HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 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.
The honourable Acting Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Madam Chairman, we will continue the estimates for the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
The honourable member for Yarmouth, with nine minutes remaining in the Official Opposition's time allotment.
MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: Madam Chairman, it's nice to be back here in estimates, and I guess I'll get right to my questions to the minister. The last time we were together for estimates we were able to chat about jobsHere and the need for targets that currently aren't necessarily there, and my hope that we'll be tracking the success and evaluating the jobsHere plan.
I want to talk about another economic development issue that was brought forward by this government, I believe - I'm not entirely sure - Team West and Team South West, which were identified by the Premier as being regional organizations that are set up to strengthen the western part of the province, southwestern Nova Scotia. That's what they were meant to do.
My question to the minister - and this is something that is still confusing to members of our community because we haven't heard much from either one of these groups in terms of projects being put forward, or anything that is being done in terms of economic development - what is the difference between Team West and Team South West and what is their mandate as regional development organizations?
HON. PERCY PARIS: Madam Chairman, I want to thank the member for that particular question. I'll say this and I'll try to be as exact as I can because even sometimes when we talk about Team West, Team South West and now Task Force South West, even I can get somewhat confused.
I think Team West was - and I say "was" - the provincially designated arm that was looking after concerns in the southwestern region when it came to economic development. Then we had Team South West which was made up of both federal and provincial governments - it was co-chaired by the feds and the province. What happened, for the member's information, is they morphed into one and now the processes are winding down. As a result of that winding down and because of the lack of a Regional Development Agency (RDA) what we had was a request from a group of individuals, business people in the area, and there were some political individuals at the same table.
I remember, member, you were one of them - and actually it was through your efforts that that meeting took place, and we acknowledge that and we thank you for that.
As a result of that meeting, they like the private sector wanted to have an interim task force which would address some of the issues and concerns related to Economic and Rural Development and Tourism in the southwestern region, because the RDA which is still not up and running, they felt that the lack of an RDA that they needed a mechanism in place to fill the void. I went to that meeting; I heard the concerns that were voiced at the meeting; I agreed with the concerns, however there were some concerns that I had of my own.
I also remember - and I should apologize to the member for Argyle because I think he also played a lead hand in helping to organize that meeting.
My concerns about setting up the Task Force South West was about a transition that, while we worked together with the community to get a new RDA in place, I wanted to make sure there would be a smooth transition with respect to the task force and the RDA. There was also a concern that I expressed around one of inclusiveness because if we we're going to do something in the southwestern region I wanted it to include the whole region and not just solely concentrated on Yarmouth and that immediate area. So those were some concerns that I had initially.
Also, I wanted to ensure that if we were going to offer some funding, because they were looking for some funding, that there would have to be the proper checks and balances in place so that the money would always be accountable and that the money would always be for the right things. We didn't want to repeat some of the things that have happened in the past when it came to taxpayers' dollars.
Also, I expressed the concern at the time that we were looking for, and I think it's probably fair to say, some new blood, some fresh blood that would maybe look at things in a very objective and fair way as we move forward. So I was assured by the asking group that was led by one particular individual in the community that they would fulfil all those conditions - and the ask was for $100,000. What we've done is we've designated in our budget $100,000 for the task force to be up, operational and running. They were busy going around and selecting membership for the task force - oh, I should also mention that it was another request on my part that the task force, whoever it was, be represented in a way of diversity, that not everybody would look at it the same way, with respect to the task force. Anyway, we were assured that those were conditions, if I can use the word "conditions", that were well within the framework of what the task force was seeking, so we allocated $100,000 for them to do that.
MR. CHURCHILL: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you, minister, for the response to those questions. Earlier on in the year, I guess last year when the Premier was talking about Team West, he referred to - and this is in Hansard - a question that was asked by the member for Clare, and he said that these organizations are put together to come up with proposals for economic development either in the region in the western part of the province or in southwestern Nova Scotia. When they come up with a strategy for that, then they'll be funded at the appropriate level of government and by the appropriate department of the province. That is the purpose of having strategic planning groups in place.
So according to what the Premier said, there would have been some proposals that were brought forward by Team West or Team South West, or both, and there was a strategy put in place. Could the minister identify to the Chamber which projects were brought forward by Team West or Team South West and what strategic planning took place? And if those documents could be tabled in the House, it would be greatly appreciated.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, the member is correct, what I recall is that there were 11 initiatives that were funded through that project. There were 11 and I would be more than - I can't recall them right off the top of my head. (Interruption) There were 11 commercial and 37 non-commercial projects that were linked to that initiative -I could certainly provide the member with a list of what those 11 and 37 were.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Official Opposition has expired.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. CHUCK PORTER: Madam Chairman, I'm pleased to have a chance to get into this debate today finally. I have a number of things I want to cover over the next number of hours and I'm trying to think where I would start.
I'll go to an issue that has been alive and well, I guess, for lack of a better term, in the last little while locally for me, and that is our RDA. I don't think I need to explain to the minister how important the RDAs are - I think he is more than well aware of that and, certainly out where we come from, it's a valuable asset. They are involved in many projects. We've got a lot of very experienced and great people working there who help see these projects through to the end - whether it's doing paperwork in the beginning for grants, or whatever it might be, there's a valuable role for them to play.
It has been a bit disheartening in the last little while. We've had some very, very good executive directors over the years, I think that's fair to say. We've probably had one of the better-functioning RDAs - and I've said that on many occasions, as well, over the years. It has been pretty much trouble-free and it has done wonderful things and been involved, as I've already stated.
I know recently I read an article in my local paper with regard to one of the municipal units, unfortunately, giving notice that they planned to pull out of the RDA, based on some information, or lack thereof, that was claimed to be presented back to council from the minister and/or his office. I'm not really concerned - the minister did table some stuff the other day. I didn't have a chance to read it, but I am going to have a look at that. I know from what I've heard that response went back to the CAO, which in some cases it would be deemed appropriate by way of a response, not necessarily the warden and/or councillor, but whatever that may be I know that the council was looking for a direct response and feel they didn't get that.
I guess my big concern that I was getting to, minister, is the very fact that here we have one of the six funding partners, I believe we have, involved in this RDA planning to pull out. That means dollars obviously on their behalf to the RDA. It's $60,000-odd I believe is the figure if you have it there - that would be great if you can clarify what that does mean, but I believe it's $60,000-some and then there's a piece that goes with that. I've only heard the figures, I've not seen them, but it totals somewhere over $100,000 at the end
day that it would take out of my local RDA. That, of course, is of great concern. To me that means a job or two, maybe that- I don't know what it means in all honesty. Does it mean it's going to become something new?
I'm very frustrated with the fact that we're even discussing this. I'm disappointed that it's where it is especially based on knowing these people so well. There was an HR issue there, and I'm not interested in bringing anybody's name to the floor of this House; I don't believe that is the appropriate thing to do. This gentleman whom I know, and know well, I would say did a great job, he was working on projects that I was involved in.
He was dismissed, and I'm not sure the reason why. It was done in camera and I guess that's where it should remain. That's irrelevant; however, it started this whole mess, for lack of a better term. That is what I'm going to refer to it as, because that what it is. It's the exchange of information on council's behalf that I'm speaking of here. In talking to the warden earlier this morning on this again, their discontent - certainly they don't feel that there's been a clear exchange of information and that you, as the minister, didn't drop by to see them. I know you're busy, but this was deemed as a fairly important issue and I'm sure you've seen the article as well, minister.
I guess my first question to you is, where are we going from here with this RDA? What does it really mean by way of financial input lost to this RDA in Hants County, the Hants RDA, with a funding partner like the municipality of West Hants pulling out? And what will that mean - is it jobs, two jobs, any jobs? What's it taking away? I see this as a very important piece to what's provided to our local communities.
MR. PARIS: It's quite an opening for the member opposite.
I want to first talk about RDAs. RDAs, I think, are very vital to the Province of Nova Scotia. I think they provide valuable leadership and economic development within the Province of Nova Scotia. I would say, as minister responsible, any loss of an RDA to any community is a critical blow. Like the member opposite, Madam Chairman, I'll use the identical word, I am "disappointed" that somebody has chosen to withdraw from an RDA. I think it's short-sighted, and the people who really suffer when a community withdraws, a jurisdiction withdraws from an RDA, you know who suffers - it's the people. The very people that an RDA is meant to serve suffer as a consequence of that. I would like to think that all RDAs in the province, anyone who is thinking of withdrawing, would think long and hard about this.
The member mentioned about a human resource issue and, like the member opposite, I don't want to get into mentioning any names, but if this is where this started with respect to the RDAs decision I personally find that, again, disappointing and very frustrating. When they had a human resource issue in one particular RDA in the member's jurisdiction, the RDA board called me up and I had an in camera session with the board. They explained to me certain particulars which, obviously, I'm not going to get into on the floor of this House - or anywhere for that matter - they explained to me the circumstances surrounding this particular issue and I found the explanation that was given to me to be perfectly acceptable under the circumstances of the day. That opportunity that was afforded me was afforded to all members of the RDA.
The unfortunate part about this is that all members didn't seize that opportunity, and that's really sad that they didn't take that opportunity if they were sincerely interested in the reasons as to why or why not. This was an opportunity to go in camera and get all of the ins and outs about why a decision was reached. I think that would have had a great deal of bearing on where we are today. I know that the member - I think probably for clarity's sake, I didn't read all the articles in the Hants Journal because when the paper contacted me, my response to the paper was that I wasn't going to debate or have discussions about an issue involving an RDA.
I believe that, as a minister of the Crown, I'm one of the most accessible ministers in government and I said I'd be more than willing to go to that RDA, and I think my record for that particular jurisdiction speaks for itself. I think anytime they called, I've been there to answer the call and go to any meetings. I wasn't about to hang my laundry in public. I said to the media, look, I'm willing to talk to the RDA - in fact I did get a letter from the RDA so I was somewhat baffled when the member from the Official Opposition brought forward a letter pertaining to the RDA - and that's why I didn't answer it and that's why I had the letter that I tabled that I did respond to.
I agree with the member, RDAs are vital, they are very, very important. I would like to think that cooler heads will prevail. That we just simply, all of us, do the right thing for the people who have put you in those positions of power and influence and you make decisions on their behalf and that they are the right decisions.
MR. PORTER: Thank you, minister, for the response. I agree. You didn't quite get to the financial piece, but I'll give you that opportunity - shortly we'll come back to that. I'm still looking to see what that really means; I guess this next piece is significant to that because my concern is there will be a loss. There is a figure, and I know you know that and you'll provide it. There is going to be a loss if we don't rectify the situation now.
In talking to the warden, one of my first questions this morning, knowing I was going to have the opportunity today at some point to speak with you in this debate - is that a final decision? Is the door closed? Are the cards all off the table? Is there room to, I'll use the word "negotiate", at least sit down and chat about this in further detail? And he said the door is open. Not on behalf of you and not on behalf of them - when I say "them" I mean the warden and council - but on behalf of all the people I represent, I'm asking: Is there an opportunity for you and your department to come to the table and meet with them if need be to resolve this issue sooner rather than later?
I know there are rules around giving notice, pulling out, there's an argument, it's 90 days, it's a year - I don't know what the MGA says, I haven't had time to look to be perfectly honest with you but I do know there are some rules around all of that. To me, that's going the wrong way, I'm looking to solve the issue by way of saying we're all grown-ups here, let's come to the table. I'm not interested in the details of why this individual issue happened - I was invited to an in camera session and I said no, this has got nothing to do with me. This is an issue that HR and the board has to handle, rightly or wrongly, it's not my place as the MLA to step in and resolve HR issues and I'll always stand by that.
It's my job to make sure that people are treated fairly. That's what I stand up for when I stand up for my people - that they are treated fairly. The question here is, was this fellow treated fairly? You've been involved, and you and I spoke about this early on after it happened in December. My request then, I believe, to you was - and I don't know word for word, but it was basically along the lines, look, this is important and I know you're going to get called, please have a good look at this. You assured me that you would have some involvement. I spoke to your executive assistant, Mr. Wyse, who has been helpful, so I want to take the time to point that out, I think it's important.
But what is even more important is that I don't need my RDA to be dysfunctional or falling apart or doing any less than they've already done, because they are vital, they are leaders in our community, and they are getting, and have gotten, things done. I need them there doing that. They are a wonderful asset and I don't want to lose anybody. Perhaps there is some mechanism that will change in how all of this functions - I don't know.
There is a board there, and I know a lot of the people on the board. I've known them for a long time, and there are some good people there. You have to put some trust in those people if you're going to have such a board and I would never say anything different there. People will not always be happy with decisions that are made, that would just be the weirdest thing. I mean you just can't be all things to all people, whether you're a government or a board and you're trying to manage anything, it makes no difference, we cannot do everything perfectly right. The circumstances at this point, it's done, there's something moving forward and I'm really concerned about where we're going here.
I guess I'm looking for that commitment today, minister. Will you come back to the table? I'm willing to even facilitate it if I need to, to try and get it all done. I need it reconciled, other than ripped apart, is where I'm going with it. I want to resolve the issue; I want the municipality involved with the other five units that are funding partners. We cover a huge area in Hants, Hants East and Hants West - it's a big territory.
I've also taken great pride in bragging that team up when I travel, when I talk to people about how good our RDA has been, and continues to be, and the good people there. I want to be able to continue doing that, not trying to figure out how I'm talking to and about the RDA and then whatever the municipality decides they might have to do to function along those levels, whatever that might be. It's going to be very difficult to work whether it's you as the minister of the day now, or it's other organizations and other levels of government trying to deal with it, it's going to be difficult. I see great crossover, I see a number of issues, it's better as a team moving forward, and to that I'm looking for that commitment. Again, if you have the figures - I'm not sure if you do - of what that means I think it's important to get that out there so the people understand how significant this is and what it means.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the minister I just want to draw members' attention to - I didn't interrupt your comments because I felt that you were on a roll but I should, in the interest of procedure and practice, as we would in the regular House of Assembly, ask that you direct your comments and questions through the chairman. I know we're in a little more of a relaxed atmosphere, but we do want to be consistent and practice makes perfect. So what you do here no doubt you will do in the Legislature and that applies to both members asking questions and making comments, as well as ministers. Thank you.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, before I forget the figure that the member opposite is asking about, he's correct, about $60,000. A significant amount of money for any municipality.
I'll start off by saying that this minister never left the table. I've always been, and will continue to be, accessible. As a matter of fact, Madam Chairman, since this all started, within the last two weeks I had staff call the RDA and let the RDA know that I want to set up a meeting. So I've been proactive; I'm setting up a meeting with the RDA. Also I think it's important to note that I've taken some liberties and I've spoken to some political figures in the Hants area. I think, as a minister and as an individual, sometimes what I'm thinking and what I'm doing it's always good to have it validated by people you respect. Without a doubt there are some politicians in Windsor and area - and employees, I must say - whom I've a great deal of respect for and with whom I've worked in the past, and I would like to think that I'll still continue to work with them.
So I did call them and ran it by a couple of them to see if there was anything that we did wrong, and they assured me that this wasn't so much about me as minister, but they thought that maybe there might be more to this than what they knew, or what even I might know. So we do recognize this as a real issue, as a real concern.
The membership of any RDA, the real strength with any RDA is in the numbers. It's in those individuals and those municipalities that are sitting and that are represented at the table. When we start to lose people from an RDA, it's like that chain and a weak link - the more people you lose, the more weak links you get within what it is that you're trying to do. I know we agree on this, Madam Chairman, member opposite - I'm sure that we do, we've talked about the value and the great resource that the RDAs are and what a waste for us to lose, or for an RDA to break down for reasons that may not be known or for reasons - if I can use the member's language - that aren't fair.
