HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 21, 2011
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Becky Kent
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now come to order. We'll resume debate on the estimates for the Department of Natural Resources. There are 23 minutes remaining in the time allotted for the Official Opposition.
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Welcome to the minister and staff today as I finish up 22 minutes. When I left this topic relating to Natural Resources, I was dealing with the biomass issue. When we take a look at that envelope of 350,000 dry tons that will be available for the production of electricity, the policy - the pattern - definitely seems to continue toward the large projects.
I wonder if the minister could outline why his government - because we know that the NewPage agreement started some time ago - but in terms of now, why has his government given preference to these large biomass projects versus the community-based or locally-owned biomass energy projects, especially to try to avoid concentrating the pressure on forests in certain areas of the province?
I was pleased to hear that the minister does acknowledge, through his department, that there are parts of the province that now have had such enormous pressure on them that the availability of fibre, of wood products for the future, is indeed compromised. Again, I'm wondering why we seem to be oriented toward the big project versus the community-based or locally-owned biomass energy projects.
HON. CHARLIE PARKER: Well, Madam Chairman, it's good to be back here again in estimates. It has been a couple of days and there's always lots of water under the bridge, so we're just trying to get back into the mode of estimates.
The only approved project that we have in the province at the present time is Nova Scotia Power's project with NewPage in Port Hawkesbury. Of course, that project doesn't come on-stream until 2013. That's the only project that has been approved under the renewable electricity plan. There has been some interest expressed by others, and of course there's some projects out there that are grandfathered in - I mean, they've always been ongoing, like the Brooklyn Energy project in Queens County and the South Shore Regional Hospital and some other institutions out there that have been doing this type of work on a small scale, and I guess they are a model to look at to do it properly.
We're being very cautious, very conservative; we just reduced our biomass use by 30 per cent, so it's down now to an ultra-conservative total of 350,000 dry tons. We took that extra capacity away from Nova Scotia Power, so there will be no co-firing generation of projects, because really that was the least-efficient biomass use. In reality, under the renewable electricity plan, we're actually encouraging small projects. They will take preference - it says right in the renewable electricity plan that small, community-based projects will have preference over large ones, and if at some point we come near the cap, then they will be given preference.
As you are aware, honourable member, the URB is presently working on those rates that will be allowed under the COMFIT process, and once that is complete, sometime in May, those rates should be released. We'll know what it is for small, community-based biomass projects. I'm straying a little bit into the Department of Energy here, but there is a good synergy between the two departments, with Natural Resources.
There will be material available, or a guide, for the COMFIT projects on biomass. They'll know how to go through the process and how to develop those community-based projects.
Really, our preference is for small projects and they will be given precedence if there's more than the cap may allow. So your premise that big companies are being encouraged, I think really our encouragement is around the small operators. Again, the only one that has been approved is the one at NewPage in Port Hawkesbury.
MR. GLAVINE: Madam Chairman, that kind of ends that area for now. I'll go back to it with a question towards the end, relating to another topic.
One of the areas that I've asked in each of the past years and I think it is good to have an update on that exact figure, is in terms of the amount of protected land in Nova Scotia. I was wondering if the minister could provide that to the House today. Where are we in terms of moving toward the 12 per cent target of protected lands?
MR. PARKER: Well, it's actually the Minister of Natural Resources, Madam Chairman, but I answer to both.
The Department of Environment certainly is probably the lead department on protected lands, although we certainly have responsibilities in the DNR as well. My understanding is there's a goal of 12 per cent certainly by 2015. The latest percentage that I'm aware of is around 8.6 per cent of protected lands that have already occurred. The department put out proposals for additional lands here recently, earlier this month, on I believe it was 23 different parcels that would more than meet our 12 per cent goal, so there's some flexibility there. We're looking for public feedback, public consultation on what they feel about these parcels, if they would be suitable or should be included for protection. That process is underway at the present time.
Very shortly we will be releasing, asking for the public's consultation or input on the Cape Chignecto area in Cumberland County. Again, the public will have a chance to participate, to be involved in that particular project. That's a significant piece of property that will add, I think, more than 0.5 per cent of our total of the 12 per cent, once that's designated, so that's in process as well.
Really, we're about 8.6 per cent, probably over 9 per cent with Cape Chignecto, and the other lands have been put out for review for public consultation that will allow us to meet our goal of 12 per cent by 2015.
MR. GLAVINE: Madam Chairman, recently in conversation with CPAWS in relation to Chignecto, that whole wilderness protection area, the government has been late - or the department - in releasing a candidate boundary. I think everybody agrees there are some woodlands there that could be available for forestry to some very mature stands, but again, where the boundaries and so forth will be is of importance and is being carefully watched. I'm wondering, Mr. Minister, when will there be some release of the candidate boundary?
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, certainly the Cape Chignecto area in Cumberland County is a beautiful part of our province and is special, really, in many ways. I've travelled through there and it is recognized as an important moose habitat area for our province and certainly forestry activity has occurred there and is still occurring. There is some interest in mining there as well, and of course the provincial park, Cape Chignecto Park, is just very, very handy there on the point, it juts out into the Bay of Fundy. But no, I would say that very, very soon the boundary possibilities are going to be released for public consultation. I'm guessing it will probably be sometime today and you'll be able to get further information within the hour.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm sort of in a state of shock. (Interruption) No, seriously, I'm pleased to hear that it is imminent, and that process of taking a look at what I think is a cherished area in terms of future wilderness, but I also think there is the provision by CPAWS and others who take a look at the area, that there could, in fact, be some available in terms of forestry as well. One of my key interests here, as I've been asking for about five years, is the determination of a wilderness area in this wonderful part of the province. I think it is incumbent upon us all to have a legacy project there that will protect some of the area for future generations. So thank you.
I know that the next area is the Natural Resources strategy. I'm not sure if that's coming within the hour, but anyway, that's an area again - the Phase II portion of the Natural Resources strategy ended May 7, 2010, working toward the Nova Scotia Natural Resources strategy. So it has been a long process. It was due out December 31, and that obviously hasn't taken place. I guess, as near as possible, Mr. Minister, I'm wondering when we'll see the strategy and when it will be put in place, because we all know that right across this province this is one of the most-watched processes that government has engaged in. It has been a long process from Phase I to now. It has been watched from Yarmouth to Cape Breton, Amherst to the South Shore. All over this province, this strategy has received a lot of attention.
So, Mr. Minister, I have some questions in terms of following up when it is released, but the first question is, what is the current plan?
MR. PARKER: You're right, it has been a long time coming, and it has been quite a process through Voluntary Planning, through Phase I. I know, honourable member, that you probably attended some of those meetings, as did I, and there we heard from a lot of Nova Scotians who are concerned about forestry. Of course, it's not just forestry - it's minerals and biodiversity in parks as well - but it seems like forestry has been the dominant issue. There in that Phase I we heard about the values of Nova Scotians and what is most near and dear to their heart, and certainly we heard loud and clear that the status quo is not an option. So it was really about the values that Nova Scotians think are important.
Then, of course, Phase II was the panels of experts in those four topics, as I just mentioned. We had a lot of expertise, and I certainly valued the contributions of those panel experts in giving us good information that helped us move forward on the forestry side. Certainly Mr. Bancroft and Ms. Crossland had a valuable report, as did Mr. Porter, and all that information was compiled and gathered and helping us come forward now toward Phase III within the department. We had a lot of good social information from Phase I. We had a lot of recommendations around the environment and the forest and the industry in Phase II, and what we really didn't have was enough information on an economic impact, on how this would affect our forests and our forest industries moving forward.
We contracted a knowledgeable individual on the economic impact, and that just came to us this month. We had to absorb that into our strategy. We were also consulting with the Aboriginal community, and that also is valuable to us.
Of course, since I became minister, I've had the opportunity to consult with a lot of Nova Scotians on this issue, including environmentalists, woodlot owners, and industry folks. I think we have the full picture now, and very shortly we will be releasing the economic impact analysis. It will be followed thereafter this Spring by the Natural Resources strategy.
MR. GLAVINE: Just to be crystal clear here, Phase III will be the presentation of the strategy. Is that the finalization, and that's what will then be moved out? Will it also bring with it regulations that will be binding, that will be part of that final document that comes forward - that it's not just recommendations and guidelines, but it's actually the legislated document as to how our forest resource, our minerals, our parks and biodiversity will be treated for the 21st Century?
MR. PARKER: Through this whole process, we know it's important that we get it right. That's exactly what we're doing here: the consultations, the studies, the advice we've received from the expert panels and so on, and continued consultation up to now. The forest strategy, as you know, as we've already outlined the six strategic directions that were announced earlier around a 50 per cent goal on clear-cutting within five years, no whole-tree harvesting, no herbicide spray publicly funded, and then the allowable cut in information on biomass, and also the - what is the sixth one?
Anyway, the six strategic directions that are there will be incorporated into the strategy, so there will be some new initiatives, new direction. Again, we're making sure it's right, but also moving forward we're going to have an implementation stage. We're going to be consulting continuously and bringing people together from all aspects of the forest industry, whether they're from an environmental perspective or a woodlot owner or industry folks.
The strategy is going to impact on the direction for years to come, to try to find that balance between our forests and a healthy forest industry. It's really the start of a journey in many ways, and it will continue to work with Nova Scotians to make sure that we do have a sustainable forest in our province.
MR. GLAVINE: My time in the estimates so far, I've felt, has been pretty productive, getting pretty straightforward answers. It's a time for more of a conversation than anything. But will this be a legislated document, or is it a guideline as a report to the industry, to other stakeholders? How is it truly going to change if it is a working document, a work in progress?
I know implementation and feedback, and that's all fine, but will this have a series of regulations that come under the Act, that Nova Scotians can clearly see that we've made a real departure as to moving the way we use our natural resources for future generations?
MR. PARKER: As I mentioned we've already begun this journey, we have been on it, well really, for a lifetime. The forest industry has been here for centuries. The status quo is not acceptable but over the last three to three and a half years it has been a work in progress and we're coming towards the culmination of that strategy this Spring. The strategy will still have some good initiatives in it and I'm excited, really, about what's in there and I think you will be also, honourable member. It will lead down a path toward legislation on a number of things. For example, in biodiversity, I know for sure there will be a number of good initiatives there that we'll be working toward legislation that will be coming before this House.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of phase 3, I wonder if you could very briefly outline the department's role. Will there be outside stakeholders or citizens involved or will this now be the role of the government's department, the Department of Natural Resources.
MR. PARKER: We're in phase 3 right now and we've had a lot of hours, a lot of time by very dedicated staff within the Department of Natural Resources through the Fall, into the winter and now into the Spring. They've been dedicated, they've worked extremely hard. So we rely on the foresters and expertise that we have in-house, although we rely on other expertise from time to time as required. Our staff is constantly being trained or having the opportunity to take in courses and conferences to get more good information so we can constantly be updating, whether it's on forest modelling or wildlife management or whatever the case may be. As I said, we are near culmination of that strategy and as we move forward we'll continue to consult with stakeholders who are involved in the industry with Nova Scotians and certainly any other expertise that we may require.
MR. GLAVINE: We're down to five seconds so I look forward to moving to the next hour.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I want to welcome the minister back for another day of discussions regarding the Department of Natural Resources. One of the questions that I would like to start off with when it come to Natural Resources is Scatarie Island, an island that is one of the protected areas. On that island there are a number of, for lack of a better term, camps of individuals who have had family homes there, who have moved away from the island but yet still maintain homes there. There is a listed road that belongs to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal but these individuals are told that the only time they're allowed to use that road with a four wheeler is to go from their landing directly to the cabins in questions and then directly back. They're not supposed to interact back and forth between the different cabins while they're there. So the question is, is there a way that these individuals - some of them have actually been born on that island - are allowed to use their ATVs on the recognized road, which they are willing maintain to travel back and forth to the cabins and to the shore while being on that piece of property?
MR. PARKER: Scatarie Island is another beautiful part of our province and I believe it's just off the coast of Louisburg, is it not? Main-à-Dieu. But I'm aware of it, I have heard of Scatarie Island. I remember one time there was a project, probably 30 years ago, they were trying to introduce ptarmigan, a bird that mostly found in the north and tried to establish them there on that island and I don't believe it was successful that I'm aware of but it was a project that was undertaken to try to have that game bird in the province. So that's one little tidbit of information about Scatarie Island. Really, you know, the protected area legislation is under the Minister of Environment. I would encourage you during estimates for that minister to maybe have a look at that if it's under wilderness protection rules, that's the jurisdiction it would fall under.
As far as off-highway vehicles, we do have some jurisdiction in DNR and I would need more details, more information on the particulars. There are exceptions certainly from time to time in wilderness protection areas, again under the Minister of Environment, but in general we have rules and enforcement in off-highway vehicles and provincial rules would apply in that case. So that's about all I'm able to give you at this time and I would encourage you to ask the Minister of Environment under his estimates.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for that answer and certainly we will be following up with the Minister of Environment when the appropriate time comes. I know he's very well aware of Scatarie Island and Hay Island and the issues surrounding that area.
During our estimates with the Minister of Energy, we talked a little bit about coal and he did mention that under strip mining and coal, royalties that may be achieved from them came under the Department of Natural Resources. I wonder if the minister can tell us if, indeed, the moratorium on strip mining is still in place and for how long it will remain in place?
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I've got to try to get my Misters and Madams straight here but you change sometimes when I'm not looking. So thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The strip mine issue, again I believe primarily falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environment. There's some strip mining that's underway, certainly in Cape Breton and in Pictou County, but the moratorium, other than that, as far as I know, it runs into 2012. So it's on until that year - until 2012.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, 2012, I believe was the answer and I thank the minister for that. I would hope that there will be a lot of consideration and some consultation before that is lifted because in the communities of Donkin, Port Morien, Port Caledonia and Broughton, strip mining is an issue that creates quite a bit of concern because the leases that have been looked at in the past are leases that are almost in people's backyards. Last year during estimates the former minister had indicated that there would be no strip mining in the Port Morien area and I'm looking for that kind of reassurance again. It would be the kind of assurance that the communities would like to have. It's interesting because the communities are very strongly against strip mining but yet are pro-underground mining because they understand underground mining. We have people who are on the Citizens Against Strip Mining committee who are also on the community liaison committee for the proposed mine in Donkin. So it is an issue that is near and dear to a lot of people's hearts and yet, at the same time, it's one that creates a lot of interest and concern, especially if it's going to be happening in their backyard.
So I'm just wondering if the minister is aware of the statement that was made by the former minister and if he and his department are still comfortable with that statement about no strip mining in the Port Morien area?
MR. PARKER: In the world of the busy life we lead I don't always totally listen to everything that everybody says, and if the previous minister had said that, I can't say I'm totally aware that it was said at that particular time. But I do know there is a moratorium on and it's going to be there until 2012, and that would apply to all areas of our province.
