HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 5, 2019
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, would you please call the continuation of Estimates for the Department of Health and Wellness.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre for 34 minutes.
TAMMY MARTIN: In case we run out of time before the 34 minutes are up, I would like to take this opportunity, before I begin, to thank Minister Delorey and his staff for the countless hours of answers and information that they have provided.
THE CHAIR: Order. You cannot refer to him by his name.
The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
TAMMY MARTIN: As I was saying, we thank the Minister of Health and Wellness and his staff. I know the people behind the scenes are working diligently as well to provide us with the best answers possible, just as our staff have been pumping me full of information and questions to keep on going. Thank you, and we really appreciate this opportunity and the work that goes behind it.
I have quite a lengthy preamble with only one question at the end. I will table this document that I am going to talk about. It’s about community health centres.
There are many community health centres across our province doing great work to provide not only primary care but also preventative care in the community. Community health centres host collaborative practice teams in a space that is owned and run by the community and often do crucial health outreach in their communities.
Many of the community health centres across the province are carrying the torch for the rest of us when it comes to showing what primary care could look like in our province. They are organizations that have a great deal of community buy-in and support, in part because they are governed by the communities and serve through a board of directors. Unfortunately, many of our community health centres are hanging on by a thread. While their doctors and nurses are paid by the NSHA or through the physician agreement, most have to fundraise in order to pay the rent for their buildings.
The Nova Scotia Association of Community Health Centres is seeking stabilization funding from the department to keep the clinics running. Currently, there is no overarching funding agreement that supports them, despite the fact that their model fits snuggly into the healthy homes approach the government has taken to primary care. They sent a request to the department in 2017, but haven’t heard back a definitive yes or no. The association requested just under $3 million in last year’s budget to alleviate operating pressures across the clinics, including $125,000 to support the association’s engagement with the provincial primary health care planning process.
Madam Chair, health care practitioners love working at community health centres. Doctors and nurses have a dedicated team to practise with and are supported by outreach programs that work to improve the health outcomes of the community. CHCs are an excellent strategy for keeping doctors in Nova Scotia. In 2012, the Canadian Ministerial Advisory Council on Rural Health urged that to improve health in rural communities we must provide integrated health services that put rural health in rural hands.
We must also take a broader look at the determinants of the health approach. Working across sectors, we must strengthen health promotion, build local infrastructure, and help to foster community-led capacity building. We must support sustainable health and human resource strategies, and we must improve rural health research. Community health centres do all these things, Madam Chair, and much more.
The community health centres across the province have put together detailed proposals outlining the funding they need from the Department of Health and Wellness or the Health Authority to continue to provide the services to the community they serve. I would like to ask the minister: Is there any money that responds directly to their requests in this budget?
HON. RANDY DELOREY: As the member described, as the members of the Legislature would have heard, I think the description of the nature of the care provided being recommended really aligns with the policy and the strategic direction we have been taking as a government. Fundamentally at its heart, from a clinical perspective, it is talking about the collaboration of teams of health care providers providing care within communities across our province.
Indeed, for the last number of years, our government has taken a very committed approach to building collaboration within our primary health care sector through significant investment in primary health care collaborative teams. That work, Madam Chair, is very clearly part of our policy position and is followed up on with financial investments.
As the member would know, in this budget we have included an additional $10 million targeted towards collaborative care teams, either the establishment or the expansion of these teams, throughout the province. We do agree, based upon the advice and the feedback, that the future of primary health care services to meet the needs of our population does rely in part on ensuring that health care providers throughout the system are given the opportunity to work to their scope of practice.
Again, we hear how they want to do that together, and it has influenced this policy. That is what we are doing in our collaborative care teams - bringing in nurses, nurse practitioners, family practice nurses, and social workers in several of our teams. I believe that in at last some of our teams, there have been occupational or physiotherapists brought in as well. The teams themselves know the community that they are working in, understand what the complement of health care professionals should look like, and they work with the Nova Scotia Health Authority to identify and then recruit and fill those teams of health professionals that support the physicians on the ground.
To that end, we have invested and have hired - just since March 2017 - about 48 nurse practitioners, 66 family practice nurses, four LPNs, and a dozen social workers as part of our commitment and expansion of collaborative care teams throughout the province.
To the member’s question, we’re investing heavily in collaborative practices throughout the province because we do believe that is a model that supports people, as the member mentioned, to meet their health care needs now and into the future.
TAMMY MARTIN: Specifically to the question about community health centres and realizing that it is a model very similar to a collaborative practice, would the minister commit to meeting with this group, reviewing their proposals, and responding to their initial request?
RANDY DELOREY: The department has met with the community health association, and they have received the request that the member has referenced. They continue to look at it and evaluate it in the context of all of the work that we have going on, recognizing that we made some very specific and direct commitments as a government when we came in, as part of our platform, to continue our work being established and rolled out with collaborative practices, collaborative teams. That’s where a lot of our focus has been.
There are often times that unsolicited proposals do come forward to the department. We make every effort to review and respond in a timely manners. We also have a responsibility, Madam Chair, to ensure that our priorities as a government and initiatives that come in from platform commitments that we have made to Nova Scotians are the focus of the efforts being conducted within our department.
We continue to review and assess, and no final decisions have been made, but we are making good progress on those commitments and on the policy direction that we have committed to Nova Scotians to pursue. That doesn’t necessarily automatically rule out investments and other programs or services. I think we have shown that we have been responsive in other areas of our health care system when things come up. Again, $3 million is a fair-size financial investment when we’re already making a $10-million investment in a very similar model of primary health care delivery. Sometimes it’s difficult to move two good ideas at the same time, but those conversations will continue and the proposal will be reviewed. Of course, the group will know when a final decision has been made.
TAMMY MARTIN: Believe it or not, Madam Chair, the NDP is done.
RANDY DELOREY: I will acknowledge the member for Cape Breton Centre, who is also the Health Critic for the NDP. I want to thank her. Off the top, she noted how much time I have spent here with my staff, including Deputy Minister Perret and CFO Kevin Elliott, answering questions from her and her caucus.
Very clearly for those who have been watching these proceedings, obviously the Health Critic has been carrying the majority of those questions on behalf of the NDP. She spent as much time here during these discussions as well, and I want to just thank her for the valuable questions that have been raised on behalf of her constituents and her party throughout the Estimates Debate this year.
THE CHAIR: The NDP are finished with their questioning, so we will turn over the remaining time.
The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond, with an hour.
ALANA PAON: It’s a pleasure to be here and have an opportunity to ask some questions in more of a conversational format with the Minister of Health and Wellness and his staff here in Estimates.
In my constituency, I know there is a lot of discussion obviously with the CBRM redevelopment plan that’s going on. We hear a lot with regard to what’s going on within CBRM. Sometimes, we refer to that as Cape Breton. There’s a lot more obviously to Cape Breton than just within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. We heard about the Buchanan Hospital issues just a couple of weeks ago. We have a great hospital out in Inverness. In my constituency in Cape Breton-Richmond, we also have a great facility with an extraordinary amount of staff who are there to meet the needs of the local constituents either before or after having some major surgery, and some people are there awaiting long-term care. There is a variety of services offered by the Strait Richmond Hospital and I really want to put that out there to make certain that those people who are present here today, but also listening today, know that the Strait Richmond Hospital is also part of the overall care given on Cape Breton Island. Although I represent a portion of CBRM in my constituency, it’s extremely important that we know that there are facilities that also need attention beyond the boundaries of just CBRM, and the Strait Richmond Hospital is one of them.
The minister will know that I asked questions in Question Period over the course of the last couple of sittings with regard to palliative care. I know that a palliative care proposal had actually been submitted to the minister and also to the Premier over the course of the last year or year and a half that I have been here. I would like to ask the minister about it at this time because palliative care continue to be a huge concern in my constituency. We have one of the highest percentages of seniors. It’s always extremely difficult to hear how many people are passing away from the older population, from our elders. Palliative care is very much still at the forefront of what is needing to be addressed and is also an essential service within the community and at the Strait Richmond Hospital.
I would like to ask the minister what the plan is moving forward, after receiving this proposal. I’m hoping he and his staff had a chance to review it. What is his plan moving forward to help with increasing the services, not just in the community as a whole but at the Strait Richmond Hospital as well?
RANDY DELOREY: First, obviously being a representative from Antigonish myself, part of the Strait Region - our communities’ connections are very well established through the Strait area. The former GASHA health authority - on the health care side, those relationships within the health system are deeply intertwined between our two communities, so I’m familiar with the community. Then the other side is the topic itself around palliative and end-of-life care within our health system.
The first thing to remind the members is that, over the course of 18 months or two years, my predecessor worked within the Department of Health and Wellness to establish a framework targeting end of life within the province, which is the hospice framework, for those communities seeking to advance a hospice service or facility within their communities. Acknowledging that hospice and palliative are not synonymous - the nature of the care is somewhat different, but there are some overlaps in terms of the type of care a patient receiving these services would receive in a palliative environment and a hospice one.
As a government, with my predecessor taking the lead, we have proactively established that framework. We do continue to get many requests and proposals from communities across the province looking for palliative and/or hospice services within their communities. When they come in, we do try to assess against the hospice framework to establish how the proposals or requests will line up. Unfortunately, in many cases, when an unsolicited request comes in, they don’t always line up with the framework.
It takes a bit more time to engage in those conversations and assess an existing policy or structure, in terms of the health system expectations of a program or service delivery, and that of a request that’s brought forward by either a community, an individual, or an organization to the department. That’s why it sometimes takes more time when a request comes from a community group or organization into the department. We first try to assess it against frameworks and policies that we already have in place.
What I can say is, notwithstanding the specific proposal that has come in surrounding the Richmond area, there are many services and options available within the community, including some dedicated nursing staff to facilitate and help with palliative care in the home environment. Our paramedic program is available in many parts of the province to have paramedics available for those receiving palliative services in their home environment.
Although that’s not the desired environment for everybody or for the full stage of care, it is preferred by many when available. We have been developing and rolling out these types of innovative changes and improvements because that’s what we have heard that people want, and it supports their ability to receive some palliative care and services at home. We do have a variety of health care workers, paramedics, nurses, and physicians collaborating to ensure that the end-of-life care is appropriate supporting both the individual and their loved ones.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, minister, for the acknowledgement of having received the proposal and having reviewed it. I can appreciate that, within the bureaucratic process, it takes some time to see if a proposal fits within a framework that has already been established. I understand that the minister’s predecessor did develop a framework around palliative care and end-of-life care, which I have reviewed. I would like to know specifically about this proposal, which comes to a total of about $800,000 between clinicians and additional beds, a cancer-care coordinator, a little bit in there for continuing-care coordinators.
Again, I want to emphasize that we have an amazing complement of staff at the Strait Richmond Hospital who do extraordinary work every single day with the very limited resources that they have. This is not an issue with regard to how staff does their job or takes care of patients. It’s a matter of not having enough resources available to them for the capacity that we need within the hospital setting.
As the minister has stated, yes, there are paramedic services, and yes, there are services for in-home care. Many of the elderly people specifically at the end of life, if they are fortunate enough that they still have a partner living, that partner is often elderly as well. It’s simply not appropriate for us to be asking as a government for an elderly person to be trying to take care of someone who is so gravely ill and at the end of their life at home, even if they have other services available to them to come in on occasion. It puts so much pressure on that individual and not just an elderly person.
I have other people in my life in Cape Breton-Richmond who have lost their partners recently who are not elderly. They’re younger people. It is extremely stressful for them to try and take care of perhaps children at home and try to maintain a job, a work environment. There’s also the stress of knowing that your loved one is leaving you and that loved one and yourself not wanting the memory of that person’s last days being in the home where you have to continue to live.
I know that was the case with my own parents. My father was fortunate enough to be in the Strait Richmond Hospital receiving extraordinary care. They had made that arrangement in advance. My dad did not want to put that pressure on my mom. My mom had had a stroke several years before, and she was simply not capable, even though I was close to home and my brother had taken some time off of work during that time. She just did not want to have that experience within her own home of my father passing away, in their marital bed, basically. It was difficult enough for her as it is to be in the home without him without having to have that memory and that experience.
In-home care is not for everyone, and it’s extremely stressful for many people. We need to have the alternative to allow people to have those services as well within a more institutional setting, for lack of a better way of saying it - a hospital setting where there are professionals and resources available. We heard about the cases that happened in the last couple of years, and I believe the minister, his staff, or the NSHA did meet with one of the families, the Cole family, which had the horrible experience of their mother passing away in the emergency room at the Strait Richmond Hospital.
Again, it is not the fault of staff. Staff go above and beyond. I can say this myself because my parents have both had experiences, and other family members have had experiences being at Strait Richmond. They are a caring bunch of people. They love their jobs, but they are stressed to the max and stretched to the max as far as resources. We need to do better. We need to do better for them. We need to give them the resources that they need to be able to do their jobs properly.
Again, with regard to this proposal for palliative care that was submitted to him last year and again to the Premier as well, which they are both aware of, it’s a simple ask here for an increase in some clinicians. It’s basically an increase in a couple more beds available in there. I know that there’s capacity as far as space, because we no longer have the in-patient addictions program in there. There are actually 10 extra beds or 10 extra rooms available, but if you don’t have staff to assist, if you don’t have staff on the floor, then obviously you can’t fill those rooms.
I ask the minister: How is it that this proposal does not fit within the current palliative care framework that the NSHA and his department have available?
RANDY DELOREY: To the theme of the inquiry and the comments made by the member, it’s true that more could be done to support end-of-life care and services, not just in Richmond but across the province. Indeed, that’s a responsibility that I bear on my shoulders as Minister of Health and Wellness, with the team with our partners in the Health Authority, in communities delivering that care. We recognize that.
It’s important to put the other context around this as well, which is that this is really a growing or emerging area. This is not a situation where programs and services and a focus of the health care system has been on end of life until, relatively speaking, more recent times. The ability of a health system to instantly turn around and provide the level of care and services in a new or evolving stream of care throughout the system, throughout the province - it’s simply not possible to meet those expectations in the time frames that individuals sometimes would like to see.
That said, I reiterate that as a government we recognized early on in our first term that this is an important part of the health care system, the expansion of care opportunities for end of life. It’s why my predecessor put the extensive time and focus of policy development on the framework around hospice development within the province, but that’s the first time it’s been established. We have received inquiries from other communities outside of the Valley and Halifax that have had the hospices announced and are well under way for their development, showing our commitment as a government to make opportunity and investment in this area.
In addition to that, we recognize that it’s not just through stand-alone hospice types of environment, and it is not just in the home environment, but it does exist in those environments, so we provide those investments and supports. These are new work programs.
In this budget, we continue to invest and invest in expansion. For example, we do have $1 million in the budget to hire additional palliative care clinicians this year to expand services and supports for people and families who are going through a palliative stage. We’re also investing about $250,000 in new money to support the Nova Scotia Health Authority in providing additional training to health care providers who can help support in the palliative space. I just reiterate that, notwithstanding the department’s or government’s response to any individual or specific proposal that has come forward.
I hope that members of this Legislature do not interpret that as us not being in tune with the desires of Nova Scotians and health care providers across the province in the area of (Interruption) Not all heckling comes verbally, Madam Chair.
The care that we have and the attention we provide in the space is shown by our continued investments and increased investments as I’ve just mentioned: $1 million for hiring additional palliative care clinicians as well as about $250,000 to go for expanded training that can support other people.
In addition, rooms can be made available in the Richmond area, I think. When someone needs palliative care - the member mentioned that she thought there are beds available. When beds are available, palliative services and supports in an institutional setting, like a hospital - it doesn’t need to be a dedicated bed to have a palliative patient admitted and care provided. What we have been hearing, obviously, is a desire for capital investments and supports to provide beds and supports in more home-like environments. These are relatively new shifts in our health care system but, again, we’re trying to make to some progress here. These are a couple of examples: the hospice framework which has allowed to hospices to be announced and is progress going very well - the Halifax one is slated to open shortly - the work in the Valley hospice, and our continued investment and programs and supports like those I have just mentioned in this year’s budget.
ALANA PAON: As much as I am very pleased to hear that there will be a hospice opening up in Halifax and a hospice opening up in the Valley, that doesn’t do much for the area of Cape Breton-Richmond. We are nowhere near any of those two places. I do understand that there are beds available at the Strait Richmond Hospital which are not necessarily designated beds for palliative care.
