HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2012
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Alfie MacLeod
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply is now in session. We are going to start off with the remaining time for the Liberal caucus. For the record, there are 34 minutes left, according to the official timekeepers.
The honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's nice to have the minister and the staff back again. Estimates really provides an important opportunity for members of the Opposition, and sometimes members of the government caucus as well, to engage in an important back-and-forth dialogue in this House, where we get to ask very specific questions relating to the department and hopefully receive direct answers on those things.
I've noticed that some ministers have gotten up in the House and have talked out the entire time allotted for questioning. My commitment to the minister is that I'll be as brief as I can with my questions, and my hope is that the minister is able to respond in kind with answers and then we'll be able to have a meaningful conversation around this department.
My first question is around the $305 million allocated to Irving. My question to the minister is, did Irving indicate that they would have a difficult time receiving that loan from the private sector?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just before I call on the minister, my official timekeepers have corrected me and it is 43 minutes that were left (Interruption) 44 minutes, and if we wait a little longer, I'll have an hour for you.
The honourable Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
HON. PERCY PARIS: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite through you, my first response. I heard a call for mutual respect there, and when one considers the time that one takes to answer a question, I think sometimes you will appreciate during estimates that we will, as ministers, seize the opportunity to make sure that there's a full understanding of what the answer is. I would also remind the member - and I heard him very clearly and I think a response also is contingent on the way a question is asked. I think that's also fair.
With respect to Irving, and if the question is around private sector funding - a year ago, when Irving first approached the province to be involved in the Irving Shipbuilding bid and were telling us about the bid, one of the conditions and one of the points of merit around the condition was the cost to taxpayers. They were going to - and if I recall, I believe it was 20 points, that on the bid process was worth 20 points, and that, as Irving explained it to us a year ago, would be a determining factor. That could actually be the one that would set our bid away from all the other bids of the competition.
The problem with private sector funding would have been that it would have lessened the amount of points that Irving would have received, because what they would have had to do in turn is, if they hadn't gotten private funding, it would have been a greater cost to the taxpayers, a greater cost to Canada. So they would have to make up for that cost by charging more to complete the contract with the federal government. Therefore, the cost to taxpayers would have gone up proportionately to offset the increase that would have happened with respect to interest. So it was all about winning the bid. When Irving approached us, it was to do it the best way possible and eliminate any seams so that we could be assured that Irving, in partnership with the Province of Nova Scotia, was going to receive the bid.
Again, as it turned out, Mr. Chairman - and I think this is important for the member to recognize and to realize - that was probably the biggest determining factor on Irving winning the bid. One of the things I recall very vividly was Mr. Irving saying directly to the Premier and to the media: Mr. Premier, if it had not been for you and the province, we would not have won this bid. So I want to make it very clear that that was an important part of the bid process.
MR. CHURCHILL: Thank you, minister, and if I was going to get $300 million from the government, too, I would probably be equally congratulatory. My next question is - I mean the concern around this is pretty clear and I've heard from a lot of Nova Scotians who are wondering why a multi-million dollar company would require such a forgivable loan from the province. I understand that we want to win that bid but when the private sector isn't able to fill that void and we need to go to taxpayers' dollars to give such a high amount that begs the question, what are we doing wrong here? My next question is how much is allocated in this year's budget for Irving?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I notice the chatter is getting a little loud so if everybody could just take it down a peg that would be great.
The honourable Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism has the floor.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, a couple of things there that I want to comment on. I think I heard the member say - I think the words were "doing wrong" - and I just want to make sure that the record shows that from my perspective, and I think from the perspective of this government, is that we did everything right. We did everything right to ensure that Irving Shipbuilding had the best chance, the best opportunity to win this bid. This was and is the single most important, most significant event in Nova Scotia's, not just recent history but certainly in the last 10, 15, 20, 50 years. This is enormous.
Coming in second, we didn't want that to be an option for us. We did this on behalf of taxpayers. We look at this as an investment. This is an investment, a 6 per cent investment. The realization on the return of this investment is going to be $3.7 billion over a 29-year period. You know, I think maybe the easiest way for me to put this is that's a 6 per cent investment by the Province of Nova Scotia and the return is just enormous. Somebody once asked me, well, if you were to explain this in more simple terms because when I first heard about a $25 billion contract, well, here I am, I'm counting the zeros and I'm trying to do math in my head, but when I break this down in more elementary terms, if I look at somebody saying to anyone, anyone in this House, or anyone on the street, and I'm saying if I give you $6 and I can guarantee you that on the return of that $6 I'm going to give you back $100, it makes good business sense to me.
So here we have a situation where we can create up to 1,100 jobs, direct and indirect jobs, in the Province of Nova Scotia for Nova Scotians with this 6 per cent investment. I think, and again I reiterate, what an amazing opportunity for us as a government, what an amazing opportunity for all Nova Scotians. So I trust that answered the question.
MR. CHURCHILL: Specifically I was wondering about how much in the budget is currently allocated for Irving in this fiscal year. I want to be clear; the ships contract is something that I think we all celebrated when Irving won that contract. The Ships Start Here campaign was supported by all Parties in this House and my hope is, is that the returns will be as significant as the government has said. I mean I've heard the number 11,000 jobs from the government. I think time will tell if that's the case or not. I'm not sure of the multiplier that's used to come up with that number but I know that directly there will be 1,800 new jobs in Halifax - which is nothing to scoff at, it's important, but it's not - as good as this contract is, I hope it produces all that we've been promised it will produce and I hope that this isn't the silver bullet that the government thinks will fix all of the economic challenges in the province, because it's not. It's one good thing. It's a win, but we have to go after more wins.
Specifically, I was wondering, how much is allocated in this year's budget for the Irving contract? Then I will move on to the next topic.
MR. PARIS: My apologies, I sort of lost sight of that question you asked previously. What is budgeted is $0 to $2 million for this fiscal year. I want to make it clear, the reason it is $0 to $2 million is because we don't know yet. This will be earned jobs.
Again, the member has raised a number of things in the questions. The forgivable is about earned-ness. It's about what Irving Shipbuilding will earn to get forgiveness on part of the loan. They will be jobs that are directly associated with shipbuilding. They will be counted. There will be an independent audit done on those jobs.
The member, Mr. Chairman, also raised something to the effect of putting all the eggs in one basket, and we are far from that. I mean, I could stand here - which I won't do - and name some investments that we've made recently in the financial sector. We just had an announcement with the stick-to-it-iveness of NSBI, when I think of Admiral Administration for 175 new jobs for a worldwide financial institution to set up here in Halifax that are going to be paying above-average salaries, based on Nova Scotia rates.
Also, I think the member corrected me, and rightly so. I think I mistakenly said 1,100 when, in fact, we are talking 11,000 jobs, so I thank the member for picking up on that. Also, I will say that those numbers haven't been manufactured by the Province of Nova Scotia. Those numbers come to us through the Conference Board of Canada, so we had no input as to what those numbers were. We consider those numbers fairly legitimate.
The other thing about the Irving Shipbuilding contract, I can remember a year ago - and I might have mentioned this at one time during Question Period - visiting the southwest region - Meteghan River. I did a tour and I was accompanied by the MLA who represents the area. We toured the AF Theriault & Son Shipyard. Afterward, we had a little gathering, or just before we did the tour (Interruption) The member over there says it was just before. I recall that one of the questions I asked Mr. Theriault was, did he think the Irving Shipbuilding contract, if we were successful, would have an impact on his business? His response was, absolutely. In fact, he assured me and everyone who was in the room that his company had already been meeting with Irving Shipbuilding with a look toward the future if the bid was successful.
So this is one of those contracts that has enormous benefits for every region in the Province of Nova Scotia and for all of Atlantic Canada and for all of Canada.
MR. CHURCHILL: Yes, and as I said, time will tell if we are getting what it has been claimed that we'll get from the contract. No one is going to deny how important the economy of Halifax is. We're doing well in Halifax. Halifax is a vibrant city, but we do have a challenge in rural Nova Scotia with meaningful, full-time employment, and the economic numbers would show that. So I hope that there is a plan in place, or we can develop a plan, that will allow any benefits that come into the province to be felt even outside of the city in our rural communities. I realize Shelburne might have a real opportunity to see some growth down there as a result of this and I hope that other areas might be able to benefit as well.
A challenge that I think this caucus has identified in Nova Scotia is that we have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into so-called economic development over the course of the last few years. However, the full-time job growth has been flat. It has been zero since this government has taken office. I realize that the minister and the government have been very vocal about the fact that the unemployment rate is at an okay spot right now, generally speaking, in Halifax - I know it's higher in rural areas - but when you look at meaningful, full-time employment, those numbers have been flat for the last three years. There has been absolutely no full-time job growth.
So my question to the minister is, how do we know if we're being successful with our economic development plans? How are we assessing the success of these hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into various things in light of the fact that full-time job growth has been absolutely flat? I think we still have the worst-performing, or second worst-performing, economy in the country. One of the issues that we've brought up is that in one of the jobs plans that we've heard about, there are no targets. There's no way to assess whether we're being successful or not. Without having job targets, the only way is to look at what's actually happening with full-time job growth, and right now it's stagnant. It's zero - flat. So how are we assessing the success of these hundreds of millions of dollars being poured out there in light of the fact that our full-time job growth isn't happening?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for those questions. I guess my first response is that - and I know the member is well aware of this, and I want to reiterate - we have a plan. It's called jobsHere. For the first time - when we came into power, we sat down, we recognized, we realized that the world has changed around us. We recognized that we could no longer do things the same way. We had to do things differently. We sat down and we said, well, what are we going to do? The world has changed around us and when we talk about employment and we talk about investing millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in economic growth in the Province of Nova Scotia, because of that global change, we also have to consider factors of what's going on globally.
When we see what's going on in other jurisdictions, especially in Europe, especially in the United States, and we've seen what has happened there, that does have an impact on what's going on here. But having said that, with all the troubles and all the woes that we see going around globally, when we think of us being more innovative, being more competitive globally, investing in our human resource, which is the best asset that we have for training and education, it's all part of the jobsHere strategy - which also is not an urban strategy. It's a Nova Scotia strategy, and one of the things that I've been very careful not to say when referring to the jobsHere plan. I want to make sure that everybody sees it as a provincial plan: not an HRM plan, not a suburbia plan, but one that fits the whole province.
We've built into that plan the flexibility and the accommodation so that we can change and adapt because we don't believe - or I don't believe - that one size fits all. So under the jobsHere strategy, something that may work very well in HRM may not necessarily be a good fit for Yarmouth. We want to make sure that we can adapt and fit the needs of the economy in Yarmouth, and also with respect to the talents.
We continuously evaluate the jobsHere strategy. We are looking at it all the time, and again it goes back to that flexibility that we've got built into the plan that we can adjust it on the fly. The assessment, the evaluation, it's an ongoing thread and it will continue to be as such for us to truly achieve the goals and objectives that we want to get.
You also mentioned about jobs, that there has been no improvement. When I talk about the global economy and I talk about the U.S. and what's going on in Europe and other jurisdictions, I think it's fair to say - and I trust you will agree - that we here in Nova Scotia, and indeed to a large extent in Canada, but I'll stick with Nova Scotia - we've weathered that storm pretty darn good. We haven't seen the hardships that they've experienced in other jurisdictions.
I would also note that when it comes to jobs and the comment with respect to things - and I think the word that the honourable member used was "flat-lined" - that the jobs had flat-lined or decreased in the province, that's not completely accurate. For the first three months of 2012 compared to 2011, regional unemployment in Cape Breton has decreased from a one-time 17.2 per cent to 14.5 per cent. That has not only happened in Cape Breton but also the North Shore, which was 12.2 per cent a year ago; it's now 11.8 per cent. In Annapolis there has been another decrease. It was a year ago 11.9 per cent and it's now at 8.8 per cent. The southern region, which I'm sure the member is interested in, has also decreased from 12 per cent to 10.2 per cent. Also in Halifax here there has been a decrease from 6.5 per cent to 5.7 per cent.
Those are modest decreases and one would think that, well, do we relax? No, quite the opposite, because we are never satisfied. We know - I've already mentioned - that we haven't put all the eggs in one basket. Through our agencies - Innovacorp, NSBI, Film Nova Scotia, Waterfront, all of those agencies that I talked about yesterday - we are out there every day looking and connecting with individuals, with companies, with business people from around the world on a regular basis, attracting them to Nova Scotia. More importantly, there are many of those that we attract. You already heard me mention Admiral Administration. That was an attraction that took something like three or four years for us to fulfill that obligation.
We also know - and with particular reference to the southwest region, which I know is of primary interest to the member - I'm proud to say, through the work of our department, we now have something in place: an economic committee there that I think for me to be able to stand in my place and say that that is actually in place is not a testament to me, but I think it's a testament to my staff and it's a testament to how hard they worked to develop that piece of infrastructure in the southwest region.
I think we've got all of the municipalities on board except one. That municipality that hasn't signed on the dotted line, at least they are at the table and keeping a close eye on it. So I think we are moving forward.
Are we satisfied yet? Heck, no. We have a ways to go yet. We're going to keep at it. I can't think of a place in Canada, in North America, that I would rather be than here in Nova Scotia. I think this is where it's happening, this is where it's going on, and I think when I am done, when I am no longer the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, or out of politics altogether, I would think that you who will be a few years younger than I am are going to look back on these years and you're going to say, gee, I remember when Percy Paris was Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, and look what they accomplished.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I just remind the minister that he's not allowed to name a member in the House by their name.
MR. CHURCHILL: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the minister's optimism. There's no question that we all want to be optimistic in this Chamber and hopeful for a brighter future for our province, no matter which government is in power, but there is an issue here. We're putting hundreds of millions of dollars into so-called economic development projects, or plans, and our full-time job growth is flat. That's a very important indicator for how we're doing economically in the province.
I know that the government does use unemployment numbers as a crutch and will highlight lower unemployment rates in various parts of the province. That is just another indicator, and one that I don't think is actually as important as the full-time job growth, because the unemployment rate is obviously influenced by the number of people who are living in the province. As the minister knows, we have suffered a lot of out-migration in recent years, so we have more people leaving the province. That impacts the unemployment rate.
Also, part-time employment is up. We are seeing growth in part-time employment, but I don't think part-time employment is the kind of - well, it's important and we need everyone working and whatever jobs are out there that we can get. Those are needed and there's nothing wrong with part-time employment, but when it comes to families, families are looking for that stable, full-time employment where they know what their revenues are going to be, what their profits are going to be for their families. I don't want the minister to disregard that full-time employment rate, because it is a very, very important indicator as to how we're doing in the province. I think it's more important than the unemployment rate because, as I said, the unemployment rate is affected by part-time employment growth and out-migration.