One of the things that I've prided myself on since I've been in this House of Assembly - and I piggyback on my job when I was at Dalhousie University as head of the Diversity Initiative - is being fair. I'm asking myself every day, no matter what it is that I do, was that the fair thing to do? When I went and met with the RDA about an issue that they had, a human resource issue, it wasn't up to me to get involved with that particular issue. I went there as a common courtesy to hear their side of the story because they wanted me to. There were existing memberships that wanted me to intervene in something that I really thought was out of my jurisdiction, but I could go and be objective, listen to the arguments pro and con, and then make my own decisions, Madam Chairman.
So I believe that I've always been there; I always will be there. And I will be meeting with the RDA. I don't think a time has been set yet, but I know staff has been in touch with them. Let's just hope that better heads and fairness do prevail and that we make the best decisions for the whole of the community and not to appease just a couple of individuals.
MR. PORTER: Madam Chairman, to be more formal, through you to the honourable minister, although I would like to think - and I'm sure he does - that the questions that I'm presenting, and regardless of formalities or not, he's taking them the way they are presented. I know he knows that, but anyway, through you to the minister, I want to say that's great, thank you. I look forward to getting some of these resolved, then.
Again, I just want to stress today that council's opinion is that they weren't satisfied with the answer - that they never got one, they expected more, and so there may be some clarity around that that needs to be provided. I think that just sitting down and having that debate and working through it, we could resolve a lot of this issue regarding that piece. It's unfortunate that we are where we are with that, but I look forward to moving on and getting that resolved for everyone I represent, as I said, and all the good work the RDA has done and continues to do and will continue to do.
I want to move on to a different subject, and that is jobs and Fundy Gypsum. I know that you are certainly aware of what happened there. At one point we were 150 strong there; the jobs were paying good money - $48,000 to $50,000 a year, from what I understand. What that meant to the local economy is obvious, whether it was purchasing vehicles or houses or going out for dinner to local restaurants. Everyone has certainly been affected. The tax base will be affected. We know how all that works and the outcomes.
People are wondering, what's going to happen with Fundy Gypsum? Well, until we see some boom in the United States probably, the answer seems fairly obvious. If you watch the news at all or you read the paper or you pay any attention to American politics, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of hope presented right now for that market of home building, given how things are. I'd like to think that somewhere down the road it will come back. Once it's closed, the fear is obviously that it's closed.
Madam Chairman, through you to the minister, my question would quite simply be, have any meetings occurred with Mike Bishop? I know you may know Mike - I'm not sure, but I'm going to assume you know Mike, being from Windsor. The last number of years he's lived around 20-plus years now, managing the local Fundy organization as well as Cape Breton - I know he's doing some stuff up in the Narrows there. Any discussion with Mike and/or anyone from USG about moving forward, if there are plans? I know all they have on staff there right now are some night watchmen and that's about it, and the place is pretty much shut right down. Just curious about where we are on Fundy, if anywhere.
Minister, if you need a few minutes - I see you're conversing with other staff that you have with you - if you want to take some time, I can move on to something else if you want to come back to that. Are you good?
MR. PARIS: Again, the short answer to the question is that we haven't had any discussion with the unions. I know the loss of Fundy Gypsum in Windsor would have spin-off effects as well. It's not just the individuals who work at the plant itself, but there also would be spin-offs. For instance, rail - when they were transporting Fundy it also provided jobs for people in the rail.
The member is bringing back some memories. I think at one time, way back before I was born, everybody at one point in time worked for Fundy Gypsum. My father even worked at Fundy Gypsum, just for a short period of time, but there were so many individuals like my dad who spent - whether it had been a week or a month or whatever, and then there were others who went on to work there for 20, 25, and 30 years. I know the member is absolutely correct - with the downturn in the construction industry, especially so hard hit in the United States, we've felt the repercussions of that here in Nova Scotia.
It's rather unfortunate, but we haven't had any dialogue with the unions. It's one of those industries that, for the time being, is a lost industry. It's amazing - mining gypsum has been an employer in Windsor long before I was born, and I guess I was somewhat lucky because I didn't get to work at Fundy Gypsum, not even as a part-time summer job. I know it wasn't an easy job - a tough job, breathing in the dust that's created on the job. But in those days they were jobs and it was all about putting food on the table. I hope that answers the member's questions.
MR. PORTER: Thank you very much. I just was kind of curious. There's a long history there, as you've alluded to - yes, probably a little bit before your time; somewhere around 90-plus years Miller's Creek has been in operation over there. You're right - probably just about everybody around Hants County worked there, and from beyond, including many, many people I've known over the years. I know farmers who used to work there and then go home and farm all night long. They would load trains and do all different sorts of things through the Fundy Gypsum organization - a very important employer.
Would you foresee anywhere - and maybe not, but I was just kind of curious - as in talking to local people and employees who are now laid off, any discussion - there hasn't been any, obviously - is there any other use for that plant? I'm not sure that there is, and I was just curious if you've been talking to anybody - not specifically Fundy, you've answered that, but others - to say, look, we've got a plant out there, this is what it does. Are there any other uses? I'm obviously looking to find jobs for my area, and I know in Nova Scotia in general there have been a lot of losses, whether you're in Cape Breton or you're in the Valley - it doesn't matter, wherever, there have been multiple job losses. So we're always looking.
I know that I've been talking and dealing with a fellow on this, and there were a lot of questions around what it could be used for. There appear to be some other uses, and I'm just curious as to whether or not government is aware of what they might be and if there are any discussions outside of Fundy for potential operation and obvious employment there.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, through you I'll say this: we're not aware of any other particular uses for the gypsum company in the Wentworth area. However, I shouldn't say "Wentworth"; I know the member knows what I mean when I said "Wentworth" - I meant Wentworth Road - but I wouldn't want anyone who may be listening, or anyone in the House, to be confused when we talk about the gypsum plant in Windsor. But I'll say this: if there's anyone who has some ideas about future use of that facility, we would be more than interested and willing to hear what it is that they've got to say. We haven't heard anything, but we're open to listening to what those ideas might be.
MR. PORTER: Madam Chairman, through you to the minister, thank you. I was just kind of curious about that, and I was actually quite interested myself when I was contacted by this gentleman who was just asking some questions. Actually, I believe this fellow is from Sweden, strangely enough. So at some point we probably will be in touch with whatever and whomever he has been chatting with to talk about that further. I do know in some preliminary work that Gypsum - USG - owns everything, including the ore in the ground. I was wondering if it was a lease agreement, if there was some room for moving there, but I'm sure they're probably just as interested when the time comes to have discussions with them for potential employment.
I've known Mike for probably 20 years, anyway - Mike
Bishop, when I say "Mike"
- and he took it pretty hard, having to lay off 50 people, 50 more people, and then the balance of those people. He cared deeply about those people who were working for him, and the future looking - I hate to say the word "bleak," but somewhat bleak for the years ahead. It may be a while.
On that, I just want to ask, then - you've answered everything so far, but I wanted to ask with regard to this Fundy: there doesn't seem to be any shortage of gypsum board - gyproc, whatever you want to call it these days - being purchased. Hardware stores, or Swinamer's, for example, or Central - they're all busy. There's a fair bit of construction going on here locally in Nova Scotia and around the Maritimes.
Has any consideration been given to doing our own stuff here, any discussion? Probably not, but what are your thoughts on that? If no discussion, maybe on stepping back a bit, having a look, and saying, well, all right, we have this resource, we do have the need. I realize USG is pulling the stuff out of the ground - they're paying good money - but they're taking the ore away for pennies for what they're actually getting it for. They're able to take it away to the United States and make their board and send it back and make a healthy profit. That says they're buying and shipping that ore for next to nothing on the resource that they're paying for.
Do you know what the cost per tonnage is on the stuff being shipped out? That's one question. Has any consideration, or have you ever thought about yourself, Mr. Minister, or within the department has the discussion been, let's have a look at, can we develop our own board here and sell it locally and put people to work? Given that we're probably going to be a number of years out with this place, it's a shame to have it sitting idle when the needs still exist. I'm still going to buy gyproc at my local store that's coming from - I forget now, but somewhere in Europe. They're calling it "synthetic gypsum," and I'm hearing that maybe that's not the greatest stuff and they're learning early that there are issues with that. So we have a very, very valuable resource sitting here. Are there other ways to get this operation back up?
MR. PARIS: The member opposite raises a very interesting question. My response is that in the past we've had at least two companies that have tried to - I don't know the right word. I'm going to use the word "revive" - revive Fundy Gypsum without success. One of the problems that we face, and I certainly recognize the resource that we have - the largest problem that we have with Fundy Gypsum right now is the market. Simply put, our market's not large enough to sustain Fundy Gypsum. We need a larger market; we need construction to restart and to be revitalized on a much, much larger scale. Companies have tried, but certainly without any luck.
I know that the member, Madam Chairman, talks about jobs in Windsor. I was in Windsor last Saturday. I went up the weekend before to the Hants County Exhibition grounds to get a car out of storage. I have an old car, and every now and then I have to take it for a little bit of a run. I took a run up to Windsor, and while I was there I went to Home Hardware and saw a friend who is probably younger than I am, but he was probably a closer friend of my dad's than he was of mine, because Dad would go down to Home Hardware as part of his circuit, so to speak.
It just reinforced in me, since we're talking about jobs and we're talking about Fundy Gypsum and all those other things in Windsor, that maybe we can rekindle. I went to Home Hardware and I was amazed how they've expanded. They're not just into hardware anymore. If you want a TV, you can go to Home Hardware now. If you want to go down there in the morning and have your muffin and your coffee, you can go to Home Hardware. Home Hardware now is almost like one-stop shopping. I can buy my furniture there; I can buy my appliances there. It just reinforces to me how industries have changed and how we have adapted to the changing environment around us. Unfortunately for Fundy Gypsum, somebody else has expanded and adapted to a market. The key is "adapted to a market"; with Fundy Gypsum, the market just doesn't exist. Again, I reiterate that two companies have tried it and there has been no success, unfortunately.
MR. PORTER: It's difficult, unfortunately, and perhaps there's no - I was going to say "small business venture" there in trying to provide, but I guess if it has been studied or it has been challenged and has not been successful, then smart businesspeople don't go into non-successful businesses.
It's interesting you speak of Home Hardware. Jeff is a good businessman, a smart guy who has done well there. With the closure of Hawboldt's, which provided all of those other things - the TVs and the appliances - he wasn't long jumping on. He was also smart enough to know the good staff that worked at Hawboldt's and took a good portion of them over there with him. They are doing well, and that's good to see. You're right, I think it's just about everything except your groceries at Home Hardware, and that's not a bad thing. In my opinion that's good. If he can make a living at that and provide employment, and he's doing both and doing it well, I think that that's wonderful.
Just on that same vein - I'll stay there for a second - knowing that there are these job losses with Fundy and others throughout the Valley, which we're all aware of - it is tough times, there's no question about that. You talk about balanced budgets, and it's a lot easier said than done. Everybody realizes that as well. What, if any, considerations are being given - how can I word it? I know you can't speak to specific things, but I wanted to say - to employment opportunities in the Valley. I know we do the grant programs and stuff for students, just as an example, but are there any long-term solid employment opportunities that we're looking at bringing to Windsor or West Hants and even further in the Valley?
I mean, I've got people who live in my area, as you well know, Mr. Minister, who work at Michelin, as an example. That's a great employer down there. We would take it anywhere. We've got lots of space there, and if there's something that could be done, are you working to - I don't know, in your travels, if you're travelling around the world looking at opportunities to bring to Nova Scotia - we talk about jobsHere. That's a great thing and jobsHere sounds good, but there are people scratching their heads still, I think, including some of us, wondering - to be very polite, and I didn't mean that in a negative way, but to be very polite - jobsHere, wonderful thing, but "where?", I think is a question that was asked the other day.
We certainly are looking for them just like everybody else in this province. I appreciate that very much, but we are an area that has been hit with hundreds of job losses in the last year or so and we really need to have something going on there so that everything else survives and we don't close down.
Here we are, we're within an hour of the city here, realizing we're close. Population-wise, we talked about schools earlier here in QP today, and the Minister of Education spoke about a commitment and I spoke about growth. We know that Three Mile Plains, Windsor Forks, and Falmouth - as you know, Mr. Minister, from being down around home - and other areas are growing, strangely enough. But I think it's that one-hour corridor, that circle around the HRM here that people are attracted to, and they know that they can get into town pretty quick and go to work. Whatever their needs are, they can reach them.
We're also fortunate to have New Minas down there. When you live in Windsor or West Hants, you're really 20 minutes or half an hour to the Valley, or you're 45 minutes to 50 minutes downtown here on any day. There has got to be more than downtown and the stretch of New Minas. Although those are great, we still have to have other industry and, in my opinion, we should be looking all the time to see what can be brought here. I'm sure that you are, so I'm interested to hear what initiatives - what road are we travelling, pardon the pun? Can you share some thoughts of where we're going, or at least the future that you see that we could possibly be going?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, through you I will say to the member opposite that myself, RDAs, NSBI, staff - we are somewhat fortunate here in Nova Scotia in a lot of respects, and by that I simply mean that we are looking for opportunities all the time around the world, no matter where we go, no matter what we do. It seems like I was watching television on the holiday weekend - I'm sorry, that's wrong. It was on the radio. I was listening to somebody talk about tidal and I got thinking, here we've got a resource; we've got the highest tides in the world, and even though we advertise that - and I asked myself, and I wrote a little note to myself and I passed it on to staff today - are we getting the full benefit out of that resource, not just as energy but as a tourism attraction?
Here we've got the highest tides in the world being advertised all over the world. We're in a competition right now, and I was saying to myself, do we have places in Nova Scotia on this side of the bay that are easily accessible, where people can go and watch the tidal bore? I'm sure every member of this House is familiar with the tidal bore, and I wonder how many people in this House have seen the tidal bore. (Interruptions) I'm sorry?
AN HON. MEMBER: Very few.
MR. PARIS: Very few, that's right. There's something that we've got to look at, so if we can capitalize on that, that would create more tourists coming to Nova Scotia and create more jobs.
Also, while I'm on the track of tidal, we have this great energy resource that we're trying to tap into. I'm not convinced that over the years we've capitalized on that. Those are some of the things that we want to change, so that when we talk about tidal power, of renewable energy, we want the world to think of Nova Scotia. We want that kind of thought process to work the same way as when you mention the Big Apple, you think of New York. When you mention the Golden Gate Bridge, you think of San Francisco. When you talk about tidal power, we want every jurisdiction in the world to think of Nova Scotia - know where it is, know who we are, know what it is that we do. We want to be the leading edge.
Through the RDAs and NSBI, who are invaluable when it comes to those global connections, we are spreading the word all the time. In my travels, when I am fortunate enough to travel to other jurisdictions outside Nova Scotia, rest assured that I'm always thinking about what it is that's being done in other jurisdictions - how can it be applied back here in Nova Scotia? How can we benefit from what we have learned, what we have seen, what we've experienced around the world?
The member was asking about jobs. I don't know if it was an expectation for me to quote some numbers to you, but I can tell you that I got into a discussion last week with the good member for Yarmouth. It was almost like saying potayto/potahto and tomayto/tomahto. It was like when it comes to numbers, what we have is what I would call projected jobs for the Province of Nova Scotia based on those projections of what we have done through NSBI and through the IEF.