MR. MACLEOD: I appreciate the minister's answer. It is hard to be able to be in tune with everything that everyone has said, but I can rest assured that I was listening when that minister said what he had to say. He was a good minister, and I'm sure he was very competent in what he had to say and I'm sure that you don't want to vary away from where he was with that situation, because the people of Port Morien were very happy with that and are very concerned, even today, as to what problems that may create.
We'll move on now, Mr. Minister, to what has become one of my favourite questions in this House of Assembly. We have heard a lot of talk from a lot of different groups about the forest management strategy that's going to be released soon and where we're at and what needs to take place in that strategy. Mr. Chairman, one of the concerns that I've heard time and time again from different groups is their lack of understanding of what the pure definition of "clear-cutting" is. So I'm wondering if this minister can provide a clear, definite, defined message as to what clear-cutting means in the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. PARKER: Obviously the answer's not very clear-cut. (Interruptions) I've been waiting for a little while to say that. But anyway, there are different definitions on what clear-cutting is, and if you ask an industry person it will have a different definition than if you ask an environmentalist, or a woodlot owner may have a different definition of it. I understand there are at least nine different definitions out there, and everybody has a different view on it. If you look it up in the dictionary it will tell you one thing; if you talk to an old-time forester it may have a different meaning. But we do know that we have a goal of a 50 per cent clear-cutting reduction by the next five years.
Every site in our province is different. It depends on the soil, it depends on the prevailing winds, and it depends on what you can do on that particular site. If it's a type of area that's maybe a white spruce or pasture spruce forest and it's mature, that may be an option to look at a mostly clear-cut model. If it's over-mature balsam firs, windblown, diseased, or pest-ridden type of woods, then clear-cutting is an option. We have a lot of different types of soils and microclimates in the province, and every one is a little patch of property that can be treated differently.
But absolutely, the clear-cut model is not the only option for forest management. More and more we're getting away from that under our budget allocation of $5 million - hopefully it will be passed in the budget this year. It will allow for different models other than what has been known in the past as clear-cutting. That will include selection management, a lot more category 7 type of silvicultural work, and it would open up the forest a bit more to allow good, healthy young trees to continue to grow. It may lead to a shelterwood harvest down the road. Really, partial harvesting is the opposite of any type of clear-cutting, and it allows for better forest management and better sustainability and for a gradual harvest of land over time rather than taking it all at once.
I know the department is going to continue to work with stakeholders as our strategy is unveiled. As we move forward in an implementation stage we're going to be consulting with all interests in the forest properties, and we'll continue to work toward what clear-cutting actually means. It means different things to different people, but we want to engage Nova Scotians and look at the best model of forestry practices that we possibly can.
MR. MACLEOD: I'm a little confused. That's not an unusual situation. However, if part of the strategy is to reduce clear-cutting by 50 per cent and you have nine different definitions of what clear-cutting is, how can you implement that strategy without having a defined meaning as to what clear-cutting is?
If there are nine different definitions and you are going to apply them differently across the province, how in the world is that fair to the people who are the wood producers in this province?
MR. PARKER: We're going to continue to dialogue with Nova Scotians and continue to dialogue with the interests in the forest industry - whether that's the Ecology Action Centre, other environmental interests with woodlot owners or with industry folks - to determine what "clear-cut" actually means. The staff in the department are working on this and is consulting with a variety of folks, and as we move forward we'll determine exactly what that definition is.
It may mean different things on different types of property. A clear-cut model might be one thing on a mature white stand, but it could perhaps have a different meaning on a mixed woodland or hardwood or softwood or the microclimate. It has different meanings to different people. The main thing is we're going to consult and continue to work with Nova Scotians and all stakeholders to come up with the proper definition or definitions to determine what's right for any particular piece of property.
MR. MACLEOD: I am sure that the minister is sincere in what he's saying. I am not sure how you can set a goal of reducing something by 50 per cent when you don't know what that is. That would be sort of like what we'd say at home, putting the cart before the horse. It just doesn't work all that well.
The question is, again, if you're working with the stakeholders and you're trying to find out what the definition is, why would you set a goal that you're going to reduce something by 50 per cent when you don't know what the definition of that very item is? It doesn't make any sense. From the different groups that we've heard from, it doesn't make any sense to them.
The question is, how can you set a goal and then after that define what the parameters of that goal are going to be?
MR. PARKER: It's important to get this right. Absolutely. Again, it's important that we don't be seen as coming from on high, saying we have all the answers. We want to make sure that we do consult with everyone in the province, whether they own their own woodlot or whether they have an interest in recreation or they want to see better protection for wildlife or riparian zone protection or forest management, for now and well into the future.
There are different interests in the forestry. There are different values that Nova Scotians have, and we need to work with all the various stakeholders and all the various interests in the province and also decide on the type of forest cover we have, whether it's hardwood, softwood, steep slope or lowland - there are different biosites out there that are important, and it could mean different things to different types of forest cover. But again, we want to take the input from all Nova Scotians and within our department use our expertise to come up with a proper definition and, more importantly, the proper forestry practice on that particular site or that particular piece of land.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, the minister has said that the department does not want to look like they're bringing it from on high; they want to hear from the different stakeholders. Yet they've already brought it from on high, because they've already said clear-cutting is going to be cut by 50 per cent. So if you've already decided you're going to cut clear-cutting by 50 per cent, somebody, somewhere, has made a determination of what clear-cutting is. If they haven't, then why in the world would you declare that you're going to cut it by 50 per cent? If you wanted the input of the industry, why would you make that declaration prior to having a pure understanding of what the industry is saying their definition is and what their agreement is with your department as to what clear-cutting is?
So for you to say that there is no definition, that you don't want to look like you're coming from on high, I think you've already missed the boat. I think that you've already come from on high by simply stating that you're going to cut it by 50 per cent. That would be like saying that you're going to cut my grocery order by 50 per cent because I'm fat. Well, you know, I won't argue that I'm fat, but I would argue with you back and forth that there are some challenges with that, because you do not know the reasons why things are the way they are. You're just making a declaration based on some information that you perceive to have. So I again wonder and can't understand, and nor can the industry understand, what the definition of clear-cutting is and why it is that you said we're going to cut clear-cutting by 50 per cent without having agreement or understanding of what it is you're cutting.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I'm not going anywhere close to the grocery order or anything else, but we had phase one of the consultations under Voluntary Planning. Nova Scotians told us the values that they truly respect. There were a number of those that they said - the bottom line being that the status quo was just not an option, and we've had in the high 90s in the numbers of value of clear-cutting.
I suppose if you had to give a definition, clear-cutting is anything that's not a partial harvest. I guess that would be the one that I would use, but in many ways it's still a work in progress. We need to work with all the stakeholders to come up with what they feel is the best way to do it, but again, I think it could mean different things on different types of land because not all property is the same. There are so many variables, as I outlined earlier, but Nova Scotians, in the values that they first expressed, want us to be collaborative. They want us to be transparent and have informed decision-making, and they feel that they want to be engaged. They want to be part of that process, and that's why we're continuing to engage them in the process. So again, if you want a definition, it's anything but a partial harvest.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So your definition - I guess what we need to clarify here is, is this the department's definition or is this the minister's definition? I don't want to be putting words in anybody's mouth. So I need to know, is this the department's definition of what clear-cutting is or is it the minister's definition of what clear-cutting is?
MR. PARKER: I guess my opinion is what I expressed here just now, but it is supported by the National Forestry Database, so I guess I'm in good company in that regard.
MR. MACLEOD: So, Mr. Chairman, then the definition in the Province of Nova Scotia for clear-cutting is anything that's not a partial harvest. The minister is indicating that that's his definition, but he just said that that's the definition that's used nationally. So again, I want to be sure that I'm not trying to put words in his mouth or his department's mouth, so I need to have clarification, is this his definition or is it the department's definition?
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I gave you my personal opinion. It's still a work in progress in the department, and again, we're going to continue to engage Nova Scotians and work toward better forest management.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for that clarification, but unfortunately, that clarification also raises some concerns. If that's where the minister's head is already, without having heard what the woodlot owners and the different landowners around the province who have wood products - they're hearing that this is what his definition is, and they're having a job getting their definition being heard. I think that may create a problem, because I heard the minister say earlier that over 90 per cent of the people have said that clear-cutting was a priority, and I don't doubt his figures.
My question would be, of course, how many of the people who were surveyed are actually woodlot owners who look to their own woodlots for this as a form of economy, of money to drive their own personal lives? So it's one thing to say that 90 per cent of the people are against clear-cutting, but I'm wondering what the people who actually own the land, who pay the taxes on the land, who make their living off the land - what are their thoughts on this situation of clear-cutting?
MR. PARKER: Well, we're continuing to consult with woodlot owners, as we are continuing to consult with people who have an interest in the environment and organizations that are involved in the forest industry - large companies, small companies. As we move forward we'll continue to dialogue with them and continue to get their ideas and make sure that in the end we have the very best forest policy that's right for Nova Scotia, right for a healthy forest, and right for a healthy forest industry.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I do want to thank the minister for his answers. I do believe that he is sincere, and I've said that before. I would like to say, though, that I think it's very important that before we move too much further ahead we have a clear definition on what clear-cutting is. If we're going to implement a strategy and people still don't know what clear-cutting is, I think that that's going to be harmful to the people who own woodlots. It's going to be harmful to the people who are making part of their income and their livelihood off of these woodlots.
If it does mean that it's different things for different areas, I think that has to be defined as well. If there are different segments of the population that are going to be treated differently, the Woodlot Owners Association and others, the small woodlot owners, all of those different groups that are out there need to know what it is. I've been told time and time again in meetings that we've had with these individuals that they understand we have to do things differently, but they need to know what the ground rules are so that they're able to move forward and give their opinions as to where things need to be so this industry can be successful. It has been such a major part of our economy since forever that we need to be sure that what we're doing is right. If we're going to be making goals, we should have a clear understanding of how we got to those goals.
We're going to move on now, Mr. Chairman. I think the minister is probably relieved to hear that, but we're going to move on a little bit. Again, I would just want to get some clarification with the biomass. Recently the minister has announced that the original target of 500,000 has been reduced to 350,000, and I wonder if the minister could just give a little background as to how that decision came about.
MR. PARKER: Part of good forest management is looking at all the uses of our forest, whether that's for wildlife, recreation, carbon storage, water protection, or forest products that support our industries around the province. There are probably other uses I haven't touched on, but there's a great variety of uses that our woodlands offer to us. The honourable member may be one who likes to just take a walk in the woods and enjoy the quiet and peace of the environment - I know personally I'm one of those - but that's a recreational pursuit. If you're looking on the fibre side, on the industry side of the woodlands, we're trying to get away from some of the practices in the past and move toward more sustainability. Over and over in the strategy process, Nova Scotians told us that the status quo was not an option, and that's why we're moving forward on those values as well as in the mineral and parks and biodiversity areas that will be entrenched in the strategy.
We are moving to a new model and far less clear-cutting, and working toward more sustainable forests that will include more selection harvesting, more Category 7 management, and diversity of our Acadian species, both hardwood and softwood. Some stands are pure softwood, some are pure hardwood, and many of our Acadian forests are a mix of those two. The highest and best use is really the ultimate goal of our woodlands, and in proper forest management there's always trees left on the land, if the bio-site indicates that. So when a woodlot owner goes in - or a contractor on his behalf - to manage some aspects of the woodlot, there may be trees that are mature, that they're ready to harvest. It may be hardwood or it may be softwood - those are the trees that are taken out - but rather than take all the trees on the lot that are big or small, you leave good, healthy young trees to grow. Those are the future crop, and you may come back in five years or perhaps 10 years to do some further treatments on your woodlot that will allow for another crop, but always managing for a better forest over time.
But as you go along, you may take logs out of your mature wood. You may take stud wood or it may be pulp wood if it's of a lesser grade, and there may be some biomass - that's the least desirable, but still is a marketable product. There may be stems that are crooked or stems that are diseased or decayed. Those are the least valuable, but still they have a value, and those are the ones that will end up as biomass. So the highest and best use will allow us some logs, stud wood, pulpwood, and perhaps firewood to go out ahead of that, and the ones of the least value are toward biomass. Again, it's a marketable product, and while the woodlot owner or the contractor is in there they can take that product out. It also allows the forest to be able to be improved, because you're giving some space and light and some area between the trees. They're not as crowded, so it allows for healthier, faster growth for a good, healthy young spruce - red spruce or perhaps some sugar maple or yellow birch - to be able to continue to grow for another 10 years or perhaps for another 100 years before it's mature.
Biomass really is a by-product of good forest management. If you're doing good selection harvesting, if you're taking mature wood out but you're also taking out less-valuable species, and you're taking out right down to an undesirable species like a pin cherry or gray birch that could go for biomass, or other, like I mentioned, diseased or crooked stems. The bottom line is that biomass, as I mentioned, is a by-product of good forest harvesting.
I think the member had asked about the reduction from 500,000 dry tons down to 350,000 dry tons. We're being cautions, we're being conservative. We don't want to overharvest our forests and part of our strategy moving forward will be to look at an annual allowable cut in the province to make sure that we're well within that, based on the modeling that our department has done using the old saws formula, as it's referred to - I think today we're looking at another model called Woodstock. We have experts within the department who are knowledgeable, who are constantly upgrading their skills and attending conferences to get the latest information and help us determine a model that is on the safe side and is on the conservative, cautious side. Originally that model had been set at 1.5 million tons of green wood, or that 750,000 tons of dry wood, and they said, well, let's err on the side of caution, let's cut that down again from 750,000 down to 500,000 dry tons.
So that was the goal that was set and then more recently our department looked again at the latest modeling techniques. Also in conjunction with the economic impact analysis, we contracted for that because we wanted to know what the impact of cutting down toward the 50 per cent goal of clear-cutting in the province might have on our forest industry. Peter Woodbridge was the successful applicant in that regard and his report came to us earlier this month and indicated that we should be ultra-conservative and look at our modeling again, which we've done. Based on his advice and on our own modeling within the department, we came up with a lower goal of 350,000 dry tons. So that's really being on the very cautious approach - I guess the cautionary principle - and we think it's based on our modeling and based on his best advice that that is doable.
So as we move forward that's the maximum total that will be allowed for biomass in the province and that reduction, the 150,000 dry tons, was taken from Nova Scotia Power for their co-generation and that was probably the least efficient of electricity production we felt and that allow, the balances left is for NewPage in their project that has already been approved, somewhere in the range of 160,000 dry tons, and that leaves a balance of approximately 190,000 dry tons and that is going to be spread around but we're certainly encouraging small, local community projects. Perhaps there will be one in your community that could fit the COMFIT guidelines and the URB is going to be ruling on that next month, on the rate that producers will receive for electric generation from biomass.
