HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2013
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Becky Kent
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now come to order.
We will continue debating the estimates of the Department of Natural Resources.
The honourable member for Kings West with five minutes left for the Official Opposition.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: With just a short time left I will ask a question around one of the frequent calls that comes to our office and I'm also hearing from a number of my rural MLA colleagues, and the minister probably knows where I'm going with this. We no longer have the same vigilance or the same enforcement level around OHV presence, infractions, and so forth on our trails. I'm wondering, Mr. Minister, who can we really call on now and who can Nova Scotians call on when they have a need to deal with OHVs that are beyond problematic and are really committing infractions? We had put in place a system that by many measures - and I would get annual reports around the number of people stopped, the number of infractions, fines, and so on and I'm wondering how the minister, this government, is assessing the OHV implementation of the regulations.
HON. CHARLIE PARKER: I'm pleased to once again have the opportunity here to talk about the estimates within the Department of Natural Resources and I welcome the member back again, even if it's only for a few short minutes. Again, I am pleased to introduce my Deputy Minister Duff Montgomerie here on my left, and Remi MacDonell from our Corporate Services Unit for Finance on my right.
Off-highway vehicle issues have been an important issue here in the department for a number of years and reached a pinnacle a few short years ago. There now seems to be a very good working relationship between government, the department and the users. The ATV Association of Nova Scotia, the Snowmobilers Association of Nova Scotia, and other off-highway vehicles users are well organized now and we have the Off-highway Vehicle Infrastructure Fund that is shared between those three groups I just mentioned. They work collaboratively with our department and funding, as you know, through the $40 registration fee that is on many of those vehicles, which is accumulated and then it is distributed on a proportional basis to the various groups for trails and bridges and education programs. I think there is a very good working relationship there.
As far as enforcement, as you know, one time it had been 12 dedicated enforcement officers assigned to police the trails out there but today all our conservation officers are fully trained and available, and in conjunction with the RCMP, and sometimes municipal police forces, work together to ensure that there is not violations or danger out there to the public. I would say overall the system is working very well. It is funded for improvements by the $40 fee and there is generally a pretty good air of co-operation.
MR. GLAVINE: Very quickly, one of the other calls that I've had from a number of people are from those who will purchase an OHV with just a month or two remaining in the year but yet they have to pay that full fee. I am wondering if there was any thinking about doing a prorated basis for a three-month period for example.
MR. PARKER: I know our time is just about out and maybe we'll have to continue our conversation in the next round, so to speak, but I will take that under advisement and see if that has been considered or if maybe a possibility.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted to the Official Opposition has expired.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for the opportunity to do some estimates and welcome his staff here today. I look forward to asking some questions and hopefully getting some answers, direct answers. We're going to start with last year the provincial park in Indian Brook, known as Barrachois, in Victoria County was permanently closed because of some issues with sink holes and there were some safety concerns. At a public meeting there attended by the DNR staff, residents were told that they would conduct a search to see if there might be Crown land in close proximity that they could use as a provincial park site. I'm just wondering if the minister could let us know where they are in that stage because that park was a highlight for a lot of the people in the community and they are looking for a new green space to use and to access. If the minister could comment as to whether any progress has been made on this issue or not it would be appreciated.
MR. PARKER: I know the honourable member is from beautiful Cape Breton. The other day I had some geographical challenges on trying to straighten out between Main-à-Dieu and Gabarus so I've brought a map along with me, Madam Chairman, of Cape Breton Island just to make sure we're on the same page here and I've found places like Scaterie Island where the MV Miner is resting, and the Gabarus sea wall, I'm sure these issues may come up; the Donkin Mine, and I even found beautiful Big Pond where our songstress from Cape Breton, Rita MacNeil, had been from.
I'm familiar with those areas but I'm trying to find Barrachois on my map, I believe it is the area that - does the park have another name? (Interruption) Plaster Rock, that's the name I'm looking for. Okay, well then I'm familiar with the situation there and obviously there were some sinkhole problems there. They decided for public safety reasons to close that park last year and I believe the honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes had attended some of the sessions with the department and I think there was a public meeting held in the community with the local MLA and with DNR staff to explain the safety issue.
That particular park has been closed for that reason and I know the municipal council there too is working to see what might be possible for other locations. In addition we have our parks review and our protected areas review and I know they are looking at additional lands in that general area that might be considered for public recreation or public walking or hiking, bird watching, whatever people enjoy doing.
I would say that there are discussions with the municipality and through the public and through the parks and protected area review process and we're hoping that there can be an area found that's not too far from Plaster Rock in that community that can serve that role for public recreation or for the public to go for a stroll and to enjoy the great outdoors.
MR. MACLEOD: Minister, it has been over a year since that park was closed and it is my understanding that the Municipality of Victoria has offered up some land to maybe replace that facility. The people have been quite patient, which Cape Bretoners usual are, and the question is really now that a year or more has elapsed and there has been an offer, as I understand it, from Victoria County, I wonder if the minister would give us a timeline as to how they might be able to act on this situation so that the people will once again have a provincial park in their community.
MR. PARKER: I do know that just this week we had a meeting with the municipal council, or at least the warden and at least one councillor from the municipality, and I know the local MLA was able to attend that along with staff from the Department of Natural Resources. I know that proposal came forward from the council. It has being looked at, it's considered - but it was just yesterday, actually, that they met here at the House. That's an offer that's under consideration. It's being looked at and as much as residents of the area want to find a solution here, people will have an area they can go to and enjoy nature.
As you know, the provincial park was there, it's just not safe anymore. It's a public hazard and it was agreed by all that that was the case. We're as anxious as anyone to find a solution and we will continue to work with council and we'll continue to roll through our parks and protected areas plan. There is still input being taken in on that plan. Hopefully sometime this year we will have a workable solution for the community there in Victoria County.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for that answer and I would encourage, now that there is a possible solution on the horizon, I would ask that they would try to move it along because, as I say, it has been over a year now and I think, in fairness to people of the area, that would be the right move to make. I understand that there are lots of challenges but at the same time it would be something that would be appreciated.
I was wondering if the minister could give me an update on what is taking place with the biomass plant in Port Hawkesbury.
MR. PARKER: This will cross over into the Department of Energy as well but I happen to know the minister there quite well. My understanding is the plant is scheduled to open sometime this summer. We're in the final stages of getting there. It's part of our Renewable Electricity Plan to have a cogenerated facility there at Port Hawkesbury and by early summer it should be up and operating. That's going to produce electricity as well as steam for the pulp mill. It's part of our cogeneration facility under renewable electricity.
We've been getting ready for this under the Forestry Infrastructure Fund that was established when that mill was down, the pulp mill. There have been contractors and woodworkers actively involved in the forestry industry and the low end product is what's suitable for biomass and that has been stored. There is a large volume of material there that is ready that will be sold by the province to the operator, to Nova Scotia Power, and that will generate some additional income for the province. There is a large storage amount there that is available. There are contractors in the RFP that have been identified to supply their product so within the next couple of months we should see that facility up and running.
MR. MACLEOD: Can the minister give us a definition as to what biomass is?
MR. PARKER: Biomass is any material that - it can come from forest products; it can come from farm products; it can be any living material that is suitable for this type of operation. It can be burned to produce energy. I know there is a lot of research and work being done around the world on biomass growth. Certainly even here in Nova Scotia, I believe in Cape Breton, there is some research being done on willow or switchgrass that is fast growing that can be harvested on about a three-year cycle and is suitable for biomass.
There are a number of farmers around the province who are interested in growing miscanthus, which is a crop that can be harvested annually on land, and once it's there it's established for decades and it can be harvested every year. I know there are farmers in Annapolis County, Pictou County and well beyond who are experimenting with that crop right now and seeing how it can be best produced.
Of course the main source that has been identified is from forest waste or the secondary product that is as a result of harvesting of other more valuable species. Biomass from the forest aspect is really what is not suitable for good logs, for hard wood or soft wood. It can be during selection harvesting, for example, the operator goes in and takes out some of the better logs, but also he may want to take out some of the less valuable stuff so that other trees can grow. If you have a six-inch diameter tree that is not ready to harvest but it might be thinned out around it so that waste wood, so-called - it could be stems that are crooked or stems that are diseased or just too crowded, too tight, they're not going to grow into a good quality log - those are the thinnings, more or less, that are taken out of the woodlot. Yes, it can be used for firewood, but it can be used to ship to the biomass plant as well.
Biomass can come from a variety of sources: the farm, the woodlot, wood waste, maybe sawdust or hog fuel or the bark off of trees and so on. There is a variety of products that can go into the biomass plant.
MR. MACLEOD: Could the minister give us an indication of the amount of biomass that is going to be required by the Point Tupper plant and the proposed plant in the Harbourside Commercial Park in Sydney?
MR. PARKER: Certainly overall as a province we have an amount that has been identified for forest use. That doesn't count farm waste or farm crops that are produced for this purpose, but on our forestry side, we're being cautious and we don't want to over-harvest our woodlands. On the other hand, it's an opportunity to thin out the woods and make them better so they can improve and grow better for future crops. That amount had initially been identified as 500,000 dry tons, province-wide. Again, erring on the side of caution to make sure that we don't over-harvest our lands, that was reduced, I believe, about a year and a half ago, two years ago. It was set at 350,000 dry tons and so that's the total available that can be used in the province for biomass production.
I don't have the exact figures here for the Sydney project or the Port Hawkesbury project, but I'll endeavour to get those. I have an idea what they are, but I don't want to give you wrong information. Let me get the total tonnage that should be used in each of those facilities and when I have it, I'll pass it on to you.
MR. MACLEOD: I wonder, through you to the minister, if I could ask the approximate price a forester could expect for biomass.
MR. PARKER: Prices are something that our woodlot owners are always interested in. Naturally they want to get as high a price as they can get. I'm a woodlot owner myself and if I have some hardwood logs harvested, or softwood pulpwood, or stud wood, or whatever, naturally I want as high a price as I can get at roadside but market forces determine where that is going to end up. In the case of biomass the principle that we operate under is the highest and best use for the forest. It makes every economic sense that it will be good quality hardwood logs, or softwood logs that you will get the most money out of and then it comes down to stud wood, down to pulpwood, and maybe firewood and then biomass.
Again, often the biomass is the net result of good forest management and you are not going in to cut every tree, for the biomass it's the leftovers, it's the waste, it actually is the opportunity to improve your woodlot and let other good trees grow. By cutting out the thinnings, the damaged or diseased stems, that's what goes to biomass. It's the least valuable product in the woodlot. If I remember correctly it's around $35 a ton, I think is the going price for biomass.
MR. MACLEOD: Minister, currently in the Port Hawkesbury Paper area the agreement, which used to be known as the Stora agreement, I believe it was, for the Crown lands around it - about a year or a year and a half ago, when there were changes made with the challenges that were met at that plant, there were some talks about changing the way that the leases were provided. I wonder if you could give me an update as to just how the leases are in relation to Port Hawkesbury Paper now and also what effect that will have on the smaller contractors who do hardwood flooring and other things of that nature, the value-added products that come out of the forestry.
MR. PARKER: The honorable member is correct in that we have changed the way that we do forestry agreements and we've changed the way we do forestry practices in this province. Under the old agreement, which the Stora Act controlled - I think it was signed in the late 1950s when the Swedish company came to Port Hawkesbury and it was known as the Stora Act - it was a good Act at the time for that period in our history but today, in more modern times, there is much more interesting good forest management and we've adapted and changed to that.
The Stora Act has been repealed and we've replaced it now with the Forestry Utilization Licensing Agreement. The Stora Act had been for 50 years and the new agreement is for 20 years and in reality it gives us much more control over our own resources. It gives us much more control over our destiny and it allows us to have the say in how the forest is operated. We've insisted on FSC certification on those lands and the Stern Group, Port Hawkesbury Paper now as it's called, is very much compliant with that. There is a role now for Mi'kmaq consultation that was not there before. The roads that are on the Crown lands are owned by the province and we have a say on how they are opened up to the public for hunting, fishing, or recreational use, in a responsible way. Before, those lands were like private lands of a corporation and they controlled how the use was looked after.
In addition, the agreement, under the Forest Utilization Licensing Agreement, indicates that a certain portion of the wood has to be purchased from private woodlot owners in addition to the Crown land that they have to responsibly manage. The agreement was 400,000 tons that would be harvested from Crown land, and 200,000 tons from private lands. That is about a third that would come from private lands.
However, the companies got off to a good start. They've got a good working relationship in the community and they've actually been buying almost half of their wood from private woodlot owners. I understand there are more private contractors and woods workers involved with Port Hawkesbury Paper now than under the previous company, so that's a good thing. There are more private woodlot owners engaged, more private contractors, more truckers, and others servicing the forest industry there than ever before in eastern Nova Scotia.
It is a good working relationship, and I think, again, under the Forest Utilization Licensing Agreement we have much better control over how the forest land is managed and forestry has a future in this province. Certainly Port Hawkesbury Paper is committed to that and it's great to see 1,400 workers employed again. As they say, it's onward and upward from here. We're very positive about the outcome there and the future moving forward.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Madam Chairman. The minister talks about 1,400 jobs that were created - saved. I wonder if he could give us an indication of just where those jobs are located because there are fewer people working at the mill. There appears to be fewer people producing wood, at least in Cape Breton County, and you mentioned that more than half of the wood supply for Port Hawkesbury Paper is coming from private woodlands. I wonder if the minister knows the geographical location of those woodlands, because in conversation with contractors in my own community and others around Cape Breton Island, they tell me that they haven't been selling any wood to the people in Port Hawkesbury, because, quite frankly, they can't afford to.
I wonder if the minister can tell us about all this wood that is coming from private land: firstly, is it coming from Nova Scotian private land, and secondly, what areas is it coming from? And then I would be very interested in a breakdown on the 1,400 jobs that have been mentioned in this House on numerous occasions.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Madam Chairman. It is great to see the economy of the Strait region reinvigorated again, and having people back to work. You know the 1,400 jobs are in the mill itself, in the woodlands, contractors, truckers, silvicultural contractors. I don't have a breakdown for each of those categories, but all those are involved directly with the mill and indirectly through sawmills and others that are integrated into the supply chain like Williams Brothers in Barneys River in Eastern Pictou County, or River's Bend Wood Products in Antigonish County, Finewood Flooring in Victoria County, B.A. Fraser Lumber in Cape Breton, and MR MacDonald Holdings, a hardwood mill also in Pictou County.
There is a strong integration there in the forest industry. It's truckers, it's contractors, it's employees directly employed with those individuals, it's actual direct workers at the mill, also there are indirect jobs right from the local hairdresser to the barber to the Canadian Tire, you know, people have money and they're spending it, they're able to stay here in Nova Scotia and support their families. People spend their money when they're living here, people go on vacation they go to bed and breakfasts, and they go anywhere or elsewhere in the province. It's hard to measure but economic impact is huge. Actually in the six months that the company has been operating they've spent more than $80 million in the local economy buying goods and services, that's in six months, so in a year I expect that to be $160 million. It's having a significant impact on the economy in the southeastern counties from Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough, Victoria, Inverness, Richmond, and Cape Breton Counties so it's all positive.
You asked in particular some of the contractors or where the wood is coming from. I know Baddeck Valley Wood Producers Co-op, I believe its Mike Gillis, is involved there in managing that co-op so some of it is certainly coming out of that region. Cliff Sangster in northern Inverness County is producing a significant amount of wood for the mill. I knew Neil Kenney in Pictou County is another producer that is supplying product . . .
MR. MACLEOD: From private land?