When we do transactions, with that is job projection of how many jobs we are going to create. I think one of the things the member mentioned was, are we always looking? I remember about a year ago when a call centre closed in Windsor, and through the efforts of NSBI we were fortunate enough - because NSBI has its finger on the pulse of the business community - to replace that call centre with another call centre.
For those individuals, we can say what we want, good or bad, about call centres, contact centres, but for that group in Windsor they were very thankful about that. We replaced one set of jobs with another set of jobs. To the member's point, we are always on the lookout - staff, myself, all of us. Because of the policy that we have within Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, we are very interested in hearing what all members of the House have to say when it comes to jobs. If any member in this House, regardless of what side of the House he or she may sit on, if they've an idea, if they cast a line in the water, if they have a nibble about something, we are receptive to that. We want to hear about that, and trust me, we will follow up on it.
What I can do, I could look in my book and I could start quoting numbers, but if it's all right with the member, I would ask staff to table the number of projected jobs within specific periods of time for the Annapolis Valley. If that would please the member, I'd be more than happy to do that.
MR. PORTER: Madam Chairman, through you to the minister, that's just fine, yes. Tabling that would be great, and I too would comment that the call centres - yes, people can say whatever they like, but I can tell you that people working there are happy to have those jobs. They do them, and they do them well. Otherwise, some of those particular people may not have any jobs and would be on some other kind of system that we certainly are trying to decrease the numbers as well.
I've always said that regardless of how much money - and people say, well, they're not big-paying jobs - working is a good thing. It's good for your health, it's good for your mental health; it does a lot of things. Getting up and going to work or doing something every day as opposed to being stuck home maybe unable to do anything, and you need only talk to a few of those people to see that a job of some type does make a difference in their lives. It makes a big difference in some lives, so hence the reason I ask the questions. It's vital for our area, as it is every area of this province.
Your comments on tidal power, yes, there would be a lot of people who would think we were both absolutely crazy, Mr. Minister, probably, and all of us for sitting and watching the tidal bore, but if you've ever watched it, it's very interesting to see. It's amazing when you talk to people; you see them from out of country or out of province and they're sitting there and they're watching, and people will say, what are they doing up there? Behind the tourist bureau is a prime example. There are benches actually sitting there along the dike and, lo and behold, when the tide comes in, there are people sitting there watching that. You have a look at their licence plate and they're from maybe somewhere in the States or wherever. People say, I wonder what they're doing up there? They're not thinking, they forget what they have right here every day, a couple of times a day, coming and going. Some people do find it quite amazing, strangely enough.
Your comments on the tidal and all of that would be - you want the world to think of Nova Scotia and that's great, as long as they're not thinking of Nova Scotia Power and everything that we do with them. They seem to be the ones who are in there taking all the credit at times and want to be involved and have to be involved because of the grid and all these other things. As most in this House would probably know - and I've said it enough times - I'm not a big fan of Nova Scotia Power and the monopoly that's present in this province. It's discouraging, because they have a say in everything and it takes away. It has got people upset. I believe competition is a good thing, and I think a lot of people do, and being open for business is a good thing. Being able to attract them is a good thing and we need to continue doing that.
So with those comments, yes, whatever you can table, if you want to table that, that's fine. People want to know about those jobs. They're asking all the time. I know they probably come into your office like they do mine, Mr. Minister, and all of us in here who, as MLAs, represent our constituents who are looking for work. It's one thing to stand up and say, well, it's this many thousand and we're projecting this or that; they're interested in the real job, the real thing - when can I go to work, start drawing a paycheque, looking after my family, paying my bills so I don't have the stresses? - that they currently have today.
You know, it is jobs like those at Fundy, they go a year, they've got their EI or they get a package and then they can file for EI. That only lasts so long, and that time goes by quickly. So they're not worrying about it a whole lot, maybe the first day or two, or month, they know they've got some time. They're going to look for jobs and they're hopeful, as are we all, I think, that there will be jobs that will come along that are meaningful and that people can do and make a decent wage and live. That's certainly what's important across the board. I know our hour goes by here very quickly, I can't imagine how quickly, and I've got only, what, less than 10 minutes, I think, if I'm looking at the clock.
I want to talk a bit about hockey. I know it's a subject of yours, and we've had some Economic Development involvement, hence the reason I'm going there. The Tourism piece - are we able to do Tourism? Are you doing Tourism questions as well? I'll ask the question and you can tell me if it's the wrong place, because you've had involvement in it by way of the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society. Do you know - I'm kind of curious, has anything come back by way of plans, discussion? I know where we're going, and I know that you started this and perhaps you don't have it anymore and you can clarify that for me. I'm not certain myself, hence the reason I'm asking.
That was a big deal for us, as you well know. I appreciate the fact that you met with us in January and then a couple of weeks out. That was wonderful. There are some people who are excited at where we are, where we're going with regard to the museum and that idea. There are some people who aren't jumping up and down about it, but when you talk to them and explain, this is in a lifetime, maybe; there are other opportunities that we are seeking out in the future, maybe it goes in a rink somewhere, a new facility that I'll be coming to you and talking about again someday soon, I'm sure.
I'm just kind of curious, have there been any updates exchanged with the board? I've not heard anything in some number of weeks now, and I guess I want to be assured that things are moving along as planned - through you, Madam Chairman, that the minister and his department and all those good folks who worked on that, who you put forward - where are we with that? Are we moving along as planned? I just want to nail that down.
MR. PARIS: I don't mind answering that question, Madam Chairman. We talk about the Hockey Heritage Society, and I played a lead role in that, but it also would now be under Communities, Culture and Heritage. I certainly don't mind responding to that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Just to clarify that we understand that this is in fact Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, so it is certainly okay to proceed on that line of questioning and answering. Thank you.
MR. PARIS: Thank you. Since I was in Windsor this past weekend I can probably give the most recent update, and I can tell the member opposite, through you, Madam Chairman, that they are in the process now of packing things up. They are relocating, so that move has been started; they're in the early stages of it. With the help of Communities, Culture and Heritage, there's discussion now about where they're going to put things in the new facility that they're moving to - and not only where they're going to put them but how they're going to hang them, because obviously in the structure that they're going into you can't put nails in the wall, so they will find a way to handle that.
I'm sure that the member opposite knows that they've been very enthused. They've had a large number of volunteers who have come out since this new development. The new development, I would say, is going to be for as long as it's needed. I would like to think and join - as the member would know, during the discussion of the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society, one of the things that we all agreed upon was that it was important to have all the players at the table. My understanding is now - and I'm very pleased with this - that the Windsor Agricultural Society has membership at the table, that the Dill family has membership at the table. From where I sit, I think this is very significant. As one or the other move forward, I see it as a gain for the whole Windsor area.
Windsor has nothing but a great amount of gain that's going to come from this. It's good to see everybody working together, and more importantly, pulling in the same direction. I don't know what tomorrow's going to bring, because the Agriculture Society has great value. They've got land out here and there's an existing rink on it, and I guess we can say what we want about the rink. Not only do they have land, they're enthusiastic about what the future's going to be. They're willing to work.
The town's involved. I think that right now the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society has all the right players in mind. I know there was some concern expressed by some of the merchants downtown, and I appreciate that concern, but I don't think they've got anything to worry about. I think people who go to the hockey heritage site are going to the hockey heritage site, and they're going to go to that site whether it be out on the Wentworth Road, whether it be up at King's-Edgehill, whether it be at Long Pond. No matter where it is, if that's their destination, then that's where they're going to go - but that's good for the Town of Windsor. If you can have it in the appropriate setting and in the appropriate place, that's going to bring more people to the Town of Windsor.
You don't want a museum someplace or artifacts being displayed someplace where you can go in and get out of there in a half an hour or an hour. You want someplace where people can go around, walk around, and enjoy what it is that you have to offer them. The longer they can stay in that destination, the better it is for everybody in the Town of Windsor: now, well, I get hungry; maybe I'm going to spend the night, and for me to spend the night I have to go out to Wentworth Road or one of the other locations, maybe out at Garlands Crossing. I see this as a win-win for everybody and I think the town and people are getting well behind that. So that's what I can say about that.
MR. PORTER: Just on that, then, with my last minute for this round, I'll say that I'm glad to see that you're up to speed on that. I have had some involvement, as you know, and just wanted to make sure that you were aware of where we were with that. I agree with all of your comments, that it doesn't really matter where it is, they're going to come. Carole Peterson has done great things there by way of attracting things when big hockey tournaments were on in the province - making calls, getting busloads down there, teams down there.
You're quite right: as long as we continue to work together, we've got a great group there. Continue to work together to promote the whole town, including the downtown business core, Wentworth Road, wherever it may be. You're right: people visit, and we want them to stay around. We want them to see all that we have to offer. That's important; that spinoff does mean things in a small town like Windsor. It's huge. There are some important players there. There have been a lot of ups and downs over the years with this organization, and I'd like to think that people are in it for the love of the game and the fact that the birthplace of hockey is indeed Windsor, Nova Scotia. Some might debate that, but not me. We're certain of that, and I know that you're behind that as well. We look forward to where that goes and "for as long as it needs to be" is the right answer, in my opinion. I think that that's very positive, so with those few comments, thank you, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Progressive Conservative Party has elapsed. I'll now offer the floor to the Official Opposition.
The honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you, Madam Chairman. When we last left we were chatting about Team West and Team Southwest. The minister mentioned that there were 11 projects brought forward or championed or funded through Team West or Team Southwest, and he also indicated that he'd be willing to share that information with the House. I look forward to seeing those.
Still on this subject of Team West and Team Southwest, I'd like to know how many jobs were created through these organizations and how much economic activity was generated. I know when the province first came out with this idea, I think for Team West in particular, it was to support the economy of the region because of the loss of the Yarmouth-New England ferry. I'm just wondering if these organizations were successful in achieving the same amount of economic activity that that ferry achieved.
MR. PARIS: Through you, Madam Chairman, I will reiterate part of my previous answer: there were 11 and 37 - a total of 48 - projects that were done through Team Southwest. What we will do is, I will table a breakdown of what those projects were and what sort of employment numbers. I wish I could do that right off the top of my head, but unfortunately I can't. I'd be more than willing to make that available to the member, and also while I'm at it, I made an offer to the member for Hants West about jobs in the Annapolis Valley, and I would certainly make that same offer to the member for Yarmouth. That will give him further information and data with respect to job opportunities in the southwest region.
MR. CHURCHILL: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Minister, for your commitment to bringing that information forth. The minister mentioned that Team West or Team Southwest - both of them, perhaps - would be winding down. I'm wondering why that's the case. If they were successful in generating economic activity and creating jobs in southwest Nova Scotia, why are we then winding these organizations down? Is it because they've achieved their goals or because they haven't achieved their goals? I'm wondering what the goals and the targets were going into this. So that would be a quick question I have for the minister.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, through you I want to make this clear, for Team Southwest, the winding-down process will happen once we get an RDA up and running. So we want to ensure, before they cease to operate, that we've got an RDA that's up and running. Team Southwest will transition into disappearance, but our number one priority, our number one goal, is to establish a new, productive, hardworking, honest, and fair RDA in southwest Nova Scotia. That's our goal, that's our objective, that's what we're working toward, and then Team Southwest will be no longer.
MR. CHURCHILL: I'm wondering if the minister could distinguish whether he's speaking of Taskforce South West or Team Southwest when he talks about transitioning. Now that we're talking about the RDA, another question I have for the minister is, when can we expect an RDA to be operational in southwest Nova Scotia? What steps has the province taken to ensure that work is being done to establish that new RDA? Is there collaboration happening with the municipal units? Last I spoke to our municipal units from Yarmouth, they felt that the province was sitting by and not doing any work helping toward the re-establishment of that RDA. That's obviously a big economic issue in Yarmouth and southwest Nova Scotia, because we lost one of our major economic drivers in the ferry, and we also lost an organization that was supposed to be a good steward of the economy. So we were dealt a double blow and it seems there wasn't a plan in place to immediately address the shortcomings in terms of economic development. So I'm wondering what has been done and what's being done now to ensure that that trend is reversed.
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, there were a number of questions in there, and I hope I can - I think I wrote them down. The first question was around Taskforce South West and Team Southwest. When I responded to the first question, I was talking about Team Southwest. Currently there will be a Team Southwest that has been there. Taskforce South West is the new task force as requested at the meeting that the member for Yarmouth and the member for Argyle were at. That was a result of that meeting. So that's one question.
The other question was around if the province was working with the establishment of an RDA, and my response to that is that the Province of Nova Scotia has been working very diligently with the RDA, or with the communities and municipalities, in setting up a new RDA in the region. We will continue to do that until the RDA is up and running. As a matter of fact, our collaboration and our working with the RDA will not cease when it's up and running. It will continue, as it does with all the other RDAs. We actually have a unit at Economic and Rural Development and Tourism that works very closely with the RDAs, and we take a very, very active role.
There was another question in there related to the RDA, around how long it was going to take for the new RDA to be up and running. I hate making predictions, but I'd like to see an RDA up as soon as possible. Having said that, that doesn't answer the question for the member opposite. I'm going to say we're probably looking at two, maybe three months. I want to emphasize that that's more of a guesstimate on my part, and I would like to see within the next three months that an RDA will be up and running in the region.
MR. CHURCHILL: I'd like to thank the minister again for answering those questions.
Just to close up this conversation around Team West and Team Southwest, have those organizations achieved their goals as outlined by this government when they were created? If so, in light of their sunsetting, what plans are in place outside of Taskforce South West to ensure that economic development is a priority in southwest Nova Scotia and to ensure that jobs are being created and that businesses are being supported?
MR. PARIS: First of all, again, there were a couple of questions there. The first question was, are those initiatives doing what they were meant to do? I would say that they are doing what they were meant to do based on the projects - the 11 and the 37, the 48 projects - that they've done during their stay.
I think Taskforce South West and Team Southwest will cease to operate; they will sunset when the RDA is up and running. That goes for both of them. That was part of the concern I had with Taskforce Southwest. One of the concerns I raised was that I was concerned about the transition into the RDA, and I wanted to ensure that was going to happen. I've been assured of that. They will sunset once the RDA is up and running.
MR. CHURCHILL: Now we're going to move on to a topic that's obviously close to my heart. It's one that the minister and I have had a chance to chat about quite often, and that is the Yarmouth ferry. People are probably very surprised that I'm bringing that up, but there are still a few issues surrounding that. The members of this House might not realize this, but I bring this issue up all the time because my constituents bring it up all the time.
I am faced with business owners, tourism operators, and community members who are very worried about the economic future of Yarmouth and southwest Nova Scotia - an economic future that I believe is inherently tied to our sea link to the U.S. It's one of the biggest markets in the world, New England, and one of the strategic vantages of southwest Nova Scotia. The rationale behind the decision to cut that subsidy is not understood by my constituents, all the ones I've talked to. It's not understood by the tourism operators that I've talked to across the province. It's not understood by the chambers of commerce, by municipal units that are as far north of Yarmouth as Cape Breton.
The rationale is not understood. I realize that the minister has said on numerous occasions that there was not a business case for this ferry service. I will note that I have not seen any analysis to support that argument. I don't believe anything has been tabled in the House.
My question to the minister is, if there is a report or an analysis out there that was done - as I'm sure there would have been, for government to do their due diligence before making such a serious decision - I'm wondering if you'd be able to table that information in the House so that members could review that and the public can do the same.
