I advised the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board that a $140,000 party was happening in her department. This minister sees that and he says well, gee, member for Pictou East, can you help me out with a bit of information about my own department? That is what we have seen from the government here.
The point of the matter is, it's a policy decision, completely devoid of analysis by anyone. We learned at Public Accounts that the Department of Finance and Treasury Board did no analysis on the ramifications. The minister is a tremendous champion of cutting the Film Tax Credit; we know that was something he was very much in support of, from what we hear. I gave the minister a chance to clarify that today and he didn't want to talk about the Film Tax Credit and I think we know why, because he is a big champion of it.
There are ramifications to the government from things like that and I'm asking if the minister has thought about the ramifications of these types of policies on Nova Scotians. The answer I heard was no, they hadn't thought of it, but if I wanted to do some analysis for them he would be happy to accept it from me, and that's disappointing to say the least.
I am going to turn my attention to the subject - the minister mentioned that providing security for buildings was something that fell under his jurisdiction. He specifically mentioned the security review that he has done in this House, in Province House. Now I want to ask the minister about that because I have had a chance to speak in this House when this gallery was completely full. I remember very well last year in the budget reply, the gallery was completely full and then the Speaker ultimately emptied the galleries because of some things that were said from the gallery.
I'm remembering that situation because it is my understanding from the new policies that the minister has implemented that this gallery in the people's House will never be completely full again. We've had instances - even this morning there were people waiting to get inside and they were told the gallery was full. I was in the House this morning and there were lots of empty seats in the gallery. My very simple question for the minister is, is he aware that an outcome, a result, a ramification of his security review would very well be that this gallery in the people's House will never be full again?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, the member is confused on one part of the question, which is that the limit in the gallery is part of a security review. The limit in the gallery is part of the fire marshal's regulations. They follow the Building Code of Canada, which looks at your exits and looks at how many exits you have and what size those exits are and how you can safely get people out of the building; the other factor is what floor you're on. If the member has an issue with the 60-person limit that we have in our gallery that would be an issue to bring up with the fire marshal. It has nothing to do with the security review that we did. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: Very convenient to continually try to put things off to other people but I did hear in the member's comments, he was very proud. He took specific time to mention some of the things that he was behind, some of the changes that he made happen with the Province House security review. I have no doubt that the number of people allowed in the gallery was part of that security review. So it was a simple question, and the minister chose not to answer the very specific question and that's just the way it is, so we'll chalk that one up to "as it is" as well.
Now the minister referred to the numbers of expense reports that his department reviews, I believe he said 10,000 expense claims, I'm not sure, it might have been 70,000 T-4s, I don't know, we're going to come back to these types of numbers, but in terms of the expense policies of the various departments, has the minister taken any steps to, what you would call, synchronize the expense policies across the government? Do those policies extend to the new health authority and the school boards? Has the minister taken any steps to synchronize the expense policies of government employees?
MR. KOUSOULIS: I'll circle back to when we were talking about the amount of people in the gallery and that that was part of this government's security review. I will state again, just for clarification of the House, the security review undertaken by government did not look at the number of people in the gallery; that is part of the fire marshal.
In regard to travel policy, I will explain the Department of Internal Services: we support all departments in government. The policy is set by the Department of Finance and Treasury Board for what expenses are. What we do is we process those transactions. We are a support department. If the member has any follow-up questions I'd be more than happy to entertain them.
MR. HOUSTON: All these wonderful things the minister was talking about, they are falling off like a rock when we ask him a question. It turns out it was all somebody else. I'm going to circle back to the property under the management of the minister. Does the minister have any indication of what is going to happen with the offices of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia? Are those offices empty right now, and what will happen with them?
MR. KOUSOULIS: The specific lease that houses that department is currently taken over by the provincial government and we are under review of eliminating the lease or moving another section of government into it. The staff from that area, three of the 13 who are left have been moved to NSBI. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: The minister referred to an initiative to hire apprentices. I would like to ask the minister, how many apprentices will be hired this year and from what trades and disciplines will they come?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, we currently have six positions for this summer and the trades are open to any type of tradespeople, but generally the people applying would most likely be of the construction trade. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: Well, I'm happy to hear about six positions but certainly a little anticlimactic given the minister's talking points about the hiring of apprentices. Six positions - six positions - across the entire civil service doesn't strike me as a lot. I wonder if the minister can share some comments, is he happy with that? Does he intend to - is that an initiative that he tries to expand, or where is this all going?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, the member is confused; I said six positions within our department. There are a lot more positions open across the Public Service. I would be more than happy to engage the Public Service Commission and get that number for the member opposite. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: I begin to wish that we could take a little break and get some of these other departments in here to help the minister explain some of the wonderful accomplishments that he took such great pleasure in telling us all about just a few minutes ago. Scratch back a little bit and there is not a lot of meat on that sandwich, unfortunately.
I started talking about every action having a reaction and one government decision having an impact on people, and that's why I was talking about the Film Tax Credit as it has a very real impact on many Nova Scotians. It has an impact, as well, on the minister's department, which he really hadn't thought through or considered, I guess, but maybe he is now.
This morning we heard about the minister's Boat Harbour bill and I was asked by somebody in attendance this morning, they said the province has leased the effluent treatment facility to the Northern Pulp Mill until 2030. The minister's bill is active in 2020 - and I was asked a question that I couldn't answer but I'm hoping the minister will be able to answer it - I was asked a simple question, how do you reconcile the 2030 date with the 2020 date? I will ask the minister if he could reconcile those two dates for us please.
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, as I acknowledged this morning, I have had no direct contact with Northern Pulp or any of their agents. What I can say is that today we laid a bill in front of this House which will see the shutting down of effluent going into Boat Harbour in 2020. I can tell this House that we will be negotiating with Northern Pulp moving forward, as to what their plans are in terms of their investment in the Province of Nova Scotia, and the future operation of Northern Pulp will also be determined a post- industrial approval process. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: Mr. Chairman, I'll just ask the minister to expand upon his final concluding comments there that the future of the mill's operations would be decided post-IA. Maybe he can expand on what - I'm not sure that I understand the context of the minister deciding the future operations of the mill so I'm just asking if he can clarify that comment as to what he exactly meant by that.
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, in our discussions with the mill we'll need to know what technically they're going to do within their industry approval, and that will determine the future effluent facility that they would be looking to construct.
MR. HOUSTON: The minister is very specific in his comments there that in discussions with the mill, which hasn't happened yet but presumably will happen someday, the mill will direct him, I think he said, as to what their intentions are with the new effluent treatment facility. Is it the minister's conclusion that the mill is responsible for building a new effluent treatment facility?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, we'll have discussions with the mill, but at this point - the bill was just dropped today - there have been no discussions in terms of what we will move to in the future. The current effluent treatment facility will be shut down by 2020. It's not like it's shutting down in a week and we need to actually figure this out very quickly. There are approximately four and half years before that day comes, so as I said earlier, we will have negotiations with Northern Pulp.