MR. PARKER: From private land primarily, yes, entirely in his case. So it's a variety, some are working on Crown land, some are working on private lands. You mentioned the figure there and maybe I didn't give you the exact figure, it was 48 per cent of their wood coming from private lands at this time.
MR. MACLEOD: So 48 per cent is coming from private land and the question was is that land all in Nova Scotia? Is that private wood all coming from Nova Scotia is one question and the other question, you talk about the economic impact that the mill has had, and I don't doubt that there is an impact, but if you were to talk to some of the merchants in the area of Port Hawkesbury they would tell you that their business has actually gone down, not gone up, that they haven't recovered from when the plant originally closed. If you were going to invest $128 million-plus and come up with a number of 1,400 jobs I believe that the people of the Province of Nova Scotia deserve to know how that number was derived at because if you can say that there were 1,400 jobs - and by the way, in Question Period here one day we had the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism saying there were 1,400 and we had the Premier saying there were 1,000 jobs in the same Question Period.
If you were investing that kind of money of the taxpayers of the Province of Nova Scotia, I think it's only reasonable to believe that you have an understanding of exactly where those jobs are going to be created, how they've been created, and how the investment made by the Province of Nova Scotia is affecting them. Is it 1,000 jobs, is it 1,400 jobs and are the jobs directly related? Quite honestly, Mr. Minister, people going away on vacation probably doesn't add a whole lot of money to the economy of Nova Scotia because they're going away, in your words. I'm curious, with that kind of investment do you really understand what jobs were created, and again going back to what the minister and the Premier have said in disagreeing in the amount of jobs, I would be just curious to see how you can invest that kind of money and not really know where the jobs are.
MR. PARKER: The fact is that the mill is up and running again and is providing good wages directly at the mill and certainly in the woodlots and to contractors, truckers, and silviculture workers. My understanding is that those jobs are important to the regional economy and 1,400 is the figure that I stand by and those are jobs that were kept alive, kept going through the Forestry Infrastructure Fund. The Premier announced almost immediately after the mill shut down, he travelled to Port Hawkesbury and met with the workers and with local businesses in the area and said we're committed. He had a seven-point plan that would allow for the industry to stay alive. There were woods contractors, truckers and silviculture workers that were all kept going. A lot of that wood was stockpiled and the stockpile is still there for the biomass plant. I think there's about $5 million worth of product that will be sold to the biomass plant when it gets operating this summer. That will be revenue coming back to the province. There has already been a large amount of products sold to the industry.
Most important is we kept the jobs alive; we kept them there in eastern Nova Scotia. People were able to get up and still go to work. The mill was kept in hot idle. The woods workers were actively engaged in their industry and until the search was successful in finding a buyer - in this case it was the Stern Group that, through the process, was determined to be the best match for that particular mill. Today they're up and running and doing very well.
As I said, they have pumped more than $80 million into the economy of the Strait region and the rest of the counties surrounding it. On FSC certification they have a very strong commitment to good forestry management. They are engaged with a number of softwood sawmills and hardwood sawmills in the area so they're helping to create good economic activity in the eastern region. I have every confidence they are going to be successful there for many years to come.
Most importantly, those jobs are maintained; they're still there and they continue to provide for their families. They don't have to go out West to work. They don't have to travel to Ontario or wherever. They are staying right here in Nova Scotia, providing good jobs for their families and the spinoff into the local economy.
Just as one example, I remember being down in Port Hawkesbury, I think it was a couple of weeks after the mill got up and running last September and there was an operator there who owns a small business - I think it was a Home Hardware store - and he mentioned that during the year that the mill was in hot idle, but not actually operating - he sells garage packages, build your own kit and put it up yourself - during that year, he had sold one kit from his hardware store. On the day that this announcement was made, he actually sold three kits on that one day. People had confidence in the ability of that mill to be the anchor or the cornerstone of the local economy. I think people are very positive there now in that region and they're looking forward to a good future.
MR. MACLEOD: I think you should go back and talk to that hardware dealer and get the update as to where things are. The question that I asked twice now and I'll ask the third time, and this time I won't muddy it with other questions around it. Is all the wood that's being used in Point Tupper coming from the Province of Nova Scotia?
MR. PARKER: Certainly, as I indicated, there is a strong commitment to good forestry management in seven eastern counties where the Crown arrangement is with Port Hawkesbury Paper, so about 52 per cent of the wood that's available is coming from Crown land, and 48 per cent is coming from private sources. The vast bulk of that is from Nova Scotia, absolutely. I understand there is a very small amount that is coming from New Brunswick, but for sure, the vast majority of that is from Nova Scotia woodlands.
MR. MACLEOD: Can the minister confirm that when wood is brought in from New Brunswick, there is no money from that source allocated towards siliviculture? Every time Nova Scotia lumber is bought, there is money put into the siliviculture fund. If that product is coming from out of the province, then is it, indeed, true that they're not adding to our silviculture fund?
MR. PARKER: Certainly silviculture is an investment in the forestry of the future and it's important that we do the proper practices to make sure that a crop is grown again and is replanted, or pre-commercial thinning, or other practices that are required. My understanding is that silviculture is tied to the land and if wood is cut then there is an obligation under the Registry of Buyers program to put that money back into good silviculture, either in financial terms or in actual work to be done. Some chose to do their own work and some chose to pay into the fund. If you cut 40 acres on your land, then the buyer of that wood is obligated to ensure that it is properly managed, under silviculture practices, and he can either arrange for the contractor to do it himself or he can put money into the fund and someone else will do it. People who are in the business go to the buyers and say I'm available, I have an experienced crew and I can do that work. That's my understanding of the way the system works.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Minister, through you, of course, Madam Chairman, could you tell me, now the way that the lands are administrated, if a company like Finewood Flooring wants to be able to produce its own hardwood logs, do they deal directly with the Province of Nova Scotia or do they still have to deal with the paper mill?
MR. PARKER: Finewood Flooring is a good example of local industry that puts an important emphasis on value-added. I've been to that facility in Middle River in Victoria County, the Christiano family is the owner of the business. They export their product around the world but they also sell it locally and I know folks who have bought nice, good-quality flooring from them to have in their living room. They are a private business and they buy their supply wherever they can. They buy from a lot of private woodlot owners. I believe they have some of their own lands as well but they buy from private sources, private woodlot owners.
Many of the hardwood mills now have an arrangement that they deal with Port Hawkesbury Paper through an agreement and some of those mills have an agreement. I think Finewood Flooring actually has an agreement through B.A. Fraser Hardwood and they get most of their raw material through B.A. Fraser, but on the other side B.A. Fraser has a working agreement with Port Hawkesbury Paper, as does Murray MacDonald and others that are working towards that. Some have signed an agreement and some have not but I think either they are buying from private sources or buying most of their stock through B.A. Fraser.
MR. MACLEOD: I wonder if the minister could tell us if all the agreements have been signed. You took great length to tell us, of course, that we have more control over our land now because of the new process that had been brought in by yourself so the question is, if we have more control you must know if the agreements have been signed and if the ability for value added is still there for the smaller businesses who didn't get the benefit of $128 million as did the paper mill.
MR. PARKER: I do know that Port Hawkesbury Paper is fully committed to Nova Scotia. They are fully committed to environmental standards and forestry practices under FSC certification. Under the Forestry Utilization License Agreement there are certain parameters that they have to follow, have to live under. Generally speaking they are trying to work co-operatively with the other players in the supply chain and those are softwood mills and hardwood mills. I think it was late last Fall we announced that there were a couple of hardwood mills that had a working arrangement with Port Hawkesbury Paper and they signed an agreement on a supply: logs going one way and chips or hog fuel going the other and it's a working arrangement that both parties were happy with. That was Murray MacDonald, M.R. MacDonald, in Pictou County and B.A. Fraser in Cape Breton, so that was a good start.
There have been ongoing negotiations with groups of WWRH and I understand they're very close to a working arrangement in that case. They've been working with the Unama'ki First Nation group in Cape Breton as well.
They're working very hard. It has only been a few months they've been up and operating, but they feel that the best way is to work together and find that advantages for both companies are workable, so they're off to a good start. They're going to continue to work with each other for the benefit of both parties.
MR. MACLEOD: It's our understanding that the cost of stumpage on Crown land has doubled for pallet logs and it has tripled for firewood. I wonder if the minister could confirm or deny if that's correct. If it has doubled, could he give us a reason why it has?
MR. PARKER: Certainly every year the Department of Natural Resources looks at the market, looks at what private wood sales are going for and looks at our neighbouring provinces to see what is happening there because we are integrated in a Maritime market here in many ways. After careful research, the department sets the stumpage rates and then those are made available to all the buyers and all the mills in the province. Some years some things go up and some years they go down, depending on market conditions.
I understood that pallet wood actually did go up last year. I guess there was an interim setting of the rates there last October, I believe it was, but again, about April 1st is the normal time that we set the rates. I think some of those rates on pallet wood in particular have gone down somewhat; it fluctuates up and down according to market conditions. Very high-quality hardwood logs are quite valuable and those stumpage rates are up. On the low end, they went up last Fall and they've come down somewhat this Spring.
MR. MACLEOD: It is our understanding that, indeed, pallet logs have doubled and firewood has tripled. We've also been told that the reason for that, given by your department, was so that they would harmonize with prices that were in New Brunswick. Obviously, that doesn't make much sense for somebody who has tried to do work here in the Province of Nova Scotia, and when you consider that power rates have not been harmonized with New Brunswick, Workers' Compensation rates have not been harmonized with New Brunswick, and wage rates have not been harmonized with New Brunswick, how can your department justify putting the cost of these materials at the same price as those of New Brunswick?
MR. PARKER: As I mentioned, stumpage rates go up and down according to market conditions, and certainly we're not immune from what happens in New Brunswick. There's supply that goes back and forth across the border. As I mentioned earlier, Port Hawkesbury Paper was buying a little bit of product from that province. We're really in the same market here in many ways. Some of the mills that operate in the province are in both provinces; the Group Savoie would be one that comes to mind.
The important thing is that we've got to make sure that it's fair. It has to be fair to the woodlot owner, it has to be fair to the mills that are buying, in comparison to the private rate, and it can't be out of sync too much from what the private woodlot owners are getting or what the private mill is willing to pay.
We also have to keep in mind the softwood lumber agreement in the United States and the last thing we want to do is to cause any difficulty in that regard for our mills here in this province. I guess it has to be fair to all of us as taxpayers or as owners of that Crown land. You and I and 940,000 other Nova Scotians own that property so it has to be fair to all parties and that's always what we try to do to make sure that it's not too high but make sure that it's not too low; it has to be fair to all parties.
MR. MACLEOD: Has the price gone up? Has it been harmonized with New Brunswick, and how does that benefit the people of Nova Scotia who own that product if we are matching our prices to New Brunswick and we're selling the wood here in Nova Scotia? You say that there is not much wood coming from New Brunswick, and it shouldn't matter how much wood is coming from New Brunswick, because this is Nova Scotia and you and your government have invested a lot of money in Nova Scotia in the forestry industry so why would there be that price discrepancy in something that's inside our own province?
MR. PARKER: Again, Madam Chairman, I'm not sure that there is a price discrepancy between our province and our sister province of New Brunswick. I will have to endeavour to get you those rates. I don't have them here on the tip of my finger but I will get you the rates. I do know that pallet wood has gone down this Spring, as you have initially asked, but again it's about fairness to all parties involved and every year the rate is set depending on market conditions, that private woodlot owners are receiving and it has to be comparable to that.
There is interplay here between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. We are really in the same market in many respects and it has to be somewhat comparable for sure. If you live in Cumberland County or if you live in Sackville, New Brunswick, you are very much in the same market and with modern trucking, truck drivers are shipping wood across the border in both directions, really Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are integrated in the same market here.
MR. MACLEOD: I understand you to say that the prices are comparable in New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia. We've been told by very good sources that hardwood chips in New Brunswick are $60 a ton roadside and in Nova Scotia they are $32 a ton roadside. In New Brunswick they are almost double the price that they are getting for it so how does that benefit Nova Scotia and how does that relate back to your theory that the prices have to be comparable?
MR. PARKER: Again, I'll endeavour to get the stumpage rates for you. I don't have them here with me but I'll make sure you get those. I do know that stumpage rates is one of the factors of the cost of getting supply but there are also the arrangements around silviculture that sometimes figure into a stumpage rate. Chips as well, I'll make sure we get that price for you. Administration of the program can vary from province to province. You can compare apple and oranges but you need to take into consideration all the factors that go into the cost of raw material coming to the mill. Again, I'll endeavour to get those prices for you.
MR. MACLEOD: We're going to change gears in a little while so I don't want to irritate you too much before I ask you this question, Mr. Minister. The minister is very aware of the Two Rivers Wildlife Park and actually in one visit that he and his caucus made to Cape Breton, he was kind enough to come out and visit the Two Rivers Wildlife Park, and I appreciate him taking the time to do that because I know his time is very busy.
The Two Rivers Wildlife Park, as the minister knows, is the only wildlife park on Cape Breton Island and it used to be run by the Province of Nova Scotia, and now is run by a society. Last year they had about 4,300 visitors show up. There had been an agreement in place for core funding of $80,000 a year for six years. That funding is coming to a close. On February 6, 2012, there was a letter sent to the honourable minister asking for that to be extended by three years. I can table that information if the minister needs to have a look at it again. In response to that, later on, the minister said they would review things. My question is, has the department decided whether or not the Two Rivers Wildlife Park will be getting core funding extended for three years as their request in the letter to you?
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and yes, I recall the day I had the opportunity to travel with the honourable member and we did visit the Two River Wildlife Park. I think it was a winter day but the sun was out and it was a great day to see the animals in their winter coats. While the park wasn't officially open, I don't believe, at the time, we did have the opportunity to see some of the animals that reside there, and I think we met with the board of directors, and it was a good day.
I recognize that the park is well used by many, not only from Cape Breton but visitors who come into our province from elsewhere. If I remember correctly, there are even weddings that have been held there, and other special events from time to time, so it's a great community facility for that area of Cape Breton.
I do know that in the original agreement that was contracted, was assigned, the eventual understanding was that the park would become self-sufficient after six years, I believe it was. As the honourable member just indicated, that time period has elapsed. Nonetheless, we recognize the importance of the park and I do understand there are still ongoing discussions with the managers of that facility, with our staff here in DNR, and I guess the best we can say at this point is that we're engaged in discussions and those discussions are ongoing.
MR. MACLEOD: The minister is quite correct about weddings taking place there, my oldest daughter got married at the Two Rivers Wildlife Park, so I've got some fond memories of that as well. However, the Two Rivers Wildlife Park employs about 10 individuals, and, Mr. Minister, it is open year-round. Because the animals have to be fed, they keep the facility open year-round. And it's interesting because the Province of Nova Scotia actually owns the animals and they own the infrastructure there, the buildings and that.
The ask is $80,000 - $80,000 helps maintain 10 jobs in rural Nova Scotia at a facility that belongs to the Province of Nova Scotia, the taxpayers, but at the same token, is run by a society of committed individuals. We've seen many dollars handed out to many different groups to create employment. This group is looking for $80,000 to maintain 10 jobs on the site, and of course, if those jobs disappear, and the society has to close the park, the province would then be responsible for looking after and maintaining the animals, and looking after and maintaining the facility. So in what my kids would say is a no-brainer, extending this by three years - and they've already explained in the letter the different things they're doing to try to bring themselves into self-sufficiency - I wonder if the minister could explain to us why that type of investment, to create and maintain 10 jobs, is taking so long to be arrived at?