It seems to be the case that when we hear the government say there is no business case, the government was only looking at Bay Ferries as a business unto itself and at its profit margins, not looking at the wider economic implications of having that ferry service between Yarmouth and New England. A follow-up to my first question is, were the economic implications considered in this government's decision to say there is no business case for the Yarmouth-New England ferry?
MR. PARIS: Where do I start? It's not like this is the first time we've discussed this.
First of all, I think the government did not cut the ferry. What this government did was eliminate the subsidy. Between 2006 and 2009 the Province of Nova Scotia had spent over $22 million on the Yarmouth ferry. From a sustainability perspective, it simply wasn't sustainable. Through you, Mr. Chairman, I want the member for Yarmouth to know that this was not an overnight decision. We - government - thought about this, talked about this, and debated this for months before we could decide whether or not we were going to continue with the subsidy.
Bay Ferries made the decision to stop The Cat. We made a decision that we were no longer going to subsidize to the tune that we were subsidizing The Cat ferry for. What we've looked at is an over 70 per cent decrease in the number of tourists from the United States coming into Nova Scotia at that end of the province. Over 70 per cent of the tourists no longer were going to use that service. We looked at the cost of the service; we looked at the unwillingness of other jurisdictions to assist us. We were the only ones sitting at the table. The U.S. was getting the bulk of the benefit from the scheduling, from the Canadian tourists going there and staying overnight.
Our analysis was, simply put - I don't want to underestimate this by simplicity, because I can tell you it was a long, thought-out process for us. We have members who sat at our Cabinet Table from that area, so this wasn't an easy decision. I get offended, and I think everyone in this House should be offended, if we make reference to this as a political decision, because this had nothing to do with politics, nothing whatsoever. It was a decision that we did - certainly I did - some soul searching over. I thought long and hard about this, as I know my colleagues did. We didn't look at who was representing their riding or who wasn't representing the riding. Politics had nothing to do with it. There are studies that are available; there's a study that was done by ACOA that's in the public domain now, that I'm sure that the good member from Yarmouth has. I don't know what more studies I could offer.
We made a decision. We made a decision that was a tough decision, but we had to think on a province-wide basis that the subsidy wasn't sustainable for us. It had to cease. Bay Ferries in turn made a decision that they were no longer going to operate The Cat, and so they put The Cat up for sale.
The cost for a family of four to come across on the ferry was a huge amount of money. I think during one Question Period I tabled that or I mentioned the cost of that to a family. What I recall - and I can stand corrected on this; Hansard will do this - but I think it was in the vicinity of over $1,000 for a family of four and their vehicle to come across.
People shop differently now when they're looking to go on vacation. They don't do it the way I used to do when my kids were younger, maybe. I know when I'm thinking about going on a vacation, where do I go? I go to the Internet. I get on the computer and I start looking up places. If I'm looking for a package in Cuba or somewhere in the West Indies, I'll look on-line. I'll get the price and I'll compare that price with other jurisdictions, because now I want to get bang for my buck. We do it differently now.
I know that the Nova Scotia Business Journal did a piece on the ferry, and in their words, they said the same things that we've been saying: it wasn't sustainable and there wasn't a good business case. What we're willing to do is, if anyone comes forward with a solid business case with respect to a ferry in Yarmouth - and we've said that from the very beginning - we will look at it. To date, we've seen a couple of proposals that have come forward, but even for those in Yarmouth that were hosting those proposals, they didn't send them forward because they weren't substantial enough - not in my mind or not in government's mind, but in their mind not considered as good proposals, therefore not worthy of being considered. We would look at and consider anything that makes sense. We've said from the beginning and we still say that today, but it has to make good sense for Nova Scotia.
MR. CHURCHILL: I do believe it needs to make good sense for Nova Scotians. I will note that in referencing reasons why that service was cut or what was considered by the government, the minister mentioned cost to government, decrease in ridership, and cost to families and passengers. There was no mention of any consideration of the impact to Nova Scotia tourism operators by losing that vessel or of the impact to small businesses. There was no mention of the impact to the economy of Nova Scotia by losing that, and I think that's important to note, because it speaks to the real issue at heart here. This government made a decision that didn't take in the best interest of Nova Scotians, that didn't look at the pocketbooks of small business owners and tourism operators who depended on that business. There was no discussion of the return on government investment that went into that vessel. The chambers of commerce have come out with a cost-benefit analysis that indicated that Nova Scotians would have received profits on a $6 million annual investment of over $22 million - money to business owners. There was no discussion and no mention by the minister of the return on that government investment that went into that vessel.
I know the minister said that this is a decision that weighed heavily on his mind, that was difficult for this government to make and that they didn't make quickly. But from the perspective of the community, this was a decision that was made very quickly, because no one from the community - people from the tourism sector weren't consulted, and this was a decision that was placed on them without them knowing. It happened overnight in the opinion of my community back home and in the opinion of many business owners that I've talked to. I think that's an important thing to note too, because when you make decisions, I think it's absolutely essential that you consult with the people those decisions are going to affect. That way, perhaps the government would have seen that there is wider economic spinoff to having that vessel there and they couldn't just look at it from a Bay Ferries perspective.
The minister says ridership was down around 70 per cent. I mean, it's important to note that this was during the global recession when American visitation outside that country had dropped significantly all over the place. Those numbers are coming back up now, and we're still without a vessel to bring them over to Nova Scotia. Actually, according to CBSA employees, that 70 per cent number is not reflective of the passengers on the vessel; it's more reflective of the cars.
From what I'm told, how that count would work when you're counting passengers on The Cat is that every vehicle would be counted as one passenger, whether it was a bus carrying 20 people or 40 people, a van of seven, or a car of four. All of these vehicles were counted as one passenger, and that's one of the reasons - I've been told by our Canada Border Services agents - why that number was so low. According to the chamber of commerce, if you look at their numbers - and looking at The Cat, during those recession years that's the data they used to compile their numbers - what they found was that there was a significant return on government investment into that vessel, even during the recession, even with The Cat, which we're told wasn't sustainable.
Let's think for a second. Maybe The Cat wasn't sustainable. Maybe that wasn't the right vessel. What's the best way to approach a decision regarding that? Do you cut it right away without a plan to replace it? Do you do that and leave all these people hanging? According to the municipality, there have been 300 jobs lost in Yarmouth County as a direct result of that decision - and make no bones about it, when you cut the subsidy to The Cat, you were cutting the vessel. You can't argue your away around that: 300 jobs lost.
I hear on a daily basis and a continual basis how concerned members of our community are about the future of the economy - businesses that were dependent on those passengers from that vessel. We had a town hall meeting in Yarmouth with our Leader, Stephen McNeil, and Liberal candidate Robert Thibault. The member for Digby-Annapolis and the member for Colchester North were in Yarmouth as well. There was one issue that was brought up at a two-hour town hall meeting. Guesses? The Yarmouth ferry. That's how important that decision was for people.
I think what we've learned today is that the wider economic implications of cutting that vessel weren't considered at all, from what I've heard. What I would like to see is some recognition of the challenges that the area is facing, of the strategic advantage of having the closest port in Nova Scotia in Yarmouth linking us to one of the biggest markets in the world, and a government that's going to step up to the plate and help us secure a new ferry service. We haven't secured a new ferry service because a new company would have to restart everything, and we've left it up to the municipal units that have never done this work before. This is something that has always been done by the federal government and that's always been done by the province, and now our municipal units are shouldering the whole load themselves.
Is that my time, Mr. Chairman? (Interruption) Four seconds.
So what we need is a commitment from this government to not just support a proposal when it comes in, but to help our community get out there and get proposals.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please. We are approaching the moment of interruption.
The committee will recess.
[5:57 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:31 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will come to order.
I call the continued debate on Resolution E4 with the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
The honourable member for Yarmouth has 32 minutes remaining.
MR. CHURCHILL: Madam Chairman, following up with my previous comments about the Yarmouth to New England ferry, I highlighted a few things in there regarding the count of passengers on the vessel and regarding the fact that the minister made it clear that the wider economic implications for the area and for the province weren't considered when making that decision.
My question to the minister is, according to CBSA officials, the number you used - a 70 per cent decrease in passengers, according to them - is calculated incorrectly because every vehicle that comes off the vessel is counted as one person, whether it's a tour bus, whether it's a family van of four or five people, or whether it's a couple. I don't know many people who go on family trips alone. So I'm wondering, were you aware that that's the basis of those numbers?
MR. PARIS: Madam Chairman, it's always difficult to pick up after there has been a break, but I'll try my best. The member talks about certain numbers, and I'll say this: the 70 per cent that I talk about, that we talk about in Economic and Rural Development and Tourism - that number, that decline, started in the year 2000, first and foremost. It wasn't something that happened "overnight." It was over a period of time. So the decline started in 2000 and that 70 per cent decline is based on us working in collaboration with organizations and individuals in the Yarmouth area.
That's not a number that we just picked out of the air. It's a number based on good data collection, and I don't know what more to say about that. It's not a number that just appeared one day and that was it; over a period of a span of years, that's how much of a reduction that we experienced. I think it's also important because, again, with the interruption that we've had - I know that before we had the interruption, the honourable member raised a number of issues related to Yarmouth and the economic downturn and people and concerned residents. He mentioned meetings, and I have to offer some comments on that.
For the member, I have to say that I've heard - without a doubt, I've heard from constituents in the Yarmouth area and some who don't live in the area, some from other jurisdictions in Nova Scotia who wrote us, called me, or said something to me about the decline of The Cat ferry when I was out and about. I will admit that sometimes the comments were of a negative nature. I also have to admit - and I think the good member for Yarmouth has to be aware of this - that I've also had complimentary comments from people from different jurisdictions and even some people who live in Yarmouth, saying they recognize the toughness of the decision, but they respect the decision and it's time to move on and move forward.
One of the things I've tried to do - and we recognize that Yarmouth is maybe somewhat at a disadvantage when it comes to tourism. We also want to recognize Yarmouth as a destination. I think over the years maybe one of the things we haven't done well is create that opportunity for Yarmouth from the perspective as a destination; as a place to go and as a place to stay; as a place to visit, whether you're going to a beach, whether you're going to go out on the ocean for a couple of days of sailing or to visit museums or go to the art gallery that's located there.
One of the things that says we think about the future is that we have to create more emphasis on Yarmouth as a destination as opposed to just a pass-through place. People get off the ferry, and once their vehicles hit the asphalt they're headed to Halifax or the Cabot Trail or some other destination.
We in government - I know the member opposite may be fielding some questions, that some people in Yarmouth feel like they're left out, but that's not the case. I certainly want the member to know, and I think his experience since he has been elected - and I would particularly say his experience with this minister - I would like to think has been a positive one. Whenever the call came forward, we've tried to be there for Yarmouth. That's why we've agreed to funding for Taskforce South West. That's why we were very, very active with respect to Team Southwest and Team West. We care about Yarmouth, as we care about every region in the Province of Nova Scotia. We want Yarmouth to be all that it can be and then some.
I think we've demonstrated that we want to work with the people, the elected agents who are in Yarmouth - the tourism operators, the commercial sector, the private sector. We want to work with - again, I know this is reiteration. I really sincerely mean that the decision around The Cat ferry, to not continue with the subsidy, was not an overnight decision. It was a decision that we spent long weeks and months before we arrived at the best thing to do for Nova Scotians, in the best interests, was to not continue with the subsidy. Bay Ferries then made the decision that without the subsidy they were no longer going to operate The Cat. So the trend didn't start - and again, the numbers that you hear me quoting when I say "70 per cent reduction in ridership," that's not myth. Those are numbers that come out of a study that's about as concrete and as accurate as any study that you'd want to get.
I know that the member opposite criticized me in his way during Question Period when I raised the issue about positives. Madam Chairman, I truly believe that we have to be highlighting more about the positives. I don't say that as a slight to anybody; I don't say that as an insult to anybody who lives in Yarmouth. I say what I believe, and I believe that if we're going to promote someplace as a tourism destination, well, let's talk about the good things. Being the minister responsible for Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, I've had people call to me and say, "Why would I go to Yarmouth?" And I said, "Well, Yarmouth has a lot to offer. Go there and enjoy the beaches, enjoy the accommodations, enjoy going out deep sea fishing, or just going out to see if you can do some whale watching."
The way that individuals view travel today - I've already mentioned this earlier - is a lot different than it was 10 years ago. The computer and access to the Internet has taken up so much of our time when it comes to making travel plans, and it has had an impact on how we do things. I will make this known, and I've made this known, certainly, since the member has been in the House. I'm willing, and we as a government have always been willing, and will continue to work with Yarmouth and the best interest of promoting Yarmouth as a tourism destination in trying to attract individuals through that end of the province.
MR. CHURCHILL: I would like to get back to the original question. I know that the 70 per cent number wasn't taken out of thin air; I realize that there is a methodology being used to acquire that number, but I also want the minister to be aware that that methodology is flawed, in my opinion. According to CBSA officials, that number is based on a car count coming off the vessel whereby each vehicle - whether it was a tour bus, whether it was a van, or whether it was a car with a couple - was counted as one person. So I'm wondering if those numbers are actually reflective of ticket sales for The Cat, each individual ticket sale, or if that 70 per cent reflects the car count coming off the vessel.
I don't personally know the answer to that. All I was told by CBSA officials was that the methodology being used to count passengers was flawed for the reason that I previously mentioned. I realize that tourism started dropping over a decade ago, especially after 9/11, that event that we all remember so vividly. American visitation was dropping everywhere, all over the globe. People were staying home. But what's happened now is that those numbers are actually starting to go up once again. They went down during the recession, and they're now coming back up. I feel that we are without the transportation means to get those people to our shores here in Nova Scotia, and I think we are missing out on that.
I really do appreciate the minister's emphasis on focusing on the positive. I think that's something that our community needs to do - it's something that all Nova Scotians need to do, but especially in Yarmouth I experience negativity a lot from concerned business owners and from citizens from the area. It's not because they are negative people. It's because they've been hurt, they're struggling, they're nervous, and they're worried about their future. The message that I give to them is, let's focus on our positives. Let's move forward together.
The criticism arose around the minister's comments because it seemed to be disregarding the importance of a ferry in the region, which is what angered voters in Yarmouth. It wasn't about the statement focusing on the positives - I think that's a good message that we all need to do. It was about the disregard of one of the key issues that's at stake here, and that's the lack of a ferry service.
The minister mentioned we need a reason for people to come to Yarmouth. For over 100 years there was a reason for people to come to Yarmouth: we were the gateway to this province. We weren't competing with the Cabot Trail or city visits or even Lunenburg, necessarily. We were the gateway. People came to this province because we were the closest port to New England. That remains one of our greatest strategic advantages in that region, along with our strong fishing industry, of course, and we have great entrepreneurs as well.
That was a reason why people came to Yarmouth: we were a gateway. Now what we're trying to do, 100 years later, is reinvent the wheel and think of new ways to make Yarmouth a destination. I think we always need to do that. We always have to be rethinking how we can do things better, rethinking how we can bring more people and business into the area, thinking of the niche markets we can reach out to with our beaches and our camping grounds and the gorgeous seacoast scenery. But the number-one reason people came and will continue to come to Yarmouth was because we were a gateway, the closest port.
I think that strategic advantage for that region, for Yarmouth and for the province, needs to be recognized and built upon. I think there has been a recognition by this government that the decision to cut subsidy to the ferry, and essentially the ferry itself, has had a negative impact on the economy, in particular of southwest Nova Scotia. Otherwise I don't think the government would have pushed for all these economic development teams.