So I guess to sum it up, Mr. Chairman, we're being cautious. We're lower than we had anticipated. We're encouraging small community economic development with the COMFIT Program. There's only one project that has been approved and it will not come on-stream until 2013. That's the NewPage project in Port Hawkesbury. Proper sustainable forest management is important and we're going to have strict regulations on how those harvesting practices can be undertaken and really biomass, as I mentioned, is a by-product of good forest management. So I hope that has been able to answer your question a little bit, honourable member, and I'll certainly answer further if you so wish.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate what the minister had to say and I thank him for his answer. So am I to understand that the biomass that has been cut out is biomass that may have been used by Nova Scotia Power to help co-generate electricity in the Province of Nova Scotia? I know once or twice there has been $8-plus million announced for co-generation in Trenton, Pictou County for Nova Scotia Power to do biomass burning so they could displace coal.
Just yesterday we've heard that Nova Scotia Power is looking at raising power rates right across the province because of costs of fuels. I'm wondering if that information was available to the minister when the decision was made to take this biomass out of the potential system of a fuel source for Nova Scotia Power?
MR. PARKER: As I mentioned, the cautious goal to reduce the biomass cap from 500,000 dry tons to 350,000 dry tons, a 30 per cent reduction, that was taken again to make sure we're well within our allowable cut and well within our forest potential to produce that biomass product.
The decision was made. The 150,000 dry tonnes would be taken out of the total that will all come from Nova Scotia Power's allocation so we will not be allowing any co-generation by Nova Scotia Power whether in Trenton or Lingan or wherever. Co-generation is when you use more than one product to produce the power whether it's coal mixed with biomass or whether it's oil. It's a mix of different fuel products.
As I said, we're on the side of caution, we're going to not allow any of that by Nova Scotia Power at any of their plants around the province.
MR. MACLEOD: I want to thank the minister for his answers and his staff for being here today. I'm now going to share the rest of my time with the member for Argyle.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Thank you. It's my pleasure to stand and ask a couple of questions, very, very simple questions with regard to more southwestern Nova Scotia budgeting and a little bit about leases in the area. Remember a few years ago when the Tobiatic Wilderness Area was lined up and a plan was actually adopted, it meant the loss of a number of leases within the Tobiatic Wilderness Area. I'm wondering if there has been an increase of lease requests outside the Tobiatic in the Yarmouth County area?
One of the concerns that people had that once we were shutting down a lot of those leases and getting rid of the cottages that those people that do that outback camping and hunting would try to look for new leases in that area. The first question I would ask is, has there been an increase in leases in the Yarmouth County area from the Department of Natural Resources?
MR. PARKER: I welcome the honourable member for Argyle to our discussion here this afternoon. The Tobiatic area is certainly a very important environmental region of our province. It's been a bit controversial, I guess, there about leases and camp leases. Certainly anybody that has a camp, they know how valuable and great it is to get away perhaps for a weekend and just enjoy the scenery or if they're a fisherman or a hunter to take advantage of those recreational activities.
I know there's been a process of leases within areas like that, if they had a definite contract, they were honoured. Others that were there perhaps less than 20 years lost some of their leases and they had to move on. I think there was some compensation given to the people that lost their camps. It wasn't always easy but sometimes money helps to ease some of that loss.
Whether there was more taken up around the Tobiatic because of their loss there, I'm not actually sure but I can certainly engage with my staff to try to get that information for you.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: One of the concerns, if I remember the whole debate - it was a huge loss for those lease holders because a lot of them had been there for 50 years in some cases, 100 years in others. There are only a handful of cottages or hunting camps left in the Tobeatic today and by handful, I mean there's probably three or four at this point. But the biggest concern was since there was so many, because there were about 20 or 30 within the boundaries of that wilderness area - as they would shut down out of that because they were being pushed out, where would they end up? These individuals are hunters or fishermen, they do enjoy in living off the land in that area. The concern was they would always end up concentrating in other areas where there would probably be too many leases and too many cottages. So if you can give me that information, if there's been an increase or decrease of lease requests or leases in the southwestern Nova Scotia area, I would appreciate that.
I am just wondering, how much does it cost for a lease today? That's been sort of the second part and I'll talk about maybe some of that increase, the original increase happened under our watch but what does it cost today to have a lease anywhere on Crown land in Nova Scotia?
MR. PARKER: Right off the top of my head I'm not sure to be honest, I think at one time I can recall hearing a figure of around $100 a year but that's probably out of date now and things have changed. Again, I'll undertake to get that information for you but I don't know right at the moment.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I think it's around the $700 range now and there is a renewable fee that goes along with it every few years, it's like a $300 renewal fee if I am not mistaken. Anyway, you'll endeavour to get that information for me and I appreciate that. But just the comment to that is, I've been talking to some people who do find that a little expensive and if there is anything you can do to at least try to keep that level or decrease it in some way over time would be good. What used to happen a lot is that there were five or six families or individuals that would get together on a lease and would share the cost. What we're seeing a lot more now is that there is only one or two families left so it costs a heck of a lot more for an individual to have a lease. I'm hoping at some point that maybe that could stabilize because there have been a number of jumps in it so if you can provide me with that information I would be appreciative.
The third point that I would make is we're coming close to our forest fire season, in fact we've already had a couple little forest fires down in southwestern Nova Scotia. Just wondering where do you expect the firefighting budget to go this year. Is there any indications right now on what the expectation is or are we still on the Spring and we're not too sure.
MR. PARKER: I do have the answer here for you now on the lease cost, my deputies helped me get that, $523 is the annual cost to lease for a camp site in Nova Scotia.
As far as firefighting, certainly so far this Spring we've been very fortunate as compared to last year. Well I guess maybe it depends on your point of view - it's been cold, it's been damp, rainy and even some snow in some parts of our province yesterday. That has helped to keep down the fires in our province and I understand we've had far less fires and whole lot less hectares that have been impacted this year by fires. In fact we're only about one-tenth, I believe, of what we had to this date. But that could change tomorrow if the suns comes out and warms up and dries up. We do have a good firefighting service, we do have good men and women out there on the front lines as required and mutual aid from other provinces if something were large and got out of hand as we reciprocate with them as necessary. But our air fleet and staff are on the alert, on the ready, and as necessary they'll respond to any fire in the province. Fortunately this year, so far, it has been much less than this time last year.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Even if I go from my experience as a firefighter - and this year calls have been way down on grass fires, for instance - but what happens a lot of times is those grass fires end up turning into forest fires in a lot of cases. I didn't hear a lot of those this year, even though Roberts Island had a bit of a forest fire, just got a little off the beaten path into the woods a little bit, but it hasn't been bad. I've seen a helicopter around a few times, but it's not starting off so bad. With that, even though I would probably have a bunch of other questions and stuff, I know that there are a number of other people that have some questions for you. I look forward to talking to you in your new role as Minister of Natural Resources. I thank Weldon for being here and, of course, your deputy, Duff. I always appreciate talking with them along the way as well.
I'm going to finish up with my time and I know the Liberals do have some time as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, minister. It seems like we were just here the other day. I know my colleague, the member for Kings West has asked quite a few questions already and there are just a couple of issues I wanted to go over. I believe he may have a few questions when I'm done, just before we sort of wrap things up. I expect he'll have some closing remarks as well.
I wanted to start - and I'm sure that every staff person in your department has told you I'd be going here - I have to ask about the Shubenacadie Canal Commission. I hear laughter from the gallery, which means that there has got to be Department of Natural Resources staff up there that knew I was going to ask that question too. I want to start by asking about appointments because there are currently four provincial vacancies to the commission. They've been vacant for at least a year - perhaps longer - and I know that there have been people that have applied. I have spoken to people who have applied. I know there are a number of very capable people from across the province and I'm just wondering where your department is in terms of having those vacancies come to the Human Resources Committee to be filled.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I welcome the honourable member for Dartmouth East to our estimates here this afternoon. It does seem like it wasn't very long ago we were up here in another department, but at any rate, the Shubenacadie Canal is a wonderful asset that we have here in our province, running all the way from metro right through to the Bay of Fundy, and certainly was designed to be a commercial route but is now very much a recreational trail. I know different people enjoy, maybe not going all the way through, but certainly hike or canoe or just take in a portion of the canal. As you live here in the Dartmouth area, I'm sure you've taken advantage of this end of the trail at least.
I did have the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Billard and some others from the Shubenacadie Canal Commission and my deputy, I'd say, about a month back, and got an update from them on some of their initiatives and some of the things they would like to do with the Shubenacadie Canal Commission. I think the vacancies on the board was one thing that we discussed. I believe at the time there was one that was coming through, one they had recommended and was being moved forward to the Human Resources Committee through the ABC process. I know the province appoints some members to that commission. The municipalities are impacted along the way in Colchester and Hants, and HRM also has members. I believe in June there will be another opportunity for people to put their names in through the screening process.
I believe there is one vacancy for sure right now that's on the commission. We did encourage the folks we met with from the Shubenacadie Canal Commission to try to bring names forward, you know, good community people who could add some value to the commission and had an interest in it. We continue to look for applications and I would encourage you, honourable member, if you know of somebody in your community who would be a valuable member, that they put their name forward, but as long as it's somebody that has an interest and has the time to devote to the commission. So while there are some vacancies, we're certainly encouraging new applications to come forward.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, minister, and I hope there's only one vacancy at the moment - the last number I had was four. I'll be honest; I'm not lobbying for anybody in particular because I don't know any of the people who have applied other than to be told by the commission that there are quite a few people who have put their names forward, who they think at least some of them are capable. The challenge comes, I recognize that there are municipalities that appoint people, they're fairly quick, HRM and Colchester and that, generally fill their positions in advance of the position expiring so it never becomes empty. The challenge that the commission, of course, has is not only sharing workload but also reaching quorum for meetings. If too many positions remain vacant and so many of them are provincial, then it makes it difficult for them to meet their legislative responsibilities that are handed out by your department.
I recognize that you may not have all the answers to this right now, and I appreciate that, but I'm wondering if there's a solution to this problem on a longer term basis because this has happened under the previous government, as well, where we go through these holes of quite large periods of time with vacancies on the commission or waiting for things to get filled. I'd like to see that addressed because, of course, it does basically put a halt to the work of the commission and I know that we would never let this happen, say, on a health board or something like that.
I recognize that appointing people to the Shubenacadie Canal Commission is never going to be the same priority as making sure that the Capital District Health Authority has all their positions filled, but it is important to the communities along the canal. It's important to their work and it's definitely - being able to solve this problem as minister would be a great show of faith in the work that they're doing as volunteers, and I just wonder if you have any ideas on how we can streamline that process or solve it. There's obviously a problem somewhere in the process.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, twice a year, as you know, we do advertise for vacancies in our ABC process. I understand a recent ad has brought forward some applications, so there are some current applications that are being reviewed. One previous one, like I mentioned, is ready to go to the HR Committee, so that will soon be appearing there. But encouraging Nova Scotians to get involved, to participate in their agencies, boards and commissions is a good thing.
In reality, I guess it's all of our roles as members of the Legislature to see perhaps who in our communities has certain talents or abilities and the time to devote to that. Often retired folks or early retirees have many, many abilities and can contribute to their society in a meaningful way. So I guess it's my role and all of our roles in our own communities to identify people that we feel might be able to give a valuable contribution back to our province. So perhaps we need to do a little bit more work with our own MLAs, the 52 of us here in the House, to encourage them to try to bring names forward that are suitable for the agencies, boards or commissions. But everybody has talents and I'm sure there are people out there who could adequately fill a role on the Shubenacadie Canal Commission.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, minister. I don't disagree with anything you said there and I just hope that we can solve that bottleneck issue. I know that the commission is eager to help in that process. I know I've encouraged people and I know certainly under the previous government, at least, some of the names just sat there for so long without a response that they get a bit disillusioned at knowing that the spaces are empty. So, like I say, I don't expect that you would have the answer right now. I just want to raise that issue with you so that you know it is of concern to the commission but also to the communities as a whole, especially when they can't do their work.
One of the issues that we brought forward - I wrote you a letter and I know they've spoken to you, and I believe the Premier has forwarded a letter. Actually, I think my letter had gone to the previous minister but I think you responded; it was on the Chappell lands. Just to refresh your memory on that - and I do thank you for responding because I do vaguely remember getting an acknowledgement in my letter - there is a piece of land which the Halifax Regional Municipality is looking at purchasing for the purpose of expanding Burnside Industrial Park. Yet there's a reasonably large section of that land - a portion of the land - which has been designated as archaeologically significant by the Nova Scotia Museum. That land at the moment is for sale because it's an estate sale, part of the closing down of Chappell Estates. I know the letter back to me, if I recall correctly, suggested your department was reviewing that property.
I realize money is tight but I also recognize this is an extremely important acquisition; not only does it solve picking up some lake frontage, which is always good to have in public hands, but it also acquires for the province a piece of land which has archaeologically significant remnants on it as identified by the museum.
There may be, at this time, an opportunity to partner with the municipality on a purchase because I know that they're sort of in the same position where they don't really want to pay for the whole thing because they don't want the part down by the canal. I think the province doesn't want to pay for the whole thing because they don't want the part up by the - so there might be an opportunity there to have it subdivided. I'm just wondering if there has been any work on that project. Thank you.
MR. PARKER: I am somewhat familiar with that property you mentioned, Chappell Estates, and I've had the opportunity to be updated by staff on where we are with that. It is a valuable piece of property, quite a large piece I understand, and as you mentioned could be of value to HRM for their industrial lands. But also the land near the canal route would be valuable to have as an addition to the canal waterway; as you mentioned there's some archaeological interests there, as well, that would have to be preserved.
I understand we're working with HRM, perhaps looking at a joint bid, just to determine - you know, once the value is determined, then we'll see how best to move forward. But we're in discussion, certainly, with HRM and it could be a win-win for all, for both the province and the municipality. So stay tuned, it's being worked on.
MR. YOUNGER: That is indeed good news to hear that this might happen and I look forward to hearing from you on that, and I suspect that the Minister of Economic Development would be interested, too, because I believe that piece is in his riding. I'm pretty sure that's the riding it's in - I'm never quite sure exactly where those lines fall.
I know you've met with the commission and you've talked to them about their business plan and so forth, and their activities. Let me start by saying I recognize the fiscal challenges of the province, so my preamble to what I'm about to ask is I do understand there's a fiscal issue here. However, what we have here is a canal that is actually rapidly approaching the 200th Anniversary of the start of its construction, which is obviously a significant milestone. It's recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Site. We have - I say "we" because I used to be on the commission for about five years and I still feel like I'm down there almost every day.
We have entered a situation where some of the canal remnants are in danger of collapsing. I think you're probably aware of them; some of them are held up by wood beams, and so forth, which creates a safety hazard. Also, I might add, it creates a flooding hazard in certain parts of the canal, obviously some not much of an issue, but there's a flooding hazard as things enter the water and I think we all recognize that.
