HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 4, 2019
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: The Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply will come to order. We will continue with the Estimates of the Department of Environment, and the Progressive Conservative caucus for one hour.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Merci beaucoup, Monsieur le Président. As I am only subbing for a few moments until my folks show up, I thought that since I represent such a coastal community that maybe we can talk a little bit about the plan the department has revolving around sea level rise, especially when it comes to municipal infrastructures and other infrastructures in our communities.
What kind of projects can I expect to see for small municipalities and towns?
HON. MARGARET MILLER: Thank you, and it’s a great question. The Coastal Protection Act is certainly top of mind in the department, something we’ve been working on for a long time. I really want to also thank all the staff who have done so much work on it.
This is not about projects, this isn’t about going back to see the jobs, the things that have already been done or to rectify issues with housing or businesses that are in low areas and see about issues with that. What it is about is municipal planning and making sure that when people want to build on the coastline that they have the appropriate setbacks to deal with climate change in the future. Then we know that we are probably going to have over a metre of sea rise over the next 100 years, so it’s very important to make sure that moving forward people aren’t building in the areas that are certainly beautiful during the summer, but when you get weather like we’ve had yesterday and the day before that those houses don’t become flooded and the homeowners are blaming the province because, whatever. So that’s what the basis of the legislation is, it’s about future planning.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: You know, I say my interactions with the department revolve around those kinds of things, but they also revolve around some compliance issues, people asking questions about septic systems and those kinds of things. How do you find working with the regional offices? As an MLA, what’s the best way to interact with those groups?
MARGARET MILLER: I hope I’m understanding you correctly - you want to know about the regional offices and people who have issues and asking about their issues. We do have many Department of Environment offices all around the province, I can’t give you an exact number - I can in a second, we have 40. So it’s very easy for citizens just to go into those offices, or if they want to and they have more questions that they want answered by email, they can certainly reach out to their MLAs who also know the numbers of our departments and can get that information for them.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Thank you, those are all my questions. The member for Pictou West is here to take up the rest of the time, so thank you very much for your answers.
THE CHAIR: Ms. MacFarlane.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you for being here and giving me this opportunity. I want to start off with regard to the announcement made last Friday. I think that, as indicated, the right thing was done. I think that for anyone to know that they have to make such a colossal decision on something that affects so many lives, not just of course the constituency that I represent of Pictou West, but Pictou County and really all Nova Scotia, as we realize the economic impact that this will have on the province given the potential that Northern Pulp will have to close in 2020.
As regards the 19 deficiencies that you recognized, a couple of them really popped out with me and I was happy to see that you recognized them, because they are extremely important and of great concern to my community, and what I’m hearing from some of my constituents. One of the ones was with regard to health. I know that one of the submissions, in particular the one the Town of Pictou had sent, was regarding Pictou’s watershed and the potential of an effluent pipe running through our watershed.
What is there out of those 19 deficiencies, or what would make you comfortable in granting and approving an effluent pipe to go through Pictou’s watershed?
MARGARET MILLER: I certainly recognize that there were a lot of comments made by a lot of interested parties, including the Town of Pictou. We know that water is a priority for the department, so we want to make sure that if there are any pipes going through the area that the pipes are adequately installed and that there are safeguards in place to make sure that it will mitigate any leakages, that if any possible leakages do happen that they can be addressed quickly. There can be different variations of what that looks like, but primarily our concern is also that water is a priority and we have to make sure that the public does have safe drinking water.
I can’t really speak to a lot of specifics on the EA because we know that the focus report is coming back and I’m still going to have to make another ruling. So, a lot of detail certainly I can’t talk about, but I can talk about the generalities.
KARLA MACFARLANE: So one of the other grave concerns I have around the project is of course, everyone has heard, I was never satisfied with the Level 1. I believe if it’s not worth scrutinizing, it’s not worth doing, and I believe still today that a Level 2 environmental assessment would have been more appropriate, but we are where we are, and I believe the right steps are being taken with caution and I applaud you on that, I really do.
If you, at the end of the day, are not comfortable in moving forward with something, you’ve lost all integrity and that’s how I look at it. I would never compromise my integrity on something that I did not 100 per cent believe was not going to affect health, because if you don’t have your health you have nothing. I will never, ever protect jobs over health - never.
One of my concerns in the 19 deficiencies that you acknowledge is that we don’t require a completion of an HHRA, which is the human health risk assessment, in advance.
I am wondering, was part of one of your 19 requests that you want to have a health risk assessment, especially given, in particular over the years, the emissions that we have dealt with in the Town of Pictou? If it wasn’t for public pressure in that community, we would probably never have seen a precipitator.
The technology is there, and we have seen that, but I will tell you - and I know that there are even members from the Liberal government who came to Pictou - the past Health and Wellness Minister, Mr. Glavine, could not even finish his jog in the morning because of the air emissions. Now, they have been improved, and that’s what technology can do; however, there is no comfort right now for the residents of Pictou knowing that no one is looking into having a human health risk assessment done.
I want to confirm - is this going to be part of moving forward and having confirmation that something like that will be done to bring comfort to the residents of Pictou?
MARGARET MILLER: You know, as I say again, I can’t speak to a lot of specifics on this case, but what I can inform you is that that is part of the A process is to look at baseline health, what the situation is now, and what the impacts would be because of a project.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Okay. I guess I will make it simple - do you believe there should be a health risk assessment done for the people of Pictou before this project moves forward?
MARGARET MILLER: Again, the member is asking me to speak to specifics on this, to make a commitment on this, and I can’t do that at this point. We have requested information from the company and some of that is based on the health of the community and we will have to see if we can make a judgment on the information they provide.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Would it be fair, at this point in time, for me to go back to the residents in my area and say their health doesn’t matter; that a health risk assessment is not important to this government?
MARGARET MILLER: I can guarantee that the people of your area certainly are aware, and we know that in the 1,700 pages of a report that came from Northern Pulp we had 918 responses, or well over 900 responses, and those people had gone through the documentation and saw that there was input there about the health of the community. There was a request for more information on the baseline health which is part of every EA process and it will be carried forward as part of this process as well. How detailed that needs to be may yet be determined.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Mr. Chair, I believe the first deficiency that you mentioned was regarding the effluent and that there wasn’t a clear understanding of what all that composition would be that makes up what would be going out into the Northumberland Strait for effluent. So, your request would be to have a better understanding of what is going out there, but I understand from the 1,700 pages from Northern Pulp that it’s hard for them to determine what the exact chemical components will be until the system is up and running. Therefore, how can we study lobster larvae without knowing what we’re looking for because we don’t know actually what the effluent is going to contain in chemicals. So, I’m wondering how you and your department feel you can move forward in knowing that you’re never going to know what the actual component is - isn’t that a risk in itself?
MARGARET MILLER: Again, you know, certainly the effluent and the effluent composition is an important part of this EA process that has been identified beyond the Level 1. We know that it is the appropriate class level for an effluent treatment plan and part of that determination of how that goes forward and the information we need - we need to know what is in that effluent and how it will be treated and how it will be disposed of.
KARLA MACFARLANE: With regard to interaction with or communication with Prince Edward Island, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on your involvement with this project and with the government of P.E.I.
MARGARET MILLER: Yes. I’ve had no direct comments from the government of P.E.I. I have not spoken with anybody from there. I’ve certainly had fishers from the area who responded online in the online comments, but there has been no direct conversation with me.
KARLA MACFARLANE: So, just to clarify, there was no conversation with the minister of environment from P.E.I.?
MARGARET MILLER: There was not.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Mr. Chair, what amount of interaction/communication did you have with the federal government with regard to your announcement on Friday?
MARGARET MILLER: Let me be very clear - as soon as the submission came forward, I had no interaction with anyone. I made myself very unavailable. I knew that the decision that had to be made was going to be based on the evidence that was before us, that I would be reading all the information in the report, that I would be reading all the public comments, and that the information would be based on all of that, and the science and the evidence. There were no conversations, not with federal government, not with the P.E.I. government, not with the New Brunswick government - not with even my caucus members.
You know, there has never been a conversation about the impacts of Northern Pulp. As the Minister of Environment, I had to make sure that I could base my ruling and my judgment on the best available science and the evidence that was before me.
KARLA MACFARLANE: So, there’s confusion. There was a post by our federal member, Sean Fraser, on Facebook, and I’ve had the opportunity to clarify with my MP, and it states that there were a number of conversations and that there were departments - Transport, DFO, Health, and Environment, PSPC - that were involved in helping you, to assist with this decision. So, I’m not sure if I’m just not understanding or if there’s miscommunication, but certainly anyone can go on Facebook and see the posting. It was alarming, but I do appreciate that day you were asked point-blank during that announcement if there was any involvement and you said, no.
took it upon myself to contact my MP after he had made this posting because I was like, well, we were told no and then he listed the federal departments that were involved and were able to help your department, which I’m grateful for if they did actually because I think that your department certainly has expertise as well, but I think that this is really a federal issue and that there should have been involvement.
So, do you want to comment again on that or maybe someone within your department was working with them?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, I certainly can clarify that. You asked me if I had had contact from any of these departments and I did not. The department reviewers have had comments. There were public comments or there were comments from those departments as part of the submission and the reviewers’ comments that came to me. These are all things that I took into account and I did read. So, they did have input, they certainly did, but there were no conversations, or nothing came directly to me outside of the whole process of the application and the submissions.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Is there current dialogue happening right now with your staff and CEAA?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, the staff does have limited dialogue with many stakeholders actually in their work, and we’ll continue to do so when they need clarification on issues.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Can you just clarify what the timelines are, again, for the focus group and how your department will be assisting Northern Pulp in preparations for that?
MARGARET MILLER: As of the date of the announcement, it would be 25 days after that that the terms of reference have to be ready and go to the company. They’ve already had a letter, they know generally what they are going to need to do, some things were specified, but the focus report gives the very detailed accounting of exactly what is expected of them. So that is about 25 days. I have asked staff to move quickly on that because I know that this is imperative to the community and the sooner that they can get on top of these issues, the better for everybody involved.
So, I’m just reading some notes while we’re going here too, but anyway that’s the terms of reference there. Once they get the terms of reference, they will have up to a year for the focus report to provide all that information back to the department.
KARLA MACFARLANE: I didn’t understand giving them a year - if Boat Harbour is closing in 2020, what is the purpose of allowing them to have a year?
MARGARET MILLER: That is the standard time in the Act for an EA process, for the focus report. It’s what we’re doing; it’s in EA legislation. That is the normal time forward, that doesn’t mean that they have to use a year. They may have some of that information ready now, it may be ready in two months, three months, that will be up to the proponent to make sure they get all that information ready and get it to the department as soon as possible. Once we have all that information then we will be able to go through the process of a public consultation again, and then the time to make a ruling on the additional information.
KARLA MACFARLANE: So, you are aware that there was no public consultation on this route. Originally, we had Plan A to go out through Pictou Harbour, but this new Plan B, the route that’s to go across the causeway, there was no public consultation - are you aware of that?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, I am.
KARLA MACFARLANE: And what are your thoughts on that?
MARGARET MILLER: There was still a 30-day public input period, so the public was very vocal about that in their public comments, I read that many times. You know, the people that did or didn’t have concerns, and so with that public input period of 30 days, I think that gave them some time for public comment.
KARLA MACFARLANE: My understanding is that TIR has indicated that they would not be in favour, would not allow an effluent pipe to be built on the shoulder going across the causeway. I know that the Town of Pictou, we had been really excited when natural gas was coming to our area and going into Michelin and going into Northern Pulp, but we had worked hard to try to get a pipe to go across the causeway so that we would have access to natural gas in Pictou, but we were denied because it would be - well, it just wasn’t going to be approved.
I’m wondering now with the department, TIR indicating that they would not allow an effluent pipe to be on the shoulder of the road, what other options, in your opinion, would there be?
MARGARET MILLER: That is certainly something that I also read in the report and it would be comment from TIR making those statements.
I can’t speak to what the solutions will be. My role as a regulator is to make sure that anything that comes to me is either approved or not. That will be something that TIR will have to work out with Northern Pulp.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Will there be discussions - will you be included in those discussions at all?
MARGARET MILLER: My role as a regulator is to evaluate the evidence that comes back. I certainly wouldn’t be part of the negotiations between TIR and Northern Pulp.
KARLA MACFARLANE: In the 19 deficiencies that were listed, if Northern Pulp - and I’m aware that they’ve already started working on those and they will be submitting those perhaps as soon as they get the information - are you looking to have all 19 met before you will proceed on a decision? Or if they came and said okay, we have 15 of the 19 done and maybe those are the 15 priority out of the 19, are you willing at that point in time to let them begin building and wait for the remaining information?
MARGARET MILLER: The focus report, as long as it is due within the year, must deal with the terms of reference that are provided to them. So all of the material that is requested in that terms of reference will have to be brought forward before any further action can be taken by our department.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Going back to emissions, what are the latest reports and the testings you’ve received from Northern Pulp on air emissions?
MARGARET MILLER: I don’t have any specific numbers, but we are aware that they are compliant with our industrial approval. I believe all those figures are public as well.
KARLA MACFARLANE: At the Granton location, what is the number of staff currently working there?
MARGARET MILLER: At the Northern Pulp site?
KARLA MACFARLANE: No, at the Granton Environment Department, in Granton.
MARGARET MILLER: At the Granton site there are three inspectors. There is an engineer, a manager, one administrative person, and they also receive hydrologist support from the Truro office.
KARLA MACFARLANE: I’m sorry, three engineers was it, or three inspectors?
MARGARET MILLER: Three inspectors, one engineer, one manager, one administrative person, and then also the additional support from the Truro office when it is needed.
KARLA MACFARLANE: For the three inspectors, what actual territory do they look after and are responsible for?
MARGARET MILLER: They are responsible for all of Pictou County.
KARLA MACFARLANE: So just Pictou County and nothing beyond Pictou County?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes.
KARLA MACFARLANE: Will there be any summer students working in that location?
MARGARET MILLER: Not that I am aware of.
KARLA MACFARLANE: With regard to the inspectors, do they actually go into Northern Pulp to retrieve the data on air emissions? Is it sent to them, or is it located right in their location?
MARGARET MILLER: The data is sent to the inspectors, but the inspectors do visit the site on a regular basis as well.
KARLA MACFARLANE: My last question is: Do you believe that any data collected from Northern Pulp with regard to air emissions should be collected by a third party? Do you believe that it should be collected by them or by a third party?
MARGARET MILLER: The inspectors who collect this information already are third parties. They are professional engineers who remit the data to the Department of Environment. They do have a professional standard that they need to uphold.
THE CHAIR: Mr. Halman.
TIM HALMAN: Good afternoon, minister. I have some questions related to lakes. I represent Dartmouth East, the City of Lakes, as you know. As you probably know, the lakes are integral to the history and culture of Dartmouth. My colleague Mr. MacKay, who grew up in Dartmouth East, certainly attests to that.
My questions for the next little while will relate specifically to Lake Micmac and Lake Charles, very much the heart and soul of my community in many respects and, of course, the Shubie Canal, which cuts right through that. Minister, I have found in my time as an MLA that often there is a grey area in terms of the scope of responsibility the province has with respect to our lakes vis-à-vis HRM. I am wondering if you could clarify here at Estimates the scope of responsibility the province has to our lakes.
MARGARET MILLER: The responsibility for the Department of Environment regarding the lakes is to the quality of the water. In swimming areas, they go out on a regular basis and test for coliform bacteria there. If the lakes are polluted, for whatever cause, then those swimming sites are closed down until they’re determined to be safe. We look after the quality of the water, making sure the water is safe, and also that there is enough quantity of water.
TIM HALMAN: Can you give examples of where there is overlap of responsibilities between the province and HRM? Are there examples of overlap of responsibilities?
MARGARET MILLER: I know that there is an overlap of responsibilities as far as different departments go, certainly. Lands and Forestry also has a role to play with some of the lakes on invasive species and what is going on with that with algae content. They give a lot of advice to different lakes. HRM’s focus is on recreation, where ours is on public health.
TIM HALMAN: Is there constant communication between HRM, Environment, and Lands and Forestry? It sounds like there is an overlap of responsibilities. Oftentimes, constituents in Dartmouth will find that they are confronted with a myriad of bureaucratic hurdles to get through when they try to get to an issue related to a lake.
My question is: Is there that constant communication between departments and municipalities?
MARGARET MILLER: Absolutely, there is. I know that within government we have been taking down silos all the time. Very often, we have group meetings that may involve four or five different departments reflecting on an issue. We have been working very hard to make sure that the silos have come down and that we’re all working towards the same thing, instead of having different paths towards a solution. That has been very effective. We have a great working relationship with HRM as well.
TIM HALMAN: With respect to the blue-green algae that was an issue in Dartmouth lakes last summer, is there a strategic plan for the Department of Environment moving forward with algae that will be in our lakes?
