MR. CHAIRMAN: The Subcommittee of the Whole House on Supply. The debate on estimates is now called to order. Today is Monday, April 2, 2001, and it is now 4:25 p.m. First up is the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. As is procedure, the minister will have an opportunity to introduce the staff who are with him today and make a few opening remarks in regard to his department, then we will open the floor to questions.
Resolution E1 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $40,885,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, pursuant to the Estimate and the business plans of the Nova Scotia Beef Commission, the Nova Scotia Crop and Livestock Insurance Commission, the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board and the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Chairman, it certainly is a pleasure to be here today to present the 2000-01 budget for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. It is my pleasure, first, to introduce a number of staff members who are here. First of all to my right is my Deputy Minister Peter Underwood; at the rear is my Executive Assistant, Kent Groves; as well, at the rear, is the Director of Finance, CSU, Frank Dunn; as well, to my left, is the Manager of Financial Services, Bob Mosher; my Director of Policy and Planning and Communications Coordination, Diane Kenny; and I am also pleased to have Vice-Principal of Administration of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Bernie MacDonald, here as well today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just before you go any further, I should correct the time zone, it is now 5:25 p.m. instead of 4:25 p.m., just for the record of Hansard.
MR. FAGE: I think you have made a very important point, the correctness of the time. Certainly, when you revert to daylight savings time, sometimes it is easy to miss an hour or two.
As you are aware, the former Departments of Agriculture and Marketing, and Fisheries and Aquaculture were amalgamated last year to create the new Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The amalgamation fulfils this government's commitment to minimizing duplication and concentrating on delivery of better services to our clients and to consumers here in Nova Scotia, as well as the taxpayers.
The department's total client base is impressive, some 28,000 Nova Scotians work in the agricultural and fisheries industry, contributing about $1.5 billion to our province's economy. With these impressive numbers it is easy to see the high regard this government has for resource-based industries. Agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture are fundamental to the economy and often the survival of rural and coastal communities depend on these industries. While we are traditional in nature, there are many exciting and cutting-edge initiatives happening in our agricultural and fisheries industries. We are committed to the vision that will see our resource-based industries achieve, first of all, sustainability and continued growth opportunities in the future. To sustain rural communities, the key operative phrase here is certainly growth, backed by sustainable practices.
The new structure for Agriculture and Fisheries consists of four service areas, a policy, planning and communications division and, of course, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro.
The mission of our department is to foster prosperous and sustainable agricultural and fisheries industries through the delivery of quality public services for the betterment of rural and coastal communities and for all Nova Scotians. How we plan to do this is multi-faceted, involving industry and all levels of government. We want to build a solid foundation for the future by encouraging new product development, better use of technologies, addressing food safety and water-quality issues. We want to encourage good stewardship of the land, and we want to provide enforcement assistance against illegal fish buying and selling activities. We want to provide a meaningful education experience for our children and young people in the encouragement to enter the fields of food and fibre production.
Through these actions, we want to support these industries to the best of our ability, as a government. The department has set very high standards. I would like to give you a brief overview of the agriculture and fisheries industries in Nova Scotia. First is agriculture, which is a highly diversified industry in this province. Situations vary for each sector and each commodity and each have their own challenges but, in general, the previous year was a good
production year and a good financial year for Nova Scotia producers. Nova Scotia's agricultural industry achieved a $420 million milestone this year in the gross returns at the farm-gate value. This is the highest value ever obtained, by some $40 million, for the industry here in Nova Scotia. The outlook is good as well. We are forecasting a 2.5 per cent increase this year.
Improved livestock and fur prices were major contributors to the higher sales receipts. As well, the blueberry industry, with solid prices, had a record year with slightly under 42 million pounds harvested here in Nova Scotia. Poultry production increased by 6 per cent, while the number of mink pelts sold was up by 19 per cent, with significantly higher prices received. The higher prices are a result of stronger markets, but also of superior quality for the pelts raised here in Nova Scotia. Compared with the drought conditions of the previous three years, the 2000 growing season was considered typical, with generally good conditions for most crops and better than average yields in many of the horticulture sectors, such as strawberries, potatoes, vegetables and blueberries.
I would like to share with you some of our recent agricultural statistics. Dairy, at $90.4 million farm gate, and horticulture at $111.2 million are the largest sectors. Horticulture includes tree fruit, blueberries, strawberries, vegetables, floriculture and nursery shops. The next largest sector includes poultry and eggs at $78 million; livestock at $69.3 million, including the beef, cattle, hogs, sheep and mink industry. There are 118 agriculture-related manufacturers here in Nova Scotia, estimated at around $800 million. There are 4,453 farms in the province, and there are 2,700 farmers and farm managers in Nova Scotia.
Export of agri-food was approximately $169 million for the year ending in 1999. Some of our agri-food exports go to the U.S., Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Cuba. There is a large opportunity to provide custom-grown crops and commodities, certainly to these markets, and there is the opportunity to expand markets in other areas where quality food is in demand across the globe. There are 16,000 people employed directly and indirectly in agricultural-related businesses.
Now for the fisheries sector. Nova Scotia continues to lead in exports of fish and seafood products and, again, exceeded $1 billion for the year 2000, an increase of 9 per cent over 1999 figures. Export figures are expected to continue to grow. A viable, well-managed fishery is key to ensuring strong, self-reliant rural communities. The United States market remains a primary destination for Nova Scotia fish and seafood products.
Here are some of the facts about the Nova Scotia fishery. Over 286,000 tons of fish were landed in Nova Scotia last year. The fishery is the economic backbone and lifeline of over 350 communities in Nova Scotia. Almost 14,000 individuals are employed in fishing and fish processing industries in this province. The aquaculture industry alone employed 1,104
people during the last year. The aquaculture industry is also on pace to see continued growth. Starting several years ago at $14 million, the aquaculture industry is exceeding the $40 million mark at this present time with many opportunities for coastal communities around this province not only to see the jobs and the employment involved but the opportunity to generate more dollars of export for the Province of Nova Scotia.
Our inland recreational fishery generates $82 million a year to a growing tourism industry. The provincial crab fishery is expected to become a $75 million industry this year. The scallop fishery should see a landed value this year of nearly $100 million. Aquaculture, again, was worth $33.8 million in the year 1999, and early stats indicate above $40 million and possibly as high as $47 million worth of aquaculture produced for the year 2000. The export value of lobster is around $300 million and, of course, our hard-shell lobster is known worldwide for its high quality and superior taste.
We also see strong markets in our boat building industry, with a potential to generate $30 million in export sales by the year 2003. The participation and sponsorship, through our loan program, on the advances to build a number of boats, complete for the Annapolis Boat Show, is already reaping benefits for the boat builders of this province, and offer even more high-paying jobs in coastal communities, opportunities for our residents there.
As you can hear from these impressive facts, the agriculture and fishery sector contribute greatly to our provincial economy, approximately $1.5 billion. As you can expect, these foundation industries figured prominently in the province's economic strategy. They are progressive, innovative industries with people who know how to grow the industry and cause continued growth and opportunity in that sector. Our export success is built on quality consistency and diversity of product. There are many opportunities for new products to evolve. The industry takes great pride in developing new products to be marketed worldwide. Agri-tourism and aqua-tourism are two areas we see future potential growth and development.
Now I would like to introduce to you the new Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Our department includes the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, and is made up of 510 full-time employees. Department staff are located in areas of the province where agriculture and fisheries services are most needed, with the primary centres being Halifax, Truro, Kentville and Pictou. The Agricultural Services Branch looks after the integration of regional offices services, dykeland maintenance, resource stewardship activities and a 4-H program for our rural youth. It also provides development and risk management programs for the agriculture industry and oversees legislated organizations responsible for the orderly marketing of supply-managed commodities.
Within Agriculture Services, you will find the Resources Stewardship section, which is the Environmental Management and Land Protection section of our department, as well as the 4-H and Rural Organization and Field Services. The Programs and Risk Management
section looks after farm industry development, the aspects of agriculture research funding and serves as the federal liaison for the department. The Fisheries and Aquaculture Services Branch provide services to the coastal fishery through advisory services, field and coastal zone management and new fish technology. It also oversees aquaculture development, including leasing and licensing of aquaculture sites, and manages the inland fisheries resource.
The Aquaculture Division is the lead agency for aquaculture development in Nova Scotia. As of March 23, 2001, the department had issued 378 licenses for aquaculture sites. This division also provides fish health services and direction on research and development projects. The Inland Fisheries Division manages our province's inland resources and supports the many angling and community groups who volunteer so many hours for the preservation and improvement of streams in Nova Scotia. It operates two hatcheries and stocks several hundred lakes, streams and rivers each year. The division helps to conserve wild fish stocks through the field and extension services, and it strongly supports eco-tourism.
The Marine Fisheries Section is responsible for policy development and represents provincial interests. As well, our front-line Field Services staff work under this section, providing one-stop, community-based assistance to commercial harvesters, processors, aquaculturists and sport fishing groups alike. The Technology Section assists harvesters, processors and aquaculturists with developing new technologies and provides assistance in harbour infrastructure, such as haulouts, slips and wharves.
The Industry Development and Business Services Branch is responsible for marketing, product and quality development, business management and economic development services, and two business development agencies: the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board and the Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board.
The Fisheries and Farm Loan Boards oversee lending operations to the fishing and aquaculture industries, as well as the agriculture producers of this province. It also operates the New Entrants Program and the Weather Related Loss Programs.
The Marketing Services section provides essential market and product research for our clients. The goal of this section is to work with industry to identify, develop and promote market opportunities to provincial, national and international clients. The Business Management and Economic Development section provides economic analysis and information to industry and entrepreneurial initiatives.
The Legislation and Compliance Branch combines legislative and regulatory capabilities of the two former departments to provide consultation, education, leadership and excellence in licensing, legislation, investigations and lab services within a timely and responsible regulatory framework. They also administer and issue licences for fish processing and buying activities in the province. There is a huge component, as well, in regard to the inspection of processing plants, fish buying activities, aquaculture operations and marine plant
harvesting activities. In this section there is also a coordinated effort for legislation, regulations, record management, FOIPOP and ABC appointments.
The responsibility of our Licensing Enforcement section is to manage licensing of seafood buyers, fish plants, enforcement of buying and processing activities. Quality Evaluation is, of course, of utmost importance. This section carries out many services in the area of consumer health, such as meat, food inspection, veterinarian and laboratory services. The Policy and Planning and Communication section coordinates policy and communication activities as they relate to the department's mission and broad government priorities.
The Nova Scotia Agricultural College continues to take a lead in providing quality education, training and public service to its students. Working in co-operation with industry and government, the NSAC research department is a centre of agriculture expertise throughout Atlantic Canada. Approximately 30 per cent of the research funding comes from the private sector. The college has also been awarded four prestigious Canadian research chairs in bio-technology and agriculture resource management. As well, seven students have been awarded national, post-graduate scholarships, and six students have been awarded undergraduate student research awards from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Some of the research will be in water and air quality, issues related to agriculture, other environmental issues and cropping systems.
Through the Canada Foundation for Innovation program, NSAC has invested almost $3.7 million in infrastructure, which will be used to support research in water and air quality, issues related to agriculture, other agricultural environmental issues, wild blueberries, fur animal, pastures, plant and animal genomics, and cropping systems. From this fund, construction of three research facilities is planned for the year 2001-02. NSAC continues to participate in international development projects and programs that facilitate the movement of Canadian students overseas and encourages international students to study at NSAC.
Development projects are taking place in Ghana, Jamaica, Columbia and China. There are 16 international students enrolled at the college this year. A career services office survey of the 2000 showed that approximately 95 per cent of the class was employed or in further study within six months of graduation. This number, I think, is quite exceptional and reflective of the quality of the education at the college and the opportunities available to the students who graduate from this fine institution.
Of course, the department is supported in our efforts by the Corporate Services Unit, CSU, through Finance, Human Resources and IT services. Over this past year, the department has addressed transitional issues associated with departmental restructuring. The building of a new culture of excellence has begun and is supported by our budget. Staff from the two former departments have met several times to build the new department and, together, five goals were established to help guide them in the future development of the department and its services to Nova Scotians and the food industry.