The municipality, as you're probably aware, has put a large sum of money into the inclined plane site in downtown Dartmouth. They've offered up money for other sections, they're actually putting in-kind money currently into the Shubenacadie Canal Commission operations because they're concerned. The federal government, on a couple of occasions, has also offered money through various grant programs, but as you're well aware - and I know this is a challenge for the province - they always ask, where is the province? I attended a meeting with the departmental staff of the federal Minister of Heritage and the first question they asked me was, they said, listen, we're prepared to put money into this - maybe not huge amounts - but we need the province as a partner.
I recognize that's a challenge and I realize there's no money this year but you've obviously looked at the commission's business plan, you've looked at the fact that they are seeking to raise private money so they're not expecting you to come in and fund the whole canal reconstruction or even shoring up the existing sites. So I'm wondering what you believe your government will be able to do over the next couple of years to at least be seen to be a financial partner - even if it's only a small one - in this to allow the commission to trigger federal, provincial and private donations. It's almost just like that show of good faith when even a small cheque would be helpful.
MR. PARKER: Obviously, as I mentioned, the commission is doing good work, working within the budget they have. They look after the day-to-day management of the facility and oversee the whole canal. I know their annual funding is always tight, as you recognize it is here with the Province of Nova Scotia. I do recall sitting down with them, I believe they had an overall vision, a larger plan that they want to move forward with, and I know they've had some success through HRM and some financing, especially on the project that was here, towards the Dartmouth end, they were able to get some major money there for asset improvement for HRM as well as for the Shubenacadie Canal Commission.
I do know they have a larger plan now in working with the federal government, working with the municipality, working with private sources and hopefully also with the province. We'd encourage them to bring that plan forward, to get it rolled out. Possibly we'd provide some oversight and some help and maybe some financial assistance through the Department of Natural Resources, but I think we did indicate to them that when their plan was fully ready to roll out, we have other branches within government that might be able to assist as well: through the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism; maybe through Communities, Culture and Heritage; and maybe Health and Wellness. There are other options, other possibilities.
We did encourage them to move forward with their plan and when it's fully ready to come back to the province, we would be interested in talking with them and perhaps directing them towards another department as necessary.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, minister. That is somewhat encouraging; it's moving in the right direction, I think. Here's a question I asked last year, and maybe I unfairly asked this question to the previous minister because government was still new and looking at how things are rationalized. It's interesting to note that the Shubenacadie Canal Commission wasn't always under the Department of Natural Resources. I believe when they started they were actually under the Department of Tourism and then they moved over - the Minister of Natural Resources at the time was Tim Olive, I believe, and it got moved to Natural Resources, and I think because he had an interest in it is probably why it happened. (Interruptions)
There you go, the former minister thinks that maybe what happened is he was Minister of Tourism and took it with him when he went to DNR. That makes sense, too, because you have an interest. I've often wondered whether the commission is actually under the right department. I recognize as the minister himself said, they cover a lot of departments but almost everything they do is infrastructure. So we're talking about trail infrastructure - in fact, they've probably managed the largest number of kilometres of trail infrastructure in the province; they are working with pedestrian bridges that cross the canal, repurposing old highway infrastructure for that sort of thing, flooding; and they're working with East Hants on drinking water supply and water source protection.
I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts on whether they would be better suited under - and I'm not saying the minister doesn't care about the commission - but would they be better suited under a department that focuses on infrastructure such as Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal or do you think that they're equally as well suited under Natural Resources?
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, you know, we do care. We really do care about the commission and in many ways it does fit reasonably well under our department, the Department of Natural Resources. The Shubenacadie Canal, well, it's long and narrow, it's still a park, you know, it's still considered to be a park so I think it's probably where it should be. It doesn't mean we can't coordinate financial assistance through other government departments but in many ways I think it's a good fit because of the park aspect of it.
When our Natural Resources Strategy comes forward this Spring, you know, one of the four pillars of the strategy is around parks. I think you'll see in there some initiatives that we want to do everything we can to improve our parks and, you know, to move forward with some new initiatives in that regard. So I think it's a good fit really in the Department of Natural Resources and there will be some new and exciting things coming forward in the strategy around parks and I think the Shubenacadie Canal should be part of that.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you to the minister. I think you may actually be the first minister who has actually said on the record in 10 years that the government cares about the Shubenacadie Canal Commission, not to say that other ministers haven't but the first person to actually say it in the Legislature. I can tell you how - down at the Fairbanks Centre where they're watching today on Legislative TV - they're probably bouncing off the walls, happy to have heard you say that. So I would like to thank you on their behalf - and I don't want to suggest that other ministers have not, but it's just they sometimes feel neglected and so forth. So I would like to thank you for that.
The last thing I wanted to ask you about is actually unrelated to the commission - and then I'm going to hand it over to the member for Kings West to sort of wrap up things - is about forest royalties. A couple of people, as we have heard a lot about biomass, and I know I've asked you about biomass before and the member for Kings West has, so I'm not directly asking about biomass but I'm wondering how the department determines royalties from forest products and how it measures the royalties that it receives or the rates it charges against other jurisdictions?
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I guess the royalty issue is one that's under constant review. It's something that we look at on a yearly basis but even year-round it's being looked at and, you know, we have on Crown land, that's where our royalty structure is in place and, you know, we have different rates for hardwood as we do for softwood, different rates for the type of product that's harvested, you know, if it's top quality logs, naturally the stumpage on that is worth more than pulpwood, but it's mainly on our Crown leases and Crown licences that we determine the rates that are paid.
Some of those leases are long term, as you know, like under the Act with NewPage as it's called now, or StoraEnso in the past, and previous names before that, but a very long-term lease and also there's a similar lease with what's presently known as Northern Pulp and by previous names. We also have Crown licences that had been on a 10-year licence and often now are shorter term than that but market conditions generally determine what the royalty should be, or the stumpage rate that's paid, and that can fluctuate up and down. As you know, in the forestry business it has been tough enough to make a living for sawmills and pulpmills and anyone involved in the industry over the last two or three years, we've had a downturn in the industry. So it's relative to the market conditions and the overall health of the industry at the time but under constant review and I can probably get you some details if you wish after on the exact amount that's paid for pulpwood or stud wood, or whatever, on both hardwood and softwood, but that's a general overview of what's happening.
MR. YOUNGER: Madam Chairman, thank you to the minister and when he has time to provide that information that would be great, no rush, but I would be interested in looking at it and with that I will turn my time over to the member for Kings West.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: I wanted to follow up on the 12 per cent goal to protect the lands in the province. I know this is a legal protection process and we know that one organization, Nature Trust, is working very diligently with limited resources and so on but every now and then comes forward with a new announcement. Is that considered part of the 12 per cent or is the 12 per cent simply the provincial initiative with legal protection and all that entails?
MR. PARKER: I'm just trying to figure out your question, honourable member, maybe you could give it to me again. I can go on and on about the 12 per cent but I just want to make sure I'm answering your question.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm wondering if the lands - and I know they are generally small parcels through Nature Trust that are protected - are included in the 12 per cent targeting goal by 2015 or is the 12 per cent simply the provincial initiative with all the legal ramifications that it involves.
MR. PARKER: We work with Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, I think is the name. That land is part of our 12 per cent, it's included. Private individuals who have a piece of land that they may wish to donate sometimes do it through the Nova Scotia Nature Trust or the Canadian equivalent. That is very generous of some Nova Scotians and other times Canadians or from other countries, but they own land in the province and want to see it maintained and preserved for future generations in a natural state, and that's part of the 12 per cent goal that we are working towards.
The government is also buying land, sometimes people donate it, and sometimes they want to sell it. If it's the right piece and a unique, special property then we'll certainly entertain under our Community Lands Trust buying property. As you know the Province of Nova Scotia invested $80 million last year in purchasing lands in the province. Some of that, it has to be assessed and it has to be determined if it could be part of the 12 per cent. Some of it may continue to be forestry uses or other purposes, but after it's properly assessed some of it may well end up as being part of our 12 per cent.
As I mentioned to the previous member we just released some lands for consideration on our 12 per cent goal that will put us over the top of the 12 per cent. There were 23 large parcels out there that were under consideration, asking for the public's input on what they feel should be included. It's more than we need for the 12 per cent but it will be important to get that public feedback. Just today we released the possible boundaries for the Chignecto land in Cumberland County; that, too, will become part of our 12 per cent.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm pleased that those two areas are having positive developments and I commend the minister and the department for that. One of the areas that the Colin Stewart Forest Forum has presented on occasion is that perhaps while the 23 sites are being reviewed and looked at, would it make sense that there be a moratorium on cutting in those areas so that when they become part of the 12 per cent, they are intact and they do have greater value to Nova Scotians?
MR. PARKER: It's always a balancing act between the needs of the forest industry for fibre and the protection of land for the environment, wildlife, water, carbon storage and so on, maintaining the land in a pristine environment as compared to the needs of the forest industry. Generally we've had pretty good co-operation from the forest industry. Early on we identified some possible lands that might be under consideration for the protected lands. We've had discussions with the major forest companies in that regard so it has sort of been set aside and untouched up until this point, with the idea that they could be rolled over to a protected area. Perhaps in exchange we're looking at other lands that would meet their needs along the way. But we've had good co-operation with the forest industry and we'll work towards our goal, in co-operation with all Nova Scotians, to reach that 12 per cent total.
MR. GLAVINE: Madam Chairman, thank you to the minister for that response. One of the other areas I wanted to touch on was the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust. I was wondering what monies are currently available to support this legacy trust. We know that it has been an effective tool to protect ecologically significant private lands in Nova Scotia and has, in fact, achieved some significant areas that are now protected. Could I have some information on that in terms of whether or not there's any kind of dedicated revenue stream and what is it in terms of current government support?
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I'm going to ask the honourable member to give me more information on this. You call it the Crown Share Land Legacy Trust? Maybe you could just give me more information so I can get more information back to you.
MR. GLAVINE: It is very new. It was just established in 2008 so, again, I know it's an area that may not have a large amount of information surrounding it, but it has started its work and has been identifying and working to protect some of the most ecologically sensitive areas. I'm wondering if that is currently a line item inside the Department of Natural Resources budget and if there are monies available to move that work forward.
MR. PARKER: The Crown Share Land Legacy Trust is not contained within the budget of the Department of Natural Resources. It's actually in the Department of Environment. I understand it's around $23 million total. I would suggest maybe if you want to talk to the Minister of Environment during his estimates, I'm sure he could give you more details on it.
MR. GLAVINE: I guess the last area that I will touch upon is one that I talked about before and it is biomass, which is very much prominent in the minds of many Nova Scotians and many stakeholders. Obviously our paper mills, the small-woodlot owners, the large industrial holdings, and Nova Scotians in a very general way are very concerned about the direction. I know our Party supported the NewPage project and felt very strongly that it was going to be the project that would be monitored very closely before the other projects would be approved.
If we take a look at the steering panel, the report talked about the need for the balancing act with all the demands on our forest resource. The report went further to indicate, "Exercise great caution in the use of biomass for power generation. There is ample evidence that our forests are already under considerable stress. Despite the need to reduce greenhouse gases, Nova Scotia does not have the wood capacity for biomass use to make much of a difference even provincially. It is counter-intuitive for the province to protect the environment by cutting down too many trees or reducing the quality of already thin and acidic soils. The province should instead encourage the exploration and expansion of other sustainable methods to generate power and, at the same time, methods to conserve energy and reduce demand."
Well, we have established the target of 350,000 dry tons. Dr. Paul Arp at the University of New Brunswick was commissioned by the department to address inventory concerns. Has his report been finalized and delivered to your department at this point?
MR. PARKER: We're constantly updating our modelling, our information, and we certainly respect the great work that was done during Phase 2 of the Natural Resources Strategy. We had an opportunity to sit down with the steering panel, with Constance Glube and Allan Shaw, and had some good information from Joe Marshall as well. They made it loud and clear that yes, we must take a cautious approach.
So that's where we're coming from. We're listening to what the steering panel had to say and we certainly respect the expertise of the panel of experts that came forward during Phase 2 of that report. We originally had Dr. Wheeler from Dalhousie University, who had come forward with recommendations on renewables, and biomass was part of his recommendation; also wind, tidal, hydro, and other renewables.
We know we have to live within our means and we have to live within a renewable forest within the cap. That's why we're taking a cautious approach and we are listening to good advice out there. You mentioned Dr. Arp; his report is not finished yet, I understand, but we are looking forward to receiving that. I believe he has until September of this year before that will be coming to our department.
We're always listening to what people have to say and if there's new modelling, new economic impact, new advice from anybody that we commissioned, or just any new information out there, we'll be constantly looking at our modelling. But at this point the only project that has been approved has been the NewPage one that you mentioned your caucus is supportive of. That will not come on stream until 2013. There's still some room within that very conservative cap to allow for other projects. We're encouraging small community-based projects under the COMFIT program. Those rates will be set by URB coming out in May.
We'll have a guideline for people on how to move forward with developing a community-based project and it will create jobs in the local communities and supply part of our renewable electricity as well. Hopefully that answers your question and I'm sure you have some more.
MR. GLAVINE: Madam Chairman, in that light, in looking at Dr. Arp's report still to come, the Woodbridge Report, which the department is now using in its finalization of the Natural Resources Strategy, are those reports also going to be available to the public to review?
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, absolutely, we will share any good information we have with Nova Scotians so they can be as informed and up-to-date as we are in the department. The Woodbridge Report has just come to us this month. We're analyzing that and how best to fit it into the Natural Resources Strategy. That report will be released within a week or 10 days, I suspect, and it will be fully available to the industry, to the general public, to members of the Opposition, or whoever wants to see it. Dr. Arp's report, too, will be made public once it comes to the department and we have a chance to review it.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman and Mr. Minister. I'm pleased to hear that Nova Scotians will have an opportunity to have a look at those to see where they fit into the context of the strategy. The other provincial strategy that I know is a work in progress is the wetland strategy, it was due some time ago, and I'm just wondering where that document is as the department prepares a release.
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, again, as these strategies become available, they will be shared with all Nova Scotians. We are working closely with our partners in the Department of Environment and it falls under that department's jurisdiction. Really, all I can say is it will be available to the public in due course. We may be able to get further answers from the Minister of Environment during his estimates.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm wondering if at this stage the minister can speak to the central principle of the wetlands strategy that many groups were directing towards, the zero loss of wetlands in the province, is that going to be the guiding principle for the wetlands strategy?
MR. PARKER: Madam Chairman, I'm not trying to avoid the question here but there are ministers in the proper department who have a lot more expertise on this than I, so again I'm going to refer you to him during his estimates.
MR. GLAVINE: One of the last areas that I wanted to touch upon, it has been stated here in the House, I think by the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, or maybe now it's Communities, Culture and Heritage, but I know it has been stated that we are seeing a lot more visits to our provincial parks, a lot more interprovincial travel as opposed to moving outside for camping and visiting experience. I would think that will be the case this summer as gas prices are likely to remain very high. As a Natural Resources Critic, one of the areas that I've heard from is some complaints on the provincial camps that require bookings in order to obtain a site.