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I know the honourable member is passionate about that particular facility, having family connections there with his daughter being married, I understand. We as a department have worked with the operators of that facility over the years and have continued to help provide money for feed for the animals and so on.
My staff is in discussions with the operators and I'm awaiting the staff recommendation on that. We all want to see that facility continue to operate and be a drawing card for the area, to continue to provide good jobs in rural Cape Breton, so I await my staff's recommendation and see how we can best move forward.
MR. MACLEOD: I'm just wondering if the minister could give us a timeline because, as I say, the letter originally went to his office on February 6, 2012. Here we are, 15 months later. I understand that the wheels of government turn slowly sometimes, but it is over a year. We are talking about maintaining jobs and I just came from estimates with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture was telling us how proud he was about putting jobs into rural Nova Scotia. I agreed with him, by the way.
You have an opportunity for a lot less money to maintain 10 jobs in rural Nova Scotia. You have had over a year to look at the case. You said that you were going to meet with the members there and you indicated your department is doing that to discuss efficiencies and talk about extending the grant, but here we are 15 months, more or less, have passed and the people, who are volunteers, I might add, on the board of directors there, are looking for an answer from you as to at least a timeline, if not a positive answer.
MR. PARKER: Again, I recognize the value of that facility to our province. The original agreement was that - the hope I guess at least - was that the society would be self-sufficient and that hasn't quite happened yet. We're continuing to dialogue with the board of directors. My understanding is that our staff have been engaged with them and I'm expecting a staff recommendation back on how we move forward. I should have that recommendation, I believe, from my staff by early May.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to congratulate the minister on finally giving an answer. In all seriousness, the Two Rivers Wildlife Park is a very integral part of the economy of the Marion Bridge area and surrounding areas. There are people who work there, not just from Marion Bridge, they're from Sydney and North Sydney and different areas, and the visitors, as you indicated earlier, come from all over the place; 43,000 visitors is a substantial number of people and when they have their fright nights and some of the other events they have there, it is a place that is certainly doing its very best to move towards the self-sufficiency that is required, but I can't help but repeat myself in saying that the investment of $80,000 to save 10 jobs is probably one of the best deals that the province can ever hope to get, when it comes to actually putting money into a facility for a year.
There are a few other items on my list and we are running out of time for my period, but I'll just let you know that there are things like the Gabarus seawall, the MV Miner and more issues regarding the forestry and how some of the forestry contractors in Cape Breton County and other parts of the province are feeling that they're not getting the full benefit of what they should be getting of the investment that was made by taxpayers' dollars into the mill in Port Hawkesbury.
I think that as we move forward, we need to make sure that the people who actually invested the money, which as you made very clear is you and me and all the people who pay taxes, that they are getting the biggest benefit of the monies that are being spent in the Province of Nova Scotia to keep the forestry industry alive.
There are many questions around Northern Paper and the Bowater plant down in the Liverpool area. We will have much more to discuss. I understand my colleague from Dartmouth East has some questions so I'm sure the rest of the afternoon is going to be enjoyable at the very least, it might even be eventful. My time is just about up so I'll sit down and concede my 20 seconds to the member for Dartmouth East.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Thank you, I appreciate the 20 seconds from the honourable member. I'm pleased to follow up on the member for Kings West who began these estimates on behalf of our caucus.
I'd like to start by asking the minister a direct question and maybe I'll get a direct answer on it. Has there been any whole-tree harvesting that has taken place in the province in the past 12 months?
MR. PARKER: Whole-tree harvesting had been an issue here in our province for a number of years and we have committed, as a government, to do away with whole-tree harvesting. That has been outlined by the previous minister in December 2010, and it's an important part of our Natural Resources Strategy that we would no longer allow whole-tree harvesting in Nova Scotia.
The major mills in this province do not do whole-tree harvesting. Northern Pulp no longer does whole-tree harvesting and Port Hawkesbury Paper is committed not to do whole-tree harvesting, so those are two of our very large forestry operators in this province. My understanding is that the amount of whole-tree harvesting in Nova Scotia has dropped considerably and it's now somewhere in the range of about 2 per cent of all harvests in Nova Scotia. That's the answer to your question, 2 per cent.
MR. YOUNGER: Just to clarify, 2 per cent of the harvesting done in the past year would have been whole-tree harvesting? Okay. A nod, so I'm taking that as a yes. The minister is correct, the previous minister and this minister have, for four years now, said that whole-tree harvesting will come to an end. Actually, 2 per cent is a fairly significant acreage, granted less than it was, I acknowledge that. It has been committed almost every year that it would come to an end, so when will it actually come to an end and there will be no whole-tree harvesting?
MR. PARKER: Whole-tree harvesting is an issue that we're committed to not allowing in Nova Scotia. We've been working with the various stakeholders, with industry, woodlot owners, and contractors. We've had some research done by the University of New Brunswick on soil modelling and we're working towards an ecosystem-based management system in Nova Scotia, that every piece of land is different; every piece of land has different characteristics. There can be a different harvest technique depending on the water, the soil, the wind direction, a variety of things that determine how best to use that particular forestry source in that area.
We are committed. We've been engaged with a number of stakeholders over the last year and we expect this will come to a conclusion this Spring and we'll have those whole-tree harvesting regulations fully in place by June of this year.
MR. YOUNGER: Respectfully, Mr. Chairman, the minister can't be all that committed to getting rid of it, if for almost four years now the previous minister and now this minister have committed to ending whole-tree harvesting and it's still taking place on 2 per cent of our land. It's almost like how long it took us to get a clear-cut definition that isn't clear cut at all. (Interruption) We're getting there.
If the regulations on whole-tree harvesting are going to come out in June, after years of promising it would end this year and then this year, will those regulations take effect immediately or will it be yet another year or two years before that takes effect? I do recognize the minister has said it's only 2 per cent and that is a reduction and that's a good thing. I was actually expecting the answer to be there was none in the province and here we are, it is still continuing despite repeated promises over the past few years it would come to an end.
I might even accept the fact that a clear-cut definition might take some time; I don't accept the fact that it takes a long time to have a definition of whole-tree harvesting. That's pretty straightforward. Could he explain whether those June regulations will result in an immediate cessation of whole-tree harvesting in Nova Scotia or whether it will continue for another year or more? If it is going to continue, even if those regulations take effect immediately, will there be any wiggle room in them that would still result in whole-tree harvesting taking place?
MR. PARKER: Normally, as the honourable member would know, the process for regulations, once they are drawn up, once they're approved, it has to go over to the Department of Justice for vetting. That takes a month or two and then the normal process. Then those regulations are proclaimed and become effective. I think that's the timeline we're looking at.
Perhaps the best news of all here is that many of the companies out there are self-regulating. We've talked about this and companies are recognizing that this practice is no longer going to be acceptable, no longer going to be allowed. As I mentioned, Northern Pulp no longer does whole-tree harvesting; Port Hawkesbury Paper is fully committed to FSC certification and sustainable woodlot practices and does not do that type of harvesting. JDI has not been doing that harvesting either on the Bowater lands. I think it's down to about three operators now in the province that are still practising whole-tree harvesting.
We're getting there but mainly it is through education and initiatives by forestry companies themselves. This is coming and we see the writing on the wall. You look at more sustainable practices and so we're very encouraged by the fact that the forestry companies are taking this on their own initiative.
MR. YOUNGER: I'm certainly pleased that there are companies doing it on their own accord, as they are all over the world. The question was really about the government promise and the government commitment to ensure that it doesn't happen at all. The issue is it's still occurring on 2 per cent of land in the province, despite the fact that for almost four years now this government has been promising to put it to an end. Your predecessor stood out on the steps of the Legislature and told the crowd that it would come to an end imminently. Here we are years later and that's a long time to wait for imminently.
I can get the exact word. If your predecessor is concerned about the exact word, we have it on video so I would be perfectly happy to get him the exact word but I know people walked away there feeling that it wouldn't happen in the next season. There were a number of people that responded that they were very happy that the minister had made a commitment that it wouldn't happen by the next season and we're certainly a few seasons along.
Let's move on to the definition for clear-cut. I'd like to get an understanding of how you - and I know there was some discussion about this with the previous member and I know he covered some of that - I want to understand how this definition was arrived at because it is different than what was recommended through the Natural Resources Strategy. Most people in the field argue that it is a much weaker definition. In fact, if you actually look at what this definition means, there are a lot of sites you would go on that would appear to be - that most citizens would call a clear-cut that, under this definition would, in fact, not be a clear-cut. Or, sorry, they would feel is a clear-cut, but by government policy would not. And so it doesn't seem to have addressed the issue that people were looking to have addressed.
Moreover, it doesn't seem to be backed up by the science, which I referenced in the House the other day, you'll remember, so I'm sure you've had a chance to look at that, which would indicate that it actually doesn't meet the scientific recommendations around how a clear-cut should be defined for the purpose of regulations. So, I wonder if the minister would be able to explain how this definition was arrived at, why this definition was arrived at, and why they chose to go in this direction rather than the generally accepted science on the matter.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before the minister makes his statement, I am just reminding the honourable member that although there are some times when the member is asking the minister questions through the chairman, he is also speaking through the chairman at all times.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks for clarifying that. The clear-cut definition is, again, a commitment of the Natural Resources Strategy, and we have met that commitment. We have come up with a definition that a clear-cut is "a forest harvest where less than 60% of the area is sufficiently occupied with trees taller than 1.3 meters." - that's four feet.
That definition was well researched. It is based on science. We consulted, through our staff in the Department of Natural Resources, across the continent to see what other research had been done in this regard, to see what other jurisdictions have a policy of clear-cutting, to stop clear-cutting. I know the State of Maine was one example that was looked at, but really, right across the whole continent, our staff researched this issue.
We have in our department professional foresters and people are well-trained in sustainable forestry and forest diversification, and we knew that we had to change. We had to get away from the massive clear-cuts that have occurred in this province for far too long. In fact, it is estimated that when we came to government, 96 per cent of the harvesting method in this province was still through the clear-cut method and that was just unacceptable.
Nova Scotians were telling us the same, they no longer would tolerate massive forest tracts being entirely cut down and being taken away leaving almost a moonscape behind. So when the public meetings were held for input into the Natural Resources Strategy, over and over, in the communities across Nova Scotia, people were telling us that that they wanted change, they wanted positive change. So we listened and through the process of those public meetings and then into phase two and phase three of the strategy, we came up with recommendations that would act upon what we heard from Nova Scotians.
Part of the process also was dialogue and input from forestry workers, those who are directly involved, whether they're industry, whether they're woodlot owners, environmental groups such as Ecology Action Centre and others, there were a number of sessions held by staff in the Department of Natural Resources, both in the classroom, so to speak, and also out in the woodlot.
I can recall last winter, in 2012, having the opportunity to go out into the woodlot, I believe it was in Guysborough and eastern Pictou County, and spent a day there in one of those training sessions where woodlot contractors and owners and others were in attendance, looking at alternate methods of harvesting. Various trials were being held with various types of equipment in various types of stands to determine how we can better harvest our woodlands rather than just cutting it all down in one swath.
There was a good attendance there by workers from the various pulp mills, sawmills, private woodlot owners, NGOs and others that looked at how best can we come to the way of doing selection harvesting or alternate methods that would allow something different than clear-cut. On that day I was able to rub shoulders with some of these folks and saw some of the various machines that were in the woodlot and working around standing trees and picking out some trees for harvest and leaving others to continue to grow.
The model really is based on consultation by all the stakeholders in the industry and the province. It's based on the best minds we have in the Department of Natural Resources who provided advice to me as minister on what they had researched around the continent and it's really based on solid science. This is a definition that was a consensus building amongst the various stakeholders but in the end I feel confident that it will get us away from this massive clear-cutting.
As you know, we have a goal of no more than 50 per cent clear-cutting. Already Port Hawkesbury Paper is setting the example and is well on the way and I think the latest stat I saw from that company was around 54 per cent they've cut down now on their clear-cutting. They're setting the example and I know there are lots of other private woodlot owners as well. We're going to reach that goal within the time frame we said we would.
MR. YOUNGER: I agree with you, it should be through the chairman and I apologize for that before. You might want to remind your caucus members in the other room too, we're having good personal discussions with the minister in that room.
I don't dispute the fact that the clear-cut definition, based on the definition that the department has defined, will be met. That's not really the point. The point is that this isn't what people understood this to be and I'm sure the minister has seen the reaction from many of the groups and associations of researchers and so forth. In fact the headline in the Herald at the time was: Clear-cut definition not clear cut at all. There was quite a bit of criticism of that definition from people in that community.
In fact, basically what you can have is an area where 60 per cent of it could be clear-cut and have no trees over four feet, which is probably a little taller than the desks in the Legislature here I would guess, and that would not be considered a clear-cut. I don't think that's the definition most people accept, in fact I know. I hear from people that that isn't what they expected when the commitment was made to significantly reduce clear-cutting. That's where the concern is.
There was also an understanding and a feeling at the time that part of this would also move to a requirement on multi-age, multi-species forests both in terms of moving towards the Acadian forest regime, which is talked a lot about for Nova Scotia and the minister will be aware of, but also that would form part of this so that as it is replanted and regenerated, selection harvesting is obviously much more difficult in a forest that is uniformly aged. I think we probably all agree on that so you want to move on these lots to multi-aged forest structures.
I'm wondering why the minister, in this definition - and maybe there's somewhere else he can point me to that they have made this a requirement - but why they have not moved in a direction that would require multi-age forest structures?
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think as a province, we're making great progress in working towards sustainability of our forest industry in this province, and in sustainable woodlots. You know, they go together. If you get a healthy forest, you are going to have a healthy forest industry. As I mentioned earlier, 96 per cent of our land was harvested by the clear-cut method. That was not sustainable, and we were cutting too much. Nova Scotians demanded that we do something better and that is exactly the direction we are heading in.
We now have some of the most aggressive targets in all of North America - 50 per cent reduction in clear-cutting within a five-year period is the goal within our Natural Resources Strategy, the path we share. I'm encouraged by the discussion, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, around whole-tree harvesting. Forest companies and woodlot owners are taking the initiative there in that regard and I feel every confidence that they are going to also work with us to reduce our clear-cutting, and already that is happening.
As I mentioned, Port Hawkesbury Paper is already down to 54 per cent of their harvest method through clear-cutting. That is down from the average across the province which was 96 per cent. We are absolutely headed in the right direction.
The definition mentions 1.3 metres, or four feet. That is the minimum standard, but many of the woodlot owners I've talked to have mentioned that they will have much taller trees than that and still meet the definition requirements, so it could be six, eight, ten, 20 feet but no lower than four feet. I feel confident we're on the right track towards a sustainable future in forest industry in this province and reducing harvesting methods for clear-cutting to no more than 50 per cent, doing away with herbicide spraying in the forest, not allowing whole-tree harvesting, setting up clear definition around biomass harvesting, and so on.
There are a lot of good initiatives. This government has spent considerable money to try to make sure that we are working with private woodlot owners and industry and we are setting the standards also on our Crown land. By example we are leading the way. We have invested a considerable amount of money in silviculture, in access roads on private woodlots, and a number of education and outreach initiatives. That really is the key. If we have a good education program and woodlot owners can see that there is a better way of managing their woodlots, and taking pride in what they're doing, still having a sustainable harvest, still having some income from their work and their effort, but truly becoming good stewards of the land, that's the ethic that we're trying to teach here in Nova Scotia. I think more and more woodlot owners and industry are coming onside with that, and again I have every confidence we are going to have a sustainable future for our forest industry in this province.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. new Chairman. I don't dispute with the minister that you could have a site that would exceed the definitions of a clear-cut. I think that it is probably obvious that you would have various stands. My point was that you could have, under this definition - and you probably will have under this definition - at times, and it will remain to be seen how frequently, an area where trees of four feet high, or 1.3 metres high, 1.36 metres apart, covering only 40 per cent of the site, and you don't call it a clear-cut, when pretty much anyone else's definition of that would be a clear-cut.