The issue here is that we're putting hundreds of millions of dollars into so-called economic development and we still don't see job growth that I think is acceptable. Yes, of course the economy here in Nova Scotia is impacted by global events. There's no question, but I think what we learned during the recession when that happened is that we actually were a bit insulated from some of the bigger issues, so we can't blame all of our issues here on that global recession. Of course there were certain sectors that were impacted; tourism was one of them, and I'm sure that exports were impacted, but we do have a strong domestic economy here that did weather that storm on its own.
Generally speaking, in most provinces Canada did a very good job of sneaking through that recession, for the most part seriously unscathed. So that shows that we do have some strengths in our economy that I think have become pretty innate.
Back to the full-time job growth, the minister talked about investing in the future and looking toward the future. What I've seen most of the economic development dollars put into has been saving some companies, ones that I think it goes without saying are sunsetting industries. I'm thinking of Bowater, in particular. That's a difficult issue. Bowater has been an important part of the economy in Liverpool. I'm not so sure it's as important as it used to be. It's a skeleton of what that company used to be, and yet we've seen the government give a blank cheque, basically - or up to $90 million, I guess - for Bowater. Listen, I'm not saying - I'm just saying we had some critical questions around the Bowater deal. That's all I'm saying.
The concerns there are, one, that there was no guarantee that jobs would remain in the province, and there's no guarantee that that money isn't going to be used to pay down the company's debt in Quebec. I mean, there's a lot. I know there are members from that area; I'm from the South Shore. We all want to see our economy protected, but it's important for us to ask those critical questions, especially when we're giving up to $90 million to the private sector. I hope everybody respects that. I'm not trying to slam that region. I'm not trying to slam Bowater. I'm saying there are some real questions and concerns about that deal and how it played out - $90 million to an industry that I think we can all agree is a sunsetting industry.
You can change all the efficiencies you want in a paper mill, and you can make it as efficient and as tight as possible. However, if they're making a product that is in decline in global demand, there's a bigger issue here. There's a much bigger issue than efficiencies, and I don't think that has been recognized by this government.
What I've noticed is that the economic development strategy has been to dump a bunch of money in here, dump a bunch of money in here, protect some businesses, and then not do that to other regions. We've seen that in Yarmouth with the ferry. The same arguments that were put forward by this government to bail out Bowater, to put money in every other ferry in the province, Cape Breton Rail, were used by Yarmouth, the tourism sector and a lot of other sectors, to invest the $3 million that was needed for the Yarmouth ferry.
So my question is, minister, if we are being forward-looking, where is the money going into innovation and the industries and sectors of the future? All we've really seen is pouring money into various companies that might not necessarily be where we want them to be in a number of years.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is about 10 minutes left in this round of questions.
MR. PARIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I'll try to be brief to allow the member to get up and ask another question or two.
I want to say that when it comes - and you mentioned Bowater. Bowater was an investment that we made, saving thousands of jobs in a region that would have been just devastated by the loss of those jobs. Not only did we invest in Bowater, but part of that investment is about modernizing that facility so that it can compete globally. We've done and we are doing that. I think that's one of those investments - you know, we have made a number of investments. When I think of some of the investments that we've made that have paid dividends already, I think of Clearwater, I think of ACA up in the Valley. There's GN Plastics. So there are some investments that we've made that companies are already paying dividends on.
What we've said under the jobsHere strategy is that we want our companies - we want Nova Scotians - to be innovative. We want Nova Scotians to be trained so that they can get the jobs. When we talk about all of those things that we want to invest in our companies so that they can be - we're talking long-term jobs, and one of the things that the member mentioned was part-time employment. I think, when I consider the Irving deal, the investment, the millions of dollars that we invested in that Irving deal, is about sustainability. That's employment for the next 30 years. That means that those Nova Scotians that are taken or smitten with out-migration - this gives them a reason to stay here - Nova Scotians that were educated and trained here.
If I can, just for a couple of seconds, I must say that out-migration is nothing new. Out-migration has been going on since long before my time, and I would think that out-migration has impacted some communities more than it has others. I can speak from my own personal experience as an eighth-generation African Nova Scotian. African Nova Scotians have been out-migrating from Nova Scotia ever since the days of slavery, but for different reasons. So it's nothing new. It has had a huge impact on my family. I have a son who is in Calgary and I have a son who is in Atlanta, Georgia. Granted, good jobs, but the fact is they're out of the province working.
What we are doing with investing in our people, investing in our companies - and a good example under the jobsHere plan is the PIP initiatives. We now invest in those companies so that they can - capital investments when it comes to equipment. We're doing investments when it comes to training and education so that we can compete, so that we can have full-time jobs, so that there can be reasons not only for expats to come back to Nova Scotia but for your children and for your grandchildren to stay in the Province of Nova Scotia, to be gainfully employed, to raise their families, and to go on and live a life as glorious as yours has been.
I think we as a province are looking forward. We are looking ahead. We are looking to the future. We are looking at things that are going to be sustainable, not only for the immediate being, but for the long term as well.
MR. CHURCHILL: Out-migration has been happening and I think it's in large part due to the weak economic position the province has been in. We are still in a weak economic position right now, to be honest. We are the second-lowest performing economy in the country - we need to recognize that - and our full-time job growth has been flat. We talk about how to combat out-migration so our young, bright people aren't leaving the province, especially from our rural areas. Addressing that full-time employment is probably the biggest issue because people are going out West; people are going to other parts of this country and perhaps other countries because of the lack of full-time opportunity here, which exists especially in our rural communities.
It comes back to whatever plans we put forward. Everyone is going to have a hard time assessing whether the government's strategies are working because there are currently no targets. There is an issue of being accountable with public dollars here, too, and just with ensuring that the results that we're producing as a result of so-called investments match the dollars that we're putting in, so that's an issue here. I have a hard time having strategies in place that don't have direct targets to say, this is our goal, we have a goal here. If we reach it, we know this plan is working; if we don't, perhaps we need to rethink what we're doing.
I think that is a major weakness in the strategy from the department right now, that there aren't these targets and so we don't know if we're doing what we need to do or not. You have to look at indicators like full-time employment. Right now we're flat. We've been flat for three years. Full-time job growth has been zero. That's an issue, and so if we want to combat out-migration and we want to create more opportunities here, we need to make sure that any strategy we're putting forward - all the millions of dollars that we're pouring out there - needs to produce some results for the taxpayers and for Nova Scotians so that we do have more economic opportunities here.
I wanted to come back to the new economic council that I know is being set up in the tri-counties. We've been close to three years without a regional development agency in Yarmouth, so it is positive to see some movement in terms of creating that co-operative body, again, to support economic development in that region, which I think is one that has suffered some pretty serious economic blows in recent years as a result of some decisions this government has made.
So my question to the minister on that, I know we have set up other economic councils before; we had Team West, Team Southwest, and Task Force Southwest. We have never seen any reports on the work that those organizations have done. I have seen - sorry - a report from the folks who were involved in Task Force Southwest; that was the most recent one that I don't think is operational anymore. We did not receive any reports from Team West or Team Southwest. I know there were hundreds of thousands of dollars, over $0.5 million, put into at least one of those.
So my question to the minister is, how are we going to be certain that this new economic development council will produce some serious results where the other councils that we put in place for the most part that I'm aware of didn't do very much and if they did, no one has heard about it, and we haven't seen a real impact in the area?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for raising some very important questions. I think in your preamble, to the member opposite, one of the questions that you raised, I think you answered it in your preamble, and that was with respect to targets. I would caution the member and all members of the House, let's not get too hung up on this so-called thing that the member refers to as targets because when you talk about results, that's what we are measuring here.
Now with a year of jobsHere under our belt, we can now look back and see what the results were. We can analyze those. We can see what improvements we've made or what improvements we haven't made. We can stand back now and look at the results. So you're very right, it is about looking at the results. As far as the southwest region is concerned, Mr. Chairman, we've made a number of significant investments in the southwest region even though the RDA - SWSDA - had gone by the wayside.
When I think of the $50 million and I just throw the $50 million with respect to Bowater, the Bowater investment, it wasn't - I think you referred to it as $100 million or hundreds of millions of dollars - it was a $50 million investment by the province. That was an investment in the southwest region. I think that investment impacts that whole region.
I look at the $540,000 investment in Team West; I look at the $140,000-plus - I think it was $142,000 - in the economic council; we made an investment of $500,000 in the Marina Centre in Yarmouth; we made an investment in the World Junior A Hockey Challenge, we consider ourselves a partner there; and there's Fisheries and Aquaculture, which I think was $1.6 million - oh, I'm way off, it was $16 million. So there have been some huge investments that have gone on in the southwest region regardless of what one may consider the disappearance of the RDA. There were still people who were very active in the southwest region, working on behalf of the communities to promote economic development in the area.
We have a southwest plan and we are developing - and I don't want to say new - we are developing local leadership there. One of the things, even when SWSDA went - if I can use the term, I hope it's not unparliamentary - when it went belly up, one of the things we wanted to do was to start fresh. We wanted to make sure that we had leadership representing the area that was tainted, leadership that the community was going to accept and the community was going to start - because we had to assist the community and those community leaders into rebuilding some lost trust with respect to SWSDA.
We also looked at this with community involvement because we wanted community collaboration. We wanted input. I, myself, attended a couple of meetings, I know staff attended numerous meetings in the whole southwest region, to make sure the community had some input. We want to further develop the seafood sector in the southwest region. We think now, with the federal government taking the lead on CETA negotiations, we know that one of the things that we here in Nova Scotia have to offer the world, and that the world wants more of, is our seafood. So we are working with the right partners and I hope that somewhere on a monitor that somebody is listening to this who knows how much we appreciate the lead role that staff in the ERDT has taken in those CETA negotiations and Nova Scotia has been looked to as a leader.
We can't talk about the southwest region without talking about tourism. One of the things we are looking at and what we want to do is to expand the tourism season. You already mentioned about part-time employment. One of the things in the tourism industry, it's a seasonal job. We want to extend that market on both ends of the calendar year. We are looking at that; we are investigating that. I look at the weather we are having today and I look at what we experienced last weekend with respect to the Titanic events, even though that was an occasion for us to pay tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives and also to play tribute to the role that Halifax played and to educate the world, and I spoke to a number of individuals who had come to Halifax. The first reason they came was because they had lost a loved one as a result of the Titanic. They wanted to come and this was the first time that they had the opportunity to come back.
Also, while they were here, they were going to take advantage of the fact that they were in Nova Scotia and they were going to go to Peggy's Cove. They were going to go to the Annapolis Valley because this was the first time they had been here and they were going to take advantage and see as much of the province as they could. In the meantime, they thanked us for the way we handled that whole event, how respectful we were in honouring those who lost their lives.
Also, we're looking, in the long term, at developing the wood fibre opportunities that may exist. When I say that, I think this is a sector that, again, has an enormous impact on the southwest region, not to mention other regions of the province, but I know that the member has a particular interest in the southwest.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has now elapsed for this round with the Liberal Party. We'll now move on to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. KEITH BAIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the minister. I'm going to be covering, over the next while, both elements of your department: the economic development side and the tourism side as well. It's going to be back and forth so you don't know what you're going to have thrown at you. I want to talk first about some issues that are related mostly to my constituency, but indeed all of Cape Breton, and that's on the tourism industry.
One of the biggest concerns that we hear as MLAs is the very fact that Cape Breton Island is noted as the number-one tourist destination in North America and number three in the world. The general feeling is that not enough is being done by the Tourism Department to promote that. Now, we do have Destination Cape Breton which, through the marketing levy, is doing a superb job under the leadership of Mary Tulle. But it goes beyond that.
I think evidence would be that if we look at last year's tourism ads that were broadcast across this province, and indeed across different parts of this country and North America, very little mention was made even of the existence of Cape Breton Island in some respects but, more importantly, the fact that it is recognized as the number-one destination in North America and number three in the world. So my first question would be, what are your department's plans to promote Cape Breton on a more global basis and a more regular basis?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, through you, I'm only too pleased to rise in my place and talk a little bit about tourism and in particular about beautiful Cape Breton Island. I think that we all recognize and we all agree that tourism is a major industry in the Province of Nova Scotia - $1.8 billion. It's a $1.8 billion industry so that's nothing for any of us to make light of. I think I, as minister, recognize the value. We contribute funds to Fortress Louisbourg, to advertising in Cape Breton. We also recognize that - and you're absolutely correct - Cape Breton Island is one of the most scenic spots in the world and voted the best. We are collaborating within our department with TIR about sign erection and how that should be advertised.
You mentioned the commercials and I recall very vividly some of the tourism commercials that featured Cape Breton very extensively, that showed the Cabot Trail. One of the most beautiful sites in the world is the Cape Breton Cabot Trail. I can remember repeatedly seeing reference being made to Celtic Colours and I think what we have to remember is, yes, you'll get no disagreement about Cape Breton Island, but I think we also have to recognize that we have other places throughout all of Nova Scotia that in their own respect deserve some advertisement as well. So we've got a limited budget and we've got money that we have to spread around but we also have to be fair about it. I think that the last thing I would want to do or see is to ignore the beautiful Island of Cape Breton.
When I think of the most photographed place in North America, certainly in Canada, I think of the Peggy's Cove light that deserves and merits some exposure, as far as commercials are concerned. There is just so much to offer here. I look at the waterfront in Lunenburg, the waterfront even here in Halifax, so I hear you loud and clear and you certainly will - I can stand here and say that I'm committed, as minister responsible for not only tourism in our beautiful Province of Nova Scotia, but making sure that those sites in Cape Breton get fairly recognized and get their fair share of advertisement when it comes to Nova Scotia.
MR. BAIN: Thank you, minister, for that. I think no one would argue that everyone deserves a fair share of advertising dollars, promotion dollars. You did mention Peggy's Cove and Peggy's Cove has been a big tourist attraction to this province for years and years and we're all very much aware of that.
I also hear, in reference to Peggy's Cove, there are some tourists who come here and that is their main draw at that point - we're going to Halifax, we're going to see Peggy's Cove. So I guess efforts have to be made to expand that. When a tourist does come to see Peggy's Cove that the other areas of the province, be it Cape Breton Island, be it Lunenburg or anywhere else along the South Shore, be promoted so that they are getting around the province, and probably, in order for our tourism industries to succeed in this province, that's what has to be done. We have to be able to keep people, can I say, on the move, so that they're going to visit these various spots.