I still have not yet heard from the minister as to how the proposal that was put forth by the Strait Richmond Palliative Care Society does not fit within the framework of palliative care that the province already has in place. It’s wonderful to hear that there’s $1 million that’s being put forward for new palliative care clinicians, but I’m not sure that that actually will, in fact, benefit the area of Cape Breton-Richmond. Is any of that money being actually invested in Cape Breton-Richmond at the Strait Richmond Hospital? The $250,000 to the NSHA for added training is wonderful as well. Is any of that money going to be invested at the Strait Richmond Hospital in Cape Breton-Richmond?
As much as we don’t have designated beds for palliative care and rooms can be made available, sometimes rooms are not available when you need them. We saw that in the case of Danny Latimer and Mrs. Cole, who both had their families in a really horrible environment of not having any privacy when your loved one is at the end stages of their life. Some of the adult children were sleeping on the floor trying to stay close to their mom so that she would always have somebody with her. They were curling up at the end of her bed in the ER. You don’t want to leave your loved one in a situation like that.
There was a lady who was next door to Mrs. Cole who had dementia, and it was really unfortunate circumstances where she was utilizing the washroom on the floor right next to them. There was no privacy, and there was no dignity for the lady next door who obviously needed care in a different way. There was no dignity or respect for Mrs. Cole during that time and her family who were under an extraordinary amount of stress trying to manage that situation.
Again, I will reiterate that this has nothing to do with the level of care that staff gives at the Strait Richmond Hospital. They are extraordinary individuals who are stretched at the max because they simply don’t have the resources available to them.
There’s not enough nursing staff. There aren’t enough doctors available to take on the ER shifts, which we’ll talk about later. They are stressed to the max. As much as there are no designated beds and there sometimes are beds available at Strait Richmond Hospital - again, I will reiterate that sometimes there are not, and people are put in really unfortunate situations that should never happen in a place where we have health care. I couldn’t imagine that happening to any of my family members. I would be absolutely irate, as I was with regard to the situations that happened to these constituents.
I would like to know: How is it that the proposal for palliative care, which is a very simplistic model that’s not asking for too much from what I’m seeing here, does not fit within the framework currently in place with the Department of Health and Wellness? The second part of my question then will be: If the minister seems to think that it’s not that important to have designated beds for palliative care in Strait Richmond Hospital, how is it that there’s funding available for designated palliative care beds and a whole wing at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital?
RANDY DELOREY: As I have mentioned, we’re investing specifically and expanding training and the number of clinicians who have expertise to support palliative care, about $1.25 million of new money towards these services in this year’s budget, a clear indication that we do recognize.
To the member’s question about the hospice framework that was developed by my predecessor, one of the first distinguishing differences is that hospice framework looks at and evaluates stand-alone hospice environments for communities. That’s what we had been hearing when my predecessor was in place and where most of the inquiries from communities were focused, on hospice environment.
It was determined to be more cost effective to build new space, what would be non-clinical or less clinical space. Doing work in a complex health environment in a hospital, the cost of renovations is higher, especially when the facility is already operating and providing health care services. Putting the controls in place to manage the dust and the dirt, air quality and so on while work and renovations are ongoing in an active hospital environment increases the cost of those renovations and work. The hospice framework, again through the work of stand-alone facilities, required less acute design than an active hospital environment would be, in most cases more cost effective. That work and that framework was built around that type of model, having been influenced based upon input that my predecessor and the department have received and based upon proposals and requests that have been coming forward to the department and government at that time.
As I have said, proposals come in that don’t align because our communities are different. Individuals, whether they be clinicians or community groups, that take an interest in a particular part of our health care system and wish to pursue advances and improvements and enhancements in our care being provided sometimes come up with different ideas and different approaches.
The member had asked what makes the proposal from Strait Richmond different from the hospice framework that had been developed and exists with the department. That’s one significant increase. I believe, in Richmond, there are two dedicated palliative beds in place. In Guysborough, there’s one.
The member made reference to the beds at St. Martha’s in Antigonish, at the regional hospital there. Those beds and the work that was done there were fully funded by the health foundation and auxiliary groups to complete the work for that space at that site when it was implemented. Work was under way on that before I was appointed to this role.
ALANA PAON: I am going to ask the minister this then. If the palliative care society had then come and proposed to the minister - they had been proposing this and trying to get hold of the minister for four or five years by the time I came on board. I brought the situation up at Question Period, and about a year afterwards, they finally got a response.
Can the minister clarify, if the palliative care society had come forward with a proposal for a stand-alone facility as opposed to trying to make renovations - retrofits is maybe a better way of putting it - and add-ons to the program and the care that they’re already trying to provide at the Strait Richmond Hospital, would they have received a more positive response from the minister? That, of course, is going to be a lot more expensive than what they proposed. I just want to have some clarification that, if it had been a stand-alone hospice as opposed to trying to utilize the space already within the Strait Richmond Hospital and available, that would have been more positively received.
RANDY DELOREY: As the member indicated, she has read through the framework. She would be aware of the parameters that have been established as that framework guideline in terms of community commitments around establishing the facilities. That framework strikes a balance between the community’s desire for what is a newer approach, as I mentioned in St. Martha’s, with a palliative space.
Although it wasn’t stand-alone, it was renovations fully funded by the community that took place. Again, the framework does have some expectations defined for both the construction and the operation of the facilities for hospice care provided by community and the Health Authority.
ALANA PAON: I’m not quite certain that that fully answered the question that I had asked.
As much as I would be familiar with the framework that’s in place, I’m sure the minister would likely be a lot more familiar with the framework that’s in place, considering it’s his portfolio. I’m also very familiar with the Nova Scotia Palliative Care Competency Framework that we have available, and I do have a copy of it here with me.
I know that the foundation at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital was very heavily involved in making the changes necessary in order to have an entire wing designated to palliative care, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful space. They’re very fortunate to have it. There’s not just the capital costs of renovations of setting up rooms. There’s also the ongoing maintenance cost obviously of having staffing and all the other resources that go along with having that space within an already-existing hospital.
What we were asking for at the Strait Richmond Hospital was very similar. It’s a community hospital as opposed to a regional hospital - I understand that - but we have an extraordinary need in my community, and we have not hit the threshold yet. We are still on the upward curve as far as needing care for people who are going to be unfortunately in palliative care in the next 10 to 20 years’ time in Cape Breton-Richmond. Again, we have one of the highest percentages in seniors in that area.
The ask from the palliative care society was not about developing an entirely new stand-alone thing. It was retrofitting a couple of rooms. The idea of expanding - we do have two beds, but they’re not designated beds as much as the minister says they are. They are not designated beds. If they are available, the are utilized for other patients who are not in palliative or in a life-care situation. They are not designated beds. The ask was basically to have designated beds available for palliative care to increase from two to perhaps four or six beds.
Again, the space is available at the Strait Richmond Hospital. There are many rooms that are not being utilized right now that could be made available. The ask was basically to fund staffing. It’s mostly here about staffing. The space is already available, and the palliative care society as well as the County of Richmond already invest money every single fiscal year to the betterment of the spaces that are being used for palliative care.
Again, I have to ask the minister: Why was this so much different? Most of it is for staffing needs and the resources around staffing. It’s not asking for a lot of capital investment. If it’s available for St. Martha’s, why can it not be available at the Strait Richmond, where there is a massive need?
RANDY DELOREY: It’s my understanding that work at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital had begun under the old GASHA system, and it’s my understanding that when they designed their proposal, they were not adding additional resources, but rather redirecting and transitioning one type of bed utilization to another. What makes it different from what the member is referring to? The capital costs were borne by the facility, and operational costs were not deemed as incremental operation costs but a transition of one type of bed utilization to another.
As I said, at the member’s hospital - despite some earlier comments alluding to the fact that there was no space available or committed to palliative - there are two available. I believe, if needed, the beds at St. Martha’s may at times be used for other purposes as well.
Of course our health care system would not want to have beds go unutilized if they were available to provide care. If there was an acute need to utilize a bed that would otherwise be dedicated or available for palliative purposes not being utilized, and there’s an acute need for some other health care need within the community at that hospital, I don’t think the member is suggesting that that it would not be used to meet that need at that point in time. I don’t think that’s what was being suggested, but again that flexibility is needed within the health system to ensure that beds are available. I have highlighted, to answer the member’s question, where some of differences exist.
I’ll restate, as the member noted, that part of the request is for additional resources. We agree as a government, and I agree, about more resources to support palliative resources to support palliative services in the province. That’s why we’re investing about $1.25 million this year to hire more palliative care clinicians and provide training for other health care providers to expand their scope so they can also support palliative care services within our communities. We’re already investing, with this budget, in those areas that the member is asking about because we do see that as an important part of the services we’re providing.
I think our track record here - with the work of my predecessor, the current Minister of Community, Culture and Heritage - to recognize that building some structure to support communities that would be advancing hospice type of environments was important work. We focused on that because that was the nature of the requests coming in from most communities at that time, for a hospice type of environment for end of life care. A lot of work was dedicated, over 18 to 24 months, to developing that framework, informed by some research that suggests that the number of hospice beds per population is somewhere in the vicinity of seven per 100,000. I believe that is what the research had been suggesting when they were building that framework. That’s what guides where specific dedicated hospice beds get established and opened and are operational around population.
The member noted the potential for growth and demand in preparing for that and responding to current needs and expectations which are growing. It aligns with the investments that we’re making to ensure that, as a province, we are able to expand the number of clinicians in our province that are available and the training opportunities for others that are already providing care to expand their capacity to provide support and services to those individuals and families who require palliative supports.
ALANA PAON: Although it’s important to have a plan in place that guides the process across Nova Scotia for the department in the way that they will look and fund hospice development, there’s no area in Nova Scotia that is the same as the other. I always hazard in hearing answers that sound as if they seem to be very cookie-cutter approaches. All of our communities are extremely different.
I hear that a hospice is being built in Halifax. There’s one in the Valley. I can assure the minister that a hospice framework that developed a hospice in Halifax would likely have a very different user-base, for lack of a better term to use, than what would be utilized in Cape Breton-Richmond. The staff and those who are sitting on the palliative care society are involved with the community at a very grassroots level. I believe that they, as well as the doctors and the nurses who would have put their input into this plan, would likely know our community in Cape Breton-Richmond much better than any kind of cookie-cutter approach that could be taken by government with regard to what is needed to try and deliver the services that would be best for the people in my community.
I would ask the minister again about the proposal that was put in. Even though it may not fit within the cookie-cutter approach framework for hospice development, it is what the community has asked for. Would there be no way to be able to make some amendments, to think outside of the box of the framework that would have been developed for hospice care? There is already a beautiful hospital available in Cape Breton-Richmond, the Strait Richmond Hospital. There is already space available to be utilized within that facility instead of having to build a brand new one simply because it doesn’t fit within the framework of what is available within a department for hospice.
Can the minister please respond if there is a place to look at a proposal like this that already utilizes the resources and the building that is available and expand upon the service, just like St. Martha’s has done? Yes, perhaps that was within the old GASHA structure. There may have been a lot more flexibility when we had the old GASHA structure. It seemed to have worked quite well, in fact. We don’t seem to have as much input from the grassroots level within the NSHA. There are many things that are not working as well as they should, now that we’re under the new Nova Scotia Health Authority.
This is a grassroots proposal from those people on the ground who would know best their community. Can the minister please respond to me if there is any room for manoeuverability within this framework for hospice care for the proposal and for those things that we so desperately need to be able to give palliative care in our community?
RANDY DELOREY: I believe early on in one of my first responses, I did indicate that one of the reasons for the delay is because it didn’t meet the framework. At no point, Madam Chair, did I say or suggest that opportunity to review and consider proposals that don’t align couldn’t or wouldn’t be pursued or evaluated.
What I had said was that one of the reasons it takes longer is when it doesn’t align or fit within that framework. It takes more time to then say, okay, in this environment, this is a structure or framework that exists. This is a proposal. Things move a little bit faster when they do align, and the stars align, and the policies and guidelines that exist and have been established are in alignment. When they fall outside of that, things do take more time.
I do want to refer back and reassure all members of the Legislature that the underlying theme that the member raises here about the important role of palliative care and services that are provided to Nova Scotians are an evolving and expanding area within the health care system. That means that these are growing and expanding needs within our communities and ones that we are responding to as government and with our partners at the Health Authority. How are we responding?
We’re responding by building new policies for new types of requests that are coming in, like the hospice framework. We’re evolving by having developed innovative programs here in Nova Scotia like the extended paramedic program, which allows paramedics to participate and support people in their home who do choose that environment for their palliative care services.
We are doing it by expanding and investing in more clinicians, about $1 million dollars this year for hiring additional palliative care clinicians. We do it by expanding the scope and the abilities of our existing clinicians and health care workers by investing about $250 million to increase the training opportunities to provide palliative training and supports for those existing clinicians.
We’re taking many different approaches as a government and as a health care system to invest and expand and respond to the evolving needs and expectations of Nova Scotians to provide appropriate end-of-life care for our citizens and for our loved ones.
Even when proposals don’t align with guidelines or structures, I assure the member opposite that they do get reviewed. They do get considered and evaluated, but when they don’t, it just takes longer for us to find out how we make it work within the existing structures and environments. We take that input and information to contribute to our evaluations and make those decisions. We do so amongst the many competing priorities that we have within our health care system.
We have may competing priorities. As important as palliative services are, so are mental health services, and we’re investing heavily in our mental health services supports and have over the years. So too are the investments and supports we provide to our loved ones who are requiring continuing care services in home care environment or in long-term care centres. We’re investing to expand and improve the quality of care available to those loved ones through our health care system.
All of these things, I believe, show that this is a government that listens to Nova Scotians. We understand their needs and their expectations of our health care system, and we’re investing to improve the situation in all of those areas, including the main theme that we have been talking about here, palliative services. There’s over $1.25 million of new investment to improve and increase access to trained clinicians and health care professionals to support palliative care in Nova Scotia as part of this year’s budget.
ALANA PAON: The timeline on this is painfully slow as far as being able to get a response with regard to whether or not even any aspect of what the society is asking for can work within the current framework that is available within the Department of Health and Wellness - painfully slow. Unfortunately for those people needing the care, there’s not a lot of time when you’re in palliative care. End-of-life care happens very quickly most of the time. Sometimes it’s over a longer period of time, but the palliative section of end-of-life care is usually quite quick.
Timelines within our bureaucracy happen over a certain period, have a certain momentum, I guess I’ll say. When you are in need of hospital services, palliative care services, or emergency services, that is immediate. We are now years into the ask for a review and for what is needed for palliative care at the Strait Richmond, and still we don’t have a response. As much as I can appreciate that the minister has stated that we don’t fit within the cookie-cutter framework that’s available, it just takes more time to pursue and evaluate.
Perhaps the minister might like to let me and those people who are in my constituency know, as the proposal is being evaluated, what the timeline is that for fine people at the Strait Richmond hospital that are doing fine work in palliative care. When should we expect a response from the minister on whether or not he can make any resources available to meet the needs of what has been proposed here by the palliative care society? As well, how much of that $1.25 million is actually going to benefit the Strait Richmond Hospital directly?
RANDY DELOREY: Just for clarification, it’s not resources that I or the department make available directly to the community. These funds to improve the supports are within the Nova Scotia Health Authority. We provide them to our partner the Health Authority, which in turn delivers the health care services throughout the province.
I don’t have the breakdown of where the new clinicians are going to be hired and distributed across the province here with me. Again, we’re making these resources, this investment, available to the Heath Authority to do the recruitment and hiring of these clinicians.
What I can assure the member is that, as with many parts of our health care system, they’re evaluating based upon the needs and the requirements to ensure some equity in the distribution of the resources and the services being provided across the province. I can assure the member that as these new clinicians are being hired, and the training is being provided throughout our health care system, one of the significant variables the Health Authority will be evaluating to make those decisions are based upon the existing complement of palliative care services within communities across the province.
I certainly appreciate and understand the member’s interest, concern, and advocacy on behalf of her community and her constituents, but just a reminder: my responsibility and the Health Authority’s responsibility is for the delivery of care and services across the entire province. They do evaluate and assess those needs based upon the data they have for the distribution of services and the population characteristics that they would be serving or providing the care for. That would be part of what comes into play.
Madam Chair, as they are doing that review, I assure the member that if the needs of her community in Richmond are greater than any other part of the province, resources would definitely be dedicated and directed to that community. In fairness to other Nova Scotians, if there are other communities in parts of the province that have fewer palliative resources and have demands greater than that of Richmond, I think the member - as a member of a Legislature representing all Nova Scotians - would appreciate that that would be the priority area for distribution of those resources, those new palliative care clinicians and the training opportunities.