I recognize it’s multifactorial, often, the causation of blue-green algae. I believe the residents that I have the privilege of representing want to know that the province has a plan moving forward to deal with this. Within the context of climate change certainly, I think all Nova Scotians want to know what the plan is to deal with the sustainability of our lakes, not only in Dartmouth but throughout the province.
MARGARET MILLER: That is a good question. It’s something that we have dealt with in the past, the algae situation. We know that with climate change, we’re going to see some changes. Our temperatures are getting warmer. We have different species that are coming. I think there was a situation with a flower of some kind in a Dartmouth lake during my time at DNR.
As far as environment goes, it’s about water safety. I know we did work with some lakeshore residents - I think it was in Cumberland County, or Colchester, along that border somewhere, Mattatall Lake. They were having some issues as well, and they ended up setting up a committee and looked at where the food source for the algae is, which is an important factor, looking for straight pipes - making sure that there were no straight pipes going in which would be feeding the algae. What could be the other causes? Could it have been cutting the forest around the area, runoff from the land? They’re looking at all those things.
There was a small study done, and there has been some work done on that, but it’s a very complex problem. There could be algae for many, many reasons. The focus of the Department of Environment is mostly about water safety, and algae doesn’t usually have a health hazard.
TIM HALMAN: Am I correct in saying, then, that there’s no specific strategic plan to deal with these types of algae? Am I correct in saying that?
MARGARET MILLER: I’ll ask you repeat that, please.
TIM HALMAN: No problem. Am I correct in saying then that there is no specific plan to deal with the algae in the Dartmouth lakes? Is it correct to say that, that there is no specific plan?
MARGARET MILLER: I want to acknowledge that you have been meeting with the department a little bit to address some of the concerns in the lakes. I certainly appreciate the work that you have been doing on that. Algae is only one of many concerns about many of the lakes. It’s not something we’re specifically working on at this point.
TIM HALMAN: Staying on the topic of the health and sustainability of lakes, Lake Micmac specifically, has had a weed issue. At the bottom of the lake, weeds are growing up, and residents have great concerns about that. Of course, as many of you know, Lake Micmac feeds into Lake Banook, and many of our training facilities on Lake Banook go into Lake Micmac.
For a few years, HRM has been responsible for clearing those weeds. It’s my understanding that that responsibility will come to an end, possibly at the end of this summer. To what extent would the province assume responsibility for the health and sustainability of Lake Micmac? Is there a plan to deal with that? I know HRM has looked after it, but my understanding is that that may be coming to an end fairly soon. Could you comment on that please?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, we are very aware of that actually. I did a tour of one of the aquatic clubs here last summer and saw some of the weeds that were growing in the lake. Weeds are natural. They don’t pose a health risk to humans. We focus more on general water conditions.
TIM HALMAN: Am I correct in saying, minister, that there won’t be a provincial role in removing those weeds, moving forward? Is that a fair statement?
MARGARET MILLER: That is correct.
TIM HALMAN: Perhaps it’s a conversation we can have moving forward. Certainly, it’s an issue of great concern to the residents along Lake Micmac.
With respect to the regulation of boat houses, last summer on Lake Micmac, we had a boathouse emerge. It seemed like it came out of nowhere. As you know, minister, as an MLA, you’ll get calls from your constituents, individuals, wanting to know how this appeared and what regulations the province has regarding boathouses. I’m wondering if you can clarify for me what the regulations are that the province has with respect to boathouses and the monitoring of boathouses. For the residents of Dartmouth East there have been a few concerns expressed that where one appears, others can appear throughout our system of lakes in Dartmouth. I’m wondering if you can clarify the provincial regulations on boathouses.
MARGARET MILLER: It’s funny that you mentioned that because last summer was the first time that I actually saw boathouses on those lakes too, and I was surprised to see them. It’s not something that the Department of Environment regulates. We do regulate septic, and of course we’re regulating the water quality on the lakes. If the coliform levels are too high, the lakes have to be closed down to swimming. That could be an impact of boathouses. We don’t know what is leaving those boathouses, which could provide food for algae and coliform.
TIM HALMAN: Keeping with the theme of the sustainability and health of lakes, I’m curious, minister, if you have been briefed on a major quarry operation in Dartmouth East that, during major rain events, discharges significant amounts of silt directly into what many in my community agree is a major, important headwater lake, Lake Charles. That feeds a very important lake ecosystem that runs both south and north. I was wondering if you have been briefed on that issue of siltation going into Lake Charles.
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, I believe that’s Conrad quarry you are mentioning. They do have an industrial approval. Conditions of the industrial approval would be to make sure that they don’t have silt going into the lake, that they’re looking after where the water is going from the quarry to make sure it doesn’t go into a lake. If there are any issues in that, that’s certainly something our inspection and enforcement compliance department would be looking at.
TIM HALMAN: Residents have expressed to me that in the last 10 years, they have seen a dramatic increase in both severity and frequency of silt going into the lake. It’s a long-standing problem. I’m curious as to solutions being put forward by the department to stop this. For residents on Lakes Charles Drive, it is a major problem, impacting property values, but above and beyond that, the health and sustainability of the lake is critical.
I guess the question is: What are the enforcement options the Department of Environment has on operations such as this to get them to stop these types of events?
MARGARET MILLER: I can tell you that the department is very aware of the situation. There have been complaints before, and we have followed up and taken action, so we’re aware. We know also that there are many causes of silt. It could be coming from the quarry, but it could be coming from other sources as well - things like driveways. There are many issues that could contribute to this.
If we found that a quarry or any proponent was working outside their industrial approval, education is always the first thing. You don’t really want to go and slap fines on businesses right away. We go to them first, make sure that they know what they’re doing wrong, and give them the opportunity to change that. If they don’t, then they would have warnings. If they didn’t adhere to the warnings, then they would have a standard summary offence ticket, and the final action would be court. It would take a little while to get to a court process because we want to make sure that we give proponents the opportunity to rectify any issues first.
TIM HALMAN: Are there ongoing discussions with the Department of Environment to update - or at a minimum analyze - the levels of siltation that go into a lake? Correct me if I’m wrong. My understanding is that the last time that was updated was in the early 1990s. Is there an active attempt within the department to review that? I truly believe that for the majority of people I represent in Dartmouth East, the health and sustainability of lakes and the environment is critical, so I want to know if there’s ongoing work to try to update those regulations of the amount of siltation that goes into a lake.
MARGARET MILLER: I can certainly assure you that the guidelines are being updated on a regular basis, and there are regulatory changes whenever necessary.
TIM HALMAN: Could you outline what the enforcement response time is? When you know that there’s an infraction that has occurred, what happens? Who goes out? What do they analyze? How does communication happen with the company and so forth?
MARGARET MILLER: Onsite, as soon as we receive a complaint, then we send our enforcement team out. Inspectors will go out on the site. They’ll review the process, speak to the owners, find out what’s going on. Then they’ll bring that report back to the department, where the executive director looks at all of that information and determines what the next steps would be. As I said earlier, education is certainly the best tool. Sometimes, operators don’t know exactly what they’re doing wrong. Sometimes, they do. It’s also the department’s job to educate people, let them know, and give them that opportunity to make some changes.
I can’t speak to a certain time frame exactly for that. You have to give the person a reasonable amount of time to make some changes. They will receive a follow-up visit to see if their problem has been rectified. If it hasn’t been rectified, that is reported. There’s an accounting, for lack of a better word, a record, of the enforcement actions. There will be warnings and written warnings, so that they can take further action. If those warnings are not heeded, then it may go to a summary offence ticket. They will be fined for their actions.
Sometimes that doesn’t even work, and it may have to go to a court process. It can be a lengthy process, but we make sure that we do give the proponent the opportunity to correct the problem. Sometimes, you know that they’re just not going to, that they have no intention of proceeding the way that they should, the way that Nova Scotia Environment and Nova Scotians expect them to. In that case, it may go to court. In some cases, it has happened as well that there has been a ministerial order issued to do cleanups or to change actions when it’s necessary.
TIM HALMAN: Is there a baseline that the department has in terms of how many noncompliance orders are given before you recognize you may have to take court action? Is there a number that you have that you go by, or is it a case-by-case situation?
MARGARET MILLER: As you know, every case would be different, and there would be different situations. You would take into account the people that you’re dealing with and their actions or reactions to the department and the visits. We do have a baseline in the policy to help guide the inspectors and the department.
TIM HALMAN: That concludes my questions regarding the lakes.
THE CHAIR: With 13 minutes left, I’ll go to Ms. Smith-McCrossin.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I have just a few questions pertaining to my constituency of Cumberland North. I’m wondering, with cap and trade, if there’s any businesses in Cumberland North in Cumberland County that would be affected by this tax.
MARGARET MILLER: I don’t believe there is. No, it’s the more industrial. There are 21 businesses that are impacted. I know that there are some in Cape Breton and some on the mainland, in Halifax, but I don’t believe there’s anything in Cumberland County.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Thank you for confirming that. I have a question around climate change since that’s one of your portfolios in the Department of Environment. Can you let me know what your department is doing to prepare for the impacts of the changing climate, specifically in Cumberland County? I’m particularly interested in the Chignecto Isthmus.
MARGARET MILLER: I’m going to make a further comment. I was thinking about large businesses when speaking about who would be impacted by cap and trade, and the large fuel suppliers are. You might get a little bit of that there, but as for large industrial polluters, for lack of a better word, GHG emissions is not.
I’m sorry, could you repeat the last part of the last question? I was focused on that one.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Absolutely. Regarding climate change specifically, I’m wondering if there are any specific initiatives that your department is working on in Cumberland County around climate change.
MARGARET MILLER: The initiatives that the department is working on in climate change are things like the Coastal Protection Act and the reduction of GHGs. Obviously, if there is no major industry in that area, it certainly wouldn’t be impacted.
As far as the Coastal Protection Act, it certainly will be impacted because we’re making sure that those areas, those municipal units, do have regulations in place. I know they love building on the coastline. They love building as close to the water as they can and then realize in the Spring or Fall, when we have terrible weather, that they have made a mistake. I have seen a lot of the erosion along the shore. I was going to say where Henry has his cottage, but you’ll know what I mean. Along that shore, you’re seeing the cliffs eroding very quickly. There is work being done there - certainly not by the department but by individual property owners. That’s why the Coastal Protection Act is so important, and that will affect all of Nova Scotia, instead of one area per se.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Are there any incentives for property owners who spend some of their own money to prevent coastal erosion, building rock walls and building up the shoreline? Are there any incentives? I know some property owners are spending a lot of money helping to prevent erosion.
MARGARET MILLER: At the present time, there is nothing from Nova Scotia Environment. We don’t have those kinds of resources. The department is more regulatory. There is not a lot of money going out for that type of project. That’s not to say that in the future it may happen or may not. Municipalities may take the lead on that.
We know that climate change isn’t just a Department of Environment issue. It also has impacts with Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and TIR - you see that yourself along the isthmus, and where that’s going to be. We’re working with Municipal Affairs so that municipalities are aware and have the tools that they need to move forward.
In your area as well, you see the difference with the dike lands. That’s the Department of Agriculture making sure that the dikes are maintained on those dike land properties. As far as supporting homeowners, there’s nothing that’s available at this time.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I don’t know if you had a chance to see the article that was published last week. It included one of our local farmers, Mr. Bacon, also one of the significant property owners along the Chignecto Isthmus - very concerned about the lack of work being done to rebuild some of the dikes back up.
I realize this is the Department of Municipal Affairs, but last week I had brought up the lack of movement around critical infrastructure. One of the pieces in my constituency is around the Chignecto Isthmus.
I am just wondering, is there any role for your department under the portfolio of climate change to work with that department as well as the Department of Agriculture to ensure that there are preventive measures put in place to prevent further erosion and flooding in that area.
MARGARET MILLER: We continue to work with our colleagues at Agriculture, but this is predominantly an issue for Agriculture and TIR to address. With the flooding in the dikes area, if there is construction or work that needed to be done, it may be possible that there would be an environmental assessment to address the issues in the area.
If we receive applications, and we get them from TIR, even though they are going to another government department, we still have the same stringent regulations to make sure that all our issues are handled. We will respond to those as they come.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Just a quick question around another completely different topic - auto salvage yards. I am wondering if the department has given any consideration to applying the association’s standards to all auto salvage yards, not just ones that are over 0.25 hectares in size.
MARGARET MILLER: That is a subject that has actually come up in the department and we have had many conversations about that. The standard right now is 0.25 hectares, but there can be a lot of old cars in 0.25 hectares. It was certainly a concern. What happens to the fluids in those vehicles? Are people removing them soon? Do they have a collection system? Are they just going into the ground? Where are they going?
We are addressing that and having those conversations now. We know changes need to be made. What would they be? There’s a lot more questions than there are answers at this point, but it is certainly something that we recognize and something that we want to move forward with in the near future.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I’m happy to hear that. I do believe the association for auto salvage yards is doing a lot of good work. To your point, if somebody is under the 0.25 hectares, they certainly could still be doing a lot of business and potentially environmental damage. I would be happy to see the department look at the size and the application of the rules there.
How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?
THE CHAIR: I was just checking that. You have just about five minutes.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Okay. I think I can finish up, maybe.
MARGARET MILLER: I can give you a little further information. Operators that have under the 0.25 hectares, if we see that there’s a problem with them, we do speak to them and educate them as to what’s going on. We have to recognize too that these properties become contaminated. They can be tested, and the property owners are still responsible for any contaminated soil in their areas.
Moving forward, operators and businesses need to know that if they’re taking these actions, they can be held responsible in the future for a long time. Cleanup can be very costly.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: A topic that’s very near and dear to my heart is a business that I ended up spending a lot of time working with some of your department’s staff on. That was the issue around the attempt to change inspectors’ hours at local abattoirs. It caused a lot of, I believe, undue stress and hardship to some of our business owners, and some even contemplated closing due to the increased cost it was going to put on their business.
I am just wondering if there is any possibility of that coming up again in the future. Can we be assured that these business owners will be provided inspectors based on what is best for their business?
MARGARET MILLER: It’s very important for Nova Scotia Environment and regulation that inspectors have to be onsite when there is any work being done at the abattoirs. In the past, there have been some issues, and we acknowledge that, mostly I think because of changes of employment in the area of the inspectors. We try to take the inspectors and their concerns into account as well.
Some of them work very long hours and odd hours. Sometimes it’s hard to find an inspector who wants to work the kind of hours that maybe the business wants to. We have worked out an arrangement with the company you are speaking about. We think everything is going to be fine now. They seem to have an inspection service that is going to work with them with their hours, which is what they hope for.
Our main concern is public safety, of course. We were concerned too about some of the late hours and early hours that inspectors were out on the roads and then putting in long days as well. We have to make sure that our inspectors can go to work safely, that they are not having accidents. On the other hand, we also want to take into account the abattoirs, which are important businesses in our communities, and make sure they are able to operate and that we have a good working relationship going forward.
ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I appreciate that, and I do think it did come down to staffing challenges, where an inspector retired and was not replaced. Certainly I hate to see business be compromised or have unnecessary financial hardship possibly because HR planning wasn’t done properly.
I’ll end on that note and just add a similar note around centralization of services. I’m disappointed that we lost the manager for the Department of Environment in Amherst, who wasn’t replaced. We’re always sad to see any staff or any government officials not be replaced in our area because we appreciate having that employment. I’ll just end with that note.
MARGARET MILLER: Centralization, you try to make it the key. You want to make sure that people are available where they can serve the largest area. Certainly that is a challenge. We always have limited staff because departments have limited resources . . .
THE CHAIR: Order. We are now on to the NDP and Ms. Zann for one hour.
LENORE ZANN: Hello again. My colleague had been talking about the lakes, and he mentioned Mattatall Lake. What the people who were doing the studies found there was that clear-cutting and glyphosate spraying had, with a lot of heavy rain, run off into the lake, built up sediment and also created an environment of major food that the green algae was thriving on, including phosphate. Once the clear-cutting and the glyphosate spraying actually stopped, the lake has gotten much healthier, and that blue-green algae has now gone. I think that’s something we need to take into consideration as well.
With that, I want to pass it on to my colleague for a moment who has some constituency questions to ask before I go back to asking other questions about the environment.
MARGARET MILLER: As to Ms. Zann’s comments, when the public who lived around the area of Mattatall Lake started coming to us, we asked them to form an advisory committee around the lake to see where the material was coming from. It is not our understanding that spraying had any part of this. We know there was leachate from the surrounding grounds, but there were also other issues around the lake. It was also the homes around the lake: they were looking for straight pipes; they were looking for septic systems that were going into the lake; material from drains going into the lake. It was the accumulation of a lot of different factors, so labelling it with just one thing certainly isn’t what our understanding is of the situation. It’s a low-flushing lake and I believe that in the last couple of years they haven’t had any issue; again, it has been working much better.