Goal one is to foster the sustainable and environmentally responsible, development of Nova Scotia agriculture and fishery industries. We will do this by continuing to deliver development programming and advisory services to assist agriculture, fishing and aquaculture businesses to achieve economic growth and a sustainable future in Nova Scotia. We will work with agricultural clients to develop practical linkages and cross-compliance between environmental management at the farm level and development of income stabilization programs with all levels of government. We will enhance the capacity of Nova Scotia's agriculture and fishing industries to address and resolve resource-use challenges through new policies, developed through research and initiatives aimed at sustainable development of resources, generally accepted agriculture, fishing and aquaculture practices, the adoption of innovative, cost-effective technologies and the adoption of environmental issues such as farm waste management and groundwater and air quality.
The Farm Practices Act, proclaimed this March, is an industry-driven piece of legislation that will help protect farmers who are following normal farming practices, but also shows that agriculture is being proactive in establishing codes of farming practices that are compatible with rural, non-farming neighbours. As well, we will work with the industry and stakeholders groups to promote an image of agriculture, fishing and aquaculture as modern, progressive industries that are evolving to respond better to broad and growing public pressure for sustainability and environmentally responsible resource development.
We will aggressively represent Nova Scotia fishing interests to the federal government to ensure that Nova Scotia receives a fair share of marine resources and that industry concerns are heard, including suitable access to coastal water for aquaculture development. We will continue the biannual ministers' council meetings with industry groups to address major issues concerning the fishery, including Aboriginal rights, treaty rights, offshore oil and gas development, and illegal trade in seafood.
We will conserve and enhance inland fish stocks aimed at meeting long-term sustainable goals. We will continue maintenance of the Nova Scotia dykes and aboiteaux structures to protect fertile dykelands and provincial marshland infrastructures. These lands represent approximately 17,000 hectares of marshland, protected by 240 kilometres of dykeland structures in this province.
Last fall I introduced the Agricultural Marshland Conservation Act, which replaced the Marshland Reclamation Act that had been established in 1949. The major provision is that no new development can be carried out on a marshland without a proper permit. By limiting non-agricultural development, we are also decreasing the chance of flood damage to commercial and residential structures built on marshlands and flood plains which can flood during severe storms and high tides.
Through the 4-H Program, we will provide leadership development, organizational and decision-making opportunities that will give rural Nova Scotia youth the tools they need
to meet the challenges of managing our natural resources and to develop the leaders of the future.
The second goal is to foster a competitive business climate for economic growth and job creation in Nova Scotia's rural and coastal communities. We will support the policies which acknowledge the traditional strength of Nova Scotia's agriculture and fishing industries. These strengths lie in our strategic partnership and alliances, which allow us to expand our markets, develop applied research and technology competencies, create value-added opportunities and the appropriate infrastructure to support economic development in the province.
We will build the knowledge, expertise and research capacity of the department and the Nova Scotia Agricultural College to seize development opportunities in the emerging field of life sciences, environmental engineering, biology, agricultural business, and new and value-added product development, as well as aquaculture. We will continue our successful New Entrants Program for the agricultural industry, and advance efforts to develop a similar program for the fishing industry through the Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board. I will discuss this program in more detail later in my talk.
We will continue to provide stable, cost-effective financing to Nova Scotia farmers, commercial fishers and aquaculturists through the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board and the Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board. While the two loan boards will be maintained as separate entities, these are integral business development agencies for industry and are linked to department initiatives. We will implement a new and comprehensive risk-management policy that focuses on addressing agriculture risk management needs strategically for the long term. This is a priority aimed at ensuring drought assistance to Nova Scotia farmers according to their needs.
We will grow Nova Scotia's aquaculture industry by working with the federal government to acquire suitable aquatic lease space for development and improvement in turnaround time for processing of lease site applications. We will also address environmental issues associated with aquaculture development. We will work with industry and the federal partners to increase domestic sales and exports of Nova Scotia agri-food and seafood products, services and technologies through promotions, trade missions, targeted marketing to new and developing consumers, Taste of Nova Scotia, and the development of the Brand Nova Scotia initiative, as well.
Goal number three is to provide reasonable and responsive governance and regulatory regimes to ensure product quality, consumer confidence and food safety. We will plan to research this goal by developing and implementing legislative and regulatory structures that support sustainable development and build consumer confidence in Nova Scotia agriculture and fisheries industries, recreational fishing and food distribution systems through licensing, permitting and monitoring of these activities.
We will streamline the number of agencies, boards and commissions by eliminating close to 20, as well as eliminating outdated or redundant regulations. This initiative, of course, is consistent with this government's commitment to reduce the number of boards and committees, and reduce the red tape burden on industry participants. We will coordinate reviews of the Fishing and Coastal Resources Act, providing opportunities for stakeholders and the general public to comment on the legislation. We will coordinate the regulatory packages for the Farm Practices Act, the Agricultural Marshlands Conservation Act, as well as crop insurance and marketing board regulations.
We will continue to strengthen the enforcement capabilities of the department through improved investigative techniques and regulatory initiatives in all areas covered by legislation for the economic and social benefits of Nova Scotians. This is in line with our government's strategy to address a growing problem of illegal fishing, buying and selling. We will continue to urge the federal agency to clearly define who is eligible to participate in the Aboriginal treaty-based fisheries, and to solicit input from the industry on the impact of all participants in the fishery of Nova Scotia.
Through the Natural Products Marketing Council, we will facilitate the transition of regulatory powers from the Nova Scotia Dairy Commission to the council and Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia. We will amend current regulations and federal-provincial agreements to meet the needs of the commodities supervised by the council under the Natural Products Act. We will continue to provide efficient and effective laboratory service to Nova Scotians, review current initiatives and pursue new opportunities throughout with cooperation of other Maritime Provinces.
Goal number four is to provide quality post-secondary educational programs, training and research to enable students and Nova Scotia agricultural and aquaculture industries to meet the labour force needs and challenges of the global economy. We will attain this goal by diversifying the NSAC curriculum to respond to opportunities in emerging life sciences, environmental engineering and biology, agricultural business, new and value-added product development, organic farming and aquaculture.
We will have the college and departmental staff work with the external industry partners to develop and apply research that fosters sustainable and environmentally responsible farming and aquacultural practices. We will increase the international enrolment at the agricultural college by recruiting in strategic locations, including northern Europe, central Europe, and the New England area, and by participating in student exchange programs. We will see the present 16 international students enrolled at the college numbers increase. We will increase the college's research capability by partnering in the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation Programs, the Atlantic Innovation Fund, Agri-Focus and by continuing partnerships with both the public and private sectors in support of research professorship.
Goal number five is to ensure that the department programs and services reflect responsible public investment, address the priorities of the agriculture and fisheries industries, and are accountable for results achieved. To do this, we will meet broad government objectives for fiscal prudency by delivery programs and services effectively and efficiently. We will continue to provide front-line, single-window delivery of services to clients through regional offices and field staff, and seek synergies and improve efficiencies in service delivery. We will develop measurable and comparable outcomes and indicators respective of the strategies employed to meet the goals of the department.
Now I would like to introduce to you our clients and partners. Federally, our clients and partners are: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada, Northern and Indian Affairs, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, ACOA, the Canadian Farm Business Management Council, Industry Canada, and national and international academic institutions, and Canadian and international research institutes.
Provincially and municipally, our partners and clients are: Tourism and Culture, Economic Development Agency, Nova Scotia Business Inc., the Department of Environment; other Atlantic provincial government; regional tourism and development agencies, municipal agencies, Natural Resources, Justice, Consumer Services and Municipal Relations, Aboriginal Affairs, the Petroleum Directorate, Nova Scotia Business Agency Inc., and the Department of Education.
Industry partners and clients include: the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, Seafood Producer Associations of Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, commercial fishing organizations, sportfishery organizations, community interest groups, the Boat Building Association, the Tourism Industry Association, the Atlantic Canada Export Club, the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, the Fish Processors Association, the Taste of Nova Scotia programs, restaurant and food services associations and groups, financial institutions and agencies, consumer groups and, of course, the general public.
As you have heard, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has an extremely varied mandate and there are many significant things I could mention. However, I would like at this time to concentrate on a few of the department's initiatives, programs and services supported in this year's budget.
The Agriculture Development Institute, also referred to as ADI, is the first of its kind in Canada. Its board of directors selected a new Executive Director in the person of Dale Kelly, and he was hired in December and began work with the group as of January 1, 2001.
This government makes the full $2.2 million commitment to the ADI group in this new fiscal year. The ADI board consists of four producers and three government representatives. I think that expresses this government's confidence in the agriculture industry because this
particular group is charged with providing the service delivery and delineating the services and specialists that the industry need to promote growth and efficiency and, as you can clearly see, the majority are industry participants, not government participants.
ADI is expected to be officially up and running this week, and we are very excited as a department to see what accomplishments ADI will be able to achieve over the next several months with industry. There are new positions within ADI and they will focus on providing specialist services in livestock, horticulture, forages, field crop and pest management. There will also be three positions in advisory services, agriculture education and communications. The ADI specialists will deliver integrated pest management information and advice to all farmers. They will also monitor for disease and insect pests and assist growers with pest issues.
The department continues to strengthen fisheries enforcement, focusing on effective measures for controlling illegal buying of fish and related activities. The department will see an additional $125,000 to assist in staffing four positions in our investigations units. The introduction of an enforcement tracking system linked to our licensing data base, continued partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as Revenue Canada, in delivery of our licensing and enforcement programs. The department continues to be committed to protecting the legitimate livelihood of those in the fishing industry, and this additional funding will help in addressing these issues.
The growth in illegal trade in fish and fish products has been dramatic over the past few years. Industry officials have been raising serious concerns about unrecorded sales and other illegal sales transactions. As a direct result of our department's intervention and the concerns of industry, Revenue Canada is now placing a high priority on the fishing industry, and it has become a partner in efforts to combat illegal fishing activities. Much work remains, but we are moving forward in curbing the $50 million a year, estimated, in illegal fish trade.
As a means of doing what we can within our provincial regulations, we will update our fish buyers/processor licence policy this year. A revision of the current licence policy is currently underway and we will also tighten up areas related to enforcement by requiring buyers and processors to maintain records of all transactions. The proposed Safety Net Package for Nova Scotia recognizes the role of safety nets within a broader risk management regime. Strategy provides for full cost sharing between producers and the federal and provincial governments.
The Nova Scotia Safety Nets Package has been developed in consultation with the Agri-Food Industry. Core safety net programs are consistent with national framework principles in order to maximize federal participation and cost sharing. Companion programs are designed to address income stabilization issues that are unique to Nova Scotia, and
maximize federal participation in cost sharing. Companion programs are applied fairly and equitably across the industry.
I feel that it is very important to note, that new arrangement that was signed, I had the privilege in July to sign a new three year safety agreement with the federal minister on behalf of the industry here in the province. The industry has been urging government for many years to come up with a fair and equitable regime that reflects the share of agricultural products produced in this province as the means for distributing funds. We were able to achieve that fair distribution of funds in this agreement for Nova Scotian producers, and that doubled the amount of support coming to Nova Scotia. So the industry was certainly very receptive and pleased with those initiatives and we were certainly proud that we were able to achieve that long sought after goal and see a new agreement signed based on fair and equitable participation.
The Nova Scotia rural community and the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture worked with government in developing a program to assist new entrants into the agriculture industry. Attracting and supporting new entrants into agriculture is vital to the continued and future success of Nova Scotia's agricultural industry. It is one avenue for government to invest in Nova Scotians. It certainly was a commitment by this government to re-establish a New Entrants Program because this government places a high priority on allowing farms to transfer and to have new invigorating young people with the skill sets they have to ensure that the industry has an opportunity to grow and expand.
The industry, through the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, has indicated that attracting new entrants is one of the key issues for the agriculture industry for the future. The new entrants to the agriculture program was unveiled as part of last year's April budget, and will continue this year. To date, 52 new entrants have initiated applications, and estimated budget dollars committed are in the vicinity of $650,000. The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will continue to negotiate on federal-provincial safety net agreements to ensure that safety net packages or companion programs are specifically designed for new entrants and have a component that will allow for a greater success of new entrants into the agriculture industry.