I want to move on specifically again about the Cabot Trail and discussions that you and I and councillors in the area, especially in the North of Smokey area, have had, and that's concerning another in Cape Breton, the Keltic Lodge. I know your department has committed dollars for the upgrading of the Keltic, especially as it relates to the rooms and everything else. I guess the New Castle contract, if I'm correct, has been extended for another year to operate the resorts. Can you provide an update as to what's ongoing with this? Although New Castle is there to look after the operations for this year, what is the future for the resorts in Nova Scotia?
MR. PARIS: A couple of things, and I thank the member for the questions. I get somewhat overly-enthused when I talk about tourism because I think it's one of those things we should talk about more often in this House. I want to, if I may, Mr. Chairman, replay the tape just a little bit because I want to make sure that the member has a good appreciation of some of the things we do. I know the member is familiar with Destination Cape Breton and the role they play in attracting tourists to Nova Scotia and $179,000 a year we contribute to that to help them attract visitors to Cape Breton.
I'm sure the member is well aware that last year was the first year of Right Some Good and our contribution last year was $250,000. So we do make, I think, some huge investments in cruise ships going to Sydney. They aren't going there just by accident. I certainly want the member to know where I stand as we try to ensure and promote the beautiful Island of Cape Breton.
With respect to New Castle, it's next year that it expires. So, yes, it's this year and then next year it expires. We wanted some time because I don't know if the member is aware of this or not but we'll be issuing an RFP for the signature resorts. Now, I want to be very clear on this, recognizing the member asking the questions is from Cape Breton, one of the signature resorts poses - it's somewhat complicated. I say "complicated" because Keltic, even though we hire someone to manage it, it's a property we don't own. It's owned by the federal government.
So one of the things that I've been trying to do since I've been minister, and I think more actively in the last couple of years, is I've been trying to get some clarity. Here we've got a signature resort, Keltic, which is in my opinion an economic driver for the region and we don't want that to be lost. As the member will recall from the meeting that I had with him and with the councillors, one of the concerns that we had with all the signature resorts was around damage to the Nova Scotia brand, and so that's why we've made an investment totalling $3.1 million into the signature resorts.
So we are investing in Keltic, a resort that we don't own, that's owned by the federal government. We pay New Castle to manage it. Any losses that Keltic experiences - and they experience losses - we pick up the tab. So there's something wrong with this picture and I've been meeting with the federal minister to try to not only shed light on this, but get a clearer determination on what's fair and what's not fair. In doing that I want to be very careful because I don't want the federal government to lose sight of the economic driver that Keltic is for that particular region.
One of the things that we don't want to happen is - when I look at and I consider the beautiful Island of Cape Breton and the way things were going is that now, today, word of mouth is spread through our computers. All we have to do is have one person have that bad experience and all he or she has to do - with one push of the button it greets people from all over the world, millions of people, just one push of the button. So we were very concerned about the brand being damaged and so that's why we're making this investment even in a resort that we don't own. I don't know, to some people that may not make any sense but I think it is money that we consider was well invested while we sort things out with the federal government. If the honourable member has any connections with his cousins in Ottawa, then I would certainly impress upon him that any help that he can offer would be greatly appreciated.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, the minister is indeed correct, the Keltic Lodge is on federal lands but we also have, on federal lands, the Highland Links Golf Course, which is one of the most highly recognized golf courses in the world too. I'm glad to hear that the minister is speaking with his federal counterparts because in the Ingonish area those are the two big things: the Highland Links and the Keltic Lodge. We all know that as a result of that the spinoffs in the greater community are tremendous with other hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and so on.
We also have, again as we've discussed with the minister, the ski hill in Ingonish. I know that this is nothing new to the minister but I think it's very important that the members be aware that there was a lot of difficulty facing the ski hill in Ingonish over the years and a group of volunteers led by the councillor in the area, Larry Dauphinee, have put a lot of time and effort into opening the hill during the winter months and, of course, they rely on Mother Nature to supply the best of weather for skiing. They're certainly to be commended because they are making efforts and I know there have been renovations made to the lodge there that will be beneficial in the years to come.
I know that there were talks by the society, the Ski Cape Smokey Society of the day, trying to get a buyer to take over the operations of the ski hill. So I guess I would like to know, minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, what has the department's involvement been in assisting this organization to find a buyer to take over that facility?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, a couple of things - we made a $50,000 investment in that facility last year. (Interruption) Yes, and I think it had something to do with the roof maybe. (Interruption) Yes, okay, thanks. Your memory is better than I thought. One of the things I do recall very vividly at that meeting is I made a commitment to go there as soon as reasonably possible after we got out of the House. I remember that and I will be going there probably, hopefully, and I'll look at staff and say to staff now, to make arrangements for me at Keltic and also for staff that are looking back at the office to make sure that I meet with the appropriate councillors again and also have a tour of the facility.
One of the things that I also recall is the role of the feds. I think the federal government was playing a somewhat prominent role in the future of what that facility is going to look like. That's one of the things that I do recall. I can't elaborate too much on what the extent was but I know that they were. What I recall is they had - I'm going to use the word - a "vision" of something for the future, and I think it was quite - if I could use the word - "elaborate." I know that through Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, myself, as minister, and I think probably staff as well, have encouraged them to find somebody in the private sector that would purchase the facility and run it as a viable and sustainable operation.
Certainly I trust we will continuously - and I know we are now and I know we will continue through staff at ERDT, through the Tourism Division and the Rural Development Division - we will be working with the good people on the ground there to help realize their goals. We're there, we're at the table; we will remain at the table until someone says we're no longer invited, but I think we bring value to the table.
MR. BAIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you again, minister. I think the federal involvement - I could stand to be corrected - is more geared towards the areas within the national park, the Keltic Lodge and Highland Links situation. I'm not so sure about the actual ski hill area because that, of course, is on provincial lands.
The ski hill has a lot of potential. It could certainly be used as a year-round facility and I think that's something the group is looking at, promoting it as a year-round facility. It is close to accommodations. We have a marina that is within yards of the ski hill, so there are a lot of things that could happen when there's no snow on the ground and that in itself is going to promote tourism within that area.
As I mentioned, and as you have mentioned as well, the group is looking at the possibility of finding buyers but I guess my question, minister, to you is, what is being done by your department to assist that group in finding buyers? What is being done within your department to help that group? I think your department would have more of an outreach or more contacts that could be seen out there. I know there have been some people who have expressed interest and with the downturn of the economy and everything, we know that some of the ones that have expressed interest were having trouble getting some investors.
I guess just to take it a little bit further, what involvement does your department have other than encouraging them to find a buyer? What is your department doing to help them find a buyer for that facility?
MR. PARIS: Again, the member has raised a couple of things and I hope I can keep this straight in my head. I wrote down a couple of things. First, you talked about winter tourism. One of the things I said already this morning is that we want to extend the tourism season so we are very interested in winter tourism. Anything that is going to extend that tourism season certainly has our attention.
We are willing and we have been, to some degree, along with the other stakeholders. We don't consider us as playing the lead; we are there at the invitation of the communities. Our role has been and will continue to be one to offer advice. We will look up and I will make it a point to increase activity around finding a purchaser for the facility but I would do that through staff. Staff will collaborate with the people on the ground there, before we escalate that to any degree. I think out of respect for those we've been working with, we will have that conversation with them and see what we can do to escalate that.
I know that the deputy minister has had meetings - at least one, maybe even more - with ECBC, with the senior management around this very thought. He's here listening and he will take my word and see what we can do. If escalation is possible or necessary, then that is something we would strongly be interested in.
MR. BAIN: Thank you, minister, for that. I realize you're saying you shouldn't just jump into it, but I think the very fact that you've committed to working with the organization, that in itself - if there's a dialogue that's going on and will continue to help them out, I think that's a great idea and I appreciate that because . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wonder if the member for Victoria-The Lakes, before he asks the question, would entertain an introduction by a fellow member.
MR. BAIN: Yes, by all means, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the member for allowing me to do the introduction. I would like to draw the attention of the House to folks who are visiting us in the gallery opposite, people who are here representing students and all employees in school boards across the province, services that are delivered to students both inside the classroom and out. They are here obviously to express their concern about the impact that funding cuts to school boards will have on their ability to deliver those services.
If you folks would stand as I introduce you: Danny Cavanagh, president of CUPE; Wilfridine Crowdis, Nova Scotia School Board Council of Unions; Kathy MacLeod, CUPE School Board Co-ordinator; Gerard Higgins, Atlantic Regional Coordinator; Jackie Swaine, SEIU teaching assistant; Loretta Melanson, SEIU president; Penny Foster, SEIU teaching assistant; and John McCracken, CUPE Atlantic Communications rep. Let's all give them a warm round of applause. (Applause)
MR. BAIN: Welcome to the guests. I'm just going to continue on a little bit more about the Cabot Trail and extending the season to a year-round operation. We know that, not only the Cabot Trail but I think all of Cape Breton, when you look at the facilities that are there, we have a lot of new and accessible golf courses throughout Cape Breton that are doing very well. I know there is a lot of work behind the scenes that goes on to promote - they help promote each other.
The minister is quite correct in efforts to extend the tourism season. I think he referenced, earlier, Celtic Colours and I think one of the main things that Celtic Colours has done was extend the tourism season within Cape Breton into that October period. The benefits that come as a result of Celtic Colours are immeasurable and I know that he knows that and appreciates it.
I just wonder, are there efforts being made through Destination Cape Breton and your department to look at the possibility of having a year-round tourism plan for places like the Cabot Trail because we do have the ski hill in operation in the winter time? We have probably one of the best cross-country ski facilities in North Highlands Nordic that people come from far and wide. There are even people coming from the mainland and from New Brunswick who go to North Highland Nordics in the wintertime. Some even plan their vacation around being able to be at Ski Cape Smokey and North Highland. Are there any talks going on between your department and Destination Cape Breton as to what could be done to make Cape Breton a year-round tourist area?
MR. PARIS: We fund Destination Cape Breton and by saying that, you can read into that that we are always looking at ways to improve tourism in Cape Breton. When I talked about increasing the tourism season - and we're at the table with talks around the year-round multi-purpose facilities - those talks, I would strongly suggest that they are ongoing talks. I'll be very honest, I have never been directly involved in those talks but I take it upon staff to carry that torch on behalf of government.
I also should mention, Mr. Chairman, through you to the member, that while you were on your feet asking the last question, I just got notice from my staff that it's already booked in my calendar to visit Cape Breton. So my understanding, coming from staff, is that I'm there the end of the month, providing we're out of the House, and that tentatively I think some notifications have gone out to people that I'm going to be there.
Also, I think it's important to note, there are so many things that we do fund when it comes to Cape Breton and I'm sure that the member is well aware of those. The member had mentioned Highland Links and you'll have to forgive me, I don't know if it's called - I want to say Golf Digest, one of the highly publicized golf magazines, names the course as one of the most pristine courses in North America, and we certainly help to fund the promotion of golf on Cape Breton Island.
Again, I just reiterate that through staff and through Destination Cape Breton, I certainly want the member to always be aware that we are always looking and always in dialogue with how we can improve tourism on that beautiful Cape Breton Island.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the minister's remarks and I would be remiss if I didn't mention his staff at Economic and Rural Development and Tourism in Sydney, Ross Kennedy and Catherine Ann Fuller; they're two tremendous people, very obliging and willing to help out in every way they can. I just want to make that public that these two individuals are doing a tremendous job in your office.
Since I have mentioned your office, maybe what I'll do now is see if you will elaborate, or if you can elaborate on decentralization, because during the Throne Speech we heard that the government has plans to decentralize some government jobs and I'm just wondering if there are any discussions happening within your department about relocating departmental employees outside Halifax.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I do remember the Throne Speech and I do remember the words of the Premier. Those were the words of the Premier and I would suggest at an appropriate time, I'm certainly not in a position to comment on what the future holds when it comes to decentralization. I think out of respect for all departments that my feedback on that would be, I think, a respectful "no comment." I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on something that, as far as I know, no decisions have been reached yet.
If I may, there's always something else, but sometimes when we talk about tourism, there's so much and when I think of ERDT, it's such a huge department and sometimes with the way my thought process works, I need catch words every now and then. With Destination Cape Breton there is a tourism plan, but I want to reiterate and emphasize that I think nothing is carved in stone. By that I simply mean that we are always, with Destination Cape Breton, looking at ways to improve and increase tourism. I already mentioned that one of the goals we have is to increase the tourism season, so I see Cape Breton as one of those places where we would like to increase it.
I know that towards the end of the winter there was some snow in Cape Breton that there wasn't anywhere else and not everybody was aware of that.
Again, I don't want to get into the weeds when it comes to decentralization of government offices and services. I don't think that's an appropriate place for me to be. Thank you.
MR. BAIN: Thank you, minister. Since we have been spending quite a bit of time talking about tourism, maybe the minister might be able to keep in his back pocket the possibility, if there is talk of decentralization, the value of the tourism industry in Cape Breton. Maybe you can deliver that message to the Premier when we talk about decentralization.
I just want to move along, if I could, to some figures that you gave the honourable member for Yarmouth about unemployment in Cape Breton and the fact that you said, I believe, it decreased from 17.2 per cent to 14.5 per cent. I guess those sound good. It sounds like unemployment in Cape Breton is down but I guess the real numbers are - how many people are actually looking for jobs today, when you consider out-migration? There are a lot of people who have given up looking for work, others have moved out West. You mentioned members of your own family who are in Calgary, and I have a son in Calgary as well.
I guess it looks good and it sounds good to hear that it's 14.5 per cent, compared to the 17.2 per cent, but we still have a long way to go. Even when you consider the unemployment rate in Cape Breton, in comparison to Halifax it's double. There are reasons for that, we know. I guess that one of the biggest challenges out there is to keep people here from giving up; I guess that's the biggest thing; don't just say, well, that's it. We know that some of those numbers include people that have just given up looking so that, in turn, is going to lower your unemployment rate. It is based on the number of people looking for work. I just wonder if the minister could comment on that.
MR. PARIS: Through you, Mr. Chairman, to the member, one of the things I think I said earlier this morning when the member for Yarmouth was asking questions is, under the jobsHere initiative - and the member just mentioned that things are quite different in Cape Breton compared to Halifax, and that things sound good and look good.