LENORE ZANN: Yes, I know that your department told them that it could be the flushing of the toilets and things like this originally into the lake. But they did that study and they found that that wasn’t what it was. In fact, they found that because there had been major clear-cuts done all around the lake, and within a very short buffer zone, along with the spraying of the VisionMAX, which has glyphosate in it, that that flushed down into the lake when there were heavy rains and it built up sediment. The things that are in the VisionMAX, including the glyphosate, were the things that were actually creating the green algae. In the end, that’s what they felt it was.
I’ve been in very close contact with all of those people and I have a lot of friends who own homes around that lake, many of them actually live in Truro and they summer there. As I said, they feel that that is one of the major things that was a contributing factor. So, whenever there are these green algae found on various lakes, I think that this is something we also need to take into consideration.
Yes, since that has stopped, it has cleaned up. So, with that, I will pass it on to my colleague.
MARGARET MILLER: I do have to restate that that is not our understanding. I know there have been some comments, but it’s not the understanding from the department.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Chender.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I know that Mr. Halman was asking questions about lakes, I didn’t hear all of those questions, but both the member for Dartmouth North and myself have been working on this issue a lot in Dartmouth. Dartmouth is The City of Lakes and most of our lakes are under threat.
It’s my understanding, I know there were some discussions, that there’s overlapping jurisdictions to deal with the issues in our lakes. I know the municipality has been doing some work in that regard, but they don’t even have funding.
My understanding from the municipality is that they’re sort of scraping things together, particularly as it pertains to Lake Banook. There are a lot of issues. One that I’m not sure got canvassed is that Lake Banook is a major economic driver of Dartmouth and in HRM in general. You know, we’re hosting the North American Indigenous Games in 2020, the World Sprint Canoe Championships in 2022, and a number of regional, provincial and national championships in the intervening period.
The weed growth in Lake Banook, which is just one of the issues, as you mentioned; there’s the yellow floating heart; there are the issues in Lake Charles and along the rest of the Shubie chain. My understanding is that there has been little to no action taken on the health of those lakes which, it is my understanding, is the ultimate responsibility of the Department of Environment. But, in general, urban lakes tend to be ignored.
Part of that because certainly, some of the issues relating to those lakes could be from municipal purpose, or from home owners; I understand that. Again, this issue in particular is one that’s close to my heart, close to my constituency and again, has not just ecological impacts, but community impacts, and significant financial impacts.
My own children swim in that lake and it was closed several times last summer, several times the summer before that, because of high bacteria levels. So, you know, there are things that can be done.
I’m not the expert to determine what those things are - we know people have mentioned Phoslock, which can kind of connect with that bacteria growth and slow it; people have mentioned dredging; maintenance, I know there is some maintenance done - but I guess I’m looking for some assurance that the province will work with the municipality and will address the issues that we’re seeing in the Dartmouth lakes.
MARGARET MILLER: I agree about Lake Banook actually. I was there last summer to have a look at the scene at Lake Banook. It was very nice. I think I saw you sitting on the beach with some of your children, which was really nice as well. So, I certainly appreciated it and saw a lot of the grass that was growing there; they identified that it was a problem.
NSE mainly looks after the water - certainly the levels of the water - and also that there’s no bacteria in the water and that it’s safe for people to be able to swim there. We don’t have the financial resources basically to clean up. We don’t have the resources or the responsibility to clean up grass or to clean up an invasive species of weeds. It does not fall under the mandate of the Department of Environment.
HRM does have its own budget. We do work with HRM, but our mandate is mostly about the cleanliness of the water, not on the grass growing or invasive species. We know that urban lakes have a lot of pressures and a lot of input, but it’s the municipal and provincial governments all need to work together in that community to make sure that these lakes are held to the highest standard for the public use.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: I think that the member for Dartmouth East mentioned this, but I think I’m feeling now some shred of the frustration that my constituents feel when they try to address these issues; they’re bounced from one order of government to the next.
So, I guess my real question is: Whose responsibility is invasive species? I’m not talking about the grass; I’m talking about blue-green algae, which is a significant, invasive and deeply problematic species, as is the yellow floating heart that’s in Little Albro Lake and that many think will make its way into big Albro Lake, thereby destroying its recreational opportunities.
There is a huge cost if these things aren’t dealt with. So, I guess my question is: In the minister’s opinion, where does that responsibility lie?
MARGARET MILLER: I agree this can be very concerning, and also as a constituency MLA, we deal with a lot of issues that sometimes don’t have very clear jurisdiction. Invasive species fall under the Department of Lands and Forestry. Certainly, it’s not the Department of Environment. The federal government also has impact with this.
Don’t quote me on this number, but I believe Nova Scotia has 2,400 lakes, I think that’s what I heard at one time here a little while ago. If we were to have the staff look after the condition of 2,400 lakes in this province, it would probably be the only thing the department would be able to look after. So, we have to make sure that our resources go where they’re needed, and when they’re needed, and cover the things that do fall under our mandate.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you. That’s a helpful answer. I certainly will address some questions to the Minister of Lands and Forestry. I guess I’ll leave you with - and if you want to comment that’s fine - Nova Scotia has many lakes and I appreciate the daunting task of looking after all of them to the same standard.
Again, I think we hear a lot from this government that they really care about the economic success of this province. Lake Banook, in particular, is an economic driver for Nova Scotia; it is an economic driver for the HRM, for sure. It is under extreme threat. So, I guess I would just leave it with the minister, and if you’d like to comment, great. If not, that’s fine.
I would hope that some department, somewhere, would want to be involved in ensuring the health of that lake so that we can continue to attract national and international competitions and being the home of paddling. I hear from paddlers and from people involved - you can’t throw a rock in Dartmouth without hitting a former Olympic paddler; it’s not even a joke, it’s true, at least in the circles I run in, I guess. If you talk to them, they’ll tell you that Lake Banook is world renowned in the paddling community because it’s such an unusual natural environment. Most international paddling courses are man-made courses; they’re in the suburbs of some city somewhere and they’re fine for the sort of athletic purpose that they’re used for, but there’s nothing else to recommend them.
We are blessed in Dartmouth to have an international-grade paddling course in the middle of a beautiful community. That community embraces paddling, and the paddlers embrace it right back. If we lose that lake, it will be devastating. It will be a devastating loss not just to Dartmouth but really, I think, to the province.
So, I am hopeful that any number of departments could be involved - I know there are other conversations with the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage around facilities and things like that - but, in this case, ensuring the health of the lake.
MARGARET MILLER: I certainly respect your concern about Lake Banook and you’re not wrong. It certainly is an economic driver and is very important to you and your community and to the city.
Mr. Halman pointed out Lake Charles where he lives; in Mount Uniacke, there are many lakes there as well that I hear about from my constituents; we hear the people in Cumberland or North Colchester County and Mattatall Lake. So, in trying to determine what action needs to be taken where, it’s all in the eyes of who’s looking at that lake and how important it is to them. That’s not to say that they aren’t all important.
The good news is, with the efforts to reduce acid rain, we’ve seen a lot decrease in that. I remember years ago we used to talk about acid rain all the time and we’ve seen, with the efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, the acid rain levels are going down and the lakes are actually healthier now than they have been for years.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Not Lake Banook.
MARGARET MILLER: That’s generally, in past decades. So, that’s a good thing.
I think, with the effects of the increased temperatures, we’re going to see that algae become more of a problem. And we’re going to have to figure out somewhere, and with who, is going to be able to address some of those; some of that is going to be education in helping people be more responsible for their own lake properties whether it’s with the septics or sewer, whatever. We’re going to be addressing a lot of these situations in the near future.
CLAUDIA CHENDER: Thank you. Those are my questions and I’ll give my time back to my colleague.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Zann.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you to my colleague. Actually, just in keeping on the topic of the glyphosate in the herbicides.
Health Canada is now saying that, in light of troubling allegations, its scientists are reviewing hundreds of studies used during the approval process for glyphosate which, of course, is the active ingredient in the most popular herbicides: Roundup, Vision silviculture herbicide, VisionMAX. This decision comes after a coalition of environmental groups claimed that Health Canada relied on studies that were secretly influenced by the agrichemical giant, Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, when it reapproved use of glyphosate in 2015, and confirmed that decision in 2017.
The coalition which includes Équiterre, Ecojustice, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and others, says that academic papers that looked at whether the herbicide causes cancer were presented to Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) as independent when, in fact, Monsanto had a hand in writing them and paid the people who wrote them. At the time, Health Canada decided that the risks of glyphosate to human health were acceptable if used as directed in updated product labels. But now it is taking another look.
So, given all of that - and given the one lawsuit which has already been awarded for $78 million to a gentleman in the United States who contracted Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, now, several other lawsuits have also come forward - is there any interest by the minister and her department to have somebody look into this and change the stance on glyphosate?
MARGARET MILLER: I can tell the member that certainly it has been a hot topic of late and certainly she’s been very vocal. I know you’ve been reading a lot of things from Google and a lot of information coming from the internet, and those can be very biased sources; they can be very polarizing one way or the other.
I know that in my past as a dairy farmer, we used glyphosates on the farm. I actually took safety courses in the application of different sprays on the farm to know how to use them and worked with them myself to ensure that we were using them safely and that they were being used properly.
Part of those courses and the information that we use when any approvals are issued, is to make sure that you’re doing them the proper way and that you pay attention to your buffer zones, your wind speed, your applications, and the density of the product. So, farmers use it, I don’t want to say a fair amount, but they use it when necessary, when they do need to be able to produce food for people.
I’ve actually seen an instance, and I’m not speaking about glyphosate specifically, but just spray programs in general. We had a huge cornfield and my husband was spraying one day and he ran out of spray right in the middle. He thought, well, that won’t hurt, it’s just a little bit of an area. We all enjoy our corn products and generally, this was cattle corn, but corn that people use is sprayed a couple of times during that time, during their growth. There was almost a four foot difference between the plants that were sprayed and the ones that weren’t and it’s because of all the weeds that had grown in around the corn.
So, we know that there’s a place for sprays and we need to make sure that if they are sprayed in the province that they are safe. I also know with my role in Lands and Forestry that there are applications of spray in the forests in Nova Scotia occasionally. We know the government doesn’t pay for the spray on Crown land, or we don’t do it on Crown land, but certainly government does approve some spray applications in forestry applications. We know that those are only once every 60 years that those sites are sprayed and still, there are terms and conditions on the approvals of that. We know that golf courses still use sprays and they use them almost every week.
So, you know, it’s a normal process, applicators are trained in their product; they’re trained how to use it. In the end, when and if any approvals are given, we have to rely on the science of Health Canada. If Health Canada does change their status on any spray, then the province will follow suit.
LENORE ZANN: Hearing that answer, and all of the list of places where it’s being used, and we wonder why Nova Scotians’ rates of cancers are so high.
I find it rather insulting that the minister would try to claim that I’m only finding this stuff out from Google. I mean, I’m sorry, I’m the critic and I have been for many years now, six years actually, and I do my homework.
Health Canada is saying that their scientists are currently reviewing hundreds of studies to assess whether the information justifies a change to the original decision - or the use of a panel of experts not affiliated with Health Canada - and this is what the health agency itself told CBC Radio Canada recently in an email response to the coalition’s claims. Again, the coalition includes Ecojustice, Équiterre, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, so I’d say these people certainly know science and are very well-read and knowledgeable as well.
Again, I would just wonder why we, Nova Scotia, are not looking into this at this time since there are a lot of concerns and since information has come to the public recently - very publicly - on national television across North America, to say that glyphosate is found in many cereals that our children are eating.
So why is the minister not requesting us, our province, to look into this, as well?
MARGARET MILLER: Mr. Chair, can you tell me how much time we have left?
THE CHAIR: You have 38 minutes.
MARGARET MILLER: All right. I would reiterate to the member that we still follow Health Canada. That is the scientific regime that we follow. When they advise us that they have any different information than what they have supplied us with before, then we will make changes. Until they do, we will continue with the suggestions from Health Canada.
LENORE ZANN: I’d like to go back to the topic of the 2030 emissions target. In my questions to the minister on Tuesday, I did not hear or maybe I just didn’t understand, your explanation about why you chose a weaker emissions target, instead of the one that your staff recommended when they first recommended the 50 per cent target.
Did the minister or anyone else direct them to come back with a weaker target?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, I do remember that question earlier in the week. It was suggested that we have a range from 45 to 50 per cent. My briefing informed me it was a 45 to 50 per cent range and that was my decision.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you, but they recommended a 50 per cent target; so who came up with the 45 to 50 per cent idea?
MARGARET MILLER: When the information was relayed, and we had to make a decision about what our targets would be - it was suggested that it could be in the 45 to 50 per cent range. I found that acceptable and we decided to go with the range of 45 to 50 per cent, recognizing that Nova Scotia is already a leader, that we will continue to lead. I truly expect that we will actually exceed that 50 per cent range.
LENORE ZANN: Yes, you’ve said that several times. You’ve said that you believe, and even expect, that Nova Scotia will exceed the 45 to 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. But can you clarify, do you mean exceed 45 per cent or exceed 50 per cent?
MARGARET MILLER: I personally believe that we have the ability to exceed a 50 per cent level.
We know that this is an ambitious target, but we also think that it is achievable. We know that the public is more receptive to electric cars; more of the province is being electrified all the time. We know that there are 120,000 heat pumps in homes across the province. I know myself what a saving that is to me on my oil bill by having a heat pump in my house. We know that Nova Scotians really care about this subject. It’s very dear to their hearts and they are doing what they need to do every day.
We know that our cap-and-trade program is aggressive. But I expect that we will meet and exceed our goals, and, that with reducing caps on greenhouse gas emissions, we will see very positive action in the near future.
LENORE ZANN: If you think the province can exceed the 50 per cent target, why not just make it a 50 per cent target?
MARGARET MILLER: And would the next question be why not make it a 55 or 60 per cent target?
We had to come up with a number that is, I feel, an adequate number and that’s where we are.
LENORE ZANN: I take that as you’re not going to really answer my question, so I’m going to move on.
I’d like to follow up on some other questions we asked you on Tuesday regarding EGSPA.
I don’t believe you ever explained why your department did not initiate the review of EGSPA when it was supposed to happen two years ago, according to the legislation. Can you explain why?
MARGARET MILLER: We are working with our stakeholders to renew our sustainability legislation, which is EGSPA. We know about the work that the roundtable has done, and I’ve met with the roundtable several times.
We are continuing in the work that is very much in the spirit of EGSPA and that isn’t going to change; we are working on it right now. We hope to have something in the near future.
In the meanwhile, with the work that EGSPA’s done, there were many things that were brought up and the report card speaks for itself. We had the first goal, we asked that the province adopt and implement a framework to support a transition to cleaner sources and sustainable uses of energy. That is ongoing; we are doing that.
Also ongoing is the total electricity needs of the province - we know that 18.5 per cent was obtained from renewable energy by 2013, that 40 per cent is obtained by the year 2020 - we should meet those goals. That is ongoing.
We have achieved the goal of an updated energy efficiency rating system for new and existing homes. It is available in the Nova Scotia Building Code Regulations. That has moved forward.
We have achieved, in 2009-10, actually, that was during the member’s own time period, that all new residential dwellings constructed in the province after January 2011, were required to meet energy conservation measures.
In 2010-11 the province continued to work with other levels of government on national emissions standards for greenhouse gases. All of that resulted in our cap-and-trade program, and we know how well that is working for Nova Scotians.
The Premier promised that we would have a system in place that would not overly impact the pocketbooks of Nova Scotians; we are seeing that happen, which has been very successful and coming from that group, as well.
We know that our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 are at least 10 per cent below the levels from 1990 and we know what our goals are now to have that up to 50 per cent by the year 2030.
We have ongoing emissions of nitrous oxides that are reduced at 20 per cent by 2009; 28 per cent by 2015; and 44 per cent by 2020, relative to the emissions in 2000.
We know that the sulphur dioxide emissions are reduced by 50 per cent by the year 2010, and that is ongoing; mercury emissions are reduced to no more than 110 kilograms by 2010 and then it goes all the way up to 35 kilograms by 2020. That is also ongoing.
As you can see, I could go on. There are many more things on this list that I could speak about, but certainly we know that EGSPA has played a very important role. I acknowledge that it came through the efforts of the previous governments and we look forward to the work continuing.
LENORE ZANN: Well, since I have such a small amount of time and that answer to my question about why the department did not initiate the review when it was supposed to happen two years ago, I am going to ask for more time after this, so I can get through all my questions.
You said that you hoped to bring the legislation updating EGSPA within this fiscal year, so either the Fall 2019 sitting or Winter 2020. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: We hope to have something by the end of this year to bring forward.
LENORE ZANN: Do you have in mind what years that you want to set the new EGSPA goals for? Will there be goals for just 2030 or will there be goals for 2040 and 2050, as well?
MARGARET MILLER: That still has to be determined. We will be working with our group. It’s part of the discussion options of the future of EGSPA and how it’s going to work.
LENORE ZANN: Do you have senior staff already assigned to the EGSPA review?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, we do.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you, and who are they?
MARGARET MILLER: We have Lorrie Roberts and John Somers working on it.