I would actually be interested to know if the member is pleased with the government's positon to shut down the effluent going into Boat Harbour. I think this is an historic day for Nova Scotia. I think it's an historic day for Pictou County. I believe that this environmental remediation will increase the quality of life in the area and I'm very pleased that this government has brought this bill forward to clean up Boat Harbour.
MR. HOUSTON: I can share with the minister, I'm certainly cautiously optimistic that there will be a solution for the concerns of the community, without undermining the jobs. The reason, Mr. Chairman, I'm only cautiously optimistic is because I am worried that the history of this government is an indication of the future and there is not enough time that permits me today to talk about bills that this government has put on the floor and had to take and rip it up themselves: the tobacco legislation, efforts they made in the health care, had to bail on that one, and just yesterday I talked about a bill that this government had put on the floor just in November, Bill No. 49, to extend the Film Tax Credit, as is, five months ago. That bill is now gone, so cautiously optimistic, concerned that the track record of this government is an indication of the future.
More concerned, Mr. Chairman, when I hear it's very - I'm trying to think of the right word - but it's very unfair to Nova Scotians to tell them what you think they want to hear, to tell them things that you think will make them happy, without giving one ounce of consideration as to whether or not you can fulfill that word or not. Time and time and time again that is what has happened. I hope the minister is not doing that with the members of my family and my community with this bill for Boat Harbour that he put on the table and somebody said to him that's a great goal - how are you going to do it? And then to have the minister say, didn't think of that yet, not sure how I'm going to do it - we'll have those discussions tomorrow.
That is a terrible way to legislate and that's why I'm asking the minister, where will the effluent go in 2020, where will it go? You put a piece of legislation down now that dictates where it will not go; well, when you say where it won't go, you should probably think where it should go. It's a very simple question for the minister, where will the effluent go in 2020?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, as we are talking about track records of government, maybe the member would like to talk about his government's track record when in the last year they were in power alone they added $1.15 billion of debt to this province, maybe we can discuss that.
MR. HOUSTON: Sadly, another question and no answer. You know, Mr. Chairman, when you have somebody who struts into the Chamber and talks about all their accomplishments and has all the answers, until you ask a question about how they're going to execute on their thing.
Last year it took me about three weeks to explain to the minister what FTEs were. I think he finally got it in the end. This year we are going to have to go through another lesson, I guess, and we are going to have to explain to this minister, over time, how some of these things are supposed to operate. But we will, because Nova Scotians deserve it and it's important to us, so we're going to go ahead with that.
Last year the minister was quite forceful in his comments in this House that his changes around the procurement policy for the province would produce $60 million in savings per year - $60 million in savings per year. One year later, I would like to ask the minister - that was your estimate, sir - I would like to ask you, what were the actual savings that you produced this year? I heard of $2 million, a total of $2 million in two separate things in health care. How much did you save? Did you reach your $60 million target savings?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman, when we created this Department of Internal Services, we had a five-year runway where all the savings would come and I'm happy to report that last year we actually booked the savings of $26 million in strategic procurement. This year we are estimated to book another $43.5 million in strategic procurement. As we move forward, this amount will grow. I look to hopefully get even above the $60 million mark that we set out as a goal last year over five years. We're already two-thirds of the way there in one year. I would like to add that these contracts - some of which are in place for multiple years - as they expire, we re-tender them in the RFP process and that is when we book the new savings.
As the health authority silos have been torn down, we've had great savings, a couple of which I gave, which amounted to savings of $2 million to $3 million. As contracts that are currently in place expire, I look forward to more savings - $43.3 million, I would be happy to table that for the House.
MR. HOUSTON: So $60 million a year, we haven't reached it yet; we had $26 million last year, $43 million this year. The minister is optimistic that he will get to his $60 million and more I guess, why not, sure. I'd ask the minister if he was able to achieve $43 million in the most recent year, he expects to get that to $60 million, presumably in the coming year, what areas is he targeting to find that additional $17-plus million. Where specifically will the minister focus to find that $17 million in savings in the coming year?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mr. Chairman our focus for strategic procurement is across all departments. As I stated earlier, the $60 million target was the target over five years; in one year we are up to $43 million in the current estimates. The contracts in health care which I explained in my previous question, and I'll repeat myself, I said that contracts don't expire after one day. We have contracts that are in place for multiple years. As those contracts expire, we'll have more buying power of nine health authorities; we're not buying within one health authority at a time. As those contracts expire we expect to see great savings. I look forward to those savings being passed on to the Department of Health and Wellness, and I look forward to that being driven to the front line for health care for Nova Scotians. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for that answer. Can the minister provide an update on the Dennis Building? What is the future of the Dennis Building?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Mostly certainly, the Dennis Building is the building that is across the street, an historic building. This government has looked at it and we see it as a key asset for the Province of Nova Scotia. We have committed to saving the facade of the building and we are looking forward to engaging the private sector. We have already begun to do so, in terms of what plans they could bring forward to the Province of Nova Scotia and how a model could work with the Province of Nova Scotia. We look forward to those discussions continuing and I look forward to seeing a future building which will be of use to the people of the Province of Nova Scotia on the Dennis lands.
MR. HOUSTON: Last year the Auditor General's Report indicated that 84 per cent of procurements tested by his office had problems. In the minister's opinion, does this signify a problem with the procurement process?
MR. KOUSOULIS: That is a great question and this is why this department was formed. In the past, procurement was being handled by various departments across government, and by bringing all procurement under one department, the Department of Internal Services, we can standardize our processes. We are adding new software, which will also help us track our procurement and streamline the process as well. I look forward to improving that number. That is a key reason why a lot of these initiatives are done. When you scatter the same work across multiple departments and those departments don't have the skill, then you do end up getting mistakes or not getting the quality of work you'd expect when you do bring all of those pieces together under one roof and you apply the procurement standards to them.
MR. HOUSTON: Has the procurement process been consolidated already or when will it be?
MR. KOUSOULIS: A majority of the procurement people have come into the department. There are still another 21 people who will be coming in from health care. Sections of health care have already come in and we have been managing the procurement process for them. Over the next year we will have all aspects across health care and all departments in government under the Department of Internal Services for procurement.
MR. HOUSTON: Will that consolidation happen in metro or are there procurement offices out in rural Nova Scotia? Are you bringing everyone into the city?
MR. KOUSOULIS: The people who are performing the work of procurement have not moved. What has moved is the reporting lines into the department, so we haven't uprooted people who might be in Cape Breton or the South Shore. We've left them within their organizations, but all of their management and the lines of where they report to come into the department and then they are under the subject of the department in terms of work standard and looking at their performance management.
MR. HOUSTON: Does the minister anticipate any attrition through the consolidation process, any job losses?