The School Milk Program will continue to promote milk consumption by young Nova Scotians. It is in its 27th year within the Nova Scotia school system. It pleases me to say, today, 95 per cent of the schools in Nova Scotia are registered under this program. The Nova Scotia School Milk Program began in 1974 to promote milk consumption by Nova Scotia school children, Grade Primary to Grade 12. The milk is provided at a subsidized rate to these Nova Scotia school children. The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Fisheries now subsidizes each unit of white milk served in Nova Scotia schools at a rate of 10 cents per 250 millilitre size container, and the price to the students is 35 cents. School milk is a central component of many school breakfast programs, snack and lunch programs provided by our many volunteers and parent-teacher organizations throughout schools in Nova Scotia.
It is a program that parents and educators comment on extensively, that it is really the core of the program in being able to provide lunches, snacks, breakfast programs to children who need healthy, nutritional food. It is one that Nova Scotians approve of strongly as an initiative for better health and better education opportunities for our young people.
Nova Scotia is not in favour of using an ad hoc approach to setting National Income Stabilization Agreements, or NISA, contribution rates for various commodities. Any variable rate NISA program would be based on program methodology that would provide equitable support relative to gross revenues. Department staff have developed a detailed methodology for equalizing NISA across commodities in consultation with industry groups. We have given presentations and additional background analysis on equitable NISA to all key producer groups outlining the key elements of the program and an assessment of the impact it will have on income stabilization for different sized operations.
There are many food safety concerns out there today and our department continues to work diligently to provide information and assistance. Laboratory services continue to provide testing services in the area of food safety. Initiatives to provide testing for our food safety inspectors continue to grow as we identify areas that require government support in matters of public health.
Long-term strategic planning has taken place and continues to drive our efforts at determining what services government needs to provide to its citizens. Laboratory services help deliver on services deemed as "involuntary" and requires our third party role between the retailer and the consumer in implementing public policy.
There are 170,000 samples relating to food safety being analyzed every year in our Nova Scotia labs. Bacterial analyses are conducted for food safety and include multiple testing on such products as dairy, water, juice, dairy by-products, and export powder. Last year there were 2,358 eating establishments, 1,096 food shops, and 185 mobiles licensed and inspected by our department.
There is concern in rural areas about the impact of farming activities on water quality, and the department is committed to working with producers, residents, and the environmental community to address this issue. It has been found that, in the majority of cases, modern farming presents a lower risk to water quality and is compatible with water quality standards. Farmers continue to modernize farm practices. Many have adopted environmental audits and also the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, in co-operation with the Environment Department, is developing a Nutrient Management Planning Program that will help farmers to manage nutrients in an environmentally sustainable and economically viable method. We continue to research new and better ways to farm to ensure that water resources are protected while providing opportunities for agriculture to grow and thrive. We continue to conduct research on the link between water quality and farming activities to ensure that agriculture continues to be environmentally sustainable.
Producers are finding new and better ways to manage agriculture by-products such as manure, which serves to better protect water quality while continuing to provide benefits to agriculture. The department supports the efforts being made by producers, fishers and aquaculturists to adopt environmentally responsible practices, and is committed to fostering sustainable agricultural and fisheries industries.
The Livestock Health Services Program provides the industry with a high level of veterinarian services for large animals. Nova Scotia's herds and flocks are relatively disease-free. The department continues to recognize the importance of livestock health and is committed to testing and monitoring it through our health services. We are taking a proactive approach on foot-and-mouth disease through several actions. They include joint efforts with the industry based Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture and the lead federal regulatory body, the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency, CFIA. My staff have been working with industry and the CFIA to better inform farmers, visitors, and the general public on this disease that has hurt European livestock farms.
We have offered the services of our provincial inspection staff to the CFIA to assist with surveillance at provincial entry points such as airports and seaports. We have also participated in forming a working group made up of members of industry and government to develop a strategy on getting information out, assisting in precautionary measures, determining early detection signs of the disease, and what action should be taken if the disease should reach our province.
The department co-hosted, this year, the Agri-Food Outlook Conference March 22-23, 2001, with the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. This was the first stage in an extensive planning exercise for developing a new agri-food strategy for Nova Scotia. It has been over a decade since the last planning session with industry on a food strategy, and with the number of issues confronting the farming community and the opportunities out there it is imperative that the industry comes up, with the support of government, with a new strategic plan and the ability to exploit opportunities that are out there.
It was a co-operative initiative between industry and government. Industry leaders from across Canada addressed a number of topics. A new agri-food strategy for Nova Scotia will mean the industry will have a shared and strategic vision for the future with the resources and ability to effect that change. Participants came from across the agriculture industry: producers, commodity group leaders, federal and provincial government representatives, and policy makers. The aim of the conference is to provide the direction for the development of a revised agri-food strategy respective of the current conditions in the industry.
A ministers' conference meets biannually with representatives of the Nova Scotia fishing industry, and another one is planned for April 18-19, 2001. The aim is to define common issues affecting Nova Scotia's fishery and develop consensus between industry and the department. This government is committed to having the voices of Nova Scotia fishermen
heard in Ottawa. This is a concrete step for working together with the stakeholders to achieve this goal. There have been five conferences held to date. The conferences have enabled the minister to hear directly from industry their concerns and positions related to native fishing issues and the management of the commercial fishery. This first-hand knowledge has strengthened the minister's position when representing Nova Scotia in discussions with his federal counterpart.
I certainly can't emphasize enough what a great opportunity this has been for me, as minister, to meet directly with fishing industry organizations' representatives, with major policy decision makers on behalf of the industry in the last year. The industry has the ability and it affords me the opportunity to sit down directly across the table from them, hear directly on those issues and then much more effectively represent their concerns and issues with our federal counterparts, with industry representatives, and certainly the aboriginal community.
We also bring in expertise on oil and gas exploration to keep our fishing industry informed on development in that area. The native treaty fisheries is a highly complex, ongoing issue and we have invited DFO to make presentations, as well representatives from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, to keep commercial harvesters informed of the latest developments. Approximately 100 fisheries representatives have attended in the past at each one of these conferences.
The department will continue to look forward by encouraging a strategic climate for economic growth and job creation in Nova Scotia's rural and coastal communities. Departmental programs and services have been strategically aligned to generate synergies and enhance capacity to address industry needs and opportunities in these areas. These initiative areas include, but are not limited to: emerging developmental opportunities in life sciences, applied research; new technology transfer; new commercial fishing opportunities; aquaculture; value added for fish and agricultural products; new product development, including organics. These niche opportunities will grow for Nova Scotia producers as well new export markets, recreational fishing and agri-/aqua-tourism.
I would like to reiterate that Nova Scotia's agricultural and fishing industries are key economic engines in our economy and within our rural communities. These two industries provide employment and career opportunities that enable Nova Scotians to work in traditional industries and live and raise their families in rural and coastal areas. Agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture are evolving. They will require research, new applied technologies, and education, to strike the right balance between resource development for economic prosperity and environmental integrity for sustainability for the long term.
Through the progressive and entrepreneurial nature of our farmers and fishers, Nova Scotia is prepared to capitalize on opportunities in the life sciences sector, involving demands for high quality, value-added products. Education and leadership development are key to our future success and growth and Nova Scotia is well positioned to provide relevant, forward-
thinking educational opportunities through the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, accessible distant education programming and the provincial 4-H Program for our youth. The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is a vital partner in boosting Nova Scotia's agriculture, fish and aquaculture industries, as indeed they are the main players of the Nova Scotia economy.
I want to thank each of you for your time and indulgence, and I wish to present the 2001-02 estimates for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, just before we get underway with the questioning, I would like to thank you very much for an extensive overview and everything else. I am sure there won't be too many questions for you, but I would just like to have a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, so if any of the members wish to remove a jacket or blazer to make yourself more relaxed and comfortable, feel free to do so while we are in here. So, therefore, I would call upon Resolution E1:
"E1 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $40,885,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, pursuant to the Estimate and the business plans of the Nova Scotia Beef Commission, the Nova Scotia Crop and Livestock Insurance Commission, the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board and the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board be approved."
That is the resolution before us for debate. I call upon the honourable member for Hants East, John MacDonell, the Leader of the Opposition, the NDP Party, your time is now 6:19 p.m. You have up to one hour.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Minister, I can see that combining the two departments, Agriculture and Marketing and Fisheries and Aquaculture meant you had to combine your speeches for both departments. I also want to welcome the staff.
I do have some concerns. I found it a little difficult to go from Agriculture and Marketing and the Fisheries Department through to Agriculture and Fisheries, the way it is presented here, but anyway, not that my comments will pertain a lot to dollar figures, I will have some inquiries.
One thing before I do ask a lot of questions, I am curious as to some of the comments that you made around growth in the industry, sustainability, good stewardship of the land, and I was really interested to hear where you stated that there had been growth. Blueberries and poultry up 6 per cent, mink farming was up 19 per cent. So I am curious as to your vision, or where you see the department has a role in where the potential growth will come in the next while in the agricultural industry?
MR. FAGE: Honourable member for Hants East, a very good question and certainly the outlook conference is an important factor in setting our priorities with the industry. As we go through that process, we will be identifying specific growth opportunities with the industry, but as a general broad-brush, Nova Scotia certainly has potential in the beef industry and the red meat industry to a certain extent. There are, certainly in horticulture, huge opportunities there.
We look at this government's commitment to investment in infrastructure and specifically Oxford Frozen Foods, a loan that this government made to Oxford Frozen Foods so that they could increase the size of their operation threefold and the lines of products that they produce, not only wild blueberry, but the whole extensive processing and preparation of dairy product as well as a full line of vegetables offers huge opportunities for farm production across the entire province. Strategic prudent investment in proven marketing systems, where Oxford Frozen Foods ships around the entire globe, provide real opportunity not only for those processing jobs, but it is the conduit that allows the product to be taken to markets and producers to concentrate their efforts on production.
When we look at other opportunities, certainly aquaculture has a large growth potential and other commodities within Nova Scotia. I think there is room for niche growth certainly in the organics and I know you are a strong proponent, honourable member, of a number of those initiatives. When we look at the general growth in Nova Scotia agriculture, those commodities probably have the most growth potential. The fur industry is significant, especially the mink industry. The concentration in Nova Scotia is one of the largest in North America. Our competitors are obviously European in many regards, but our quality is in demand and there is certainly a significant growth potential in that industry, but through partner shipping with the industry, I think it is very important that we develop the ones that are priority and we target.
We support, through supply managed commodities pricing by the Natural Products Marketing Council, through NISA, and new risk management programs, and we provide the underpinning through those production cycles of price and climatic variation out there and
allow them growth opportunity so that when the prices, hopefully the next time price curves go down - and they will - in those non-supply and managed quantities, that that bridges the gap so that our production stays even and we have the opportunity to continue to rise.
MR. MACDONELL: I am interested in the number you stated, somewhere around 52 applications for new entrance, I think.
MR. FAGE: Yes.
MR. MACDONELL: I think, was it $650,000 or . . .
MR. FAGE: Yes, that has been appropriated . . .
MR. MACDONELL: So do you know how many of those new entrants actually became new entrants, they actually are involved in a farming operation out of the 52?
MR. FAGE: Each one would have to be a new entrance or the money would not be assigned to them. So they would have had their application approved and would have entered the industry. Once they had their application approved and meet the criteria, then the money is allocated to them.
MR. MACDONELL: So, the 52 of them, we are saying it is $650,000 divided by 52 basically is how that was . . .
MR. FAGE: Yes, that is right.
MR. MACDONELL: Do you have any statistics as to what commodity groups that 52 would be spread out through?
MR. FAGE: I do not have that specific detail, but I certainly can get it for you from staff.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay. I would like to know, if you could please.
MR. FAGE: We will supply that to you.
MR. MACDONELL: When you mentioned organic agriculture as a niche, I think from the Pulsifer report, that was co-authored by the former Premier Donald Cameron, they identify 30 per cent growth in the organic sector which I think is more than has been identified in any other sector, even if you compare that to the growth in the last year in the mink fur production.