The other aspect that people talk about is some of our parks needing a facelift and I'm just wondering - I know they get lots of use, especially those that are close to roadside, they become a natural stopping-off point - and I'm wondering if there is a master plan in relation to an upgrade or a continual improvement process with our provincial parks and also our day parks, which in my understanding are utilized at a very high percentage. Could the minister provide some comments around our provincial park system and the kind of needs as we look much more at the wonderful places to visit and to experience in our province? There does seem to be a return to camping and tenting inside our province.
MR. PARKER: Certainly our provincial parks are something that is near and dear to my heart. I know many of them are beautiful places to go to take a hike, bird watch or to have a picnic with your family. Some of them are day-use parks and some of them are overnight camping parks. Many of them are unique, each one is different, of course, but I think of the parks that I've visited - the Green Hill Look-Off Park in Pictou County has a magnificent view for miles around. There are others that I have special memories of, Salt Springs Provincial Park was often where school and church picnics where held. We have Caribou Provincial Park that overlooks the Northumberland Strait towards Prince Edward Island where a lot of people go camping.
I know there are many equally beautiful parks around the province and we continue to put money in every year for improvements, whether its trail development or sometimes, unfortunately, for storm damage that occurs, and it's an ongoing maintenance issue. Some of our parks have good partnerships with community groups that help manage or maintain those parks. I was talking earlier with the honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party about Cape Chignecto Provincial Park where there's a management agreement there with CREDA. I think we have about 60 parks where there is a provincial agreement with some local community group that helps look after them.
As you know, very shortly our Natural Resources Strategy will be coming out and one of the four pillars in that strategy is around parks, as I mentioned, a very important aspect of our Natural Resources Department, so I think you'll see some initiatives mentioned in there and new things coming forward. Certainly, as we do move forward in the years to come, we need to look at all our parks and their role and how we can best maintain or enhance them in any way. I think, coming out of the strategy, you'll see some direction in better managing our parks in the future.
MR. GLAVINE: One of the developments last year - and I know it was part of a cost saving measure - was to reduce, in some of our overnight parks, an attendant who would be available through the night hours. I know some provisions were made. I'm wondering if the minister could provide some information on how that did impact. I did hear from a few of the park attendants that police had to be called on a few occasions. I'm just wondering if it proved problematic or, weighing it all out, if it's something you can live with or that you will continue to monitor. I know, because it was a public issue last year around this time when that change came about, some of the park attendants used the opportunity to give me a call on a few things that did happen, especially in the early part of the season when perhaps younger people congregate, the May 24th weekend and so on, which is not too far away, and I'm wondering how the department reviewed it and where they are at this time in having a clear sense that everything will remain in place for this year or whether there will be further changes?
MR. PARKER: We're always trying to encourage people to come and use our provincial parks and our camping parks. We have a pretty good reservation system in place now and people can book ahead throughout the season if they so wish. But you're right, sometimes there can be problems and we have department staff that can provide enforcement or just a general policing aspect, just monitoring, maybe there's nothing going on, but they go through to have a look to see what is happening. From time to time, people being people like to have a good time, and things can get a little out of hand. There have been no significant issues. I think occasionally someone has been banned from the park if they've been misbehaving. Usually, maybe for a year, they'll have a suspension, they're not allowed back in that particular park.
We usually have a policy of no alcohol in the campgrounds until the July 1st weekend. That tried to discourage the first of the season party animal who wants to come out. Generally, we've had no significant issues and we'll continue along the same lines.
MR. GLAVINE: With that, Madam Chairman, Mr. Minister and staff, I have concluded my questions to the minister. I do wish him well in his new ministry and look forward to other opportunities to raise issues that affect Nova Scotians. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I understand there are no further questions so I'll offer the honourable Minister of Natural Resources an opportunity for closing remarks and moving of the estimate.
MR. PARKER: Thank you. It has certainly been a pleasure to have the opportunity here today, and earlier days this week, to engage with honourable members of the Opposition on the Budget Estimates both in Energy and here today and Tuesday on Natural Resources. It has been a learning experience for myself, as a new minister in these two departments, but I do thank the honourable members for their intelligent questions and comments. There is some information that we've undertaken to get for various members on different topics that we will do.
I do want to thank my deputy, Duff Montgomerie, and Weldon Myers who have been here with me giving me some encouragement and some information from time to time. Also I want to say thank you to all our staff in the Department of Natural Resources, some who are with us here this afternoon and have been a great help to me and I'm sure will continue to be in the future. We do have a great staff in the Department of Natural Resources.
With that I want to move Resolution E15.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E15 stand?
Resolution E15 stands.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Madam Chairman, we'll take a short recess while the next department moves in.
[1:29 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:33 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Madam Chairman, would you please call the estimates for the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism - E4.
Resolution E4 - Resolved that a sum not exceeding $125,610,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would now invite the minister to offer some opening remarks.
The honourable Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
HON. PERCY PARIS: Madam Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak about this year's budget for Economic and Rural Development and Tourism and the worthwhile work being done by the people of this department.
Now, normally I think I would be saying I would be pleased to make note of introduction of staff but as one can see, I have nobody to the left of me and nobody to the right of me. I will say, Madam Chairman, that staff will be here shortly and also I will be joined by - I have a couple of staff members in the gallery with me today and, hopefully, before I sit down, you'll see a huge audience up there from Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. I'm feeling pretty lonely right now but I know that's soon going to change. So when they do come, I will introduce them once they arrive.
Since last year's budget there have been some changes to my department. The new Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism includes the former Economic and Rural Development; Tourism from the former Tourism, Culture and Heritage; Gateway Secretariat from Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal; consolidated trade staff and NSBI field staff. This new structure also includes increased alignment with all five agencies, which are: NSBI, InNOVAcorp, Film Nova Scotia, Waterfront Development Corporation, and Trade Centre Limited.
Nova Scotians expect their government to live within its means, get its own house in order, and to deliver programs and services in an efficient, cost effective manner. Over the past number of years government has gown and expanded. Key reports such as Savoie and Deloitte clearly point to the need for better coordination within government to achieve these outcomes.
The overall realignment of government helps reduce overlap and duplication and it better positions departments to deliver on key priorities such as health, education and job creation. We are in the business of job creation and creating a better economy, so are all the people who now make up the new Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. The new department brings together experts in trade from across governments, brings a sharper focus to Tourism and Gateway, as economic drivers, and ensures all economic development agencies are aligned towards common objectives.
Donald Savoie also told us that we should set out to become more like the business-friendly jurisdiction in Canada in terms of accessing programs and services. Savoie also said efforts of all involved in economic development need to be fully aligned. Part of this is having one face of economic development and consolidating regional efforts. NSBI field staff integrating with department field staff will assist us in achieving that goal and the expertise that they can offer is certainly second to none. This change provides greater coordination and collaboration in our overall attraction and retention of progressive companies who can provide and sustain high value jobs in all sectors. This restructuring was necessary to move forward jobsHere.
JobsHere is our plan to grow the economy. We have the right alignment, we are the right players, and we are moving together in the right direction. Government's priorities are interrelated. To get better health care sooner and live within our means we need to create good jobs and we need to grow the economy. This budget reflects our focus on jobsHere, creating climates for learning the right skills for right jobs, innovation and global competitiveness.
Madam Chairman, as we take on these challenges, the 2011-12 budget for Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is $125.6 million. This is an increase of $17,632,000 from the former Economic and Rural Development's 2010-11 budget. This increase is related to the addition of Tourism division's budget, which is $23.6 million; Nova Scotia Gateway Secretariat, which has a $1.4 million budget; and new funding for jobsHere, which is $6.7 million.
I am proud that my department has taken a lead role in the implementation of the plan to grow our economy. In addition to addressing the department's 2011-12 budget, I will provide an overview of our part of moving jobsHere forward. Secure jobs, a strong economy and fiscal responsibility will help ensure there are sufficient funds to support important social programs and services for all Nova Scotians.
This seems like an appropriate place to say thank you and to recognize the work of the staff at the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism and its agencies. During the past year many employees have been dedicated to the launch and implementation of jobsHere. They are all working to pull in one common direction - the right direction for economic prosperity in Nova Scotia. I am very thankful for their insight; I am very thankful for their guidance and for their time. They are further proof of the great resource Nova Scotia has in its people.
I would also like to recognize the people of Nova Scotia who are involved in economic and rural development in a number of ways - through paid employment or volunteer work with organizations such as rural development authorities, community and business associations, small and large businesses, co-operatives and, Madam Chairman, so much more. Community-led economic development initiatives are crucial. They enable community groups and volunteers to develop locally relevant initiatives and solutions to make communities more economically and socially viable.
Madam Chairman, that goes hand in hand. It is an important thing to remember in any discussion about budgets and about numbers. However, having said that, people are the foundation of everything that we do. We are committed to growing our economy and creating good jobs for Nova Scotians.
Madam Chairman, I'm going to talk a little bit about jobsHere. Now, during the past 20 years Nova Scotia's economic growth has been lower than any other province in Canada. As the economy went global, competition intensified, technology took off, but Nova Scotia didn't keep up. To address this massive challenge, we launched the greatest success of last year, jobsHere, the plan to grow our economy.
In addition to the launch, Madam Chairman, we started implementation in a big way. This budget provides the resources necessary to continue the implementation necessary to grow Nova Scotia's economy. JobsHere, without a doubt, is an aggressive plan. It's made up of three interrelated priorities. Those three priorities are: one, learning the right skills for good jobs; two, growing the economy through innovation; and last but certainly not least, helping businesses be more competitive globally. It challenges governments; it challenges businesses; it challenges educational institutions, unions and associations, not-for-profit organizations, communities, and industries. It challenges all of them, Madam Chairman, to work together toward economic growth for the Province of Nova Scotia. Government will commit more than $200 million to jobsHere. The total amount that Economic and Rural Development and Tourism has committed this year for jobsHere is about $59 million.
Here are some of the jobsHere initiatives that we've already launched; first, Cleantech. Nova Scotian clean technology companies will have better access to capital through the new $24 million Clean Technology Fund. The province, through Innovacorp, will support the growth of emerging clean technology companies and move the province in a new direction; that direction, Madam Chairman, is forward.
Clean technology includes renewable energy, energy efficiency, air and water supply solutions, and recycling. It represents a range of products and services intended to provide superior performance at lower costs while minimizing negative ecological impact and using natural resources responsibly.
The investment will help companies meet an urgent demand for sustainable solutions. It will also attract new companies and investment into the region, strengthening Nova Scotia's position in this, an exciting global market. The fund will be managed by Innovacorp through its high-performance incubation business model. The model has a proven track record, a track record of driving companies' performance by progressively funding them as they meet operational milestones.
Now, Madam Chairman, I will talk just for a wee bit about the productivity investment fund - the Productivity Investment Program, more commonly known in our department as PIP. Nova Scotia's new $25 million Productivity Investment Program will help companies improve their employees' skills and purchase advanced equipment in order for them to become more competitive. This new program expands on the previous Manufacturing and Processing Investment Credit program and is part of government's commitment to spur growth in this sector and other key sectors of the provincial economy. It is developed based on the ideas and recommendations of employers from across the province.
We heard from employers who said we need more investment in capital. Employers told us that there was a gap in workplace education and training, that they needed assistance in making sure their employees have access to the training they need to do the best they can at their jobs. We agreed with them and, Madam Chairman, we delivered. The new program focuses on productivity in two ways: one, skilled development for existing employees through the Workplace Innovation and Productivity Skills Incentive component; and, secondly, the purchase of advanced technology and advanced equipment through the Capital Investment Incentive component.
Madam Chairman, since the launch of the program on December 20th, the province has approved a total of $1.82 million and 25 individual companies and organizations around the province through the program's two incentives. We are happy to recently announce the recipients, which included: Scotsburn Co-operative Services, Crown Fibre Tube, Seaforth Energy, Kings Produce Processing, BioMedica Diagnostics, A.F. Theriault & Son, Classic Granite Countertops, A&M Fabrication, Rx Security, Uplift Technologies, and there are so many more.
I am proud to say that this new program is one of the most significant investments in workplace training in Nova Scotia's history. We are happy to support members of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Nova Scotia Division, with their workplace training. Through the Workplace Innovation and Productivity Skills Incentive, the province is contributing more than $46,000. This funding will enable Canadian manufacturers and exporters to offer LEED certification, which is training that improves productivity and ensures operational efficiency to its members around the province.
This program also doubles the amount of the incentive available for companies to purchase technologies and advance equipment from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. In addition to the manufacturing processing sector, businesses involved in aerospace and defence, life sciences, information and communication technology, and those involved in the development of non-traditional sources of energy are eligible to apply.
Investment in people and equipment makes us a more competitive province. Madam Chairman, it's as simple as that. Being more competitive is essentially growing the economy. That's why we are providing Nova Scotia companies with even more opportunity to increase productivity and learn the right skills for good jobs. PIP also supports the Strategic Cooperative Education Incentive. This incentive aims to grow the number of work placement opportunities available to students enrolled in co-operative education programs in our universities and community colleges. It will also assist high-value businesses and organizations across the region to recruit and retain students for work placements. The incentive provides organizations with 50 per cent of the required minimum hourly wage of $15 an hour.
Madam Chairman, for a minute I will move to the International Commerce Strategy. I don't know what's going to happen, if my voice is starting to go now, I don't know what it is going to be like an hour from now. International Commerce Strategy is a new initiative that is right around the corner that this budget will help implement. It is a known fact, Madam Chairman, that Nova Scotia is a small province. We can't grow our economy just by selling to one another; we have to find new customers and new partners far beyond our borders.
A growing economy depends on competitive companies. Many Nova Scotian companies compete and thrive in the global marketplace. We are extremely well-suited for international trade. Where we are situated on the global map reinforces that. We need to take advantage of our assets. We need to encourage more Nova Scotia businesses to compete and to succeed globally. We need to increase foreign direct investment in international trade and, of course, improve our productivity.
We, Madam Chairman, are committed to creating opportunities and high-value sectors to connect Nova Scotia businesses with potential partners abroad and attract new companies. The International Commerce Strategy will coordinate the complex range of commercial activities. This includes exchanges in investments, technology, and people, as well as international trade in goods and services. The strategy will help Nova Scotian companies build international capacity which will enable them to increase international economic activity here in Nova Scotia. It will enable them to strengthen Nova Scotia's access to international markets and networks and it will enable them to build an integrated approach to international commerce.
Three initiatives that are currently under the strategy are international commerce intelligence, international growth fund, and the global business partnership fund - all part of the plan.
Welcome to the Chair. Mr. Chairman, I will just spend a minute talking about the strategic investment framework. Soon we, as a department and a government, will also be launching our strategic investment framework. As a government, we need to be clear and we need to be focused; we need to be focused when we make investments in sustainable economic development. A comprehensive investment approach will provide an evidence-based assessment of potential opportunities at the job and company level. It's not about picking winners and picking losers. It's about creating good, secure jobs that will make Nova Scotia an attractive place to live, work, and raise families.