It is a very challenging responsibility that I, the department, and the Health Authority have when there are many, many requests and many, many needs - evaluating and making decisions as to how and where to distribute those resources. A large portion there in driving or influencing those decisions is based upon the supports that are already available and the needs that they anticipate.
ALANA PAON: We have spent a lot of time talking about palliative care here, so I think perhaps the minister understands how impassioned I am about making certain that the voice of the people that I serve are heard. They have entrusted me to come here to advocate on their behalf, and those are the people of Cape Breton-Richmond. As much as I take very seriously the fact that decisions that we make in this House affect all Nova Scotians, my role here today in asking you these questions is to represent those people I serve who have given me the privilege to be in this House to advocate on their behalf, the people of Cape Breton-Richmond.
I think we have exhausted almost all of our time here; we have a little less than five minutes left. I’m going to move away from palliative care.
I’m going to ask the minister what his department and the Nova Scotia Health Authority are currently doing to facilitate the extraordinary and increasing amount of emergency room closures that we are seeing not only at the Strait Richmond Hospital but also at the St. Anne centre on Isle Madame. We have a small emergency room there as well that is extremely important because of course, Isle Madame is exactly that - an island with a bridge that connects it to the mainland. If there was ever an emergency situation where the bridge would not be closed properly and would stay open, it’s extremely important that we maintain that emergency room at the St. Anne centre as well as maintain the facilities that are available in the emergency room department at the Strait Richmond Hospital. We are seeing an extraordinary increase in the amount of closures, and those closures unfortunately, a lot of the time, happen at the same time at both facilities.
That leaves constituents in my area having to either drive for ER services to St. Martha’s, which is an extraordinary hospital that we utilize quite a bit, an hour-and-a-half drive away; or you have to go to Sydney, which is another hour and a half or two hours away. It is completely inappropriate to have access to an ER at such a distance away from our community. We have two perfectly good ERs in our community; they need to be well staffed. What is the minister doing to make certain of that?
I’m talking about the ERs in my community. I’m aware that there are issues across the province, but I’m here to ask questions about my community. What is the minister doing to make certain that those ER closures are being reduced?
RANDY DELOREY: I do appreciate both the passion and the detailed attention the member is providing in terms of two very important concerns on behalf of her constituents in Cape Breton-Richmond. That is the palliative care, which we spent much of our discussion on, and emergency departments.
Again, from a departmental perspective, much of our focus in establishing the policies and the investments - as the member knows, there are many communities that are having similar challenges. The role and the responsibility that I have as minister and my department is establishing and developing the policies that go along to support all of the hospitals and the recruitment and retention policies, the incentive programs that we have, that are available throughout the province.
We certainly hear and receive the feedback from communities where there are challenges and pressures and use that information to help inform how we can do a better job in improving. We have done that through that type of information.
We didn’t wait for budget season. Last August, we changed our incentive programs to help improve coverage for locums and emergency department coverages. Those are programs that are available in various hospitals throughout the province, and it has seen some positive results in getting about 220 shifts covered just between August and, I believe, January. These are the types of programs. We’re learning.
Recruitment is ongoing by the Health Authority to fill those vacancies, to meet those needs because we all want our emergency departments in our communities - Cape Breton-Richmond region is no different. The efforts that we’re applying across the province equally apply in that community as well.
ALANA PAON: With only a couple of seconds left, Madam Chair, I would ask the minister if perhaps I could request a meeting with him and his staff to further these discussions.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed. We’ll move to the New Democratic Party. Do you have any further questions?
SUSAN LEBLANC: Madam Chair, we do not have any more questions for the Health and Wellness Minister.
THE CHAIR: We will turn over to the Progressive Conservatives. Do you have further questions?
The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: Madam Chair, I just want to reiterate, prior to my time running out, that I would like to know if the minister would confirm with me if he and with his staff would be willing to sit down personally so that I can further these conversations with him. I understand that we’re under a bit of a time crunch here today, and I have utilized my entire hour. I would like to know if the minister could please confirm that he will do that with me.
RANDY DELOREY: I will certainly make sure that we get a meeting set up. The member would have my assistant’s contact information, the information for my office.
Members don’t have to wait for Estimates to reach out and connect. We work to be very responsive to all inquiries that come forward to support constituents across all Parties, regardless. We will make sure. If you just want to flip that note in, we will line up a time to make sure we get the right people meeting to discuss things. I guess at this point, the main things are palliative and emergency care in the Cape Breton-Richmond region of the province.
THE CHAIR: The honourable Minister of Health and Wellness, for closing remarks.
RANDY DELOREY: I appreciate the opportunity to speak. First, I want to thank all of the members of the Legislature who took the time to ask questions about the 2019-20 Budget of the Department of Health and Wellness.
There are those who watched these Estimates Debates on Legislative TV, either on traditional TV or through the web streaming. I had a phone call this morning from the mother of the member for Clare-Digby. She indicated that she doesn’t find there is much else on TV these days, and that she actually has been tuning in to Estimates Debates the last few days. On my behalf and on behalf of the member from Clare-Digby, I would like to just give a little shout-out to his mother, who I anticipate is watching again today, and I hope her cold passes.
Again, I thank everyone for their questions. Obviously, their concern and commitment to their constituents is evident.
At this point, I would also like to thank all of the employees of the Department of Health and Wellness and the rest of government - Department of Finance and Treasury Board and staff. My colleagues who sit on Treasury Board itself put in a lot of time and energy throughout the year, particularly focused in the Fall and winter period, to develop a budget that reflects the needs and priorities of Nova Scotians. In my case, almost half of the budget gets allocated towards health care services.
I appreciate the front-line health care workers and our partners with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, EHS, and the IWK who provide their input and priorities to help us be informed as to what programs and services we will be expanding as part of our investments in budgets as we move forward, including this year’s.
I know a lot of people, including CFO Kevin Elliott and Deputy Minister Denise Perret here, who have sat through these debates. They, unlike the members of the Legislature, get to listen to me throughout the day in the office, as well.
With those thanks and anyone I may have missed, including you, Madam Chair, and the clerks for listening to over 20 hours of estimates debates, I do appreciate your attentiveness to that.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E11 stand?
Resolution E11 stands.
The honourable Minister of Acadian Affairs and Francophonie.
HON. LENA METLEGE DIAB: May I make an introduction, please?
THE CHAIR: Permission granted.
LENA METLEGE DIAB: Merci beaucoup, Madame la Présidente. Je veux présenter avec nous cet après-midi M. Darrell Samson, qui est le Membre du parlement qui représente Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook.
Mr. Samson is a Member of Parliament. He is a proud Acadian, he is an experienced educator, top-tier administrator, now a politician but also a defender of linguistic and cultural minorities and I’m very pleased to ask all my colleagues him to welcome him to the House of Assembly this afternoon. (Applause)
THE CHAIR: We will now take a short recess.
[12:45 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[12:51 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
KEITH IRVING: Madam Chair, will you please now call the Estimates for the Department of Business and the Business plans of Crown corporations.
Resolution E2 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $152,014,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Business, pursuant to the Estimate.
THE CHAIR: I now invite the Minister of Business to make some opening comments and introduce his staff. You have up to one hour.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Thank you, Madam Chair. I certainly won’t need the full hour for my opening comments. I want it to go a little bit quickly here and then get into some formal remarks. Then get to the most important part, which are the questions coming from the Opposition, so I look forward to that.
As always, first and foremost, it’s my pleasure to be here representing the Department of Business. My other portfolios, Trade and Service Nova Scotia, would be part of this particular Estimates session, if the Opposition chooses that to be the case, but for our first encounter with Estimates in the main Chamber, I will be focused on the Department of Business.
Very few Nova Scotians have the privilege of sitting at the Executive Council level and being part of a significant team of people and in an incredibly important service to the people of the province, the Nova Scotians. Having the opportunity to stand as the Minister of Business and add comments before the Estimates process, which obviously is the bulk of what is the budget, which really drives our mandate in our department and across departments, is a pretty special thing. I’m certainly happy to be here on behalf of our government and on behalf of the Premier and all the people from the Department of Business who make the engine run.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge again that we’ve got great people here in the gallery, as well. We have Bernie Miller, our Deputy Minister. Bernie’s been a close ally and advisor for me and really the architect behind a lot of our business focus. He’s been a driving force in shaping our strategy, so blame him. (Laughter)
We also have Louise Comeau. Louise is a manager of Financial Services at the Department of Finance and Treasury Board serving the Department of Business, so Louise is hoping not to be too busy today. She’s the line item expert, so if we get into the specifics of the budget Louise is always here to add a helping hand and a very intricate understanding and detail of every dollar that runs through our department. She does a great job and we’re lucky to have her here today, as well.
Finally, to my posse in the gallery. I’ve got the muscle here from across the Department of Business. Representatives from our Crown corporations, I’ve got CEOs, executive directors, communications folks - really a lot of people who make our teams what they are. We’re certainly proud of our relationship with the Crown corporations. I think it’s an important thing and it transcends political parties and politics to have Crown corporations that have freedom and flexibility to be able to make their own decisions, direct their own ship, and make sure that they’re delivering on the overall mandate to the shareholder, which is Nova Scotians. They do a great job of that.
I am very proud of our relationship with the Crowns and the direction they’ve taken. If we worked in silos, we wouldn’t see the performance that we’re seeing inside of our Crowns, and I’ll get to some of the detail through my formal remarks, but I just want to acknowledge their presence here today. It’s great to have them here at Province House.
As we’ve said many times, our government is doing things differently, a lot of things that I’m very proud of: building a strong fiscal foundation, managing our finances as well as we possibly can, balanced budgets which are critical in a number of facets, and creating the conditions for economic growth.
I think that the Premier gave a line to me as the economic development critic prior to 2013, and that was, the days of picking winners and losers will end if we ever have the privilege of governing. I think we’ve done that.
Much to the chagrin of some business operators in the province who contacted us looking for direct support, that’s not the game we’re in anymore. It’s not about cutting cheques, it’s not about taking gambles on big opportunities or potential opportunities; it’s about building a platform, an environment, a template focusing on a number of specific areas. As Deputy Miller says so well: Staying in our lanes, understanding what we’re good at, what our drivers are and where we can truly grow. And, I think, that that’s what we’ve done.
Of course, as well, working with others - people and organizations inside and outside government - to advance big strategic goals like growing our exports and tourism, which we’ve seen tremendous success; increasing the number of high-growth companies; and improving access to venture capital. An important bill was tabled today around the Equity Tax Credit.
Investing in high-speed internet service across Nova Scotia is something that will truly impact and change the game for our rural economy. It’s probably the biggest investment in terms of per capita spending in the country, or among the largest: $200 million on a $500 million-problem is a really good start, and leveraging money from the federal government, from the private sector, makes that number even higher, so we’re in a great place there.
Of course, securing more direct flights. We’ve got our tourism folks who will tell you first-hand that while there’s a number of different ways we can support the growth of tourism and hit that Ivany goal around investment and policy, one of the key ingredients that we can’t live without is direct flights. Working with our partners in Europe, the United States and of course, in China, we’ve got to make those a reality. There’s some investment and there is some policy work for government in terms of our role to play, but we’ll always be there to listen.
Again, direct flights are one that came to us from tourism, from the stakeholders, from Tourism Nova Scotia, from people like Joyce Carter at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. These are things that we don’t come up with ourselves. The good ideas come from the people who live and breathe this stuff. That’s exactly where that came from, and we’re happy to support that.
As we’ve said consistently since 2015 at every opportunity here in the Legislature or in our communities as well, we continue to say our job is to create the environment for private sector growth. Creating the private sector was the principal task given to the Department of Business when we changed from ERDT in 2015. It was also one of the key recommendations made in the Ivany Report. We take that role seriously of course, and it guides everything we do from a policy, a mandate and a directives perspective.
Our five Crown entities and Invest Nova Scotia are now much better aligned than we were in previous years, and certainly are on the same page behind a common agenda which is inclusive economic growth.
In short, means that having the opportunity for everyone to participate in the economy and in the direction that we’re moving in and that we have to move in. I think that we support that inclusive economic growth model by creating the conditions for businesses to start and then to grow, of course.
A strong economy is planted, it’s not transplanted. We’ve tried that so often and spend big money trying to subsidize operations that just don’t work. Those days are over and we know that the old days are gone and we’re happy with our new direction, which is supporting key sectors and investing in entrepreneurship and investing in entrepreneurs’ innovation and that ecosystem that puts people to work.
We’re investing in places where good ideas could become businesses like Volta in Halifax, Ignite Labs in Yarmouth, as well as great programs like Momentum in Cape Breton, and Mashup Lab across Nova Scotia. This budget year, we are increasing funding for incubators and accelerators by $500,000 to a total of $1.5 million. Mr. Chair, you see that in our ledgers.
Our start-up scene is vibrant, but we need to keep working together to create more high-growth companies. We’re also championing innovation; we’re championing new and better ways of doing things. That’s what innovation is - it’s new and it is better ways to add value.
Nova Scotia wants to be known for innovation. We want to lead on innovation and we have certainly gotten a good start at that, and it is possible if the government, community, and private sector along with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and our post-secondary education system continue to work together towards that goal. Innovation isn’t just tech companies. We want every Nova Scotian company to innovate. We need every business to develop new and better ways. That’s how we push forward and that’s how we build an inclusive economy.
Again, we’ve invested $193 million into improving the Internet services across Nova Scotia. The money obviously is in a funding trust which we’re aware of here, a very large investment and, again, we look forward to developing Nova Scotia by continuing to work toward getting the right program. It really is unchartered waters in terms of how we roll out this money and what the program is, what the spending is, the relationship with the private sector, who qualifies to not only build this infrastructure but to maintain it. So lots of work happening there with broadband.
Of course, we’re focused on our natural advantages which is something that has provided economic stability, economic survival since Nova Scotia became a province and continues to be one of the main drivers for our economy. Our competitive strength is in key sectors like oceans, seafood, seafood aquaculture, ICT, digital health innovation, the ocean supercluster and COVE, our new ocean hub on the Dartmouth waterfront which is a tremendously exciting opportunity for us.
We’ll continue to look at the strength of our oceans to continue to provide new opportunities for research, for development, for capitalization on that research, and commercializing the things that we do in concert with the private sector, and we need to keep maximizing those opportunities.
Modernizing regulation around tourism and embracing the share of the economy was certainly a big task for our government. As we know in the House, we were repealing the old outdated tourism accommodations legislation and replacing it with a simple online registration system for all accommodations operators who are renting property beyond their primary residence.
As a province, we have a goal of reaching $4 billion in tourism revenue by 2024. We now know that we need more accommodations to reach that goal, quite simple. We also need to level the playing field in tourism accommodations to make sure we achieve tax fairness. There is a better way, and that better way will help us reach $4 billion in tourism revenue. Of course, we’re partnering with others to grow our social enterprise sector.
The social enterprises of business also address social, cultural, environmental, or economic challenges and we look forward to that continuing to be an emerging sector in the province and, of course, we want them to pursue profit. This is about stability and having that opportunity to create profit to cover the operations and continue to expand their footprint. We think we can lead on social enterprise in the same way that we’re leading on oceans. That’s why we continue to advance our joint strategies for advancing social enterprise with the sector, the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, universities, and colleges and other key partners.
Are we doing this work alone? Of course we’re not. We’re planting a strong economy with others.
I’m very proud, again, of the relationship with our five Crown corporations and they are our most frequent partners, no doubt about it, and the most significant part of the budget of the Department of Business. Our Crown corporations are playing a key role in driving the inclusive economic growth model that we all support and get behind. As I’ve certainly learned over the last few years, our Crowns go above and beyond to serve Nova Scotia businesses, entrepreneurs, citizens, and visitors, every day. They do tremendous work, work that benefits all of us. I’d like to use this opportunity to briefly introduce each Crown and highlight their recent progress and plans for next year.
I’ll start with Innovacorp. Innovacorp is Nova Scotia’s early stage venture capital organization. Innovacorp finds, funds, and fosters innovative Nova Scotia start-ups that strive to change the world. Innovacorp is particularly interested in the IT, life sciences, clean tech and ocean tech sectors. The young, knowledge-based companies that Innovacorp invests in and assists are globally competitive, and they are job creators. Increasing the number of high-growth companies is vital to growing our economy. Our province’s start-up scene is already vibrant, and that keeps the Innovacorp team pretty busy.