That's really the point, especially when one of the reasons you want to avoid having clear-cuts, which in fairness I think the minister actually mentioned, is you want wildlife corridors and you want areas under which wildlife can move freely between stands and between areas, which for certain smaller species it probably would happen in an area where you have that but with larger species you're probably not. In fact, you're almost guaranteed you wouldn't because one of the reasons that you try and put in corridors where you don't touch them at all is so you have pathways for things like mainland moose or deer, even - I know coyotes seem to be a dangerous thing to talk about around here - but coyotes and other large mammals.
At the end of the day what you end up with here, instead of having buffer zones, in fairness there are some around watercourses, but instead of having connecting corridors - and one of the leading authorities on this in this province is a gentleman who was actually at the minister's announcement on the protected areas and spoke at the protected areas press conference and was my professor for environmental ecology, whose name escapes me. He is one of the leading proponents of stands and corridors that are taller than four feet. He was one of the people who had expressed quite a lot of concern about that very issue.
There are many reasons, and the minister mentioned some of them, for reducing clear-cutting, not allowing whole-tree harvesting. There are many reasons and some of them have to do with soil content, with management, with creating multi-aged forests, and that's fine, but some of them also have to do with the idea of wildlife corridors and allowing those to move around. Again, you want a diverse wildlife habitat; you want a diverse wildlife population in the province. I'm sure the minister is well aware of that.
What you've created here is a situation where you don't actually have to create those corridors. I'm wondering why the minister felt the definition - he obviously felt that it was necessary to have those corridors in place along waterways, which is something I support - but did not feel it was necessary to define the clear-cut areas in such a way that wildlife corridors were actually preserved and protected on the stand. You have effectively allowed people - companies, individuals - to avoid having the corridors in this case.
I'm not suggesting for a second that someone sat there and said we're going to make sure that the corridors don't exist. I don't think that happened. I think what happened is that inadvertently somebody has written a definition that doesn't require or even promote the idea of having those corridors in place, just in the way the wording is. I would like the minister to explain why that is.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I guess we're flexible in this Chamber and sometimes you get to ask me questions and sometimes you get to moderate things, that's fine. In response to the honourable member's questions, protection of our wildlife in this province is a core commitment of the Natural Resources Strategy and biodiversity is one of the cornerstones of that strategy. We do have our watercourse and wildlife regulations in this province. They've been in place for a number of years. A certain buffer zone along water courses is very helpful to various species of wildlife, wildlife clumps, I guess they're called, in different sections of harvested woodland has been part of our Code of Forest Practice for some time.
The definition that we have around the clear-cut is a minimum of four feet, or 1.3 metres, and as I mentioned earlier that could be five, six, 10, 20, 30 feet, some of those trees that are left, because they are growing and they will continue to grow until they are mature.
Again, that definition was well-researched and looked at other jurisdictions across North America and was based on science and based on the best advice from forestry professionals that was available to me at that time. I've had no trained professional foresters coming back and saying that was not workable. Almost unanimously we've had good support from the trained foresters in that regard. As we move forward we will have, through our Code of Forest Practice, various regulations that are changing and that's the code that woodlot companies and woodlot owners have to live buy.
We're transforming our forest industry and we're working towards the Forest Ecosystem Classification in Nova Scotia and I mentioned that is a system where every piece of land is evaluated on its own merit and is best determined what type of treatments are best suited for that type of property. It may be land that is best suited for growing quality softwood logs or it might be best maybe for Christmas trees.
Every piece of land is different according to the soil that's under everything or the amount of rock that is on the land, the prevailing winds that will determine what can best grow. Maybe it is a side hill or on a slope that is fully protected from wind and species that don't have to be quite as wind-firm can do better there. Every piece of land is different and our wildlife interacts in all the different types of forest cover, whether it's hardwood or softwood, whether it's four feet high or whether it's 100 feet high, there are different species that can live in the different forest cover, depending on the species of trees, shrubs, or vegetation that is there.
It's all interrelated and good biodiversity is key to a healthy forest environment and if we have a good base of variety and then working again, as mentioned by the honourable member, the Acadian forest provides that great diversity and it's really the goal that we're working towards. If we get away from clear-cutting and towards more selection harvesting and good sustainable forestry management practices, we'll have not only a healthier environment but also a healthy forest and a healthier forest industry.
MR. YOUNGER: The minister talked about hardwoods so maybe that is a good place to go. There has been considerable concern expressed to me, as well as the member for Kings West, in fact, we've gone to meet with quite a lot of people in the province who are in the hardwood harvesting industry at various levels: production, actually in the forest harvesting, suppliers to that industry, makers of things like furniture and flooring and so forth, who are deeply troubled by the regulations the province has put in place and do not feel that those regulations have improved, at least from the perspective of the hardwood industry.
That is specifically - well, it is related to a number of issues - but specifically as it relates to the access to hardwood on Crown lands where leases exist for paper or pulp companies, the companies that are interested in the softwood I think is the best way to explain it. The concern is, and I've been, as has the member for Kings West, to a number of sites and actually seen firsthand what they are talking about, which is despite an intent on the part of some companies to leave hardwood standing so it can be harvested for higher and best use, the equipment being used, and the harvesting methods tend to result in damage to the hardwood, which makes the hardwood unusable in any monetary way, or any meaningful monetary way. As a result, that hardwood often ends up falling into the category of biomass as damaged hardwood, probably sometimes firewood or things like that but certainly not as a production product for flooring or furniture, whatever the case may be.
What seems to me is a very simple solution to this, which is that while I recognize the minister would have a very difficult time in controlling private woodlots, that's a bit of a different issue, but on Crown lands at least, where there is a lease, that because the hardwood manufacturers and harvesters are by their very nature selection harvesters, if they can get in to take those identified and take out the hardwood first that would still allow the companies that have the lease for pulp or other softwood purposes full access to the material they need, in the condition they require, but would ensure the highest and best value for the hardwood comes out of the forest.
In essence, I think the minister would understand that creates a win-win situation. Softwood manufacturers get what they are looking for and the hardwood guys and women are able to get the highest and best value out of those logs without having to deal with damaged logs and so forth. I wonder why the government hasn't moved in that direction, especially given that just moments ago he said that basically he was trying to have the highest standards on Crown lands, which is something I support. I think the highest and best rules should be on Crown lands. They're publicly owned.
This is an opportunity to ensure more economic benefit, better use of the forest resources, you're getting selection harvesting, and all it is really is a reversal of the order in which people go into the forest. I wonder if the minister could respond as to why that hasn't been changed.
MR. PARKER: I think we all recognize the important potential in our hardwoods in Nova Scotia and the supply chain that could lead to a value-added production in Nova Scotia. That is certainly something we encourage and are working even more so that way.
A few years ago the clear-cutting was prevalent and even good-quality hardwood stands were absolutely clear-cut and gone. That's just not acceptable and there are better ways to manage woodlots. Sometimes clear-cutting has its role in the softwood stands where there is wind damage or insect problems, but normally hardwood is a firm, wind-rooted species and it should not be clear-cut unless there is an awfully good reason.
Through our Code of Forest Practice we are encouraging better harvesting techniques and better treatment patterns on all our woodlands, including hardwood. In fact, category 7 funding has been increased considerably over the last couple of years. At one time only about 3 per cent of our silviculture money went towards category 7. Today it's close to 50 per cent of the funding. Category 7 is really selection harvesting, selecting out good quality trees that are mature and ready to be harvested but leaving behind many more good young saplings and trees that are in their midlife, to grow on and to live towards maturity. It also includes taking out the diseased stems and the small and crooked stems that are not going to reach maturity and that will allow the other trees to be able to better grow.
We not only encourage those programs but through that Code of Forest Practice that applies to all woodlots in Nova Scotia whether it's private lands or whether it's Crown land. As I mentioned earlier, we have the opportunity to set the example and do some real good demonstration on our Crown lands. That code applies to all harvesters in the province and if it's a contractor or the private woodlot owner, they have to respect present practices around the watercourse and wildlife regulations, all the regulations that apply to both Crown and private lands.
Really the best way to get there is through education and we put a strong emphasis on educating private woodlot owners, working with contractors, whether they work on Crown land or private land, working towards the ecosystem classification management of our lands. Every piece of land is different and that is the role of government, to show that there is a better way to manage our forest inventory in this province and educate contractors, woodlot owners, and industry that if we all work together on this we'll have a much more sustainable future for our forest.
As I mentioned, Port Hawkesbury Paper is under a forestry utilization licensing agreement and there are certain quality standards there they have to meet. They have voluntarily agreed to continue the FSC certification on the lands that they manage that are Crown land and there are a lot of private woodlot owners in the southeastern counties that are also being encouraged, through certification programs, through the group in Port Hawkesbury, the Nova Scotia Landowners and Forest Fibre Producers Association, I think it's called, and they are actively signing up woodlot owners and becoming engaged in more FSC certification.
Also there is the highest and best use principle, as we talked about, the sorting of harvest logs and some of those are very top quality and will be sorted out and go to hardwood mills like B.A. Fraser, like Finewood Flooring, or River's Bend in Antigonish, and other mills that are looking for quality hardwood logs. The lesser quality logs might be able to use for pallet wood or perhaps even as firewood fuel.
There is a lot of initiative in the department to work toward better management of our hardwood species and our hardwood lands. It has huge potential for value-added. I do know that M.R. MacDonald Holdings in Pictou County - I've had a chance to visit their site - and they're making use of every last square inch of hardwood. They make flooring components and some of them are pretty short, less than a foot. They have a market in Germany and other places in Europe that they are able to ship these components to and it's taking advantage of the products that we have available here in our Nova Scotia woodlands. I mentioned earlier Finewood Flooring in Cape Breton is making us some very high-quality flooring for the market that is a good quality value-added from hardwood.
There are a number of good initiatives and our government certainly supports continuing to work with woodlot owners right through to the industry where the components are made and we'll continue to put a strong emphasis on that.
MR. YOUNGER: Unfortunately that didn't come close to answering the question so I'm going to try it again. It was really just - it was fairly straight forward. For the Crown land leases, why has the government not written them in such a way that - in fact much of what the minister said is exactly what I had said as a preamble to my own question - the question very simply is, for Crown land leases why does the government not provide a provision so that the harvesters of hardwood can get in first before the softwood harvesting is done? Maybe they are planning to do that but the question is why is that not happening because at the moment it is resulting in issues?
The member for Kings West and I visited sites across the province. We went up to Guysborough County and met with a number of people up there who walked through stands and showed that these were hardwood logs that they could have used had the softwood harvesting not been done first but they were too damaged as a side effect, an unintentional side effect, of the softwood manufacturers. So we're trying to see if there is a way to address this issue and it's really just a question of why is it not in those leases now and since it isn't in those leases, is it something that the minister would consider for future Crown leases?
MR. PARKER: Around the province we have a number of lease agreements with various forestry companies, sawmills, and pulp mills, and those terms range from 20 years on the recent Forestry Utilization Licensing Agreement with Port Hawkesbury Paper down to just one year at a time. I know in the case of Port Hawkesbury Paper, they are working with a number of others in the supply chain, whether it is hardwood mills or softwood mills. They have made a signed agreement between the two companies. B.A. Fraser in Cape Breton would be an example of that and they have agreed for a certain supply of hardwood logs coming to them in addition to chips, bark, sawdust would go back the other way on the waste product.
The lands are licensed to Port Hawkesbury Paper and they have made the arrangements. They are going to harvest that land when it is suitable and sometimes it's difficult, I'm sure, for various sizes of machines to get on certain lands and pick out only certain species at a time. I do know in some jurisdictions they look at sublicensing of lands but often when that occurs it is a pure stand. Mixed stands are much more difficult to have one harvester come in and do something and then another one come in behind it and harvest a different amount of wood.
Generally we are working towards a system that the mills, whether they are hardwood or softwood, are working co-operatively together with the pulp mill, in this case the super-calendered mill at Port Hawkesbury. That system is growing. It is coming together. It is taking some time. It has only been six months since the company has gone into business but more and more agreements are being signed. Some of them we haven't even heard about but others have been with the assistance of the Department of Natural Resources staff to help bring some of that together.
In the western part of the province we have the Western Crown Land Planning Process just being wrapped up. There is still a chance for people to participate or give us ideas. We have heard different suggestions and ideas on how that land can best be used, whether it is for forest fibre, recreational uses, or protection. We are just synthesizing all that now and looking at what the suggestions are that are coming in. We are always open to new suggestions and new ideas and that is part of that planning process there and I'm sure if there are other good ideas out there for the rest of the province, we would certainly entertain any suggestions.
MR. YOUNGER: Well you have the suggestion anyway. I think at the end of the day, Mr. Chairman, the minister talked about wanting to have the highest value and talked about wanting to have the highest standards on Crown land, which I think makes a lot of sense. I mean if you are not going to do it on your own land how can you ask people to do it on theirs. It is done in other jurisdictions and I hope the minister will consider it in the future and I don't for a second suggest that you can go and amend existing leases because obviously you generally can't. I will say that to correct something the minister said, he said that the lease with Stern Group required FSC certification; that is not true. It requires FSC or any other designation the minister approves, which allows a minister to change that approval in the future, but I'm sure that was just an oversight. I know I don't have a whole lot of time left so I am going to switch gears and see if I can get through a couple of quick questions, but you never know around here it might be one. Would the minister tell me what the grant for the coming year will be for the Shubenacadie Canal Commission?
MR. PARKER: I know the honourable member has a particular passion for the Shubenacadie Canal Commission, in fact I know you have put together a book that outlines and shows the beauty of that canal system that runs from Dartmouth right through to the Minas Basin. As you know, honourable member, we had our Parks and Protected Areas announcement at the Fairbanks Centre about a month or so back and it certainly is a beautiful facility, as is the whole system from one end to the other. The annual grant that has been given in most years, I believe is $32,100.
MR. YOUNGER: That is what it has been in the past few years. It was actually over $100,000 at one point. It was cut by the Hamm Government down to the $32,000 it is so I can't even blame you for that, Mr. Minister. I guess what I'm wondering is, has the minister had any discussions with the commission? As the minister knows they are responsible for managing a lot of Crown park land. At the end of the day the government is the end owner of those facilities.
There are a number of lands which, if not properly maintained, create financial liabilities and risk for the province; I'm sure the minister is aware of that. There are heritage resources which require upkeep, which they are unable to do, and despite the fact that previous governments have cut the operating grant, they have been able to give them in some years $100,000 or $6,000, in fact one year they got $250,000 to help ensure those don't fall any further.
They are looking at holding the World Canal Conference here for their 100th Anniversary of opening in just a couple of years but in order to do that that will obviously require a commitment and investment on the part of the province. It is also important, outside of the tourism aspect, which I understand that times are tough fiscally, but they also manage a lot of water control structures, which ensure drinking water for places like East Hants and all the way up river, so they have a lot of responsibilities as it becomes that. I'm just wondering whether the minister has had any conversation or if his department has had conversation with them about addressing those issues or helping them address the issues in the future.