In Europe, it is an expected 60 per cent growth, and I think two weeks ago there was a conference in Prince Edward Island - I cannot think of the specific name - but New Brunswick I think had seven department people there at that conference and they were really wanting to know about the needs of that sector of the industry. I am assuming, since I was not speaking with them, that they see this as an area of growth and I would say, looking across the industry as a whole, organic agriculture is actually one of the few areas that we could recognize as a potential for a lot of growth.
I do agree with your statement about the beef industry. Considering the amount of product or the amount of beef that comes into this province and our potential to grow forages, I would say that we certainly could be meeting more of our own needs. I guess I am curious as to why organic does not hit a higher level in your presentation?
MR. FAGE: I think if we hearken back to last year's debate on Supply, and you were a participant honourable member, at that point I outlined some of the activities of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and that is one of the programs we are actively pursuing. I guess I would certainly applaud the efforts of P.E.I. and New Brunswick in trying to catch up with us. We are a long way out in front of those jurisdictions in making sure research and those development opportunities are in place. We do place the kind of priority that is already in our research institutes.
What needs to be done at this point, different reports will identify significant growth that can be achieved in that market, the industry's certification program in identifying the opportunity to sell it, and the marketing through larger retailers so that it becomes a mainline food choice for consumers.
Your large retail stores is where the opportunity exists to supply it and certainly in discussions with food distributors they see a big opportunity for sales. The challenge right now is producers themselves deciding if they want to be involved in it.
MR. MACDONELL: Definitely, but I see that the government would have a role with initiatives that would help them get involved. I go into the natural products section at the local Superstore in Elmsdale and I speak with a young lady there - only because I am curious as to what products that they offer, where those products come from and how much product is there from Nova Scotia. Now, there is not an awful lot of Nova Scotia product, but in the case of dairy products, Ontario is basically where it is all coming from, but they see the potential to be very strong and they have no trouble trying to promote it in their store. They see this as something that is definitely coming over the hill.
What you mentioned about us being ahead of New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, I would like to know what we offer in the department or at the college. It was my understanding that there was going to be, or some talk of an organic institute or whatever. So is that off the ground, or what is the timeline for that, or are you pursuing that at all?
MR. FAGE: It is my understanding that the Nova Scotia Agricultural College is pursuing that program and making that research available and fostering that share of knowledge so that people who want to become or be involved in the industry of producing organic products, we can supply them with research and support.
I might also add that certainly our marketing divisions look forward to any applications, any one would be treated as an opportunity. I think the key here is the industry acceptance, that you have growers who decide that this is an opportunity, and certainly from our viewpoint it is an opportunity.
When you look at supplying the vegetables and horticultural products to major retailers in this country, they are looking now for 12 month supplies and it becomes extremely hard for enough growers to form co-ops, and we have several in Nova Scotia that have done that such as Kings Produce, and several other groups are in the marketplace supplying to those major retailers.
Organic offers the opportunity, because of the limited availability of supply, once they are certified those large retailers are much more willing to take the local producers' produce in limited volumes. It provides a real opportunity for new or existing producers to continue to grow - especially horticultural crops - and supply that market.
I do not think anybody doubts the growth potential there, and certainly our support and our programs are there to assist anybody who would like to take that venture on.
MR. MACDONELL: I was not clear in your answer, is there an organic institute at the agricultural college now?
MR. FAGE: I wanted to confer with staff there to see exactly - we made the announcement last year, the infrastructure is in place and we are very close to the official announcement that it is complete, set up and running. It will be underway this year.
MR. MACDONELL: What do you call infrastructure?
MR. FAGE: The infrastructure would be the program material, related faculty, infrastructures in space, those types of physical resources and personnel resources and knowledge-based resources to set up the chair and run the program.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, so do you have any idea when you will be making the announcement? When is it going to be up and running?
MR. FAGE: I would expect that we are very close. You will probably see it within the next two or three months.
MR. MACDONELL: I do not think that really puts us out ahead of New Brunswick or P.E.I.
MR. FAGE: I would suggest that New Brunswick and P.E.I., first of all, have no research institute; secondly, have sponsored, had a single conference to come in, so I would suggest strongly that we are miles in front of them.
We actually have a program, instead of talking about it we are doing it.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: You are not doing it yet.
MR. FAGE: Well, I would remind the honourable member, you being a schoolteacher, that it does require some preparation time, from the time that you decide you are going to teach a particular subject and then you put the resources in place, do your work at the library if you are prudent and then put the course together. We are very close to that end.
MR. MACDONELL: Then you maybe can help me with the individuals who have been - well, I do not know if they are hired yet, there are eight specialists hired, or going to be hired by ADI and can you tell me if they are hired or not? Two livestock specialists, a forage specialist, two horticultural specialists, a weed and crop specialist, an insect and disease entomologist, and one plant pathologist.
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question, and I wanted for accuracy's sake to make sure I check closely. The interview process is currently underway for those positions. It is my understanding that one of the supervisory positions will be announced very shortly by the ADI group and that they are conducting their interviews for the other positions. I hate to put time frames on them, they are independent organization, but I assume we will see those announcements while we are still in the House, probably within a month.
MR. MACDONELL: Then maybe you can clarify for me, because Mr. Dale Kelly, who was the Executive Director, made a presentation to the Nova Scotia Organic Growers Association a little over a week ago and he mentioned - would it be called the board, the individual who would be doing this interview process.
MR. FAGE: I am not . . .
MR. MACDONELL: You said four producers and three government, who . . .
MR. FAGE: That is the ADI board itself. They have an interview committee I understand that review the applicants and then the board approves their interview processes, how the processes work. The board is not doing the actual interviews, they approve or disapprove after the selection committee, supervised by Dale, make their recommendation.
MR. MACDONELL: Now one of his statements that day was that the board is answerable basically to the minister.
MR. FAGE: The board is a group that is, the majority being a farm-based group directly answerable to the minister; I would say there is a lot of independence. Obviously we, as a government allocate funding, would be the major link. The direction of what services they supply is solely the jurisdiction of the board and how they supply them. They in turn would instruct the Executive Director, or Mr. Kelly in this circumstance, in how those services should be delivered and how the organization should operate.
MR. MACDONELL: Well, I guess that is what I am getting to in a roundabout route, that the specialists that they have identified is the eight that they want to hire. The first eight. I think in reading in the Farm Focus they are talking as though this may take up to 11 months to fill these positions. There is no one in those eight that I would say would be an organic specialist, and when I think about the one sector in the industry that may have the greatest growth potential, I would think that one of those would be.
MR. FAGE: In that regard my understanding in part of the requirement of those specialists is that they are versed in organics. Each one of those positions then would be able to comment and supply support to the organic grower or the non-organic grower and comment in the same fashion. That is one of the requirements.
MR. MACDONELL: I would see that as important. You would be aware that our caucus had applied, through freedom of information, to get information on how you made the cuts last year, the basis on which you made them.
The information that we got eventually seemed to indicate that the programs that were in place, there was no duplication of programs, a lot of them had been evaluated and were seen as necessary, and I am just curious the basis on which you made the cuts; there doesn't seem to be any evidence on duplication, or somebody else was doing it or whatever.
MR. FAGE: I think that is a really good question and I thank you for it. First of all I think you have to outline the parameters of dealing with less resources and, secondly, an industry that is maturing and the number of farms have decreased by 10,000 in the number of decades that the department was in its present form. So, certainly, from the farming industry for a number of years, certainly farm organizations at their annual meetings would
put forward resolutions and their documents looking for reorganization or re-evaluation and looking for industry driven services.
That is certainly is part of the backdrop. There is no question achieving efficient service is important to the agricultural community and it is important to government when your trying to balance your fiscal objectives, and each department is looking for opportunities to deliver the services and for the long term to make them better. Certainly the plan that was put in place was one of a long-term objective instead of the short-term fiscal problem, and looked at how the industry was being driven. Certainly with the industry they were looking for an industry driven, not government driven, market-based program.
The material that was put forward was created by department staff evaluating their own departments and certainly they were valid comments. All employees are valuable employees and certainly they would see that the job that they were doing is very important, and rightly so. So it was one piece of information used to come up with a new regime in delivering agriculture. That is the backdrop in how that decision was made; that was one piece of a lot of pieces of information in how you would do it.
MR. MACDONELL: Other than the staffs evaluation, and I have to agree that if I thought there was the potential that someone was thinking about cutting my job, I would probably be writing an evaluation that would make you think that it was necessary to have my job. With that being said, there would have to be, I think, somewhere in that evaluation you could see through that. You could say, I appreciate what you are saying but A, B, and C don't line up. You were saying other considerations, and I think obviously dollars would be the other big one, then comments by the industry and I would say that if the industry thought that you were going to cut, then they might say look if you are going to cut then we would like some input into how that cutting is done.
Not necessarily that they are promoting the cutting, they just don't want to be left out when it is being done, and I don't think that should be misinterpreted to say that they are advocating cutting in the department. I think the department has taken some pretty big hits since 1993. I had a long discussion with two fairly large dairy farmers or farmers who own large operations in my area, and one of them made the statement that it was difficult to see cuts to health care and then try to argue for keeping money in the Department of Agriculture. The other individual said that we have grown beyond the stage of really making use of a lot of the specialists within the department, because of the size of our operation but, he said, when we were smaller we made a lot of use of them, they were someone, actually they got us to where we are at today.
I think that is the realignment I would have liked to have seen. I would like to have seen an evaluation of where the industry is going, where the potential for growth is and realign the staff in the department to take advantage of those commodity groups - you were talking about beef as one - where identified growth could be seen and put help in those areas
to bring those fledgling or suffering parts of the industry, and if you say that the industry has shrunk by 10,000 producers, then a flag should go up.
We don't want to be cutting the department. We want to be putting resources into the department to stop that leak so that we are not losing producers. We want to stabilize the industry in a way that we can bring new producers onstream and to take away resources that people starting into the industry are going to need, because I think the $2.2 million would have been better spent leaving it in the department than doing this. I am curious as to how much you expect of that $2.2 million to be spent this year by ADI?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, it is certainly a good question and I think what the honourable member has outlined is exactly what we have done. The industry, and as you said, put more resources to help producers, well, that is exactly what last year's budget did. There was more money in the program than in previous years. The previous administration virtually eliminated the program. We have put in six new programs. We have started a new entrance program again. With industry consultation reinvigorated the programming and the safety net aspects for the industry, ensuring those services - and they are vital, there is no question about it - that is the mandate of ADI. I think making sure that there is a progressive alternative was the objective here.
MR. MACDONELL: Yes.
MR. FAGE: It was not to eliminate services and specialists. It was reorientated so that it was an industry driven, tied in with research and development, i.e. the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, and that you plugged in the services to the individual when they need them through ADI. During the entire year we have made the commitment to the agricultural industry that transition funding was put in place in the previous year and if there was a service or something that had been there previously that was slipping through the cracks, well, once it was identified, it was looked after.
That has been the commitment and those services have carried on and it allows ADI and the farming community to carefully plan and put together the structure that is industry driven so that they have the right mix of people, the right services and the opportunity for ADI. The board of directors have with their executive director decided on a number that they wish to hire at this point. They will contract services, obviously, beyond that. They have a whole arsenal of opportunities and individuals who they can employ for any given priority of the industry and it allows the industry, along with the department, to marshal those resources and educational opportunities for those producers who are going to take that challenge on and, as well, it offers the opportunity for our department to concentrate more of our budgets on programs instead of administration and staffing.
We initiated the new Beef Loan Program last year so that feeders of cattle can have access to capital from the loan board to purchase cattle when they have the opportunity. The traditional was to go to the bank and, hopefully, they would sign for you and maybe it was a month after the opportunity to buy the cattle that you finally got approval and opportunities for Nova Scotia beef producers, in particular, were being missed. With equitable NISA and doubling the amount of money going into stabilization programs on behalf of the province and the federal government, it offers us an opportunity to help those producers over that production and those areas of low prices where they can keep their incomes stable so they don't have to depopulate or send the cattle to the sale barn to pay the bills when the price goes down and then they cannot take advantage of price increases. They are cash-strapped and they are always one step behind the market instead of one step up on it. So that was the intent of the initiative to bring this process forward.