MR. KOUSOULIS: We are hoping for some job losses or reductions through attrition, but we will not look at them before we know where there is duplication of work. So as we are performing work, if we see that we can perform the work with fewer staff, then as vacancies come up we will not fill those vacancies and we will eliminate this position.
This year we have been able to do that with 10 positions and in the future, as we see that there is a duplication of services, we will continue to do that as well. The main goal with the department is not to impact lives and it's also not to impact service. We don't want to jump the gun, eliminate positions that we realize we couldn't have eliminated, and then at that point, after eliminating those positions, have to hire people back in and train them who will need more time to ramp up into their roles and responsibilities.
MR. HOUSTON: I hoped the minister would have a better choice of words than "hoping for some job losses." People often complain about the lack of compassion in government. That explanation might help us understand why.
I want to talk about the RFP process. Are RFPs only posted on the government website or are they distributed to trade industry associations to ensure that a wide range of companies are aware of the RFPs?
MR. KOUSOULIS: RFPs are all posted on a website and, as well, when vendors go through their sign-up process, they can tick the areas that are applicable to them and then we push the RFPs out to them in an electronic format.
MR. HOUSTON: So by way of example, if there was an RFP for a school or work on a school, would that RFP be distributed to the Construction Association of Nova Scotia for distribution to its members?
MR. KOUSOULIS: I'm not sure if the construction association has signed up but, for example, I would assume any company doing work for government would have signed up on a process and they will automatically get those RFPs emailed to them. At the same time we put them on our website for the public to access. Anybody out there can go to our website, sign-up, check the appropriate areas of RFPs they are interested in and the department, whenever they are issued under those categories, they email them out to everyone who has signed up, and they also provide them on the website for anyone who chooses to go and look.
Our goal is to have as many vendors who are qualified to bid on projects, and that way it keeps competition up and allows us to gain savings. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MR. HOUSTON: Was the Engage Nova Scotia contract for One Nova Scotia work tendered? The contract that Engage Nova Scotia is working under right now, was that tendered?
MR. KOUSOULIS: That was not an RFP process done through our department. If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was a grant done to a non-profit and that was not in the Department of Internal Services. So the department that did push that out - I believe it was Priorities and Planning - could comment on that. Thank you.
MR. HOUSTON: Do I understand then that the various departments issue their own RFPs?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Well no, as I said before, they did not issue an RFP.
MR. HOUSTON: So I guess a little confusion, Madam Chairman. Is the RFP process consistent across departments? Do all RFPs come from your department?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Like most of our grants to non-profits, they are done as grants to those non-profits, not done through the RFP process.
MR. HOUSTON: So the Engage Nova Scotia wasn't a contract, it was a grant? To your understanding, would there be any statement of work that accompanied a grant? Would there not be a contract associated with that?
MR. KOUSOULIS: The member would have to ask that department, Madam Chairman. As I stated, it wasn't in my department so I can't comment on it.
MR. HOUSTON: Does the minister's department issue any grants to anyone?
MR. KOUSOULIS: We issue one grant and that is to Nova Scotia Lands.
MR. HOUSTON: I'd like to ask the minister how much that grant is and if he can provide a little explanation of the nature of the grant and what that is all about.
MR. KOUSOULIS: The grant was $3.8 million and that is for the management of the Bowater land sites.
MR. HOUSTON: So the minister's department only issues one grant. I think I understood that. In terms of job vacancies and long-standing job vacancies, what is the average time that it takes to fill a government position from the time it is posted to the actual hiring of the candidate? What is the average time that it takes to fill a vacancy?
MR. KOUSOULIS: There are many factors that determine the amount of time that will pass from posting a position and filling that position, but just for a couple of examples: for a junior position, it would be filled within a month period. If you are filling a much more senior management position such as a deputy level, you could be looking at four to five months or longer. If you are not finding the proper candidate on your first search, you could have multiple searches, which we've seen in the past.
MR. HOUSTON: I would like to circle back to the Dennis Building. How much did the government spend this winter on heating the Dennis Building?
MR. KOUSOULIS: The cost was approximately $25,000 for the past year. That was a base amount of heat and that was just to keep the building above a thaw level so that the fire sprinkler system would work in case of fire. I can say that the commissionaire who had been there was pulled out of there; the building is not managed by a commissionaire anymore.
MR. HOUSTON: I was half thinking the minister might defer that to the Minister of Energy to talk about how much it cost to heat that building. The question would be, at what point would the taxpayer be free of costs associated with maintaining this building? At what point do you expect the taxpayer to be clear of the costs of maintaining that building?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Our remediation that began last week on the building, which will take care of any asbestos that's in the building, also involves the removal of the sprinkler system and at that point there will be no cost to operate the building. We look forward to moving forward with the building and what plans might lie ahead for either disposing of the asset or we will be constructing a new building on site, and those are all moving now.
I will say that this government has made the minimum commitment of saving the facade of the Dennis Building so that future generations can see the history and have enjoyment of it.
MR. HOUSTON: Has the minister received any interest from the private sector as regards to maybe purchasing the building?
MR. KOUSOULIS: We are going through a process with the Dennis Building right now where we have engaged the private development community and we are asking them to come to the table with ideas. It has been a great process because there have been a lot of mixed-use ideas that have come forward for the building and there are a lot of ideas that we might not have thought of directly in government and I can say that through this process there has been interest from a lot of developers who are interested in partnering with government or perhaps even purchasing the building, and that opens up the possibility of government or the private sector leasing parts of the building back.
We have no concrete plans at this point for what road we will take. We are in early discussions but what we do want to do is look at that site, which has been sitting there, I can remember that parking lot has been there since the Birks Building was torn down, which goes to the early 1990s, and looking to put it to use because we're in one of the most historic parts of this city and you have a building and you have vacant parking lot. I think that if we built a beautiful building there which all Nova Scotians will be proud of, we will have an icon there for people to walk by and see.
The other part that could happen in the future with development of that property is you could start seeing a storefront, possibly, on Barrington Street, which ties into the downtown development plan of having a more vibrant downtown and that would bring people to the area. I look forward to seeing what will come of the Dennis Building, and as I said earlier, we are working right now on remediation of it. If you go outside and look there are crews pulling out the carpeting and we will have the asbestos that's in the building and any mould pulled out. There is significant health risk in the building. The building was vacated approximately three years ago. It has been left vacant, and with the remediation of the building, we will have it down to its core structure.
For people who are interested at home, the core structure is concrete. The building actually, within its history, underwent a fire and was reconstructed in the 1920s, I believe - 1917, if I have my date exactly correct, and it's all concrete now on the inside on the floors. But we have had some mould problems as water has seeped through the facade and through the brick on the sides in behind the drywall. Just with construction and how it has been in the past, there was asbestos throughout the building and I'm very happy that the asbestos will be gone.