Take venture capital investment for example, Mr. Chair, in 2018-19 through Innovacorp we invested $6.8 million in Nova Scotia start-ups. Those investments are the risk capital technology companies that need to launch, grow, and succeed. Innovacorp’s investment dollars leverage an additional $10.7 million.
Without the capital, BlueLight Analytics couldn’t build its innovative products that improve outcomes in dentists’ offices in more than 35 countries. Without that capital, GSTS couldn’t develop its analytics platform for the Maritime transportation and surveillance industries, expanding its operations in Nova Scotia and growing its team right here at home. Those are just two examples, Mr. Chair, and there are many more.
In the year ahead, Innovacorp will continue to be an active early stage investor in high-potential companies, as well as serve as the limited partner for two new, private-sector-managed venture funds backed by this government, which of course are build ventures and concrete ventures. Innovacorp will also continue to provide hands-on business guidance to the companies that it invests in, and 30 promising companies will reside in Innovacorp’s incubation facilities, and those 30 companies will employ more than 300 people.
Innovacorp will also run acceleration programs for emerging ventures in a variety of sectors. They will continue to enhance assistance offered to Cape Breton start-ups, providing access to an entrepreneur in residence, as well as training opportunities on makerspace, mentorship and networking events. Plus, Innovacorp will bring back its successful early-stage commercialization fund to support university and college research with market potential. Clearly there’s a lot to offer Nova Scotia start-ups.
We know these companies are critical for our future prosperity, and Innovacorp is critical to help increase innovation, entrepreneurship, and business success stories here in Nova Scotia.
Next we have Nova Scotia Business Inc. NSBI is our business development agency. NSBI focused on export development and investment attraction. NSBI’s programs and services tackle the most common issues facing firms along the export journey by providing them with access to the people, technology, partners and services they need to succeed.
Cynthia Sprague is a CEO of Sales Beacon, a Chester-based company that is one of Canada’s top 100 small and medium employers as of 2018. She credits the provincial government’s investment in Internet infrastructure a few years ago with enabling companies like Sales Beacon to hire people in small communities. Several NSBI export growth programs projects have also helped Sales Beacon hit markets across the U.S., including California, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, and Illinois. Sales Beacon has seen 50 per cent growth over the last three years. That’s just one example of how NSBI is helping promising companies export and grow.
Looking ahead in 2019-20, NSBI will continue to be the feet on the street, helping companies connect with the programs, partners, and resources they need to export. NSBI will continue to build awareness of our province as an attractive place to do business and to live. Targeting and fostering the growth of companies that create long-term, high-value jobs for Nova Scotians is the starting point of NSBI’s commitment to Nova Scotia. All of NSBI’s work helps increase employers’ capacity for innovation.
As you’ve likely noticed, Mr. Chair, 2019-20 includes a $5 million increase to the Innovation Rebate Program - $5 million to the Innovation Rebate Program is a significant investment, doubling the potential value of the program to $10 million.
Here are some of the companies that have already benefited from the Innovation Rebate Program, which I might add, Mr. Chair, is one that we’re very proud of at the Department of Business. A.F. Theriault & Son Limited upgraded its marine railway, its yard facilities and new equipment, all to help increase capacity and export sales from its facility. When complete, they will have spent nearly $6.7 million on upgrading their Digby County operation.
Michelin is installing new equipment to produce the semi-finished materials needed to make finished tires. Instead of importing these materials from elsewhere, these products can now be built here in Nova Scotia. Michelin will have spent $12 million on the project, $14.2 million to invest in and expand its Pictou County site, will add 150 new positions at the Michelin Pictou County site, and will make permanent 200 temporary positions that were slated previously to end as of 2020. Good news going from temporary to permanent.
Springhill-based company Surrette Battery is incorporating advanced robotics, improving processes and efficiencies, as well as expanding its workforce. It will have boosted its global competitiveness and spurred business growth and spent $4.8 million in new technology and equipment to increase its productivity.
Canadian Marine Engineering Ltd., CME, is increasing its capabilities to manufacture steel and aluminum for small- and medium-sized marine vessels. It will have spent $3.2 million at its North Sydney operation and this investment by the company will allow their seasonal operation to operate year-round.
Finally, John Ross & Sons Ltd. a Halifax-based business with facilities in Halifax, Truro, and Goodwood is expanding. They will have spent $4.5 million to upgrade its recycling processes and technology to extract high value materials more efficiently and, in turn, increase productivity, capacity, and exports.
These are excellent growth stories and they speak for themselves.
NSBI will also continue to help small and medium companies continue with experts and researchers at PSE institutions through the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program. As outlined on budget day, we are allocating an extra $200,000 to the voucher program for the upcoming year. NSBIs Export Growth Program will also receive an additional $250,000, and government has committed $600,000 for NSBI to develop new export-focused programs.
NSBI also administers the Film and Television Production Incentive Fund. As in other years, we’ve estimated $20 million for the Film and Television Production Fund in 2019-2020 and we’ll continue to work with the screen industry to build a competitive sector and increase areas where we have comparative advantages for the benefit of all Nova Scotians. We do care truly about our screen industry and we are proud of its success.
Tourism Nova Scotia touches every single part of our province. It creates opportunities for entrepreneurs, it creates year-round and seasonal jobs, and contributes to the province’s worldwide reputation as a positive place to visit and do business. Tourism Nova Scotia is responsible for marketing Nova Scotia as a vacation destination and leading the growth of Nova Scotia’s tourism sector. Together, businesses, community organizations, and governments of all levels are working to reach the Ivany goal of $4 billion in annual tourism revenues by 2024.
Substantial and sustainable tourism growth can only be achieved by attracting more visitors to the province and as many dollars as those visitors can spend. That is why Tourism Nova Scotia’s strategy is an export strategy designed to bring more first-time, higher-spending visitors to Nova Scotia. All of Tourism Nova Scotia’s marketing now happens outside of Atlantic Canada, using resources to attract visitors from key national and international markets.
In 2018, Tourism Nova Scotia partnered with 21 businesses and organizations through its inspiring content and digital marketing programs to develop high-quality photos and videos and to deliver digital marketing campaigns in Ontario, Quebec, and the northeastern U.S. These programs are dollar-for-dollar-matching programs. Industry sees the value of investing to align with provincial marketing.
Tourism Nova Scotia also works with Nova Scotia businesses to create experiences that differentiate Nova Scotia as a vacation destination and motivate travel to our province. These experiences are then woven through Tourism Nova Scotia’s marketing campaigns. Since 2016, 26 new experiences have been developed for sale and their capturing the attention of travellers and media around the world. Experiences like the brand-new Lunenburg Distilled: A Culinary Adventure, where guests can take in the colours and characters of Old Town Lunenburg, the UNESCO World Heritage site, by foot and by boat to discover distiller insights, sample award-winning rum, and enjoy an exclusive gourmet seafood dinner from the deck of a local schooner.
Tourism Nova Scotia’s marketing leads with the iconic must-see attractions that help Nova Scotia stand out from other destinations. To ensure our tourism icons continue to be competitive and a draw for visitors, we are investing in infrastructure enhancements at Peggy’s Cove, the Cabot Trail, the Bay of Fundy, including Annapolis Royal, the Halifax waterfront, and the Lunenburg waterfront.
This year’s total investment for tourism icons is expected to be $3 million, as noted on budget day. Investment in these icons will enable businesses to offer compelling visitor experiences that will continue to attract visitors from around the world.
In 2018, Tourism Nova Scotia commissioned a marketing return on investment study. This study estimated that for each dollar invested in media in Quebec, Ontario, northeastern U.S., and the U.K., visitation influenced by the campaign generated $25.97 in tourism spending in Nova Scotia - a strong result for the 2018 campaign.
Full 2018 tourism results will be shared in the coming days, but I am pleased to say that 2018 was Nova Scotia’s second-best tourism year on record. There is still a great amount of work to be done to reach the $4 billion goal, but Nova Scotia is certainly on the right track.
Next, I would like to talk briefly about Develop Nova Scotia. As many people would know, Waterfront Development became Develop Nova Scotia in July 2018, when its mandate was expanded to include responsibility for building places that attract people and investment across our province. They are now responsible for convening people and partners to build infrastructure, creating inviting public spaces, and deliver engaging programming for economic growth in Nova Scotia.
The Develop Nova Scotia team has more than 40 years of combined experience in successful place-making, and that includes the transformation of the Halifax waterfront. Once a collection of industrial sites, now it’s one of the province’s most visited tourism destinations and a centre for our capital city. It includes the transformation of the old Coast Guard site on the Dartmouth waterfront, into COVE. That is the kind of public/private sector experience that they will be drawing upon to advance major strategic infrastructure projects across Nova Scotia.
Going forward, their top priorities will be improving Internet service for as many Nova Scotians as possible, leading the improvement of key tourism iconic sites, continuing to invest in and manage our natural waterfront advantages for economic growth in tourism, and partnering with others to advance regional clusters and economies through great initiatives like Cape Breton’s Creative Island initiative. Every initiative that Develop Nova Scotia undertakes will focus on building places and experiences that are inclusive and sustainable.
Last, but not least, I’d like to talk about Events East. Events East manages the Scotiabank Centre, Ticket Atlantic, and the brand-new Halifax Convention Centre. Since the convention centre opened its doors last year, Events East has hosted over 160 events and 100,000 guests, generating an estimated $50 million into the Nova Scotia economy - and that’s just the beginning.
Over the next year they will welcome guests here for significant national and international conventions, including the Society of Rural Physicians, one of at least eight national medical conferences booked this year, and that’s in April; Ocean Predict 19, which is in May; International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association Annual Meeting and Exhibition in September; Transportation Association of Canada’s Joint Conference and Exhibition in September; and many, many more.
Between the Halifax Convention Centre and the Scotiabank Centre, we will also welcome thousands of visitors for the 2019 Memorial Cup this May. Our province will be the backdrop for the best junior hockey and show the rest of Canada how we cheer on our home crew, the Mooseheads - and the Screaming Eagles will probably get there too, I’d say.
Events East attracts events and visitors to Nova Scotia that create community vibrancy, drive tourism, and generates spending in our province.
Before closing, I want to also highlight Invest Nova Scotia. As you may have noticed on budget day in our ledgers, we are allocating more for Invest Nova Scotia in this coming year. It is $2 million more for Invest Nova Scotia for a total of $6 million estimated in the 2019-20 season. That’s because interest in the fund is certainly picking up. Invest Nova Scotia is funding collaborative projects that benefit entire regions and sectors of our economy. Invest Nova Scotia had an outstanding year this year, with a great one coming up as well.
The board approved a total of seven investments in 2018-19, making investments in projects like the new Link Performing Art Centre located in the old World Trade and Convention Centre with business incubation space for creative entrepreneurs; the Creative Destruction Lab, which is a business coaching and venture capital program for high-growth companies; and Acadia University’s very successful data runway project which is helping small- and medium-sized enterprises across the province use Data Analytics to help solve complex business problems.
Basically, it tells us that across the province we’re working with different partners - private sector, non-government, government teams as well - to get the best we can in terms of our investment and make sure that we continue to support those sectors that are of critical importance to us, staying within our lanes, staying disciplined, and understanding the right way to move the province forward.
Looking at our potential, which is at its highest in history, the fact that more Nova Scotia youth are coming to Nova Scotia than leaving for the third consecutive year, a record number of immigrants, there are more full-time jobs than at any other point in our history, and as exports continue to increase they’re at an all-time high - we have seafood with a value of $2 billion. Things are looking good and our outlook is strong for the upcoming year. Of course, there is more work to do, but with the team we have in the gallery and with the team we have at the Department of Business, I’m confident that we’ll continue to play a role in building Nova Scotia’s economy.
With that, I’ll end my opening remarks and put it over to questions.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: Madam Chair, if I may ask the minister, because I’m wearing two hats here today - I’m wearing the Business hat and the tourism hat - is there an issue with me starting with Tourism first? Great. Because we have a lot to get through here in a very short period of time, I’m going forego any kind of long preamble - I think the minister has covered quite a few fine points and details.
I do want to start of with regard to Tourism Nova Scotia, which has adopted the ambitious Ivany report goal, which the minister just mentioned a few moments ago, of $4 billion by 2024. I’d like to know how close are we to that goal by the end of 2018 - how close are we to that?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: We are at $2.8 billion of the $4 billion and if you look at the trajectory, we’re halfway from a timeline perspective. We’ve experienced tremendous growth with respect to that target and increasing our tourism revenues.
A couple of the challenges that we see now are the fact that we had this explosive trajectory and we were at a pace that couldn’t be anticipated that we would continue that kind of growth. I think that the previous year with the federal government’s initiative to make Parks Canada parks free, you really saw a stimulation in growth across the country, but there was an impact there and it really shot up by the numbers. We experienced growth that was unsustainable. For as long as we had it, we did tremendously well, but there was a bit of a flattening out in terms of that growth.
Obviously when we’re looking at markets like China and looking at the U.S., the direct flights are such a critical piece of this. We’ve got to be very strategic, and direct flights are going to be a tremendous part of that. Quite frankly, the relationship with China is of critical importance for a number of reasons, but the tourism component has a big piece of that; the cultural sharing. We’re confident and feeling good that we’ll continue that good relationship with China. Again, when we’re looking at where the growth is going to come from, when you take the 2017 Parks Canada initiatives and how they impacted the numbers, 2018 was our second-best season ever, so there’s still growth to do and we have Kelli MacDonald from Tourism who’s here to help us out if we need to - do you want to say anything? No, no, I’m just kidding.
For the member, that’s one part of it and I think it becomes of critical importance, and I’m going to touch on a topic that the member knows very well and has an in-depth understanding of, everything we do from here on in, so the investments in the iconic sites, the investment in direct flights and how we work on those, the marketing which has been of tremendous importance for us, the marketing program that we’ve laid out. Every dollar that Tourism Nova Scotia invests, everything we do from an infrastructural perspective, it all must be very well played to reach that $4 billion goal.
The other piece, which is what I just touched on, the member’s understanding of this, is around the idea of the sharing economy and Airbnb - that sharing platform. We just simply will not be able to get $4 billion if we don’t add capacity. I think the number - Kelli, correct me if I’m wrong here - is 7,000 room nights? Between 6,000 and 7,000 room nights short, so we can do everything else almost perfectly, but if we don’t have the capacity to bring in people by way of accommodations, we’re not going to hit that $4 billion.
I think that the flashpoint and the timing of all this conversation around the policy and the regulatory framework, vis-à-vis the sharing economy and shared accommodations is critically important, and as I’ve said many times, and I continue to say it just in case there’s one traditional accommodations operator out there who hasn’t heard me say this, they have been the foundation, the backbone of our tourism growth and our tourism industry for decades. They’ve paid the taxes, they’ve put their money back into their facilities, they’ve employed Nova Scotians, and they have done everything they had to do from a regulatory side, a safety side, and now they are looking at this new sort of mechanism, this new method for accommodations - a competitor, quite frankly, that isn’t subject to those things.
While they understand that the shared economy is coming and that it is going to play a role here for the next infinite number of years vis-à-vis tourism, they get that and they do actually welcome that being the reality, but they are also concerned about the regulatory piece and that a level playing field be in place, so to speak. Having to try to find that balance between recognizing the concerns of the traditional tourism accommodations providers, but not in any way extinguishing, thwarting, or stunting the growth of the shared economy by way of accommodations, was really important.
Just based on the feedback from both sides, so to speak, we feel like we have landed in a relatively good place on that, but again we’ve given a little bit of extra time for consultation discussions before this legislation is enacted and I think that’s going to be critical to get out there, from the department perspective of Tourism Nova Scotia, and we will undoubtedly continue to have those discussions and listen to concerns.
We are getting to the place where we have to be and we are still confident that we will reach the $4 billion, but we have to do things very much in the right way to ensure that we get there.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, minister, for your response. Let’s just go down that road of the importance of China as far as reaching that $4 billion goal by 2024. As I understand, that’s a huge component of where the focus was going to be as far as to reach that goal. We are really trying hard in many ways to be able to open up obviously our trade and our tourism dollars to those who want to come and visit us from China. It’s great to hear that we are trying to increase the capacity with regard to getting direct flights, obviously, going to China, and hopefully that will see some positive results in that regard.