Moving on to strategic sector development: jobsHere will also include strategic sector development. We will increase the province's capacity to gather intelligence on sectors that hold potential to attract, create, and grow high-value jobs. Through this sector development, government will better understand where the opportunities lie and will be able to leverage those opportunities. This will advance businesses in these sectors, and it will encourage them to learn more. It will encourage them to innovate more and be more competitive globally.
We also will be launching a new productivity and innovation strategy. This strategy will ensure that the province's activities and investments, as well as those of key partners in the provincial economy, are coordinated and focused on common goals. The strategy will encourage the adoption of new technology, clean energy opportunities, digital leadership, mentoring, incubation, entrepreneurship, and commercialization. It will align current provincial innovation funding with the priorities in jobsHere.
e-Nova Scotia: we all know now that broadband was Phase I. Broadband has evolved to e-Nova Scotia. e-Nova Scotia is a digital strategy that will harness the power of the Internet as a tool for innovation. With the Broadband for Rural Nova Scotia project, the province and the private sector have made significant investments well into the future.
We will continue to work with service providers to make sure fast, reliable, and affordable service is available to those who want it. We will also need to optimize our ability to use this tool and exploit it to its full potential, right across the province. The e-Nova Scotia strategy will increase Internet adoption for small- to medium-size businesses in social enterprises. It will support the development of applications and high-value digital solutions. It will increase awareness in the Internet's productivity and environmental benefits, and it will support collaboration throughout the province.
This year's budget has allocated $900,000. With this flexible funding e-Nova Scotia will be responsive to input from stakeholders in addressing their needs. In fact, we are getting started right away with events that will help inform our digital strategy. On April 26th at Pier 21, speakers will bring an awareness of what is shaping innovation today, digitally and virtually, and what we can look forward to in the near future.
Live, in person, and on-line, three amazing digital pioneers are coming to Nova Scotia to give us a peek into their world and our future, our future to educate, empower, and inspire. As world events prove just how powerful ideas on the Internet can be, it's time for Nova Scotians to talk about what we can do together.
I know, Madam Chairman, that throughout this presentation I'm giving, I've used the word "together" a number of times and you'll see that it's one of the common threads that is running through this presentation and runs through our department. This will be the first in a series of events to create a virtual space in Nova Scotia where innovation thrives and productivity results.
Now I want to spend just a few seconds talking about the Innovation and Competitiveness fund. This is something that we're also very excited about; we're excited about the $2 million allocation in this year's budget for the Innovation and Competitiveness fund. This fund supports the expansion of existing programs such as the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program, the I-3 competition, and the Early Stage Commercialization Fund. The fund will also allow for the development of new programs to support the recommendations resulting from the Productivity and Innovation Strategy, from e-Nova Scotia, in strategic investment, and in sector strategies. The fund's flexibility allows government to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace and will support technology adoption, commercialization, and highly skilled personnel for Nova Scotia's businesses.
Madam Chairman, something that has also gathered much attention is the regional venture capital fund. This government has committed $15 million toward a new, privately operated regional venture capital fund. This fund will be established over the next 18 months. The fund will target high-growth opportunities for knowledge-based companies. It will be designed to attract new capital into the region and improve access to capital for companies that want to innovate. We are working to engage our federal and Atlantic counterparts in extending the reach of the fund throughout all of Atlantic Canada. Ultimately the fund will help Nova Scotia companies tap into international networks and build growth-focused partnerships for research and new business activities.
I will take a second, Madam Chairman, to highlight the business Web portal because we are also working very diligently on a new business Web portal. That portal will provide a single Web-based entry point to a broad range of economic development programs and services. The portal will build links across programs and help clients navigate resources based on such things as business funding opportunities, industry sector data, regional portfolios and infrastructure, and industrial parks information. The portal will increase the efficiency of service delivery and improve integration among government partners.
Madam Chairman, I'll take just a few seconds because this one has meant a lot to many members of staff in our new Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, because it was a proud day the day that I tabled the new Public Procurement Act. This is a great example of doing the right thing. It's as simple as that - doing the right thing - placing our resources and efforts where they are going to make a real difference. The procurement governance initiative will ensure that all public-sector entities such as hospitals, schools, municipalities, and government departments, work together to get taxpayers the best value for the goods and services that they purchase. We estimate that public-sector entities procured more than $2 billion last year alone. It's our job to ensure this money is being spent wisely and all public-sector entities are working together to be more efficient.
The Act will allow for the development of a new procurement government structure, including a chief procurement officer for the Province of Nova Scotia. A procurement advisory group of public procurement professionals throughout the province will be created to identify efficiencies, share best practices, and implement greater standardization. The Act also mandates supplier debriefing sessions, a common vendor complaint process, and a code of ethics for all public procurement professionals in posting tender notices; winning bidder and award amounts will be posted on-line.
The changes will ensure greater consistency in procurement practices and it will encourage innovative ideas and solutions in line with the goals of jobsHere, including sustainable and efficient procurement, developing competitive and innovative companies, and preparing suppliers for global markets. Through the provincial government procurement initiative there will be more opportunities for local businesses to develop the skills necessary to apply for public sector procurement, better preparing them to compete globally. This is a priority for jobsHere. Now, Madam Chairman, I'm smiling because there are so many "Ps" in that and sometimes it gets to be a wee bit of a tongue twister - public procurement, and it goes on, so I think it's important.
For the benefit of those certainly in the Chamber, something that has always caused interest for many people is the IEF. I'd like to talk a little bit about the IEF. I'd like to talk about IEF as an important economic tool for the Province of Nova Scotia. The Industrial Expansion Fund - or as most of us know it, the IEF - attracts and retains businesses in the Province of Nova Scotia. It has been around for more than 50 years and it assists businesses in Nova Scotia to grow and to compete, both nationally and internationally. Our department uses the IEF, as well as other tools and strategies, to help support innovation and technology, increase productivity, and maintain and create good jobs, primarily through interest-bearing loans.
Donald Savoie also agreed that the IEF contributes to strengthening businesses from away, as well as locally-grown companies. He said, "The fund is accessible to large multinationals, medium-size . . . businesses in Nova Scotia, and also to small firms." Savoie said the fund's trademark is its flexibility. This ". . . enables the department to deal with virtually all firms in many sectors." He recognized that ". . . it can and has in the past been accessible to deal with distress situations in local communities."
Some of the companies that benefited from the IEF last year were Seaside Wireless, LED Roadway Lighting, Elmsdale Lumber, Bell Aliant, Seaforth Energy, Ledwidge Lumber, Harry Freeman & Son Limited, and Pictou Lodge Resort. All these transactions through the IEF are publicly announced, and the department produces annual reports to demonstrate investments in all regions of the province, crossing all sectors. In fact, I recently tabled those annual reports for the benefit of the members.
We want to be sure that we are accountable and transparent when it comes to decisions made regarding the Industrial Expansion Fund or any other investment we make to support businesses. The IEF Advisory Committee has been instrumental in strengthening governance of this important fund. The IEF Advisory Committee is an independent body made up of businesses and investment leaders in the province that provide support and advice on the IEF to myself, as Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
The purpose of the committee is to review recommendations of potential investments through the fund and ensure they are consistent in meeting the economic development objectives of the Province of Nova Scotia. This impartial review of the fund, which provides financial support to businesses in the form of loans and guarantees, ensures transparency and accountability.
I want to take this time to thank each of the members of this committee for their time and for their guidance during the past year. They are Sandra Greer, president and CEO of Amrix Systems; Bernd Christmas, owner of the Bernd Christmas Law Group in Toronto and past member of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board; Ann MacLean, past president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities; Ron Smith, former chief financial officer with Aliant Telecom and past senior vice-president and chief financial officer of Emera; and Robbie Shaw, president and CEO of the IWK Health Centre Foundation.
Keep in mind, Madam Chairman, that this is money that is invested. It produces revenues for the province in the form of tax revenue, guarantee fees, and interest on loans. A 2008 study found that for every dollar invested the province realized $2.89 in return. It is a net contributor to our economy and at a very healthy rate even compared to traditional lending institutions.
Madam Chairman, where would we be without talking about tourism? Recently the tourism division joined the department to help bring sharper focus to the industry as a strong economic driver in Nova Scotia. The sector generates annual revenues of over $1.8 billion and employs more than 31,000 people, providing benefits for every region in the Province of Nova Scotia. All Nova Scotians are supported by the $173 million in total provincial tax revenues generated by the industry.
Nova Scotia welcomes more than 2 million visitors every year and it is the foremost tourism destination in Atlantic Canada. With prudent fiscal management the Tourism Division continues to use innovation to attract more visitors to the province and build Nova Scotia as a premier travel destination. Nova Scotia welcomed more visitors in 2010, a one per cent increase in a challenging economic environment, and these are challenging times. We are competing with other jurisdictions not only here in Canada but around the world when it comes to tourists coming to this province.
Having said that, Madam Chairman, we are not satisfied with this performance. We are constantly looking for unique ways to respond to evolving visitor needs and trends. We want to stand out in a competitive market. The 2011 tourism marketing plan is an example of our initiative. It is an innovative plan geared to our key markets here in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, the United Kingdom, Germany and the northeastern United Sates. It is designed to capture the attention of potential visitors and make them want to come and experience Nova Scotia for themselves.
The My Nova Scotia campaign is a prime example of unique ways we're reaching out to these audiences, a campaign that I personally am very familiar with. It is about Nova Scotians promoting Nova Scotia, what a unique idea. Building on the success of recent campaigns in which local heroes promote Nova Scotia, we have put a unique sign on our 2011 regional tourism campaign and I hope that sometime during the next few hours that there'll be some questions about that campaign, which I'm looking forward to responding to. We have invited all Nova Scotians to participate by auditioning for our regional television tourism promotion this summer. Any Nova Scotian resident can enter either by uploading their own video or auditioning in person during our audition bus tour.
Madam Chairman, the My Nova Scotia audition bus travelled to 14 communities throughout the province to find talented individuals to look into a camera and tell us what they love most about Nova Scotia. We wanted them to do this in a compelling and enthusiastic manner. Twenty-one lucky winners will star in the campaign, which will be airing in the Maritimes from May until September. This is a great opportunity to invite new visitors to Nova Scotia and for us to build momentum for the amazing tourism experiences we have to offer. In Ontario, we can continue to promote the best the province has to offer, our amazing seacoast, our culinary adventures, and our urban and cultural experiences. This campaign features television ads in Toronto and Ottawa on the major networks. Newspaper ads in the Ottawa Citizen and the Toronto Star have already begun a 15-week run. Of course, we will also continue to attract potential visitors on-line.
We will use simple organizations to get the greatest bang for our buck by utilizing Facebook and on-line ads and promotional events in Ontario that will drive interest and traffic to Nova Scotia, and that is NovaScotia.com. We're also always actively pursuing visitors in overseas markets who tend to stay longer and generate greater revenues. Some of our highest-spending visitors come from Germany and the United Kingdom. These markets hold great opportunity but our growth here is somewhat constrained by the level of air access. We continue to work as a united team with all of our government partners to grow access for visitors.
Through the Gateway Secretariat, leaders in the business community, tourism industry, municipal government, the Halifax International Airport Authority and the federal government are working together to raise awareness of the wide variety of high quality product services and experiences Nova Scotia has to offer. This partnership is our strategic advantage. We know that Nova Scotia has what these visitors are seeking. Once we have captured their imagination, we must ensure that they have ample opportunity to come and visit.
This year Condor and Icelandair will both increase their number of flights to Nova Scotia. We will be working to capitalize on this opportunity and increase the number of visitors coming from these very important markets. We also now have non-stop service from Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Detroit. Our tourism industry is constantly evolving to meet visitor needs. Worldwide potential visitors are turning to the Internet to research and to plan their trips. Nova Scotia is a leader in responding to their needs with innovative and effective digital and social media tools that capture the attention of potential visitors and are cost effective.
This Spring we are raising the bar by creating a mobile version of NovaScotia.com. The mobile-friendly site will allow visitors to easily access the most up-to-date visitor information from the palm of their hand. The way visitors find travel information is changing, it has changed. Increasingly, people are using mobile devices while travelling. They are more likely to use the Internet than call for information by telephone. As a result, the volume of calls for visitor information has decreased significantly in the last few years and half of the calls we now receive are simply a request for travel information.
We are implementing an innovative way to handle these visitor inquiries through existing in-house resources. This will allow us to make full use of government employees and save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. We're constantly reviewing the way we do business to ensure we are making the right decisions. These improvements to our tourism-contact service will help the department provide better service and save taxpayers money - helping the province to live within its means.
We will also be making more efficient use of resources at the provincial Visitor Information Centre in Yarmouth which are currently underused. Staff are well trained and experienced and have excellent product knowledge. These employees will be given extra training to handle the majority of these visitor service calls allowing us to provide better quality service to potential visitors. This initiative will also allow us to create good jobs that will help grow the economy in Yarmouth. Seven seasonal jobs at the VIC will become year-round positions and we'll also be adding about four other seasonal employees.
We concentrate on strategic thinking and innovation in offering our visitors the broadest range of high quality experiences and service in the region. We are constantly evolving to exceed visitor expectations - we don't want to live up to it, we want to exceed. We will continue to use best practices to promote Nova Scotia as a world-class travel destination.
I'd like to talk about Gateway. I will now move to our close tourism partner and certainly a powerful economic driver, the Nova Scotia Gateway Secretariat. Gateway helps create good jobs and grow the economy by increasing trade logistics activity throughout the province. They are dedicated by leading the government's effort to grow the volume of gateway-related traffic moving through the province's transportation infrastructure. They are also ensuring the province receives maximum economic value for gateway traffic.
The Gateway Secretariat is focused on new initiatives such as creation of supply chain logistics tool, cargo village hub and in-market presence initiative. They have also been instrumental in extremely important initiatives such as the twinning of Highway No. 104 and the extension of Stanfield International Airport's runway. Through the Gateway Secretariat, Nova Scotia will play a leadership role in forging an aggressive gateway marketing and business development strategy focused on North America and Asia. We have an asset that not many others in North America can boast about.
To give you an idea of the gravity of our asset, 10 Maersk vessels have been ordered from Daewoo. These ships are 18,000 TEUs. That is three times larger than the largest ship that can access Montreal's port. But, these ships can come here. Our port is world class. Through Gateway initiatives we're going to market and use our unique assets to secure a prosperous future for Nova Scotia.
My department now has consolidated trade to place a further emphasis on our need for robust trade as an economic driver. We are seeing the necessity for this emphasis nationally in current Canada-European Union trade negotiations. For the first time in Canada's international trade negotiations, provinces and territories have been invited to participate at six of the 12 negotiating tables to address trade and investment issues that fall within provincial jurisdiction within Canada.