MR. MACDONELL: I guess I had it all wrong last year. My analysis of what happened was that somebody picked a number that was going to be what they were going to have for the department as far as a budget and I don't think that the Agriculture Development Institute was actually a progressive realignment. I think it was a response. It was a reaction to some outrage within the industry that there was nothing in place and the department decided that they had better come up with something to try to quell the nervousness that was out there and if they did that in alignment with the federation, or whoever, at least they had some input into what was going to happen and that probably was a good thing, better than nothing.
But I guess the difference that I would see your role, or the department's role, from the way I think you see it is that I see your role as someone here who looks down on the industry across the province and says how do we shape a department that helps that industry because if the help becomes industry driven, then that really relies on those commodities that are the most powerful for one thing, that have the most resources, and seem to be those that may garner more as far as the Gross Domestic Product that they bring to the province; in other words, the amount of dollars that they generate in revenue.
In the case of those that may be more supply managed, and I think of the dairy sector in particular, it is a fairly affluent sector compared to some others and supply management has allowed them to be that way. I don't see NISA or safety nets. I see them as valuable things, but I don't see those as programs that grow the industry. I see those as programs that kind of catch you when you are falling, but I don't see them as developing the industry.
MR. FAGE: I would say you have that absolutely right and that is how we view it. NISA and those programs are the insurance when times are tough.
MR. MACDONELL: Right.
MR. FAGE: They are not meant to be developmental programs. That is why as a department we instituted six new developmental programs. On your previous statement there regarding the formation of ADI, I commend you on your theory, but it only has one flaw. There was a budget line with $2 million in the budget last year for that expressed purpose. So, nice theory, but it does not work because it was in the budget at $2.2 million, but in regard . . .
MR. MACDONELL: How much of that did you spend?
MR. FAGE: We expended the majority of those funds. ADI received some of them. The majority of them were spent through transition to ensure no programs were lost or farmers were not left in the lurch out there and that is the transition you are in. I mean that was the commitment, that those services would be funded and it is a gradual takeover.
I would like to make a comment though on commodity size and influence on services and those issues. It is very difficult to look at services being delivered on those basis and that is why industry-driven is important because you deal with ruminant rather than a dairy specialist. You deal with ruminant specialists. You deal with an entomologist and they cover a whole host. You deal with soils management and that covers the whole gamut of whether it is livestock or a crop. The set-up is very close to those types and I mean you certainly get some horticulturalists that may be a little more specific, but those horticulturalists, again, would be well versed in organic, you know, the disciplines they would be involved in.
I think some of your earlier comments are certainly valid for large farm operations. Many of them are specialized. They for the last 10 years had been employing specialized services and I think it is important to point out too that the feed companies, the suppliers of feed in this province, would do more nutritional work than certainly our department would ever do. Certainly when you look at a chemical company, or fertilizer company, they would do the majority of nutrient recommendations. That type of expertise has been there and I think you are right on a number of commodity groups. I mean if you look at them, a number of them employee specialists, have been employed previously and they can afford to do it. That directs more time through ADI to those specialists to the people that we are most concerned about.
The large operations have the resources, the knowledge and access, and they will continue to do right by their share. The challenge is going to be the new person coming on, the new entrant and providing enough stabilization and support for the smaller operations. When you look across this province or this country, smaller operations that are commodity based - and when I say commodity, it is like dealing in grains and you are in that single avenue and the grain cycle and you are growing on a very limited acreage, well, with the numbers, it is impossible.
That is why we see great opportunity, I call it a niche, from organic to a specific crop or a variety of crops, dried flowers, herbs, and spreading out your risk on those smaller acreages probably allows more opportunity to support them and be there to assist them. If you are involved in grain farming in the West right now, for instance, international markets are depressing the price, subsidies involved from other countries. Long term, grain prices have been on a decline for 30 years.
It is a really tough option because you do not see any opportunity out there and if it is income relief or support, it is very difficult to receive a payment on a non-profitable commodity from the taxpayer for every year you can look out. The taxpayer loses sympathy after a while for those situations.
MR. MACDONELL: I agree. I think that maybe the case has never been made for identifying right off the bat why we do this at all. If the country does not see some security in its own food production, then I think we have a really big problem.
If the price that the producers get in Saskatchewan or on the Prairies for grain are the same as they were in the 1940's or whatever, but their costs are certainly in the 1990's or the 2000's, then there is a real problem there and the question has to be the old argument - the Americans are subsidizing theirs and why we always seem to take the high ground and say we will not help very much, yet the Americans can still keep doing it.
I don't know if that is something the federal government has explored, but some type of relationship between supply - and I am talking about supply management - if they could do that in relation to the volume of grain and I do not even know if they can or if it even makes sense, the whole relationship between grain production and the Wheat Board in the West.
What I am concerned about here is that we see a role for agriculture, number one. We see potential in job creation, for longevity of communities, keeping young families there, which allows you to keep your elementary school open. A doctor is not going to move into your community - especially a young one with a family, if you have no school. All these things are connected, so it is important to me that I see that we have programs in place.
I would rather see programs that actually help stabilize what farmers get in relation to the cost of production. Something that would actually bring us to a situation where taxpayers do not really have to pay much in the form of their tax dollars and subsidies or safety nets because they have actually paid a price that is somewhere in relation to the cost of production and therefore farmers do not always have to have their hand out for help.
I would certainly like to see us move as close to that as is possible so the taxpayer is not on the hook, but I see a role for the department to be an innovator. It has more resources, it can hire one person that can gain information through research or whatever, that can feed information to a large number of people.
When we talk about what the fertilizer companies or the feed companies can do, you are right, I agree. They have a fair bit of knowledge at their fingertips, but you have to realize that they are going to want to sell me their feed or their fertilizer. I would say that if you are not buying either one from them, when you call them up and ask them a question, they may not be too concerned about giving you many answers. I would think that the people who are their good customers are going to have access to information from their specialists that are on staff. If you are not one of their customers, you probably will not get that and that is where I think that leaving it as industry driven, you are going to have to pay for it one way or another.
The department really is abdicating its role to be a provider of information for the industry. Where the correct balance is, I am not sure, but I would say that leaving it too much in the hands of the industry, they have an agenda. Selling a product is really it and making money - not really educating the industry.
MR. FAGE: I guess you have to always have a balanced approach and anybody buying feed and milling their own and buying supplements and that service is provided, I do not think there is too many farmers who would buy feed and not expect the special services with it. I think it is the reverse of that relationship, not the one that you have said there because the farmers demand if they are buying the supplement or if they are buying the feed, that is one of the services that go with it. It is not the reverse relationship.
That is just one segment of the whole sweep or balanced approach because again, ADI is there to supply those services. The private sector is there if you want to supply them. We have the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, an extensive research facility in livestock, nutrition, we have all those chairs, the base of knowledge there which no other province really has in Atlantic Canada and we tend to supply much of that, even to our sister provinces because of that knowledge base.
The opportunity to access that, you can receive it in quite a number of forms and again, I would come back to farmers who have been very adamant for the last 10 years. Stop cutting programs, allow us a voice in what services we are going to get, how they will be supplied and we want real dollars out there for development. We have addressed that with a number of new programs and initiatives all the way from technology to financing, to new entrants, the whole gamut. We have dealt with it with farm organizations so that they are eligible for up to $50,000 to help fund them and be innovative with them.
Then we have taken the opportunity to forge ahead for underpinnings with the federal government to ensure that for those non-supply managed commodities, that we signed a deal that doubled the amount of funding coming for income support and that is the assurance or the underpinning side so that they don't have to suffer at the mercy and come with hat in hand on a yearly basis. For every dollar they put in, the government will put $2.00 in and they build those funds and access them when times are tough.
I guess the other thing we have to remember, the industry has to be in agreement when you go for costs of production formulas. There are many international trade agreements and restrictions. In a perfect world it would be wonderful to have a cost of production set-up, but those only work when you are selling the commodity within your own borders because you cannot assign the cost production to the Canadian taxpayer and sell the wheat south of the border or in another country. It is unworkable in those circumstances as well as the trade rules that would contravene, but industries that have chosen to basically produce for the Canadian market, they have been successful at limiting production to the consumption that occurs here and avail themselves of those opportunities, but if you are an open market and dealing in international sales, it is pretty hard.
Obviously, the federal government or provincial Treasuries, when we are candid and honest about it, do not have the resources to compete with the Treasuries of let's say the United States or Europe. I mean this is the best country to live in the world, but when your tax base is 30 million people, rounding off, and the Americans are 300 million, well, you as the taxpayer, you would have to put 10 cents in for every cent that that individual American puts in to channel for support and it goes on a ton of wheat at the end of the day. It is a lot easier to support if you have got the numbers and if you don't, it is a heavy burden on the taxpayer.
MR. MACDONELL: I agree. I guess I look to a greater vision when it comes to supply management and the whole international relationship to that, but that is a big debate. I would certainly assume that since our population is one-tenth of the American population, that probably a lot of aspects of our industry would be one-tenth of the American production. I think the surplus in California would feed Canada. So probably in a relationship to our tax base compared to our number of producers, it is probably not that far out.
I am wondering, since the Agricultural Development Institute, and Mr. Kelly was hired in December, how much of the $2.2 million last year went into transition and you don't have to give it to me right now, but I would like to know specifically what that money was spent on if anybody could do that?
MR. FAGE: Yes, we can supply that to you.
MR. MACDONELL: I would appreciate that.
MR. FAGE: Sure.
MR. MACDONELL: The board, I think seven individuals, four producers and three government, are they paid a salary or any per diem?
MR. FAGE: I am assuming that they would receive a per diem for their involvement and, obviously, the normal per diem is $100 a day, $150 a day, when you attend a meeting.
MR. MACDONELL: Right.
MR. FAGE: And I should qualify that, as the deputy pointed out, it would just be the industry people who would receive the per diem. I was automatically assuming everyone would know that the staff from the department would not be receiving a per diem on top of their wages.
MR. MACDONELL: Sure, and that would be the same as the committee that would be doing the interviews, or whatever, they would fall under that?
MR. FAGE: That is right, yes.
MR. MACDONELL: I guess, well, now we get into a philosophical debate. For the eight individuals, I think what I read in the Farm Focus was a possibility of up to 11 months in hiring them. So there is no way of knowing for sure how much of your $2.2 million, I am assuming this year there is no transition money, it is all ADI money, so you don't know how much of your $2.2 million you expect to . . .
MR. FAGE: Our commitment to the industry this year is again fulfilling the last of that transition so until those people are in place, we do not intend to allow service delivery to lapse to the industry.
MR. MACDONELL: Do you know what the criteria will be to access the specialists? Is it by a farm or by a commodity group, do you have a mechanism designed?
MR. FAGE: Cellular phone, regular phone line, e-mail, they are totally accessible and, obviously, they will set up an office site and you could drop in physically and visit them, but most producers, if they wanted a service or someone to be there or have communication, they would just use the regular phone and make an appointment or get them to come out to their farm, or ask the information to be sent, that type of thing.
MR. MACDONELL: I guess my memory from last year was that this would be set up in a way that a commodity group could apply to ADI for a specialist once in a year and I thought the level of funding was around $50,000?
MR. FAGE: That is program development money. That is the technology development funds. Those are program funds that are not related to ADI. Those are programs, an individual last year, up to $10,000. That was one of the new programs and an organization up to $50,000 and, yes, not related to ADI or the service delivery. This is program proper.
MR. MACDONELL: So at this point then, if I wanted to apply to ADI for assistance by a specialist, what is the process?
MR. FAGE: I mean what you would do is, let's say you had a concern about a crop you were growing and you wanted an entomologist to show up.
MR. MACDONELL: Yes.
MR. FAGE: Well, you would phone up your ADI rep and he would direct it to the specialist. I assume that, first, you would discuss over the phone the symptoms, what it looks like. If a physical visit is required, they would have somebody drop by and then a recommendation would occur.
MR. MACDONELL: Will there be a fee for that?