Going back to the Ivany report and that $4 billion goal, as I understand it that goal relies substantially on about a 1,600 per cent increase in Chinese visitors between 2017 and 2024. So, we are 2019 now and I know that we’re having ongoing trade and legal disputes between Canada and China which is obviously likely affecting us being able to get those numbers that we were anticipating in the original goal setting.
I’m wondering if the minister can give me some input as to whether there are concerns around these ongoing disputes and whether Tourism Nova Scotia has conducted any additional risk assessment around these geopolitical tensions going on right now. That 1,600 per cent in Chinese visitors is actually bringing it - we are going from 3,000 to 50,000 visitors so it’s a substantial amount. I’m just wondering if the minister could give me some input on that.
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I thank the member for the question and it is an extremely important one for us. Certainly, the relationship with China is critical in a number of ways and tourism and culture is a big one and trade is enormous. If you think about the impact that Canada-China relationship has had on our post-secondary education institutions, again the investment in the number of sectors across the private sector economy in the country - including the outside investment in Nova Scotia - is critical. The access to trade and export relationships in China is hard to overstate, the magnitude of the importance there.
I think the member asked if we are concerned - we’re absolutely concerned, there’s no doubt about it. I think that what was interesting for us in the Department of Business - and this sort of transcends tourism a little bit - but the B-to-B relations when the China-Canada chill happened, they continued on as usual. Obviously travel restrictions, diplomatic relations cooled, you can’t deny that. For us it was a concern; we’ve spent so much time nurturing and developing the relationship with China. And we’ve had good relationships - the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture has a very strong network in China and spends a significant amount of time in southeast Asia. The Premier as well has an incredible wealth of relationships, respect and growing admiration there with significant people who really can make a difference in terms of those trade and tourism investments.
As we continued down that road, we had so much momentum. I’ve been there once and was planning on going back - more from a trade perspective but certainly on the tourism side. Of course, Tourism Nova Scotia has a very vested interest, NSBI has relationships growing in China, so keeping those things moving and on the rails as this diplomatic situation played out has been important to us and has been a challenge.
We continue to work through Destination Canada who have really taken the lead on sort of giving advice and keeping the networks alive with respect to the marketing relationships we have and that’s obviously all the provinces and territories in a coordinated effort. We do have an in-house marketer that is in China and Beijing and they have been great in terms of advice and sort of giving us the lay of the land in terms of the response and sort of the reputation and sort of the status of the relationship in China.
All of those things have taken place and are taking place as we go. We’re getting a feel that there is a warming up of that relationship, and I think that for us it’s going to be important to re-establish those strong ties that really were formulating.
We get about 5,000 Chinese visitors, give or take, to the province per year at this point. So, do we expect growth, are we looking at continuing that relationship? To the member’s point, we absolutely have to, there’s no doubt about it. Having a direct flight and do the math on the number of people, if so - hypothetically, if it was Beijing to Halifax, the number of people who would continue to come here and share that message with their peer groups is enormous.
The Chinese culture, from what I’ve seen - again this is anecdotal, but certainly there’s a significant amount of information data and relationships that back this up - they absolutely love the Nova Scotia product offering. They come to Canada and with complete respect to other jurisdictions, other provinces and territories, they love our coastline, they love the skies, the seafood, that mix between urban, metro Halifax, the peninsula, and the incredible things that our rural regions have to offer. When they come, they stay and they’re significant spenders vis à-vis the normal sort of tourism spend.
So I think that is part of the continuation of nurturing that market. I think that culturally there’s a connection. There’s a Maud Lewis exhibit that traveled to China that had a tremendous reaction from the Chinese people - and that’s just the Chinese community that had the opportunity to experience it. That’s just one aspect. Everything from a cultural perspective is attractive and makes them want to come here, and I think that the Chinese government and the private sector that has vested interest in the tourism and cultural relationship - of course they want Canadians to visit China as well.
Those who have a vested interest in that relationship absolutely understand the importance. There is a razor focus on that and I think - again, with respect to the relationship - we’ve got to do our part as a province to ensure that we’re focusing the relationships we have there now and continuing to develop that cultural side, the economic and trade side. Of course, again to the member’s question, that tourism is going to be critical as we go down the road to the Ivany finish line.
ALANA PAON: It’s good to know that we’re up to about 5,000 Chinese visitors per year. It’s always wonderful to be able to host people from other international areas in our province. We do tourism very well, and I recognize the good work that is being done by Tourism Nova Scotia and those tourism providers that we have here in this province. It’s always a wonderful experience to meet anyone who comes from away and wants to visit our beautiful province. It’s always lovely to be able to give people a little bit of advice, or some directions on how to get somewhere, and have a little chat.
I did want to just ask again though, because 5,000 is obviously like a really large gap from where we need to go as far as 50,000 visitors based on the projections that we have for that $4 billion mark. Regarding what this minister referred to as the “Canada-China Chill” going on right now, we all know that we can only be successful in international trade if we actually have good international relationship building going on at the time. Obviously when these things happen - it’s not happening on a provincial level, so we can do everything that we can to build capacity and build good relationships, building from a provincial perspective. But if on a federal level and on an international level, obviously things beyond our control here provincially are not going as well as they could be, it presents a challenge for us provincially in not meeting our goals.
Again, is there kind of - and it’s good to hear that we have people on the ground in China who are putting time in to promote what we have available here in the province, but what is kind of the Plan B, if I may put it that way? Is there a Plan B that has been assessed in case the Canada-China Chill does not in fact melt, it doesn’t warm up and we continue on that trajectory for the next little while - how is that going to affect those numbers?
You know, all of us want to be able to see that success for that $4 billion for 2024, so what is Plan B if we’re not able to actually meet that target of $50,000 Chinese visitors by 2024?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, I thank the member for the question. I don’t know if I could categorize it or say it’s a definitive sort of Plan A and Plan B. First of all, Plan A is those targets for Chinese visitors and we’re still there; we certainly haven’t given up. I think that again in when the previous answers I’d referenced about the repairing and growing relationship and there was a repair for us. It was just that national level, but just in terms of the diplomatic ties and keeping those relationships going, it has been good so far. We’re confident that the government bond will strengthen in very short order and it has to, but we haven’t adjusted any of our targets, any of our expectations around the Chinese tourism and cultural relationship and that growth of visitors.
I had the opportunity to spend time with my counterparts in other provinces and territories, tourism ministers, and had a very extensive presentation and session with Destination Canada around China. I know every province and territory feels like they’re doing a good job, but Destination Canada as an organization has been obviously well invested and entrenched in building that relationship with China over the last number of years. They laid out a number of bullets with respect to what we should do and without any exaggeration, we’re on track with every single one of them. I fully believed in that moment that we are just about the only province that was positioned that way having the cultural relationship - the deputy pointed out that it was the Maud Lewis exhibit that was supposed to be cancelled because of the diplomatic relations, and now it’s back on. That cultural impact is huge.
The direct flights are enormous. Having on-the-ground support in Beijing in one of the major centres and expanding that support to the extent possible from a fiscal perspective and an investment perspective is key. How we all sort of contribute to the collective marketing to get access to the Chinese tourism market, find our demographic inside such a massive, massive population all of those things that they identified were there and I think that it’s certainly going to take time, and when I say that it’s over the next couple of seasons that we have to see this growth. But we’re playing the long game in terms of the relationship with China, but in terms of that investment, of that injection in tourism, we’ve got to see that happening over the next couple of years for sure and we’re confident that it is going to be.
The tremendous value when dealing with China - I know for me on the trade file and also with exports and on tourism the value of the relationship and the repeat contact, so having the Premier who is a tremendous ambassador for our province, having the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture spend so much time there, having the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage head over there to talk about some of these cultural tie-ins that we have and relationships and connections that we have, they are critical, and the fact that we’re down that road is important.
Obviously, to the member’s question, we’re going to continue to monitor this. There’s a hard, direct way to look at what you’re investing in marketing and in the in-house representative, and how that translates into visitors and the direct-flight piece is critical so we’ll continue to work on that. Largely, with the direct-flight piece, it’s Transport Canada that holds a lot of their coming - you know, having that final sign-off. We have to work with Transport Canada to ensure that we’re making progress there. I don’t want to sound too competitive in relation to our sister provinces and territories but this is going to be about who puts the most attractive program together, combined with the natural draws that we have here, and I think that Nova Scotia stacks up, and this is me being biased, but this is also me understanding some of the primary and secondary research that we have from a number of facets.
The Chinese traveller covets what we have in this province and we can package that in a way where we are harnessing and honing in on our unique experiences, where we are providing infrastructure that has a free-flow - direct flights, ferries, solid road infrastructure. Having accommodations in the major centres is huge, but you are not going to get people from other countries who are here for a cultural experience - they are not going to get to Ingonish and they are not going to get to Gabarus and they are not going to get to these places unless we have platform and a plethora of options under the shared economy.
All these things sort of pull together and there are indications that when Chinese visitors come, they come back to Canada. They may go to other provinces, but then they get a taste of Nova Scotia and we’ve got them locked in.
Being respectful of the national effort to bring in tourists is important, but at the end of the day there is an internal competition here and we think we are poised and positioned to win a lot of those travellers here and, as we all know, once we get them here, they’ll be back.
I’m really happy that the member brought it up. It is an important conversation to have, but we haven’t switched focus from China and we are going to see growth in our other areas. It’s one-to-one, the correlation between when you have a direct flight to London, to Dublin, to Paris, to Glasgow, the numbers grow exponentially in a hurry and the partnerships we have there, not only do they establish that direct flight link, it just creates more opportunities for export, more opportunities to bring in businesses.
I met a number or businesses that were connected just because of the inaugural flight to Gatwick in London and now they are here. Some of them are in traditional oil and gas sectors, others are in the renewable side. They came here, and they had this interest, largely because of the addition of a direct flight to be able to do business in real time. Not spending days in airports is critical for us from an economic perspective across the board, but in tourism it really is a one-to-one correlation.
We know where our markets are - China, the U.S., the U.K., and we are going to continue to make those strategic investments because, again, we all have the goal of hitting $4 billion and we are determined that we are going to hit that mark.
ALANA PAON: Thank you to the minister for his responses. I’ll go back to that again. I’ll reiterate again that obviously our international trade is only as good as our international relationships with those countries within who we are trying to entice to our province or trying to do any kind of exporting - and I can give several examples that I’m sure most people in this House would be familiar with from just this past year.
Currently there is an issue with exporting certain commodities to China from an agricultural perspective out West. We have some Chinese students where there was an issue - a Canadian issue - that they might be called home because of what’s happening with the dispute going on with China. I think it was in August that we had a lot of international students here in our province which is amazing, but they were looking at calling all these students home, as well. So you never really quite know when you are dealing with an international partner. We sometimes forget, I think, that we have a lot of freedom of movement as Canadians to come and go as we wish, but not all countries deal with their citizens in the same way as we do here in Canada.
These types of decisions made at an international level would very much change the numerics and the goals that we have set for our own plan to move tourism forward. To focus so much attention into one market, into one international trade partner - I know it is an extraordinary opportunity to be able to do so and that we’ve been growing other exports with China for quite some time and we are doing really well with our fisheries. But there’s also a hazard there, a risk involved in that.
I’m looking at all the trade partners that are currently associated with reaching that goal. Another one is obviously the U.S. for which we have all these new trade deals going on in the last couple of years here and a brand-new deal with the U.S. and Mexico. From what I’ve been able to read and assess, our visitor count from the U.S. was also down last year. Our dollar was mostly stable, relative to the U.S. dollar. We had our 150 Canada celebrations with all the different celebrations across Canada and here in Nova Scotia, we had plenty of them. Our national parks were open for all to be able to come and visit, as the minister mentioned in his opening remarks. Yet our numbers of American visitors dropped in 2018.
I would like to ask the minister what accounts for that 2018 drop in American visitors?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I always reference the meteoric trajectory we were on the last number of years with tourism. Even though it can be glasses half full or empty, depending on how you look at it, and certainly you have the big season of 2017. There were a lot of factors, and there always are. When you’re looking at the U.S., things like gas prices matter, obviously the currency value. We have a general rule or an implied rule, I guess, or an expectation of a range that the currency value for us from a tourism perspective is around 70 cents on the dollar to maximize. That’s just one facet of the economy. Other aspects of the economy react differently, depending on if that number is higher or lower.
There’s always ebb and flow with these things. Currency’s big, of course; gas prices; geopolitics, and everything and anything that’s happening; any time there’s issues around border security, which hasn’t been a huge issue between Canada and the U.S. I think the decrease was slight on the overall, but it’s never settling to see any kind of drop. If there was a direct correlation or something we could specifically point to for the decline in the U.S. traffic and tourism coming in, we would certainly focus on that and address it.
There’s no one thing. I think that our tourism folks and the Department of Business officials are locked-in on trying to figure out any of these blips and what they mean. There is a smoothing out over time. We’re not in panic mode by the impact of that year-over-year number from the U.S. Having those conversations around what do we do to develop that market. We’ve got strong relationships with our embassies and consulates, there’s no doubt about that, and they have been helpful in trying to figure out what we can do in those jurisdictions to bring people here.
We always have this benchmark of 2017 because of the perfect storm of upward trends with the Canada 150 and the celebrations that led to the national parks being free. There was, from a currency perspective, the travelling public in the U.S., all these things sort of came together to really create an incredible year. Having said that, when you look to the U.S., we don’t have enough money in the province or the country to cover off every marketing play we could make to try to attract visitors from the United States. Obviously being strategic and understanding where that investment goes is important, having those relationships with Destination Canada all of things are of critical nature to ensure if we’re looking at the Northeastern United States, it’s upstate New York, the New England states that we’re really locking in on those and finding the best ways to reach them.
One of the valuable parts of the U.S. traveler, of course, is that their spending is large just like those who come from China. Attracting that high-end visitor is important. Notwithstanding that you put all your eggs in that basket either, the diversification of the tourism complement is what is really important to make sure that if there is a drop or an impact in one area, we don’t sacrifice the overall momentum we have and the success in performance that we’re seeing.
Again, the conversations around direct flights are of critical importance to be able to lock into a major U.S. centre that would be critical. I know this is a conversation I’ll probably have again and again - and I’ll save the soliloquy probably for when the Leader of the Official Opposition asks me questions about this, but I don’t think the member wants to talk length too much about the Yarmouth ferry. She might. I said it first but I’m not going to. I know there are all kinds of politics and conversations in a larger discussion about the Yarmouth ferry, but this is being very specific to the question and I’m staying within the lane. That really is a critical component to the U.S. piece. It just is.
I’m not going to elaborate too much on that, but the stability of having it in Bar Harbour given the challenges that have existed over the last number of years, the fact that it’s reached 50,000 is pretty significant. The fact that it looks like it’s tracking upward this year, year over year last year, I read an article this morning to that effect. The Yarmouth ferry is going to be of critical importance for us on this one and if there was a decrease in that U.S. travel, as the member identified, let’s hope that Yarmouth ferry plays a role in sort of picking up that slack, that lost visitation and travel segment that we lost over the last year.
I think again the target - back when I was taking marketing in university 20 years ago, it just became about getting people here and kind of hoping how that they would behave in a certain way and do certain things and you didn’t care. Not that you didn’t care; it wasn’t a target or a focus of where they were coming from, and how they were getting here, and how long they were staying. The analytics of tourism have changed so much the way that they’ve changed in the private sector across the board, the way they’ve changed in sports. Understanding who your traveller is makes it much easier to understand who your traveller isn’t.
I think that when you look at how you identify the people who are coming - if they’re travelling by car and again using whether they come through New Brunswick from the U.S. or they come over the ferry knowing that this is - Tourism Nova Scotia has published these but when you have the breakdown of where these visitors go, almost half of Yarmouth ferry travellers end up in Cape Breton. When you have that kind of information, then you can start to walk backward and sort of reverse engineer, okay, this is going to be their path. What do we do?
One of the things we’ve done, of course, is focus on those iconic tourism sites and those unique experiences. Whether it’s dining on the ocean floor, investments in McNabs and the Halifax waterfront, the Cabot Trail, all of those things that are important and, again, one that is subject to much frustration and criticism is one that I’m extremely proud of and that’s Bluenose II. I had the absolute privilege of being involved in that file a couple of years ago. I know it came in way over budget, there were a number of governments - the reports around that and the mishandling were very clear. We’re not going back down that road. When you see that vessel, it makes you feel like a Nova Scotian that’s proud of who we are.