Canada-EU remains the priority for the year as we continue to profile Nova Scotia's interest in these negotiations. We are working with experts. We are working with businesses and interest groups to fully understand what is in the best interests of all Nova Scotians. Something we all agree on is how valuable it would be for our firms to have access to a market of 500,000,000 people. The European Union is a long-standing and important partner in Nova Scotia's international trade and investment and we look forward to enhancing that relationship through these negotiations.
In addition to the European Union, this year we are working with the federal government to feed into negotiations with India, the Caribbean and possibly Japan. We also support federal efforts to work with the United States for expanded access to government procurement at the state levels.
Our trade team also focuses its efforts on our province's participation in Canada's agreement on international trade negotiations. This agreement commits federal, provincial and territorial governments to work to enable people, goods, services and investments to move freely throughout the country. It establishes the framework for Canadian governments to work together to develop and maintain an open and efficient domestic market. It covers government procurement, investment, labour, mobility, consumer related measures and standards, along with agriculture and goods, alcoholic beverages, natural resources processing, communications, transportation and environmental protection.
Regional co-operation is also a priority for me and this government. The Partnership Agreement on Regulation and the Economy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick creates opportunities for increased co-operation and efficiency for both provinces. I believe that strong international practices will help Canadian workers and businesses of all regions improve our competitiveness and productivity as well as lower costs.
As Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, I am also responsible for five agencies that play a vital role in our economy. Those agencies - and I know, Madam Chairman, I am running out of time unfortunately - include NSBI, InNOVAcorp, Waterfront Development Corporation Limited, World Trade and Convention Centre, and in the spirit of time I also want to take a minute and maybe in my closing remarks I might be able to elaborate. I say that only because an hour is not enough time with the responsibilities and the challenges and the lead role that this department has. There's so much that's intertwined with Economic and Rural Development and Tourism that an hour doesn't do it justice. I could spend the rest of the afternoon talking about the responsibilities that we have in the future, the future of Nova Scotia that has been deposited with us.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I just want to educate, I guess, or let the committee know that according to Rule 23, there is a one hour time limit on speeches. However, we can allow the minister to conclude his remarks with the unanimous consent of the House. So if the minister could perhaps give us a sense of what we might be considering if he wanted to conclude his remarks and then I'll ask if there's an agreement.
MR. PARIS: Well, I could take easily probably 45 minutes. I say 45 minutes because the last thing I want to do is say that I'm going to take 30 minutes and still not be finished but I think, in all fairness to the members opposite, that it would probably take me 45 minutes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. CHUCK PORTER: Madam Chairman, I can appreciate, and certainly would not want the minister to rush, but I do know that he'll be here for a number of hours during the estimates and I'm sure, minister, there will be ample opportunity to speak to the number of issues. I'm sure you'll take the time to let us know clearly your thoughts and where we're heading and we'll certainly be asking. So I don't think, my Liberal colleague can speak, but as far as I'm concerned, if you want to take two or three more minutes, just maybe to wrap, to thank your staff, I think that's where you started to head. I might be incorrect on that, and then we could get on with the estimates, just in the essence of time, it's very important to us.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So my understanding is that there would be an allowance for a couple of minutes just to wrap up your comments and then we'll proceed to offering the Opposition the floor. Minister, are you interested in having that couple of minutes or should we proceed?
MR. PARIS: As you know, I would like to take just a couple of minutes because I have been joined by more people.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The honourable Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
MR. PARIS: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you to the members opposite. I am looking forward to estimates, seems like it has been awhile since I've been up here so I'm certainly looking forward to it. I'd like to acknowledge that to my left here I have Sandra McKenzie who is the Associate Deputy Minister for Economic and Rural Development and Tourism and also we have Darlene O'Neill, here to my right, who has also joined me.
I also notice that we have a number of staff in the gallery. When I look at the staff in the gallery it reinforces, to me, the importance of having more time for such an important portfolio. When I see all the different departments that are represented in the gallery, and I dare not name them all because I might miss somebody, it just reinforces in me the huge responsibility that rests with staff and I. We had our first staff meeting just a week ago and I want to take this time to reiterate publicly, and in this Chamber, my thanks to all the staff at Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. I want to thank them for their indulgence, for their patience and for their co-operation as we go through this realignment and I've got to say, and I say in this House, how proud I am of the members of that staff.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you Madam Chairman, and thank you for the opening comments minister. I do want to express my appreciation to the minister for always being willing to discuss these issues outside of the House of Assembly, on and off the record. I want to thank him, in particular, for taking time out of his busy schedule to come to Yarmouth back in February, I believe, to meet with folks from our business community, our municipalities and other representatives from the area. I also do want to take the time to thank and recognize the staff who are in attendance here today, it's a great thing to see so many talented, capable people put their name forward to serve the public in the way that you folks do. I know that you care deeply about the portfolio and want to do the best work you can do, so thank you for being here with us today.
That doesn't mean that I haven't been critical about some of the decision that have been made either by this department or the Cabinet, Madam Chairman. I realize that the mandate of this department is to grow the economy and, as the minister said, create jobs. I feel that in certain circumstances, one in particular that a lot of people are familiar with being the Yarmouth ferry, there have been decisions made that are actually anathema to achieving some of those said goals. I appreciate that fact that we're going to be able to talk about some of those issues throughout estimates at length.
We hear a lot of very encouraging language come from the minister and the department, language about growing the economy, about focusing on people, creating opportunities and those sorts of statements are things that, I believe, all of us in the House share. We all want to see this province be successful, we want to see the amount of jobs increase and the amount of opportunity increase for people in this province. But we do have to make sure that our actions are following along with those words and I think that's an important thing to note.
We hear again and again in the minister's opening comments we hear how great the tourism industry's doing in the province but I haven't heard from one tourism operator that says they've had a great year. A lot of the folks that I'm in touch with on a daily basis back home in Yarmouth and in southwestern Nova Scotia and beyond actually express a very sincere and real concern about the future of their individual operations and perhaps the industry in certain parts of the province. These are issues that are very important and I do look forward to discussing more about them with the minister.
Now I realize that a big focus of this budget in particular is the jobsHere strategy. At first glance this seems to be a very encouraging document, we want to create jobs here, we want to create opportunity but when you get beyond the language of the document it's important to look at the numbers and what results our actions and our plans are achieving.
My first question to the minister would be what is the projected number of new jobs that are intended to be created through jobsHere? What is that projected number and by when are we supposed to achieve those jobs?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, I thank you for the question. I think in order for all of us to get a grasp on jobsHere - I think one thing that we are in agreement about and the member says that the language is good and he's looking for some numbers through jobsHere. The strategy around jobsHere is not only about today but it's also about tomorrow and it's about years to come.
I'm reluctant to make predictions because that's not the purpose of jobsHere. The purpose of jobsHere is to create jobs and grow the economy. It's not about numbers, it's about an up-to-date strategy that will address the needs of Nova Scotia when it comes to jobs and growing the economy.
JobsHere is different and I say that because it's different for a number of reasons but they're very, very important reasons. One is that this is the first time, to my knowledge, that government has taken the time to have input from Nova Scotians about creating the strategy related to the economy and to jobs. One of the things that I learned very early in life - and I think I owe this a lot to my years that I spent at Dalhousie - what I've seen in the past, and I don't say this in a disrespectful way because I think it's human nature, what we've done in the past, and I'm saying all of us so this is not a finger-pointing process for me, sometimes when we see a problem we do an action right away because we want to - it's human nature, if we see a problem we want to implement a strategy right away.
What jobsHere did which is different, is we created an awareness of what it is and with that awareness we also created an understanding. We did that through consultation. We did an extensive consultation with targeted audiences such as the business community and the community-at-large.
The other thing about jobsHere is that it's planned for the future. We recognize - and I think sometimes change can sneak up on you, you turn around and there's something new in place. I never imagined, it's only when I stop to think about it, that who writes - how many people write letters today? We've got e-mail, we've got Facebook, we've got all these ways and it just all of a sudden was there. With jobsHere and looking at the global economy and where we have to be globally it was important for us to devise a plan that also looked after implementation.
One of the things that I say, as minister, is that it's not important that I'm here tomorrow, what is important is that jobsHere is going to continue, regardless of who is here. I think that's a new vision that may be here in Nova Scotia that we may not all be used to, so when I'm asked the question about prediction, I can tell you this, that with jobsHere and through the activities of Economic and Rural Development, through the number of tools we have with NSBI and all of those good individuals who work within government, that we've created and maintained in the past 21 months, thousands of jobs.
Having said that, I don't make predictions into the future when it comes to numbers about jobs. I do know that, and I believe as also I think Dr. Savoie agreed and a number of other experts agreed, the jobsHere strategy is the way of tomorrow. It's not only the way of today, it's the way of tomorrow. When we talk about creating jobs, another important strategy, and I talked a little bit about it with the jobsHere, is the flexibility that jobsHere has within its own framework. By that, I simply mean that it has got a built-in flexibility so that as things evolve around us, that jobsHere can adapt to those changes and continue to do what it's mandated to do and that is to create jobs and grow the economy.
MR. CHURCHILL: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thanks for the response, Minister. I do understand that you can't stand in the House today and give us a concrete prediction of where, generally speaking, the economy is going to be in a number of years. You can't plan for all the contingencies that will pop up along the way. But I do think it's very critical in having an economic development plan which stated goals are to create jobs, that we actually have some targets associated with that plan and that we have some understanding where we're going with jobs.
We're putting all this money into a jobsHere strategy but you get up and say in the House that we don't know how many jobs this is actually going to create. If we're not identifying targets, if we're not continually evaluating whether we're reaching those targets or not, then my question is, how do you know you're accomplishing the said goals of this strategy? It seems from my perspective there needs to be some targets in place. Otherwise, we don't know what we're accomplishing out of this and how do you evaluate something if you don't know if you're achieving your short-term goals, long-term goals and objectives?
So I think that's an interesting concept with this, to say that we're not going to be able to predict what's going to happen. I understand on an obscure level we're not going to be able to predict what happens, but in terms of identifying concrete targets along the way - establishing concrete goals and objectives and evaluating if we're achieving those or not - I think that's absolutely critical to any economic development strategy. I believe there has been some discussion from the minister and the Premier, and I believe the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, about jobs that have been created to date from jobsHere. So I would be interested in hearing from the minister if he has any numbers on how many jobs have been created since the launch of this program and its subsequent and continual implementation?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, I recognize what the member is asking and I am going to give you something but a couple of things that you said - first of all, I think what we have with jobsHere, it's an evolving and moving target when it comes to setting targets. How you evaluate things, evaluations are based on what you've done; it's what you've achieved over a period of time. So that's how you evaluate.
I appreciate and I comprehend fully what you say about setting goals. I'll say this and I'm not going to end with this but under jobsHere, our job is to create as many jobs as possible. Now, what we've done in this past year is we've maintained, sustained, and we have created many jobs. What you're looking for is a number and I'm going to give you a number but under the circumstances - because it's a moving target, I'm not a fortune teller. I will say we're going to create as many jobs as possible but over the next three to five years we will be creating somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000 to just under 4,000 jobs. That's what we hope, that's quite a range, it's a moving target and I want to reemphasize that we are going to create as many jobs- we think right now that what we have with the jobsHere strategy and what we have with all of our agencies, especially with the good work NSBI does about that competitive market. We think we've got a winning formula. I would say that, again I started to say earlier that if I wasn't here tomorrow the most important thing is that jobsHere continues. If we weren't government- that I would like to think the way that jobsHere is shaped.
One of the things that I said in my preamble is I used "together". The member has mentioned in his opening remarks you made some comments about me visiting Yarmouth and me being accessible here in the House and outside the Chamber because we all should be working together with respect to jobsHere. Trust me, this is not a political rant but we - all of us all 52 members in this House of Assembly - have a responsibility to Nova Scotia, all of us. And I would like to think that that's a shared responsibility so when I meet with you and we're discussing the concerns in Yarmouth whether it be around tourism, whether it be around the ferry - we've even talked about the African Nova Scotian community in that particular area of the province that felt somewhat left out of the mix - it's about us working together to accomplish the goals that are set in front of us. The real evaluation isn't what you accomplished or what you don't accomplish.
MR. CHURCHILL: I appreciate the minister's comments around cooperation and all working together to achieve the goals that we all have in this Chamber and that's to improve the province. I just want the minister to know that as soon as I get an invitation to come and help make decision at the Cabinet table, I'll be there sir, I promise you that.
I appreciate that the goals of this plan is to create as many jobs of possible. A fear I have is that if that's the said goal then what the department is doing is creating a scenario where you can't actually evaluate whether your accomplishing that goal or not. To say as many jobs as possible, I find it to be a very intangible, pie-in-the-sky thing. I fear if that's the goal of the department, then the department itself - along with the public and Opposition Parties - will have a very hard time saying we're achieving our goals because is three jobs as many as possible, is 100 jobs, is 5,000 jobs as many as possible. That's why I think it's absolutely vital that there are some set targets with some set timelines so that the Opposition Party, the public but also your department can track the implementation of this plan and actually continually to evaluate to see whether your accomplishing what you want to accomplish from it. Otherwise you're going to have a scenario where you don't know what you're accomplishing, you don't know if it's doing all it can do, you don't know if the programs in place needs to be rethought or changed. Like you said, we are dealing in a dynamic marketplace and economic environment, and the department and government is going to have to evolve to all those changing circumstances. But that doesn't mean you don't put concrete targets in place with a plan to achieve them and set deadlines so that you're actually able to assess the productivity, accomplishments and the achievements - as you said, minister - of this plan. Otherwise I think we're shooting into the dark, if that's not the case.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, I thought - probably me, but I thought I did give a number because I gave a number between that three and five-year period which would be, I think I said just over 2,000 to under 4,000. I think the projected number is more like 3.500 - 3,600.
Also I think for the member is that what we currently do and how we evaluate things is we currently track jobs now so when we create jobs we know what region of the province, what industry that they're in. There are categories for jobs. There will be jobs for learning. We can track, we can tell present time, within reason, how many jobs have been created as a result.
There will be jobs that are going to be created that are the result of a project, what we call project-related jobs. Again, we can track those. We can tell the public, we can certainly inform you of what those numbers are. Then there are long-term jobs that are going to be here for our future. We track all of those. So those are the three basic categories and I certainly don't want to beat this to death but I think, and we can certainly agree to disagree, but that in itself, if we can track jobs and if we know a year from now how many jobs we had at that particular time, if we know now how many jobs that we have created or sustained and, more importantly, in what categories they are, that in itself provides us with a point of evaluation. Then we can set down, we can analyze that, we can tell in what sectors and what fields and what areas that we're getting the biggest bang for our buck, so to speak, so that, in itself, serves as an evaluation as to where we're going in the future and where we've been in the past. I hope that's some help.