If the government actually thought that the economy wasn't going to be affected, or wasn't affected by the loss of the ferry, I'm not sure why they would have come forward with all these different teams. We've had three teams now: Team Southwest, Team West and now Taskforce South West. I think that in itself shows that there's a recognition on the government side that there's a problem here. There's a problem relating back to one specific decision that was made which has led us down this current path.
I realize there's an argument out there about the nature of the vessel that was being used in Yarmouth, and that The Cat ferry wasn't the appropriate vessel. Many share that view. That vessel still brought money in, it still brought people over, and taxpayers were still receiving a return on investment in that vessel. Even if we wanted to move forward with a different vessel, with a monohull, with one that is able to bring freight and goods back and forth, in order to do that we would have needed some time to transition. I think it only makes economic sense and policy sense that you keep the vessel you have, keep the economic driver you have, until there's a suitable replacement. Otherwise we have what we have had in Yarmouth and southwest Nova Scotia: a loss of jobs, a downturn in the tourism industry, and a lot of business owners being concerned and being forced to lay people off.
I do want to mention to the minister, in the spirit of talking about making Yarmouth a destination, that we have to realize what has been happening in Yarmouth. Our accommodations infrastructure has been shutting down. Most recently in December or January, we lost our second-largest hotel in the area. We lost other smaller ones before that. I've spoken to Mark Rodd, who is the CEO of Rodd Hotels and Resorts and who also owns the largest hotel in Yarmouth, the Grand. They will not be able to sustain those locations, those accommodations which are absolutely pivotal to Yarmouth's ability to be a destination for anything, whether it's tourists, bantam hockey sports tournaments, Junior A tournaments, badminton tournaments, or the Seafest. Anything that can bring people in, people won't be able to stay.
These places have started to close, according to the owners, because of the loss of traffic from the ferry. I don't think there's any disputing that. I just want to inform the minister that while we're working toward making Yarmouth a destination for other reasons than it was, we're losing our ability to actually be a destination and to have people stay there. That is a real risk that I warned this minister of when I was first elected, that this was going to start happening.
Losing those accommodation facilities and losing the ferry - the impact goes beyond the direct economic implications. It affects the confidence of the business owners in Yarmouth and it affects the psyche of the people, and that's the scariest thing of all. These are places that are beacons of hope for the businesses in Yarmouth, for the tourism operators. These things are slowly falling away and what we need - I said it before, and I'll say it again - is for the province to step up, help us find a suitable replacement for that run, and not just leave this up to the municipal units and the local individuals who have been put in place to do this. This run is an international run. It's one that links the province closely to one of the largest markets in the world and our greatest international friend. It was originally run by the federal government; it was then offset to the province; and now it's on the municipal governments. We've seen what has happened as a result of that.
I will mention one more thing, because I'm not sure how much time I have left, Madam Chairman, but I don't think the rationale behind cutting a subsidy to this has been consistent with the other transportation infrastructure in the province - the other ferries, for example. The businesses don't make money. I don't believe Bay Ferries is making a profit off that run in Digby. CB Rail doesn't make a profit - I think I've heard they lose $9 out of every $10 put into it. I stand to be corrected on that.
The logic that was applied in the decision to cut funding to The Cat has not been applied constantly with all these other areas. Bay Ferries isn't making money in Yarmouth; they need a subsidy. Bay Ferries in Digby needs a subsidy as well. CB Rail needs a subsidy and this government has chosen consistently to provide that funding - I think because there is a real understanding that one of the greatest assets that governments can invest in is our transportation infrastructure, our roads and our ability to transport goods and people. But the logic that you've used with those other pieces - the Digby ferry, the P.E.I. ferry, CB Rail - wasn't applied in your decision on Yarmouth, and that's confusing to a lot of people.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You still have 10 minutes if you would like to be able to use them. Is that a question?
MR. CHURCHILL: Yes. There was a whole lot in there that I'm sure the minister will be able to digest and respond to.
MR. PARIS: Well, I'm not going to take very long, Madam Chairman. I tried to keep up with the good member because he raised a number of issues, so I tried to scribble something down.
First of all, even though I taught history at a university, my history is not recent. The member talked about the federal government at one time being involved with the Yarmouth ferry. I see the member for Shelburne nodding his head in agreement. Now, obviously they're no longer involved. They got out of it for a reason. I don't know who the government of the day was at that time, and I don't know if it matters that much, but obviously the federal government . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: You're right. It doesn't matter.
MR. PARIS: The member opposite says it doesn't matter, so it might have been a Liberal Government at the time. With no pun intended, I think that fact does hold some water.
The other issue that the member raised a question about when it comes to Yarmouth and the area being - he didn't use the word "depressed," but he said that this government has put some initiatives in place because we recognize that with the demise of The Cat ferry, I guess, there's something that we should do. He named off some of those things, some of those initiatives that we did put in place or that we helped put in place.
For the member opposite - through you, Madam Chairman - it's very important that the members of this House know and recognize that those initiatives that were put in place were not put in because there was no ferry. They were put in because an RDA there by the name of SWSDA was no longer functioning. That's why those initiatives were necessary. It had nothing to do with the ferry. It had nothing to do with whether the ferry was there or not; it had to do with SWSDA, with SWSDA not doing what it was meant to do. So I bring that up to make sure that we're clear on that.
I think it's also important, and I think the member realizes this, that we are committed. I've said this time and time again, and I know that the good member is aware of this, but I just feel I've got to remind him that we are committed, that if somebody brings something forward, what we've always said is that we are committed to looking at what it is. So if somebody comes forward with something that makes some sense, we will consider it and it will stand or fall based on its own merits. We've said that from day one and we will remain committed to that.
The member also mentioned through you, Madam Chairman, that maybe there are some people in the private sector who are looking at other alternatives when it comes to their business. Well, I've got to say this: I think there are probably some private-sector businesses in the area that were looking at alternatives long before The Cat disappeared. Everybody knows that with the decrease in tourism, people were looking at, well, how can I make my business better? What alternatives are there for me?
That's only good business sense. As a businessperson, you look at ways to improve your business. You look at alternatives. If something is not working, you look at, well, maybe - I mentioned to the member for Hants West how I was in Windsor and Home Hardware, and how they've developed a strategy now where they don't just sell hardware. I mean, I can still go in there and buy a hammer and buy nails and buy a saw, but I can also go in there and I can buy a sofa, I can buy a stove, I can buy a fridge, and I can have breakfast. So they have certainly seen the advantages of other alternatives.
The member opposite talks about the Digby ferry, and rightly so; since it was raised, I just want to touch on the Digby ferry now. One of the huge differences with the Digby ferry is that we weren't the only player in the game. The Digby ferry has partnerships with the Province of New Brunswick, with the federal government, and the Province of Nova Scotia. So we weren't the only ones who, as they say in the world of gambling, had some flush in the game. It was a shared responsibility by other jurisdictions, which is completely different than what the situation was in Yarmouth.
I don't have the statistic right here in front of me, but on the theme of the Digby ferry and ridership in the Digby ferry, I would say that there has been a significant increase in that ferry operation. Whether or not it's making a profit, and if it is, how much that is, I don't know, and I would think that Bay Ferries would say, well, Mr. Minister, it's none of your business. Also, one of the things about the Digby ferry that is significantly different than the Yarmouth is that they had commercial traffic on it. They had trucks. Commercial vehicles were allowed to go on the Digby ferry, which made a huge difference in viability.
Yes, the member, through you, Madam Chairman, also talked about the subsidy that we provide to Cape Breton Rail. I'm not one - well, if you do something for one, you've got to do it for the other. By comparison, really, it's not to anyone's advantage. Rail service is somewhat different than a vehicle crossing a waterway. With rail there is continuous maintenance. We've given pretty well the same opportunities to Cape Breton Rail that we've given to the Yarmouth ferry in the past. Do they get a subsidy? Absolutely, but it's a different situation.
One of the things that I've always maintained, and still maintain, is bring situations in front of us as a government. We will be fair; we will endeavour to be fair always, but everything will be measured on its own merit and we will take things on a case-by-case basis.
You know this reminds me a little bit about - in the area of diversity - a lot of people who aren't experts in the area of diversity say, well we've got to treat everybody the same. As somebody who has been somewhat involved in areas of diversity, we can't treat everybody and everything the same, simply because we're all different. Things are all different. If we applied the same rules to everything, outside of the issue of fairness, then what we do is we are ignoring their differences and therefore, as a result of that, we're not treating whatever it is fairly.
Madam Chairman, I hope that makes some sense. It makes perfect sense to me when I vocalize it, but I know that sometimes people don't always get it. But one of the things we can't do is we can't ignore differences, and that's one of the flaws in today's society - we tend to ignore differences and we figure that one size fits all. I'm here to say that just simply doesn't work.
I hope, Madam Chairman, I covered all the points the member wanted to raise - and just going over my scribbling, SWSDA, we remain committed to any proposal that may come forward - and I'm sure that the good member will remind me if I did leave anything out.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Official Opposition has expired.
The honourable member for Argyle.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Thank you so much, Madam Chairman, it's a pleasure to stand for a little bit and ask some questions in and around the Department of Economic Development - Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. Eventually I'll get it - we were just getting used to ERD, now ERDT is what we're trying to do.
First of all, I want to, of course, welcome the minister and his staff. We've already spent a couple of hours asking questions around this department and I want to commend the minister for doing a great job, so far, in debating his department. I will be getting around to issues of the ferry and issues of the RDA and a few more possible alternatives for the southwestern region - but first of all I just want to thank him for lending me a book, Madam Speaker.
Earlier in the session, of course, we all know as we get into debate on estimates, if you're not participating in that discussion most of us are required, actually, to be here and required to pay attention the best way we can. A lot of times we have an opportunity to catch up on work and to sometimes read books. The one that the minister was reading a week or so ago, or two weeks ago, when I paid attention, was Africa's Children: A History of Blacks in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It is written by a local to Yarmouth, Sharon Robart-Johnson. I'm just about finished this one, but I'm sure once we get off questioning, then I'll have the opportunity to really finish.
I thought it was a very, very interesting book, because not only does it lay out the plight of African Nova Scotians, but particularly in my area - as I take for granted that community in Yarmouth - the community that is really close to me in the Greenville area, and the connections that they had not only with town but with the Acadian region that I'm a part of. It's a very interesting book, and anybody who has the opportunity to read this one, I'll pass it on. I know the minister has a copy, but I'm sure Sharon would like it if we all picked up our own copies - so she can pay for the printing costs of this document.
I thought it was very interesting too that the minister was reading this book, not for its concentration on Black history - it was also the concentration on the Yarmouth area, and I thought it was very interesting and very important that the minister not only understand the economic plight of Yarmouth County but some of the history of what Yarmouth really was. The county was really a very important cultural and economic centre for the province for a very long time. I think this lays the groundwork of exactly what we are and what the different cultures that make up Yarmouth are still today. I thought it was very important, and I thank the minister again for letting me spend some time with this book - I'll return it as soon as I'm done with it.
I was listening with great interest a few moments ago in and around the issue and the future of possible ferry service in Yarmouth. Just to echo some of the comments from the member for Yarmouth that it doesn't go very often, maybe a day, that someone doesn't talk to you about the ferry service in Yarmouth. As much as it's easy to come and point fingers at what happened here, I think we can go back in time to when the federal government on a number of occasions looked to divest itself of the ferry service because of the cost that it was bearing, the issue of the government of the day finally divesting it to a private company and coming to the final conclusion of not so long ago of the subsidy being cancelled, which did lead to the eventual closure of that ferry service.
But what I'm interested in is the future, and I still think there's a future for a ferry service in Yarmouth, and I think a lot of people believe that very same thing. So I'm just wondering if the minister, beyond our conversations, our questioning in the House - if there has been some discussion on what kind of project the government would be interested in participating in in the future. I know there's an opportunity here should a private company or private ferry service owner might come in and provide a service. I'm sure they'll come and say, okay, this is a project, this is a service that we'll be able to provide on a go-forward basis that will be sustainable, but in order for us to get there over the next couple of years, we're going to need a little bit of help. So I'm just wondering if thought has been taken around the issue of the future of a ferry service in Yarmouth and a possible participation of the provincial government in such a service.
MR. PARIS: Through you, Madam Chairman, I want to thank the member for his opening comments. I mean, this is his hour, but I also have to say in response, and when you talk about the book - I've been in this House for five years, and I've got to say that when I write my book I'm going to make sure I mention you. Tonight was the first time I heard a member openly and willingly mention the African Nova Scotian community. I think that's noteworthy, and one of the things that's always been somewhat disappointing to me is the fact that during estimates we never get into the topic of the African Nova Scotian community.
I know that with my visitations to Yarmouth I've met with membership, with representation from the community. I know that for those individuals who live there, they oftentimes feel left out of the mix. As Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, I certainly want them to know that they're on my mind as well, so I think it was important for me to read the book and get a sense of who individuals are and get a sense of the history. It was kind of nice when I was reading the book - I'm seeing and meeting now with relatives of names that I read in the book. I found this very interesting.
To the member, what I am committed to doing is looking at anything that has - I don't know if this is a word - "viability sensibility." If I just coined a new phrase, so be it. We are willing to look at it, and I am committed to looking at anything that makes some sense. We are willing to make decisions in a move-forward way based on what's going to be in front of us. I hope that's what the member's looking for, that decisions will be based on what we are looking at. We would do our due diligence and do an analysis of whatever it was or whatever it is and decisions would be solely based on that.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I thank the minister for that. Just to stay on the African Nova Scotian issue for one quick second, I thank the minister for coming down not so long ago when a new initiative by a bunch of folks there - of course, Randy Fells and Bruce Johnson, who had the opportunity of setting up a learning program for individuals in our area. Even though our community is small, they do a phenomenal job in working with their community to try to maintain the culture and to try to maintain possibilities for future generations. I think they do a phenomenal job of that.
Could we use a little more focus? Absolutely. Could we use a little more money to make some of those things happen? Absolutely. Ultimately, every little bit counts and every little bit helps, and any more that the minister can provide to southwestern Nova Scotia, specifically the African Nova Scotian population - but not just them, there are a number of other groups. I come as a representative of Acadians who did share a lot of prejudice over the years. Maybe we look a lot like everybody else, but it probably wasn't that long ago when people would drive to Yarmouth and look at a job, and this is probably within my lifespan - "Hiring" - and it would say "French need not apply."
Because you were French, you were from the Pubnico areas - I know the Minister of Environment, the Minister of Fisheries, he remembers that, being of Acadian descent as well. Even though we don't necessarily look the part, we were recipients of prejudice for a very long time. Even today, sometimes we hear some things we shouldn't be hearing, but we move on and we persevere. I'm glad to hear his comments in and around that issue for our area.
Thank you for the comment on the viability issue. I think that's been a tough issue to move on from, because it's very difficult in a media standpoint to explain your position on the future of the ferry in a couple of words. I think we're in a world of quick quotes where the media would only report if you say, I support the subsidy on a ferry, I think we should be bringing a ferry in today, and I think we should give them money for it. That's what the media wants and that's what the population wants to hear, but the reality is that all you can say is that we have people working on the issue, they're looking at the viability of different proposals, they're looking at the long-term feasibility of these establishments or these businesses and at that point we'll make a decision of whether we're going to support it or not, blah blah blah. It never gets in the paper, never gets on the radio, and never gets disseminated to the public that needs to hear from it.