I think there are a couple of things I want to say. First, I don't want the member to think for one minute that we're satisfied, far from it. I also want the member to know and be aware that we recognize that different strategies for different regions of the province are necessary and again, under our jobsHere strategy, that's why we have the flexibility.
We have a Cape Breton plan; we are working through that plan with the appropriate stakeholders. We've worked with a number of individuals and companies in Cape Breton that we've made some key investments in, throughout the whole region of Cape Breton. Obviously, because of the nature of confidentiality, I can stand here with confidence, and although I can't elaborate, there are individuals and businesses that we are currently working with. We can't say who they are, again, for the obvious reasons.
We pay great attention to Cape Breton Island as we do to the whole of Nova Scotia and I would say that we are not satisfied. We are working through things for the best interests of the Province of Nova Scotia. With the Cape Breton plan, we want to improve on one of the initiatives. I'm sure the member is familiar with the credit union small business loan program. Now, we know that when I compare that program with that same program on the mainland, I see room for improvement in that program. I don't know what that's going to look like yet but I do know that when I look at the numbers that are coming through the credit union loan program in Cape Breton, compared to other jurisdictions within the province, I'm not content; I'm not happy with the numbers that are coming there.
I also know that when it comes to Cape Breton and what has happened with some things that are going on in the forestry industry, and I know that every week we probably lose someone to another part of Canada, I would like to think that as we move forward under the jobsHere initiative and even with reference to the Irving Shipbuilding bid, that that will pay some dividends for Cape Breton Island as well. We've made some investments in Cape Breton Railway. We have made some investments, a huge investment, with respect to the dredging of Sydney Harbour. Those are investments that we make looking towards the future. Sometimes we make investments and people and individuals don't realize the long-range reasons for it. Sometimes we make investments with the intent that the investment may not pay off this year but next year or the year after that.
I already mentioned, when I look at the investments that we made in Shelburne Shipyard, it wasn't only about the 60 to 68 full-time employees that were working at the yard but it was also for the future. When I talked to the member for Shelburne, he congratulated me on having a vision and as much as I wanted to take the credit, I said, well, the credit really lies with the staff because the minister may be the person up front but it's my staff who deserve all the credit, but I get the handshakes.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, could you tell me how much time I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have approximately 15 to 16 minutes.
MR. BAIN: Thank you. As I had mentioned to you when I began, Mr. Minister, I would be all over the place as far as economic development and tourism related issues but I think a healthy tourism industry is certainly an economic driver too. We know that.
I would like to talk, if I could, about Marine Atlantic and the very fact that we have regular crossings coming to and from Newfoundland and Labrador on a daily basis. I guess what I - it's a multi-purpose question - would it be possible to call North Sydney the "Gateway to Nova Scotia," as well, where ships are arriving and the Trans-Canada ends when they get on board the Marine Atlantic ships and continues again when they get to Newfoundland and Labrador? I guess one of the biggest challenges is that when that ship arrives in North Sydney and the Trans-Canada is straight ahead of them, that's exactly what's happening, they're going straight ahead.
The downtown business in North Sydney is suffering as a result of that, because of different things, but people just don't want to get off the beaten track to even go up over the overpass and into North Sydney. Has consideration ever been given by Tourism and has a request ever come in from Destination Cape Breton for the possibility of having Tourism representatives aboard these Marine Atlantic ships as they travel to, or come from Newfoundland and Labrador to Nova Scotia? Is there a possible discussion that might take place jointly with your department and Tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador that something like that could be shared, that as they journey across from North Sydney to Port aux Basques, or Argentia, whatever the case might be, that there are ways to promote the island?
They're both islands. Whether they land on Cape Breton or they land in Newfoundland and Labrador, it's an island. Is there any discussion or thoughts about something like that happening, representatives put on the Marine Atlantic ships that are travelling, and also is there any discussion as to whether or not it would be feasible to set up a tourist bureau in close proximity to the Newfoundland and Labrador ferry? By close proximity I mean, now they get off the ferry from Newfoundland and Labrador, they have to travel to Port Hawkesbury before they see a tourist bureau to get some information. So those are a lot of questions I put in there but to sum up: Tourism representatives on the Marine Atlantic ferries, the possibility of considering North Sydney the "Gateway to Nova Scotia" and the possibility of a tourist bureau in the Northside area.
MR. PARIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to the chair. I don't know when that transition took place. A few questions there and first for Marine Atlantic, I'm sure the member is aware that's a federal jurisdiction. One of the things that we do as part of our work with Destination Cape Breton, we, in partnership with Destination Cape Breton, look at ways that we can get people off the so-called beaten trail. What we do at that point of entry is - we have visitor services there now. As people get off the ferry there are visitor services there.
To my knowledge, I honestly don't know if we've had any direct dialogue with Marine Atlantic or not, but staff is listening in and if we have, staff will get back to me on that.
The other question that you raise was with respect to the Gateway. My response is, when I look at the Gateway Secretariat, I don't see it as Halifax. When I think of the Atlantic Gateway Secretariat, I think of all Nova Scotia. I've never - and I'm being very sincere here - referred to, in my mind's eye, as that solely the territory of Halifax. When I think of the Gateway Secretariat, I think of all of Nova Scotia. You bring up Sydney and one of the things that I mentioned - and I think we've already mentioned this - we dredged Sydney Harbour and part of that dredging of Sydney Harbour was to accommodate larger ships. Even when it comes to the cruise business, we direct cruises there.
Again, I don't want to over-simplify this, but to be perfectly honest, when I think of Gateway, I think of all Nova Scotia. There are various points of entry and exit throughout all of Nova Scotia and it never dawned on me to ever once think that it was Halifax-driven. Halifax is an important port, but I also know that there are other ports in Nova Scotia that cater to cruise ships and to container traffic. As minister I never lost sight of that so when I sit down at the table as the Minister responsible for the Gateway Secretariat, I think of it in a regional scope. I've never considered it as individual ports. I hope that's answering your question. If not, then feel free to - well, you'll let me know anyway.
MR. BAIN: I guess the reason it's mentioned is because of the fact that all traffic coming from Newfoundland and Labrador - that's where it is and that is your entrance point to Nova Scotia when you're coming from Newfoundland and Labrador.
I want to expand and encourage the minister and his department to maybe have some dialogue with Marine Atlantic as to whether or not there might be a possibility of having tourism reps aboard the ships. We have a lot of students in our community colleges that are in the tourism or the hospitality industry, and this might be an ideal opportunity for them to work in their field and be able to meet people from various parts of the country. It would certainly be a great learning experience and it would promote Nova Scotia as that ship is coming across. I would ask the minister if he and his department would keep that in mind and possibly have discussions with Marine Atlantic as to whether or not that could be possible.
I did mention, as well, the possibility of a tourist information centre. You say there is one at the terminal, but one of the problems that exists, when a boat is unloading at the Marine Atlantic terminal in North Sydney, there is not a heck of a lot of room where people can just pull off, spend their time and go into that facility because you have those large ships unloading, traffic and transfers and everything else. If there were a spot outside the terminal area - I know that in Little Bras d'Or, for instance, along the Trans-Canada Highway, there's a stretch there called "Gasoline Alley" where the majority of the vehicles, after they come across, will stop and fill their cars with gas. That might be an ideal location to look at the possibility of having a tourist information centre that could be used to promote Cape Breton Island as tourist travel and, indeed, all of Nova Scotia. I guess I'd ask the minister if he has any thoughts he'd like to express about that.
MR. PARIS: You know I want to thank the member, the member has put an ask out there. I will go on the record, and I think his suggestion is a good one and I will commit that I will have staff contact Marine Atlantic. I will take it one step further, I will even encourage - no, "encourage" is not the right word - I will have staff talk to Newfoundland and Labrador tourism folks, as well, because you never know what can materialize. I think it's important also to mention, Mr. Chairman, that through staff we have dialogued - ACOA is involved with all the Atlantic Provinces but I know with reference to what you're speaking of, and we will have more direct conversations with both those folks.
Also, when you talk about downtown, I will certainly ask staff and the deputy is here this morning to ensure that the dialogue we're having with Destination Cape Breton includes conversation around things such as, to use your words, "off the beaten track" and maybe ways that we can be more innovative about getting more of that ferry traffic to detour to some of those other communities, as opposed to getting on the Trans-Canada.
I think that's one of the issues - with ferry travel, generally speaking, people come across on a ferry and they have a destination in mind and they are somewhat rested from the ferry ride, where they haven't been behind the wheel of a car. So generally speaking, as soon as the wheels hit the pavement, depending of course if the timing is right, the wheels are headed in the direction of wherever their destination is going to be.
Without a doubt, we will see what we can do. Our goal in Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is to work with communities and to work with stakeholders. I think one of the things - and some of my Cabinet colleagues may disagree with my next comment - but I pride myself on my accessibility and I boast about being the most accessible minister in government and I want to try to live up to that reputation as best I can.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Minister, I'll let you thrash that out around the Cabinet Table, where you can have a discussion about that among yourselves.
I just want to briefly touch on what is happening at NewPage in Port Hawkesbury. I'll ask the question, I'll sit down and hopefully you'll be able to provide an answer and then we'll move on to our next speaker. We know that the negotiations have taken place over the past few weeks and we know the outcome of the union vote. We also know that it is anticipated if and when the plant gets back into operation, it's only going to be employing about half the number that were employed at NewPage when the two plants were in operation.
I guess my question is, what plans does your department have to assist those who aren't fortunate enough, the 300-and-some who are former NewPage employees, some of whom have already gone out West, but do you have a plan or something that might assist those in getting a job and keeping them at home?
MR. PARIS: I thank the member for that very important question. First, I want the member to know that we are working with government partners with Labour and Advanced Education as far as displaced workers are concerned. Labour and Advanced Education has been the lead agency on this but we are working with them as we do in all cases when it involves layoffs involving Nova Scotians.
Also, I think it's important for all members to realize that the investment that we've made thus far is around the hot idle. I think everybody knows that doesn't come without a cost. We wanted to make sure that the facility was saleable and the only way we could do that was to maintain hot idle. We also will continue - we have been looking at other employment for the area that we can do. I know that our agencies, even before there's a loss of jobs, our agencies are so proactive in looking for employment opportunities in all jurisdictions and that certainly includes Cape Breton. I think it's probably fair to say that when something as devastating as hundreds of job losses, I think it's probably fair to say that for that particular region, we would escalate that to some degree.
We also have made some investment in terms of funding through the forestry infrastructure fund. What we want to do and what we've done is to make sure that the individuals working in the forests kept working and that they kept the supply going for the mill. We didn't want to see a downfall in that supply chain. One of the things was the fear from us that we thought if that ceased to operate, then it would have a devastating impact on the future of the mill if it was to change hands. It would be hard, if not impossible, to replace those forestry workers.
We've made some significant investments. I think they were the right investments and we will hold true to our end of things and hopefully we can turn a somewhat sad story into a - I'm not going to say a happy story but maybe a better story. Even if things work out with the sale, with Stern Group, things have to be worked out and there's still going to be, as we all know, there will be some job losses there - a very, very sensitive subject.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: Hello again, minister and staff. Thanks for having me back. I appreciate it.
I want to just pick up where we left off, conversations around results and the absence of targets in the strategies. I just want to outline what I think the challenge there is that results, generally speaking, can be very subjective. I think it puts the department in a very difficult place to assess the success of programs that are potentially getting hundreds of millions of dollars. There is an issue, again, with accountability of those dollars, ensuring that they are producing returns on investments as they are doled out in various parts of the province, because I can look at results right now that I have highlighted, the absolutely flat, full-time, meaningful-employment job rate and the fact that we're still the second lowest performing economy in the country. I look at those results and I can say this government is failing the economy.
If the department had some measurable targets in their plans, perhaps that would change my opinion on the matter, but right now we have hundreds of millions of dollars going out of the economy and we're not gaining anything. So that's why I think we need to have some targets so we can actually measure what's going on and I think you can relate some of the challenges that we're facing economically to, in a very direct way, some of the decisions that this government has made.
The deep cuts to education and health care not only impact the quality of those services to our citizens but it also impacts jobs. I look at Yarmouth; a major, major economic driver is our Yarmouth Regional Hospital: medical professionals, cleaning staff, nurses. It's a big employer and I know by speaking to folks involved there that the cuts that we are seeing to health have impacted jobs there. Same goes with teachers, teaching assistants, jobs in the education field.
But specifically in Yarmouth, and in other parts of the province, we have seen major economic troubles as a result of this government's decision to axe the ferry service between Yarmouth and New England - connecting our closest port to the States in the province, which is Yarmouth, to the largest tourism market in the world. That is something that has had a very real and tangible impact on the economy of Yarmouth, southwest Nova Scotia, and other parts of the province as well.
We met with tourism operators in Cape Breton who said that they've lost significant amounts of business as a result of losing the ferry. I know for a fact we've already lost tourism infrastructure in Yarmouth as a result of that. I met in Queens County with, probably, about a dozen tourism operators from the Lunenburg-Bridgewater area and the Liverpool area, there wasn't one business that was represented there that lost less than 50 per cent of their room bookings. Each one of them contributed that directly to the loss of the ferry.
To date we have not seen any meaningful action taken by this government to restore that service or recognition of the impact that that decision to cut it has had. We hear a lot of about "bring forward a business plan" and I'm confused as to whether that means an economic diagram for a ferry or a business for a vessel. I'm not sure what the minister means by that; perhaps he can clarify.
But I think the case had been made and is continually made every day for the economic necessity of that service. What has happened is that the government has allowed - I don't think the government has put any resources in to address that issue. They have left this up to three municipal units in Yarmouth to do this work, on behalf of the entire province - a group of volunteer business people who are running their own businesses and have a stake in the success of Yarmouth and the success of the economy of the province but don't have the resources to put this together. So the challenge is, while this government sits around and waits for someone else to do their job, those groups do not have the physical resources, necessarily, to bring that ferry service back all on their own.
So my question to the minister is, specifically, when you're talking about a business case for the ferry are you taking into consideration the economic need for that service, the economic case for that ferry, or are you just looking at a business model for a vessel itself?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, we've been in session now for how many weeks, and I say this in all seriousness and sincerely, I thought the first question I was going to get during Question Period was going to be with respect to the ferry, so I got a little bit of a (Interruption)
With respect to the Yarmouth ferry, Mr. Chairman, I know that the member has heard me say this time and time again, it was a difficult decision. I understand and certainly understood at the time, and nothing has changed, I understand what the ferry meant to Yarmouth and certainly the good people in Yarmouth. I know to many it was a symbol. I heard the stories, you know, to some it signalled a time when summer dwellers were going to be coming back to Yarmouth. It signalled many things for different people.