LENORE ZANN: How many staff in total will be assigned to the EGSPA review?
MARGARET MILLER: Staff will be assigned as the work moves forward and as needed. We have a full policy shop that works on different projects at different times and they will be recruited as needed for the project.
LENORE ZANN: As I talked about two days ago, extensive public consultations on EGSPA would be an excellent way to democratically develop the green jobs plan that we need for a major economic mobilization to transition to a clean economy here in Nova Scotia. I know there are members of the EGSPA Round Table on the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity who think a broader public consultation is very important.
The minister’s answers about public consultation were not really totally clear to me the other day. She talked mostly as if the public consultation plans were limited to consulting with the members of the EGSPA Round Table but also made a few comments that suggested she might consider broader public consultation.
Could you please clarify to me, minister, whether you are considering broader public consultation beyond the Round Table?
MARGARET MILLER: We do know that at the EGSPA Round Table now there are 20 people. They are all specialists in their own field and who are working towards the EGSPA goals and we certainly thank them for their work. They’ve done amazing work over the last few years and expect to see more in the future.
Details need to be determined on the consultation, certainly from their areas, they will have extensive information and consultation with all the groups they represent, which are very broad ranging. We don’t know exactly what the full consultation will look like yet, but it has to be determined.
LENORE ZANN: So, you are saying then that it’s not going to be a broader public consultation but only a consultation with people who are already on that Round Table?
MARGARET MILLER: That is not what I’ve said. What I have said is that there will be consultation and we aren’t sure what that looks like yet.
LENORE ZANN: So, will it be with a broader public consultation then, yes or no?
MARGARET MILLER: That has not yet been determined.
LENORE ZANN: So, to clarify then, will there be time for submissions from the public?
MARGARET MILLER: My expectation is that there will be at least an online consultation period. That is my expectation, but that hasn’t been fully decided yet.
LENORE ZANN: Will there be public meetings around the province?
MARGARET MILLER: That hasn’t been decided yet.
LENORE ZANN: Will there be funds for economic and environmental studies?
MARGARET MILLER: Funds will be available as needed, but that still has to be determined.
LENORE ZANN: Will there be funds for organizations to participate in a public consultation?
MARGARET MILLER: That still has to be determined.
LENORE ZANN: Will there be recommendations on the best ways to finance new government investments?
MARGARET MILLER: Again, to be determined.
LENORE ZANN: Again, this was supposed to happen two years ago. So, we’re two years late in this review and I’m still not sure about why the delay. That has not been clear, and I’d like that to read for the record.
Moving on to protected areas, I’d like to confirm what you said on Tuesday about protected areas. In 2013, a list of wilderness areas was designated for protection. A lot of work went into generating that list and identifying the areas to be protected. Almost 100 of those areas still have not been officially protected and, on Tuesday, I believe the minister said that not all of the designated areas on that list will get protection. Some are going to be dropped. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: We know that in the parks and protected areas up to 13.8 per cent of the land mass of Nova Scotia was designated as a possibility of moving forward for protection. We know that we are at 12.4 per cent right now and, at this point, we are looking at all the properties that are remaining and seeing what is available.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done with any of these properties, including surveys. We have to look at business and recreation opportunities, look at the surveys, at the mineral rights, and make sure that those properties are all free and clear. At this point, we’re working to get to just a little over half of a per cent to get to the 13 per cent.
So, right now, in making those final designations, we need to make sure that we have the right properties to protect in Nova Scotia, so that we’re not missing vital properties that otherwise may not be protected if we try to hurry forward in this process. So, staff is going through all the remaining properties, determining which ones have the most ecological significance.
We know that our coastal properties are a priority; certainly, with the Coastal Protection Act, we need to make sure that those are our priority. We know that wetlands certainly are carbon sinks that are very important as well. We will move forward when we believe that we have the right properties to protect.
LENORE ZANN: Yes, in 2013, our NDP government listed a number of wilderness areas and we received a very favourable report from CPAWS about that. So, can you explain how the decision will be made on which designated areas will be dropped from that list?
MARGARET MILLER: I prefer to look at it in a different view, as how the decision is made as to what properties will be on the list, and that is looking at the ecological values of all of those properties and which ones Nova Scotians would support the most for being protected.
LENORE ZANN: Are there any that you already know you will not be protecting?
MARGARET MILLER: No.
LENORE ZANN: So, do you intend to exceed the 13 per cent goal for protected areas?
MARGARET MILLER: That is not my goal, but I can, you know, certainly add to that. We work with the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which on a regular basis, acquire lands either by donation or that are bought by the Nature Conservancy or Land Trust; those lands are always transferred to the province for protection. So, we know that eventually we may exceed the 13 per cent, but the goal of government is to achieve 13 per cent.
LENORE ZANN: So, when you mention about the Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy, I know they came to Law Amendments Committee a few years ago very concerned about the Mineral Resources Act I believe it was, where they said that this new law would enable mining companies to go into protected lands that have been given to the Nature Conservancy by people who have died and want that land protected.
Can you give me an update right now on whether or not that is indeed the case and whether people who have left lands to the Nature Conservancy or the Nature Trust, can it actually be expropriated for mining resources extraction.
MARGARET MILLER: I certainly can tell you we have met with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust on a regular basis. I have not heard those concerns come from them myself. It doesn’t seem to be something they are worried about at this point. Certainly, in my meetings with them we have not had those discussions, but we do know we balance all interests: mining, forestry, recreation, and even ATV use and hiking use.
LENORE ZANN: Well, as I said, they came to Law Amendments Committee during the Mineral Resources Act and they made an explicit statement of their concern then that people who have left lands specifically to be protected will, in fact, now not be protected. Is there anything further you can add to this that could waylay those fears of people who would like to leave their lands to these trusts?
MARGARET MILLER: Since they haven’t spoken to me about them and haven’t expressed those concerns, I believe they have spoken to staff and I think their concerns have been addressed.
LENORE ZANN: By being addressed does that mean that it is not a fact that people can expropriate lands that have been left for the Nature Conservancy of Canada and land trusts?
MARGARET MILLER: The Mineral Resources Act was passed. We will continue to have those discussions with the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Nature Reserve and if they have any concerns in the future.
LENORE ZANN: That doesn’t answer my question. My question is: Can mining companies go in and extract minerals from protected lands that are under the protection of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and land trusts? That would be a yes or no answer.
MARGARET MILLER: Legally, since the Act has been passed, it can happen, but we do work with all interests to avoid that situation.
LENORE ZANN: I’d just like to reiterate, so after all of that, the fact is that yes indeed, mineral companies can go in and expropriate and go in and dig up minerals in protected lands that are supposed to be left safe, under the Nature Conservancy land trust organizations.
When can you tell me that you believe 13 per cent goal of protected lands will be reached?
MARGARET MILLER: Certainly, it is the goal of this government to reach that during this mandate. To give you a specific date or time, I can’t do that.
LENORE ZANN: Did you say it will be within this mandate?
MARGARET MILLER: That is my expectation.
LENORE ZANN: How much longer do I have, please?
THE CHAIR: You have 13 minutes.
LENORE ZANN: Okay. I’m going to move on to carbon credits here. When will the decision be made and when might these become available? On Tuesday you said during this year your staff are working on the framework for carbon offsets. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: During the consultation on the cap-and-trade program, our staff met with Mr. Hollett. He’s actually met with me and many stakeholders and they all expressed concerns or different ways that they could earn carbon credits. Certainly, the forestry industry was one of those and we are looking at all of those now.
We know that this cap-and-trade program we have goes from the year 2018 to 2022, so we will be looking at variables from there.
LENORE ZANN: So, when will carbon offsets become part of the cap-and-trade program and when will people be able to buy and sell carbon offsets?
MARGARET MILLER: I haven’t said that they will become part of the cap-and-trade program. We don’t know that. The conversations are still taking place. It would be presumptuous to give it a foregone conclusion. We don’t know where we are going to be until we are ready to move forward with what the next stages of the cap-and-trade program will be.
LENORE ZANN: Is there going to be any opportunity for the public to have a say in the carbon-offset program?
MARGARET MILLER: We know that during the last cap-and-trade session there was a lot of public input on that. The department met with stakeholders all around the province and certainly stakeholders were very involved with this. Nova Scotians are very interested in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions.
I expect in any new program we will be doing exactly the same thing. We will be talking to stakeholders, asking them for their suggestions in building a path forward.
LENORE ZANN: So, you are saying that there is going to be a future opportunity for the public - regular people, not just business people - to have a say in the carbon offset program?
MARGARET MILLER: There was input from the public in the last consultation. We certainly heard from a lot of people who were interested. I received a lot of information and letters from the public about what their concerns were and what they wanted to see in it. I have no reason to think that we wouldn’t do anything in building a program for future years.
LENORE ZANN: Is your staff talking to companies that are affected or impacted by the cap-and-trade about the offset program?
MARGARET MILLER: We have many stakeholders and I can assure you Jason is probably on the phone every day and if I turn around, he’ll probably laugh at me. He’s probably on that phone every single day talking to people about the cap-and-trade system, how it is affecting their businesses, and what future actions may be.
LENORE ZANN: So, our largest emitters have the opportunity to have a say in this carbon offset program, but you are not saying that the general public most definitely will be able to do the same thing?
MARGARET MILLER: I can assure the member we are talking to many people, not just businesses, not just stakeholders, but we are talking to Nova Scotians and finding out what Nova Scotians think of the program as it is being administered now and where we are going. I believe when Nova Scotians see what the results of this are going to be and start seeing declining caps and position action, that they will certainly have input into any future decisions.
LENORE ZANN: How are they engaging with the general public? Are they just looking up the phone book and going through it and calling random numbers? How are they getting hold of the general public and hearing what the general public has to say about it now?
MARGARET MILLER: We are talking to anyone who calls us. Anyone who has any concern or interest in this, the department talks to on almost a daily basis.
LENORE ZANN: Forgive me, but that doesn’t sound like a very organized way of having a public consultation about something as important as this. I would like to see the public be consulted in a much more organized fashion, something announced, something set up, so the public can come and have their say rather than just waiting for random people maybe, to make a phone call to find out. That’s not really the general population; that would be people who have an interest and a knowledge about these things, which the general population most likely doesn’t.
You said the other day carbon credits for ecological forestry could be included in the carbon-offset framework. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, it’s possible.
LENORE ZANN: How will that be decided whether they’re included or not?
MARGARET MILLER: I think I need to clarify that we’re starting to have these discussions, we’re starting to talk but we’re not building the plan. The current cap-and-trade program is still in effect to the year 2022. That’s three years away; we’ve just started on our existing plan. So, we will focus on proper implementation of our cap-and-trade program now and this year we will start consulting on offsets.
LENORE ZANN: Again, who is going to decide whether they are included or not, whether ecological forestry will be included, who’s going to make that decision?
MARGARET MILLER: That will fall within the expertise in our department and the minister.
LENORE ZANN: Looking ahead and knowing this is such an important issue, why would they not be included?
MARGARET MILLER: Cap-and-trade programs and other GHG reduction programs are varied across North America. We have determined what our program will be and how it will work for Nova Scotians. The goal was we weren’t going to accept a broad-based carbon tax; it’s not where Nova Scotia wanted to be. The promise of our Premier, as I said before, was to have a minimal impact on the pocketbooks of Nova Scotians.
I’m very proud of my department and the staff who worked so hard for a couple of years, talking to their federal counterparts to come up with a program that would satisfy our federal government, recognize the efforts of other governments, as well as our government, in reducing greenhouse gases over the past 10 or 15 years.
We know Nova Scotians are engaged, they’re happy, but they’re not hitting that impact at the pumps, they’re not hitting it on their power bills. You know, it’s a very minimal impact as was promised and we know when we go forward with the next stage of our plan, we want to have that same kind of effect. We want to make sure we’ve got our best plan in place. The staff did an amazing job, including the consultation talking to Nova Scotians. I expect no less from the next stage of this process.
LENORE ZANN: Do you see other ways that woodlot owners can receive revenue that will make managing their forests for carbon sequestration purposes as economically feasible as intensive forestry for instance, clear cuts on their wood lots?
MARGARET MILLER: Okay, so we are talking to many forestry groups right now. We will continue to have discussions with them and look at all the options. Certainly, the department is also looking at what’s happening in other countries and other jurisdictions, and how their system has been working.
We’ll continue to do that. We believe that this is very important. It’s important to the Government of Nova Scotia, it is important to Canada, and it’s important to Nova Scotians to make sure that we get this right. If there’s an opportunity here that we can continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and incorporate the forestry industry, or any other industry that will be able to help us accomplish that goal, certainly the department is going to be open to that. They’ve been very, I won’t say creative, but they worked very hard to find a plan that was going to work for Nova Scotia that recognizes all Nova Scotia’s efforts in the past.
I believe we’re in a good place, but that doesn’t mean that Nova Scotians don’t expect us to do better and we will continue to do better. This is too important for all Nova Scotians and for future generations. I mean, I have children, I have grandchildren and, heaven knows, in a few years, I could have great-grandchildren and we want to make sure all of Nova Scotia is as pristine and as beautiful as it is now and that they all have a place where they can work and live and have the kind of lives that we hope our families can have.
LENORE ZANN: So, given all of that what you just said, why did you walk out of the environment meeting in Ottawa when you did a year or so ago? Why did you walk out in the middle of it?
MARGARET MILLER: Thank you for asking that question. I was never so nervous in my life. I wasn’t as nervous getting married as I was walking out of that meeting that day. We were going to our federal counterparts, we were asking them if they could, you know, recognize Nova Scotia’s efforts, what had already been done, and come up with a Nova Scotia plan that would have that minimal input packed on the pocketbooks of Nova Scotians. When the minister stood and said this is what we’re going to do and if you don’t like this plan then we’re just going to implement a tax, well, that was the end of the conversation. There was no debating that. That was the end of the conversation. So, instead of trying to be polite and say there was no impact, we decided time to go home and I had that discussion on a provincial level.
LENORE ZANN: Well, I find that extremely surprising given you said you really care about what’s going on with the environment and the future of your children, grandchildren, well possibly great-grandchildren, and your own partners in Ottawa are trying to come up with ways we can lower the greenhouse gas emissions. As I’ve said many times both on the floor of the Legislature and here, we need to do things that are drastic, not just take a second-best approach. The approach I feel that you’re taking right now is not in the best interest of Nova Scotians. I know you keep saying it’s about pocketbooks but, really, it’s not. There are so many more things to consider and, in fact, Nova Scotians know that they need to step up. I don’t see why we can’t be doing more on a quick basis to try and do our part here.
I have more questions to ask but, unfortunately, our time is limited right now. I will be coming back after these gentlemen have some of their time. How long do you need, gentlemen?
THE CHAIR: Order, order. It’s now to the Progressive Conservative caucus for one hour. Mr. Johns.
BRAD JOHNS: We certainly won’t need an hour. I just wanted to go in and ask some questions regarding the report that was released yesterday in coastal protection and sea rise. That report identifies the impact of the sea rise to Atlantic Canada being almost, I think they said, three to four times that of anywhere else. I’m curious to know - and I recognize the Coastal Protection Act that is coming forward - but I’m curious to know what else the department is doing in light of that report that came out yesterday.
THE CHAIR: Before we answer, I just want to have a quick question to the Progressive Conservative caucus and the New Democratic Party caucus. There is another department here. Will we be using the entire time? If so, we can let them go back to their offices. Okay, so, do you know, Ms. Zann?
LENORE ZANN: Yes.
THE CHAIR: We have two hours left, do you plan on using those two hours with the Department of Environment?
LENORE ZANN: No, I believe these gentlemen are going to use half an hour and then I’ll use the remaining time.
THE CHAIR: Perfect, so, we’ll ask the Department of Internal Services to stay. Mr. Johns.
BRAD JOHNS: Mr. Chair, we only really have this one last question.
THE CHAIR: Okay, perfect.
LENORE ZANN: I’ll only need about half an hour.
BRAD JOHNS: Yesterday there was a report - I think it was yesterday it was released - that talked about the rising sea levels and the implications on Atlantic Canada, noting that it would be more significant in Atlantic Canada than probably anywhere else in the country. I think it identified as three to four times the impact of anywhere else in the country on Atlantic Canada. Specifically, they talked about those impacts in Halifax, saying they would see an average increase in Halifax of around 75 to 100 centimetres.
I recognize the Coastal Protection Act, but I’m wondering, is the department looking, or have they changed the way they’re going, based on what came out in that report yesterday?
MARGARET MILLER: That’s an important question moving forward. We know that our Coastal Protection Act is spot on. It’s exactly where we need to be. In developing the regulations in light of this Act, there may be some changes in elevations and setbacks. Those are all considerations that we have to have now. That was certainly an eye-opening report.
As for other measures, as you mentioned, it just came out yesterday, so it hasn’t given us a lot of time to absorb all that information or see what the next steps will be. I see that a future EGSPA group will have input in that in all of their expertise, and the departments also will be working on measures that will not only protect our coastlines but see where else we can work within our province to mitigate the risks of climate change and rising sea levels.