We will have the sprinkler system out, and as combustibles are out, we will have a concrete shell. I'm looking forward to having our department further explore options with the private community. I will say that as we move forward with the building, depending on what the final outcome will be for the property, we will look at tendering it out on an RFP process, having the private community bid on it as a purchase. But one thing that is very important, because it is in such an historic part of our city, there will be parameters around that. We haven't finalized what the parameters will be but some of the parameters will be around the historic facade of the building and making sure it ties in with this historic part of downtown Halifax.
As you look around here, we have beautiful buildings in front of the Legislature, behind the Legislature, and we want to make sure that we preserve the heritage so that tourists coming to Nova Scotia can see what these buildings might have looked like in that period. One discussion I can say that is happening, which should be very exciting for all Nova Scotians, is there is a possibility with the construction of a new building there that we can eliminate the parking here at the Legislature, and fully restore the grounds of Canada's oldest Legislature to how they would have been when this building was first constructed. I think that would be a beautiful thing for all of us to see, and then as people are here, they wouldn't see the north side of the grounds being asphalt, pavement, and full of cars. It would mimic the south side of the grounds, which is a beautiful garden.
MR. HOUSTON: I just wonder how much is in the estimates for the remediation of the Dennis Building.
MR. KOUSOULIS: The RFP for that has been awarded and it's $350,000 for the remediation of the building.
MR. HOUSTON: And will that be completed this year? What were the terms of the RFP?
MR. KOUSOULIS: We are looking for the completion of that to take another couple of months and it will be completed at that point.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative caucus. We'll now move on to the NDP.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid. (Applause)
HON. DAVID WILSON: Thank you, Madam Chairman. He might not be clapping after I start asking questions. I appreciate the opportunity to engage the minister and his department on his budget. This is an important process, no matter who is sitting on what side of the House. It's an important process so that we and all Nova Scotians can get more information, more insight on the direction of government, but also on some of the details. That is where I'll be going to try to obtain a bit more detail on some of the line items that we see.
The first area that I will be asking some questions from, I will be utilizing the pages from Estimates and Supplementary Detail, so when I mention what page we're on, that's the book I'll be looking at for now.
In his opening comments the minister mentioned about all the savings that have taken place and that are going to take place with the transformation of Internal Services, as they bring in more services and responsibility throughout the departments that we have under government.
My first area will be from Page 15.7 and it's the Supplementary Information around Information, Communications and Technology Shared Services: Programs and Services. The first line item is under Security Risk Management. I noticed that there was a budget for 2014-15 of $417,000 - I believe I'm in thousands, and I've got to continue to move around, but I believe that means $417,000. I know when I moved from Communities, Culture and Heritage to Health and Wellness, I had to add zeroes as we went along the budget.
Under that there is a Security Risk Management estimate of $417,000 for 2014-15, and then the 2015-16 is going to go to $761,000. I'm wondering if the minister could provide me some details, not only why there is an increase, which I think is significant, but exactly what falls under Security Risk Management.
MR. KOUSOULIS: The increase there, Madam Chairman, is in regard to security of our network and security of our data. It is increased security for firewalls and virus ware and when you have the amount of service and applications we have - we have 6,000 services and 10,000 desktops - it starts adding up very quickly. That amount is to protect the data and the data integrity of all data in the Province of Nova Scotia. Thank you.
MR. DAVID WILSON: That brings me into some other areas that we have tried to get some information from the deputy. I believe the deputy - I don't know if it was the deputy or a director of services - was recently at Public Accounts Committee. Some of the questions I've asked were around security and ensuring that information that the department receives is protected through firewalls and all that.
One of the things we have heard recently in the U.S. - it comes out of the U.S. - is around ensuring that a public figure, a minister, Cabinet, have all the information available through the FOIPOP process. There were some concerns around Hillary Clinton and deleting emails. My question in Public Accounts Committee around information that should be kept for the public if they want to gain access or for the media or for Opposition Parties was to gain access to some of these emails.
I didn't really get, I think, an answer that answered my question, and that is the fact that often ministers, Cabinet, and the Premier are using BlackBerrys - I believe we have moved on to Apple products now - but BlackBerrys, the questions around PINs, BBMs, and the ability to have those FOIPOP'd, has there been any discussion within your department - you changed out there, I didn't notice a change in staff - have you had the discussion on how government treats BBMs and PINs when dealing with government information and the possibility that that information is not available for the general public if they require or request through a FOIPOP or the media or Opposition Parties? Have you had that discussion, and maybe enlighten us, will that be available into the future when requests for information are brought toward any department in government?
MR. KOUSOULIS: That is an excellent question. Our department is looking at if we can capture text and BlackBerry messages. The challenges are with text messages. They don't lie on our server; they actually lie with our provider, and most of the cellphones used in the Government of Nova Scotia are with Bell Aliant. We've had preliminary discussions with them in terms of whether we can access them and provide them if requested.
In terms of BlackBerry Messenger, up until now we have not been able to capture BBMs. If people are familiar with BBMs, they are highly secured and BlackBerry doesn't provide that code to anyone. The Province of Nova Scotia has two BlackBerry servers: BES 5, which is the older technology; the current technology is BES 10. That means we are providing the servers for our own BlackBerrys that are on the Bell network.
There is a new server that is coming out, which we are implementing as it is available, which is the BES 12. The BES 12 allows some access to the BlackBerry messages, so in the future that will be available. But it's not on our time frame, it's on BlackBerry's time frame. When that server is available we're implementing it, and at that point we're not quite sure yet at what degree we will be able to access the BlackBerry Messenger, but when the server is installed I will be more than happy to share the information.
The information will go to our FOIPOP officers right away so that they know that part of access to information that that information is available within government, but as of now in terms of text messages, it's not captured in government; it's captured over at Bell.
MR. DAVID WILSON: The other aspect of course - and you can understand that a minister also utilizes personal emails. It can be confusing so I hope that when that process follows through, we will get some information on it.
Since I was talking about Security Risk Management, of course over the last year and a half, I've noticed quite a difference here in the Legislature around security - not the IT, but physical security: police officers, commissionaires, and a dramatic increase. If I'm not mistaken, does that budget fall under Internal Services?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Just for ease of use, where our department does have so many sections, I would prefer if we could stay on one topic because we will be switching out department heads as we jump around. At this point, if we're through with Information Technology, I'll excuse the CIO and we can bring the deputy back in, but I will answer the question right away. The review did fall under the department and with that review we did a review of the security here at the Legislature. In light of what happened in Ottawa, we'd hate to have any sort of tragedy like that happen in Nova Scotia. The review did fall under the Legislature. In terms of the appropriation of budget for that, that would come to the Legislature itself through the Office of the Speaker for the expense.
If we could just stick with sections, if you're done with IT, then we can bring the deputy back in and the other members we have here - we have the head of procurement here if we want to talk about the procurement side of things. We have the CIO here if we're dealing with IT-related issues, and as well the deputy.
MR. DAVID WILSON: No, I'm good with the communications and the IT part. I do want to continue on with the security.