MR. CHURCHILL: Madam Chairman, the minister has mentioned this 2,000 to 4,000 target for three to five years, is that correct? Three to five years from now, my question is, is that the target for the jobsHere plan? Is that the target that jobsHere is going to - I'll have some more questions after this as well.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I understand, but if you'd like to complete your question and have the answer by the minister, I just want to make sure that I've got your break.
MR. CHURCHILL: Okay, so my first question - I will continue to speak after this, Madam Chairman, my first question is, is the 2,000 to 4,000 number the only target for job creation that is outlined in the jobsHere strategy? Is that the only one? I'll be interested to see what the minister's answer is on that.
Also, are we tracking today jobs that have been created from the implementation of this plan? If so, how many jobs from the launch of jobsHere to the current day have been created through the implementation of that strategy and plan?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, I guess to offer some clarity to the member, I gave a number, I think it was 2,200 and I think the range 2,200 to 3,500. That is the number of jobs that we are projecting over the next three to five years. Those are jobs that we actually are predicting, mostly through the good work and through the efforts of - well, in a large part through NSBI. Over the next three to five years the prediction is that we will create 2,200 to 3,500 jobs and that's based on the information that we have in front of us now. Again, I want to reiterate, because there's no magic here except hard work. My wish and my want is that that number will increases the more we get into jobsHere; it is still a relatively new strategy and so this is the prediction thus far. I would like to think that as we get more into it, the longer the strategy is up and running then hopefully that will increase.
The more we become known in the global market, right now, one of the things I did say is that, first of all we are a small province and if you go anywhere in the world there are a lot of people who haven't heard of us. Whenever I'm on a trade mission or if I'm out of the country on business, on government-related business or even as a tourist or doing family things, people say well where are you from and I say Nova Scotia there's not many people who know where Nova Scotia is outside of Canada, outside of North America. If I say Canada they generally know where Canada is but when I say Nova Scotia many of them draw blanks. So we have to be more competitive and in order to be more competitive we have to let jurisdictions around the world know that we exist so that target that I've already mentioned, again it's a moving target. Our wish, my wish, our goal and certainly the goals of staff is that a year from now you and I will be sitting our places and you're going to ask me the same questions and I'll be able to say well now that target of 2,200 to 3,500, well you know what it would be nice if I could say we've reached that 3,500 and now we're pushing on to 4,500 or something even higher.
MR. CHURCHILL: If these are the only targets that we have put forward right now, these 2,200 to 3,500 jobs, I think that it's very important that there is some periodic tracking with this so that you're able to update the public and update us on how this project is doing. I'd be interested to hear how that tracking is going to happen and what is going to equate success with this.
So if you were looking at the numbers and you create 2,200 to 3,500 jobs in three to five years, is that the only criteria you're going to look at whether to judge if it's been successful? Or, are you going to look at the wider economic situation in Nova Scotia? Say we've created 3,500 jobs through jobsHere, which is the high end of the target - will you also take into consideration jobs that are lost in that time, the unemployment rate, the employment rate, and those sorts of things? Will those statistics be used in assessing the success of this program? I know members of this House have said before from the government side that jobs have been created from jobsHere to date, I haven't heard a concrete number I think the member from Halifax Citadel-Sable Island mentioned something in the range of 2,000 in an earlier debate we had; I could be wrong in that. I'm sure someone will dig up the Hansard on that anyway and tell me. . .
AN HON. MEMBER: It's probably more than that.
MR. CHURCHILL: Okay, probably more than 2,000.
ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: Over the period of the plan.
MR. CHURCHILL: If it's been probably more than over 2,000 jobs to date that have been created through this program. I mean that's not indicated by the statistics that are out there right now, where employment numbers in every region outside of Halifax Regional Municipality and in metro is actually decreasing right now. The employment numbers are decreasing and this is from January 9 until the present; numbers have been consistently going down. That still looks at the numbers from when this plan was launched. Unemployment numbers have steadily been going up since that time. Unemployment has actually gone up in HRM, as well in every region of the province unemployment has gone up. I can table those documents for the House.
It is also interesting to look at the numbers of people who are leaving the province. I know that a said goal of jobsHere is to keep people here in the province but we've been experiencing - I think the most recent numbers would say that an interprovincial net loss of Nova Scotians. That's what we've been experiencing, an interprovincial net loss of people actually leaving the province, mostly I would assume because of the economic situation here. We're faced with decreasing numbers in the labour force. I think these are all important statistics to keep track of. It's one thing to say we've created 3,500 jobs but if these trends continue then where's the real value in those 3,500 jobs for the overall general outlook of the province?
I think it would be very important for members of this House to see how this plan is going to be tracked, how we're going to assess the achievements of this plan. How we're going to make sure that every single program that is implemented through this plan, every single funding proposal that is brought forward to create jobs is actually, not just creating a few jobs but having an overall impact on the success of the Nova Scotia economy.
MR. PARIS: Well, I've got to say you raise - I've heard more than one question in that. I guess first I'm going to say yes, we do track. We do track jobs but also I think that when you talk about measurements and how do we - I think you might have used "milestones" and how do we know what is success and where we are in the big picture. Well we will be able to tell this by analysis and if we increase trade, that's certainly one way. It's not all of it but it takes a number of ways, increasing productivity, investing in workplace training and workplace education. We've also said that that's a key component of jobsHere - investment in the most important resource that we have and that's our human resource.
Another way of measurement is through exports - have we increased our exports? Are we exporting more today than we did a year ago and five years ago and 10 years ago? So there are ways of measuring those very things. Jobs are quite - I'm not going to say easy but we do track them in a very effective way.
You also mentioned and I've got to spend just a minute on this but you talked about out-migration and how we are losing many of our citizens. Is out-migration a concern? Well yes, it is. I mean we've got another concern as well and I'm just going to park out-migration for about five seconds because another concern we have is that we've got to make sure as we move down this road that we have the people, we have the individuals available who can staff the jobs that we do create. Not only do we have to have the numbers but we also have to make sure that they're educated and they're able to do it. That goes back to the education and the training.
The out-migration, I think about this a lot. Do we need more immigrants? We need more immigrants. We need more of our people who were born and raised here. We've got some untapped markets here in Nova Scotia and I could name the Mi'kmaq, the First Nations community that has a ready human resource there that's available to us. We've got to look at the African Nova Scotian community which is underrepresented in the workplace. So it comes back to the education and training and jobsHere does that. We just implemented a new program about three weeks ago - Skills Up! - targeted for the African Nova Scotian community which is going to have an enormous impact on that particular population.
So we have to do some outreach because jobsHere is not a stand-alone, it reaches out and it touches on everybody. For us to be inclusive, we've got to reach out, we can't sit back and wait like we've been doing in the past. We've got to do more outreach and we've got to provide more in the way of education and training. Out-migration is not new. Out-migration, as long as I can remember, has always been a problem or a concern in the Province of Nova Scotia. I look at out-migration - when I was born, individuals in the African Nova Scotian community were going to Boston. Then the U.S. got to be a favourite place and then it was Montreal, then Toronto, and now I think it's probably Calgary, like a lot of other people.
So out-migration isn't new to us. Rural Nova Scotia has always lost residents to Halifax, to Toronto, to Montreal, to larger centres where they could secure employment. So it's nothing new. I think it has been - and I think probably to really drive this home - we have African Nova Scotian communities that are on the verge of non-existence. They're non-existent because there's nobody living there anymore or very few people. Is that a concern culturally? It should be a concern for all Nova Scotians. Are we concerned about it as government? Absolutely. That's why we are developing and implementing this to help us address this in the large picture.
So out-migration, we have to do something about it. We have to attract more immigrants to Nova Scotia. I hear a lot of conversation - and I don't hear it so much now but I used to hear, well, if we're going to address our human resource problem in Nova Scotia, we need more immigrants to come to Nova Scotia. Well, that's only one part of the equation and I say that in all sincerity. I mean do we need and do we want immigrants to come to Nova Scotia? Absolutely. Do we need them? Yes. In the same breath, we've got populations here that are underemployed, that we have to also, not completely focus on one, but we've got to spread our focus across the full spectrum if we want to accomplish the tasks that we set out with respect to jobsHere.
You raised a couple of very important and very vital topics in your questioning that are fully related. Rural Nova Scotia, and I know because the member is from Yarmouth, a small - I guess I don't know if I would call it a rural community - but a small Nova Scotia town that certainly needs all the assistance that's available. That's why we recognize and why we did things like we do with other communities and that's why you have a task force there that is acting on an interim basis, for the lack of a better word, as a substitute for the RDA. Because this government and as minister, I recognize the need to stimulate and create employment and business opportunities in an area because something fell apart. We don't want to see the community suffer and we do that no matter where it is in the Province of Nova Scotia.
So you're raising a lot of good points within your questioning but I think we recognize each and every one of them - out-migration, immigrants, small communities - not everything centres and focuses on Halifax. I was at a meeting, and I don't think it's important where the meeting was but I'll just say it was in a rural Nova Scotian community, and a councillor got up and this was a community meeting, it was a public meeting, not one of the secretive public meetings that I advertised in the paper, but it (Interruption)
Yes, I've got to let it go. It was a meeting that a councillor got up and said, well, everything is about Halifax. My response is that we, no matter where we live in Nova Scotia, have to recognize how important Halifax is to the economy of Nova Scotia. You know, whether you like it or whether you don't like it, Halifax is the economic engine of Atlantic Canada. What's good in Halifax has an impact on the rest of Nova Scotia. One of the things that I strive to do and I'll tell you a little secret, I guess maybe it's not a secret and I'll share this with you, is that oftentimes when people from out of the country, out of state, come to Halifax and they're looking at investing in Nova Scotia, they come here because they've heard some good things about the province.
One of the things that they look for is activity and do you know what they're looking for - they're looking for cranes. They're looking at the skyline and they're looking for it because if they're going to invest in Nova Scotia, they want to come to a place that's vibrant, that's got activity going on, that's moving forward. I'm trying to court or entice them to come to Nova Scotia but Halifax, as the capital city, as the largest city in the region, I'm hard-pressed to show them those areas of the city that I can say, well, look at all these cranes. In all seriousness I can only go down to the container pier so many times before they catch on, but it's so vital, it's so important that that type of activity encourages more activity. As good as Halifax does, it spills over to the rest of the province.
MR. CHURCHILL: Madam Chairman, the minister touched on what I think is going to be one of our greatest challenges here in the Province of Nova Scotia and in the country and that's a skilled labour shortage that we're going to be faced with. Provincially there are some different reasons for that, people leaving the province. Out-migration of residents and citizens would be one reason and there are certain things that we can do to try to address that kind of labour shortage. Stemming the flow of out-migration is obviously going to be important, that seems it should be a centre stone of jobsHere, to stop the bleeding of Nova Scotians who are forced to go to Alberta, even New Brunswick, Ontario or wherever else.
Like the minister said, we need to talk about bringing people into the province from other countries, supporting and having an immigration system that facilitates the immigration of skilled workers from other countries but also needs to be extended to our own provinces and bring people from other areas of the country to Nova Scotia as well. There are some great things that we can sell here including our low cost of living and real estate markets which are pretty good to get people here. I know a couple in Yarmouth who came from Quebec, fell in love with the place, stayed and now they're working, they're actually involved in tourism, to contribute to the Yarmouth economy by bringing more of their fellow residents of Quebec to Yarmouth and letting the area know about them, letting people outside of the province know about the beauty and the advantages of that area.
One key component to addressing the skilled labour shortage is increasing the participation rates of many young Nova Scotians who currently aren't participating. I believe that nation-wide 70 per cent of jobs that we've created in the last number of years require a post-secondary skill of some sort, whether it's a community college degree or certificate or university degree. Because of the declining population base we have that's another reason why we're going to have a skilled labour shortage because of the changing demographics. We have an aging population, less young people coming through the system, we need to do a better job of reaching out to those individuals who aren't participating in our education system, namely individuals from low-income backgrounds, our Aboriginal students and many rural students to ensure that they're being brought into the education system and acquiring the skills that they not only need to be successful but that the province and country need them to have so that we can fulfill the demand of skilled workers out there.
I will tell you that my background is in education policy, I'm not saying I'm a policy wonk by any means in anything, but if I do know one policy it would be education policy, especially around accessibility. In the jobsHere program we talk about increasing the skills of our young people but in the financial - and I realize that this isn't in your department, minister, but it affects the outcomes of your department - the plan that has been put forward to help students won't address the issue of accessibly right now. It's going to increase the participation rates of low-income students, of Aboriginal students and of rural students to get them in the education system. The proposal that was brought forward to help students, I think, has a lot of good things in it, especially the debt cap and hopefully making education more affordable for many students is only going to help those students who are actually in the system. That's what we've learned by looking at financial aid programs across the country, affordability measures help the middle-income to higher-income students come out with less debt. It doesn't do what most people hope it does and increase accessibility.
I just want to put that on your radar that if it is a goal of your department to increase the skilled labour numbers that we have and increase participation of people who aren't currently getting the skills that they need, and that our province needs them to have, that's something that, I believe, you're going to have work with the Department of Education on to help address that issue. Because I think that that's going to be a very real one and I haven't heard an economist that has said our economy isn't based on our people, as you said, and the skills and talents of those people. That is something that I think is very important to keep track of because right now we're not doing anything as a province to increase the participation rate of those people and they are going to be left behind. Also we're going to have fewer opportunities to address the skilled labour shortage that is coming our way.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, I've got to say again to the member, you raise a number of very interesting and thought-provoking things. First of all, I want to acknowledge the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. The reason I want to do that is because she has played a lead role as we implement jobsHere and certainly she has championed some of those very things that you suggest that we're void of. Under the jobsHere strategy, a good example would be the Skills Up! program, and I mentioned the Skills Up! in my preamble because through the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, that's the program that meets one of those very targeted groups that you talked about. So the Skills Up! program is targeted for persons of African descent who have either fallen through the cracks, well, have fallen through the cracks and who need that extra something.
When you talk about accessibility and you mentioned that I may not be the appropriate minister that you should ask that question to, well, the appropriate minister is the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. However, I do have some expertise in that area because of my background. I was employed for over 20 years at Dalhousie University so, you know, there are initiatives that are available that address some of those issues and concerns that you raise around accessibility, but we also - under the jobsHere and certainly with the minister responsible - have acknowledged, recognized, and we put some things in place to address some of those gaps. Are we finished yet? Well, no, we're not.
Also with the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, we co-chair the workplace strategy. So we work together very closely with those very things that are of concern to you. We are working to address those gaps and those individuals that may otherwise be missing out as we work towards the future. So when we talk about the First Nations community, or the Aboriginal community, the Mi'kmaq community, the African Nova Scotian, and even immigrants, there's a concern there with immigrants around certification. So I want to assure the member opposite that we are aware of those. We are attempting to address them. Are we finished yet? Well, no, we're not, we've got a way to go yet.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for today for the Committee of the Whole House on Supply has elapsed.
We stand adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 3:28 p.m.]