MR. FAGE: ADI on their operating expenses have not definitively said yes or no, whether they will be charging fees in those types of things. That, again, is up to the board. It would be independent of our department. The board would decide on those type of things and I assume, you know, some services may have a fee attached to them depending if they had lab work or something else involved and some may now. It will be what the industry interfaces with their budget and there is tremendous opportunity here to, when you look at things, let's say it is trials for different types of vegetables or crops, those types of things, you know, seed companies certainly want those trials done. There are opportunities certainly for ADI to contract a grower to do that and to do the administration and collect the data on their own. It is common practice in most jurisdictions that those types of things would allow money to be raised for a department or an ADI rather than cost them money for those services.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, I guess I am just curious as to what the $2.2 million will be for if the board decides they want to collect a fee? It sounds like a user fee to me.
MR. FAGE: I think you are getting out in front of the board and one should wait until they establish their regime and their services.
MR. MACDONELL: I might be.
MR. FAGE: But the $2.2 million is, obviously, for wages, physical location, salary and related hardware or software, all those types of things.
MR. MACDONELL: Sure.
MR. FAGE: And then, you know, once they start offering a range of services, then they will decide if this one is standard and does not require a fee or if that one is a different set of circumstances, but I think it is important to let ADI decide those things.
MR. MACDONELL: Yes.
MR. FAGE: That is their responsibility, not the department's.
MR. MACDONELL: Peter Hill is on the board, is that right?
MR. FAGE: My understanding is Peter is President of the Federation of Agriculture, but Peter is not on the board of ADI.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Kelly indicated that he was the other day when he spoke to the organic growers.
MR. FAGE: It is Peter Clarke who is the Chairman, that would be the Peter he would be referring to. The four members, I could list them for you. The federation has a representative on there and I believe their representative is Jeff Cutting from Truro, would be from the executive of the federation.
MR. MACDONELL: I think you are right, I think that is the way I actually was told so it probably was Peter Clarke. I would definitely think the, well, I hope the federation has a problem with implementing fees.
So when the idea, the concept of ADI was put together last spring. I think it came up around budget time or after the budget, that it was going to be going by September was what I thought you had said, so I am just curious as to why the late date?
MR. FAGE: The board was in place by September, the board then set the time frame and wanted to do a very careful search to get the right people in place. They did extensive interviews and hired a firm and they approved the hiring of Dale Kelly. Then that process continued on. Mr. Kelly needed an opportunity and I think prudently so, to meet with all commodity groups in Nova Scotia, farm organizations, for several months to get their opinion and get an understanding of the services and how they would like to have them delivered. Then a proposal was put back to the ADI board, I understand was the process, to receive their approval and then go for the process of beginning to hire the people in the positions that would be reflective and responsive to those grassroots meetings with producers across Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have less than one minute.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I will take this opportunity to wind down then. One of my first questions was going to be around foot and mouth but I thought you explained that fairly well in your speech so I will relinquish to my colleague in the Liberal caucus. I will say thank you to the minister and the staff and I will be back.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for your presentation today. I found it quite interesting. It is pretty hard to talk about one ministry when you have two ministries in there, it takes a little more time to cover it. It gets a little confusing and in fact you have another ministry as well, which is Natural Resources and I used to be minister of that portfolio and so you are a busy man.
MR. FAGE: I am not sure on that point, but I do seem to have enough to keep me busy during most days.
MR. DOWNE: That is why having good staff is so important.
MR. FAGE: Good staff is absolutely the key.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, you talked quite articulately about the importance of agriculture, the importance of fisheries and aquaculture as well as with natural resources. I will just throw that in as an aside. You stated in your address that the agriculture and fishing industries are key economic drivers in the economy and they create a lot of economic opportunity and jobs in rural Nova Scotia and are important to the economy. Natural resources would be part of that.
But I noted with interest the other day, the Minister of Finance talking about how resilient the economy is here and pointing out that agriculture and fisheries and natural resources and tourism are only 4 per cent of the GDP and it really doesn't matter that much. The other parts of the economy are so much stronger. Do you have a problem in your Cabinet impressing upon your colleagues how important natural resources truly are to the economic well-being of the province, when a minister talks about only 4 per cent of the GDP in the province as if it doesn't matter?
MR. FAGE: Certainly I would feel very strongly that in caucus as well as in the Executive Council that the resource-based industries receive a very strong and fair representation and hearing. I think that is reflective in this year's estimates going into the budget and I think it is also reflective of the ability to have approval for new agreements, whether they are safety nets, the opportunity to keep pressing forward with initiatives if it is a natural resource, if it is sustainable practices, the buyers' registry. When you look at fisheries certainly, aquaculture is a huge growth driver and when you look at the fishing industry in Nova Scotia, it still occupies that spot as the largest in Canada, the export from
this province, it is larger than in any other province. It is still the number one single export from this province and the priority whether it is dealing with any of the issues relating to fishery allotments of money and programs to agriculture, they seem to get a very receptive hearing in caucus and in the Executive Council.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister spoken like a real farmer and rural fighter. I was just somewhat amazed to hear the Minister of Finance talk about it in that context. Maybe he didn't mean it in that light but I did find it just took me by surprise that the Minister of Finance would address it in that context. You mentioned that the commitment is reflective in the budget, although we are seeing an increase in user fees in agriculture. Is that any reflection - back to the Minister of Finance again - or do you feel that some of the user fees are adequate or a proper way to go in agriculture?
MR. FAGE: I certainly feel that if you are receiving a service you are much more respectful of it. I know certainly the honourable member, the government he was a member of, and Finance Minister, that your administration grappled with those issues of what is a reasonable amount of money to charge for a service, not only for cost recovery but the individual who receives that service is respectful that it does cost money. Most participants that I would talk to, if it is the agriculture industry, whether it is a soil sample charge or whether it is a charge to have milk samples done or a number of those related lab tests or those services, they feel it is the best information that they can possible get to make prudent economic decisions. It gives them that material and they feel comfortable with that charge.
User fees in general, I know as Finance Minister you certainly had the tough job in making choices and representing departments in previous governments and a fee for service or licence or registration has always been part of how governments raise funds. I think the real question is, what fees or registrations or licences should require that and what is a fair amount to pay. I would see those as the questions and those are the ones when I sit down with the industry, they would debate on those levels, is it too high, is it the right thing, is that a service essential, those types of questions?
MR. DOWNE: The issue of user fees, there seems to be a fairly substantive amount of revenue coming into the government coffers from user fees in agriculture. I note with interest the other day, they were saying that if an ambulance comes to visit your farm, it is an automatic $500 bill. Recently with the diesel fuel mixed gas, we used to call it marked gas, there is a user fee now, $75. There were grandfathering provisions there that are now gone. I understand in the budget if you have a fuel storage tank in excess of a certain size, there will be an inspection and that farmer will have to pay for that inspection. These user fees are generally discussed at the Cabinet level before they are introduced. Do you support those user fees in agriculture?
MR. FAGE: I think certainly there are a number of general questions there and when I look at user fees and initiatives, if I am looking at the initiative on the fuel tanks and those
type of issues, they were brought in under a government that you were Finance Minister for and certainly the issue of grandfathering commitments made and not signed is a difficult one. There is no question about it, but when you look at user fees in general, most people are willing to pay for a service and be respectful of it because of that payment if they are getting good value. Obviously, nobody wants to pay any more service fees or more taxes, but they are an obligation in respect to having a licence, a registration or privilege, and I hearken back to the issue of paying for user fees.
I think, if I remember correctly, being involved in the farming industry, there has been a number of user fees for many years. The industry certainly views them with distain every time one is increased or a new one is imposed, but when you look at the fuel tax, and I would assume they would be the same type of issue that your administration would have grappled with, you are looking at for the resource-based industries $22.5 million of tax exemptions for a service fee that will collect on cost recovery $160,000. Obviously, the inspectors ensuring the safety and warranting all that, my understanding comes to approximately $400,000. Business and Consumer Services collects those fees and does the inspection. So it is $22.5 million worth of benefit for $160,000 worth of recovery against the administration and inspection of the program for $400,000. It is not a bad deal but, again, it is never easy imposing a fee when you didn't pay one before.
MR. DOWNE: I take it then, Mr. Minister, that you support those fee increases?
MR. FAGE: There is no question that fee increases are needed for cost recovery and, as a government, we are determined to keep on the prudent financial track of balancing the budget in this province and being able to cap the debt. When you make choices, as you well know, to balance your individual budget, there are a number of opportunities or ways to do it and certainly previous administrations in agriculture chose to cut programs. We chose to increase programs and one of the ways that you retain your balance to meet your objective is with user fees where they are prudent and, obviously, if it is prudent, if the service rendered is value for money and the clientele is respectful of that user fee, then certainly we would support the implementation of those particular user fees, but they would be selective on an individual basis, not a carte blanche.
MR. DOWNE: I don't know what it is, but whenever you become a minister, you seem to carry on a conversation for a long time and I think it is not just in generic to you by the way, Mr. Minister, I probably had the same thing. So the answer to the question is yes, I do support it, I take it?
MR. FAGE: The answer to the question, I think I made it really clear, was if it is prudent, if it is respectful to the clientele, . . .
MR. DOWNE: I was talking specifically about the one that you just mentioned.
MR. FAGE: . . . and if that particular user fee is one that meets that test, then I would support that individual user fee. A carte blanche statement that I support user fees across the board, I wouldn't make that statement. I would have to see the individual case before I would support it and bring it forward.
MR. DOWNE: Just to bring it to your memory, Mr. Minister, I was referring to specific user fees that were just announced and that you just announced in the budget.
MR. FAGE: And there is no question, those are specific and I am supportive of those user fees in the budget.
MR. DOWNE: Okay, there we go. Do you support the Federation of Agriculture in the Province of Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: Certainly I feel that the Federation of Agriculture is the very backbone of the farming industry and representation of it in this province. Certainly I support them very strongly and approve of their efforts and their lobby and try to incorporate as many of their recommendations and their responses as I possible could. I do meet with them on a very regular basis. The president, I afford him the opportunity, along with his executive, to get together and discuss the issues that come up at the federal-provincial meeting and the strategy that the industry in the province would want to achieve before we get there and certainly try to consult with the federation at every opportunity that I can, honourable member.
MR. DOWNE: Do you think that the government and governments in the past have listened to what the federation's cry has been properly and effectively?
MR. FAGE: I think every government has done their best to incorporate their agenda into requests made by the Federation of Agriculture. Judging whether one administration or another has been more successful at it, I wouldn't even want to make a comment. I truly feel that every administration respects the Federation of Agriculture and tries to work with them and address their issues and take their input as much as they can and incorporate it into the mandate that they were elected with, but it is like that time question.
MR. DOWNE: The Federation of Agriculture has opposed these current recent increases in user fees. They are crying out that it is unfair and what is your response to them?
MR. FAGE: My response, obviously, in regard to the user fee, two things. First, again I would point out, we are not the department responsible for dealing with the particular one with the fuel, I would say certainly when the Federation of Agriculture has a concern, and I have talked to many members of the federation and the executive several times since Business and Consumer Services issued their letters stating that that permit fee would go forward, I
have taken the view of the federation back to the minister involved. We have had a number of discussions on it.
Secondly, the Federation of Agriculture, on individual fees or issues, from time to time in every administration, has never been supportive 100 per cent on any issue and I wouldn't expect them to be because they would not be an effective lobby. They wouldn't be representing their membership if they were in constant agreement with every Minister of Agriculture, every Minister of Business and Consumer Services or every government representative. It would be a falsehood to make those types of representations and the industry would not be well represented if they didn't carry forward the views. Obviously, the industry and government objectives, regardless of administration, are never totally aligned.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I think the Federation of Agriculture has always looked to the Minister of Agriculture as being their champion in Cabinet. I realize that some of those user fees are certainly not directly in your control, but indirectly, as a Cabinet Minister, you would have agreed to those in Cabinet. They would have been approved by Cabinet. They would have been approved by a budget process. So you were fully aware of them and had to speak on them. Sometimes you win those battles in Cabinet and sometimes you lose. I am not going to ask the details on that because it is confidential, but I do know that they look to you as being their champion in the Cabinet and being a former farmer, you above all understand that particular concern.