It has been my understanding that the cost of security for the Legislature for many, many years fell solely under the Office of the Speaker but I have been advised that is not the case. I didn't catch exactly what the minister was indicating, if that is still the case or does part of that funding or - I believe it was the Premier who had announced, I don't think it's at a deputy level but someone to oversee security for One Government Place and the Legislature as a whole. Does that responsibility fall under Internal Services and do they report to the minister? Maybe just a bit more clarity on exactly who and where the cost of the security that we see around the Legislature, where does that fall? Just so I know if I'm not supposed to be asking the minister these questions, maybe some clarity on that.
MR. KOUSOULIS: When you look at the estimates, Madam Chairman, I can see why it is a little confusing. There is a senior security officer who does lie within the Department of Internal Services and they oversee the security of government, and above that you will see a line for risk management and what risk management is, is the actual insurance claims we pay out, so it's not attributed to people or to security. But the people we see here at the Legislature are under the budget of the Speaker's Office because they are directly in the Legislature. I'm hoping that provides clarity for everyone.
MR. DAVID WILSON: So if I were to ask the minister the cost of having all the security here, would he be able to provide that or would it have to be through the Speaker's Office?
MR. KOUSOULIS: That information is with the Speaker's Office.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Because I know this department has been, over the last year or so, bringing in a lot of different avenues. I don't profess to be an expert; I've been around here a long time though, over a decade, which sounds even longer when you say it. So I hope the minister can bear with me because that is exactly what we are trying to find out: where do things fall and how much does it cost? I guess I won't have the Speaker up in estimates.
I'm going to go to Page 15.3 and I hope - I don't believe I need anybody else from up top, I think the deputy can answer it. It is around Programs and Services under Departmental Expenses Summary, and that's under the Supplement also, so I believe we're good with staff. One of the things I noticed here was the Grants and Contributions line. In the 2014-15 line item there was no value there, but of course we see the forecast for 2014-15 at $5.825 million and then the estimate at $3.816 million. I'm wondering if the minister could provide us some information on what exactly Grants and Contributions mean and then a breakdown, if he could, if he has approved anything through that process yet or what exactly the funding will go towards.
MR. KOUSOULIS: What that grant is, it's one single grant and that is Port Mersey, which is the former Bowater lands, and that's all operating costs. This year it's at $3.8 million; last year it was a little higher because it involved the purchase of the lands from the Crown Corporation to bring it into government.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Maybe just to elaborate on that, what exactly would the funds go towards? Is it just for the purchase of additional lands or the upkeep to the area?
MR. KOUSOULIS: For further clarification, Port Mersey is the old mill site, which is down on the water, and the $3.8 million is all the current operating costs. We have converted the property into an industrial park and we are attracting companies that are already there and hope to attract more and have more commercial viability down in that part of Nova Scotia.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I will continue on with that site. Definitely, I think we all know, and you can see when you go down there, the impact that the closure had on the area and I hope, as we go into the future, we can get businesses to move in there. Could you give us some information on - is it a percentage of the site being occupied now? That might be the best way to ask it. What percentage is being utilized now and what is a target for government to have businesses in there? Are you actively seeking businesses out to move in there or is it something that we have as an incentive through Nova Scotia Business Inc. that if they're aware of a new company that might be moving in, this is a stock property that they would have in their basket or their suite of options that we can provide companies that might be moving or looking at moving into Nova Scotia?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Down in the industrial park we have one company, which was incubated by Innovacorp, and that is CelluFuel, and they look at alternative and more efficient ways of burning wood mass in terms of energy production. We also have currently leased out the wharf and it is being used for the windmill project that is in Chester, bringing the windmills into Nova Scotia. We took over the land in October and at that time, when we took over the land, I went down and toured the sites and there is quite a bit of space for future development. The mill was quite large.
There is also a great waterfront to the piece with the wharf where we can also have companies that might require boat access. Fairly large vessels can fit in there, which is the type of vessels that are bringing in the windmill components, which are quite large in nature.
I look forward to the expansion of the park. We have made other departments in government aware of it and as I mentioned before, Innovacorp has brought in one of their incubator companies, CelluFuel, and they are down there operating right now, working on R & D.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Talking about that area - remediation today has been an issue; my colleague from the Progressive Conservatives had asked a few questions. Is there anything needed down there on that site concerning remediation of the land? I know it has been an industrial site for quite some time and that there were some issues there. Is that finished and if it is, fine; if it's not, can you give a timeline or a cost of what we might see in the next year?
MR. KOUSOULIS: We continue to operate that site as industrial land and for the purposes of industrial land, the site does meet the environmental requirements. In the future, if the site was decommissioned and turned into, for example, parkland, then it would trigger a different requirement. At that point there might have to be remediation. At this point it's a managed site and it is meeting all the requirements of its current use so there is no remediation required, unless we change the use of it at a future date. Thank you.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you for that and I do recall now some of the discussions around that. If you do need to change the use of the land, that will need to take place. I know that will come at a cost of government. I spent a lot of time in Health and Wellness so I'm trying to remember all the other issues that were in front of us at the time.
Remediation definitely is at the top of mind, especially today with the introduction of the legislation around Boat Harbour. I will get into that in a few minutes but the minister mentioned the MV Miner and the ongoing process to remove that vessel. I know it hasn't been a smooth journey, trust me, we understand that. This is something that was by no means, I believe, the responsibility of the government. I think our federal government abandoned Cape Breton and our province when it came to that vessel being on our shores and them actually issuing the licence for the removal of that vessel from our waters to go elsewhere.
I know the government has been working to remove that but there has been a commitment all along the way to try to recruit that money from the federal government. I don't recall the last information I heard about this but maybe the minister can remind me. Is the request of the federal government constant to live up to what I believe, and I think all Nova Scotians believe, is a responsibility on behalf of the federal government to pay for the removal of this and if not, or if yes, when is the last time there has been a discussion or has the federal government - which I believe they may have - just closed the door on it and said it's not their responsibility? So maybe a bit of information on that and maybe, if the door is closed, are there other options the province can take to recoup the money that taxpayers have spent to remove that vessel?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Madam Chairman, I'll table a picture of the MV Miner which is a status report from April 14th, which shows that approximately 90 per cent of the vessel has been taken off-site and recycled.
It is a great concern with us and I completely agree with the member opposite that the federal government was in the process of moving this vessel when the lines broke and it landed on the shores of Cape Breton. The responsibility for the negotiation does fall with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, but in communications with them, I am aware that they have been in constant negotiations with the federal government.
The part that is new to us is their documentation which said the amount of oil in the vessel and the amount of asbestos was quite a bit off from what we have found as the company has been remediating the site. There were quite a bit more contaminants in the vessel. That slowed down the remediation of the MV Miner in getting it out of there, and it also slowed down doing this through the winter. I am grateful that it will be completed before lobster season happens. From our best knowledge, we're under the impression that in the next few weeks to a month the site will be remediated, and at that point the crews will be pulling back.