The fact that it’s on our dime, people identify with that. The criticisms and the concern around the investment in Bluenose II - they’ve been there, they’re always going to be there. People poke at me at home just to make the joke about being involved in Bluenose II, but I’ll tell you, when you see it in a harbour and you see other people’s reaction to seeing that vessel, it’s a worthwhile investment. We never want to mess up procurements and we never want three different governments to handle one file and have it described as a ‘boondoggle’. We don’t want that.
What I tried to do with Bluenose II, when I was at Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, was separate the politics and the file management from how important and historic and amazing Bluenose II is. I feel like we’ve gotten there. It’s one of those things - there’s an asterisk on it for some people and most of those people are those who see it in Nova Scotia as well as a lot of money. There is no asterisk when visitors see it. It’s an incredible experience for them and that’s just one of many that we have here in the province.
When you match those analytics of where are they coming from, what is their demographic, what kind of money are they spending, how many nights will they be here, how do we get them to Lunenburg, how do we get them to Digby, how do we get them to Glace Bay - that’s part of the next strategy. Wait until you see it, it’s going to be awesome. (Laughter) It is a comprehensive package.
I think that this is one of those conversations in a sector, collectively, that for a minister and a politician to be talking about it, I’m almost sheepish. We develop the policy, we go to Treasury Board and we pull together the money to invest in those things that we identify, but it’s those people out there in the industry that do all the work. The accommodations providers, the people who are creating these experiences, people that are in our restaurants and our shops, those that are working as volunteers at local museums and such - they’re the people that make this place go.
It’s the coolest thing and has nothing to do with politics - I’ve felt this way as a citizen before being in this portfolio. It’s the coolest thing to see an outsider marvel in something that they’re seeing and learning and understanding here. Whether that be the waterfront or down in Yarmouth or in Meat Cove; beaches and hotels and such. It’s a remarkable thing. We’ve got - biased and subjective - something that nobody else has in terms of our collective tourism complement and I think we’re building on that.
It took a long time, quite frankly - a number of years, probably decades - to understand the importance of tourism to our economy as a pillar. I think that the Ivany report really focused us in on what are our lanes, where are we going to be, and, where are we not going to be? We’re going to be in tourism and there is a cap on how much we can actually invest, so we have to make good decisions, and these are the things that we went down the road of.
We have experienced 500,000 more people over the last five years than in 2013; 500,000 new people. That is a remarkable number and that’s not a government celebration, that’s hats off to TIANS, to Tourism Nova Scotia, and to the everyday investors who take the risk to get into the tourism sector. They invest their equity, pull their family into it, go to bed worried about their employees, follow the regulations, understand the red tape, do the paperwork - all of these things.
Crossing over to one of my other portfolios of Service Nova Scotia, I think one of the red tape reduction things that we focused on - I know the member was an entrepreneur and involved in business - the amount of paperwork and things you have to do just to stay in the good is overwhelming. I think that any time government, and I’m talking about playing our support role and setting that foundation and that environment - these are the things the government can do.
Government can’t keep businesses open if they are struggling and government can’t subsidize economic sectors, but we can make good decisions and be sensible. I think when you look at how we support the tourism sector by way of investments and infrastructure, decisions on policy, supporting the ferry, and just having good-sense policy that makes life a little easier on businesses and entrepreneurs. That is about as good as we can do. We are in the right direction.
I share the member’s concern. We can talk about all the good things we are doing but, at the end of the day, if there is a downward turn in the tourism numbers, it is something that we will have to focus on, zero in on, and narrow down what we can do to turn those numbers the other way. I think that we are doing that. We will continue to look at new avenues for tourism growth and, again, we are still very confident that we will reach the goals that have been set out by the Ivany report.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, minister, for that response. I will just remind the minister that it wasn’t me who first brought up the Yarmouth ferry. However, since we are on that topic and the minister has already brought it up, I will take this opportunity just to point out that, again, we are not against having a ferry between Yarmouth and the United States. It’s just the type of ferry and whether or not it is actually feasible.
As much as the minister has mentioned about good-sense policy, there is also the importance of good-sense fiscal investment and fiscal management. When we see the numbers of 50,000 people coming across on the ferry, that’s great. However, from our math on this side anyway, it is about $19 million being invested on a yearly basis on the ferry, and another $8.5 million this year being invested in upgrading the Bar Harbor terminal, without us even having asked Bar Harbor to pony up some of the cash that would have gone to those renovations. It seems to me that we probably should have at least asked them if they would be willing to invest some money into a terminal that they own on the American side, as they would be benefiting from it as well.
It’s astounding to me that we would not have asked them to do so, and that, of course, we are changing terminals within just a couple of years of having been somewhere else. Here we are going to Bar Harbor, and hopefully it will work out, but again, that $19 million for those 50,000 people who use that ferry - that’s about 46 per cent of the entire tourism budget. Those numbers just don’t make any sense to me, as far as how much money we are spending and what the return on the investment is.
It’s not, obviously, how many people. There is a lot of investment that goes into the local community, obviously, and I would hope some of that makes its way across Nova Scotia, with those people actually making their way travelling across Nova Scotia. But we don’t have any hard numbers with regard to how much is being spent throughout the province by those 50,000 people who are coming.
To begin with, the numbers just don’t make sense: 50,000 people using a ferry, $19 million being invested, another $8.5 million this year to upgrade the terminal, and it’s 46 per cent of the entire tourism budget. Even though we know that money comes out of TIR, the numbers just don’t really quite make sense from this side of the House. But I digress. You brought it up, so I’m going to put a cap on the ferry discussion right there. I just made my point - for today I will, anyway.
What I wanted to ask is, around Tourism Nova Scotia, the minister again mentioned that there is $6 million being invested in the new Tourism Revitalization of Icons Program this year, which we are referring to as TRIP. It’s always good to see that we are investing in our icons like the Cabot Trail and now the Lunenburg waterfront, as well as Peggy’s Cove. I’ve noted that Peggy’s Cove, for example, is receiving about $2 million, but only $750,000 is being contributed towards the Lunenburg waterfront. I’d like to ask the minister how these targeted contribution amounts were assessed.
Also, while we’re on that, it’s wonderful that we’re investing on these iconic destination points, but sometimes I feel we don’t see the smaller stuff that’s really important. I tell you, we may see it as the smaller stuff but it is an icon in itself - coming across the Canso Causeway onto Cape Breton Island. There is nothing more iconic than that green old span bridge, which has just been renovated as far as the actual bridge-opening technology and so forth. There was a lot of money that was invested in that.
The bridge says has a sign that says, Welcome to Cape Breton Island. So many people take photographs of that when they come home after being away for a long period of time. I always love seeing it every single time I come home from the House. Then you drive across and if you were a first-time visitor to Cape Breton Island, the first thing you see coming across in what I call a gateway into Cape Breton Island is not exactly a pretty sight.
We’ve got a rotary that is full of potholes, you can barely make your way around it without taking the undercarriage of your car out. We’ve got a beautiful little tourism facility that’s right there which is iconic in itself, but it’s busting at the seams. There’s not enough parking for just the regular visitor, let alone people who have RVs that are parking in some sort of an extra - I’m not even going to call it a parking lot, it’s kind of like an overshoot. I don’t even know if the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal owns the land or if it’s privately owned, but they’re parking in a non-parking lot area that’s just been an area that’s been utilized over the years for people whose RVs are too big to actually pull into the tourism centre.
It’s very confusing signage-wise, I’ve got to tell you. We talk about wayfinding and the importance of that tourism. There is no wayfinding to speak of that is equitable between all the different directions that you can take going into Cape Breton Island, because you can go into Inverness, which has come along very nicely in going to the Highlands. You can go straight through into Whycocomagh and then passing right through to Sydney, passing by the Bras d’Or Lakes. However, you can also go through Cape Breton-Richmond, which is my constituency. There’s really no signage to speak of.
In fact, the signage that is there when you come across the Canso Causeway talks about getting to the ferry in North Sydney. You actually go through Inverness, so you go through Whycocomagh, and there’s no discussion that you can take the No. 4. Many people don’t realize, but also going through Highway No. 4 through Cape Breton-Richmond, through Port Hawkesbury and St. Peter’s - it’s an absolutely gorgeous drive because as we all know, the province made a huge investment in upgrading Highway No. 4. It is the mini Cabot Trail. It is absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful to go through there.
We need more investment on that coastline. We need more investment to help tourism operators be able to come together with the municipalities and with the province to be able to come up with a plan for that coastline. We are way behind on that coastline and it should start right when you cross the causeway. That’s where that plan has to be seated and take hold and continue right up going to CBRM to Sydney. There is a massive amount of opportunity there, but I feel like we’re being left behind. You have got to start off with a plan at the rotary. We need a gateway plan into Cape Breton Island.
I’m going to ask the minister: As much as we’re investing a good $6 million into all these icons, you have another icon and it’s called the Canso Causeway. It’s the gateway into a major tourism destination point in Nova Scotia and it has been horribly, poorly maintained and there is no plan that I know of moving forward to be able to put some investment to that area so when visitors come in, they feel welcome and they go wow, look at this place, look at this place, and feel welcomed that they’re there.
What’s the plan moving forward for there and can you tell me as well what the plan could be moving forward for those tourism operators that are on Highway No. 4 going from Port Hastings all the way up to Sydney?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I will address as much of that as I can with respect to the tourism icons. I know that the member wants to digress from the Yarmouth ferry, but I can’t leave too much of it unchecked. She talks about a gateway and the Canso Causeway being the gateway and I don’t disagree, it absolutely is.
If she lets me read my resolution, we could see that Welcome to Cape Breton sign a lot sooner than 10 p.m. tonight. (Laughter) I’m just throwing it out there for the members - by the laughs of the Opposition, I don’t think we’re going to get that.
THE CHAIR: We have to do four hours.
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I think that when we’re talking about investments, I see the Yarmouth ferry drastically differently than the member and I don’t want to waste the last portion of hers on that, so we’ll come back to that.
I think that there’s a lot to be said about the strategy around these investments and the importance of supporting regions and supporting what makes communities go. My whole fundamental piece around the importance of Yarmouth is how that place was decimated when the ferry left - and this isn’t a political thing - and now it’s rolling again. I’m going to digress from that point to get to exactly what the member’s talking about.
The drive to the Causeway from Sydney-Glace Bay all the way along from Isle Madame and L’Ardoise and St. Peter’s and all points in between, was atrocious 15, 20, 25 years ago. The money that’s been invested in that corridor has been significant and has made a major impact on safety - just the enjoyment of the ride. I think that for us, we would love to see increased economic private sector development there. It just becomes an issue of what the capacity is by way of people and a market that’s close by.
As you drive up, there are portions of that Route 4 that has significant activity and investment. Potlotek First Nation is a place that has been growing from a social development with houses and such, a great school there and new developments on the main thoroughfare - also Isle Madame, L’Ardoise, and St. Peter’s coming up there. But there are stretches where there isn’t much happening.
I think from the Tourism Nova Scotia perspective, the mandate is not to market regions, it’s to market experiences - working with the private sector, the natural experiences that take place in certain areas. Having that private sector investment and participation is important. That’s where we always look for opportunities, whether it be on Route 4, Route 5, or, one of the most staggering stretches in all of our province, Route 19. When you talk about the Cabot Trail, and the other side being the little Cabot Trail, you certainly could make a valid argument that Route 19 fits every description of the majesty of the Cabot Trail.
When you look at the overall experiences, you look at all of those things and that’s what Tourism Nova Scotia does. It becomes about experiences and that’s where, you know I don’t want to sound crass, but you just can’t be all things to all people.
The member brings up a point that I think as Cape Bretoners we’re more passionate about this, and maybe over the top sometimes about how we have the best scenery, we have the best lobsters, we’re better looking than the mainlanders, and all those things. Sometimes I think we take it too far, but the reality is when you’re coming across the causeway, to us, it’s heaven.
But to visitors, they don’t know and they’re not all that interested in the Canso Causeway and the rotary, but they’re interested in Isle Madame and they’re interested in Louisbourg and the Miners Museum and, of course, the Cabot Trail.
So, for us, the iconic piece of this - the conversations around the policy with respect to these iconic sites was just exactly that; we’re going to name a bunch of critical places in the province that we’re going to invest significant money in to the chagrin or to the almost isolation of those that aren’t going to get money. So you sort of look at it in tiers, different groups, and say which ones are the ones worthwhile investing in?
I think in fairness, in terms of iconic places that people recognize in their research, that list is really the list that people gravitate to in each particular region. I think that again, as this program continues to exist over a number of years, you will start to not only put more focus and emphasis on these particular sites, but you expand that list.
I think that also, one of the things that the member for Chester-St. Margaret's has been intimately involved in is something that I think the member was touching on as well. These particular investments and the numbers - there were no caps. There wasn’t sort of a static amount that became, okay, the Bay of Fundy, what can we do here; Cabot Trail, what’s the best way to invest this; waterfront, et cetera. These things were organic and from the stakeholders and people who knew what was happening there.
I think the value in this moving forward is flexibility. I’ll give you an example: walking trails and washrooms are some of the things that come up huge for the Cabot Trail. While we focused on the road infrastructure, wayfinding signage, and those types of things - the primary research with visitors, exit surveys and such, it’s those things that matter. I think that as time goes on and you develop this policy and you figure out where to dial in on, it becomes that primary research coming directly from tourists, that really gives you the information you need.
The $6 million is well spent and we’ll continue to look at ways we really drill down into the rural tourism complement as well as here.
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed for the PC Party. We’ll move on to the NDP.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you, minister. I am here to ask some questions about our film and television industry - surprise, surprise. Last year the minister confirmed to us that the amount the province was spending on film and television incentives is roughly equivalent to what was being spent when we offered a tax credit on labour spending.
In November 2018, you announced an additional $6 million for the fund, bringing the total spending above where we were on the tax credit. In the last full year of the tax credit it cost the government $23.5 million. I am, of course, glad to see that the levels of investment in the industry are mostly restored, but it continues to beg the question, which I have asked for three years in a row: When the tax credit was much more effective at generating film jobs and economic activity, why won’t the government reinstate it?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, I am shocked that this member is asking this question about film, screen. (Laughter) Certainly, as the member knows, we had this discussion around the tax credit, the incentive fund and the differences. Again, this is one of those times where you just can’t deny the history and the process around changing that fund, and what happened here at the Legislature, and the very strong reaction from the industry.
I think in fairness and in honesty, we’re still working on repairing that relationship. I think that those at the helm, Screen Nova Scotia and those who represent the community, that industry and the sector and the screen and film community, are doing a good job. They understand our position, as well as advocating for their people.
I think the ideas around the local content, the incentives, in principle - I don’t want to go too far - but I believe that Mike Volpe and those who have been involved in those conversations, can appreciate those aspects of it. Why wouldn’t they? It’s local content, having the labour piece identified, having some consistency and transparency around when the money goes out, and how it all kind of is administered through NSBI. I think that is all acceptable.
I think that what we are seeing now, and I met with Screen Nova Scotia a few weeks ago, there certainly is a draw to this incentive fund, by way of the numbers. I think what happens moving forward in big productions, and what happens in terms of those who seem to feel the impact of some of the uncertainty with local providers, of the necessities around wardrobe and the other sort of real specialized skills and needs that the sector has - they felt that. Obviously, for us, it becomes around seeing a bit of a stability in the sector now.
Going back to where we were; that’s just not something that we are going to do, quite frankly. I think that given the amount of investment that we have, it does show that commitment.
One of the things that happened before my time was that there was a lot of concern in the community, and those who are connected to film and screen, and all those direct and indirect components of that sector, were concerned that there would be a cap. I think that you see, year over year, the last few years, that we have exceeded the budgetary line item that we had. Really, we’ve been very open.
I think that Laurel and her team at NSBI have done a great job nurturing that relationship, understanding what is coming in the pipeline. I think that part of the move from the tax credit to the incentive fund was that predictability so when Laurel and her team get together and they work with the industry on what’s in the pipeline - what’s coming down, the creation of that certainty and knowing what’s on the horizon - it’s understanding what we have to do to make sure that we don’t create any kind of disruption and that we don’t push away not only productions, but also the people who are on the ground here.
I told this story last year, but it bears repeating because we were in the Red Chamber and now that we are in the big room, it is important to have this on the record. I went with Mike Volpe the summer before last to see a taping of Mr. D - an episode that was out close to Spryfield - and I was absolutely blown away by the number of people who were on the ground for a production like that.