Also, we’re going to be working with our federal counterparts on a regular basis. We’re hosting our ministers’ conference here, I believe at the end of June. They will all be in Halifax seeing where we live and how we live and what our city is and how impacted it is by our coastlines. Quite often, many things on that ministers’ panel do come to the table and we have national action on those.
BRAD JOHNS: Thank you very much, minister. I was amazed. I was looking at some of the public comments in the paper and online, social media, that people were posting in regard to that report. I was absolutely blown away by the general public - the quote that got me was that the report itself was fearmongering and sensationalizing the impacts of climate change.
One of the things I noticed is that I don’t think the general public really recognizes the impacts that climate change is going to have on our day-to-day lives. Is there some way that the department can start to bring that home a little bit better, whether through education or what it is? It almost seems like the general populace has an “I’m going to stick my head in the sand” approach, maybe because it’s such an overwhelming topic.
What is the department looking to do that really brings this topic home to people?
MARGARET MILLER: Thank you. I think that’s an important question: How do we inform Nova Scotians that this is real? I think a walk in Lawrencetown by the highway when we have some of these issues would certainly bring where it is. People working or living near the breach that was in East Chezzetcook - I know it has self-repaired since, but the power of the water is tremendous. Unless you are really seeing that, it is very hard.
Municipalities are doing their work as well, with mapping in different municipalities to find out which areas are low lying, to make sure they’re all addressing the conditions in their area.
I can say from my staff in some of our EA reports and some of the commentary that is going out to different municipalities in different projects, we’re looking at what happens in these storm conditions when they have a 40 per cent increase in the amount of water that is going into a subdivision and they aren’t able to handle that. We know from different storm situations that we have these more severe storms. These one-in-100 year storms are happening every 10 or 15 years or less now. We have to pay attention to that.
I think Nova Scotians are starting to get that message, but I think it’s important that we keep sharing it and that, as a department, we’re putting regulations in place that address the eventual reality of what’s going on in Nova Scotia.
BRAD JOHNS: Are we able to talk here about legislation that’s before the House? The Coastal Protection Act, we can discuss that a little bit?
THE CHAIR: There’re no rules against that.
BRAD JOHNS: Okay, thank you. I’d rather raise it here, and maybe there’s an opportunity to have some of that bill amended a little bit. I brought forward an amendment to look at attaching a time frame to it.
One of the concerns I have in regard to that bill is that when we look at North America, there are many maps that show the impact of climate change and sea rise across North America, but my understanding is that the mapping that has been done for that particular legislation is still in the works. It hasn’t been done yet.
I don’t want to see a piece of legislation come forward that is potentially going to sit on a shelf. I recognize that the impacts of climate change are significant and they are serious. I do think that we, all Parties that are at the table, need to be working at trying to address climate change.
One of the issues I have with that piece of legislation is that it doesn’t really have a date as to when the backroom work is going to be done and completed. One of the things that I noticed through the EGSPA legislation is where it did have time frames attached to it. Even if in some cases they were just there as symbolic time frames - in some cases it seems to be - at least there were time frames attached where people could say okay, yes, we’re on target to meeting what it is that we committed to doing.
I don’t see those time frames attached to the Coastal Protection Act. I would be very concerned that after it gets Royal Assent, it just sits until it’s proclaimed or whatever.
Is there some way to amend the bill whereby we put in some time frames, some expectations of when we’re going to see things achieved and not achieved? At the end of the day, even if we don’t meet those, I know government and Opposition will stand up and criticize, but at least it holds us accountable. Not just the current government - any government that comes into place when there are offramps and time frames attached, it holds us all accountable to trying to do something. Is there a way to actually do that in the Coastal Protection Act?
MARGARET MILLER: I take the Coastal Protection Act very seriously. This is not a bill that will be sitting on a shelf anywhere, I can assure you of that. John Somers has been working very hard on this for a long time. He has been living it and breathing it, going around the province and talking to stakeholders and drafting a bill that’s going to work for Nova Scotia.
We’re looking at 12 to 18 months, and that’s concurrent with the 12 months’ notice to municipalities. If you’re looking at that time frame, I believe the maximum time would then be 18 months that you will start seeing some action. We have to legally give municipalities 12 months so that if there’s any municipal planning that has to be done, they can do everything they need to do to be able to enforce the Act. Then they have to be able to change the building permit process as well, so that they know how to go forward.
If you want to bring an amendment forward to the House, that’s your ability to do that and it will be considered. But I believe that we do have a process in place, and we’re not going to bring forward legislation and have it sit there. It’s too important, and now with the new report, it just shows exactly where we are, that we’re right where we need to be, and this is the time to make the improvements we need to ensure that Nova Scotia’s properties are kept safe and Nova Scotians are building where they should be building.
BRAD JOHNS: I’m hearing what you’re saying, and I do believe that, as minister, you are committed to seeing the Coastal Protection Act go through. I guess where my concerns are - I’m relatively new to the whole procedure here, but my understanding is that it will pass third reading in the House and then it waits for Royal Assent. It gets Royal Assent at the end of the sitting, and then it has to wait to be proclaimed. Is that right?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, it is.
BRAD JOHNS: What I am concerned about is, I would be very disheartened to see that it passes third reading, it gets Royal Assent, then we are waiting, and it can’t receive the proclamation until that additional information that Mr. Somers is working (Interruption) until the regulations and everything come forward. Without having some kind of a date attached to when those regulations are going to come back, we can say that it’s going to come back between 12 and 18 months, and then in 18 months it may be longer than that.
I think that, not necessarily with all legislation that comes before the House, but with this particular one, given the impacts of climate change - I think anybody who has been following this, all Parties, recognize the impact of climate change and the need to do these things.
If there isn’t a way that the government can bring it forward, then I will try to bring forward an amendment to attach some kind of dates when it comes forward to committee.
MARGARET MILLER: We do have to wait until the Act is passed, and then the department can start working on the regulations, but they have already been talking to stakeholders. They’ve been consulting. They’ve already been looking at a lot of other jurisdictions and what is happening there.
This is the first Coastal Protection Act in Canada, so we are pretty proud of that, but we need to know what different jurisdictions have been doing about their municipal bylaws or municipal regulations on building. As soon as those are done, we are going to be moving forward.
BRAD JOHNS: The last time we spoke, I did talk in regard to the patchwork approach on things such as plastic bags, pesticides, smoking, and all those. My understanding is that the Act will put everybody in the province on the same playing field, with the same setbacks. I think it is a very positive bill. I am looking forward to seeing that.
One more comment, and then I will pretty much be done, Mr. Chair, is in regard to this year’s budget for climate change. I brought up that, given the overall budget of $11 billion that the province has brought forward, I did find it somewhat disheartening to find out, when I did the figures, that it was 0.018 per cent of an overall budget that seems to have been identified to climate change.
I know that the minister did say that there are some other programs that are there as well, but could the minister then define for me specifically what that 0.018 per cent goes toward?
MARGARET MILLER: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Most notably, I think you would see here the funded staff. There are 14.7 working on this initiative, and these are the people who put their hearts and souls into these projects and the cap-and-trade regulations, the ones who are working with the public and developing what our future actions will be.
Also, we have a climate initiative program. That’s $1 million, and it’s from Nova Scotia over three years. I know you’re identifying that this is just a small amount and doesn’t mean much, but climate change is incorporated into almost every department, whether it’s a line item or not. Agriculture is doing things with climate change. Municipal Affairs is doing things with climate change. It may not be a line item, but they’re still working on initiatives that have to do with climate change, whether it’s the mapping that’s going on in the municipalities, whether it’s the dike land programs - reinforcing the dikes - or the grape-growing programs, different things in the Valley.
This is spread all through government. It’s not just one thing. It’s all-encompassing.
BRAD JOHNS: How much money total? I see in the Department of Environment budget it says $2 million, climate change. Throughout all departments and everything in government currently, is there an amount - and it may not necessarily be a hardcore figure - but I’m sure somebody somewhere has said, okay, well, the Province of Nova Scotia is spending almost X amount of an $11 billion budget toward climate change. Is there a number there?
MARGARET MILLER: I don’t believe that there is really an identified number. We know that we’re adequately funded. We know that all these departments are putting the resources that they need to into it without specifying. It could be through program amounts or whatever. The Department of Agriculture has many programs that they fund. A certain amount would be reflective of climate change. The same with Municipal Affairs and many other departments.
I don’t think you see it as a line item anywhere, except in our staff, who work so hard on these projects, and any initiatives that we are partners in with our federal counterparts, or special initiatives.
BRAD JOHNS: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It would be nice to see some kind of a number so that, whether it’s myself as an Opposition member or anybody else, when they say that the Province of Nova Scotia is spending 0.018 per cent of their total budget on climate change, we could say, well, no - exactly what you’re bringing forward. No, we’re spending some money over here, here, here in the estimated amount, or what we feel we’re spending on climate change.
Mr. Chair, those are the only questions I have. Thank you very much, minister.
MARGARET MILLER: We can ask the question in the department, of what the feeling is. It would only be an estimate. Other departments may be able to make some - no promises, but we could certainly try.
THE CHAIR: Now the time is for Ms. Zann.
LENORE ZANN: How long do I have, Mr. Chair?
THE CHAIR: You have 40 minutes, or the entire night - doesn’t matter, whatever you want. You actually have 20 hours and 40 minutes, if you would like.
LENORE ZANN: Okay. Well, I’m going to ask my questions until I get the answers, and I should be done in that amount of time.
I asked a little bit earlier about why you had walked out of the environment meeting with Minister McKenna and all the other Environment Ministers from across the country. It sounded like the reason was partly because you thought that what they were suggesting was going to cost Nova Scotians money - like regular, ordinary Nova Scotians’ pocketbook expenses.
I know you’ve mentioned a number of times this idea that regular, ordinary Nova Scotians shouldn't need to sacrifice in order to help save the environment or to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but I do want to mention that the IPCC report and many other studies have been clear that the only way to act on climate change fairly, without impacting regular Nova Scotians’ pocketbooks, is through public investment. That way, millionaires and large corporations - the people who’ve benefited most from a polluting economy - pay the most, and regular working-class people actually see their bills go down.
That given, would you support the largest corporations in Nova Scotia paying more in taxes to make the investments that we need in order to shift to a clean, green prosperous economy that benefits regular Nova Scotians?
MARGARET MILLER: That’s an interesting question. First of all, in leaving that meeting that day, my commitment as the Minister of Environment for Nova Scotia is to be responsible to Nova Scotians. That’s what I was doing. I found that to be the most important thing. Within a couple of weeks, we had an agreement with our federal counterparts to work toward a pan-Canadian framework and a commitment to work with our Nova Scotia department on a program that would be acceptable to both levels.
At that time we had what we were asking for. We were asking for consideration of what Nova Scotians had already paid in higher electricity costs that they had been paying over the last many years. We wanted to be able to take that into account. They accepted the fact that Nova Scotia was a leader in greenhouse gas emissions, and they accepted that our 2030 goals would be one of the most ambitious in the country.
Besides that, we know that tens of millions are energy efficiencies. We have strong renewable energy targets, and our cap-and-trade program makes our large industries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in an effective way. We’re going to see reduced caps across our province. They will continue to reduce.
When you talk about investments in businesses, it’s going to be up to those businesses to invest in their own businesses to be able to meet those caps. If they can’t meet their caps, they’re going to have to buy credits from the other business interests or from the government before they can move forward.
I think that that, generically, will work that way. Businesses will invest in their own businesses - businesses like Nova Scotia Power that make investments all the time in order to reduce greenhouse gases.
LENORE ZANN: Yes, but I’m talking about taxes. I’m talking about the fact that the IPCC report and others suggest that large corporations, large polluters, should be paying more taxes in order to make the investments that we need in order to shift to a clean, green economy that will benefit regular Nova Scotians, so that it’s not coming out of the pocketbooks of Nova Scotians. Would you support that?
MARGARET MILLER: These businesses will be expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They will have to be investing in their own businesses in order to do that. If they cannot meet that and they are penalized, they will be putting money into a green fund, and the money from that green fund will go to green initiatives.
You’re suggesting taxing business in Nova Scotia, and yet on the floor we hear the discussions all the time about not taxing business. We want to encourage business to be in Nova Scotia, but only if they’re going to be stewards of our province as well, and be committed to reducing their greenhouse gases if they fall under that cap. We know that our cap-and-trade program is not a carbon tax, it’s a carbon price - there is a difference - and it’s cost effective.
LENORE ZANN: I would agree, but I would also agree that the biggest polluters should be the ones paying the greater taxes in order to deal with it.
On Tuesday, you said that the green fund that’s funded through the cap-and-trade system does not have any money in it yet, although you also alluded to the fact that there was $340,000 from another fund that would likely be going in that green fund. But you said that right now, all the money that’s being collected through the cap-and-trade system is going back to fuel suppliers so that they can use that money to buy credits. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes.
LENORE ZANN: Can you explain that?
MARGARET MILLER: At this point, the fuel suppliers are the ones that are supplying the money that has already been collected. The 1 cent actually goes to the fuel suppliers. They only receive 80 per cent of their allowances that they need, so they are going to be buying the rest of their credits on the market. They had to be able to have a contingency in order to start buying those credits.
It’s beyond that, when credits start buying or selling, or companies are being penalized, that money will be going into the green fund.
LENORE ZANN: You indicated that staff are working on the plans for the green fund now, is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: We are looking at options for the green fund now.
LENORE ZANN: Right, options for it. You also said that there would be some public consultation on how the green fund is used. Can you talk about what kind of public consultation there will be?
MARGARET MILLER: There have been many conversations about what that green fund would look like and more in the department that I am not aware of yet. We’re working with other departments.
We know that many clients of Community Services are affected by the carbon price, and we want to make sure that that is mitigated. They certainly are not in a position to be able to pay that, so we want to make sure they are covered in this.
Outside of that, we know there are many groups that are hoping they will be able to fall under the mandate of any kind of green fund. It certainly is a great opportunity, but we have to see what the realities would be. It still has to be determined. There has to be a lot more discussion, and we will be consulting with stakeholders that will be involved and deciding what that whole consultation process will look like.
The money isn’t coming in yet, and it will be a little bit of time, but at some point we’ll be able to really look at those funds and see where they should be and need to be allocated.
LENORE ZANN: But you did say that money is coming in - it is being collected, but it is going back to the fuel suppliers, correct?
MARGARET MILLER: It’s the fuel suppliers that are supplying the fuel to the retailers now, so they are collecting it at the retail source. It doesn’t come in to us and then go back out to the retailers. It actually stays with them.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you for that clarification. When do you expect public consultation to begin?
MARGARET MILLER: That still has to be determined.
LENORE ZANN: Would it be this year, 2019?
MARGARET MILLER: I expect so. This is just April, so I expect there will be some consultation during the year.
LENORE ZANN: Have you decided whether there will be public meetings or just written submissions?
MARGARET MILLER: That has not been determined.
LENORE ZANN: Who will be determining that?
MARGARET MILLER: I will be working with staff and looking at the framework, seeing who should be consulted, including the public, and looking at the way forward. It will be resolved in the department, and then will come to me as advice to the minister.
LENORE ZANN: When do you expect to start seeing the green fund money actually put to use?
MARGARET MILLER: That will be determined. We have to wait and see what our partners in other segments of government, like Community Services - what that need will be. We have to determine what groups may or may not be available for funding or if the initiatives will be government-led.
LENORE ZANN: My understanding is that when you add up all the price increases, including transportation, home energy, cap-and-trade, it will actually cost Nova Scotians between $50 and $70 per year, on average. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: Absolutely.
LENORE ZANN: Is that per individual or per household?
MARGARET MILLER: That is per household.
LENORE ZANN: With the federal carbon tax and rebate, most people’s rebates will be more money than the carbon tax will cost them, so that carbon tax is actually making many people better off.
If the green fund was used for rebates for every Nova Scotian, that would only be $30 per person - so less than people are paying. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: Certainly, but we have a cap-and-trade program. Our program is geared to reduce emissions and reduce the caps on industry. I think when you’re looking at what’s happening in other provinces and where all the money is going back to individuals, where is the impetus there to reduce the emissions?
Nova Scotia has a very solid program. We are going to be reducing emissions every year. It’s going to continue to reduce and achieve the results that we want without a lot of outlay of financial resources from Nova Scotians. I think it’s a better system and it’s going to work better for Nova Scotia.
LENORE ZANN: I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. Why is the federal carbon tax able to give out rebates that are larger than most people will pay, yet our cap-and-trade system isn’t able to do that?
MARGARET MILLER: I really can’t speak to the federal system and why it’s working and why provinces have determined that they will refund the money. All I can tell you is that with the Nova Scotia cap-and-trade program, we know that it will have minimal impact on the pocketbooks of Nova Scotians, as we’ve always said. We know that the majority of Nova Scotians will be able to absorb this cost readily as a price of being an engaged Nova Scotian who wants to see a reduction in greenhouse gases.