I will say, just in case the minister talks out the rest of the time on this, that before the minister gets up and says they can do fundraising, that is absolutely true, they can. However, many of the organizations that will provide them funding are wary of doing so - I've been in the meetings with them - are wary of doing so without a substantial commitment on the part of the province because it is fundraising for a provincial asset, at the end of the day, and a provincially-owned asset.
I think the minister can understand that people and companies pay taxes and they sit there and go, well now I'm going to give you more money. It is the same problem that the hospitals run into, people will give money to a hospital fundraising campaign after they know that the province has also made a sustainable commitment. We know that some of the municipalities along this system have also agreed to make commitments and many of those commitments, again, are conditional on the province making investments and so we have a bit of this house of cards. I think the minister recognizes the importance of it and I don't dispute that and it really comes down to priorities.
I want to suggest that there may be an opportunity around here with the new park strategy that some of the lands and areas that the minister is considering for new parks are areas which could very easily be under the jurisdiction of the Canal Commission to manage and operate so you could actually have a win/win situation where the minister is able to create his parks under the community ownership and able to shift money in that way to support them in their efforts.
I would appreciate if the minister could address what conversations his department is having both in terms of them going towards the 100th Anniversary, but also towards the issue of them having to address issues that are on provincial land that if they don't address and decide to just put a closed sign on the door, the minister's department is going to have to address directly.
MR. PARKER: Again, we value the importance of the Shubenacadie Canal. It's a wonderful facility to have here in our province. Obviously it was a main travel route for our First Nation people here across the province at one point in time. It is part of our history, part of our heritage. We are fortunate to have it right in the centre of our province, really, right next to our metro area, the largest population in the province. I haven't had the opportunity to go on all of it but I have had an opportunity to go on some of it.
The amount of funding that is available, the standard grant is around $32,100 and I know the other partner in this is HRM, as a municipality. I think this year we are working with them for some additional funding with that unit. I know we are going to be providing $25,000 additional dollars with their partners there in HRM.
I know it is volunteer run. It is really through the dedication and hard work of the volunteers that allows that facility to remain open and hopefully that will be able to continue for many more years to come. The funding is varied, as you mentioned, from year to year and I'm pleased to hear that the World Canal Convention - you are hoping, I'm not sure if that's (Interruption) - hoping is the word, okay, but in conjunction with the 100th Anniversary in a couple of years. That sounds like a great opportunity for Nova Scotia.
I would hope the commission may come forward with their plans in that regard and included with that I suspect would be a business plan and how they would see that coming off. What the financial requirement to host something like that is and what is the number of people expected to come from around the world by the sound of it? That could be a very important component of a 100th Anniversary.
Our lead in the department is Harold Carroll, our parks planning director, and I know there has been dialogue and conversation back and forth through him with the commission. I would encourage the commission to come forward with a good business plan, not just to DNR but to the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, perhaps other government departments.
We are always open to good ideas. If there is a good proposal that we could participate in, I'm sure it would be considered. I would encourage the honourable member to pass that along to the commission and we'll see where it goes from there.
MR. YOUNGER: Let me just say that my understanding is I am sure they will have a separate business plan for the congress. The minister and the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism and your department, I think it was when you were minister but it could have been the previous one, have been presented with the business plan, that HRM gave them money to help get professionally done, to advocate for the work that needs to be done along that system.
I'm not sure whether they received a response from your department on that business plan at this time. I hope that you will check to see if they have received a response, and if they haven't, that your department would respond to it. Obviously the numbers in that change over time, as you can imagine, things change with costs every year, but it outlines the projects that need to be done, which ones are urgent and which ones are not and I think the minister can understand the importance on a whole different number of levels. I know he will take that seriously.
With that, I know my time has elapsed and there are probably other things the honourable member for Inverness will get to. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think before we proceed we will take a five-minute break so people can stretch their legs.
[4:40 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[4:46 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you minister and members of the department for providing us the opportunity to ask some questions.
I wanted to make some comments to start off. I want to thank the government for the work you have done with Port Hawkesbury Paper. It is a critical piece of the economy back home. I remember the night that we got word that it was off and I tell you it was pretty depressing. I even had - you can still see it, it's out there on the Internet - I wrote a short commentary to extend my condolences to all those people who were affected.
Thankfully, things got turned around and we can see the steam coming out of the stacks and we know that steam coming out of there is mostly steam and there are not a lot of pollutants so that's good too. Certainly their practices over the years have evolved.
One of my concerns is - and I recognize that Port Hawkesbury Paper competes in the global marketplace and they are competing against economic activity in China and other places and they have to bring the product to market at a cheap price and to do that they need their suppliers to be able to provide them product at a competitive price. I know my colleague for Cape Breton West had raised the issue of wood suppliers and what I'm hearing and I think one of my main purposes of asking the questions today is to make sure you are aware of the situation they are facing.
I know that Port Hawkesbury Paper has received assistance from government and I think they're doing well, I'm hearing good reports. They are getting closer to being at full production. These suppliers that they have - and I know they're working with them - I know that they are not content. I will just give you an example of some of the numbers they have given me as to the amount of wood they're supplying to the mill. This comes from the Forest Fibre Products Association. In two months in 2011 - now granted it was July and August and they would probably be busier months - they supplied about 1,681 tons of wood for an average of 840 tons per month, whereas this year, from January to date, they've supplied an average of about 118 tons per month. It's about one-eighth what they used to provide. They are feeling the pinch and I should stop talking and actually ask a question here but I'm trying to provide some context.
Minister, I'll let you start out by maybe making some comments on the price of wood that they are getting. I think the price of $35 per ton was mentioned today. They tell me that is below their cost to actually produce it. The only reason they are producing the small amounts I've just mentioned are because they need to make payments on their equipment so they are trying to generate some revenue but there is no motivation for them to do any more because they are not finding there is any profit.
My question to you is, is the department actively working with these people, these suppliers, and are you trying to make sure that you help them in the same way that you helped the paper mill?
MR. PARKER: I want to welcome the honourable member for Inverness to our debate here this afternoon and as long as you don't ask me a question in Gaelic I'll be okay, I'll try otherwise to do my best to answer your questions.
The honourable member is right about the start-up of the Port Hawkesbury mill. It certainly has been a very positive story although I recall that roller coaster weekend as well. When the first story came out that it was not going to happen, it was a huge disappointment and discouragement to many but within 24 hours the company had come back to us and we were able to make a positive negotiation with them and that resulted in great news for the economy of the Strait region and 1,400 workers directly and indirectly employed in the Strait region and in eastern counties.
The company is doing very well. They have spent more than $80 million in the local economy in goods and services during the last six months. They have orders on the books for three months ahead now and they are finding not only super-calendered paper but even a higher quality of product called artisan paper, just a slightly higher grade, and there is a very strong demand for that product.
Coming around to your question around the private woodlot owners and the Forest Utilization License Agreement that we have with the company is that they would buy a third of their product from private woodlot owners, about 200,000 tons per year, and the balance would come from Crown land. In actuality they have been purchasing close to half of their product from private woodlot owners, I think it's about 48 per cent thus far that is from woodlot owners in Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia, so that is very positive. In actual fact they have more contractors and long-term contracts signed now with the businesses in the eastern region than the previous company NewPage had, of course NewPage had two lines: super-calendared and the regular newsprint.
This company is moving ahead. They are working with saw millers, contractors, woodlot owners, and I think mentioned earlier in an answer to your colleague that the Baddeck Valley Producers Co-op is one of the suppliers. It has been actively involved in providing product. I know Neil Kenney and other private producers on the mainland are working to supply product there to the company. I know Clem DeYoung is another operator in Pictou County who supplies on a regular basis.
In know initially in September/October when the mill was first getting up and running, we were starting to hear from some contractors and woodlot owners that the price was too low, we can't survive, we can't live on that, but through time arrangements were made and contracts were signed by a number of contractors, woodlot owners, and co-op producer associations so that lately I've heard very little about that. I'm not saying it's not there but initially there was quite a flurry of activity of concern because the price was lower than what had been paid to NewPage. Of course we know what happened to NewPage - they went bankrupt. In the interim we kept the industry alive through the Forestry Infrastructure Fund, through the Premier's seven-point plan to keep contractors, woodlot owners, truckers, and silviculture operators actively engaged in the forest industry.
I don't have the exact prices that are being paid by the company on the various products, whether it's pulpwood in particular or biomass as well. I can probably engage to get those for you but, again, I've heard very little from contractors on price as compared to last Fall.
MR. MACMASTER: Minister, I know that a tremendous amount of negotiation went on to save the mill and as I've mentioned, the deal was off and then it came back on. I know that your department worked hard to find ways to make sure that Mr. Stern came back to the table and I guess the sense I get is - because just from hearing from the local operators and I've just given you some numbers there - basically this one group of suppliers is providing about one-eighth of what they supplied back in 2011 before the mill went down.
Obviously they are not supplying anywhere near what they used to supply. Their revenues are down. The squeeze is on for them and I know when Port Hawkesbury Paper started operations, they wanted to make sure the conditions were such that they could survive, and I'm sure some of that has to do with power rates and the ability to penetrate market share around the world.
Mr. Chairman, I wonder if I might ask for a bit of - I'm having a bit of difficulty thinking on my feet here. Could you ask for some more silence in the room?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. If some of the conversation could be taken outside, it would help proceedings.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sometimes the concentration goes down as we roll through the week, at this time of day. Minister, my point being is that I'm hearing very clearly from suppliers around home, from people I know personally, that they are just not supplying the same amount of wood they used to because the squeeze is on them. They have been asked to make their movements more efficient in the woods, to use more modern equipment, but of course, you buy a new piece of equipment you've got a liability that you have to pay off and you are taking on risk to do that, which I guess puts them in even more of a bind because at that point they are at even more of a "take whatever price they can get" for their product.
My question to you is some people out there feel the mill has been helped but these people have been forgotten. Maybe this is the advice that you were given from the department but the question is, is the approach to save the mill but let the other business owners fend for themselves? Because really they are creating jobs and employment for people too in the community and if they are not going to be successful well we're a - I guess maybe somebody will supply the wood but there are problems out there and my question is, are you doing anything to help those people?
MR. PARKER: The issue you identify is a very important one. The supply of fibre to the mill is vital to Port Hawkesbury Paper and if suppliers are not able to operate or not able to have a business going that is employing people, in time the supply will just not be available. It is supply and demand, certainly, and my understanding is the price at the moment is around $41 a ton for pulpwood. The business market climate will determine what the right price is, and if it's too low eventually suppliers will go out of business because they are not able to maintain their equipment and keep their expenses in line. They have to make a profit. On the other hand if the mill is paying too much for the wood, they will go out of business, as we saw from the previous owner. There has to be that right balance there. It is human nature, of course, if you are a seller, to want as high a price as you can possibly get and if you are buyer you will pay as low as you can. Somewhere in the middle there has to be a happy medium.
I can recall my days growing up on a family farm and we used to grow a lot of vegetables there: corn, squash, and cucumbers and other things. Of course as a seller, as a grower, we had always hoped to get more than what the store was offering. Back in those days I think corn was going for like a dollar a dozen. Well that didn't seem very much for all the work and effort and production cost for it, so I know it is a delicate situation between the buyer and the seller and they have to come to a reasonable middle ground that is workable for both parties.
I'm sure the mill, the company, is aware of the need to have suppliers, to have a continuous supply chain coming at them, and part of that is the realization that they need a healthy forest industry because they depend upon it. While they have good markets on the product they're manufacturing across the world, there are lots of buyers, but they need the raw material as well.
I know our department has been working with not only Port Hawkesbury Paper but with contractors and others, training on efficiency and trying to modernize the harvest techniques so they are as efficient as possible. There has been staff interaction with contractors and the operators in the woodlots that try to see to that. We also have a harvest tracking system now that we are experimenting with, not only from a satellite imaging point of view, but also units - through FPInnovations - that are attached right on the machine that does the harvesting, and that allows us to see how efficient an operator is, or how efficient a particular type of machine is, not only in the clear-cutting, but in selection harvesting as well.
Again, the department is well aware of the need to work with private woodlot owners and with contractors, and again, the price is something between the buyer and the seller that market forces will determine. Of course, the private woodlot owner has the option to sell logs and stud wood and other forest products on the open market. It's the pulp wood that they're selling to Port Hawkesbury Paper.
MR. MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, I think what we saw when the pulp mill was down is that there is not a lot of demand out there for wood. Maybe one could say, well markets have to be developed, and higher-end value markets have to be developed, but if you look at the price for wood during that period of time, it plummeted. I know the department was trying to help the industry by keeping people going by buying wood, but then there was an oversupply in the market, which was causing wood prices to drop even further, which was exacerbating the problem for these woodlot owners and people in the forestry sector who are trying to make a living selling wood.
The other thing that compounds this - I know in the agreement, there was a requirement that X number of tons of wood were to be purchased within the province. I presume that was put in there to protect Nova Scotian suppliers. I presume it was because the province and the taxpayers of this province were helping to resurrect that mill and there was some recognition that, well, we want to make sure that some of that benefit stays in the province.
We do know that there is wood coming in from New Brunswick, they have different operations there. My first thought was, well how do they get wood all the way from New Brunswick here that is at a price competitive with our wood? But apparently, because some of their stands are - I guess, it's easier to cut more volume of wood in New Brunswick because some of their stands haven't been, maybe, cut as frequently as ours have in the past so it is a little more efficient, and maybe they have economies of scale there. But my point is this: the price that they are getting is not high and they really have only one market to sell to, being the paper mill, and they are also faced with the fact that if the paper mill doesn't want to pay them more, the paper mill can go to New Brunswick to get the wood.
Again, I recognize that the paper mill needs to get wood at a cost-effective price to make sure that they can sell their paper. I guess what I'm hearing out in the field from these operators is something that is quite different from what you're hearing from your department. There doesn't seem to be much of a connection. Can you explain why there is such a disconnect, for instance, in the statistics that I am provided with on the amount of wood that is brought in versus what the department is providing you? Why is there such a disconnect? Is there something you could offer to these - I know you mentioned the industry wants to work with them to make sure they are more efficient but more efficiency usually means greater wear and tear on their machines, the need to buy new machines, which really puts them in a spot where they are even more vulnerable to accepting whatever price they can get because they are going to be stuck paying off their loans.
I don't mean to ramble but another point that was made to me was that some experienced owners can't even get financing for forestry equipment. As soon as the banks hear forestry equipment, they back off; they wouldn't be able to get a loan for it anyway. Why is there such a disconnect between what I'm hearing from these operators and what the department is hearing?
MR. PARKER: I appreciate the honourable member's concern for his woodlot owners or contractors. They are constituents in Inverness County, although there are certainly constituents of mine in Pictou County. Again, I heard more last Fall than I'm hearing these days.
I do know there are some signs of progress here. Equipment is a big investment and after a while it wears out; it can only be maintained for so long. I do understand over the last few months there are a number of contractors out there that are investing in new equipment. There are up to five contracting companies now that are buying new equipment. That is a good sign that there is some vitality, or some hope, or an indication that they can make money in the business, so they are reinvesting.
Also, I know with Port Hawkesbury Paper in the same market now as Northern Pulp, they are overlapping and that's a good thing because now we have two buyers in the market that are buying pulpwood and competition is often a good thing for driving up price and that has happened. Northern Pulp has raised their price since Port Hawkesbury Paper has come on-line. When they were the only pulp mill in the market, they had a captive audience, so to speak. Now they have raised their price to match Port Hawkesbury Paper.