The bottom line is around a business case. Ridership had been steadily declining to the tune of 75 per cent to 80 per cent for the last number of years. It just wasn't sustainable. As difficult a decision as that was, it was a decision that was made around sustainability. I think it was last week, I had a little something here, and I will ask if the Page would copy this for me and I'll table the copy. White Point Beach Resort - there was an article in the Business Section of the paper on April 12th and that was the headline, "White Point resort begins to rebuild." They were interviewing Mr. Robert Risley, the owner of White Point, and he was talking about the rebuilding.
The reporter asked him specifically and made reference to the ferry in Yarmouth. I want to read what the newspaper article said - I won't read it all, but I'll just read what's relevant to the discussion we're having right now. This is what it says, "After years of declining ridership, international ferry service was terminated in December 2009 when the provincial government withdrew its $5.65-million subsidy for the Cat ferry, a high-speed catamaran operated by Bay Ferries Ltd."
Now, this is from Mr. Risley, it begins, "Everybody says that the government should be throwing millions and millions of dollars at it, but there has to be a business case for it so it becomes self-supporting at some point." This is what Risley said of the ferry service.
I would like to be able to stand in my place at some future date and say there was a ferry for Yarmouth that's going to go to the Eastern Seaboard. Because if and when I say that, that means that somebody has given me the business case, a sound business case, as to why that should be. You know, we don't take decisions like this lightly. We agonized over this. I would love - I went on the ferry, I travelled the ferry from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor, Yarmouth to Portland. I've been on that ferry.
The last time I was there - I made it one time with my family; we were in a motor home. It cost me a small fortune to do it, but at least we had the experience of doing it. That was when it was the overnight. I went on The Cat; The Cat was more expensive. We'd love to see a ferry there but there has to be a sound business case for it and it has to be sustainable.
I wouldn't classify this as a disagreement. I think as much as you would like to see a ferry there, so would I. But I would not sign my name to something that was going to be spending taxpayers' money to $6 million a year. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense with the ridership being what it was.
I want to revisit again, because the member has raised the issue around targets and around measurables. I don't know how I can make this anymore clear than what I already have. We have measurable; we have things now that we can measure. We have statistics that tell us that unemployment is on the decline in all regions around the Province of Nova Scotia. We have indicators now that tell us that we are on the right path and we are on the right course. We have evidence that tells us we should keep on keeping on and we have to continue to do what we do because those measurables that I talk about - I could stand here and say, okay, we have a target of 100 jobs, that sets up a whole new argument; well, that's not enough.
Then I could say we'll double it, it's going to be 200 jobs. Then there still would be a debate. The debate is about the measurables. The measurables are, what are the results? We now, after a year, we should be - and I'm willing to share those results and you've been to my office before and all it took was a phone call to either myself or to my EA. We make those things happen because we want to share with you the results that we are getting. We have nothing to hide. In fact, we have a lot of things to be thankful and to be boastful about.
The results of the jobsHere Strategy is one that's paying dividends. Those measurables are around productivity, productivity increasing. Workplace training and skills development, do we have more people in Nova Scotia today, a year later, that are better trained to get those good jobs? Well, the answer to that is yes, we have. I can give you a number for that.
International business development, have we brought more businesses internationally to Nova Scotia? There was an article in the paper just this week - was it this week or last week? - about Nova Scotia becoming an international financial centre. We're doing some things right. We are doing investments that impact businesses and results. We are making investments so businesses can be more innovative so that they can go out and buy the equipment that increases their productivity.
We support jobs now through government programs, through new initiatives. One of the things is that I wish - here we are during estimates and when I get an opportunity to get on my feet, and thanks to you for asking all the right questions, I wish that all members of the House, I wish that we were broadcasting this live on CTV and CBC so that Nova Scotians can hear me boast of all the good things that this department is doing. This department is not doing things the old way of taking something and just throwing money at it, we are investing in people, we are investing in companies, and we are investing in individuals.
The Conference Board of Canada statistics says that our GDP could be 3.5 per cent next year. We are on the path to being a leader in Canada, not only in Canada but internationally, around the world we are known. I think I said in my opening remarks yesterday, the proactive work through Innovacorp, Film Nova Scotia, NSBI, these agencies are putting us on the global map and that's where we have to be. The market is so competitive out there, it's a global market, and we can compete with anyone in the world.
What we've done in the past two years, and I guess I'll say in the last three years since we've been government - part of this is about increasing the confidence of Nova Scotians. Giving Nova Scotians that added confidence and that boost that we are the best in the world. That Irving Shipbuilding contract, I had an ambassador in to see me - I don't know, I kind of lose track - about a month ago. One of the main reasons that the ambassador from a Scandinavian country was here was because he heard about the Ships Start Here campaign, he heard about the vibrancy of Nova Scotia. He was followed by an ambassador from one of the Asian countries because they heard about what we, the people of Nova Scotia, have to offer the world, about how eager we are and that we have technology.
In Nova Scotia we are the academic capital of Canada, we have such bright minds here. What we didn't want and what I didn't want to do as minister was see those bright minds leave the province. When I talk about ERDT, and I hope you can tell by my body language that I get excited, we are on the right path. I could stand here and talk about the enthusiasm of my staff. My staff are the greatest public servants in the Province of Nova Scotia. I just wish that all Nova Scotians could see how dedicated these government employees are. They are the best in Canada and we are doing so much and we have so much more to do.
We want to work with you; we want you to work with us. When I look across at you as the member for Yarmouth, I don't see you as the enemy. I see you as having valuable assets that you could bring to the table and I say - an invitation, bring it.
MR. CHURCHILL: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Your optimism is contagious; I'm excited too.
Just to bring it back to the conversation we were having, there are a few things I want to touch upon. When it comes to results let's look at the results that I put forward. I realize that you and your department are optimistic, I think that's good. That optimism, I assure you, is not felt in every part of the province because there are some areas which are recessed right now, which are having a very difficult time economically. I think if you look at results - full-time employment growth stagnant for three years under this government and we're still the second lowest performing economy in the country - if this is the success that we've asked for, if these are the low standards that we've set, I'm wondering where we're going to go. If having the second lowest performing economy in the country will excite you that much, then that makes me worry as the MLA for Yarmouth.
Now, I've looked and I realize, listen, we have some marginal drops in unemployment and that happens, it's cyclical, that always happens - unemployment goes up, unemployment comes down. That happens. It's an indicator, but it's not the only one. I've identified that part-time employment has gone up but that's not the kind of employment that we want to see going up and out-migration impacts unemployment. If you look at real, full-time, meaningful jobs, or flat or stagnant, we haven't moved.
We look at how our entire economy is performing - the second lowest in the country. That's an indication, to me, as an Opposition member, who doesn't see you as the enemy, but I see my job as one to be critical of what the government is doing and to keep the government accountable. Those are indicators to me that show that our strategies perhaps aren't working. I think if the department is confident enough in its strategy that they have outlined, then they would have the courage to put some targets on there and say this is actually what we're going to accomplish. We're going to get these jobs in these sectors, this many jobs in these sectors.
We haven't done that and so we've left the ability to assess the success of your strategies in ambiguity and no one is going to be able to tell you whether you're doing a good job or not. I'm telling you that you're not because full-time employment hasn't gone up. We're still performing terribly economically. You say you are because unemployment has dropped marginally. So, you see, that's why we need some targets and that's why we need some goals.
Now, when it comes to the Yarmouth ferry, you mentioned that this is a symbol. Sure, having a ferry in Yarmouth is a symbol; we've had ferries there for over 100 years until this government took office. For us to underplay the economic importance of that so-called symbol I think is a disservice to, number one, the tourism sector and businesses that have been affected all across the province that are dependent on it. I've given you some very real numbers that show this isn't a symbol. We lost the ferry and what happened as a direct result? We lost one of our hotels. We've lost bed and breakfasts. We've lost restaurants. We've lost other businesses.
I have tourism operators in Yarmouth and beyond still writing me today saying, when are we going to get that ferry back because my business will not survive? To say that we're supporting our tourism sector, without looking at the real need for that service, which at the very least amount of people that boat brought over was 80,000, so let's be clear about how many people are coming over. You can't tell me that's not going to impact the economy and this just isn't about Yarmouth. To say this is just the Yarmouth ferry is to misrepresent the fact of the matter. As I mentioned, I met with tourism operators in Cape Breton who have lost business. I met with some in Queens County, all of whom lost 50 per cent to 60 per cent of their business; not one of them lost less than 50 per cent.
There have been reports done by the chambers of commerce that said the Yarmouth ferry, by losing that, Nova Scotian taxpayers lost $25 million in profits. There is another one that came out - I forget which consulting company did it - that said the negative economic trend in southwest Nova Scotia could be reversed with a ferry service. We've had chambers of commerce from all over the province say we want that ferry back because it's important to our businesses. We've had municipal units - I think all of them throughout the province - that support the restoration of a ferry service because they see an impact to their communities. We've had churches that deal in charitable work say we've seen a significant increase in the clients who need our help because of the economic difficulties as a result of losing the ferry. We just recently this week had the Nova Scotia Association of REALTORS say we need a ferry service because the value of our product, homes and land, is going down without it.
So to stand in the House and say this is a symbol to a small group of people in Yarmouth is not true, it's not true. It's an economic engine that drives very significant parts of the economy in Yarmouth and beyond, and that's the fact of the matter. Every single analysis shows that and we have not seen anything from this government to indicate otherwise, other than the fact that they say ridership is down. Sure, ridership is down, Americans weren't travelling anywhere during the recession. They're starting to travel again. American tourism is up in New Brunswick. American cruise travel is up. American visitation to Nova Scotia is down and if we can't pinpoint that direct correlation between losing the only sea link we had that connected us to them, then we're really missing the big picture here.
The minister referenced White Point. I spoke with White Point representatives as well. I know those comments that White Point gave were after this government put, I think, $1 million or more into that facility. People are going to say nice things about you when you give them money. I've spoken to White Point; they lost 50 per cent of their American clientele. White Point has felt the impact of the loss of the ferry almost as much as anybody else, directly linked, direct referrals that they had from Yarmouth. There's a direct link there, 50 per cent of their American business.
To underplay the importance of 50 per cent of their business - that's an indication to me that you perhaps misunderstand the importance of getting business; 50 per cent of your clients coming from the U.S. is a big deal. It means that's employees that you're going to hire or let go; in some cases, for smaller tourism operators it's whether they're going to stay alive or not. The realtors have come out and said, get us a ferry back because it's important to us.
I want the minister to recognize that the Yarmouth ferry isn't a symbol; it's an economic engine that produces profits for Nova Scotians, period. Ridership was down; sure, no one denies that. Was The Cat the right vessel? Who knows, I don't know. It was still bringing 80,000 people over. Would a vessel that is more cruise oriented, takes longer like the Scotia Prince that can bring a bit of freight on, that can bring trucks, has more activities on the boat, could that do better in terms of producing profits for that company in particular? Probably.
The Cat was expensive, it was high-speed and a lot of people didn't spend money on the vessel itself, so the company itself lost profits. The economic impact of that vessel was still important, 80,000 people at a minimum, 80,000 to 100,000 people coming into the province. That's not a drop in the bucket. What is a drop in the bucket, I think, is the $6 million, close to that, what this government would need to invest in ensuring a ferry service runs in Yarmouth. At the time, it would have been $3 million to keep that going for an extra year because the municipalities came up with half.
From the perspective of all the businesses that have been impacted negatively by the ferry, not just in Yarmouth but beyond, it is a provincial ferry, it's not just the Yarmouth ferry; it matters to everybody. To see this government dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to save other businesses, to keep other things going, the railway in Cape Breton - no one said get rid of that. For sure, I'm not going to stand here and say we begrudge Cape Breton Rail getting money, but that rail service loses $9 out of every $10 put into it. This minister didn't say to Cape Breton Rail, you need to start making money or we're not going to subsidize your business.
The same goes with the Digby ferry. This government didn't say, oh, the Princess of Acadia doesn't make profits. They need a government subsidy, the same with the ferry that links us to P.E.I., the same with the federal ferry that links this province to Newfoundland and Labrador. I'm not familiar with one ferry in the country - and I challenge the minister to correct me on that; I've been all over the country - that doesn't operate without a government subsidy. The reason for that has actually been articulated by the government because investing in these sorts of transportation networks are absolutely vital to the success of our economy. If we don't have transportation networks, then commerce can't, and people in business can't, come in and out of the province.
The argument for a Yarmouth ferry has been made by this government several times. We're putting $50 million to $90 million in Bowater because we want to protect those jobs and ensure the economy is protected in Queens County. We are putting money into the Digby ferry because we want to keep our provinces connected so people in business can come to and fro. We want the P.E.I. ferry - we're going to put money into the P.E.I. ferry because we see definite economic benefit in having these transportation networks.
But for some reason when it came to the Yarmouth ferry, which fed tourism and other businesses all across the province, we said, no, no, that business needs to make money, needs to make profits. Why are we going to put public dollars into that?
There was a serious inconsistency and a rationale that has been applied to these things. My area in particular has felt the very real economic impact as a result of that. You know, I've heard, well, the federal government puts monies into the other ferries - sure they do. They weren't putting it into the ferry in Yarmouth. What I will say is this government cannot control what other levels of government do - especially the federal government. I wish I could control what they do but none of us can. All we can control is what we do in this Chamber. That's the only thing that we can control. So to play this issue off, which is so critically important to the province and to the tourism sector especially, to play this off as, oh, we're not going to do it because the feds aren't doing it, or some other government, you know, cut Marine Atlantic, sorry, we are where we are today and we can only do what we can do today with what's in our power.
I think the way the Yarmouth ferry - and I'll say the Nova Scotia ferry, sorry, between Yarmouth and New England, the way that file was managed is deplorable. I think it's a real blight on this government's record and it's becoming this government's legacy, especially in southwestern Nova Scotia and with the tourism industry. What I would like to see is just some recognition in the validity of the arguments that have been presented for a Yarmouth ferry because it's real and people, business owners, small and large, are living the business case for a Yarmouth ferry each and every day.
So I challenge the minister to stop looking at the business case as solely the property of the company that runs that ferry and look at it the way the minister has looked at other opportunities for investment, he so calls, in other parts of the province. Use the same rationale that was applied to Digby, to P.E.I., to the railway, to Bowater, to NewPage, to whatever else, to the Yarmouth ferry because it's not any different. It's the same thing. It's important to recognize that and then to put resources into addressing this critical issue. If we support the tourism sector, we need to listen to them. They said we need a ferry back in Yarmouth. The tourism sector has said that and they will be saying it again.