So I thank the minister for that comment, that when everybody does their work correctly, the YAIC - the Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission - the individuals that are built in around that, the municipalities, hopefully the RDA, as that rolls around - and I'll be asking the minister about that issue in a couple of seconds, but I want to thank him for that focus on the viability issue.
Being the eternal optimist, I think there is a viable service out there; there is an operator out there that's going to bring a service to Yarmouth that's going to provide the tourists and it's going to be providing access for some of the commercial traffic - not all of the commercial traffic will be using it, but some will. I think we have time to do it. I'm hoping from your comments, Mr. Minister, that the provincial government will be there to participate in one way or another. I think that's what our community really needs to hear: listen, all is not lost, if there is something there that we can support then we will be there. I really don't have a question on that one, but I'll let you answer some final thoughts on that before I move on to asking some questions about the RDA.
MR. PARIS: I have two trains of thought going here, and I'll go with the most recent one first and hope I don't lose the other. Again, I don't want any misunderstanding. What I would be concerned about is ongoing annual funding. I'll be upfront about this. That isn't of great interest to me, and what we are committed to do, and what I'm committed to do, is as something comes forward, by all means, we are going to be willing to look at it. I know that last year there were a couple of proposals, but somebody said, these aren't good enough so we're not even going to put them forward. That's the kind of thinking that we all should be doing, that in order to bring something forward it's got to be - again, I don't want to overwork something either, but it's got to be based on its own merits and it's got to be in the best interests of all Nova Scotia. I trust that answers that.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, I agree with the member when he talks about media and some of the things that media will print, say, or display just to sort of stir the pot, because it's then, oh, did you see what so-and-so said in the paper today? And you go out and you say, well, what paper are you talking about? They tell you and you go out and buy a copy of the paper.
I know that I was interviewed by - I don't think it's important as to whom it was - and I'm going to almost be able to quote him word for word. He said: Minister, about the Yarmouth ferry, about The Cat ferry, there has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and a lot of name-calling that has been directed at you.
Any time somebody mentions name-calling - anyone who has been in this House for the past five years knows that I've got no use for name-calling. It's the root of a bully. So anyway, my response was that I wasn't in favour of name-calling and I didn't favour bully tactics, and it's kind of funny because - I mentioned this because of what the honourable member has said, Mr. Chairman. When it came out in the media, there was no mention of what he asked me; it was just my comments. So people say, well, what the heck is he talking about? So I agree with you that media oftentimes is not fair, and so we've got to be able to look beyond that and not be so eager to judge.
I know that if the honourable member had said something in the paper that maybe I didn't like - and I'm not going to say "disagree with" - my response to myself would be, do you know what? That doesn't sound like the man I know, and I think I'm going to check it out with him before I come to my own conclusions.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Minister, thank you very much for those comments. I think it's sort of the answer that we need, because that's what we heard, not only from this level of government - we've heard it from the federal government and we've heard it from the municipalities who are all trying to find the way they fit into this issue. It has been a very difficult issue, because there has been so much emotion built in around it, but I think as we get further from that closure, more and more we'll have sensible discussions and be able to come up with a true path of finding a future for the ferry service in Yarmouth.
Yarmouth is not just about the ferry service, as much as we've enjoyed the benefits of having that ferry service there. Yarmouth County, Argyle, has been about the fishery. Yarmouth County, Argyle, has been about the cotton mill, has been about the tin mine, has been about a number of things that have gone by the wayside over the years, and there have been some positive issues that have come along: Register.com, the issues around that and finding new jobs, different jobs that are not fishery-based or tourism-based. They're really new jobs for southwest Nova Scotia.
So I'm going to switch a little bit to alternatives, and not necessarily tourism alternatives, because I know we've talked a lot about having a product and bringing people to southwest Nova Scotia. That's all fine and good and we can talk about that one another time, but I was just wondering if there's any discussion through NSBI or through Economic Development on the possibilities of other economic development, other jobs that could come to southwest Nova Scotia - like manufacturing, for instance. Maybe after the minister answers the question, I'll fill him in on where things were and then the global economic downturn happens. I'm just wondering where some of those issues are. So I'll let the minister answer and then I'll continue on that issue for a bit.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, through you to the member, when we talk about the southwest region - and I've got to say that this is one of the roles that NSBI does. NSBI is constantly, always - I mean, seven days a week, 24/7 - they're fisher-folk, because they're always throwing the line out there and hoping that they're going to catch something. So they're always making sure that they've got the hook baited and that they're ready to cast the line out. They're always out there shopping and looking for companies, organizations, or private sector to come - and not only the southwest region, but all regions of the Province of Nova Scotia. That's part of their mandate and they're very, very good at what they do.
We talked earlier about the RDAs, and that's one of the jobs. That's why RDAs are so important to jurisdictions in every region of the province. It's a shame what happened to the RDA in southwest Nova Scotia. It's a shame for any RDA for memberships to start to fall down, to break down and to lose, because RDAs are so vital to communities. When RDAs break down, communities suffer. I can't put it any more simply than that: it's the communities that suffer. The very people that you're there to assist and to help suffer as a consequence of that.
I think of the task force that's in place now - that's why it's in place, because we - I and we, as a government - recognize the importance of maintaining some connection, not only with the community, but more so in the world of corporate, the global world. A good example of our involvement was a couple of weeks ago - where does time go? - it was probably a month ago when I was in Yarmouth for the launch of the My Nova Scotia campaign.
We started in Yarmouth and worked across the province. Yarmouth was a good place for us to start. When we started off, people were coming, the deputy mayor was there, some ex-politicians were there, and we were talking because we started off slow. We started - maybe it was too early in the morning, but we got a slow start to the morning and we were talking amongst ourselves and we were saying, well, where is everybody? This is a chance to showcase Yarmouth and the region to the rest of the world - certainly to the rest of the province, anyway - and this is a chance for somebody to do some advertising. It wasn't going to cost them anything except for their investment of some time.
We were really - I shouldn't use "we," but I was really concerned. I was really concerned. I was looking around, and I said, where is everybody? But as the day progressed, people started coming out. They started coming out in great numbers and so we got off to a good start because we had over 30 auditions in that one day alone coming from Yarmouth.
When the member talks about the global and manufacturing and our interests and our efforts, I think there's one company that - on that day I took a few minutes, my EA and I, and we went to Tri-Star. Because we were rushed, we got a Reader's Digest tour, but what I saw was a company that is competitive in the global market, doing business all over the world, coming from Yarmouth. That company alone, the networking and the visibility of that company in other jurisdictions around the world, is a huge boost to Yarmouth and area.
Tri-Star is doing things that a lot of other companies should be doing. It's about continually looking at new markets and also not forgetting about holding onto what you have, which is part of that business maintenance that one has to do in business. The short answer to the question is that we are always looking for opportunities, and those opportunities that we look for pertain to every jurisdiction within the province.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I thank the minister for highlighting one of our successes, Tri-Star Industries. Two very resourceful gentlemen, Keith Condon and Mitch Bonnar, took an idea back in the early 1980s and blossomed it into a huge business that not only provides Nova Scotians with their ambulance system - by the way, for those people paying attention today, watching us on TV, every ambulance that you see go by on the highway, the ones that come and pick up a family member, or that you see travelling from hospital to hospital, were all built in Yarmouth by Tri-Star Industries.
The contract is such that as ambulances run to a certain point in Nova Scotia, they are then refurbished and sold on an international market. They go to places like Cuba and Panama. Did you know that the ambulances that serve the Panama Canal are supplied by Tri-Star? There are a number of contracts. Fidel Castro's personal ambulance is made in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, by Tri-Star. There are a number of Middle Eastern countries that use Tri-Star to build mobile operating theatres. It's amazing that that can be done in a remote location or in a rural area like Yarmouth.
What we need really in all of Nova Scotia is at least 10 more of these Tri-Stars. I know we do have a lot more companies that do very similar things, that export to a global market, but to have a few more of these guys would be phenomenal for us. Of course, bragging about Tri-Star is always something I enjoy doing, because I did spend a year or so there working for the guys, selling cellphones and computers and a whole bunch of other things, because they branch off into tons of different things.
We need another Tri-Star in Yarmouth. When we had an RDA - I'll get to the RDA issue. Maybe as we start responding to this, you can talk about the future of RDAs. I know you did for the member for Yarmouth previously, but maybe a little more detail would be great. I wasn't here at that time.
A number of years ago we were working with the aerospace industry. We had the possibility of a business coming to situate itself in Yarmouth, at the airport. This was a project that was being dealt with by the RDA at the time. I've heard very little of that since. It has been almost a year and a half now that we haven't had an RDA, and I don't know where many of those files have ended up. There has been the issue of expansion of our call centre. I haven't heard very much of that since our RDA has gone, either. I'm wondering where those projects are, and maybe we can start our discussion around the future RDA for Yarmouth.
MR. PARIS: There was a specific question there, but just before I address the question that was asked, I've got to, for my own conscience, go back to the previous question because of what I neglected to mention. I think the member from the Windsor area might be disappointed in me for not mentioning this. I forgot to mention about the Yarmouth bid for the World Hockey Championships. I don't know how that slipped, but if they're successful it'll be a couple years in a row, back to back - and also the role that the Province of Nova Scotia is playing in that to assist Yarmouth to be successful in obtaining that bid. I think it's important for me to throw that in.
About the RDA: at this point, there are some things that will continue and there are some things that I think have maybe gone by the wayside. Register.com is one of those examples; there are new owners of that business now. The future of the RDA itself, though - I'm optimistic. When I think about the future of the RDA, we can benefit from what happened in the past. I know that may sound a little bit strange, concerning all the issues and all the problems that we've had with the past RDA, but I think the lesson learned is that people who will be involved with the RDA are going to be saying, well, we don't want history to repeat itself. This is one of those examples where we can look back and see what happened in the past. We can say, well, this worked, that didn't work, and we can do some things that are going to be significantly different this time around than they were the last time.
I could go on at length about the RDA, but I don't think that's required, or I don't think it was asked. I think the member fully recognizes the value of the RDA or else he wouldn't have brought it up; he wouldn't have raised the issue. I'm optimistic about the future of the RDA. I think the right players will be at the table, and that Taskforce South West is going to provide a transition program. One of the things that I'd like to see Taskforce South West do is maybe pick up the ball on a couple of those things and run with it until the RDA is up and running.
I want to be fair about giving a timeline, and I think we're probably looking at another three months. Hopefully it will be sooner than that, but I feel safe if I say three months. I'd feel worse if I said it was going to be one or two months and then that expired and the RDA wasn't up, so I'd rather stick with a three-month timeline. I feel somewhat comfortable saying that, and if it happens before that, well, all the better for everyone.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you to the minister for that answer. The challenge that I think we've had in the southwest is sort of - I guess you'd call it a double whammy. We had a lot of stuff going on in a certain period of time, the last year and a half or so, and we haven't had the direction or help of an RDA. I think that a lot of the spin that we've had from our municipalities is sort of this to-ing and fro-ing of who's going to be responsible for what, that normally the RDA would have been taking care of. I think as soon as we can have it in place so that we understand the parameters of what the new RDA is going to be, who's going to be in the RDA or who's going to be out - because there is a fair amount of discussion around that.
Ten years ago, I remember when I first - or even seven years ago, when I first came to this House, I remember the previous mayor for Yarmouth, Charles Crosby, standing and saying he had a lot of announcements and thanking the municipalities and his partners for working together. He always said, I might be here as the Mayor of Yarmouth, but I'm here talking on behalf of our area.
That was the Municipality of Yarmouth, the Municipality of Argyle, and the Municipality of Clare, where everybody seemed to work very well together in getting projects completed. For a while there, I thought we were a model for the rest of the province of how a group or a community gets things done, and I hope that we get to that point again with the new RDA. Of course, I do hear rumblings of certain towns and counties that might not be interested in the new RDA, but I'm hoping that they all get to participate in an equal way. I think as a southwest area, we're much stronger working together. So I'm just wondering if there have been discussions about who's in and who's out of the new RDA.
MR. PARIS: If I understand the questioning correctly with respect to who's in and who's out, I can stand here in my place and I can say with all fair assessment that the municipalities are eager to work together and get an RDA up. The federal - and I think I can say this; I can say the provincial, for sure - but the intelligence that I've received is that both the federal and the provincial government are firmly committed to seeing an RDA in place in Yarmouth. Again, I will reiterate that the municipalities have a strong desire and the will to see an RDA up and running, and they would rather see it sooner as opposed to later.
Mr. Chairman, I know that the member is well aware of this, but this situation with the RDA in southwest Nova Scotia was unusual. It wasn't just a simple matter of dissolving an RDA and starting from scratch. If it had been that simple, I think we probably would have had an RDA back up and running, but there were a lot of intimate details that had to be worked out and worked around, and in fact, some of them are still ongoing.
It's a tough road. I give credit to the municipalities for sticking it out. I mean, they could have said, oh, the heck with this, but they recognized the importance of having an RDA. They see that their future lies in the establishment of a good, solid, new RDA for the region.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: We also have to remember that the South West Shore RDA did cover a pretty large area: it encompassed Lockeport, Barrington, the Town of Shelburne, the Town of Clark's Harbour, Argyle, Yarmouth, and Clare. If you add all that up, there were a lot of interested people with projects that were going on or being handled by the RDA. So I hope that in some way it will be a very similar configuration for the new RDA, because I think everybody works well together when it really comes down to it.
The only final question I had in and around the RDA issue - and you sort of brought it up, of everybody sticking together a little bit, especially on the shutdown of the previous RDA, and knowing that there are still a number of outstanding bills, if I may put it that way. I'm just wondering where maybe some of those issues are, because I do quite often talk to my friend at Garian Construction, Ian Mcnicol, and I'm wondering how some of that's going. I know it's more in the hands of that committee of municipalities to try to sell the assets of the previous RDA, to try to pay off some of those bills, but I'm wondering if there's a bit of an update around the final owings of the RDA before we move into the new RDA. We're trying to not have that liability sitting there as we move into the new function.
MR. PARIS: That's a tough question. What I've made known to anyone who has asked is that this is an unfortunate situation. There are contractors and possibly subcontractors who are owed money. The MLA for Shelburne, the minister, has raised this at our table a number of times.
The sad and unfortunate part about this is, even though I feel for anyone who may be owed money - I've been there myself. There are people who owe me money that I doubt very much if I'm ever going to see a cent of it, and what do you do about it? You can take them to court or you can just walk away and hope that they have some sort of conscience.
When we talk about SWDA, it's a service that the province already paid for once, and I trust that there's no expectation for us to pay for it a second time. We provided money for a service, and unfortunately something happened. I'll leave it at that. I guess I'll leave everything up to everyone's imagination, but I know it's a terrible thing when you're on the receiving end, when you do a job or a task in good faith with the intent of getting paid, and you don't get paid.
Then to make matters even worse, you could take the legal route, but by going the legal route it's also somebody you know, because Nova Scotia's a small place. It may be somebody that could be innocent, but guilty by being a part of something. It leaves one in a pretty tough situation. Like I said, I've been there myself. Whether it's doing a task, performing a service, or even lending money - sometimes we loan money to individuals who we think are friends and then it turns out you never get it back.
This is a tough one. I can offer all the sympathy in the world, but that doesn't equate to putting food on the table.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I know the minister and I have had that discussion on a couple of occasions. The sad part is, and what does frustrate me the most about this project is, it's a project that had been sitting around during my time working for the RDA, when we worked with the Acadian community in Tusket that wanted to have their own school community centre, like many other areas across the province. Here, of course, Carrefour du Grand-Havre has one, and Sydney Étoile de l'Acadie; many other French communities across Canada had school community centres that would provide a cultural centre to an area that really doesn't have any centre.