Today with modern trucking - trucking is an important component of the cost of wood delivered to Port Hawkesbury - a small portion of the wood is coming from New Brunswick, I understand. Port Hawkesbury Paper has been partnering with all kinds of forestry companies out there including the Irving group, JDI, and that probably explains some of the reason there is a bit of wood coming in from New Brunswick. In actual fact, they have also partnered with Freeman's way down in Queens County. It's probably a longer haul from there than it would be from some portions of New Brunswick.
They have reached out and they are partnering with other mills of various sizes, large and small, and it is often an exchange of logs for hog fuel and chips, some going both ways. It's an agreement that the company is signing with various other entities in the forest industry.
I do appreciate your concern for the price of pulpwood and it is market forces, really, that will determine that and the fact we have two buyers in the market, that's a positive for the woodlot owner or the contractor, as far as maintaining a profitable price.
MR. MACMASTER: These things do get complicated and I know market forces are at work and as someone who believes in the free market I always talk about how we have to respect that. I know that market forces were - when the paper mill was resurrected there were things done outside of market forces to resurrect it. I think what a lot of these suppliers feel is that the government is stepping up to save that mill, and we're all happy about that, but these particular players are business owners too. They're creating jobs and there is nobody standing in to advocate for them in the same way that the paper mill is advocated for. Recognizing that the market forces weren't working for the paper mill, well now the market forces aren't working for the suppliers of the paper mill. I don't know if we are going to achieve much more than talking about it today, minister.
Like I say, I can appreciate these matters are complicated but what I would encourage the department to do is when there is activity, try to remember that there are other players at stake and every action has a consequence. I'm going to bring up another one and that is - and just to finish off on that, when a bank doesn't want to lend you money, it is probably a sure sign that you shouldn't be trying to ask for the money because if they don't believe you can actually pay it off, that your business model is not sustainable, then you probably shouldn't be borrowing it because you might end up bankrupt.
My next point was going to be on another revenue challenge these people in forestry have, which is silviculture. They used to depend on silviculture to bring in revenues, to keep their employees working for the year. I know the rates - I don't think they have really been changed in 15 years, that's what I'm told. Now, because there is wood being purchased out of New Brunswick, there is not the same amount of money being put into the pot in Nova Scotia for silviculture because, I presume, maybe silviculture money is usually attached when their purchasing of wood is going into New Brunswick instead or maybe it's not even going in. I'm not sure what the set-up is there but the point is there is less silviculture money coming in from purchase of wood in Nova Scotia because there is less purchase of wood here. That means that rebuilding the forest, that work for these foresters has also been diminished. What I would ask you is what is being paid right now for biomass stumpage on Crown land?
MR. PARKER: I don't have the price right off on the biomass stumpage or the stumpage rates, as I explained to the previous member that was up asking questions, but I can get you those stumpage rates on hardwood and softwood, including biomass, but I don't have them here at my fingertips. I do know we are putting a strong emphasis on silviculture in this province and we know we have to transform our forest to be more sustainable and get away from clear-cutting. As with my discussion with the honourable member for Dartmouth East, we talked about the importance of getting off of the clear-cut method that has been 96 per cent of our harvest for many, many years and our goal is now no more than 50 per cent clear-cutting.
That means there is that much equal that is not clear-cut and that allows us to look at sustainable practices around proper treatments of our woodlands and a good portion of that is on category 7 now, which is a silviculture treatment that looks at selection harvesting and thinning out our woodlands and harvesting mature trees that are suitable for fibre, lumber, or for various uses, hardwood or softwood, to make products from good quality lumber. It allows us to improve our forest to make sure that the next crop is even better than the one we harvested the first time around. Category 5 also is an important part of silviculture like pre-commercial thinning so there is a lot stronger on sustainable silviculture practices that will allow for a better quality forest as we move into the future.
Maybe I'll just leave it at that for now. You may have some more comments or questions.
MR. MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister and I think I'm going to conclude and hand the rest of the time over to my colleague for Cape Breton West but I will close with the comment that a lot of these business owners are facing stresses that we don't face in government. This is their life; this is what they do for a living. If they have to close their business, in rural areas there are not many opportunities.
I would just like to highlight - and not to be saucy here - I think it's important for people working in the department to realize that when you go home at the end of the work day, not to just say well, let those people fend for themselves or what are they complaining about now, because the reality of it is those are the people who are paying the tax dollars that pay for all of us in here. If they bring concerns forward it would be nice if the department comes back with numbers and has real, meaningful conversations with them because to just - a lot of times quite frankly they feel like they are being blown off. I don't think it would matter who was in government, that is the way they feel. I know myself, I've had mixed experience during the shutdown of the paper mill, some people were good to get back to me; some people said they would come back to me and I never heard from them again.
I just want to make that point in closing, minister, you can address that, it's up to yourself, but I'm going to conclude by stating that and I'll turn my time over to my colleague, thank you.
MR. PARKER: I appreciate the honourable member's honesty and I know you are speaking from the heart, on behalf of the woodlot owners and contractors in your area. I'm dealing with them in my area as well and certainly in the department. I think our staff is dedicated and shares the concerns as well. We want to build a stronger forest industry in this province and I know we have some very dedicated staff within the Department of Natural Resources who are truly committed to seeing a fair and equitable division of the forest resources that we have in this province and make sure that everybody is treated fairly.
I should mention, in your earlier question about silviculture you had inquired about the funding structure and that is under review now within the department and we're looking at the rates and what is fair and what is sustainable, so that's under full review. I hear the concern; you have said it loud and clear.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: It's a pleasure to be back and I'm sure over the course of the next three or four hours we will get to the bottom of some of the issues that are around and that are on people's minds.
During time away from questioning I had an opportunity to talk to some of the people at the wildlife park in Two Rivers. One of the issues that you had mentioned to me was that you wanted them to be more sustainable, to be able to move forward on their own, and that is what they've been trying to do. I know the minister is aware of the plan to have camping there on the site and there have been some adjustments made to the lease to allow that to happen. They have been working with an individual from your department to bring that forward. I'm just wondering if the minister sees that as a reasonable way for them to bring forward more dollars so that they can make the park sustainable on its own and therefore keep the 10 jobs that have been created in rural Cape Breton.
MR. PARKER: Welcome back, honourable member, to our discussion here on the estimates and again I know the value of that park and how important it is to Cape Breton and really to all of Nova Scotia. Sustainability for the park there is the goal, I think, for the board of directors. It is certainly for the province, and we want to see it become sustainable and able to maintain itself. We have assisted with working towards that sustainability over the last number of years and camping is something, I believe, we did discuss with the board, when I had the opportunity to visit up there in 2011, I believe it was. That has potential, certainly, to raise some income or to raise the revenue for the park and the more they have coming in the more likely it is going to reach that critical mass of being sustainable. I'm waiting on the staff report, or the recommendations from staff on where we are and how things are going there. That should be forthcoming shortly and we will have a better handle on how we can move forward together.
MR. MACLEOD: Maybe I can shed some light on the situation for the minister and those on the other side of the House. Indeed the sustainability of camping has been recognized as something that is a real possibility and funding of $150,000 plus has been obtained by the park people for that project to go ahead, yet the department doesn't seem to be willing to allow the project to move forward. Now, I wouldn't expect the minister to know all the details on that here but the very fact that another level of government understands the importance of that, and is trying to help make the sustainability possible, and as the minister could appreciate with his budget, $150,000 is no small amount of money.
Again, I spoke to you about it earlier, trying to sustain 10 jobs in rural Nova Scotia, which the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture talked about on a number of occasions on our discussions in his estimates. I'm wondering if the minister can do something to give these people who are volunteers, and I repeat that again, who are volunteers, who are out there trying to make this a suitable park, they need the help of the provincial government and your department to give them some more time but they are not sitting on their laurels, they are actually going out and trying to source other funds to bring that to fruition. I'd like to hear the minister's comment on that.
MR. PARKER: I think we are continuing to dialogue with the board of directors. Harold Carroll is our lead on this from our department and I think Harold has a certain amount of respect there with the folks he is dealing with in the board of directors. I don't have all the details, you are right, on those discussions or where they are at but you can have my commitment that we are going to continue to work with our staff to dialogue with the board of directors to find solutions here. I can't give you details on exactly where those negotiations or discussion are, but you have my commitment we are going to continue to try to find a solution that is workable for all, so let's continue that dialogue.
MR. MACLEOD: Will the minister commit today to identifying what the cost would be to the Province of Nova Scotia if the park were to close, when they have to maintain the animals, maintain the property, and maintain the buildings? Will the minister commit to letting this House know what that amount is?
MR. PARKER: Yes, we want to continue to make this work; we want to see the park be successful; we want to see it be self-sustaining, of course, that has always been the goal. In the interim we don't want to see it close; we know the value of it. It is important to the local economy, it's important for jobs in that portion of rural Nova Scotia, and it draws people in, probably from not just the Maritimes but probably well beyond, I'm sure. You have my commitment that we are going to continue to work with the board of directors, through our staff, and we want to see a solution here that will allow the park to remain open, to be a centrepiece in that part of Cape Breton, so that is my commitment. We want to see it remain open and viable and let's work together to find the best way to do that.
MR. MACLEOD: We want it to stay open. There is nothing surer than that. In the interest of your own department, I would think it would be of benefit to you and your department to know what the costs would be if the board of directors aren't successful in what is going on. It may be that it would actually cost you more than the $80,000 that the board of directors need to keep it sustainable. The question still is, will you commit to giving a number as to what it would cost, if for some unfortunate reason - hopefully it will never happen - if the park does close, what is it going to cost the Province of Nova Scotia versus the $80,000 that they are asking for three more years to keep 10 people employed in rural Nova Scotia?
MR. PARKER: I don't know the figure. If the unfortunate happens, we are committed to try and find a way to keep it open, to keep it viable. I guess I'm a glass-half-full type of guy and we are going to find a way to make it survive, not only that, but to thrive. That's my commitment. We are going to find a way to see that park remain a viable entity in Cape Breton.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Minister, it's simple. It's yes or no. You have one of the best financial guys right beside you. All you have to do is turn to him and ask him to do the numbers. It's a yes or no answer; it's not a song and dance. We're talking about 10 people's jobs. We're talking about something that's important to the rural economy of Nova Scotia. With that, I will move on to another subject but I am disappointed that we couldn't get a real answer. I'm sure that the people who are the volunteers at the park are disappointed as well.
I would like to now bring up a subject in Gabarus because the other day you wanted to talk about it. It is about the seawall in Gabarus. First I want to compliment some of your staff members on the work that they have done. When we initially met with them they sat down, they took on the concerns of the community; they made arrangements with the help of the TIR staff and went down and did a review of the situation of the wall. They came back with a plan, said we needed to get something done. I'm wondering, Mr. Minister, if you could tell me what the status is of the province's commitment to the repair of the Gabarus seawall at this time.
MR. PARKER: The Gabarus seawall has been a base of protecting the community from the ravages of the ocean. It was actually built in 1946 by the federal government of the day and it has been maintained by the federal government since that time. It is important for the residents for protection in the area and it is important for the fishing community, but it's not owned by the province.
I wrote a letter to the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans last August and I got a reply back the end of November. They are not taking responsibility for it even though they built it, maintained it, and looked after it. We've had a good working relationship with the Friends of Gabarus in the community. I think they understand that it is really a federal responsibility but we are willing to work with the federal government; we're willing to work with the municipal government, CBRM; we're willing to work with the community, the Friends of Gabarus, and we want to see a solution. I know the vital importance of it and it seems with ever-increasing storms and more intense storms, there is a danger.
In reality, the seawall belongs to the federal government and if they are willing to come to the table with a commitment, then we are certainly willing to sit down and talk with them. I know the municipality has committed money as well. That's really where it's at. The seawall belongs to the federal government, and if they're willing to commit and come to the table, we'll certainly discuss that with them.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the minister for that answer. I just would like to ask, what is the difference between the Gabarus seawall and the dykes in Truro that were on private land that the Province of Nova Scotia put forward money to fix so there wouldn't be flooding, and people in that community challenged, versus people who have lived in a community for almost 300 years? I just want to understand. It is a federal responsibility, and it is on provincial land, as you know. The seawall is built on provincial land. We had a situation in Truro that needed to be addressed and the government decided that they could go in on private land and fix that issue. So I'm just wondering why there is a difference and a discrepancy in what you can do in one place and you can't do in the other.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Certainly as a province we have stepped up and through the Department of Natural Resources, we did a coastal erosion study to determine what the risk was there, and that was funded and paid for by the Department of Natural Resources. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal did an infrastructure engineering study that determined what really needed to be done there.
But the difference here, if you want to know, is that the seawall is built, maintained, and owned by the federal government. In the Truro area, unfortunately, there has been a lot of flooding occurred there recently and over the decades. That land is not owned by the federal government, it's privately owned, and the province stepped in there to work with the municipality, the Town of Truro, and County of Colchester, trying to find a solution there. The federal Disaster Relief Fund is helping to pay for some of that, so the feds are involved, in that regard.
Unfortunately, the nature of our geography on the North Atlantic here, we are very vulnerable to storms that come up the Atlantic seaboard, sometimes from Central Canada, and sometimes they collide and we have a perfect storm, and it causes considerable damage to our seacoasts and our infrastructure. The difference is that the Gabarus seawall is federally owned and in the Truro area there was no federal involvement. The owner of the property has to take responsibility for what they own.
MR. MACLEOD: Oh, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I just want to confirm that the minister just told me that the owner of the property has to take responsibility for the issue. Is that correct?
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Certainly the Gabarus seawall was built by the federal government; it was maintained by the federal government. It has not been transferred to the province. The wall is the responsibility of the federal government. I would suggest maybe the honourable member would want to work with the federal government in Ottawa; perhaps you've got better connections than I, I don't know. We have lobbied the Minister. We have written to him. The Premier has gone to Ottawa and talked to the ministers as well. I don't know, perhaps you have better connections than I do.
The owner is responsible for the damages there. Again, though, I want to emphasize, we want to work with the community, we want to work with the federal government, we want to work with the municipality, and I think if all parties come together here in a positive way - but again, the feds have to be willing to come to the table with a commitment. If they do, we are willing to sit down and see what solution would help that community. You know, and the Friends of Gabarus have been very good. We have worked carefully with them and we want to continue that dialogue, we want to continue that relationship, but we need to get the federal government at the table.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In a previous answer, the minister said that the property owner was the reason that they were doing the work in Truro. The property owner in Gabarus, at the seawall, is the Province of Nova Scotia. Now the minister is over there shaking his head. He better refer to his own people because the seawall, according to him, belongs to the federal government but the land belongs to the Province of Nova Scotia. That is what they have been saying, consistently, since we started this project. If that has changed, I would like to know how that changed.
The second part of that is my understanding is that people who live in Truro are Nova Scotians and the people who live Gabarus are Nova Scotians and the government that was elected, with a majority mandate, was elected to look after all the people of Nova Scotia, in both areas. The land belongs to the Province of Nova Scotia and for the record, Mr. Chairman (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The member for Cape Breton West has the floor.
MR. MACLEOD: For the record, Mr. Chairman, I have been in contact with ministers in Ottawa. I take every opportunity that I have to go and talk to them, sit down and put our case forward. Again, I want to make it very clear that the staff of the provincial government who have been working on this project have done good work. The question now is - the poor minister doesn't even realize that he owns the land - I would ask him one more time, do you realize the Province of Nova Scotia owns the land that the seawall is sitting on?
MR. PARKER: The property that we are talking about here is the seawall and the seawall is owned by the federal government. That is what is at risk here, that's what falling apart, that's what is of danger and that's what is causing the risk to the community, to the people at risk in the Gabarus community, to their homes, the fishing wharf, or the fishing infrastructure, and that is the property we are talking about.