If we support realtors, let's say, okay, let's look at what realtors are asking for, Yarmouth ferry is one thing. Chambers that represent small businesses all across the province, let's support those small businesses and put some resources into doing this because if the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism doesn't put the resources towards securing that ferry service in Yarmouth, no one is going to be able to do it. The only group that has the resources to do that is your department.
A group of volunteer business people can't do that in Yarmouth. They're trying. Three municipal units on behalf of the whole province can't do that. They've never done it before and I don't think we should expect any of those groups to do it now. The only people who are able to do this and to make it work is this department. Instead, I'll be frank, I feel like this issue has been treated with indifference and that has been a source of frustration for me and for many people in my community and for businesses across the province.
All we've ever asked for is the same rationale that has been applied to other areas to be applied to Yarmouth and to recognize, yes, ridership is down, sure. Do businesses need a subsidy of $6 million? Compared to the hundreds of millions that this government is doling out, $6 million is a pittance, I'm sorry, for the returns that you get. So I want this minister to recognize the importance of it and don't refer to it as a symbol, it is for sure, but it's a symbol for a reason, because it was important. Things don't just become symbols for no reason. It was a symbol to the people of Yarmouth because of the serious impact that it had on our economy and the economy of Nova Scotia. To disregard the concerns that have been raised by so many different sectors and so many different communities, I think it's a very sad thing and this is one of the biggest black marks on this government's record.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I've said time and time again that we would look at and consider a ferry for anywhere in Nova Scotia, including Yarmouth but there has to be some things that have to be in place. You know, I've heard the member mention Digby, Cape Breton Rail, and some other things, and I have to say that if we look at a ferry service for Yarmouth or anywhere else, one of the things that we look at is partnerships. One of the things that we've got going for us when it comes to the Digby ferry is we've got partnerships from the federal government, from the Province of New Brunswick. We've got three governments that are contributing. What happened in Yarmouth was, it was the Liberal Government of the day that made a decision not to help us with subsidizing the ferry. It was a Liberal Government that said you've got to go this alone. We simply could not afford what the Yarmouth ferry, what that link was costing.
Again, I reiterate, that I understand to a large degree what the ferry meant to the people in Yarmouth. I understand to some degree what it meant in different categories. What I did say is that the Yarmouth ferry sometimes served as a symbol to some people but, Mr. Chairman, I know it's more than just a symbol. I never said it was a symbol in isolation; I wouldn't be as cold-hearted to even go there.
The Cape Breton Rail, something else that was mentioned, one of the things that we had with Cape Breton Rail, and we still maintain with Cape Breton Rail, is a constant. With our partners, being Cape Breton Rail, we knew what it was going to cost year after year after year. The ferry in Yarmouth kept going up and up, and every year as ridership went down the cost to Nova Scotia taxpayers was increasing.
This government continues, and we still will, we continue - and maybe the member is not aware of this, but we work with people on the ground in Yarmouth having to do with the ferry. We've been working with people on the ground for years now; we will continue with that effort, we see no reason to cease that. In order for my signature, or for this government to sign off on a subsidy - we know that ferries around Canada, around the world, for all that matter, may require government subsidies. But when we're shouldering all of the subsidy the greatest gain for the Yarmouth ferry wasn't benefiting Nova Scotia it was to the U.S., they weren't paying a thing. The way the scheduling was, the overnight rooms, it benefited the United States not Nova Scotia.
When we asked the United States to partner with us, what was their reaction? No. When we asked the federal government to partner with us, what was their reaction? It was no. There is an expectation by the member that we can shoulder this. Again, in the best of all worlds, if all things were possible, I too would like to see a ferry in Yarmouth. I say that because I'm serious about that, there's nothing better than I'd like to see a ferry in Yarmouth, but it has to be under the right conditions. It has to be under the right conditions for Nova Scotia taxpayers. We cannot subsidize a ferry in Yarmouth solely by ourselves. We cannot do it.
New Brunswick, the federal government were very - I don't want to use the word keen - but very co-operative in assisting us and partnering with us when it came to the Digby ferry. The constant of the cost of the Cape Breton Rail and what we can do with Cape Breton Rail is we can project that for years ahead. So it's unfair to a large degree for us to compare one transportation link with another transportation link, it's simply not fair to the people of Yarmouth; it's not fair for the Nova Scotia taxpayers.
I think they are not the same. Comparing a ferry service with a railway spur is not a fair analysis. Railway spurs, if you discontinue one - I don't really want to get into it too much but I could go on about railway spurs. I mean I grew up in the Annapolis Valley, I know what happens when you take up a spur, when a rail line is eliminated and once it's gone, it's gone. There's no recovery for that link.
The member mentions again - and I applaud the member for recognizing my enthusiasm in seeing it for what it is. I think I'm going to try, just for a couple of seconds, to put this in a proper perspective for the member. What we've done here in the Province of Nova Scotia - let's be real about this - we took a province that was stagnant for over 20 years. It was last in economic development for 20-plus years. We took it, we analyzed this, and for the first time we came up with a plan. Do you know, Mr. Chairman, because of economic conditions not only here in North America - with particular reference to Canada - but in the world, when we're doing something as enormous as this, you do not turn the ship around on a dime. It takes some time.
What we are now experiencing are the results of those efforts. We are experiencing the results of the jobsHere initiative. Our goal is to make that better. Our targets are around those investments that we make in innovation. Our targets are those investments we make in training and education and those human-resource investments invested in Nova Scotians - to be more competitive, to be more globally competitive so that we can compete in the global market, because that's where it is. It is in the global market.
Our competition for years - I even hear it today which upsets me to no end - New Brunswick is not our competition; Newfoundland and Labrador is not our competition; Prince Edward Island is not our competition. Our competition is in India, our competition is in Asia. Sometimes I hear this pitting Halifax against Moncton. I say whatever Moncton does, I applaud because we, as a region, will benefit from it. We, Nova Scotia, Halifax - in Nova Scotia we are the economic driver, we are the economic engine of Atlantic Canada. Whether we like it or not, that's a fact.
What happens in Moncton, what happens in Fredericton, what happens in Charlottetown, what happens in Saint John, that's good, I applaud that. We all should applaud that and say good on you, because what benefits those jurisdictions is going to be a benefit to us, we all benefit from that. We are not in competition. Our competition is outside of Atlantic Canada, it's not here in Canada, our competition is abroad; we compete internationally.
The Ships Start Here contract, the bid, is a true testament of that. When this is all said and done and as Irving begins to build these ships, what we are trying to encourage now is we're trying to encourage first and foremost Nova Scotians. Right behind us are Atlantic Canadians and then the rest of Canada to be involved with this initiative, to take advantage of this initiative so that we all can benefit from it - not just Nova Scotia but the whole region and on a national scope.
We're going to have things that will be going on here in the Province of Nova Scotia related to that contract that we can benefit from, we have to ensure that people are up to snuff, up to scratch, and part of that is what jobsHere is about. It's about making sure we have the information. You know, it's unfair, I think, it doesn't do anyone any good, it gets us nowhere when we start comparing, well, you did it for Cape Breton Rail and so you've got to do it for the Yarmouth ferry, that doesn't get us anywhere. It just intensifies a debate that's going to go on and on and on, it's never going to end.
What we do in this government, what we do in ERDT, is we look at things on an individual basis. We measure them by their own merit, in numbers, with all due respect. The member tossed out numbers - and the Minister of Finance is here in the Chamber today - and you know, numbers, you can interpret them more than one way. We have numbers that are statistical numbers about how we've assisted unemployment ranks throughout the entire region. In the southwestern region there are more people employed now, percentage wise than there were this time last year. What we are doing is we are having an impact on those employment numbers.
I don't want to go down that road too far because somebody else will come out with a set of numbers and they'll say we don't want to accept those numbers. The number of individuals in companies, the individuals that we impacted when it comes to training and education, we've got those numbers. The number of companies that we've impacted, Nova Scotian companies, when it comes to investment and innovation we've got those numbers. Those are measurable.
Who are you impacting, have you increased the productivity? Those are the measurable. It's not some phantom number that the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism could make up, it's not an imaginary number. So I caution, I caution all members of the House, I caution the general public, let's not get caught up on numbers. If you want to stand here and debate with me about the results, the tangible results that I can show you, here they are, that's a whole different ball game altogether. I'm willing to do that, I can do that with you, with anyone because we now have the results in our hands. We've been at the jobsHere strategy for a year and we are on our way. We are on a positive path.
I said when we started estimates - I think it was today; if it wasn't today it was yesterday - I can't think of a better place to be at this time in my life than right here in Nova Scotia. If I had to pick anywhere else in the world to be, my choice would be Nova Scotia because this is where it's happening, this is where it's going on, this is where the future is, and what we have to do is we have to continue to do what we are doing. We have to stay the course. We have to make sure that those Nova Scotians - like the member opposite, I travel a fair amount by the nature of my job. I talk to Nova Scotians, including in Yarmouth, who stop me on the street and they say to me, now, some people will say to me, well, minister, we didn't agree with the decision around The Cat but we think you're on the right track outside of The Cat ferry.
So I've had people say that to me. Of course, I've had people who have said something maybe not as complimentary but I say no matter where I go in this province, I can go with confidence as the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. I can hold my head high and I can proudly say that I'm the minister responsible and I can proudly tell, whether it be a chamber of commerce, whether it be a rotary club, whether it be a group of high school students, I can say where we were 20 years ago, where we were three years ago, and proudly say where we are today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the member for Yarmouth, I would remind the minister that it is against House Rules to acknowledge the presence or absence of a member.
The honourable member for Yarmouth has the floor.
MR. CHURCHILL: Mr. Chairman, how much time is left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: With about seven minutes remaining.
MR. CHURCHILL: I've never brought into question the minister's sincerity to fulfill his mandate as Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. I do know he cares deeply about the portfolio and does want to do his very best; I know the same goes for the staff who work in that department. But I do think we are missing the boat in certain things.
The unemployment rate is cyclical, it has gone up and down forever, but when you look at the consistent - over the course of the past three years since this government has taken office, the consistent stagnation with full-time employment growth, to me that's the biggest indicator. The minister mentioned that we have been stagnant before; we're still stagnant in that regard. When it comes to creating full-time, meaningful employment, we are still stagnant as a province. We are still second last in terms of economic growth in the country. In my mind, that's not success yet and I hope we can get there and I believe if we do the right things, we can.
I feel very much like the minister, I love my home community of Yarmouth. My family is there. It's where I grew up. I care deeply about that area. I love the Province of Nova Scotia. I enjoy Halifax. I want to live here. There are a lot of other young people like me, if I'm still considered young; I'm starting to lose my hair and get grey but I think I'm still young. There are a lot of other young people, there are a lot of other people who are older who are having a hard time economically who are forced to move away. So if we want to ensure that that opportunity, the very privileged opportunity that the minister and I have to live in this, our home province, the province that we love, if we want to ensure that others have that opportunity, we do have to ensure that those opportunities are available for people to come and stay here and, right now, I don't think we're doing a great job of doing that.
Full-time employment matters more than anything else and that hasn't changed. So we're still facing the same challenges that we faced in the last five to 10 years when it comes to creating full-time employment for everybody.
Back to the ferry, the ferry is obviously an issue that I'm very passionate about. I'm beginning to think that the minister and I just aren't going to agree on this file. I just wanted to mention a couple of things. I realize there has been a desire for the American side of the border to put money into this and they have said no. I had the opportunity to go to the States and meet with the mayor of Portland and then Governor Baldacci, who was the then Governor of Maine. The Americans do not benefit as much from that ferry service as us, the reason being because 80 per cent of the clientele on that service were Americans coming to Canada. So we benefited much more economically than the U.S. side of the border, and U.S. domestic travel is up.
So Portland-Bar Harbor, those areas are actually doing well. They've seen increased domestic traffic into those areas, so that ferry service, I know for a fact, isn't as important or needed on the American side of the border as it is here, point blank. So I would urge this government, if the Government of Canada would ever come back on board with this, to not look to the U.S. for leadership on this because you're not going to get it.
The leadership does need to come from this province. The federal government has been very clear, they don't want to be involved with this, so the leadership needs to come here, needs to come from this department that is responsible for economic development, rural development and tourism, everything relating to what that ferry did for the province.
The minister said that we can't afford to do the subsidy and that there weren't other partners. I want to remind the minister that when this decision first started to happen and was made, this government did have a very real partner who came to the table with half the money required for a year's worth of subsidy. That was the municipal units in Yarmouth.
So we can't say that there weren't partners because we had three municipal units in Yarmouth that actually stepped up to the plate and did something that no municipal government has ever had to do before and say, we're actually going to come to the table with 50 per cent of what is needed for this service, to keep it for another year, to give us a lifeline until we get another vessel.
This government said no to that partnership, so it's one thing to say we need partners, we need partners - there was a very real opportunity to have a partner and this government still said no.
Just to touch on my feelings and I know the feelings of tourism operators across the province, folks in Yarmouth and businesses, the $6 million that was required for The Cat with another vessel, if there's a subsidy needed it would probably be smaller because there are vessels that can definitely produce more profits on that route, more than The Cat could. But to say that the province couldn't invest, even if it was up to $6 million a year for this, I find that a hard pill to swallow, especially considering the hundreds of millions that have been given out to other companies that weren't making money.
I know the minister says, well, no case is the same. Of course I agree with him that no case is the same but the rationale applied to economic development, in support of business structure and transportation structure in the province, needs to remain consistent. That's what I'm talking about, the rationale behind all these things needs to remain consistent. The Yarmouth ferry isn't the same as the Cape Breton Rail. Does one deserve money more than the other? It's not my place to say but the rationale applied to investing in that business, I think and will continue to argue, should have applied in Yarmouth and should still be applied to Yarmouth - $6 million for a return of $25 million in profits for Nova Scotians, the math adds up.
So from the perspective as the member for Yarmouth, and I know the perspective of tourism operators all across the province, small business owners who have been impacted, larger businesses that have been impacted, I know they would argue - realtors, everybody is saying this - that that investment is worth the returns that taxpayers get. For the minister to say that we couldn't afford $6 million a year but still we can afford $300 million to Irving, up to $90 million for Bowater, tens of millions for the railway and millions more on the other ferries, it's a hard pill to swallow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The member's time is now up.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First I want to thank the House for the opportunity to take part. I think I'm getting a signal from the minister that he'd like to take a short break and certainly it's not an issue as far as I am concerned.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, member, and we will take a five-minute recess.