You did mention, Mr. Minister, that the government has reflected their value of agriculture specifically. We talked about the user fees as an example of that. I would like to go on a little bit about last year's budget. The department took a tremendous cut and I think there was a decree across the board that all departments have to take a very substantive cut. If I recall correctly, it is somewhere between a 20 per cent and a 25 per cent cut over two years and Agriculture took most of its cuts in the first year so that it would be able to go forward after that.
In looking at the numbers in the different departments, it would appear, Mr. Minister, that the other departments didn't make the same commitment to the cut as you did on behalf of Agriculture and that Agriculture, in fact, did make the substantive cut in year one. Yet we are still, if you compare it to the other departments, showing that we still took our share of the cut, and then some, that most other departments actually now got a small bump or didn't take the degree of cuts that we did. In light of the fact that you support the current user fees in Agriculture, these additional cuts in Agriculture that we took last year and a small top-up this year, we are still behind other departments. What happened, Mr. Minister?
MR. FAGE: I would like to thank the honourable member for his question. First, I think it is important to set the record straight. The honourable member fully knows that the Federation of Agriculture and the department have a long-standing relationship where input from the farming community does make a difference. Certainly, when we look at programs
where the previous administration chose to eliminate virtually every program offered in Agriculture and the honourable member was a member of the farming community, I remember those particular issues and how disappointed the farm community was because the former administration achieved no parity in NISA. They couldn't even talk the federal government into supporting a drought-relief program. This administration and certainly this Cabinet has been extremely supportive and co-operative with the federation. We have gone ahead and achieved those gains of millions and millions of dollars into the agriculture industry.
When we look at the budgets involved, this year and last year, the reorganization and the development of new programs, certainly the honourable member can choose to disagree, but the development of new programs to aid the agriculture industry is what the industry was crying out for, for many years. The former minister would well know, when he signed his name to a document as President of the Federation of Agriculture, it was requesting more programs and more input. This government has listened to the agriculture industry. We have gone forward and instituted those new programs, reinstated programs like the new entrants policy that was dropped. We have worked with the agriculture community to ensure that those services are there.
The agriculture industry has chosen to be involved and have participated and worked very hard on this ADI committee and certainly, with research development and service delivery now tied together and growth opportunities out there reflective of real opportunity, people are prepared to meet the future. This government has consistently committed those dollars during this past year to make sure the underpinnings of income support and stabilization are there. This government and this minister also were able to negotiate deals and support that should have been in place from previous administrations but, for whatever reasons, they were unable to achieve. They are there for the industry.
As we move into the future, it is certainly pleasing to work on market and inter-governmental development. Last week, again, we were able to achieve a breakthrough with the federal minister in regard to international promotion of fish products. We were able to achieve it through the federal Minister of Agriculture and the Marketing Division, so that we have greater opportunity for growth. That is what the farming community is looking forward to, increased opportunities and growth. The big items that deal with that stability and growth and loan programs are in place. Those are there and supported by the federation.
Certainly, user fees are part of the arsenal of being able to balance a budget in a department's objective. When I look at the user fees again, specifically one relating to fuel permits, I would point out to the honourable member that the cost of administering fuel permits is $400,000 for the resource-based groups from natural resources, fisheries and agriculture. The user fees will return about $160,000. The benefit to those industries on the tax exemption amounts to $22.5 million, which is a significant investment supported by previous administrations and wisely supported through the years by all administrations. Food is essential and that investment of tax dollars by the taxpayers of this province certainly is
appreciated by the resource-based fishers, the farmers and the people involved in the forest industry. Again, this government and the Federation of Agriculture have dealt closely with and have a strong working relationship on making sure there are more programs out there for farmers, not less.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, that is, I guess, why the press release that came out today that said hidden taxes cause farmers concern, they obviously are not very happy that you supported those user fees in agriculture. I am just saying to you that apparently this problem is real in their view. I do appreciate the fact that you are just one minister in the Cabinet and you cannot have your way on all these issues. Other ministers have theirs, but I don't think when you are saying that the $20-some million that are going into agriculture that because it is there, the farmers should be paying back more to government without justification.
I want to move on to a couple of other areas. One is in regard to the press release you made today, Nova Scotia supports the federal foot-and-mouth program. I want to say that it was interesting in reading this press release because it is a very serious issue and as farmers in this country would say from one end to the other, any time you have farmers in other parts of the world going through a crisis, our hearts go out to them and our prayers and thoughts go out to them and their families. It is not something anybody wishes on any other farmer anywhere in the world. But, there is a serious problem here and there is a serious concern about what are the impacts on Nova Scotia.
I read with interest and you pointed out that there are several proactive approaches that the government is taking. They include a joint effort with the industry-based Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. I want to ask specifically, has the minister addressed this issue with the Federation of Agriculture and if so, has the Federation of Agriculture and the department set up a committee? Or, is there a working group or something specific on that? Can you be very clear on the joint efforts of the two?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. The honourable member is right. This certainly is an issue of huge concern to Nova Scotia farmers and the plight of what is happening to livestock and livestock producers in Britain and Europe is a frightening thing. We want to do everything we can to prevent it here in Nova Scotia. I appreciate the honourable member acknowledging our efforts and I thank him for that.
The department and the government have a proactive approach and he is absolutely right. When we look at our provincial veterinarians, our other services, identifying the ability to be able to detect the disease at the earliest moment, if it did, unfortunately, come here, offering our services to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which, obviously is the lead agency in animal health on this issue, whether it is help with other entry points in this country and the protocols that should be followed, we are there to be proactive. In regard with the Federation of Agriculture, I think forming the committee with the federation and other affected departments and government agencies is really a prudent step. The first meeting for that organization and that committee that is going to specifically deal with that issue will take place tomorrow with the Federation of Agriculture.
MR. DOWNE: I talked to the federation last week and they didn't know anything about this.
MR. FAGE: Apparently, the issue probably would have been - obviously, the meeting has been arranged since last week and my department people, on my behalf, speak with the federation on a more regular basis than weekly. This is a serious issue and not one that you want to prolong and cause deadlines to be spread out weeks in advance. It is a timely issue, it is an issue that needs to be dealt with so the meeting was called - in all probability - within that week since you contacted the federation.
MR. DOWNE: In the press release the federation put out today, they again go on to tell Minister Fage, about their concerns about hidden taxes being placed on food production. Once again, those who can afford to pay, so on and so forth. They go on to say, there are rumours that the province has hired several more inspectors and enforcement officers to administer the bureaucracy nightmare. At the same time, our government has been remarkably quiet with regard to the possible implication of animal disease outbreaks in other countries and what should be done to keep these diseases out of our province. Our government's top priority should be to ensure the maintenance of a safe food supply for Nova Scotians. However, we are hearing nothing about any effort to implement such a policy or such a program. This is effective as of today. If in fact the department and you have been in dialogue with the Federation of Agriculture about specifically what you are talking about, Mr. Minister, which I support. I strongly support what you are trying to do, the Federation of Agriculture appear, by this press release, to know nothing about it. I guess my question is, I might be wrong, but I am just simply reading the two press releases and I am getting two different messages. Can you clarify that for us?
MR. FAGE: Again, it is very difficult to comment on a newspaper article when you don't know the individual who issued the press release or took the comments. Indeed, sometimes the press misinterprets what an individual has said. If the member would like, I can certainly supply you the name of the individual who is dealing with the issue and who was contacted, his name is Jonathan Ward at Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, 902-890-4212.
MR. DOWNE: I appreciate that.
MR. FAGE: Jonathan is the Executive Director and has been in contact with staff on numerous times in the previous week and that has been an item for discussion as well. I guess I certainly am not questioning the article you are reading or your interpretation of it, but I did want to supply you with the facts and the phone numbers and the individuals involved at the Federation of Agriculture who have been in contact with staff in dealing with the issue. I want to assure you those talks have been taking place and that we are working strongly with the federation. I can't emphasize enough the seriousness of this disease if we did have an outbreak here. I had discussions with the federal Minister of Agriculture on the particular issue Wednesday of last week. That is the kind of priority it means to me as a minister representing the industry. I share his concern and work strongly with that agency because this is an issue too important to play politics with. We are doing things within our power, the meeting with the farm organizations. I met last Saturday evening with the local Federation of Agriculture and that was an issue that we were discussing and what opportunities and what more advice we could give to the federal minister and his agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to do our very best to help isolate and, hopefully, prevent the spread of that airborne disease to this province.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, just so the record is straight, I am very supportive of the initiative of the department and I am very supportive of the federation and the industry and CFIA and the department to do something proactive immediately because it is a very big concern to farmers everywhere, not only in Nova Scotia, but in this country.
But, I was not referring to a press article. I was not referring to anything other than your personal press release and the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture's press release. Just so you know. Don't be defensive with me, I am just trying to clarify a point. I just read to you exactly what it says in here.
MR. FAGE: I guess I don't feel that I am being defensive in any way. What I am doing . . .
MR. DOWNE: And I am not. Mr. Minister, if I may, please. If I may finish my question . . .
MR. FAGE: I am being factual, not defensive.
MR. DOWNE: Well, I am being factual because I am just reading it from a press release. It is not an editorial comment, it is what is there. I don't want to play games with this issue, I support what we are trying to do. I am just trying to clarify if, in fact, they have been invited. If they are, you know, I am just going by what I read in the press releases and I can't do any more than that, then just to clarify that point.
This is above politics and I actually was waiting for you to get back last week because I was wondering what was done in the department because I think we have to be quick off the mark on this whole issue of potential of the negative impact on foot and mouth. Actually, on an aside, my wife and I are 30 years married this year and I had promised her a trip to Paris and then later to the Bordeaux Valley and the rural communities of France. I informed her last week that I guess we can't go because, quite frankly, it is not worth the risk to the farm community or to anybody. So we have actually cancelled our trip although I am going to have to figure out how I am going to offset that. Maybe there is a safety net somewhere I can find for that, but anyway I take this issue very seriously and so does the farm community and I know you do too as well, Mr. Minister.
So I guess the issue is the department itself and, you know, the department is a great department, I have dealt with them for 30 years, 28 years, but there are contingency plans established now, Mr. Minister, in regard to the whole issue of the potential problems here and can you just go through the specifics. I read the other day where the Liberal MLA in New Brunswick was saying we should be doing more. I happen to think that maybe the federal government and all the other agencies are working very hard to do the best they can and I am sure you have been there doing the same with them. Can you explain to us and give us your sense of comfort as to, have we done enough, should we be doing more and, if so, what?
MR. FAGE: I certainly would thank the honourable member. Obviously, if you are not taking your spouse and going to France, that is two less people who could inadvertently transfer the virus. I commend you on your sacrifice because, you know, many other people would not make that sacrifice. There is no question about it and I commend you strongly on it.
We have been dealing with the issue for a number of weeks. Obviously, you have praised us on our interventions with the federal government, on press releases that we are doing to the general public and the farm community, to advise them of whether it is the two weeks after anybody returning that you should be concerned, if there might be the slightest chance of contamination on farm properties. Certainly our veterinarians, our identification process, our laboratories have gone through the protocols that would need to be in place.
We are issuing press releases such as the one you have read there that I released today to ensure that farmers and the general public receive a greater awareness of the potential. We have made overtures to CFIA in regard to seaport and airport entry points. Again, I have had discussions on the issue with the federal minister as late as last week on bringing forward concerns of producers across this province who have made representation to myself and department staff in regard to their concern. The issue of how much anything is risked, I really don't know how you would put a percentage on it or ask those types of hypothetical questions. I think, again, you have to deal in facts and preparation, not percentage risks. I think my time is better spent in dealing with the real issue and the problems surrounding
prevention, eliminating possible avenues or lowering the risk of possible avenues is probably the right terminology of bringing it forward.
I think the issue in regard to inspection of meat plants and the risks associated there, that the detection that is out there and the mandatory inspection efforts at all the 20 abattoirs are physical signs and the proper factual things to be doing to lower the possibility of contamination of foot-and-mouth disease here in this country because it has been 1952 since the last outbreak occurred in Canada and Nova Scotia was fortunate at that time that they weren't part of that outbreak, but it is an unbelievably serious issue. Such things that you suggested by your volunteering of not going to Europe, of travel bans and restrictions and closing borders and those types of things, certainly the federal government is the agency that would have to make decisions like those, but I don't know if you're counselling toward those things, but they would be decisions that would ultimately be made by the federal government.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, it is important that we try to do everything we can. Can you tell me in your department who is the lead for the strategic planning for the potential of outbreak or contamination in the Province of Nova Scotia? What staff person is in charge of that?