The funny part about Argyle is that it's made up of points - points of land. You have the Pubnicos, which are on a point of land, and you come to Pubnico Head. You go out on the points again to Amirault's Hill, Surette's Island, and Morris Island - francophone communities. You come back into the Tuskets, which are anglophone; you go back out to the Wedgeports and Comeau's Hill, which are francophone, and you come back in to the Plymouths, which are anglophone. So you're working with this area that's sort of split up, but the majority of these folks are of Acadian descent; they're French speakers. The community finally said, listen, we need to give it some kind of identity, we need to give it a centre in which to try to thrive culturally and try to maintain the culture and the language in the area. This centre we're talking about got short-changed in the middle of all this mess.
We did start off our hour talking about cultural issues, and I think what I hear from my community quite often is, why did we get short-changed on this one? Why is it left to us to try to pick up some of these pieces? If we were in another community - and I won't name any community that they're in - why does it always seem like they get the help and we don't? We have to scrape for everything and they don't.
This was just another example of being used, in a way, to get money, but at the end of the day not reaping the benefit of having a completed, paid-for centre where nobody got hurt. I know I didn't really ask a question there, but I thought maybe - I see you writing down a whole bunch of notes, so if you want to make a comment on that I'd appreciate it.
MR. PARIS: I've got to say this. I know there wasn't a question there, but I do have some feedback. When you talk about that particular project - I'll go on record. We believed in that project as well. That's why we gave money to fund that project, because we believed it was the right thing to do. The unfortunate part about it is that we gave money specifically for that project and that money went somewhere else; it wasn't used for the funding that it was intended to.
We are in agreement, Mr. Chairman, with the member opposite. We supported, we believed, we thought this was a good project to be involved in, and hence we wrote a cheque to cover that investment because we thought it was a good investment of taxpayers' money for that particular school. I've toured that school as well, and when I go in there and I see no seats, I'm almost speechless.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: There is a ray of hope there, because we were lucky enough that the federal government did come through with some extra funding. They wouldn't pay the bills that were left, but they said, listen, we need to help you finish the darn place, because it doesn't make sense that you have this building and you have nothing in it.
They did come through with funding for the seats; as far as I understand, the seats are in transit from the manufacturer. The sound system is going to be installed, so we are going to be able to use the facility for the Festival International de Par-en-bas, or the Acadian Festival, in that area beginning in July. Fingers are crossed, my toes are crossed, that everything is going to work out well and that we're going to have that facility up and running.
There are still outstanding bills, and I really need to thank Ian and the gang at Garian Construction and their subcontractors, who have been very, very patient and who have decided not to go the legal route because that didn't make sense either in the end of it. But it does underline one of my pet peeves. One of my pet peeves in government is that I've seen communities, and I've seen government invest in certain things in communities - and I think this is what happened, and I never know for sure because I don't know the accounting of the dollars that SWSDA had, where they ended up. My feeling is the dollars for my school community centre ended up funding or keeping certain other projects alive, including the Shelburne base, the old boys' school.
We as governments, regardless of who is sitting in this Chamber or ends up being government in the future, have to learn that we don't divest of infrastructure very well. We would better serve those communities by taking bulldozers to certain things and just getting rid of it, selling the land over again, rather than trying to maintain a facility like the Shelburne base. I know we've had this discussion with the member for Shelburne before.
Canso is a really good example of people holding onto something. The big old plant that sat in Canso for years, that people tried to keep going, looked for dollars to keep it going, probably one of the best things for Canso to move on was to take a big bulldozer and knock the thing down, put a right-size fish plant on it and they're producing crab and other products there and there's a future to it right now.
I'm sure people in Yarmouth will shoot me down on this, but really, when the cotton mill went in Yarmouth, we might have been better served by taking a big bulldozer and knocking it down and coming up with the right-size industry, rather than keeping this big building open and trying to keep it alive. So my only lesson, my pet peeve here, is that we spend lots of time trying to maintain old infrastructure when we could take that energy and take those dollars and invest them into the right kind of businesses for those areas. I hope we do that in the future but I just had that sense of being rolled over here, when it comes to our school community centre, by this issue, that had we done that originally, everybody would be better off in this instance.
Anyway, I know my time is coming to an end and I know my caucus has some other questions. I know that the member for Victoria-The Lakes had a question around the Signature Resorts that he wanted me to ask you before the end of the day. I'm just wondering, what are the updates on the Signature Resorts? I know there had been some talk of doing some upgrades to them. I'm just wondering where that issue stands today.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, before I mention the Signature Resorts, I just want to piggyback on something the member was talking about and I think what I've heard about the investments that we make is are they good investments? Well, I think that when I look at history - and we can sit here and we can name some investments that we've made that we didn't get any return for the dollar. It's unfortunate when you talk about jobs and you're talking about somebody's livelihood, and I know it's another one of those tough decisions that government sometimes has to make. I'd like to think - and I see a lot of my caucus colleagues here tonight - I'd like to think that one of the things we like to do, as a government, is thoroughly flush things out. By that I simply mean look at the good, the bad, and the ugly before we make decisions.
There's going to be a decision that's going to be made every now and then that I think any government is going to make, when it comes to the economic benefits to a particular region, so again, I think it comes back to that theory that I subscribe to, that everything is based on its own merit and we do it on a case-by-case basis.
Signature Resorts, the update - well we called for an expression of interest as far as the Signature Resorts were concerned. One of the things that I tried to de-rail is that it didn't mean that the Signature Resorts were for sale. What we did have is we had four expressions of interest in the Signature Resorts. We are now still in the process of doing due diligence on those four expressions of interest, and a part of that due diligence is that we are still evaluating all of the options before we make up our mind on which way to go.
I will say this, and this is no secret, I've made this known both in the House and outside of the House - and it's my opinion - the Signature Resorts, could they use some investment of dollars? Well, yes, they could. They're like any other piece of infrastructure asset we have. One of the things that governments have failed to do in the past is continual maintenance and upkeep of the Signature Resorts to the point now where some of them are at risk of losing their ratings.
Most of the things - structurally they're very, very sound - what they need investment in are things like drapes, carpets, TVs, those things that all add up to be a healthy bit of change.
I trust that brings you up to date as far as we are concerned with the resorts.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Member, you have 45 seconds.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: What I'll do is I'll end it here and thank the minister for his answers, for his discussion. I know many of these issues don't necessarily have the easy yes or no answer nor are they truly on the budgetary issues of the department, but they are very important to the areas we represent.
I thank the minister for his attention to the southwestern region of Nova Scotia, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to your estimates today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: This is fun, going back and forth and trying to pick up where we were before.
I did want to follow up with a couple of comments that the minister made regarding the fact that these three different groups - Team South West, Team West, and Task Force South West - the minister said they weren't created in response to the economic challenges brought upon the area because of the loss of the ferry.
I just wanted to remind the minister that what did become Task Force South West was a product of a request that was brought forward by the community in Yarmouth because of the loss of bodies in the area not coming off the ferry. That group specifically, from when I was involved in the request that was made was to address the net deficit of visitors and bring people in business to the area. So I just wanted to have that on the record.
I also wanted to mention that we've learned that the province wasn't the only game in town when it comes to funding this vessel. The municipal units had brought forward a proposal to take care of half that subsidy for one more year and that offer was declined by the minister - I tabled a letter in Question Period from him outlining the position on that proposal. So the municipal government was there.
I do share the minister's criticisms of the federal government. This is an international ferry link, one that connects Canada to a large international marketplace and our close international friend. I think the federal government, the Harper Government, should have been there to support that route if the province wasn't going to do it itself, and I think that's something that has hurt the federal party in the region as well. I share the minister's critique in outlining the fact that the feds weren't there and, in my opinion, they should have been - which makes me so proud to say that we did manage to convince the federal Liberals, if they were privileged enough to form government, to fund long-term operations of that ferry service. Luckily, as well, our provincial Liberal Leader has committed a provincial Liberal Government to do the same.
I want to shift focus to tourism for a second. We've been told several times in the House that tourist numbers are up in the Province of Nova Scotia by approximately 3 per cent - I think that's the number I've heard most. My question to the minister: According to the department, what definition is used to characterize a "tourist" - what's the exact definition?
Mr. Chairman, I'd like to rephrase the question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Yarmouth would like to rephrase the question - is the minister comfortable with that?
MR. PARIS: Sure.
MR. CHURCHILL: Okay, sorry. What is the textbook definition that is used by the department to classify a tourist in the numbers, the tourism numbers that are used by the department - how do you define a tourist?
MR. PARIS: What we have is at least three classifications of who is a tourist. One would be those within the province, within the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia; another classification is those who are travelling nationally, within Canada; and then there would be international tourists, or the U.S. tourists - and we also would have statistics for those coming from overseas destinations as well.
I don't have this right off the top of my head, but I can't ever recall saying that tourism numbers increased in Nova Scotia by 3 per cent. I can't ever recall saying that. What I think I said is that we hold our own with respect to tourism, that there have been some jurisdictions within Nova Scotia that have a slight increase of 1 per cent or 1.2 per cent. The increase may be considered a modest increase - I think it's worthy of mentioning just because of where we are in the global picture when it comes to tourism and competing for tourists internationally.
Stay Vacations are a big part, and they have been for the last couple of years. Stay Vacations have been a big part of tourism promotion. The My Nova Scotia campaign piggybacks on that, and it's about what other jurisdictions within Nova Scotia have to offer that we, as potential visitors to that particular region of the province, may not be aware of or know about.
MR. CHURCHILL: Just to recap - the minister said, I believe, that there are three classifications of tourists in Nova Scotia: domestic provincial tourists who travel within the province; domestic national tourists travelling from other provinces to the province; and international tourists coming from the United States and abroad. I believe those are the three classifications that have been given to us.
I bring this up because accommodations statistics would show - and I tabled them last week - sorry, tourism numbers would show from certain areas that tourism numbers are down. I have some questions about how we're actually calculating the tourism numbers in this province. If there are these three different classifications, I'm wondering if domestic provincial tourism might actually be inflating those numbers. I'm wondering what "domestic tourism" actually is - is that when I come up to Halifax for a meeting, to work - or if I leave the province and come back, am I considered a tourist in your calculations?
The doctors who are going to do work in New Brunswick or Ontario and come back - are they considered to be tourists? People travelling to see family in New Brunswick across the border and coming back - are they tourists? These are important questions, because if those numbers are being calculated in these tourism numbers, that doesn't actually reflect the number of people who are coming in, staying at our accommodations, spending money in our restaurants, and bringing new money into the area. I'd actually like to see the breakdown of those numbers and how they all tally up to be a 3 per cent increase.
I believe I heard the Premier say that number - 3 per cent. I'll look in Hansard and make sure that number is correct - and I believe I've heard the minister say that as well. My question: Looking at domestic tourism numbers, are we looking at anybody coming in and out of the province, whether they're tourists or not? Is that number actually inflating the overall number of tourist visitations to the province?
MR. PARIS: My first response is that it's to nobody's advantage, even to government's advantage to inflate numbers - we have nothing to gain by doing so. If anything, it does more damage than it does good. What a wasted effort that would be. It just doesn't make any sense whatsoever from an Economic and Rural Development and Tourism perspective to even consider something like that.
What I can tell you is that I'd be more than willing - the member, through you, Mr. Chairman, asked for some numbers, and I would certainly be more than willing to table at some point in time within the next 24 hours. I'm looking up at staff because staff are the ones who are going to have to produce it - but within the next 24 hours I'd be more than willing to table some numbers for the member to see.
I can tell you this - for the benefit of the member opposite, and this is something that I think we all should be aware of, 88 per cent of the tourists coming into Nova Scotia come from other jurisdictions within Canada. So 88 per cent of the tourists that we see on an annual basis are other Canadians coming from wherever the case may be. We have those all broken out. Today, Americans coming to Nova Scotia only represent about 9 per cent of the tourism traffic. I know the member made reference to the American tourism population - I forget exactly what the term was - oh, "our close international friend," the United States of America. I don't disagree with that, but I do know that sometimes when it comes to putting money on the table, that friendship can be pretty distant. They may be our friends, but that doesn't necessarily mean they always partner with us.
I think also, when we talk about tourism - and I've never mentioned this, but I want to take the opportunity to mention this now - we don't even count the cruise ships as part of those numbers. There's another category, if you will, that accounts for the cruise traffic. Last year, if I'm not mistaken - if my memory serves me - we set a record with respect to cruise traffic. That's another important number, and I'll see if I can get that information for the member as well.
One of the things that we look at when we talk about U.S. tourism is that we also recognize that there are markets in the U.S. that we haven't tapped into, and we are attempting - since we became government, one of the things that I recognized immediately as Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism is that there is a whole market out there that we haven't fully tapped into. That's the African American population, with such things as Routes to Your Roots initiatives and with so many African Americans retracing their roots back to Nova Scotia and wanting to come to visit here.
We talk about outmigration - and I'm just going to take you on a little journey down memory lane. We talk about how big a problem outmigration is, and I'm here to tell you that outmigration is nothing new for us here in Nova Scotia. We've had rural communities migrating to Halifax ever since I can remember, to the big centres where there are jobs. You look at the African Nova Scotian communities around the province now, and many of them are disappearing because of outmigration. I can remember - well, maybe I can't remember; I'm not that old - I can recall hearing from my parents - that's better - of many individuals of African descent migrating to Boston and larger centres in the U.S. I can remember learning in history about the leaders in the Black community, the Boston Kings and the Richard Prestons, the heart and soul of the African Nova Scotian community, migrating to Africa, to Sierra Leone.
Outmigration is nothing new. We have communities today that are suffering as a result of it. I can remember my older brother, many years older than I am, when he was growing up, when he got to be a teenager, when he was finished school, when he was 17 or 18, the popular place to go was Montreal - Montreal, then it was Toronto, and then from Toronto it became Calgary. Times have changed. We recognize this in the Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Department, and that's why we are trying to attract the niche marketing; that's why we successfully went after the African Diaspora Trail. It's all part of our tourism initiative - not only do we want to showcase Nova Scotia to African Americans, but we want to showcase Nova Scotia to the world. Things like that are great opportunities for us to do just that.
When we talk about numbers we are never, never, never going to be satisfied, because it's a work in progress. We will always be trying to attract tourists to come back. What's more important for that tourist, when they come here, is that we want them to come back a second time, a third time, and a fourth time. We want them to enjoy Yarmouth; we want them to go to Barrington and walk the beaches; we want them to enjoy Peggys Cove, but we have more to offer than just Peggys Cove and the Cabot Trail. We have excellent beaches here in the province of Nova Scotia that I think are some of the best-kept secrets for the southwestern region in the province.
MR. CHURCHILL: Mr. Chairman, I want to assure the minister that I wasn't accusing him or his government of consciously inflating numbers to provide misleading stats - I wasn't accusing you of that. I'm wondering specifically about the methodology used to collect that data and what that means. So my question specifically is the domestic provincial tourism numbers, and perhaps the interprovincial numbers as well: Is that reflective of all movement of people within the province and coming from outside the province, or is it reflective of tourists specifically, of people who are coming in to stay in our hotels and motels and B&Bs and to have a tourism experience here?