Families that are in dire need, that cannot afford it - we’re going to be working with Community Services to make sure that they will be accommodated and not feel the burden of this price. I believe that this is the best system for Nova Scotia and it’s going to work well here. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas limits, and we will move forward with that.
LENORE ZANN: However, the federal carbon tax is paying people more. They’re paying people more and they’re also keeping money for their own green fund, so there is a federal green fund that goes towards emission reductions as well. Would the Nova Scotia green fund be able to both give a rebate to a significant portion of the population - for instance, everyone making less than the median wage - and still have funds available to invest in emission reductions?
MARGARET MILLER: We know that with the federal program, businesses don’t get any rebates. Everybody pays, and they pay a lot more than we do. I believe they’re paying almost five times more than we are. The people who make more money will be getting less of a rebate. So some people will get rebates of more than what they put in, and other people won’t be getting any rebates at all. I still believe that our cap-and-trade program as a carbon price with minimal impacts is going to work much better for Nova Scotia.
LENORE ZANN: Can you update me on what you and your department are thinking about linking our cap-and-trade market with other markets?
MARGARET MILLER: That still has to be determined. At one point, Ontario and Quebec were also in a cap-and-trade program. That was part of the discussions. Things have certainly changed on that level. We know that California has a cap-and-trade program. These are all possibilities that there could be trading between jurisdictions, but for now, until we get the system working the way we want it to be, until we see how it’s working and that it’s effective in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, we’re not ready to make any changes.
LENORE ZANN: What process will you be going through to decide whether to link our cap-and-trade market with other markets?
MARGARET MILLER: It will just be determining how our market is working and what our future actions should be. That decision hasn’t been made yet. It’s part of a broader conversation, and we’re just not there yet.
LENORE ZANN: When will that decision be made by?
MARGARET MILLER: We don’t know if that decision will be made. That will be determined if we decide to go outside of this province or if we leave it as an internal system.
LENORE ZANN: What impact has Ontario cancelling their cap-and-trade had on the chances that we will link with other markets?
MARGARET MILLER: We have always said that ours would be an internal system and that we wouldn’t be looking outside. At this point, that will stay the same.
LENORE ZANN: You won’t be looking at outside markets at all?
MARGARET MILLER: We haven’t said that we would. What I said is that we haven’t decided to do anything yet. We announced that our cap-and-trade program, when it started, would be an internal system. It is an internal system. We haven’t made any decisions to change that yet, but we do work closely with Quebec and California through the program that actually looks after auctioning the credits.
LENORE ZANN: I’m going to move on now to another topic that is near and dear to my heart and, I know, to many other people in the Legislature on our side of the aisle, and that’s Northern Pulp.
The minister and the Premier have said that you’re both optimistic that Northern Pulp will be able to complete the additional studies needed for the focus report and still complete work in time to avoid a shutdown. Can you explain the timelines of how that would be possible?
MARGARET MILLER: My concern as the regulator is not the timeline. We could not even speak to an EA for Northern Pulp until the submission was made. We have a very set timeline there. When the submission is made, it is registered in a week. Then the public has 30 days to look at all the materials that are all online and public. We had 918 people, I believe, maybe even a few more, comment on all of that. Then the department had an additional 20 days to render a decision on that. Now that we have asked for a focus report, it has gone back to the company. It is now in their hands. It is in their hands now to move forward. We have to do a terms of reference document for them which specifies exactly what they need to do. They will have that before 25 days from the date that I made the announcement. After that, it will be up to them to do the work that they need to do for the focus report.
When that focus report comes back to the province, there will be another 30-day consultation period, another 20 days to determine what the next actions will be, in which case, we can either accept it, deny it, or ask for an environmental assessment report. As for the time frame to the Boat Harbour closure, that certainly isn’t within the purview of my discussion or deciding on dates forward or how things work. We have a very set process in the department, we’ll be moving within that process, and the cards will fall where they may.
LENORE ZANN: From your understanding then, how long will the effluent treatment system take to build?
MARGARET MILLER: If they get an environmental assessment, then they would need to apply for an industrial approval. There will be terms and conditions to any kind of industrial approval. I think the company has specified in the documentation that you receive that - I think it was a little over a year or 18 months - it would be up to Northern Pulp to determine how long it takes. That certainly wouldn’t be within the purview of the department.
LENORE ZANN: When would the minister’s approval need to come in order for the work to begin on time to keep in time with the Boat Harbour Act?
MARGARET MILLER: I haven’t determined that. I can’t speculate. We have to wait for all the information to come in. It is in the hands of Northern Pulp now. We look forward to seeing the focus report, and hopefully it will be complete.
LENORE ZANN: On that note, when would Northern Pulp need to submit the focus report in order to get the minister’s approval for them to begin on time?
MARGARET MILLER: They have up to a year from the time of the decision or from the time they get the terms of reference to submit the report. It will totally be up to them. I cannot speculate.
LENORE ZANN: Does your department have a sense of how long the studies that it has requested are going to take to complete?
MARGARET MILLER: No, we don’t.
LENORE ZANN: Obviously, there needs to be a baseline survey of fish and fish habitat, and that would include something like a study of lobster larvae. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: There are many items listed in the terms of reference for the focus report. They haven’t received that yet. They will receive it within the next few weeks, within 25 days of the announcement.
There are many baselines required, and I believe fish habitat is one of them.
LENORE ZANN: On that note, how long does it typically take to complete a baseline study of fish and fish habitat?
MARGARET MILLER: I can’t speculate. That would be up to Northern Pulp and their consultant or whoever they have doing the job.
LENORE ZANN: Surely somebody in your department must know what a typical length of time is to complete a baseline survey of fish and fish habitat.
MARGARET MILLER: No, I don’t have that information.
LENORE ZANN: Do you know how long it takes to do a lobster larvae survey, how long it takes to complete that?
MARGARET MILLER: That information would all be up to Northern Pulp to determine.
LENORE ZANN: Again, your department has no information whatsoever about how long it would typically take to complete these surveys?
MARGARET MILLER: In this case, this is all up to Northern Pulp, how fast they get to the work and what information they have. I can’t speak to that.
As to other EAs and other processes, it varies according to the company, the people they hire to do the work, and how it proceeds.
LENORE ZANN: The other thing that Northern Pulp will have to do is complete a Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge Study. Is that correct?
MARGARET MILLER: That was one of the terms.
LENORE ZANN: Is that something that your department typically requests?
MARGARET MILLER: Yes, that is part of the process.
LENORE ZANN: How long does such a study usually take?
MARGARET MILLER: That, again, is up to Northern Pulp and whoever they hire to do that study. Also, there would be the determination of how much property or land they have to go over in order to do that work.
LENORE ZANN: But you have asked for these studies previously, though?
MARGARET MILLER: These studies, I believe, are based on every EA that requires a MEKS study. It certainly is a very important part of the process, as much as public consultation. They need to know what is in the ground. Some sites are very small, and things can be done quite quickly. Other times, over a larger base area, it may take longer. It is always up to the company.
LENORE ZANN: You don’t give them a timeline or a deadline for when they have to have that done?
MARGARET MILLER: They have one year from the time they receive the terms of reference.
LENORE ZANN: To do all of the studies?
MARGARET MILLER: True.
LENORE ZANN: Okay, so who would the Mi’kmaq be that Northern Pulp would need to work with in order to complete this study? Would it be Pictou Landing, for instance?
MARGARET MILLER: I just have a correction here, I should clarify for you. We don’t always require MEKS, but it is recommended. I just noted that I’ve always seen it on environmental assessments. In cases where there is a possibility of some Mi’kmaw history, we usually do recommend that they do it, and most proponents will. This is a case where there is a strong suspicion that there will be artifacts or something in the area.
The mill would be working with Pictou Landing First Nations and with the KMKNO.
LENORE ZANN: They’re going to be working with both Pictou Landing First Nations and the KMKNO?
MARGARET MILLER: That is correct.
LENORE ZANN: Has Chief Andrea Paul agreed to this?
MARGARET MILLER: Okay, so I can’t specify if Chief Andrea Paul is aware of this or not, but any negotiation would be between Northern Pulp and Pictou Landing First Nations on the Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge Study.
LENORE ZANN: We’ve heard Northern Pulp and Boat Harbour being talked about now. Even the Premier - and yourself, I believe, as well - has said that this is a poster-child example of environmental racism. When you do the research to find out how this was first established there, the records show that when the company was asked, is this going to dislodge anybody? Is this going to affect any communities? It’s written that they said, just a few Indians.
Since then, as we know, it has actually affected many people, including the health and well-being of many of our First Nations people, and including that lagoon, which once was a fishing area, a beach, and a picnic area where First Nations came from all over to have celebrations. Now there are skull-and-crossbones signs everywhere saying don’t swim in the water anywhere near that and don’t do any digging for clams or shellfish of any sort. We know that there are mussels that have been found with leukemia in the area. So yes, it is well-established now that this is indeed, unfortunately, a very good example of environmental racism.
Given that and given that there are many other areas around the province that are now being touted as being examples of environmental racism, would the minister take a look at my bill, which started out as Bill No. 111 - it’s changed numbers many times now over the last few years - and give serious consideration to passing that bill in order to put together a panel of nine people to go around the province and investigate and research for a year and then come back and report on what they have discovered about environmental racism around the province, and make their recommendations?
MARGARET MILLER: Mr. Chair, could I have a time check, please?
THE CHAIR: Eight minutes.
MARGARET MILLER: Eight minutes, and is that for the four - how many hours are we in here?
THE CHAIR: This will be your third hour, so I was going to interrupt at about five minutes and see are we extending, are we going past the eight minutes. It’s up to the New Democratic Party caucus.
LENORE ZANN: If I get a good answer to my question, we can end it right here.
THE CHAIR: Yeah, because we kind of need to know because …
LENORE ZANN: This is my final question.
THE CHAIR: Okay. Great. Minister Miller, make it a good answer.
MARGARET MILLER: I have a very good answer. This government came in in 2013. One of the first things I heard about was RDM Recycling from the Chair, himself, who came to talk about environmental racism in his area and what had happened in an impoverished area of the province where material was allowed to be dumped and the seepage was affecting the ground water and the drinking water of residents. This government took action and the RDM Recycling site is going to be dealt with and the residents now do have potable drinking water.
Soon after becoming the Minister of Environment, I had heard about Boat Harbour. During the Boat Harbour Act, I was very engaged with Chief Andrea Paul and made it a point to go to Boat Harbour to actually go see what it was and I can tell you I think we shared some tears on the coast to know what was happening with their community. It certainly impacted us. I am so proud that as a government we have taken another form of environmental racism and we’re doing something about it. We’re committing hundreds of millions of dollars to cleaning up that site that has been left for 50 years through multiple governments. We all have a blame for this and we’re actually doing something about it.
We’re seeing other instances occasionally that come forward and we’ve been acting on those instances. I think we’re doing a fabulous job and I don’t mean just this government but us as a whole of government that we see the importance of doing this. I don’t know that we need to have a separate bill. What we need to do is take action as the member mentioned bills sitting on a shelf.
It’s pretty easy to pass a bill and have it sit on a shelf and not have it mean anything. We’re taking action. We’re going to help the people of Pictou Landing. We’re going to help the people to make sure Boat Harbour is cleaned up. We’re going to be in a process soon where it will be a Level 2 environmental assessment that will be able to remove the material there and make sure it’s disposed of safely and the residents of Pictou Landing First Nation will have a Boat Harbour that’s not something to cringe about, you know, that they’re going to have future generations that are going to be back there and do things again. It’s what they need for the community and I think it’s so important to acknowledge we all have a part in this environmental racism. I mean, I didn’t know about it. Most Nova Scotians didn’t about it. They sure know about it now and that’s why it was so important to go see that and to share the concern for her community.
Do we need a bill? If it comes to that point sometime, you never know, but I think that we have shown our due diligence, we’ve shown we really care about people that have been disadvantaged in the communities with the things that have been going on. Another fine example, too, when I first came to government, even before I heard about the area in Kennetcook that had the fracking wastewater ponds and government was sitting and doing absolutely nothing. One of the first things we did coming into government was make an arrangement with the company. There was enough money left before they went bankrupt to be able to deal with the fracking wastewater and to have it all safely disposed of and that site is again pristine. So, there’s another incidence where in a less affluent part of the province that we have taken action.
I think we’ve proved that we do care, that we have taken action, that we will continue to and we’re setting a standard for Nova Scotians I hope will move forward to multiple governments in future years.
LENORE ZANN: Thank you. I didn’t hear a yes in that answer, so, I’m going to talk for a little longer.
I wonder if the minister understands exactly what environmental racism actually means because, yes, there are many places around the province where there are environmental eyesores like the Kennetcook area but that stuff got shipped off to Debert, which a lot of people were upset about, and burned in the cement kiln there. Is that the right way to deal with it, with the fracking wastewater? I don’t know.
Environmental racism is not just about Northern Pulp; it’s about every area in Nova Scotia where there have been dumps and waste sites, there have been landfills and any kind of industrial pollution that has been placed on or near African Nova Scotian and Aboriginal communities.
In many of these areas there are people who are suffering all kinds of different health problems. In Truro, for instance, there was a dump on East Prince Street where many people have Down Syndrome or things like this. Then that dump was covered over. It was in the Black area of town. They covered it over and built a playground for the kids and then moved it up to the top of the hill on Young Street where there’s another Black community. Beechville - there are many different areas around the province where people have been suffering for many years and they would like to be able to have it acknowledged and have something done. That’s what that bill is really all about. There has been a book about it, There’s Something in the Water by Dr. Ingrid Waldron. I know that Ellen Page is very interested and is interested in doing a documentary about it.
I think this is something that still needs to be looked at and it has not actually been addressed yet. I would very much appreciate it if government would take a look at it again and act upon it. With that I will say thank you very much for your time and I’m done.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E7 stand?
The resolution stands.
Thank you, minister, and thank you to your department. It has been a long couple of days. Let’s get the next one up. We’ll take a five-minute break while everybody gets set up.
[6:57 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[7:01 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: We’re going to call the Estimates for the Minister of Internal Services.
Resolution E12 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $193,834,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Internal Services, pursuant to the Estimate.
THE CHAIR: I’ll now invite the minister to give an opening statement with the reminder we have an hour left to the committee and you have an hour for an opening statement.
The honourable Minister of Internal Services.
HON. PATRICIA ARAB: Good evening, Mr. Chairman. It’s my pleasure to address the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply and speak about budgets for the Department of Internal Services and Communications Nova Scotia. Joining me today are Jeff Conrad, Deputy Minister of Internal Services, Diane Saurette, financial services for Internal Services, Melissa MacKinnon, Associate Deputy Minister of Communications Nova Scotia, and Cathy MacIsaac, Managing Director of Communications and Corporate Services.
Let me begin by saying it is a high honour to serve as minister of two organizations known for innovation and service excellence. The accomplishments I will speak about today were made possible because of innovative, hard-working public servants. I thank them for doing their utmost to serve the people of Nova Scotia.
I’ll start with the Department of Internal Services, which delivers shared services to the public sector. We process one million financial transactions each year. Audit operations make the best use of information technology, manage major purchases, and help public bodies administer their freedom of information programs. Our work allows other departments and agencies to focus on delivering important programs and services Nova Scotians rely on. We focus on three core areas: shared services; digital government; and innovation.
Delivering shared services is the foundation of the Department of Internal Services. In fact, the department’s origin was in the realization there was money to be saved by doing things differently. We looked at financial services delivery, information and communication technology, procurement, human resources, and major construction projects across the public sector. Not surprisingly, we found many opportunities to more efficiently and effectively provide services and make better use of tax dollars.
While many jurisdictions have explored ways to deliver shared services, what sets apart Nova Scotia’s approach is the unprecedented collaboration and sponsorship among the provincial government, health sector, and Crown corporations. We developed a phased-in approach to allow us to create a more stable and sustainable system for the long term. However, this came with many challenges around organizational changes and governance models required to support a cross-sector model. Taking the time then to build relationships and credibility were and remain keys to our continued achievement of our goals and allows us to successfully advance on this path of fiscal prudence and sustainability.
Some examples of the work we have undertaken to save money or deliver better services include mobility and landline contracts, which are saving us about $2.7 million each year; combining software licensing agreements that help to avoid paying $1.2 million in additional costs; consolidating servers, realizing a savings of $400,000 in maintenance costs; developing a single cross-sector tool for recruiting and hiring new employees, gaining efficiencies for human resources and hiring managers; standardizing IT service desk ticketing systems and introducing common processes for IT professionals, using a self-service tool for IT that has cut the number of e-mails to the service desk from 45,000, per year to 23,000 per year; creating an internal audit function to monitor procurement practices in contracts; and improving cybersecurity by moving our shared services partners into a more secure technical environment. Work in this area will continue evolve as the shared services model matures.