Under the seawall is the land: some of it is owned by the federal government, some of it is owned by the province, but the property we are talking about is the seawall and the seawall is the full responsibility of the federal government. I am encouraged to know that the member has had some discussions with MPs, ministers, or whoever in the federal government. Maybe you can tell me how that is going. I think we need a team effort here and if the honourable member has good contacts in the federal government, let's use those to help find a solution.
The municipality, the CBRM, is committed - I think it is $100,000 they're willing to put into it. The community of Gabarus is working hard to find that workable solution. We as a province have some very dedicated civil servants, as the honourable member referred to, who have been working hard to find a solution. We have done a coastal survey; we've done an engineering infrastructure study, all that is provincial commitment. We're still willing to come back to the table. We need the federal government at the table and if the honourable member can help us get the right people there at the table, then I would welcome that input and that help, but it has got to be a combined effort. Let's get the feds there then we can talk about the solution that is going to work to save that community, to protect it for years to come.
MR. MACLEOD: Will the minister explain to me how on one hand you can say well we don't own the seawall but we own the land so we can't do anything but then you can go somewhere else and you can do something? Just recently this government took a lot of pride in announcing that they had funding in their budget for flooding areas, and you know what, Mr. Minister, the honourable Deputy Premier is over there saying that the place isn't flooded yet well - (Interruption) the people of the community of Gabarus are concerned and I know that the minister, who is a Cape Bretoner like myself, is concerned about the coastline and he is worried about the people of Cape Breton but they're all Nova Scotians and you still insist on saying that you have no responsibility.
Now if the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage has something to add to this, that would be a surprise, because when we have asked him for answers before he could never find them. The reality is, Mr. Minister, the people of Gabarus needs your help. I am willing to work with you and with whomever else, but the reality is you own the land. You own the land and that is the reason why you have said, time and time again, and it's the reason that the federal government says that they can't help. (Interruption) Not for much longer, but anyway I just want you to understand that. (Interruptions)
There is a lot of discussion going on here in the Chamber, Mr. Chairman, about who owns what and where the high water mark is. I can and I will produce some letters in future days that show you that the province keeps saying that the land is theirs. It is as simple as that. (Interruption) That's right, the member for Truro-Bible Hill is over there singing about it is called Nova Scotia. I guess she is trying to intimidate me about me worrying about people who actually live in the Province of Nova Scotia and representing the people I represent and that would be a shame because she is a much better person than that.
Let us talk about another resource on Cape Breton Island, one that was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne last year. It was called the Donkin Mine and how this government was so - it was a great concern. This government said in the Speech from the Throne that indeed the government was interested in moving forward with that. It was a great part of the energy solution for the Province of Nova Scotia and I know you are very intimate with the Minister of Energy as well. I wonder if you could tell me why it was highlighted a year ago and not even mentioned this year.
MR. PARKER: I welcome this opportunity to talk a little bit about the Donkin coal mine, which has huge potential in Cape Breton and we are working with the present owners towards new ownership of that mine. As you know it is 75 per cent owned by Xstrata and 25 per cent owned by Morien Resources, formally known as Erdene. When that mine comes into production, and it will, it has potential for about 350 good paying jobs in that part of Cape Breton and certainly mining jobs, as you know, are generally some of the highest paid, overall, in the resource industry.
The environmental assessment process has been underway and just last week it was announced that there is no environmental harm to be identified if this project were to go ahead so it's moving forward on that front. I think the environmental assessment started back in the summer of 2011 so it is just about wrapping up.
The coal market, the price of coal is down a little bit since the first sale process started a year ago, I think it was in February of last year, and the company has been working very hard to try to find a buyer out there. They have had conversations with several potential buyers from around the world. The project is very large in our minds, but in the world of companies that are dealing with coal mines, it is actually considered on the small scale or smaller size compared to some of the big western mines and Australian mines and so on. They have worked very hard through their advisor and their sale process with Citibank to find a buyer for that mine and so far they have not been successful in finding a buyer on the world market. They have been also working with Morien, the 25 per cent stakeholder in the project, and I understand they are talking, they're negotiating and they're trying to find a suitable arrangement, or a suitable price I guess would be the bottom line, that would make it so they could transfer it to Morien.
Morien is an exploration company experienced in what they do but they're not coal miners and they would need a partner, like an operator that is experienced and knowledgeable. The resource belongs to the people of Nova Scotia. It is a public resource and was leased to the Donkin Tenements group in 2004, under the present ownership. In time if a buyer is found, it has to be approved by Executive Council because it is a public resource. It belongs to the people of Nova Scotia and we have the stewardship to have it under lease to a company but it has to be sold at a fair price to a new buyer.
The process is ongoing and we are optimistic that a buyer will be found. Perhaps it will be Morien Resources, perhaps it will be somebody else, but that process is continuing and I feel confident that we will end up with an operator of that mine that will provide good paying jobs in Cape Breton and the opportunity to use that coal here and elsewhere.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time for the Conservative caucus has elapsed. Seeing that there are no further questions from the Liberal caucus, the member for Cape Breton West may continue.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm looking forward to some more enlightenment from the Minister of Natural Resources. I wonder if the minister could identify the value of the coal that is in the ground at the Donkin site and what that would mean to the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. PARKER: As I mentioned in my remarks a couple of minutes ago, the price of coal has been down a little bit over the last few months but the value of the coal in the ground really depends upon the world conditions at the time and that can fluctuate. It can go up; it can go down. I know it is a valuable resource. I don't have the exact figure on the tip of my fingers but I can get that for you. Again, that will fluctuate according to the market conditions at the time and the cost of development of that mine.
It is estimated the cost to develop it and to get it into full production is somewhere in the $300 million to $500 million range for development of that mine. That is a huge investment. That is not something that everybody or any company can handle. It not only has to be a financially capable company, it has to be a company that is experienced in underground mining. There are a number of companies around the world that have that capability and obviously at this point the Xstrata Group have not found a suitable buyer. They are continuing to work through that process with Citibank to try to find someone who is, and again as I mentioned, maybe Morien Resources is the right company. Those negotiations between the two companies are continuing.
I will endeavour to get you the value of the underground coal. I know there is a huge potential out under the Strait and it goes out a long distance under the water but I can't give you an exact figure of the value. I know it is very valuable and certainly is very valuable to Nova Scotia. It has a huge potential for not only the good number of jobs that will be created and the taxes that will be paid in one form or another, but in the royalties that will also be paid to the province. I'll endeavour to get the best guesstimate I can on the value of that resource.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for that answer. The minister identified in his answer that, of course, this was a very valuable resource for the people of the Province of Nova Scotia so I wonder if the minister can tell us what discussions he has had with Xstrata to make sure that they are bargaining with the different companies that they're dealing with in good faith and not trying to make a huge profit on something they have actually done nothing with. It is the resource of the people of the Province of Nova Scotia, as you said.
MR. PARKER: Certainly, you are right. We do have a responsibility to make sure that the price that the interest in the lease or in the resource underground is sold at a fair and reasonable price to a future buyer. We have had continuous discussions with Xstrata. I've met with them personally and the Premier certainly met with them a number of times, and senior staff in the Department of Natural Resources have met with them. We are monitoring the situation very closely. Again, if a sale is agreed to between the two parties, Executive Council has to approve that. We as a province are the overseers of that resource and any transaction that is agreed to will have to be approved by the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLEOD: I wonder if the minister could relate to us if his department, or any department that he is involved with, has had any discussions with Nova Scotia Power in regard to this resource. Considering all the discussion that goes on in this Chamber about power and power rates, and the very fact that the province's own plan says we will be using fossil fuel for a number of years ahead, would it not make sense to create the jobs here rather than have them overseas? I'm just wondering if, indeed, you have had the opportunity to discuss our resource with any companies that are in the business of making power in the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Natural Resources with about five minutes remaining.
MR. PARKER: I guess time flies when you're not watching it. I'll endeavour to answer the honourable member's question here. Certainly we recognize that it is part of our energy mix in this province that coal is a part of that. It had been about 85 per cent of our electricity production for a number of years. It has come down today to be slightly less than 60 per cent and in time it will be less than that, but for the foreseeable future, coal is still going to be an important part of our energy mix. The only coal that is being used now in the province is coming from surface mining. Most of the coal we bring in is from offshore, from Colombia or Venezuela or the southern U.S.
It would be great if we had our own coal here that we could use again, as we did for many decades out of Cape Breton, Cumberland and Pictou Counties, and Inverness County as well, but the guidelines that the federal government is coming down with now, the environmental guidelines on the greenhouse gases and coal use, are much more stringent or much harder to meet. However, on the other hand, there is technology that is out there that we can have cleaner coal, so there is certainly potential for the Donkin resource to be used. I know there have been discussions between Nova Scotia Power and the present owners in that regard about what the potential is to burn this fuel. Can the technology be to clean it to use it here in Nova Scotia? That is certainly a possibility. We've had those discussions ourselves with Nova Scotia Power to see what that potential is out there.
We would encourage any new buyer who came, to continue those discussions and to work with Nova Scotia Power and their generating stations in Lingan, in Point Tupper, or wherever. Trenton I guess would be included, depending on how far you can economically truck it. The technology is out there for cleaner burning fuel and discussions have been held and we would continue to encourage that discussion between the power corporation and the owners of the mine, whoever that might be.
MR. MACLEOD: I think I'll just move on to something a little different right now considering the time but we'll be back after the moment of interruption to have some more discussion, I'm sure. I wonder if the minister could help me; the Nova Scotia Salmon Association received a grant for $250,272.44, what was that for?
MR. PARKER: I wonder if the honourable member might be able to point out the page that he is referring to in the supplement or in the main estimates. We are just having a little trouble finding it here. Give us the exact page and we will be able to answer your question.
MR. MACLEOD: Actually it's in the Public Accounts Page 147.
MR. PARKER: Now I am a fisherman, I like to get out on the brooks, rivers, and the lakes when I can. Unfortunately I seem to spend too much time here and don't get much opportunity to get out there and enjoy fishing, but trout fishing is my forte. I am informed by my assistant here that that is not part of Natural Resources estimates. It's probably under the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. It is not in our estimates here at all, it's actually under another department, I believe.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We have now reached the moment of interruption and the committee will now rise and report its business to the House.
[5:59 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:33 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. We will resume with Resolution E15.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West with 42 minutes remaining.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: Before we start, I would like to apologize to the minister and his staff. I picked up the wrong paper. I had been doing estimates earlier today on Fisheries and Aquaculture, and I asked a question on Fisheries and Aquaculture of the minister. I apologize for that. I didn't mean to, but the answer was almost as good as the one I did get in Fisheries and Aquaculture.
I do appreciate the opportunity to spend some more time with my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources here in the Province of Nova Scotia. I wonder if the minister could give us some information as to the current status of the MV Miner and the issues and challenges that it brings.
As most people in this House would know, the MV Miner went aground. It's on Scatarie Island, which is off Main-à-Dieu. It was on a piece of property that is owned by the Province of Nova Scotia and is a protected wilderness area.
I will point out that in a Question Period earlier in the week the minister and I had a little discussion about the MV Miner. He's so used to me asking about the Gabarus seawall and the MV Miner that he got a little bit mixed up, but today he brought a map, so he's assured that he will know exactly where I'm speaking of.
If the minister could give us an indication of where the province is with regard to the MV Miner, I would appreciate that very much.
HON. CHARLIE PARKER: It's good to be back here after the interruption, to have a further chance to talk about the estimates for the Department of Natural Resources. The honourable member is right: I brought my map with me, as I mentioned earlier, and I can clearly see Scatarie Island on it. Actually, the last time I saw the MV Miner was from the air, and I could see it quite clearly on the shores of Scatarie Island. It's still there, and it's still a concern to the people of Main-à-Dieu and area.
You're right, Scatarie Island is a wilderness protection area here in the Province of Nova Scotia. I guess the first time I ever heard of Scatarie Island was many years ago, when there was a pilot project to put ptarmigan there. They introduced them to the island back in the 1960s, I think, and tried to get them to establish as a game bird, but unfortunately it was not successful. As far as I know there are no ptarmigan on Scatarie Island, or anywhere in Nova Scotia, for that matter. They're a northern species that just didn't take there.
Coming back to the issue at hand, the MV Miner, this has been a very important file in the department since Fall 2011, when the MV Miner landed on our shores. The cable of the tug that was hauling it broke loose in a storm, and it beached on our shores in that location. Permission for that ship to be towed was given by the federal government, and later we learned that there were some challenges there: they didn't have proper insurance papers, they didn't have the proper permits, and there were some hazardous materials on board that should not have been. The jurisdiction lay with the federal government to allow that ship to be towed across the Atlantic Ocean to Turkey.
A storm intervened and it landed on our shores. There has been a lot of correspondence and discussion and paperwork back and forth between the community and between the federal government, the provincial government, and the municipal government, but the jurisdiction is very clear that under the Canada Shipping Act - federal legislation - the right to move ships like this falls under federal jurisdiction. There is also a responsibility to the owner.
The owner here is Arivina Navigation, and we worked with them. In fact, they contracted with the Bennington Group to try to have that ship removed from the shores of Scatarie Island. We worked very hard with that group to try to find a way to make it happen so they could remove the ship. We issued them a letter of authority to try to remove that vessel within a certain time frame. They made promises to the community that they would have it done by a certain time, that there would be public meetings held in the community, and that they would keep everybody up to date.
It seems the further we got into it, the more challenges we heard from the Bennington Group, and in the end, unfortunately, it was just not able to come together. They challenged our labour laws, and there were other problems there, so in the end they did not finish their contract with Arivina Navigation, and the ship still remains.
There has been other interest. Other contractors have come forward and expressed some interest, but in reality, it has to be under the authority of the owner of the vessel or under the jurisdiction of the federal government, because we, as a province, have put money into removing the navigational hazards that were on the boat. We removed a number of oil, gas, and other possible pollutants, and the province paid for that as a safety measure to make sure that it wasn't polluted.
Over and over we've gone back to the federal government to try to get them engaged, to get them involved, to take their responsibility. I've written letters to the federal minister. I believe the honourable member and the member for Glace Bay, as well as the Premier, have gone to Ottawa and talked directly with the federal minister, and the Premier has been back to Ottawa since then and has had discussions with other federal ministers and staff. There is a long history here, and it has gone back and forth for far too long, but in the end, again, the responsibility here lies with the federal government. We're continuing to work to have them step up to the table and take their responsibility seriously and work to remove this vessel from the shores of Scatarie Island.
MR. MACLEOD: I wonder, could the minister tell me the last time that he had direct contract with the owner of the MV Miner?
MR. PARKER: As I said, this has been a complicated file. It has gone on for a very long time, and we've worked hard to try to find a solution here. Our main contact with the owner has been through their contractor, which has been the Bennington Group. We had a lot of contact with the Bennington Group over a year - really, more than a year, since Fall 2011 right through to Fall 2012 and beyond. We've worked diligently to try to accommodate some of their requests, some of their concerns, some of their issues, and it just seemed like the more we resolved for them, the more issues came along. The contractor that was hired by the owners, by Arivina Navigation, was the Bennington Group. That's who was here in Nova Scotia, that was who was on the ground, and that's who we had direct contact with - or my staff did, and my deputy had met with them as well. There was an ongoing discussion, ongoing challenges.
The contact with the owner was through their contractor, the Bennington Group, out of New York City. We had high hopes that that was going to work. They contacted us representing the owner, and we said, let's sit down and talk about it and see what's possible here. They had some grand plans to remove it, first by rail out of the province and then by boat, and it kept changing, unfortunately. I'm sure the honourable member was familiar with what was happening in the community.