Now I know, of course, Mr. D is a big one and This Hour Has 22 Minutes is a big one, and that’s not the norm. The norm are sort of the smaller productions and the different things that happen inside of that culture of creative film and screen industry, but to see the number of young people who were there - it was in a hockey rink and I could not believe. You look and there were hundreds of people inside this rink and it just funnels down to basically one camera. It’s the shot in the moment, but it’s all those people making that shot happen.
As much as I built an appreciation for the industry and the sector in Nova Scotia, just to see it up close and personal and understand how many people are impacted by the sector, was an eye-opener for me. I’ve always carried that with me. Again, I think that has guided my relationship with the industry; it has been always positive and respectful, of course.
The reality is that the $20 million budgeted this year, and $23.8 million last year - it is a significant investment. That’s not to diminish the position of the member on the old fund or try to extinguish the feelings that the industry had about the old tax credit. We are in a place where, for better or for worse, people see balanced budgets differently. I’m a huge believer in them and seeing how they impact the provincial economy, I am more of a believer every year. The Premier has stuck to that discipline and four balanced budgets in a row matter.
I think, inside that context there were things that, would have been things that we would have liked to have done, but we just couldn’t do them because we are committed to balanced and surplus budgets - you know, balancing the books. We have never had a conversation about impacting that tax credit, and here we are again at the incentive fund and here we are again putting that same amount of money in. We’ll continue to work with NSBI to manage the number of requests we have, and I think not having said no to anything at this point is an indication that we are still committed to working with the industry.
There are a number of things that Mike and the gang bring forward every time we meet around different equity funds and things we can do with the percentages, and at the end of the day, those conversations will continue. I can tell the member that where we are just in terms of how the incentive fund is tracked and controlled for our purposes, the certainty around that, the impact on the all-in spend for the local talent and doing what we can to support Nova Scotia labour here inside that industry - we’re comfortable with where we’re at, and we’re not going to revisit it at this point.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you for that answer. It actually brings up many of the things I’m going to ask very specific questions about, but I do want to reply to a couple of things that the minister has just brought up in his answer.
I really, truly feel like cutting the tax credit is a missed opportunity. The minister spoke about balanced budgets - great. The Minister of Health and Wellness and I had an exchange about balanced budgets the other night, and I don’t want to have that same exchange here, but this is not a question of balanced budgets. We know that the economic spinoffs from the Film Tax Credit were benefiting the economy of Nova Scotia. We had way more people at work. We had people in good jobs. I believe it was the PricewaterhouseCoopers report that came out saying there was a $7 return for every dollar invested - I’m pretty sure that was the number.
It’s not a question of balanced budgets, but it is a question of a missed opportunity. What has happened since the tax credit was cut - and the minister has alluded to this - is that though we’ve had the same amount of financial investments or the same amount put into the expenses line in our budget, the return is not nearly as much. We have seen and we know that there are still lots of productions. I want to say Mr. D is an amazing example, but Mr. D is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a big production that hires a whole slew of different types of workers, including actors.
I get the CNS reports. I get the announcements whenever a film project is approved, and I’m always excited to see what’s coming up. Diggstown was one. It was amazing. Actually, I don’t even know - I think Nova Scotia contributed to Diggstown. It was shot here, anyway, so I hope it did. Mr. D, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the one about the - never mind, doesn’t matter - the series that we’ve seen in the last couple of years.
But the fact is that most of the productions that come through being funded are tiny little productions, which are very important to our industry - and I’ll get to that in a second - or documentaries, which, again, are also important to our industry, but have much smaller crews and people being paid - maybe not smaller crews, but definitely smaller cast and crews.
So I think it’s great that the incentive fund is where it is, and it is working for certain productions and certain people, but the industry has not recovered from the tax credit cut. It has not recovered and I want to make sure that - well, I know you understand. I know the minister understands that it hasn’t recovered, but it shocks me and it’s truly mystifying that the government is holding so hard and fast to this decision when what it could do is change its mind, bring back the tax credit, and reinvigorate our industry, which was so vibrant and had put Nova Scotia on the map.
We aren’t on the map anymore. I have heard this from industry professionals, from people at Screen Nova Scotia and from other producers. We are no longer in the game. We are no longer competitive in the international market, and it is because the tax credit is gone.
When people from Nova Scotia go have meetings in L.A. and New York and other places where productions are considering investing in Nova Scotia, the first question they are asked is, “What is your tax credit?” When the answer is, “We don’t have a tax credit, but we have this fund which kind of works the same way as a tax credit, and I know there’s a cap, but there’s not really a cap because - let’s just have this conversation,” the attention of the producers has gone. Some of the big producers leave the room. It does not work the same way.
Believe me, I would love it if it did. All I want is for our film industry to be as robust and as great as it could be and for us to have the same experience that Ontario, Vancouver, and Manitoba are having right now, where they don’t have the crews to supply the business. That is not our case anymore, and it’s a real shame. The other thing I wanted to mention is - well, you’ve heard me. I’m going to go on to my next question.
I’m going to talk about the incentive fund a little bit. I’m wondering if your department has any plans to make changes to the incentive fund in an effort to support more film and television industry jobs? Again, the biggest issue with the tax credit being cut is that it was a labour tax credit. The fund is an all-spend, so it doesn’t necessarily ensure that money will be spent on people and people who pay taxes in the province.
I’m wondering if there is anything that you have plans to do to change the fund so it encourages workers and jobs for workers?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I thank the member for the question. Look, we talk about this a lot. I know she’s passionate about it and has a lot of depth and understanding about the sector, and that she was involved in the sector herself and still may be. She certainly has close contacts there, so I understand the concern and the focus on this particular issue.
One of the things I just wanted to clarify - and this is in direct conversations - I have not heard at any point that there’s any particular challenge with this vis-à-vis the tax credit. Whether it be a follow-up when the member gets back on her feet again, or if there’s some other information - the conversations I’ve had, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to paint a picture that it’s rosy, but I’ve never heard that there’s any challenge or a disincentive for productions and people who would access the fund vis-à-vis the tax credit. I’ve never heard that.
Obviously if there were more money in it - that is something that is advocated and pushed for, to make changes in terms of an equity fund or things like that. Those things are pushed for. But at no point has anyone said it doesn’t work as smoothly as the tax credit did. Those producers and production operations don’t seem to have any challenges accessing it, from my information. So it’s just to tell the member that. It doesn’t have to be in her reaction, but maybe later on - my understanding is very different on that particular piece of it.
I don’t have a tremendous level of comfort comparing other jurisdictions, because you begin to highlight and get down that road of which jurisdictions place which particular importance on film and screen. But I think the reality is - and again, I’ve had this conversation with those I meet with in the sector, and they get it. Being vibrant and supporting the industry and having different ideas on how to do that is of critical importance, but there’s also a reality in this country that Ontario and B.C. and Quebec - we’re never going to be them.
No one is advocating that we should be, but they’re just so far ahead of the game in terms of where they’re at with these productions, and I think that one of the big pieces - the incentive fund is one part of that. Theirs is different than ours. I think we’re close with Alberta in terms of the mechanism. But one of the things that I’ve heard over and above the direct investment and the injections of funds - whether it’s a tax credit, an incentive, or something else - is that there are other competitive advantages.
Mike Volpe said that the lighthouse that was shut down in Yarmouth was the most perfect place to do a production like that for a number of reasons. Nova Scotia has lots of those things, and that’s one aspect of it. Every province would boast that they have similar places and setups and experiences - circumstances that would support filming and having the right backdrop.
The other big piece, and one that we have been having discussions on, is this whole idea around infrastructure. The member mentioned Manitoba. I always wonder, because I think we’re close in the relative share of our Canadian market - we’re 1 or 2 per cent of the Canadian market for film and screen productions. I think Manitoba has done a particularly good job in the hard infrastructure - soundstages, performing centres, things like that - and I think we don’t have those particular things. The arts and culture link that’s here at the World Trade is a significant one. We’ve had conversations around the prospects of supporting a soundstage here in metro, and I think that those things are part of it, as well.
There is a multi-faceted piece of this, and it would almost be a question for the member to add her comment on. As a government, if we’re in a certain place with the incentive fund, at what point do we sort of continue to focus just on that aspect of support for the sector or do we branch off? I’m not saying just take the money from one place to the other, but once you have that incentive fund locked down, then do you start looking at other aspects of the development of that sector, if it’s soundstages and the like?
That’s part of it. I think that the three big jurisdictions of Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. have such a competitive advantage by way of their history and by way of the investments that were made over significant periods of time. No one is suggesting that we have to catch up to them, but it’s understanding where you fit in the overall Canadian market and where your opportunities lie. For the record, I think the folks in our industry here do an absolutely incredible job selling Nova Scotia. They spend a significant amount of time at the film festivals. They have a really good presence and a solid network in Hollywood, so they’re always looking for those opportunities.
Making investments in arts centres and things of that nature, you see in other provinces. I’m not going to digress back again to the Yarmouth ferry, but we’ve read articles about some of these investments. Basically, the investments in some of this hard infrastructure essentially work to be a subsidy to the industry by way of bailing out a particular soundstage. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If that’s a decision that a particular government makes, if they see the need for it, then that’s okay.
For us, having Invest Nova Scotia talking to Marc Almon - the Invest Nova Scotia platform and mandate and how they look at the impact of arts, culture, film, and screen was a great avenue for us to explore. The link arts centre, $2.79 million was our investment there. I think that when you put that in the hands of the capable people who are up there, they’re going to make that work and they’re going to stretch that a long way. We look forward to what the impact is for that, but I think that from that regard, there’s more to consider and there are a number of different ways in which we can support the sector.
I think it’s just the difference in philosophy with respect to the balanced budget piece. I know what the member’s saying, but there are certain parameters that we have to live inside. With all things being considered, I think that by way of this number in the line item, we are committed to making sure we’ve got that support there for the sector.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I hear you - you’re not going to make changes to the fund. I’m not going to belabour the tax credit question because I know we’re not going to come to an agreement on it, but I do again want to address a couple of things the minister said.
First of all, when I mentioned Ontario - yes of course, dollar for dollar, we are never going to be competitive with Ontario. But with respect, it sounds like the minister is giving up, that we will never be as good as our big brothers and sisters in Western Canada. We were very competitive. Had this break in our industry not happened, we would be receiving tons of the overflow that is happening in those other provinces.
The fact is that Ontario does not have enough people to work all the productions they had. This not just in Toronto - this is in northern Ontario, this is in Sudbury, which is a town much like Halifax in many ways, in terms of size. I don’t accept that answer in terms of, we should discount that idea.
I know the minister understands that our film industry is an ecosystem. At the top we have these large-scale productions, these productions that come in from L.A. and New York and elsewhere around the world, to where we have a local producer on the ground, like a Mike Volpe or Valerie Halman at Red Rock Productions, so local producers on the ground. Those are big, those are important for our industry, because they require the crews to learn the skills.
When those companies and those productions were coming in in the heyday and the 1990s and the early 2000s, we trained crews. We put programs into our universities and we had the crews that could service them. But meanwhile those crews are making their own local productions and making the stories we call our local stories. Then we have low-budget feature films, we have all kinds of amazing short films. That is a significant part. Yes, the current fund does support that work. Then we have the emerging filmmakers, the people who are making the one-minutes and the five-minutes, and the script development program from CCH does support them.
The problem is all these things have to work together as an ecosystem and when we take away the larger food-chain animals, as it were, if I’m going to keep with my references here, the whole ecosystem doesn’t work together. As I said, I’m going to leave that behind.
The minister did reference the soundstage so I’m going to talk about that. When you talk about when we’re going to sort of divert from the discussion around the funding and the fund and all of that and go how else can we support our industry, the soundstage is definitely one way. I’ll get to that in a second.
The industry says the $4 million cap, so if we’re talking about the fund now, the $4 million cap on funding acts as a significant disincentive for larger productions coming to Nova Scotia, or even to consider Nova Scotia. The department has made plenty of statements and it is well known that that cap is flexible - let’s have a discussion, let’s talk about it, we can make it work. I do applaud the people who are working with this fund to make it work for many productions because the ones that have happened are because of the work of those folks.
Again, the problem is when we’re at the table, there are many producers who are just going to discount even looking at Nova Scotia because of the amount, like the cap right now. They are not interested in a discussion. They just want to know if they are looking at three jurisdictions where they choose to shoot their film and this is a film that doesn’t require the beautiful landscapes of Yarmouth or the beautiful landscapes of Peggy’s Cove or whatever. I’m talking about something that could be shot anywhere, which is most films or many films - they won’t even look at us because of that.
My question is: Why doesn’t the department just increase the base rate and eliminate the cap from the guidelines or increase the base rate, so that if we’re talking an incentive fund, and not a tax credit, it can be more competitive.
GEOFF MACLELLAN: With respect to the cap, I don’t know. There have been maybe a few one-offs in terms of expression of concern around the cap, the $4 million. If I am remembering correctly - was The Mist north of $4 million? I think that was one of those circumstances whereby it was sort of an isolated conversation. Anytime something comes up as a suggestion or potential project that is north of $4 million, I think it is a discussion that we do have to have at the department level and, of course, with our partners at NSBI discussing those options. I haven’t heard wholesale across the board that there are issues with this $4-million cap on one particular production.
As the member said, obviously if there is a production that is north of that, they may not even look at Nova Scotia as a jurisdiction. That’s where it becomes challenging and frustrating for the industry sometimes. It is a guideline, and you set guidelines for a reason. to sort of keep it in a certain range. If you have a $20-million budget, and you eliminate the cap, and a production comes in that is $10 million, then you have just evaporated, used up, applied 50 per cent of your budget on one project. Again, I think it is a continuing conversation.
The good thing about this is, when you look at the history and the ebb and flow of the incentive fund and all the ways things have changed in terms of the budgets and these conversations about caps on the overall allotment - caps per production - I really do look forward to the five-year review that is coming next fiscal year. If I have any luck, there will be a cabinet shuffle by then, and it won’t be me dealing with it. (Laughter) That’s right. I said that, guys up there.
It is an important conversation to have, and it really is way more complex when you get into the bowels of this discussion. I think that looking at how these caps are applied, you can make a sensible assessment about anything - and film is an example - and then when you talk to someone in the industry, just like in any other scenario, they can give you a perspective that you didn’t even consider. I have had that kind of experience in working with screen for the last couple of years - the entire sector, not just screen, those who were impacted by this incentive fund. When the five-year review comes next year, I think that it really is a chance to put all this on the table. So if you are looking at that production cap, what’s the impact on the overall budget?
The member mentioned the base rate, and that is one that has certainly been advocated for - to change it up - but that increases the budget. I do just want to say that I know that the member is not saying this in a personal sense or that I’m sort of turning my back on the industry, but sort of the way I characterize it is that I’m giving up, and that’s not the case at all. There is a line between giving up and realizing that you are not going to compete with Ontario. Just because that’s the case, I don’t want to diminish the importance of the industry, the sector, and the critical nature of maintaining this incentive fund.
We aren’t giving up. When you look at the details, and the member has that kind of intimate understanding of the sector, there have been shifts and changes. I think it is an evolving sector as it is. We were 1 per cent to 2 per cent of the Canadian market, and we still are.
The way that the ebbs and flows have taken place with this particular sector and its relationship with government and the support we give - sometimes it’s almost surprising that that has stayed static in that range. Again, there’s shifting human resources that are part of that, and there’s a changing competitive advantage in the industry as well. If we’re going to change does it come around that five-year review, looking at how we do things differently? I’ll tell you, it’s an amazing thing. The way that the entire sector - screen and film, the industry - has changed is absolutely mind-blowing. The member mentioned these short productions. It’s staggering, the hunger for content now.
With Netflix and these content providers, it’s not television anymore. It’s less going to the movies and big screen productions. It’s massive content being churned out and churned out and churned out. That’s where, even though the way things were was maybe a relatively static market, it’s going to look a lot different now. Look at what happens with that moving. You talk about core competencies, but when you’re inside of a content-providing sort of push now, it’s incredible what happens at breakneck speed and somewhat relatively low budgets. There are certainly some heavy-budget applications being provided for content for Crave, Netflix, HBO, and all those players are out there looking for stories, shows, documentaries, movies, and non-fiction that are applicable to a changing market.