The list goes on. They are only a few examples of what is possible with a cross-sector approach to shared services. Our journey will continue this year. The further we move along the journey to a shared-services model the more lessons we are learning that help us to do our jobs better. Sometimes we make mistakes and have to re-evaluate our approach but always we are getting better at what we do, thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff at all levels of the organization.
To that end, we’ll continue to work to meet the Auditor General and the Privacy Officer’s recommendations in response to the privacy breach of the FOIPOP portal last year. The public can track our progress in achieving our action plan, which is posted on the department’s website.
Our secondary operations service to back up government and health sector data will continue to evolve this year as disaster recovery services for IT operations are expanded to the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK. Existing operations will be augmented with cloud-based services to secure data and ensure it is available in the event of outage or disaster.
We’re also helping Mi'kmaq communities - they’re not part of shared services - secure better contracts by posting tender notices on our website so they can connect with more suppliers and get the best possible value for their money.
We’ve invested in better coverage in rural Nova Scotia by adding four radio towers to the network. This is our trunk mobile radio 2. It is one of the first examples of a shared multi-province radio system in North America. It enables police, fire, ambulance, ground search and rescue, municipal emergency management offices, and RCMP to talk to each other regardless of location or organization. For this we won the Gold Award in 2016 for our innovative approach to helping first responders, law enforcement, and public safety agencies talk to each other during an emergency.
We saw the system in full swing during the summer of 2017 when the province was plagued by wildfires following a long spell of hot, dry weather. Crews fought fires in Annapolis, Queens, and Pictou Counties and we were part of the response. I want to commend the volunteers and first responders and Internal Services employees for their hard work and long hours on the job, ensuring the health and safety of all Nova Scotians.
Before I move on, I want to highlight some policy achievements. Because government is committed to preventing fraud, we developed a corporate policy to better protect government and our employees from suspected cases of fraud. The policy is comprehensive and applies to all direct government employees. We needed to ensure that employees had clear direction and things were being done consistently across the board. Mandatory online fraud training for employees and managers is also in place to help them spot and report suspected cases of fraud. To date, more than 5,000 staff and 1,000 managers have completed the training.
We’ve also updated the procurement policy to better reflect our new structures and processes, align with trade agreements, and to put better protections in place for our tax dollars. We continue to develop better contract management, supplier performance and supplier disqualification protocols.
Digital government is Internal Services’ second priority. Nova Scotians expect to access government information any time, anywhere, using any device. Digital government means rethinking how we interact with citizens so we can provide better and more effective services.
The Public Procurement Office now accepts electronic bids for public tenders. By moving away from paper submissions to receiving and evaluating bids electronically, e-bidding makes it easier for us to work with clients and suppliers while maintaining the accountability the public expects. E-bidding will also be open to the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK Health Centre.
In 2017 Nova Scotia became the third province to start posting completed FOIPOP requests online for the public to see. This disclosure makes government decisions more transparent by improving public access to information held by government. This was rightly hailed as an achievement. Regretfully, this innovative approach to processing freedom of information requests was the subject of a privacy breach in April 2018. In responding to the breach, the FOIPOP portal was taken offline and we engaged the Auditor General and the Review Officer to help understand its cause and provide recommendations for better protecting the personal information of Nova Scotians.
We’ve acknowledged the role government played in the steps that led to the breach and we’ve been focused on containing the information, learning what happened and working to ensure that we do better going forward, and we’ve made a lot of progress.
The online site for posting publicly available FOIPOP responses was restored last Fall so that Nova Scotians can once again easily download information that contributes to transparency and accountability in government. We offered free credit-monitoring services to those affected by the breach, recognizing our responsibility to help them manage the personal impacts of what happened. We have continued to work to ensure that the information involved in the breach is contained. As of now, we believe the breach has been contained.
In January we accepted the recommendations from the Auditor General and the Review Officer and produced an action plan that outlines our path to achieving them. We have put our action plan online and will update it periodically so the public can judge our progress for themselves.
In the coming weeks we will be releasing an RFP to begin the work of developing a new web portal for submitting FOIPOP applications. The lessons we have learned from the privacy breach will once again help to return Nova Scotia to the forefront of promoting accountability and transparency through freedom of information.
Digital government will ensure provincial data is easily accessible to individuals and businesses through the Open Data Portal. This work supports our commitments to openness, transparency, and data sharing. Open Data has been a huge success for Nova Scotia.
We launched the Open Data Portal so Nova Scotians can access the wealth of government data, so they can use it, share it, and create new opportunities. Our portal gives free, easy access to hundreds of data collections, including high resolution 3D maps, and some information previously only available for a fee.
Since its launch, Open Data pages have been viewed more than 800,000 times and the data sets have been downloaded more than 50,000 times - this speaks volumes about the demand for this type of service.
Nova Scotia is proud to be a part of the worldwide open data movement. This year we will continue adding new data collections to the Open Data Portal so everyone can access them and harness the power of Open Data.
Innovation is another key priority of Internal Services. We know we need to embrace doing things differently because the world is changing, and we need to change with it; the status quo is not sustainable.
Internal Services is building a workplace culture focused on innovation and continuous improvement, and our employees are the key to its success. Guided by Excellence Canada, we continue to strengthen our organizational foundation of service excellence, innovation, and employee wellness. These are the same principles and practices we use to deliver services to our clients.
As I mentioned, we earned bronze certification from Excellence Canada for organizational development last year and the road is paved for silver certification in the year ahead. We will also continue our work advancing diversity, creating inclusive workplaces, and maintaining employee wellness. We are spreading the culture of continuous improvement beyond our walls.
Internal Services is leading a government-wide improvement initiative using Lean Six Sigma methods and tools. The work started when we offered training to employees who would tackle their own process-improved projects.
Several departments jumped on board and around their own pilots, eliminating unnecessary steps and streamlining processes in favour of innovation and improvement. Lean Six Sigma methods and tools will continue to guide our work to improve business processes across government.
In December I joined participants for the first Lean Six Sigma graduation and a showcase of team projects. It was so inspiring to be in a room with dedicated public servants who are focused on solving problems and making government work better for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.
We in ISD strive to save money, improve service quality, reduce duplication, and standardize processes and products whenever possible. We will continue taking a broad, inclusive and sustainable approach to system and program design, always keeping privacy, cybersecurity, and best use of technology at the top of mind.
I am pleased to say a few things about Communications Nova Scotia - government’s full-service communications agency. From graphic designers and photographers to project managers and communications advisors, CNS staff provide a range of communication services to help government departments and offices inform Nova Scotians about available programs and services.
It is CNS’s job, working with departments, agencies, and community partners to help make information about how to access and use these programs and services accessible to everyone.
Mr. Chair, we live in a digital age. The way people get and give information is changing almost daily. We live in a 24-hour news cycle where information flow is expected to be almost instant and people are likely to get their information from a screen; most likely a mobile device.
The communications landscape has changed, and CNS is also changing so that it’s positioned to give Nova Scotians the information that they need when they need it.
As the minister responsible for this important agency, I feel very strongly that the organization must constantly evolve, reflect, and then evaluate to ensure that it is doing its best. Government programs and services are only successful if they’re accessible to the people they are designed to serve and if people know about them. That is a responsibility that I take very seriously.
Some of the staff at CNS are familiar faces to many of you, Mr. Chair. You see them at the House, at media events liaising with reporters and ministers to get media the information they need. They handle between 80 to 100 media calls a week from the Press Gallery and from media and communities across the province and nationally, but CNS staff do other important work behind the scenes. Graphic designers, editors and communications planning and production staff play critical roles in preparing the budget documents we’re debating, just as one example.
CNS plays a part in everything Nova Scotians see and hear. From reports to photo, video and web, to news releases, social media and marketing. As a centralized agency mandated under legislation, CNS ensures that communication services are effective and cost efficient. CNS uses communications and marketing expertise as well as research and evaluation to support department efforts to reach their audiences.
Mr. Chair, the work that CNS does is always in collaboration with others. Last year Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces to launch its Cannabis Legalization Public Education and Awareness Campaign. We knew that providing good communications to Nova Scotians about cannabis legalization was important. Developed with colleagues at the Department of Justice, the campaign focused on two key tracks: general education and awareness of our laws and the health risks of cannabis, and cannabis impaired driving.
Every day work is under way on other priorities such as home heating rebates, youth employment, immigration, work zone safety, and sexual violence. As a part of government’s overall digital approach, Communications Nova Scotia has been leading the development of a new website for government. The new site was launched last Fall and it’s helping Nova Scotians more easily find and access the information, programs and services they’re looking for.
CNS is delivering on government’s first web strategy to create a user-centric website that makes information about government programs and services much more accessible. CNS has developed standards and processes for this web strategy, its implementation and for post launch as well. We’ve moved from planning to content transformation and the launch of new web content for six departments. We are continuing to work with departments to transform the 1.9 million pages of content into one cohesive website that will allow Nova Scotians to easily find the program and service information that they are looking for.
The new website has a consistent look and feel and is accessible from mobile devices. It is organized according to user needs and easily searchable. Mr. Chair, the launch of the new website is one of our critical actions to improve the accessibility of government information and communications. CNS is the designated lead for several outcomes in the Government of Nova Scotia’s accessibility plan. CNS is working across all of our services to improve accessibility of information about government programs and services. This includes the new accessible website, captioning videos, plain language and improving the accessibility of documents online. We’re also collaborating closely with the Accessibility Directorate to promote awareness of the many benefits of a more accessible Nova Scotia.
Mr. Chair, I’m willing to bet most people in this room engage with friends, family, and constituents on social media. Nova Scotians are on social media and they expect government to be there too. Digital channels are critical in reaching and engaging Nova Scotians. CNS takes a proactive approach to digital and implemented new tools to ensure brand consistency and a streamlined approach. We use Analytics and other learnings to improve government social media presence and effectiveness, including trying new platforms and enhancing use of existing platforms. Analytics have told us that we were able to reach more Nova Scotians on our digital channels with video and live video posts.
We reach close to 900,000 people each month through government social media channels - our Twitter followers have grown to more than 50,000; Facebook to more than 32,000; and we’ve grown our audiences on Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn as well.
Our digital content advisors are engaging with Nova Scotians every day, answering questions and directing people to information they need. Social posts about cannabis legislation and drivers licence renewal changes are two examples of times that we answered almost 100 questions on a single post. This type of direct communication with Nova Scotians also helps to increase the reach and engagement of the post, ensuring more Nova Scotians get clarity.
Mr. Chair, last, but not least, I wanted to touch on the commitment of CNS to be as effective and efficient as possible. Over the last few years, CNS has reduced FTEs, streamlined and reorganized to better deliver comprehensive communications and marketing services that keep Nova Scotians informed about their government. Each year CNS manages around 10,000 projects on behalf of government. Project management is centralized with CNS to more efficiently and cost effectively manage this work. We have centralized media relations and corporate response functions to allow CNS to better distribute existing staff resources as required. This creates flexibility to ship resources to respond to emergency events or unexpected or unanticipated demands for information, and support to communicating government programs and services.
The work the agency has done to realign resources and implement processes has increased the effectiveness and efficiency of the agency overall. CNS will continue to help departments and partners adapt to the challenges and opportunities facing our province and look for new and useful ways to engage with Nova Scotians.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and with that we will take your questions.
THE CHAIR: Thank you very much, minister. We’ll invite the Progressive Conservative caucus and Mr. d’Entremont for opening questions.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and, minister, staff, it’s a pleasure to see all of you. It’s kind of funny, when I look at that bench, I know everybody there. It’s kind of funny. Either I’ve been here too long (Interruption) or yes, let’s just say that.
I want to thank the minister for her opening statement and the only thing I found missing in there really is what do you mean no Snapchat. I mean, you talked about every other platform except Snapchat - is it there? (Interruption) All right, just want to be sure.
So let’s start with Internal Services and let’s do a little rundown of the budget first because I think we are talking about budget so it’s good to actually talk about budget line. So, this department spends, or actually will spend this year an estimate of $193 million broken up into six different divisions and, of course, they’re all listed here as they go along. So, the first question I have: How many FTEs do you actually have in the department?
PATRICIA ARAB: We are anticipating this year 962 FTEs.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: That is down a little bit from last year. I think you had 967.9 and then this year you only had 881.7, or at least you’re forecasted to have, so why the 100-odd deficiency there between year and what’s your planning – what’s your finishing forecast and what you’re budgeting for this year?
PATRICIA ARAB: So, a lot of that is vacant positions, vacancies that we have that won’t be full-time positions but, as the year progresses, we’ll move in and out depending on projects and where need is.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: FTEs have always been a challenge for me and I think a challenge for government because, of course, you need to be fluid and, at the same time, there’s always I think a misrepresentation of what our budgets actually are because of the unfunded positions or positions that are unfilled. So, we’re hoping that by the end of the year we’ll have 962.9 people working there, or FTEs anyway.
PATRICIA ARAB: Yes, that’s correct, and I think that it’s important for us, given the nature of the work that we do across the department, that there is flexibility and we are able to bring people in on projects as they come up. We need to be more limber; we can’t be as rigid as projects come up, as procurement issues come up. We need to make sure that we’re able to allocate staff in areas where they’re needed the most.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Which division of your department needs to react that quickly?
PATRICIA ARAB: A lot of that is within the IT group and that’s a natural reflection of turnover within that area.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: All right, let’s move along. Corporate Affairs is a very small part, - well, actually, it’s a larger part of your division. Can you give me a quick rundown because that does include the insurance and risk management and business continuity, so maybe give me a quick rundown because they’re slated to spend about $23 million or $24 million.
PATRICIA ARAB: The vast majority of Corporate Affairs - and I don’t want to miss anything because they’re extremely important, but that would be the trunk mobile radio that I mentioned in my opening remarks; that would be the biggest aspect of Corporate Affairs.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Thank you for that. As an ex-firefighter and actually working with some RCMP on occasion, the trunk radio system is extremely important for connection, especially in rural areas of this province. As you get further inland, the more difficult it is to talk to people. So that’s what the majority of that is.
Internal Audit - another small one - they do some important things across government, auditing different aspects of other departments, so maybe give us a quick rundown of what Internal Audit does.
PATRICIA ARAB: As the member mentioned, we do go in for Internal Audit and look at specific departments, look at specific areas of departments where there needs to be that independent lens that’s placed on them. Instead of relying on contracts to have that service brought in, that’s one of the areas where we streamline and we have a team that’s available to do that for our government departments, but also our Crown corporations and our agencies.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: How many audits do they perform a year?
PATRICIA ARAB: There’s generally about 60 audits in play throughout the course of the year.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: I remember procurement being in a whole bunch of different departments over my career here - it’s good to see it settled for a while in the Department of Internal Services.
So, 74 people provide this service, which I would guess is the website that provides it, but also the number of consultants that would go along with this - maybe you can give a quick rundown of what it looks like over at Procurement.
PATRICIA ARAB: Our Procurement team handles the procurement not only for government, but for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, our Regional Centres for Education, our agencies, boards and commissions, and our Crown corporations. They have a team that will put together the RFPs, but also doing the procurement of something as small as office supplies to our QEII development and our health centre in Cape Breton.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Do they provide some help to municipalities as well?
PATRICIA ARAB: We provide frameworks to the municipalities and, occasionally, advice.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: There was a question I got yesterday on a procurement down in my neck of the woods. Of course, the bidder who didn’t win was unhappy. Are there consultants in the department who would provide some help or at least an understanding to the people providing the RFP and to the people who might not win - how does that roll out?
PATRICIA ARAB: Absolutely. First and foremost, we tend to have fairness monitors that are put on to our procurement process to make sure that there isn’t any inappropriateness and that anything that is scored is done in a fair and accurate manner. For those proponents who are not successful, the department always offers the opportunity to have a debrief to see what could have been improved upon. In the case of the municipality, the municipality would do the debrief.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: How many tenders do they do per year?
PATRICIA ARAB: As you can tell by the looks on our faces, it varies from year to year. I do believe that last year there was around 300, but we can get a number for you.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Maybe while you’re doing that, the range of costs - it could be a box of Post-it Notes or a contract for Post-it Notes to an MRI or a large hospital construction - I’m just wondering, what kind of ranges we see.
PATRICIA ARAB: The total value of procurement between us and the Health Authority is about $1.6 billion.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: That answers my question very well. So Financial Service Delivery, moving to the next one, they are a $9 million division. I think this one we are happy with because I think they are the people who pay us and pay all of government, so if you’d give us a quick rundown of what they do on a daily basis.
PATRICIA ARAB: The member is right, Mr. Chair, they are the ones who sign off on our paycheques but they also provide payments to those who are on income assistance and others, like writing a cheque or making sure that all of the payments are processed efficiently - accounts payable, accounts receivable, any travel requests, they allow us to go on with our business as usual.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: I would say that’s the broader public service that it provides - what about Health Authorities and other entities?