I completely agree; I feel the federal government has a responsibility now. If they feel they do, that is a much different discussion but I know that Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is holding their feet to the fire, asking the federal government to be partners in the expense of this.
As the member knows - he was a member of Executive Council at the time - I am positive they were asking the federal government to come forward and remediate that site. When that didn't happen, we had no choice but to move forward. We didn't want to leave the boat there and as it decayed, make remediation even harder, and then have the possibility of, if there was oil in the boat, having it go into our area which is so rich in lobster resources.
As we came to find out, there was quite a bit of oil in the boat and I'm just very thankful that we chose, as a province, to step forward, remediate it, and that was the first priority. Now we will try to recoup whatever we can for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.
MR. DAVID WILSON: The negotiation is happening with TIR, I appreciate that, but will the final cost come through your department, and if so, what is the projected? I know I have flipped through a lot of pages and I know I had remediation there in the budget - and I'll get to that in a little bit, I'll find it again - but what will be the projected costs for the MV Miner, if it does fall under your department?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Madam Chairman, the funds for that project are held in restructuring. I can give information to the House, the amount of the contract was $12.8 million and with the asbestos that was found, any oil that was found, we are anticipating an increase in costs of $2.4 million just for what was extra than what we had put in a request for a proposal, which was the amount given to us from documents from the federal government when transporting this boat.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Other sites for remediation, of course, we know Boat Harbour, but there are sites, from my knowledge around the province, that do come up time and time again. Some of them are abandoned and it will fall under the government to look at trying to clean them up. I talk about abandoned gas stations for example, one that comes to mind, and one that I don't think many people realized has an impact on the environment, is dry cleaners; former dry-cleaning sites have done a lot of damage to our environment. I'm wondering if that falls under your department - I think it does - and could you tell us, if you have those numbers, how many sites is the government dealing with now and a projected cost that will have to fall on the department?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Madam Chairman, I will table a list here of the 17 sites we are currently in the process of remediating. There is one dry cleaner on this list. For clarity for our viewers and for the House, we do not remediate sites on behalf of corporations or individuals, but if that corporation or individual happened to go bankrupt in terms of the remediation and the site becomes an asset of the province, that is when we would look at remediating it. Currently, we have just one prior dry-cleaning site that we are remediating.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you for that information; that was my next question. I know once the Clerks are done with that, they will be able to get me a copy. It is interesting, this has come to my attention and I don't know - I haven't seen the list yet - is one of the dry-cleaning sites in Dartmouth? Okay, I'll leave it at that. I believe it is so. If I think of questions later on, I might come back to that.
I want to go to Boat Harbour and I was at the minister's announcement this morning around legislation, and I'm cautiously optimistic, I think is as far as I can go right now. I am glad for the Pictou Landing First Nation, I think they may be in the same sphere as me. They are hoping that this truly means that we will see a clean-up of Boat Harbour and with the legislation, it is a strong indication that that would be the direction of the current government, and I would hope any future governments. As I always say, when you come into government there is a lot of legislation on the table that that Party - whoever it is - needs to respect. I think if that legislation passes, which I know it will pass the House, then that will hold account as we move into the future.
Some of the concerns that I heard today - and it was through questioning through the media - was around some of the issues of what will happen after 2020 when the site in Boat Harbour closes or can no longer be open. The minister had my attention when it was explained that he had not really personally talked to the company. They were just made aware of this yesterday, I believe, is what I heard downstairs in the briefing. Has the department had a reaction from the company, from the mill, with this legislation? Because I believe they had an agreement to 2030, so it's 10 years off that. Have the minister and his department received a response from the mill on the January 31, 2020 closure of the effluent treatment facility?
MR. KOUSOULIS: I can say that we have heard back from Northern Pulp and they have communicated to the department that they are disappointed with the time frame of the legislation, but we made a commitment to the band last year that we would close down the effluent treatment within a reasonable time frame.
Keep in mind, 2020 is almost five years away and one of the reasons for that date is to actually give us time to negotiate with Northern Pulp where a new treatment facility plant could be and also where the investment would come from.
In regard to this, I can see why members would be quietly optimistic or why the band would itself. This has been operating since the 1960s, and back then it was intended for Northern Pulp as a mill to only operate for approximately 25 years and it was designed that way. Well here we are approximately 50 years later and it's still operating and it's still moving effluent into Boat Harbour.
In the early days there was no treatment done on the effluent. That has changed over the last 50 years where a bit of treatment is being done, but I can see why the band is cautious. You'd have members there who would currently be in their 50s and 60s who have never experienced what Boat Harbour was and will be as a clean site - one that they can enjoy and use for purposes of which many of us enjoy our beautiful lakes across the province.
Our commitment that we wanted to keep was that it would be closed down in a reasonable time frame. The Pictou First Nation would have liked it even sooner than 2020, but they were very gracious in our discussions and understood that we also have a commitment to Northern Pulp, which was a lease that was signed by the previous government - not your government, don't worry member.
With that, we have two commitments here and we're keeping both commitments at this point. We'll be in negotiations with Northern Pulp to see where we will go from this point, but we do have quite a bit of time so we're not pressured to make any hasty decisions, and that's why the closing of Boat Harbour will be in 2020 and it's not coming sooner.
MR. DAVID WILSON: But when I read through some of the information that was provided, definitely this is a longer term project and I believe when I read through - that's the flavoured tobacco products, it's not that one, it's the other one I was reading through - that there was a time, I believe it was three to four years, and it could take up to nine years before everything is done. It might sound long, but it does go by quickly.
I know the government needs to be sensitive to this, especially Boat Harbour where they have been housing this effluent treatment facility for so long. I come from a community that had a landfill for many years and finally it was closed. I know the community doesn't want to see it open up ever again. I know the First Nations community has been very concerned about this for a number of years and has expressed their concerns, so it's going to happen quickly.
I was a bit concerned about the fact that I think the minister indicated they didn't know how or what would take its place; that hasn't been decided yet. The government must have done some analysis on what it would look like or what is needed, and the cost, and that there are going to be some negotiations. Ultimately, I think it is the responsibility of the mill to provide the treatment facility for any waste that they produce.
Is that the stance of the government, that the mill will have to decide what type of facility replaces this? My fear, because I've heard numbers throughout the years, that not only the cleanup for this but a replacement is tens of millions of dollars, if not into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Is that the case here, where the negotiations will start now with the mill, and is it the position of the government that it will be the mill's responsibility to replace the effluent treatment facility once that date is reached?
MR. KOUSOULIS: Our department has communicated to the mill that they will have a role to play in any future investment for a new effluent treatment facility. I can speak a little bit in terms of our analysis up until now and where that has brought us to today.