My favourite show of all time in genre is Game of Thrones, and Jason Momoa was one of the key actors in the first couple of years. I was coming into Sydney, and I was driving by a parked vehicle, and it was him. I thought I was losing my mind. I pulled over, and I said, I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, am I okay here? He’s like yeah, I’m here for two weeks at the Fortress of Louisbourg shooting Frontier, which is on Netflix. The majority of that was in Newfoundland, but he was in Sydney. It’s just a remarkable, remarkable change. I think that that’s where our industry is going to be. I think that their concern now, as you get to the end of this five-year program and you look at what happens next, is going to become critical. Those conversations and keeping that relationship live truly matter to us.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Exactly - people are content hungry. Things are being made all over the place. It’s easier and easier to make things and have them seen. That’s why we need to be competitive on the world stage, because we do have stuff that wants to be shot here, so that is exactly right. If we had a better system, we could be more welcoming to bigger productions. Those are big productions. Game of Thrones is a big production, and so is the other one that you mentioned. If we could welcome them in a more competitive way, if we could make it easier for them to choose Nova Scotia, then we would be full of work, and I’m telling you, it is an economic driver.
The minister wants to improve tourism to bring $4 billion of tourism money to the province, for all of these excellent plans in business. Film is business, and we could be competitive in that way.
I’m so glad to hear that there’s going to be a five-year review. It’s shocking to think that five years is coming up. I really do hope that the minister will consult with all of the people in the industry not just the producers at that level. The minister needs to consult with the trade unions, with regular old artists who are working on those small productions, and also with the big producers because, again, it is an ecosystem.
Speaking of that, five years ago, Nova Scotia had 20 producers focused on telling local stories. Since the tax credit was cut, they have been unable to keep afloat, and now we only have five. I want to know if the minister will acknowledge the impacts of that choice on those folks.
GEOFF MACLELLAN: Look, I’m not tone deaf, and I certainly don’t block out the impact that is expressed to me in this portfolio and having this relationship with screen and being connected to the film industry and the sector now. Again, there was a number of moving parts around the labour component and what’s shifting in terms of the bulk number of those employed in the industry. I think that there’s a number of different factors that have been impacted.
Having said that, there’s no question that when the credit changed, when the relationship changed and went to the incentive fund, it created, whether perceived or actual - I wasn’t in the conversations, and I was backfilling with information when I took over this portfolio in 2017, but there was no doubt it impacted. The way that the sector changed again, the overall numbers indicate that we’re steady in terms of our market share of productions in the country. I can’t deny things that I’m told and the way in which the industry and the sector changed here. If part of that was an impact around confidence from the sector and people who are in that industry, then that’s a reality that was part of this whole journey with respect to the tax credit becoming the incentive fund.
I have talked to people in the industry, both formally and informally. I think that those who left and moved on to other places are looking to come back, and they’re looking for these new opportunities as there is a need for content. By way of the investment, and by way of almost 50 productions last year, $24 million on the ground, it’s not as if the province isn’t investing. Some of the requests, the demands, and the suggestions around what could change, to my knowledge and my history on this, they have never been specific that this fund isn’t working. It’s around the other aspects: increasing it, changing the threshold, and investing in the hard-wiring, the infrastructure - things like that.
Moving forward, just like tourism, if there are things that we can do and support the growth in that sector, then we’ll certainly do that. Again, it’s apples and oranges, so I’m not comparing one to the other. Tourism is a massive sector, one of our key pillars. Quite frankly, we have held the line, by and large, in terms of the budgetary spend on tourism year over year. We stay within that certain range. We’re strategic in our marketing. We’re strategic in how we build out our relationship with Destination Canada, how we target those markets in the U.S., the U.K., China, et cetera. We stick to the program, and once we make those decisions around budget and such, we work with and allow the experts to do their thing.
It’s the same for film. The money is allocated. The money has been identified. This is the budget that we’re talking about here. Obviously, even in the thick of it, many in the industry stayed and continued to work on how they would continue to grow and flourish here and have opportunities for productions and such. Clearly, we want to make sure that we’re doing our best now and moving forward, that we’re supporting them. Again, confidence is significant. Feeling that they’re supported by their government is critical. I think that this investment and the willingness to have these conversations and continue to look and see what we can do next is critical. For a lot of people. there’s no signal whatsoever that anything is going to change. I know not to tell stories around other things, but the Digital Animation Tax Credit folks who utilize that program were in to meet me not long ago with the Minister of Immigration. Basically, their thing was, don’t change it. For certainty and stability reasons, their position was that where it’s at is okay.
Obviously, that may be a very different conversation with Screen Nova Scotia as we get to this five-year review. They may look at different things, but I think that one of their overall fundamental positions is going to be to start looking at ways we can do it differently. Is it changing? Is it being reduced? That’s going to be the big question, of course. The importance of certainty and the importance of open communication with the sector is critical.
Again, given the fact of 50 productions, we’re not losing a whole lot of ground in terms of national market share. We always want more, don’t get me wrong. I brought the issue up, and I agree with the member about this whole notion of the new world of content that we’re in. There will be opportunities there, and like everything else, we have to play our role to help the private sector and the industry take advantage of that.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Earlier you mentioned a soundstage, and I said that I would come back to it. It is true that we don’t have a soundstage. We used to. Now it’s Nova Scotia Power.
You mentioned the Culture Link as well. I think the Culture Link is a great project, but that sound stage or studio - which presumably 22 Minutes will move into - is not a full-on soundstage. Large productions can’t come in because it won’t be big enough, basically. Given that there are some productions that are still interested in Nova Scotia, but a soundstage would make us much more interesting, competitive, and attractive, is the government planning on investing in a sound stage?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: It is a conversation that I have had many times. The industry has identified - I hope I’m not violating negotiations or commercial sensitivities, but they’re using a place now that they would love to see long term. I’ll leave it at that. Those who are involved in those conversations will work on that.
Screen and others who are in the sector have convinced me that it is a critical piece of infrastructure. The challenge is, and I think that the member heard my opening comments, when we changed the way we do business in terms of ERDT to Business, the leads in terms of spending has become our Crown corporations. We’re really focused on policy and regulation and things like that that connect to the private sector. The way it used to be is not the way it is anymore. We don’t do direct incentives in terms of subsidies or grants or things like that. The way we structured the Department of Business, when there’s a legitimate opportunity that fits into a mandate, there are some avenues.
I told Mike this during our conversation: Invest Nova Scotia is the perfect place to consider something like this. Not to put the Invest board on the spot or under too much pressure to do this, I think that they are the absolute perfect fit. That’s who worked with Marc Almon on the Link, and I think that they’re in the same place. The mandate that they have is perfectly aligned with something like this, so it goes without saying that they would know where the Department of Business fits, but clearly Invest Nova Scotia is independent. They will do an assessment, but I think that submitting something to them would be a good place.
We did give that indication to Screen Nova Scotia, and everything that that organization does, they do well. I know that if they were to do an application and have that business case put forth, I know it would be of quality and I think that Invest would give that every consideration.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you, it’s great to hear that answer. The current incentive system includes a 2 per-cent bonus for shooting in rural parts of Nova Scotia. However, the feedback from the industry that we’ve received is that 2 per cent is not significant enough to encourage shifting more of the production to rural areas.
Are you hearing that feedback or observing that the bonus is in ineffective and, if so, do you have plans to improve it? I’ll leave it there.
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I think the long and the short of it is that for me sort of anecdotally, I thought it would have more that incentive to be outside of the metro area, outside the core would be something that producers and crews would be particularly interested in, but that hasn’t been the case.
I’m trying to remember - I don’t want to put Laura from Screen Nova Scotia on the spot, but I think we had this discussion when Mike, Laura and I met. It was probably a month and a half ago or so, maybe give or take, and this is one of the things that we were sort of discussing and Bernie is always sort of, you know, follow the data and sort of the trendlines here with respect to this fund and there are so many other pieces around why locations are the desired locations. Again, when you look at something like The Lighthouse, that was just tailor-made for Yarmouth, and Mike and Laura both said that that’s where it was going to be no matter what.
That hasn’t been a significant impact of having that incentive to bring people outside of metro because the factors of location are just way bigger than what that financial incentive would be. That was a carryover and the numbers were the same as what they were in the old tax credit.
I think that this certainly warrants a discussion again when we get into the five-year review if that’s something that should look different or should be adjusted, then I think that might be something that we would look at for sure. If, again, with respect to this, it’s pretty static in its five-year review, but we’re open to the logic and the common sense. So, if people like Laura and Mike and Screen Nova Scotia and those in the sector are seeing this as not being as impactful as it should be then, obviously, there would be some rationale for us to change that. We’re always open to it but, again, it will stay pretty constant until we hit that five-year review.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The large budget projects that have dried up since the cancellation of the tax credit brought in a lot of out-of-province investment than the smaller productions that the incentive fund prioritizes. The Directors Guild of Canada estimates that three to four times more out-of-province investment was happening with the tax credit. I’m wondering, has the department done any analysis on how the change has impacted the department’s goal as an increasing export dollar is coming into Nova Scotia and creating jobs for Nova Scotians?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I thank the member for the question. I just wanted to get some clarification from Deputy Miller on that one.
Basically, it’s a good point and I think that it’s at the foundation of the rationale for this change and it’s because when you’re looking at the indigenous sort of Nova Scotia production, all of these incentives are based on Nova Scotia writers, producers, et cetera. It’s taking that homegrown talent, taking the people who are here who build the foundation and the framework for the industry, and exporting that outward.
Don’t get me wrong. Any imported money - so producers coming into Nova Scotia - whether it’s location or it’s crews or it’s expertise that’s here on the ground, or it’s the added value of accessing money from the incentive fund, that’s all great and it’s critically important and it speaks to the value of the industry. But when we’re talking truly, the export piece of that it becomes about how much we can use that money to leverage local talents, skill, content, investment, et cetera.
Obviously, you have that final product move out to the rest of the world -again of course, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Mr. D, and Trailer Park Boys are the big ones, but there are all kinds of smaller productions that are taking place. Again, go back down the road of the new world of on-demand content, but I think that that will certainly become the export portion of this particular sector.
So, certainly with an export lens and any investment that we can make into Nova Scotians and send their product out, is exactly what we’re looking for in terms of our mandate for film for the Department of Business as well as for the Department of Trade.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Just to follow up that question, does the department or NSBI have any measures of how many out-of-province dollars the current projects approved through the incentive fund are bringing in?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: To the member, there’s a projected expenditure of Nova Scotia of $77 million for the 50 productions, but if she would just indulge us, we can go back to the department and drill down a little bit. We can figure out and probably decipher and screen out our indigenous Nova Scotia productions versus which ones are outside coming in. We’ll just do some work on that and see how specific we can get, but we will provide whatever we can.
SUSAN LEBLANC: That would be great, thank you. The $2 million in equity funding that was cancelled in 2015, along with the tax credit, was really important to the industry as we’ve discussed before. It helped productions leverage other funding from different levels of government, but also different private funds. It was especially important to small productions that are the key to building and showcasing the Nova Scotia talent. Of course, that talent pool is key to attracting larger productions.
It’s all part of this beautiful web. Can you explain why it was cut and are you considering reinstating it?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: Two things - I’ll be as quick as I can here on this one because it’s multifaceted.
One aspect of it is that we shifted to the Creative Industries Fund which landed under CCH and that is a $2 million investment, so the money was equitable. I think the original one was $2 million and that’s now shifted to CCH.
Having said that, if there was one issue outside of all the other things, and I don’t want to rank importance for Laura and Mike, but outside of the overall allotment of money for the incentive fund, even over and above the infrastructure piece, although it’s all important - this particular piece around the equity fund is the one that they continue to bring back and bring back and bring back because they just link it to the importance of absolutely organic productions.
Soundstages and investment and bringing people in, that’s all great. But when you’re talking about the writers who are sort of independent and they’re looking to put together a screenplay or have something funded that they can get as a pitch - as a plan that they can commercialize - then that matters to them.
I think that having access to that money - there was 123 projects funded under the CCH program. Without question, that’s one that Screen Nova Scotia have been advocating for and we’re still talking about what that looks like moving forward.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed for the NDP caucus. We’ll move over to the PC Party for just a bit over 10 minutes.
The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: If it’s okay, I’m just going to go back to some quick questions regarding tourism since we only have a bit of time here left. They’re just mostly stats- related questions that I’m hoping the minister can either provide today or at least get it to me at a later date.
I wanted to ask, with regard to the tourism revenues breakdown, we have some numbers related all the way back to 2015 for regional percentages. What we have here on file is Halifax metro would’ve seen tourism revenues in the way of 59 per cent; Bay of Fundy, Annapolis Valley 15 per cent; Cape Breton 12 per cent; Northumberland Shore at 8 per cent; South Shore 8 per cent; and Yarmouth and the Acadian Shores at 3 per cent.
I’m wondering, could the minister and his staff provide me with the most up-to-date regional figures? The last that we have are 2015; they’re quite outdated.
GEOFF MACLELLAN: So, 2015 was the group that the member has, and the next round of those was done in 2017. They are public, they’re on the website, but Kelly is just going to dig through and see if she can find them before we leave. If we don’t find it in the next eight minutes, the honorable member will get them to her for sure.
For continuation on that piece, the tourism folks will have our people in the field to do this again for 2019, so this is all based on exit surveys. We will have, give or take a calendar year from now, 2019’s numbers as well. The frequency and the speed by which we produce them is going to get quicker because they are valuable. We will see if we can pull together 2017 ones now but if not, we will get them to you shortly. The 2019 ones will be out this time next year.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, minister, for making the promise to get those numbers to me very shortly. It’s also good to know that we will be doing them more frequently because it is extremely valuable information, and with technology nowadays we should be able to produce those things fairly easily.
I would also like to ask, going back to my questions regarding the drop in American visitors, what statistics does your department have around the increase/decrease, year over year, for American visitors coming in by automobile, and the same thing with regard to by plane?
I am going to mention that boat again, but it’s not only the ferry. Obviously those coming over on the Yarmouth ferry, but we could have visitors coming in on their own private boats, as well. Do we have a breakdown of the increase/decrease, year over year, of Americans arriving by automobile, plane, and by boat?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: The information that the member is looking for, there is extensive data on all that from 2013 to 2017 on the website. Again, Kelly can get that for the member. The member is ahead of her time a little bit. We are just about to release 2018, but it’s not public yet. Certainly for her comparison, given the interest in this particular aspect of the numbers, they will be coming out very shortly and that will give a good context for where we are present day.
We will get up to 2017, and then 2018 will be coming out very soon.
ALANA PAON: Again, I’m just going to continue this series of, I hope, quick-to-answer questions here for the sake of the amount of time we have left.
Can the minister respond as to how much Tourism Nova Scotia would have spent on consulting fees during the last fiscal year and what those consulting fees would have been spent on?
GEOFF MACLELLAN: I thank the member for the question. We are just doing some quick calculations on what we would spend in the consulting fees area. By and large the consulting fees, so to speak, would be on more of the activity side related to marketing. The in-house marketing - we do it in the U.K. We referenced China in your previous line of questioning.
The agency of record which becomes the very significant Tourism Nova Scotia investment in marketing, is out of Ontario - DDB Canada - but have a tremendous amount local content here. Trampoline is the big player here that has the relationship.
We’ve got the number. Collectively, it’s $4 million, but the lion’s share of that is the agency of record, which is DDB. The other pieces, the in-house marketing reps, one-off research projects - that would be pretty easy to get the breakdown, but I can assure the member and the House that the lion’s share of that investment is the agency of record, which is DDB.
ALANA PAON: I would very much appreciate a breakdown of the consulting fees of that $4 million, even though the lion’s share does go to one provider. I’d also like to know what’s in the budget for consulting for this upcoming fiscal year. I would ask if those numbers could be broken down and provided to me, that would be very useful.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Again, I’m going to get Kelly to backfill with that on some of the specifics. Comparatively, the numbers that we’re looking at in terms of the estimate is about $3.5 million for that collective set of activities I referenced earlier. Comparing apples and apples, the previous number of $4 million - $3.5 million would be for this year, give or take, but we’ll tighten the bolts on the actual numbers and we can get them to you.
ALANA PAON: There’s only a few moments left here. There are a few bits and pieces of information I had asked for in previous estimates sessions I have not yet received. I’d have to go back throughout the Hansard to make certain that I know exactly what they are, but if the minister could actually please provide those to me because some of those are from the last fiscal year.
THE CHAIR: Order. Time has elapsed that was allotted for today.
The honourable Deputy House Leader.
KEITH IRVING: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to meet again.
THE CHAIR: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report its business to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 3:22 p.m.]