[12:14 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[12:20 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable member for Cape Breton West has the floor.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, again I'm pleased to be able to stand and ask a few questions of the minister and I want to thank him and his staff for being here today. Earlier today my colleague, the member for Victoria-The Lakes, had talked about Cape Breton Island and he had talked about the advertising and promotions and the like. The minister responded that indeed it was important to promote but we have many areas across the province that should be promoted. I just wonder if the department has given much thought to the fact that indeed, on more than one occasion, Cape Breton Island has been identified as not only the number one island in North America but number three in the world, and has been so, on a consistent basis.
I know when we deal with the minister through the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, one of the things that they always like in a project is something that leverages further dollars from another area. So it would be my thinking that indeed when we talk about advertising and promoting Cape Breton Island which is an icon and people are coming from many different places to see, we've already got the advantage of using that in many different publications, this designation of being the number one island in North America. Just as a matter of interest, Mr. Minister, we were number one, and Prince Edward Island and Vancouver Island weren't even named in that program and that just goes to show where we must have stood.
So we are leveraging the money, we're getting this free advertising anyway. I still find it hard to believe that the department and Destination Cape Breton aren't doing more to promote the fact that it's the number one island. The great thing about that is you have to travel through most of the province to get to the island so other people will benefit. If we still had a Nova Scotia ferry coming from the United States, they would be travelling right across the whole province. So I'm just wondering if there are any plans in the future to really take advantage of the fact that we're getting all this free publicity. Tourism is such a big industry here in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island is such a big part of that. I'm just wondering, what really are the plans of his department in promoting this jewel, and at the same time, leveraging more dollars to make it a more effective advertising campaign?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I welcome the member to the Chamber and I also thank him for the necessary break that we just had. We work with Destination Cape Breton. One of the things the previous member from your Party brought up with respect to the Island of Cape Breton, and one of the things that I have committed to do and certainly staff - we work in partnership with Destination Cape Breton on exploring and examining an analysis of ways that we can get more tourists to come to Cape Breton. I will say that as minister I am very open to new, innovative ideas to get more tourists in Nova Scotia and with particular reference to Cape Breton Island.
We also recognize, I mean without a doubt, the Cabot Trail, I mean what more can be said about the Cabot Trail. Just the mere mention of the name "Cabot Trail" sometimes can send those good shivers up one's spine but I think that when we look at the future - and I can't say there's anything specifically yet that has come out - but we are in dialogue, we are having the conversations. We want more people in Nova Scotia. We want more people travelling to Cape Breton and seeing the beauty of what Cape Breton has to offer.
I think of Right Some Good, which was I think, yes, last year was its first time. When we looked at that and what we thought about was the international exposure that this would afford to the Island of Cape Breton. We thought that this would be a good investment and, again, another way to bring attention to a spot that's near and dear, I think, to every Nova Scotian's heart. So we are always receptive to innovative and new ways that we can get more people to travel, not only here to Nova Scotia but certainly to Cape Breton Island.
We will continue to work with those partners and if the member, Mr. Chairman, has anyone in mind in particular with whom we should be talking, it would be just a matter of writing that name on a piece of paper, giving it to me, and I would make sure that staff was in contact with whoever that was.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, minister, for that answer. In my constituency of Cape Breton West, tourism is a very vital part of what takes place there. I have the fortune of having the Fortress of Louisbourg in my area, the famous Mira River. I also have the Rita MacNeil Tea Room and, of course, Port Morien, the home of the first coal mine and the first Boy Scouts troop in North America. These are all part of the communities that I have the fortune to represent and when you talk about Destination Cape Breton and Mary Tulle and the folks who work with her, they are phenomenal in the work that they're doing but there's always more that can be done.
One of the things that I would like to see the minister and his staff really consider is when you're coming across the Canso Causeway, the number one island in North America, Cape Breton, I really think that we're missing an opportunity. I think it's something that we should be looking at and it's one of those things that will create a lot of goodwill without a lot of cost. I'm just wondering if the minister has had any thoughts or considerations about that idea.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, the member wasn't in the Chamber this morning when I mentioned about Cape Breton Island and I suggested that we look at the possibility, along with TIR, of putting a sign there to celebrate that. We will consult with TIR and we will (Interruption) I'm sorry, but we will consult with TIR and we will look at that possibility.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, as I said, tourism is very important and one of the things, of course, the advantage of having TIR and yourself working together on something like the sign and some of the travel ways that people use when they're touring around the island, is important. There is a small wildlife park; the Two Rivers Wildlife Park is located on the Mira River. (Interruption) It's a great place for birthday parties and there are people who have had weddings there. I will say to you, Mr. Minister, last year that small park had 42,000 visitors, which is a real economic driver in that community, and there are 10 full-time jobs there. The animals that are there and the buildings that are there belong to the Province of Nova Scotia. They are constantly doing things and we've had some good success working with the people from the Department of Natural Resources to do new and unique things.
I was wondering if the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism would give some consideration to maybe looking and working with these people to enhance what they're able to deliver to the public. They get a lot of visitors not only from Cape Breton Island but from all over Nova Scotia and certainly all over North America. So I'm not sure if your department is aware of what they're doing and how they're doing it, and I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on that idea.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I must say I'm familiar with a number of parks in Nova Scotia, and I confess I'm not familiar - is it Two Rivers? It's Natural Resources. We do have some mechanisms, and I know that the member is familiar with - we have some tools that we may be able to utilize when it comes to - I'm thinking, when I heard the member first mention it, the first thing that came to my mind was Doers & Dreamers. Well, it's our bible. It's our tourism bible for the Province of Nova Scotia. So I don't know, and I can't speak off the top of my head to whether that particular location is featured in Doers & Dreamers, but we can certainly look at it. We can certainly look at having some discussions with Natural Resources, between Natural Resources and the department, the division of Tourism, to see if there's anything that we can do.
There's also our Web site, and here again I don't know if that would be a featured location on our Web site, but there are some things that we can investigate, and yes, we will see what tomorrow brings.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for that response. Just to clarify, the building and the animals belong to the Department of Natural Resources through the Province of Nova Scotia, but it is run by a private community group, a not-for-profit group. Any way we can find of helping them to promote what they're doing and at the same time - just for the minister's information, it is located on the Mira River, which is the longest freshwater river in the Province of Nova Scotia. It was the location of an international Girl Guides camp, and the song Song for the Mira, which I think most people here are familiar with - it was for that particular event that that song was written. (Interruptions)
Well, there was a former politician who used to sing those bars, but unfortunately, member, if I start to sing, we'll all be leaving, and I don't think - I realize that has some advantages on a Friday afternoon, but we do have some time commitments. I really thank you for asking that. (Interruptions)
Back to some of the more important issues - there is nothing more important than making sure people understand the beauty and the assets that we have in the Province of Nova Scotia and sharing them with other people in Canada and North America who aren't as lucky as we are, to live here in this province.
I'm going to change away from tourism a little bit and go back to some economic development issues, if we could. Could you give us a sampling of the types of initiatives that your department has taken in the last year to help businesses and industry on Cape Breton Island?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, if I can, I just want to go back to Two Rivers very briefly. Thank goodness for modern technology, but as we were speaking, obviously, we have staff here, and some staff are easily accessible. We've made some investments in that particular park around signage and their interpretation, but having said that, I will ensure through the deputy that there's a heartfelt conversation going on and exploring some other avenues. With respect to some of the things that we've done very recently - as the member for Cape Breton West is undoubtedly aware, because I'm sure he's heard me mention it a number of times - through the jobsHere strategy we've created and done a number of things. In the last year we launched the Clean Technology Fund through the jobsHere initiative, and that was a $24 million fund that is going to be of valuable assistance to companies.
There was a company that very recently took advantage of that fund. Under that fund, CarbonCure Technologies received $1 million, and along with that was a $100,000 grant. CarbonCure Technologies is doing some R&D in partnership with a well-known Nova Scotia company on product development. There's the I-3 Technology Start-Up Competition at Innovacorp. That's a new initiative within the past year.
There's one that I think we're all familiar with now: the regional venture capital fund. That's where we've partnered with New Brunswick, and we've left the door open for Newfoundland and Labrador and sent an invite to Prince Edward Island. That's where $15 million has been confirmed from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for venture capital.
There's the CleanTech Open competition, and that's a new initiative. We've completed sector studies with reference to ocean technology. Probably the one that I would say we are most known for, which probably gets the most media attention, is the Productivity Investment Program - what we refer to as PIP - which is another new initiative through the jobs fund. Also associated with the PIP is the voucher program. Under the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program, we've issued 41 vouchers in Nova Scotia that totalled in the vicinity of $675,000.
Those are several things that we've done over the past year. We've helped companies with innovation, with human resource investment in the way of training and education, and in the investment of capital for the purchase of equipment to increase their productivity, and sometimes with the training that is associated with that.
I think in the past year government - I don't think; I know - has been very active in making some investments in Nova Scotia so they can compete on a global basis and be more competitive and be more productive.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Minister, I wonder if you could explain what role, if any, your department has had in the downturn in the pulp and paper industry, particularly in NewPage, and the seven-point plan that the department has put forward. What role did you and your department play in that situation?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, we've been very active, and not in any way - I don't want to give you a priority list, but with our government partner Labour and Advanced Education, we were there right away, with Labour and Advanced Education taking the lead. We've done sector studies on the industry itself, trying to do some analysis. We've helped and certainly played a very lead role in searching out potential buyers for the mills. We've made huge investments in hot idle so that the mills could remain active for the reason of resale value. We've made a huge investment in the private sector, the private woodlot owners, to keep them active, to keep them engaged, so that they could ensure that the wood supply, the fibre supply, was there.
We've made expensive investments in that sector, and I think I should also mention the collaboration - I'll say "collaboration" - with the sector itself, not only with potential mill owners of those sites but also in the private sector, in the forestry sector, the private woodlot owners. The Department of Natural Resources was onside with us, and they were one of the many partners: Natural Resources, Labour and Advanced Education, along with ERDT. So it was a real effort by government to be engaged with this sector in all ways possible, and also looking toward the future.
When it came to any potential owner, government was heavily involved. We had a mills team, which were comprised - oh, I'm sorry, forgive me, because I should also mention Energy. Energy also played a role as far as the mills team and sitting down and helping us all figure out where the future was, where we wanted to go, and how we were going to get there. So I can truly say, in the respect of the mills, that it was a co-operative effort by a number of departments within government, including ERDT. So we were one of several players.
MR. MACLEOD: Yesterday in estimates for the Department of Natural Resources, it came to light that their budget had increased by $7 million, and a lot of that was toward the very programs you were just talking about. I'm wondering how much of that funding may have come from the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
MR. PARIS: Yes, Mr. Chairman, and if I understand the question correctly, if the question is how much of that $7 million that Natural Resources spent toward the mills initiative came from ERDT, to the best of my knowledge none of that $7 million would be - that would be their money.
MR. MACLEOD: So then is it fair for me to believe that when it came to actually spending dollars to help the idle plant, there was no money invested by your department?
MR. PARIS: I thank the member for his patience. In consultation with staff, I want to be clear on this: we made our own investments with respect to the hot idle and I think the member is aware of that. It was $12 million. As far as the $7 million from Natural Resources, there's nothing on our books that would indicate that we contributed to that $7 million. That would be, according to our books, a separate item pertaining to the mills. On our books we have an account of $12 million that we were responsible for, and that was directly related to the hot idle for resale.
MR. MACLEOD: In the case of what took place at NewPage, many people have stepped up to the plate. The Government of Nova Scotia was one of them, there's no question about that; the Mayor and council for the Town of Port Hawkesbury; the Warden and councillors in the municipalities of Richmond and Inverness; and even the chambers of commerce and the members of the chambers of commerce in the surrounding areas.
One of the biggest partners, I think - and we've seen a result of some of their activity just on the weekend past - was the union that represented the people who were working in the mill. They showed some enormous courage and guidance, and worked toward having the ability to have some people go back to work with the hopes that the plant will be reopening, which is a hope I know that is shared by every member in this House.
I just wonder if the minister has given any thought to doing any programs for those who may not be so fortunate as to go back to work on the site of the now-idle plant.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, very, very briefly, for the point of clarity, I just want to make sure the member has the right information. I don't want to give him any information that may be false. The $12 million that ERDT was responsible for was for the forestry infrastructure fund. That was for the wood supply. The hot idle was the responsibility of DNR, so I just wanted to make sure that's clear for the future.
Also, the question that's being asked is with respect to the displaced workers. Again, the province was very active, and that was the lead of Labour and Advanced Education, who would be in there immediately and would be making some - there would be a transition team that Labour and Advanced Education would put together to help facilitate some things, as far as the displaced workers are concerned. That would be about what the future bodes for them around training, education, and that type of thing. If this was Question Period, I would bounce that question over to the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education.
MR. MACLEOD: Just so that I'm clear and that we're both on the same page here, the $12 million that was spent by your department was used in part to make sure that the producers, private contractors, and/or the ones that worked on the Crown, that the wood they were producing was being purchased and kept - am I correct on that? The minister is indicating yes.
Then the next question for me is, I understand that the yard at the mill is full and I understand there is more wood being stored in other areas around Mulgrave. This wood, as we move forward, is becoming less and less appropriate for use as pulpwood. I want to get an understanding of if your department has any plans or is working with another department of government to have this wood sold or reallocated. When you do that, is there a plan on recapturing dollars for the Province of Nova Scotia?
MR. PARIS: Good question. I think we have to - certainly at these tables - determine the ownership of the wood. That wood may be resold, and what we are doing right now, as I stand here in my place, is we are looking for some concrete answers for you on that particular topic. I couldn't answer that off the top of my head, because you're really getting down into the weeds of something, but do you know what? We're working on the right answer.
MR. MACLEOD: I might be able to help the minister. It's my understanding that, indeed, there is about 16,000 tons of pulpwood that are going to be sold to the Northern Pulp company because they were the ones that had the best offer. My question is, what advantage is that for the people who are cutting wood? If the only market that they have is now being supplied by the Government of Nova Scotia rather than contractors, how is that an abundant help to the contractors? Many different times yesterday I heard the words that competition is good - and it is. Nobody would argue that competition isn't good. But if you're in competition with your own government, that's not such a good thing.
I'm just wondering if the minister has any information as to the value that the wood cost his department, if they were in control of it as he says, and what the possible recovery amount of that wood might be. If he doesn't have the answer at his fingertips, I would understand that, but it would be something that I would hope we would get a commitment of an answer on as we move forward.