It was frustrating for us as a department to try to deal with it, and it just became more complicated as time went on. I'm sure it's frustrating for the community. They had promises made to them that they would have a weekly update on what's happening, but it just never seemed to materialize. As time went on, it became more and more obvious that it just wasn't going to happen with this group. So that has been our contact, most recently, through the contractor that was hired by the company.
MR. MACLEOD: It's my understanding, Mr. Minister, that the contractor hasn't been around since the summertime. He hasn't done much activity, and if that's the last contact we've had, I'm a little concerned about that. You are right that the Bennington Group made a series of promises and commitments. Your department, along with the Community Development Association of Main-à-Dieu and the fishermen in Main-à-Dieu, worked hard to work with the Bennington Group to make it happen. One of the requirements from the community had been that nothing would happen during the lobster fishing season, and Bennington's first plan wanted to start two weeks early. When there was a community meeting, the fishermen agreed to allow that to happen, because they were sincere in trying to see this project completed.
It's said, out and around in the communities, that the Bennington Group now has a lien on the MV Miner. I'm wondering if the minister or anybody in his department might know of that. Also, when the Bennington Group left, if that's the last time we had contact, it might be time to restart the engines here, so to speak, and see where we are.
MR. PARKER: I concur with the honourable member. Certainly the community is - what's the right word? I suppose the best word might be "disappointed." The ship has not been cleaned up, and we had high hopes with the Bennington Group. All seemed to be going well for quite a while, but then it just became more and more challenges. The community was disillusioned or disappointed in the process, because it seemed like it was really going to work, and there'd be local people hired to help clean it up. The story kept changing, and it didn't quite materialize the way they wanted or the way we wanted.
We had a letter of authority that allowed them to go on to the wilderness protection area. I think it ran out on the first day of December of last year, and since that time, we've had some discussions with the company. They'd left behind some equipment, a generator and some - I think it's called a man-lift - and so on. So we've had discussions with the company about cleaning up the equipment, cleaning up what's left behind, and like I said, it's at a point where legal discussions are being held on what should be done there.
That has gone on this winter with the Bennington Group. Again, we also continue to press the federal government, because they have a full responsibility and jurisdiction here, under the Act of the land, to take responsibility for it. In the first place, it was they who issued the permits for this to be hauled through Canadian waters and through Nova Scotia waters, so we continue the dialogue with our federal partners there to try to get them to take responsibility.
The owners are one side of the issue, and the representatives of the owners we've had dealings with through the winter, in some respects, but the full responsibility lies with the owner, and there's certainly jurisdiction there by the federal government. Again, if you're able to help us in that regard, or if you have better contacts than we do - we've been to Ottawa as a delegation; we've written letters; the Premier has been there and talked in person. We want this resolved. We want a solution found, and we need to continue to press both the owners and the federal government to find a workable solution here.
MR. MACLEOD: The department is, in your own words, interested in finding a solution. When was the last time you or somebody in your department actually talked to the community of Main-à-Dieu?
MR. PARKER: I don't have the exact date, but I know our staff have been continuing to work on this file - our staff in the department have been on top of it, our legal team, and it has been an ongoing file. I don't have the exact date, but I'll endeavour to find out the last contact that was made.
MR. MACLEOD: I thank the minister for that answer. I wonder, since the permit finished in December, if we could have a little bit of a timeline as to what took place within the department from December until this point, as far as activity toward helping the people of Main-à-Dieu resolve this problem.
MR. PARKER: Again, I'll endeavour to get the history of the timeline of the last time that we had contact with the community. I do know - again, as I mentioned - that through the winter there has been some dialogue with the Bennington Group, trying to get the clean-up of what has been left behind on-site. We know the federal government has a responsibility here too, and that's going to continue, but I'll endeavour to get that information for you.
MR. MACLEOD: I thank the minister for that answer. I wonder if the minister could let us know if there has been any direct activity with the Bennington Group for the things that they've left behind, like the man-lift and the floating wharf that they had and those types of things. Has the province taken any action against the Bennington Group about those materials that were left behind in their failed attempt to salvage the MV Miner?
MR. PARKER: It's certainly unfortunate that it didn't turn out the way we wanted. We really had hoped the Bennington Group would step up to the plate and keep the promises that they had indicated, to clean up the wreck that was there on the shores of Scatarie. Unfortunately, they did leave some materials behind - a generator and a man-lift and some other things, I believe - but we've communicated to them very clearly that they have a responsibility to clean that up and remove those items. So far they haven't done that, and we've had legal discussions on how we move forward from there, but that's really about where it's at.
MR. MACLEOD: Could the minister explain the rationale for asking them to clean up the mess? Under what grounds are you pushing them toward cleaning up the materials they've left behind?
MR. PARKER: We're concerned about - and it's a wilderness protection area - the items that have been left there. As I mentioned, there are a man-lift and a generator, and I'm not sure what all else, but there is some other equipment that they had purchased, rented, or whatever that they had there on-site. It's really becoming a legal issue. We continue to seek advice on the legal aspect of it, but when a contractor is doing a job you expect, under normal circumstances, that they would clean up their work when the job is complete. I'm sure the same is in your home, if you hired a plumber, a drywaller, or whatever, and they brought in all their tools and their equipment and materials and laid them around, at the end of the day, you would expect that they would take those with them. So there are similarities there in that regard. We are continuing to press them to clean up what they've left behind.
MR. MACLEOD: So we're continuing to press them for what they left behind because it's on protected wilderness area, which is the same property that the ship is on. Earlier today we talked about the seawall in Gabarus, and you said the property is the responsibility of the federal government. I'm just wondering, are there two standards here? I mean, if this ship is on Nova Scotia property - which the seawall is too, but we'll go back to that a little later on - and we're not talking to the community anymore, and we're in a legal discussion with the contractor, what can we bring back to the community, or what would you like to have brought back to the community to give them some reassurance that they haven't been forgotten?
MR. PARKER: This has been an ongoing problem for far too long. I think the honourable member recognizes that. I certainly recognize it as a Minister of the Crown.
The material that has been left behind and the ship itself are in a wilderness protection area. Under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act there are certain expectations, certain regulations, certain rules, that they're not allowed to cause harm to a wilderness area, so we can take action under that jurisdiction. From day one we've been saying the federal government has a responsibility here to clean up what has been caused by their lax participation in the rules. They issued the permits in the first place. They didn't check on the insurance and didn't check on the navigable hazards that are there. We've been saying all along that this is their duty, that it's their responsibility to step up to the plate and take their responsibility under the law of the land, which is the Canada Shipping Act, and have that ship removed.
We, as a province, have been there. The Premier was there almost immediately after the disaster, and made sure we worked to have the navigable hazards removed - the oil and gas and asbestos or whatever was included in that list of items that the permit did not cover adequately. I think as a province we have stepped up to the plate. We've taken our responsibility very seriously. We did spend $300,000 to make sure those navigable hazards were removed from the ship.
Again, the federal government didn't participate in that. They said, no, we're not going to be involved in that. It certainly wasn't from our lack of trying to get them involved in the process. We still believe and still work hard to get the federal government involved, and they have that responsibility. We believe the materials left behind by the contractor need to be removed under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act, and the authority to remove the ship is there under the Canada Shipping Act. The laws are very clear in that respect and the jurisdiction is clear on who's responsible.
We're going to continue to press those governments to make sure that the problem is resolved. It really shouldn't be Nova Scotia's problem. The jurisdiction was quite clear on who issues the permits, who allows those vessels to be shipped across national and international waters. It is unfortunate it landed on our shores. It could have been Prince Edward Island's, New Brunswick's, or Newfoundland and Labrador's, but here it is on Cape Breton's shores. In future it could be any other province that has coastline.
The federal government has responsibility here, and I know the honourable member went in the delegation early on to Ottawa, and I believe he met with the minister - I believe it was the Honourable Denis Lebel and all-Party representation from the Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party and from the government. I understand the meeting went reasonably well. He made a presentation of the importance of removing this from the shores and asking them to take their responsibility seriously.
The Premier has been back a few times. I think he met with the Honourable Keith Ashfield, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and we've had correspondence back and forth with various federal ministers. It's very clear that that's where the responsibility lies, and so again, I would welcome the honourable member's input. If you're able to talk to some of your colleagues in the federal government, that might help us get this resolved.
I know the people of Main-à-Dieu, that's what they want. They're concerned about their fishery, whether it's lobster or other species. It's a burden on them, it's a burden on us as a province, and it's very clear where the responsibility lies. I would welcome the honourable member's assistance if there's anything that he can do to maybe open some doors for us, if you have contacts in the federal government, so we can continue the dialogue.
We've had contact with federal officials as well, and we want to continue to try to find workable solutions. Let's move forward together and see what we can find. There are similarities here to the Gabarus seawall, for sure, but we need to continue to press the responsible parties to get this fully resolved.
MR. MACLEOD: It's interesting that the minister wants to move together and work together. That's the way it should be. On January 22nd he was invited to the community in Main-à-Dieu to help participate in a meeting to discuss the very issues that we're talking about here today, and he decided he wasn't going to come to that meeting. That was a meeting that was put together by the community - not by politicians, but by people in the community who asked for the minister to be there to represent the interests of the government of the Province of Nova Scotia.
In his own answer, he said that removing the materials that were left behind by the insurance company or the contractor because it was in a wilderness area - guess what? They're right beside the ship that's there in the wilderness area too. If there's a different standard here, I fail to see why there is. Him saying that I should be contacting other people and asking them in Ottawa and anyone that I do know (Interruptions)
Madam Chairman, I take my role as the MLA for Cape Breton West very seriously. I have been talking to many people in many areas, as many times as I could. He said that the Premier was onside from day one. You know what? He's not far off, because on October 7, 2011, what the Premier said was, "We don't want to allow it to languish over questions of who is responsible for it. It is not good enough to simply pass this back and forth" - which we've seen a fair bit of here today - "I'm not ruling out anything, including taking on the job, if necessary." That was the commitment that the Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia made in a public statement. I will be glad to table that, but it has already been tabled about 14 times.
The Premier has said that he didn't want it to be passed back and forth. In nearly every answer that the minister offered today, he pointed out that it wasn't his responsibility. I'm at a loss. I thought our responsibility was to the constituents of our area and our province. Federal and provincial governments and jurisdiction - I guess that makes some sense, but if you're the people who are actually affected directly by this and there's nothing happening and you invite a minister to come to your community with a large amount of notice and he felt that he shouldn't come there and meet with the people, it's confusing to me.
I wonder if I could get a commitment from the minister now to meet with a delegation of people in the community who are working on the project about the MV Miner. I'm sure those people would be glad to come to Halifax here if that would make it easier for him. If he wants to come to Main-à-Dieu, Madam Chairman, I'd be glad to take him out on a boat so he can actually see it firsthand.
I will wait for his answer. Thank you.
MR. PARKER: I want to come back, first of all, to the meeting on January 22nd. I had other commitments that day. I was not able to attend, but my deputy minister and two of my senior staff were fully prepared to go and meet with the community. They were gearing up to do just that, and then the next thing we know, the summit - or the meeting, whatever it was called - was cancelled. They were fully prepared to sit down with the community on that particular date.
However, I understand there were to be no federal representatives there, and again, we really need somebody from the federal government to be there to have a meaningful dialogue on how we're going to resolve this. I don't want to give any false hope here that we're going to find an answer just by meeting with them, but I'm prepared to meet with representatives of the community, absolutely. That date didn't work for me, but again, my senior staff and my deputy minister were more than prepared to come to Main-à-Dieu and sit down with them.
The federal government has indicated that somehow it's not their problem, when in reality it was them who issued the permit and checked the insurance papers. It was in September 2011 that the ship went aground, and Transport Canada at that time said that they had provided the authority for Arivina Navigation to allow that ship to be transported across the ocean. Then in October 2011, the federal government declined a cost share with us. We said we need to get those hazards cleaned up because there are some very dangerous materials there in the water, and so we took it upon ourselves; we said, this is important because we don't want the fishery to be harmed in any way. So we did it ourselves. It cost us $300,000, but it was important to make sure that there were no pollutants like gas, oil, or other environmentally-hazardous materials getting into the water.
The Premier went to Ottawa in November 2011. It was my understanding that it was the Minister of State for Transport, the Honourable Steven Fletcher, that he met with - I'm not sure if that was same time that the honourable member was - perhaps it was. I think we talked about another minister previously, but it was actually the Honourable Steven Fletcher that the meeting was held with. The Premier has been back to Ottawa other times and has had other meetings to try to press the issue with the federal government to get this resolved. Glory knows we've had so many meetings with the Bennington Group over time to try to find a workable solution here.
I think an all-Party committee is often a good way to go to try to find a workable solution, because there is more weight, more merit than just the government alone coming to represent or to tell about the problems. The idea of meeting with the community was a good one back in January, and it is still a good idea, but I think it's important that we have federal representation there. This problem is not going to be resolved without the federal government being at the table, so I'm hoping that maybe we can arrange something like that and we can move forward with federal participation. That's the only way this is really going to get resolved.
MR. MACLEOD: I guess the only thing I would ask the minister is if he could provide correspondence as to when he notified the community that he would not be able to attend the January 22nd meeting, and who would be there in his place.
The minister is nodding his head in agreement with that, and with that, Madam Chairman, I want to end my questioning, and I want to thank the minister and his staff for their patience with me today.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. GARY RAMEY: I just have a question or two concerning my constituents. I've heard from a number of my constituents who own camps on the Bowater lands. Historically, they've had keys given to them by Bowater workers so that they can access these lands when they want to go fishing or hunting or just enjoy the outdoors. I wonder if I could get an answer on this issue: what can you tell me we're looking at for a timeline when camp leaseholders can expect to be able to access these camps?
MR. PARKER: Thank you for the question. I know the history in the South Shore area, the importance of people being able to access their camps, access the right to go fishing or hunting or for recreational uses. Traditionally under the Bowater ownership, there have been some gates and some closures that required keys, that required permission or various arrangements to get access to that land.
The problem has identified itself this Spring. We've heard from various people by e-mail and phone, saying they want access to go fishing or to get to their camp, so that is a real challenge. We in the department have identified that. We know it's a concern, and we're working aggressively to find a solution here.
In fact, just yesterday I had a meeting with my department staff to talk about this important issue, and a number of staff from our Resource branch who are involved in the land acquisition. We're working very hard to find a solution, and I expect that before the end of this month we'll have a number of those roads open, a number of the gates opened up. The weather has been an issue here, but we're aggressively working, and we'll have a solution before the end of April.
How much time do I have left today?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Two minutes.
MR. PARKER: If you don't mind, I'll just take a minute to wrap up the estimates here if there are no other questions.
First of all, I just want to say thank you very much to my staff who have attentively listened through all of this and have been involved for the last number of hours in supporting me and providing information to me from time to time. I want to thank my deputy minister, Duff Montgomery, and also Remi MacDonell, on my right, who have been a good support to me over that period of time.
It has been great to be able to be the minister here in the Department of Natural Resources at this time. It has been a challenging couple of years since I became minister - pulp mills and sawmills and Crown land and the Natural Resources Strategy - and every day is interesting, because our department is so diverse. It's not all about forestry. It's also about minerals and mining and our new mineral incentive program. It's about biodiversity, parks, protected places and wildlife, and on it goes. There's a whole variety.
I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to participate in the estimates.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E15 stand?
Resolution E15 stands.
The time allotted for debate in Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 7:15 p.m.]