PATRICIA ARAB: The Health Authority has their own payroll services.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Okay, I’m going to skip over the Technology Services for a moment and just look at Communications Nova Scotia for a second because they are a great bunch and they do great work, so I don’t think I’m going to have lots of questions about them.
My question around their total budget, which is $7.7 million, the most important one in my mind, because it’s something left over from a long time ago when I was minister, the translation services in there somewhere - can you talk a little bit about translation services and how that has grown over the last number of years?
PATRICIA ARAB: Probably one of the biggest successes of CNS and the streamlining of CNS is bringing our translators under our umbrella and housing them with us, because what it has allowed us to do more than anything else is that any piece of communication that comes in through CNS is now put through a French language lens. So instead of a cut and paste, Google translate - not that that was what was happening - when we’re communicating, we’re thinking not only in English but also in French as well, which I think is very important to the majority of our Acadian and francophones.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Thanks for that because I think it’s extremely important. It has gone from I don’t know - how many FTEs at this point?
PATRICIA ARAB: Three FTEs in Translation Services but it’s also important to know that they sit on our project management team, so they are part of every project that comes through our department.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Being a bilingual Nova Scotian who has trouble translating things sometimes, they do phenomenal work because their turnover blows my mind. I know I have sent a couple of things in that are doable and it’s almost within minutes they can provide you with a translation, so they do a great job.
Around the Communications Nova Scotia thing, we see a lot of people in departments that sort of belong to CNS but may be not counted in this. Are they counted in this FTE number or are they accounted for in the departmental numbers?
PATRICIA ARAB: As the member stated, Mr. Chair, and as I stated in my opening remarks, we have a number of CNS staff who are housed in other departments but they fall under our department and they are part of our FTE totals, regardless of which department they are working with.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: But there’s no real - funded by external agencies - I mean there’s a couple of people there but that doesn’t really count. How does that account - it’s your payroll and not necessarily the payroll of the Department of Health and Wellness that might have five communicators, right?
PATRICIA ARAB: We pay and then recover any costs.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Okay, perfect, that answers my question.
Let’s go to the Information and Communication Technologies, which spends the majority of your budget, at $193.834 million, which is a tremendous amount of money for technology. It has a funded staff of 722 FTEs. Give us a quick rundown of some of the projects they are working on - what do they provide for the broader government?
PATRICIA ARAB: From a general IT perspective, any time that you have a problem with one of your devices or your computer, our IT techs are the ones you are speaking to who are providing this service, not just to government departments, but to the Health Authority and the IWK. We are the front line for IT support.
We have a data centre where all of government’s records are contained for recovery in case of emergency, and that is fully staffed. We have a growing cybersecurity team. You know, we are living in an age where we need to be mindful of what’s happening within our servers, within the information that we are dealing with - information, obviously, of Nova Scotians, the government information, so making sure we are staying on top of any threats or any risks that are out there is important; all of our SAP financial services, they have a wide range.
Our ICTS staff have a gamut of experience and capabilities that are far beyond me, and even after two years within the department it kind of blows my mind what they are capable of and what they are able to accomplish. I have a lot of respect for that team.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: For the amount of money we pay, they should be amazing, which I am sure they are, but my interaction with technology with the province is very limited. Outside of a desktop, actually, my phone doesn’t even go through the system, so as an MLA, we don’t necessarily have that opportunity. Well, we have the opportunity, but we can take it or not take it.
My question really revolves around, I mean, once I get into FOIPOP stuff, which will happen in a couple of moments, but my question is around the CIO number here where we are budgeting $115,000 versus $112,000 and somehow in there, there is a $3.1 million forecast. What did we spend that much money on in this fiscal year?
PATRICIA ARAB: It is for accounting purposes to allocate for vacancies and unspent, so we park it there.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: I wish I was an accountant to understand that one, but I’ll take your word for it on that one.
So, it’s not necessarily funded. If it is just parked there, that means it is not funded; this is spent money.
PATRICIA ARAB: When we have a position that takes six months to fill, instead of leaving it as a cost centre there, we park it into this line item.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Well, I’ll ask you more questions about that off-line to understand the complexities of accounting, especially governmental accounting.
I did ask the questions today in the House of Assembly and I thank you for your answers around the FOIPOP portal. Maybe I’ll just give you a little minute - where are we in the procurement of a new portal, is kind of where I think we are at this point. So, we’ve identified what went wrong, we shut it down, we’ve now been 365 days of trying to figure out what to do next. I know there has been some work going on, so maybe you can give a quick rundown on where we are.
PATRICIA ARAB: As I said during QP today, the portal, as it existed last year, is not there. We have been receiving FOIPOP requests and we have been delivering - I think our turnaround on FOIPOP is around 80 per cent of requests that are put in.
We have a website that has the public disclosures, so we have bits and pieces of what was originally there, but we have been taking our time to make sure that we are very thorough in what we are looking for in terms of making sure that the site we wanted to have standing is what we get, and learning from the mistakes.
We also wanted to make sure that we had all of the independent reports in before we moved forward. We knew as a department what we thought, right? You have an idea of what you think is happening, but that is not the only opinion that you should be taking when you’re so close to a situation.
So, it was important to us that two independent reports came out. It was important to us that we did our Deloitte review and had our lessons learned, so that when we developed our RFP for the new FOI site we would be as thorough as possible in what we were asking for. As I said, and I don’t remember now when I said it, I think that we’re a few weeks away from having that finalized and putting that out to tender.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: You’re a couple weeks away from that. I’m trying to understand how we buy these systems - do we have a standing with the previous purveyor of that technology? I think it was with Unisys or I can’t remember the company that actually had it - do we go back to them for a new one or is that a full RFP, we’re going to go completely and possibly new technology with it?
PATRICIA ARAB: The RFP will be completely new and whoever feels that they have the ability to bid will do so. That isn’t going to preclude the previous vendor, but it’s anybody who thinks that they have the technology and the capability to meet that RFP will bid on it.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: I know we’ve asked a lot of questions in Public Accounts and a whole bunch of other places, so I’m not going to belabour it any longer. Just, you know, let’s see where we can get on this one and I hope we all get to do it right this time. I think it was disappointing, I know it was disappointing on behalf of the department to have something like that happen. I think at the end of the day the reports will instruct this government, and future governments, to do things a little differently as well. What worries me a little bit, as we start rolling down into the largest health information system that we’ve ever had, I’m just wondering, what did we learn from that that we’re going to be using in this?
PATRICIA ARAB: I completely get the member’s concern and I agree with him in that we want to make sure that we’re doing better, and that moving forward we do better. I think that when we look at OPOR, when we look at any of our large-scale technology endeavours, we want to make sure that we’ve learned from our FOI site and we want to make sure that we’re learning from best practices. We want to do regional scans - who are the other jurisdictions that are using this type of technology for OPOR, for anything else that we’re bringing in, and relying on expertise and making sure that we’re as thorough as possible.
From the lessons learned and from the recommendations of the AG and the Privacy Officer, already how we are establishing contracts and how we’re doing project management is changing and it’s tightened up. So, we need to make sure that we understand that it’s not just the big projects, but that we’re looking at every project that we bring in, making sure that we’re putting the same thorough lens on it. That really has been the overarching thing that we’ve learned as a department, to make sure that all of those checks are crossed off, all those boxes are crossed off, not just for OPOR but for everything that we’re doing.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: When we look at this system, I mean this system will replace two existing systems. The health authorities at the time could never make a decision on which system to actually go with. I think it was what people saw. No, I can’t even remember what they were called now because basically the IWK had a system and CDHA had a system and everybody else had the same as the IWK, I think, but they could never talk to each other, it was just a disaster. We learned that we should have a connected hospital system, but how are we going to be able to manage the cost of this? This one’s a large system. I think the estimates are at $500 million at this point. I just remember what happened with SAP and other systems in this province that doubled in cost, or more. So maybe you can talk to the actual sheer costs of this project?
PATRICIA ARAB: Yes, so it’s actually three main systems that we’re integrating, that interact with about 100 others. It’s quite an endeavour but what we’ve done is, within the procurement development, we’ve put safeguards in place for managing cost risks.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Can you promise me that SAP won’t happen again, because that, I think, tripled in cost by the time it was complete and fully rolled out, or at least doubled when it was fully rolled out for the province.
PATRICIA ARAB: I can promise you that we are a department that has come together as a lessons-learned department and best practice department. So, everything that we are doing is in the hopes of getting it better this time around.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: There was an article not so long ago about a little challenge, because from what I understand of the process is that it’s sort of the Health Authority and the Department of Health and Wellness, with a little bit of help from you guys, we’re sort of trying to identify something is going on and then it goes into who the preferred bidders are. There was a bit of an accusation of meetings that were happening - and maybe even some suppers at the Press Gang. So, are we comfortable that the process itself is as tight as it can be?
PATRICIA ARAB: We’ve looked at that. We’ve worked with our partners to make sure that the process has been appropriate and fair. We’ve also worked with a fairness monitor who is an independent lens on making sure that there hasn’t been any inappropriateness. So, we’re moving forward feeling quite comfortable.
CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: That was kind of my last question, so I’m just trying to stretch things out as long as I can. You know, quite honestly, I mean it’s a nice tight little department that does all kinds of great stuff for different parts of our province. You know, it does spend a fair amount of money as well, so we want to make sure that it’s done as effectively as possible. It’s kind of funny, as much as we’re communicating on behalf of government, we don’t necessarily communicate on behalf of Internal Services. It’s kind of a nice little thing.
I want to thank the minister for her answers and, of course, her staff for being here. I am going to share my time with the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
THE CHAIR: Ms. Adams. You have 13 minutes.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you, very much. I’m happy to have an opportunity to talk. I do want to start off by saying that I am somebody who is neurotic when I fax a piece of a patient’s medical information, so I can only imagine how the minister felt when the FOIPOP breach happened and how the department felt, because at no time does anybody ever intend for anything like that to happen.
Although some of this falls into the Department of Health and Wellness, where we’re moving to using private home care agencies and other agencies that are not directly hired by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, when we move to One Person One Record, possibly opening up the number of people who will be contributing to a patient’s medical record, and have access to a patient’s medical record, I want to share an experience I had with one of my constituents who asked me to ask this.
His family member was receiving home care from a private home care agency that had a service contract with the government and he received a continuing care contract in the mail saying here’s the name, diagnosis, all of the very personal information about hygiene and medication, and it was not his relative’s information. He called the department and said this came to him erroneously.
Of course, because it’s a private agency we don’t have any idea if that agency then contacted the patient whose information was erroneously released. The next week he got a second letter in the mail and he opened it up and it was a second person - completely not his family member’s information. The third letter that came had his relative’s name and address on it, and everything else had nothing to do with them. So, he was beside himself because his family member had ended up in hospital and subsequently died a few months later and he’s been trying to find out ever since what she died of - was the wrong information that was sent to him perhaps inadvertently entered in her chart? I don’t think he believes for a minute that it contributed to her death, but it left him feeling very frustrated.
I am wondering where the government is utilizing private agencies to provide health care, when we move to One Person One Record are private agencies going to have any access to that information or upload information onto that record? If so, what kind of a mechanism is going to be in place to ensure that when this happens, because none of us are perfect, if and when this happens what is the mechanism for reporting it, and are patients going to be educated about what they’re supposed to do about it?
PATRICIA ARAB: I’m going to try and be concise with this answer. First and foremost, as somebody who cared for a palliative parent, I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been, and then to have that information, I can’t imagine how it would have felt to have my mother’s information given to a stranger. So, let me start by saying that.
What you’re talking about does fall under the Personal Health Information Act, which is a different Act that is administered by the Department of Health and Wellness. So what I can say to you in terms of One Person One Record is that on the onset it is not our intention, as far as I’m aware, to move into private agencies. Moving forward with the development of it and which process we use, that will be a conversation that we’ll have, but as of right now that isn’t the intent to start.
BARBARA ADAMS: If and when we do eventually move to that point, I think there will need to be in the service contracts, really strict guidelines on how that happens.
Ironically, just a really short period of time before that, it was actually the day before Christmas, I had another constituent call very distressed because they had been in hospital, the husband had been in hospital a few weeks before that and went home, thankfully. He ended up back in emergency on Christmas Eve and when he went through triage and the doctor saw him the first thing the doctor said was okay, so let’s find out if the reason you’re here is because of your recent lung cancer surgery. He said to the doctor, I don’t have lung cancer and I did not have lung cancer surgery. People don’t realize a lot of times with medical records, you get the printout of the medical record and then they put a sticky label on the front and sometimes the wrong sticky label gets put on.
I know that myself because I went to emergency a few months ago and was sent home with a prescription for something, faxed it to my pharmacist and he called me back and he said, he’s got some other man’s name on the top of your prescription.
So in this case he called the Medical Records department and they told him that there was nothing they could do to correct his record. All they were willing to do is put another secondary note on another page saying to disregard that page. Well, this gentleman was applying for life insurance and they were not happy with that solution. They went back to emergency for a second time for another thing and, of course, the next doctor that triaged him, same record popped up - he didn’t open up the other record that said disregard the first record. They were very upset; they called me. I called Medical Records and they got their lawyers to contact me, I read them the Personal Health Information Act and the clause that says it can be corrected.
This is happening; I don’t know how often, that’s another question. But when we move to One Person One Record, I guess what I’m wondering - we’re going to need to update the legislation in terms of when this happens what can Medical Records do to ensure that only accurate information is on the record? So I’m wondering if you’ve thought about that, and in the procurement stage whether that has entered into any of your conversations?
PATRICIA ARAB: To start, the purpose of One Person One Record is to be able to have the control to make the changes and to have it be as efficient and as accurate as possible, but really our job at ISD is to provide the system. The onus is going to be on the department and non-health care providers to be making sure that the information is accurate. That’s really more of a question that’s geared towards Health and Wellness.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you. For those who don’t quite understand with the FOIPOP breach, what was determined to be the actual cause of it?
PATRICIA ARAB: So, the independent findings were that it was a poor design; it was a design flaw in the way the way that the site was set up.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you very much. I’m wondering, when was the last time the Auditor General reviewed your department and produced a report?
PATRICIA ARAB: All the time - we’re like one of his favourite departments. Yes, it’s at least twice a year that the Auditor General audits us on specific things and specific aspects of the department, specific systems.
BARBARA ADAMS: So, I’m wondering, could you mention any specific one that was recent where there were a lot of recommendations for change, and what those kinds of changes were?
PATRICIA ARAB: Apart from the privacy breach, okay, so we’re on our way. You know that one. We’re on our way. So, I think we had our AMANDA system, there were eight recommendations. That was done two years ago; there were eight recommendations. I believe they’ve all been accomplished. Our professional services contract was on five of seven of his recommendations. Those were within the last two years.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you. So, are you referring to the Auditor General Report from November 2016?
PATRICIA ARAB: That’s correct.
BARBARA ADAMS: Okay. Thank you. So, I was just going to refer to Page 49. It was Recommendation 3.31. It says: “Lack of Oversight.” It says: “There is a lack of management oversight of the Province’s contract with Unisys.” So, I’m just wondering how you corrected that.
PATRICIA ARAB: Sorry, which audit are you looking at? I’m sorry.
BARBARA ADAMS: So, I’m referring to the Auditor General Report of - yes, on AMANDA
PATRICIA ARAB: So, can you repeat your specific question?
BARBARA ADAMS: Sure, this is the last one I want to reference. It’s Recommendation 3.31, it says “There is a lack of management oversight of the Province’s contract with Unisys.” Then, it goes on to explain that, so I’m just wondering how you corrected that.
PATRICIA ARAB: We’ve changed the way that we work with the provider to make sure that we have more oversight within our SAP team.
BARBARA ADAMS: Thank you. I’m going to pass my remaining few minutes over to the New Democratic Party.
THE CHAIR: There’s two minutes - not even, not even.
LISA ROBERTS: I will ask a question and you can think about it overnight. This is coming out of the middle of a list that will take approximately 45 minutes to an hour tomorrow, but the way in which tenders and requests for proposals are written often create a barrier for small- and medium-size local businesses to bid on government projects. What policies does the department have in place to address this challenge? You can think about that one tonight.
PATRICIA ARAB: How much time do we have?
THE CHAIR: Just keep talking. You’ll find out.
PATRICIA ARAB: So, we have a number of things that we do with small agencies, for example the Reverse Trade Show, but we can get into a further conversation about that tomorrow.
LISA ROBERTS: Because there is almost no time, and because I don’t understand how the government works behind the opaque glass that I see, can you introduce the people who are at your table? I swear, didn’t I just see you at a different committee where you were with a totally different department? (Laughter) Would you mind, just because I try to understand what’s going on and I’m confused.
PATRICIA ARAB: I think who you’re referring to is Diane Saurette.
DIANE SAURETTE: The Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee for the Yarmouth ferry. I also have Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
PATRICIA ARAB: She’s not very busy. She’s one of the civil servants that isn’t very busy.
THE CHAIR: The time allotted for consideration of Supply today has elapsed. We will see you all tomorrow.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 8:01 p.m.]