MR. PARIS: Again, I reiterate something that I said previously. If this was Question Period, I would bounce that question to the Department of Natural Resources. This is not my area of expertise, and I think for any answers that you're seeking when it comes to those sorts of questions, they would be best answered through the Department of Natural Resources and not through the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. I say that very respectfully.
MR. MACLEOD: I guess it's a little silly on my part to think that the minister who is responsible for $12 million would have an idea of how it was being spent and how it was being used. You were very clear that the money was yours and it was under your control and it was used for purchasing wood and for the hot idle. Now you're saying you don't know how that has been handled and the Department of Natural Resources should answer those questions. Well, if I was responsible for $12 million, I'm pretty sure I would know how it was being spent, who was spending it, and what the chances were of me recouping some of that money back for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. So I'm a little surprised at the answer, but I will accept it, and maybe, Mr. Chairman, we'll move on to another item.
I would now like to ask the minister what his knowledge and involvement are with the Donkin Mine, as far as his department is going. As I'm sure the minister is well aware, Xstrata is the 75 per cent partner and Erdene, a Nova Scotia company, is the 25 per cent partner. I would just like to know what he can share about his knowledge of that project, where the Province of Nova Scotia and his department are with that project, and if he sees something taking place there in the near future. This project has the ability to create about 350 jobs on the ground in an area where we have a very high unemployment rate. It has the ability for the spinoff to create probably another 700 jobs, and again, all of these things will be a benefit to the Province of Nova Scotia and the CBRM because people will be working, they'll be paying taxes, and they'll be investing their money and spending it in their community. So where might the province be with their thoughts with that?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for the question. The Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is in discussions with respect to Donkin, and I think one of the things that all members would respect and recognize is that private sector involvement is happening here. We are speaking with the private sector. ECBC is involved, ACOA is involved, and certainly ERDT is at the table. I will not get into too much detail around those discussions because those discussions involve someone from the private sector. There have been no conclusions reached yet, and it would be inappropriate for me to stand here in my place and talk about ongoing negotiations that involve somebody in the private sector. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to put that either in this arena or any arena outside of the House.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I respect the minister's answer in that respect. It is a very important issue, and when you're dealing with private industry, I know that you have to be careful.
I guess part of my hope is that this project will get the same kind of consideration that the Irving shipyard did when it comes to the publicly-funded money to make things happen, because one of the challenges we have with this operation is that they are looking at doing a shipment of coal by barge, loading it onto a ship in the harbour, and moving it along. We all know the trials and tribulations of trying to do activity in the North Atlantic, and year-round it's quite a challenge. All we have to do is look at what happened to the MV Miner that was being towed and got away. We don't want the same thing to happen to one of the barges and at the same time create an environmental hazard, but more importantly than that, when this is taking place, it also could put the fishing industry in jeopardy. There are hundreds of people who are involved in the industry in that area, and they have concerns. We've had several meetings about it and we'll be having some more.
One of the things that I believe, and I would like to share with the minister, is that I think there is a way to help the fishing industry, help the mining industry, and take advantage of some of the investments that this government has already made. One of those investments was the dredging of the Sydney Harbour, and that was to allow larger ships to get into the harbour and allow for more activity to take place. I congratulate the government on being part of that initiative. I think it is a very important initiative for the Island of Cape Breton and for all of eastern Nova Scotia.
I'm pleased at what they did there, but now there's an opportunity for this government to take advantage of that by working with this mine and saying, look, if we help you build a rail line from the site to the Sydney Harbour - a rail line, I might add, where the right of way is already in the ownership of the Xstrata company - what that would do is it would increase activity in the Port of Sydney, but also, if we were moving coal by rail, that would also then remove, I would hope, the subsidy that we as a government are paying to the Cape Breton railroad. The reason for that of course, as I'm sure you're well aware, in Trenton we have coal-fired generation; in Point Tupper we have coal-fired generation; and in Beldoon they're going to be looking for more coal. So by increasing the number of cars across the line, which has been the issue and that's why the subsidy has been put in place, we are actually helping to solve another issue and another problem of monies that are being spent by this government, so it's sort of a reallocation.
The other thing that I think we should not lose sight of is that there are a number of industries in Cape Breton right now that rely on rail traffic to bring in their raw supplies for different companies to perform. Those people, in those different companies, probably employ 100 or 150 people, so if we can secure - and I'm sure that was part of the rationale that went into the subsidy to begin with, so that we can help stabilize those jobs. In the meantime, we help the fishing industry; we help manufacturing industries that are already there; we help a port that government has already invested in; and we create an area of more jobs in an area that has a high unemployment rate.
I wonder if, indeed, any thought has been given by the department to that idea or if they would be open to having that discussion on a whole idea as we move forward. I think it's one of those situations that I've heard the minister refer to before as a win-win; everybody would come out in a better area. As I end this, we must take into consideration the fact that right now NewPage isn't shipping as much material as they have in the past, the line may now well be in jeopardy, not only from Port Hawkesbury to Sydney but, indeed, from Truro to Port Hawkesbury because one of the major users of that line was the pulp mill at the Strait of Canso. I wonder if the minister has any thoughts on those ramblings of mine as we move forward.
MR. PARIS: The member's - as he put it - ramblings, and I do have some thoughts because what we do at the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is we explore opportunities. We explore opportunities especially that come forward from the private sector. We are willing and eager to sit down with anyone in the private sector and discuss what the future may look like when it comes to opportunities, particularly around jobs. When somebody wants to talk to us about infrastructure, we certainly will entertain a discussion. One of the things that we've learned and what we don't do - and I think the member has already recognized that we deal with the private sector - we take their lead when it comes to announcements, when it comes to what those transactions are.
I think until a deal is done, we are very aware, very conscious of the fact around confidentiality. However, having said that, that does not exclude or eliminate our willingness to sit down and talk about future opportunities. Obviously, the longer the long-term opportunities, the more eager we are to sit down. If anyone in the private sector has ideas - our rule is to explore opportunities with the private sector. They generally come to us or we may approach them, but it's something about pursuing what's best for taxpayers and how we can be involved or if we should be involved and measuring things on the merits that are in front of us, based on a business case or a business plan.
I recognize also - and I don't mean this in an insulting way, but to use your words - in your ramblings, I think what I heard, or at least I'd like to think what I heard, was that you were saying that those investments we made in Cape Breton rail, in the Sydney Harbour, those were good investments, those were investments that are being fully endorsed by you as the MLA for Cape Breton West. That's not a question, but that was my interpretation.
MR. MACLEOD: I guess I did use the word "ramblings" but, you know, I was trying to be proactive and offer solutions and ideas. Yes, I did say I thought the investment in Sydney Harbour was a good investment and I believe we need the rail in Sydney because it does have some economic impact and it creates employment. I'm not sure that I'm pleased with the way the minister tried to infer that I had said anything different and I certainly don't appreciate the fact that somebody might want to try to put words in my mouth because the minister has been here long enough to know that you don't have to put words in my mouth, I'm pretty good at putting them out myself.
What I did hear, I hope - and I'd like clarification on this - is that indeed this government, your department, is open and willing to talk about infrastructure that would help create employment on Cape Breton Island in relation to the Xstrata coal mine. Is that a yes or a no?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, I will partially reiterate. We are open to looking at sitting down and discussing with anyone who wants to sit down with government and talk about future employment opportunities or opportunities, including infrastructure opportunities, in the Province of Nova Scotia. My door is always open to anyone who wants to talk about the future of Nova Scotia when it comes to employment.
MR. MACLEOD: Madam Chairman, my job, as is your job and the jobs of all the 52 members of this House, is to try to represent the interests and concerns of their constituents as best as possible. We have a situation here that can see employment grow in an area. We have a situation that, if not handled right, could create an issue within another industry in a community that can't afford to lose any jobs. Again, just for clarification, I want to ask the minister this question. Am I right in what I think I have heard and that is the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism for the Province of Nova Scotia is willing to sit down and talk about infrastructure with the developers of the Donkin coal mine?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, I think over the three years that I've been minister, I will say - and I can say with all honesty and all sincerity - is that anyone who has phoned, called or stopping on the street with respect to setting up a meeting, I can't recall having said no to anyone, anyone who is going to impact the future of Nova Scotia. My role as Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is about jobs and the economy. If somebody wants to meet with me or with staff, I think I'm fairly easy to get a hold of. If they can't get hold of me, then that's why I have an administrative assistant. I'm willing to meet with anyone who is going to improve the job forecast and economic conditions of the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLEOD: The job is to create opportunities, I think you said. Was I correct on that, Madam Chairman? I'd like the minister to tell me again what he thought his job was.
MR. PARIS: I think what I said was around job creation and opportunities for the Province of Nova Scotia, I think I might have used language to the effect of "job forecasting" and "opportunities."
MR. MACLEOD: Your role is for job opportunities and to create employment in the Province of Nova Scotia, which is a very worthy goal, I might add. So I will ask the question again. Am I to understand that you, as the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, would sit down and talk to a private developer on infrastructure when it is related to the coal mine in Donkin so that the fishing industry in that community can have a little bit of peace of mind, rather than worry about losing an industry and gaining an industry? I would like - and I know it's going to be a tough task - a yes or a no.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, through you, I am open to meeting with anyone. I'm a very open Minister of the Crown, and if somebody wants to meet with me, all they have to do is make appropriate contact and we go from there. We have a process in place that will receive the call and look at my schedule. I've said time and time again, I'm very accessible. I boast about being very accessible and if somebody wants to meet with me and discuss jobs and discuss the opportunities and discuss job forecasts, I'm more than willing to meet with them.
MR. MACLEOD: Well, you know, that's very interesting because I never heard a yes or a no. I heard all kinds of things about being a nice guy and being accessible and you know what? I don't doubt any of that, but what I do doubt is he doesn't know what the word "yes" is. I'm going to ask the minister one more time. If he is approached - and when I say "one more time," that will depend on your answer, of course - if you're approached by a community and by a private contractor, private proponent of a project, to talk about an infrastructure project related to the mine in Donkin, will you entertain that - yes or no?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, if somebody called my office and wanted to meet with me, my response would be yes, I will meet with them.
MR. MACLEOD: He's getting closer, Madam Chairman, he's almost there, he's almost gone over the hill. Now I know it's a Friday afternoon and I know the minister has been on his feet for a number of hours here. The question is, if somebody wants to talk to you about an infrastructure project related to the Donkin mine, will you meet with them?
MR. PARIS: I thought I said yes the last time I was on my feet. Madam Chairman, through you to the member opposite, what I am saying is if somebody wants to meet with me, the word is "yes"; if somebody wants to meet with me, oui. I'm not sure what the member is looking for because I have been very agreeable to say that I would meet, that I am accessible and that my role is to entertain people when they want to explore opportunities and jobs in Nova Scotia. It's almost like if they build it, I will come. I don't know how much clearer I can be. I think I heard myself say, and maybe it is, yes, I agree, oui.
MR. MACLEOD: Madam Chairman, this isn't a case by the way of if we build it they will come, this is a case of will you meet me so I can find out if I can build it, but we're going to move on. I do want to say that I'm hoping that in the future the minister will know what the word "yes" means and can use it by itself without all that - I can't use that word in the House.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have two minutes.
MR. MACLEOD: I'm so disappointed, Madam Chairman, because there are so many things that I would like to continue to discuss with the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism because there are so many things here in the Province of Nova Scotia that we need to deal with. We need to talk about how other organizations are going to be treated. Are they going to be treated as the Irvings were when they came forward with megaprojects? What's taking place on the South Shore and have we seen the forensic audit there? What's happening with all of the other RDAs around the province? What can we do as a combined group to make sure that the right things are done for the Province of Nova Scotia and the people we all represent?
At the end of the day, we all want to get to the same place. I believe that from the bottom of my heart. Some of us might be going down Highway No. 102 and some of us might be going down Highway No. 101, but we want to get to Yarmouth but, of course, when we get there we can't take a ferry to go any farther. It's all about trying to do what's right for the people in the Province of Nova Scotia. It's a shame that we haven't got more time today, but there is more time on Monday and I look forward to, at that time, picking up and having some more conversation with my colleague, the honourable minister. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The time allotted for the Progressive Conservative Party has elapsed.
The honourable member for Kings West with five minutes remaining.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Madam Chairman, I'm pleased to rise in my place today and finish off estimates, first with a comment and then a question. I do want to recognize when good work is done by the department and I think that's part of our obligation as MLAs, even though in Opposition we tend to have the balance scales a little bit more on the critical side, but for the department to assist the Town of Berwick with its treatment plant to upgrade, to facilitate the development of the chicken processing plant and its investment in what should turn out to be a wonderful project around a sustainable agricultural product for many years to come. That plant is in my riding. The Town of Berwick is in my riding and I know the people of the town did appreciate that financial investment that was made.
One of the areas that I've had a couple of calls on this week - and I will follow up with the minister on this, but the area of summer employment, student employment, comes under the minister's portfolio - I've had a few calls of applications denied this year. I know, as a former teacher, how valuable those summer jobs are for students and how much they contribute, not only some dollars for returning to university, but in many cases are part of a young person's development and even opening up opportunities for looking at careers.
I'm just wondering if the minister could comment on the level of fulfilling those applications this year. Is it comparable to last year? I would appreciate his updating of that.
MR. PARIS: With respect to the summer employment program, I think the total funds allocated for that program is $1.9 million. The number of positions that we have available under the summer employment is 550. The member is absolutely correct, that does come under my portfolio. The member started off by talking about that program. I think he referred to some letters he got from some constituents who did not get approved for that program. I trust that the member is aware that there is also an appeal process that follows that, so if someone has been turned down with respect to that program, they can appeal the decision. My recommendation is that they do it sooner as opposed to later. I don't want to say it, but I would imagine that there is only a window there and I can't say off the top of my head, with all the other things I have up there, what that window is.
I would also like to acknowledge, if I may, the opening comments by the member. I know the facility that you're talking about and I've got to say that I've worked with a number of municipalities throughout Nova Scotia in the last three years, but this particular municipality - and the member can relate - has been a joy to work with. They've been very co-operative and the collaboration has been just great.
MR. GLAVINE: I know the time here has pretty well elapsed for today and the Liberal caucus will resume questioning in estimates on the budget on Monday. I thank the minister for his comments around the student summer program.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Committee of the Whole House on Supply has elapsed.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report its business to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 1:25 p.m.]