I think there is a real difference between someone coming in to stay with family for a funeral or someone going to Shelburne to the hospital and actual tourism numbers of people coming in and spending tourism dollars in the province. The statistics that I've tabled in this House point to the fact that tourism doesn't seem to be up in the province: occupancy rates are down; visitations to tourism bureaus are down; and all of these numbers would indicate to me that there are fewer actual tourists coming into the province. So I'm wondering specifically about the methodology around the collection of the data that would lead the province to say tourism has increased by 3 per cent, if that number is reflective of all movement of people or if it's actually movement of tourists, and if that's reflective of tourism dollars that are coming in?
MR. PARIS: Just for clarity, so that the member and I are on the same page, again I reiterate that it's not 3 per cent. We measure tourists in a number of ways. The ways that we measure visitations in Nova Scotia is consistent with the standard used right across the country. In some cases, we even hire individuals at entrance points to count the number of people coming in, to record where licence plates are coming from, to count individuals that are in a vehicle. We also do some counts at visitor information centres. We try to, as effectively as we can, not only map, but keep a count of the number of visitors staying overnight and where they're staying overnight. It assists us in our ability to make analyses of where tourists are staying and where they are going. It's all part of that due diligence process so that we can keep right on top of things - I say "we," and I speak as a government, and I know that in the past, previous governments have done it the same way as we are, because that's important information.
As someone who's heavily involved in tourism, as the Province of Nova Scotia is a $1.8 billion industry, it just makes good business sense. You've got to be able to not only attract, but also track where people are, where they are staying, what the overnight stays in region X are, and what we can do to improve that. The operators also need to know. If I'm running a business, it only makes good business sense that you constantly - and I think that when we first started estimates we got into a friendly jostling match back and forth about evaluations. One of the things that we and governments in the industry of tourism have prided themselves on is that there's always that ongoing evaluation when it comes to tourism. I think the overseas is where you might have gotten the 3 per cent. I think the overseas attraction is 3 per cent; 3 per cent of our tourists come from overseas. That's another region of the globe that we are working on - we want to improve access for those overseas travellers.
One of the problems we face in tourism in Nova Scotia and Canada is the cost of air travel. The cost of air travel is so high, and it does interfere with tourism dollars. I know that many people look at - I think earlier in another response I referred to the Internet playing a significant role, and now you can compare shopping. When it costs me and my family $3,000 just to fly to Alberta, and I could take that money and take my family to Cuba for a week, and flight, food, accommodations, and beverages - can't forget beverages - are included in that $3,000 package, I'm sitting there on my computer and I'm trying to think, where am I going to go? We've got a lot of competition going on right now.
Also, because of the Internet, some of those things that we do when it comes to visitation are maybe not as applicable today as they would have been five, ten, or fifteen years ago. Even when it comes to the VICs, with visitations there now - I don't know about the member opposite, but I have a GPS, and I can now plot my route on my GPS. Far and beyond that, that GPS can tell me what proximity shopping is in that area and what tourist attractions are in that area as I'm driving along. As I'm going along that route, they can tell me if there's a museum off exit so-and-so or if there's a shopping centre off exit so-and-so. Times have changed in how we do things and how we plan, and that has had an impact, not only on our numbers when it comes to statistical data, but on actual visitations.
MR. CHURCHILL: It's still not clear what those numbers are reflecting. Perhaps when we have those numbers tabled in the House we can look at them to see. I think there is a real distinction between travel that's not tourism related, that doesn't support tourism operators or accommodations or service industries, and inter-domestic provincial travel. I think it's important that we identify what those differences are.
I say this because this tourism number - I still believe it was 3 per cent that was used before, and. I'll check into Hansard and see if that's the number that was used by the minister and the Premier. I stand to be corrected if that wasn't the right number - numbers were used to defend a decision that I believe negatively impacted the tourism industry. If these are the numbers that were being used and this is the methodology of examining everybody who's moving around, then I think it still doesn't get to the heart of the issue, which is that tourism operators have been affected by the decision to cut the ferry. All the data I've tabled in the House would indicate that's the case.
It's important to look at American tourism and what those numbers are as well. I'd be interested to see, beyond the general state of tourism, what the status is with American tourism. That's money that is actually new to our economy, and that brings foreign dollars that are outside the country into the Province of Nova Scotia and into the country, and that is actually what increases our economic capacity here.
I want to be clear that I say this not to belabour a past decision. I know it seems as though I'm doing that sometimes. I say all these things and I continue to argue in favour of the ferry because I want to impact this government's mindset when it comes to that service. I realize that a decision has been made and there is nothing we can do to change that. That doesn't mean I'm not going to be critical of that decision. But I think it's very important, moving forward, that this government understands the significance of having that ferry link linking this province to the U.S. and does what it can to support restoration of long-term services of that ferry service. That's why I continue to bring this issue up and that's why I think it's so important to my constituents and should be important to this House.
I do want to perhaps move to another related issue, which is the Tourism Department's new marketing campaign - My Nova Scotia, I believe it's called. The minister mentioned that he was in Yarmouth to launch that marketing campaign; actually, before he was in Yarmouth I saw his endearing face on TV talking about it. The minister mentioned that people who came forward in Yarmouth to participate in this would be marketing their own business and area free of charge. It's not free of charge. Taxpayers' dollars are paying for that marketing campaign.
I think marketing campaigns definitely can work and have a real impact on increasing the intake of tourists. Newfoundland and Labrador have a remarkable and notable marketing campaign that they've been doing for a number of years now with excellent commercials. If this is a campaign that produces results for our tourism operators and for the economy of Nova Scotia, I think it's a good thing. I'm just wondering, how much money are we spending on this marketing campaign, and what are the anticipated returns to taxpayers?
MR. PARIS: I have a couple of responses. I'm not going to forget about the My Nova Scotia campaign. First, what I heard was about conventions and whether or not they're part of the statistics. My response to that is that we in Nova Scotia, and the World Trade Centre, want to be a convention destination. We advertise ourselves as a convention destination, and actually, people who come here for conventions want to come back again. That's why the new World Trade and Convention Centre is on the table now. We see an opportunity to grow that into the business with another facility. So yes, convention visitors are very, very important to us. They are part of what it is that we do here in Nova Scotia, and they add significant dollars to our bottom line. I had to mention that.
The member mentioned - he called me on that there is a cost. I said, well, you can come and do an ad and it's not going to cost you anything. I don't want to stand up here and split hairs over how it is taxpayers' money contributing to something. The bottom line is I think everybody in the House knew exactly what I meant when I said that there's no cost to come down and audition. We all pay taxes, and of course if it's a government-funded project, then I guess that would apply to anything and everything we do. I went there, and I didn't really want to go there.
The total cost of the My Nova Scotia campaign - and I had already mentioned that it piggybacks - is $1.4 million. That's up from last year. As costs go up it affects everything. I think that's an increase of - it would be in the hundreds of thousands, but I could certainly find out how much of an increase that is from last year's campaign. The cost of that campaign is $1.4 million.
I have to say that I think it was money well invested. I can tell you that as of today, we were - last week, we had a count that there were 288 auditions so far, as a result. I can tell you that that has increased by almost twice that number; the latest report is that we're close to an additional 300 auditions. I think that is significant, and the largest problem we're having right now is trying to narrow that down to 21. It's going to be a huge task for those who are involved with that. The My Nova Scotia campaign - I mentioned that when we kicked it off in Yarmouth it got off to a slow start, but as the day progressed it started ramping up, and it has been going full force ever since.
It was one of those initiatives that, when you're first asked to do it, sometimes you're reluctant. You hesitate. I'm so glad that we did that campaign the way we did. What Nova Scotia has seen in that commercial - and I think part of the encouragement of us getting so many auditions was that they were looking at the minister responsible and saying, well, if he can do it, so can we. I think it's all worked out for the best.
MR. CHURCHILL: I do think the My Nova Scotia campaign is a great opportunity to include many voices from across the province that otherwise wouldn't be able to voice their appreciation and their thoughts on the benefits that we have here in Nova Scotia and on why they think people should come to visit us. That seems to be a very inclusive way of going about this campaign, which I don't think anybody would disagree with.
I think it is important, though, because we are putting significant dollars into this, that we do see returns on this campaign - ones that we know we're receiving because of this campaign. I say that because we've seen money from this government go to projects in southwest Nova Scotia, namely Explore Our Shores, and I believe there was some funding for the marketing of the Yarmouth 250 celebrations, which again was greatly appreciated.
If you talk to the tourism association from Yarmouth and Acadian Shores, or if you talk to tourism operators, while Explore Our Shores was good at getting Starr Dobson down to Yarmouth and having a Web site to promote all the beauty and pleasures of southwest Nova Scotia - in particular, Yarmouth and Acadian Shores - the results were lacking. Vacancies still went down during that time when this province put about $400,000 into Explore Our Shores. American visitations were still down. Visitations to tourism bureaus were still going down.
I think it's very important that when we're putting money into marketing we're actually achieving something out of it and are able to track the success of that marketing. I think that's an important thing, because I wouldn't want to see the efforts of all these Nova Scotians being involved in this inclusive marketing campaign and the money going into it - I wouldn't want to see this not produce the intended results for Nova Scotians.
I guess my question is, which markets are specifically being targeted with this marketing campaign? What are the targeted outcomes and goals of this marketing campaign?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to just go back to something I said earlier. I was slightly off in my analysis, and I think what I want is we've got 288 auditions thus far. What we are anticipating is another 300 - there's an indication that we're going to have another 300. So I want to make that clear. It's not that they've already come forward, but it's anticipated. The targeted audience for the campaign is Atlantic Canada. It is part of that stay vacation initiative that was started, so we are targeting Nova Scotia and the rest of Atlantic Canada.
Now, I also want to add that I think what we invest in the area of tourism in the Province of Nova Scotia is a good return because, again, I had mentioned that the tourism industry in Nova Scotia is a $1.8 billion industry - and that's "billion." That's not $1 million, that's $1.8 billion. So I think an investment of $1.4 million to continue with a strategy that has already proven results is a good investment on our part.
We will continue to invest in those things that are going to attract and bring more Atlantic Canadians to the Province of Nova Scotia and have more of our Nova Scotians stay home here in Nova Scotia and visit other regions of the province. We think that's a fair return and a fair investment for an industry as large as tourism is.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Yarmouth, we have about 11 minutes left.
MR. CHURCHILL: So the targeted audience for this marketing campaign is Atlantic Canadians. Where we are having a decrease - or it seems to be a decrease - in American visitations, and where the minister has indicated that the European tourism market is important for the province as well, I'm wondering what is being done outside of this to attract Americans who have historically come here to Nova Scotia. We have a great historic link with our friends, and oftentimes relatives, in the United States who come up and visit and sometimes buy property and stay.
I'm wondering what is going to be done to increase the European market and the amount of people who are coming to Nova Scotia from there, because while I do appreciate that we want to increase more in the provincial activity, if you actually want to have an impact on the economy of the region, then you need outside dollars coming in. We can't just be running around to each other's provinces and using the same pool of money. In order to have a real impact on the economy of the Atlantic Provinces, we need outside money coming in. I think our success here in Nova Scotia is dependent upon the success of our neighbours in New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador, so I think it's important that we're all being successful together.
So if this marketing campaign, which is costing taxpayers about $1.4 million and is including a lot of people, is intended to focus its efforts on interprovincial travel, what is being done in the tourism department to reach out to the other markets - American and European - in attempts to increase their visitation to this fine province?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, through you to the member opposite, I want to say how enthused I am about that question. I say that because one of the things that I have complained about habitually in the House is that we never get a chance to talk about those partnerships and those relationships that we have with other jurisdictions around the world that help us in the tourism industry.
We do all sorts of things. We do advertising - print advertising, magazine advertising - in the United States and overseas, in the United Kingdom and Germany. We have Taste of Nova Scotia. There are those tourism organizations - not only TIANS here in Nova Scotia, but we also have the Canadian Tourism Association and we have international tourism associations that we work with, that we continually partner with, to try to attract more tourists to the Province of Nova Scotia.
I've already mentioned, but I will reiterate, that we've looked at some niche marketing. We want people to take advantage of that multicultural spirit that we have here in Nova Scotia. We want not only African-Americans coming here, but we want people to come here and explore the gravesites where the Titanic victims are resting. We have a display at the Nova Scotia museum.
We want people to come to Nova Scotia to experience the Mi'kmaq culture. We assisted with and partnered with the Mi'kmaq communities last year for a huge event that was held on the Halifax Common. There will be another similar event this summer. Last year's event was a huge success and it brought people from all over.
We want people to experience the Acadian culture; we want that French culture that we're so proud of. It's so traditional to Nova Scotia to be - we want people to know that Georges Island in Halifax Harbour was a holding place during the French expulsion. How many Nova Scotians don't even know that?
We want people to experience the culinary delights that we have to offer here through Taste of Nova Scotia. A number of weeks ago we had people in Boston because there was a huge taste showing in Boston where we could showcase what it is that we have to offer when it comes to those delights that just thrill your taste buds.
What we've done, and what we are doing, is broadening our horizons. We are no longer thinking in the way that we used to think traditionally. What we did before is we counted heavily upon that tourist getting into their motor home or hauling their tent behind them, coming up from south of the border, coming here and enjoying.
There are places in Asia and in Europe where they have to know more about us, but we have to increase air access. We have to be able to accommodate them when it comes to air, because we want people to know what we have to offer. Not only do we have good weather, but people come here because of the diverse weather we have. People come here because of the scenery that we have. There's no place else, in my opinion, there's no other jurisdiction in the world that can offer the diversity that we offer - not only the diversity in places, but the diversity in people.
Immigration is going to be important to us in other ways. We've been talking about immigration in terms of employment, but immigration goes beyond that. The more immigrants we have, the more visitors we have coming to visit family who have relocated here to Nova Scotia. There are just numerous ways that we feel it's important for us to stay active, stay productive, and do all that advertisement. What we want is a $1.8 billion industry. We want it to be a $2 billion industry next year, and guess what? The year after that, we want it to be $2.3 billion. We want this industry to continue to climb and climb. The way that we're going to do that is advertising.
Earlier when we talked about jobsHere - we are also making a huge investment in workplace training and education. When I talk to operators in TIANS, they have a diversity program that I've been fortunate enough to go to over the last couple of years, where people get rewarded for learning more about diversity. What we have to be assured of as a tourism destination is that we are going to be accommodating to the needs of tourists. We want to make sure that we're ready to meet the needs of those tourists when they come here, because if we're not - now that word of mouth travels by one push of a button. Now with the Internet, with social networks all over the place, I can recount my visit to Nova Scotia and I can say it was good or bad. One click of the button and it's all around the world. So we have to be very careful and we have to make sure that we get it right.
MR. CHURCHILL: Madam Chairman, I appreciate that we need to be doing all we can to increase this vital industry. I think that includes marketing outside of our borders to the U.S. and to Europe, ensuring that those folks who are willing to travel know that they can come here, be accepted, and have a great time in Nova Scotia. The minister brought up some great points about using social networking to get the message out there. I'd love to see a plan come forward from his department that includes social networking and new media to reach out to those people who are on-line looking for places to travel.
One thing I will say - if you ask anybody from the tourism sector or from the convention sectors, marketing is one thing, but sales are also important. You need someone who's doing the hard work, making the sales and bringing people here. That's especially important for the convention market (Interruption) And a way to get here. Obviously, this government needs to invest in transportation infrastructure to get all those folks here, particularly in Yarmouth, which links us to one of the biggest markets in the world. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for Committee of the Whole House on Supply has expired.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise, report progress, and beg leave to sit again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report its business to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 8:53 p.m.]