There was previously $20 million budgeted as a future liability within the Province of Nova Scotia as it was anticipated that would be the cost of cleanup. We have been doing tests, and through our testing of the site, we know that it will cost quite a bit more. So fiscal last year, which was before April 1st of this year, we booked a further $32 million for the cleanup of Boat Harbour. Currently there is approximately $52 million which will go towards the project.
We're going to get much better data because now what we're actually going to do is pinch off one of the inlets, build a dam, and when we do that, what we will do is then remediate that site. It's a cautious approach because with 40 years of effluent going into the site, we don't fully know what is there or the best mechanism to clean it. So as opposed to going in and cleaning it once, which could lead to increased costs, we'll go through remediating an inlet on the site, and at that point we'll know what we are dealing with and we'll have a plan for the most efficient and most cost-effective remediation of the full site. That will be scheduled to proceed in 2020, once all the effluent start going through.
Projects of this nature do take a while to remediate. As Nova Scotians are well aware, the tar pond lands took approximately six or seven years for the remediation of them. I will have more information. Once we have remediated the inlet at Boat Harbour, I'll have some more information as to if the costs would be more or less, and I'll have more information in terms of what we're dealing with and how we will approach the remediation of the full site as a plan. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Of course I think Nova Scotians will relate to this cleanup at Boat Harbour to the similar cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds. I believe that approach was to put a solution in it and encapsulate the waste that was there. I would hope that the cleanup of Boat Harbour and the material that is in there is not as extreme as we've seen in the Sydney tar ponds. Of course it is a pulp industry and that was a steel industry, and who knows what went into that? I'm not educated enough to know what all went into that process. But I think we were recognized as having the worst contaminated site in the country. I would hope that it won't be to the severity that we saw in the Sydney tar ponds.
Going through that process, we must have gathered quite a bit of data and information on how to do this, so going into this I would think that the department would have looked at that process and what happened and how it transpired to get some ideas on Boat Harbour. Would that have been the case? On top of that, I know that the government is saying that it's going to be their responsibly to clean the harbour part, but also we have the treatment facility and the settling ponds, is that going to be separate? Is the mill going to be responsible for that or is that whole site going to be under the remediation that is going to take place by the province?
MR. KOUSOULIS: I'll try to get all the questions but there were quite a few, so if I miss any, hopefully I can answer them in the next one. When we remediated the Sydney Steel lands, it was a joint project between the Province of Nova Scotia and the federal government. The manager from the federal government that oversaw it on their behalf was a gentleman by the name of Ken Swain, who is now assisting the Province of Nova Scotia with the remediation of Boat Harbour, so we have the wealth and knowledge of expertise there for large-site remediation.
In terms of the remediation of Boat Harbour, it is the agreement that all of it will be remediated, and the Pictou band is also playing a role in it. Whatever process we come up with for the remediation, they will have a say at the table with us and be fully aware of what steps we are taking.
In terms of remediating an inlet, the reason that will provide us with a lot of great knowledge is most of the effluent and contaminants get pushed to the shoreline, so when we do remediate - and when we say an "inlet" it's not a 20-square-foot inlet, it's quite a large inlet and in some areas it would be a small lake - we'll get some great information in terms of what we're dealing with. The contaminants will most likely, from preliminary discussions, be gathered and moved off-site.
I can also give information to the House that in the last 50 years there have been over 30 environmental studies done on this site and we have looked at all of them dating back decades and that has formulated our plan moving forward. With all that information and the information we're going to get from actually cleaning an area of Boat Harbour then we'll be able to move forward with a full clean.
I would like to say that the remediation of Sydney Steel tar ponds was as a managed site so contaminants are still there, and they're capped with concrete that can range from three to four feet up to 10 feet in thickness, and then clean soil on top which allows it to be a clean site. This will be a different type of remediation so that it can go back to its historic use. We will actually move the contaminants off-site and encapsulate them elsewhere, most likely. We have to first pinch off that inlet, take a look at what type of toxins we're dealing with, and that will better help us.
It's difficult to actually determine what our steps are without going through this process because with this type of facility which is, as the member stated, one of the most toxic in Canada, you don't want to disturb what's there. The last thing you want to be doing is running various tests that could disturb the bottom and bring toxins up that were put in before there were filters put in place, or settling ponds; that is why we have this cautious approach. Bringing it to a full remediation is the outcome, and I look forward to when that happens.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you for those answers. I think the government indicated they were going to clean up the harbour. The only question I had was around the facility itself and the settling ponds, which are somewhat separate than the harbour itself. I know I asked a bunch of questions so I'll allow the minister to answer, but is the mill going to be responsible for that facility, the treatment facility and the settling pond, or is this remediation including all of it? Is it one big site that you're looking at or is it just the harbour?
MR. KOUSOULIS: I'll start off by communicating that everything will be cleaned up: the settling pond, the treatment facility, and Boat Harbour. I will add that there is a shared responsibility on the treatment ponds. Unfortunately, which doesn't work for us, it is a shared responsibility and most of the contaminants were put there before the mill had a responsibility, so we anticipate that most of the costs for cleanup will be on the government side; the mill will have a very small portion to pay as their responsibility started in 1996. By then the water was more treated than it had been in the past so most of the contaminants that are there were there prior to 1996. That means more of the expense of the settling ponds will be on the Government of Nova Scotia.
As for Boat Harbour itself, that is the full responsibility of the Government of Nova Scotia. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I know the minister mentioned the additional $30 million to $32 million on top of the $20 million that is there so we are at $50 million. I wonder, could the minister give us an updated figure - I don't know if he mentioned it this morning in his briefing downstairs - and what are the projected costs? I know it needs to be a ballpark and I know it's a big figure but we are probably at around $50 million now, and if he can give me that number, and then also, what would be his wish or what would he and the department think the mill should be covering? I know he mentioned the harbour, definitely 100 per cent. I know there's negotiation but they must be looking at what they would go after the mill for and some of the cost.
MR. KOUSOULIS: The $52 million that is currently booked is our best estimate at this point for the remediation of Boat Harbour, the full site. The last $32 million of that was actually booked approximately a month ago. In the last year since we made the commitment to Pictou First Nation we have been doing a lot of testing as to what the cost of remediation would be in today's dollars. Up until last year there was $20 million put aside for it but that was from prior years. With our investigation we feel that number is higher and that is why we booked a further $32 million, which is booked as a future liability for the Province of Nova Scotia.
As of today our best estimate as to the cleanup is the $52 million. With the pinching off of an inlet, we will have more data in terms of what we anticipate the costs will be. At that point we'll adjust the liability of the Province of Nova Scotia. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MR. DAVID WILSON: The last question on this topic, and I know we're getting short here, is around the fact that the government and the Pictou band have agreed to some performance guarantees if the dates that the minister has indicated are not achieved. I don't know, I haven't been through all the information, I wonder if that information or the performance guarantee is available to the public, or did you distribute that today? I'm wondering if the minister and the department could.
MR. KOUSOULIS: The Pictou band has asked for a performance guarantee. We're still in discussion with the band regarding this. There was a guarantee made last year when we committed to closing Boat Harbour. We made a commitment to bring in legislation by this Spring sitting, and at that point the guarantee that was put to the band was $1 million if our government did not bring that legislation in.
As we know, the bill was introduced today, and I am very excited and looking forward to that bill passing through with unanimous consent of the House.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I would assume you did that within the timeline so we don't have to pay the $1 million out? Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Just looking back now at some of the information you provided on the remediation of those sites you had indicated, and I know some of them have summary of costs which, I would assume, are costs incurred under the government.
One of the ones I mentioned was the Deluxe Dry Cleaners' site in Dartmouth. The potential liability is around $200,000. I notice under summary of costs there is $150,000 plus $50,000. So if I'm reading this correctly, does that mean that's the cost to the government?
I know the potential liability, I understand that one, but summary of costs on the list I have right now, I believe there are only two that have summary costs, and that is Boat Harbour and then the $200,000 for the dry-cleaning site. Am I correct to say that that's money that has been spent so far?
MR. KOUSOULIS: The summary of costs is what it is anticipated the site will cost. If you look at what I tabled, Deluxe Dry Cleaners is the only one that has other costs. We have already invested $200,000 towards cleanup and remediation of that site.
As the member stated earlier, dry-cleaning chemicals are one of the worst environmental items to have to remediate so we can continue to do further testing - air and water sample tests, and not only on that site but the adjoining sites - to make sure there are no dry-cleaning contaminants. On that table you will see that there is still $200,000 that could be a future liability for the province. Hopefully that answers the question for the member. Thank you.
MR. DAVID WILSON: When you go through the figures of the potential liability, and I know that many of them fall under TIR because they do oversee a lot of the stock that we have here, I haven't calculated it all but the potential liabilities are into the millions of dollars.
Are we able to obtain or are you able to provide information on which of these sites that you perceive as definitely going to be a liability on the province? I know it says potential, but the dry cleaners is the only one I see on this chart that has a figure in the "other" category. When does the potential liability turn into a liability for the province, if the minister understands? Which ones of these do you anticipate that may be shifting in the next year? Is that reflected in your budget somewhere - what might move from that potential liability to a liability that the province will have to pick up?
MR. KOUSOULIS: All the potential liabilities will one day move to being a liability. The difference is that when you are aware of a future liability you must book it. When you book it, you book it to your best estimate as to what that will cost.
In this instance we are looking at remediation of contaminated sites, so to our best knowledge this is what it will cost to remediate these sites. The table shows total site remediations of $60 million. That is already on the books of the Province of Nova Scotia.
The one site that has an anomaly is the Deluxe Dry Cleaners, and that is because of the nature of what has been remediated there. We must do further testing into the future, due to the nature of the contaminants from dry-cleaning chemicals, which are much harsher than other chemicals that we deal with.
We have already spent the $200,000 for the site remediation, but as you can see there is another $200,000 that we anticipate could be a future liability, and that is why it has that figure in the other section.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate the minister pointing that out. You calculated it for me and I didn't have to calculate it. I didn't look far enough down the page. When it says the potential liability - the minister mentioned $60,000, which from my understanding is booked, and I think the Auditor General will appreciate that. As you move along the TIR base, for example, there is another $7.7 million, and then $52.3 million would be under Boat Harbour and $200,000 would be under "other." So is that $60 million plus the $52.3 million plus the $7.7 million and then $200,000? So we're looking at well over $100 million, or am I reading this wrong? Is the $60 million the total or do you calculate the totals of all the columns on the bottom?
MR. KOUSOULIS: The total liability is the $60 million the member is talking about - keeping in mind the finances, the way they are presented, can sometimes be a little bit confusing. The summary of costs is what was booked in this current year and that is showing the Boat Harbour and the additional $200,000 for Deluxe Dry Cleaners. The reason Deluxe Dry Cleaners shows up in "other" is because we had already remediated the site, but we've just recognized that we're going to have to do environmental testing into the future. But in terms of all of those 17 sites, the full amount is the $60 million.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate it and I hope the minister understands when you just get something on the fly, sometimes you don't have the time to look at it. I do recognize now that that cost, the total, is on the far left of the page.
I know I only have a couple of minutes, but I'll try to get these off and hopefully the minister can give us some information on this. On Page 15.4 under Senior Management: Programs and Services, I notice the budget for Office of Minister and Deputy does see an increase from last year. I believe it may be around the $35,000 range. I'm wondering if the minister could provide us some information on why that increase is in the Office of Minister and Deputy.
MR. KOUSOULIS: When the department was created, there was no deputy minister so that is a new position, and one of the positions that we had not created for the deputy minister was any administrative support. So the increase in that area that the member asked about is directly related to admin support for his office.
I will add that when the department - that position was a transfer-in - it wasn't a new position created and that is still encompassing the overall reduction of positions of FTEs of 10 within the department.
MR. DAVID WILSON: The minister could provide this at a later date. I'm wondering if he could just provide details of where those FTEs came from. I'm not going to have the argument or the explanation from my colleague in the Progressive Conservative Party around FTEs, but one of the things that is difficult to find and understand is the movement of staff, and it makes it very clear. I wonder if the minister can provide us the details of where those transfers came from and their actual position. With that, I'm going to follow with the next line item, and I believe I only have a minute - 10 seconds - and that would be details on the Policy and Planning. The increase is significant. It more than tripled, but I'll leave that with you.
MR. KOUSOULIS: Madam Chairman, that is the creation of one FTE for that positon and there has also been some funding allocated, as well, for overhead.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time for the New Democratic Party is over, we'll move on to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honorable member for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg.
HON. ALFIE MACLEOD: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, and I'm so glad you were able to see me today. It seems that I have a habit of being able to get up at the last second because I see our time is winding down. There are a couple of things that I would like to mention to the minister.
When we're talking about Boat Harbour, there is a huge amount of expertise that has been gathered by Nova Scotia Lands and some of the work they've done on the cleanup at the Sydney Steel site, the work they are doing currently at the MV Miner, and I would like to say that the staff at Nova Scotia Lands are very competent individuals and you should be very pleased to have them under your department. The expertise they offer on these types of jobs has been incredible and the work that they've done out on Main- à-Dieu at the MV Miner is quite nice.
At the end of the day the question that I have for you is quite simply - and I think you've already been asked this question but I want to just reaffirm it - with the overruns that have taken place on the cleanup of the MV Miner, whose budget will that come out of at the end of the day, yours or TIR's?
MR. KOUSOULIS: That would fall under restructuring and with the cost overruns, as I mentioned earlier, TIR is negotiating for . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for the consideration of Supply today has elapsed. Perhaps you'll be able to finish that in the next session.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress, and beg leave to sit again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report its business to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 4:07 p.m.]