MR. FAGE: There are a number of people involved, it is not a single person. This issue is so important to the livestock industry here in Nova Scotia that, again, as I said earlier, there are a number of people involved in this and certainly when you look at our provincial veterinarians, you look at all the large animal vets, they are very intimately involved in our effort with their expertise and factual. Mike Horwich who is the Provincial Manager of Foodsafety would be coordinating the effort of these many professionals and leading the discussions with other levels, along with people like myself and other people of senior management in the department, but obviously when we are dealing with food safety, the director of that particular division, who is highly respected in his field, is the individual who would head up those efforts.
MR. DOWNE: Is who?
MR. FAGE: Mike Horwich.
MR. DOWNE: So would you say that Mike is the quarterback in this whole team approach by the department?
MR. FAGE: Certainly the director is the one who will be involved in coordinating the efforts of everyone who is involved there.
MR. DOWNE: In your press release, Mr. Minister, it says that we have also participated in forming a working group made up of members of the industry and government to develop a strategy on getting the information out. Who is in charge of that, getting the information out from the department?
MR. FAGE: Information out, as the member would know, usually proper protocol is to go to your communications department and so you would treat this as making sure that press releases, issues dealing directly with the media in making sure that you would get the information out, obviously going through our communications division is prudent. They have the expertise to articulate, describe and issue a press release, printed documents, and are able to produce them with a great degree of skill and understanding and provide it to our people within the department, other levels of government and industry, scientists, veterinarians, who would provide the academic and the science part of dealing with protocols, dealing with trying to keep a disease such as hoof-and-mouth disease out of Nova Scotia and, indeed, Canada. Those people are extremely skilled communication officers and their craft is taking those vital pieces of facts and information and putting it in the written form that would be able to be accessed by mass media, then we are able to inform the general public of Nova Scotia.
MR. DOWNE: I will finish reading it, Mr. Minister. "We have also participated in forming a working group made up of members of industry and government to develop a strategy on getting information out, assisting in precautionary measures, determining early detection signs of the disease, and what actions should be taken if the disease should ever reach our province." I will ask the question, who is the staff person, male or female, is it Mike who is going to be in charge of all this?
MR. FAGE: Again, it's very hard to give that definitive answer to the member's question.
MR. DOWNE: So the department doesn't have staff?
MR. FAGE: It involves a group of people and there is a coordinator. Spokespeople are involved from myself, representing the department as minister - as you have seen the press release, those words and statements were helped crafted for me by the Communications Department. I, as the minister of the department, would comment on important issues like this. People within the department would deal directly with the federation and the industry. Other people who have science degrees, such as veterinarians, people dealing with identification of disease, are liaisons with our federal government counterparts, all those people would play a role and specific tasks would be assigned.
A number of people will, in all probability as this moves forward, comment on it but, again, the Communications Department would align the type of press release, the arrangement of the facts so we can factually inform Nova Scotia producers, Nova Scotia consumers, about the risk involved with hoof-and-mouth and what we can legitimately do instead of politicizing
and playing with the issue to help do our part in ensuring that we don't have hoof-and-mouth disease here in Nova Scotia. Again, as the honourable member would understand, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is the lead agency and the regulatory body that issues quarantines, would decide whether an animal or an animal product, whether it is the case with Brazil recently, other European countries would make the decision whether those animal products, whether those live animals would end up in a quarantine station somewhere in this country. That is their responsibility and I certainly feel that that institution takes their work very seriously.
I respect the people involved with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and I certainly respect the federal minister when he expresses his concern and when you are dealing with the food inspection staff in coordinating efforts so hysteria isn't created out there, to ensure that factual information is delivered to the public and the farming community and things that are possible, reasonable and sensible are done to lessen the chance of a disease, of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease here in Nova Scotia, were more than willing, and fulfilling whatever roles and obligations we can to provide the service and provide the information to the farming community. The formation of this committee, the meeting that will be held tomorrow, are all clear signs of that indication and clear signs of how serious this disease and how serious this government and how serious this department and minister view the issue. We are not going to play politics with it. We are out there to do what we can with our resources to ensure there is less of a chance that that dreaded disease would land on our shores.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, if you believe what you just said, when I ask a simple question, can I just get a simple answer, because I don't want to sit here and listen to you, I mean we are on the same page on this issue, I assume. I am simply asking questions to talk about how proactive you are. You have put a press release out. I simply asked who is the lead person in the department who is coordinating the activities, maybe it is the deputy or maybe it is yourself. It's just a simple question. So, I think I deserve at least that much respect to get a simple answer back. I will support you publicly on anything you do to be proactive in helping this problem, Mr. Minister, I am on your side on this issue, so I think if you want to play games - anyway, I want to go on to another question.
I am just asking questions regarding your press release that you put out today. I assume you know the answers to these questions. Apparently the provincial department is informing farmers, provincially, inspected meat plant operators, about the risk, the disease, the method of detection, so on and so forth. Could you table for us that publication or that information package just so we could have it, because I understand that the different abattoirs in the province, you are having inspectors go out to talk with them and I think that is great. I wouldn't mind having that, as an MLA, just to have it. The farm community that phones me, have a lot of freezer beef industry in our community, and I would like to be able to help them have that information as well. Tomorrow, when you are back, if we could have a copy of that it would be appreciated.
Later in your press release, "Should there be a case of foot and mouth in Nova Scotia . . ." and God only knows we are all praying that it never happens and I hope the problem goes away in Europe as quickly as possible ". . . the provincial department of Agriculture and Fisheries would advise industry and the general public, and keep them informed about the situation." The Canadian Food Inspection Agency would be taking in respect contingency plans to deal with this.
You are talking about establishing a proactive team to deal with prevention, education and, I assume, there is a quarterback of all the people who will be involved. Somebody has to call the shots. You can't have 30 people in there wondering what they are going to do, you have to have a quarterback here. In the event there is a problem - and gosh only knows we hope there never is one - what are the contingency plans that the department has in place, or do they have them in place, are they working with CFIA and the industry to develop contingency plans in the province? If they already have them, would you be so kind as to table those tomorrow? If you don't have them, it is a matter of working on them and it's a new issue. Like you say, it hasn't been around for a long time and I am not being critical, I am just simply asking the question. Is that the process of developing contingency plans in the event this dreaded disease would ever invade our shores?
MR. FAGE: Again your question, you ask for a direct answer and it's so vague it's very hard. You go through the people involved in the press release, the people who I am openly discussing with, the people who the deputy is openly discussing with, and the directors, the communications officers, all those people, again, I don't know how clear I can make it, all those people will be spokespeople and involved in the effort.
It would be my pleasure to supply and table to you a copy of correspondence dealing with inspection and those efforts. As the protocol is developed with CFIA in consultation with the industry, as soon as protocols are developed, in the event that we were unfortunate enough to have foot-and-mouth disease identified here, we would be tabling them with the general public and the farming community. That would be standard procedure and, probably, really proper.
Contingency plans, obviously there are a number of areas and possibilities, but those need to be sorted out. Under federal laws, as the member well knows, if a brucellosis outbreak occurred on somebody's operation then there are protocols in place, of payment and other things, that the federal government does. Again, I am sure the honourable member is aware of those types of things. Those are some of the efforts that this committee, when it meets tomorrow, will be dealing with, and developing that contingency plan with the federal department.
Sometimes when you try to put the cart in front of the horse, you end up not dealing with the industry and not dealing with the partners who have jurisdiction. I think it is very prudent that the committee is formed, the jurisdiction is clarified, the discussions with all
affected groups and agencies continue, then you have your protocol. But asking to have it tabled before you have your meeting borders on getting the cart a long way in front of the horse.
MR. DOWNE: A simple question was asked; if there is one, would you table it? I just asked the question. I guess I have got about 30 seconds left and I figure you will probably run the clock.
When the Minister of Tourism and Culture, Rodney MacDonald, went to Scotland, what precautionary measures did you inform him to take with regard to the potential outbreak in agriculture and, upon returning, what precautionary measures did he, in fact, take before he came back to rural Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: The Minister of Tourism, certainly we were extremely proud to support him and his department. As you well know, the Scottish culture is a huge part of Nova Scotia's tradition and we were very pleased that the minister saw it as proper to go to Scotland and promote Nova Scotia because those tourism dollars, those opportunities for Nova Scotians, this government believes strongly in our culture and heritage industry. We were there supporting very strongly, honourable member, and applauding him in his efforts to bring opportunity to Nova Scotia where we have the largest Scottish speaking community outside of Scotland.
On the issue of his returning to the province, I asked him if his trip was productive and he was able to meet with the groups and individuals he intended. He informed me that it was a successful trip. I personally reminded him that the virus that is responsible for hoof-and-mouth disease is airborne and could possibly be active up to 14 days and that we were advising the farming community that it would be prudent to consider, it is not mandatory, anyone who had been to a country that had foot-and-mouth disease that he should consider restricting himself from going to farms in Nova Scotia, as a precautionary measure, for two weeks. Those were the comments and suggestions made to the honourable Minister of Tourism and Culture, and a lot of praise for a job well done.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to advise you that your time has passed. Are there any questions from the PC caucus before we entertain an opportunity for the NDP to ask questions? No questions from the PC caucus?
Mr. MacDonell, the honourable member for Hants East, you have the floor. The time is 8:20 p.m., you have up to one hour.
Just to advise the committee, we have to adjourn at 9:25 p.m., so we have an hour and four minutes left, basically. I am not sure if we are going to conclude with the minister tonight or not. The Liberals may have some more questions after the NDP's time is allotted, so there
may be an opportunity that the department may be back tomorrow. We will find out in an hour from now.
Do you believe that you will be using your full hour?
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: That is my intention.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time is now 8:21 p.m., I have used a minute of your time.
MR. MACDONELL: I will just make note, minister, the Farm Focus has given a fairly good description of what they are looking for in those eight specialists, and it doesn't mention, on any of them, any background in organic agriculture at all. With regard to the honourable member for Lunenburg West, I wouldn't mind knowing the make-up of that committee related to foot-and-mouth disease.
MR. FAGE: Again, once the federation puts forward their part of the committee, then you can announce it, but you have to have the meeting first. It was very hard to convey to the member for Lunenburg West that you have to have the meeting before you know who is going to participate. We seemed to spend a lot of time on not many questions being answered or conveyed, for some reason.
MR. MACDONELL: I guess all I will ask is, as soon as you know, if you wouldn't mind conveying that.
MR. FAGE: It would be my pleasure.
MR. MACDONELL: I read in that paper about three individuals who are being hired by ADI, and I think you mentioned the same as well; an advisory services leader, an education leader and a communications specialist, and a public relations coordinator. I am just wondering if that is not an overlap of services that already exist either between the federation or the department presently, and those positions might better be filled, say by another specialist, to hire one.
MR. FAGE: Again, it's not really strong in my role other than to make observations rather than comment, because ADI is an independent producer majority board and they sit down and make the decisions on what type of skill sets, what individuals they want. Then they run the competitions and approve of them and our department or myself, as minister, are not responsible for that process. They have identified from an observation, education is critical, knowledge transfer is the key.
MR. MACDONELL: I agree, I am not arguing. I am just saying that it would appear that those people are already in existence with your department.
MR FAGE: Again, ADI is not department, and so those individuals who would work on education or communication are dealing with ADI and the delivery of those special services.
MR. MACDONELL: If you were looking at ADI at arm's length and you were to see that the eight specialists that ADI hired were all presently existing as eight specialists still left in the department, would you say that is producer driven and they want them and I am not going to say anything about that?
MR. FAGE: Again, the function of ADI is industry driven and it is delivering the services that the industry sees as priority issues. Obviously, it would appear to me, that being able to coordinate educational opportunities, and that would go to dealing with people within the Department of Agriculture, other universities, NSAC, you have to be able to have expertise in supplying those educational programs if you are going to identify them, and I think rightly so, they define education strongly and communication is key that they are able to communicate to the industry. That would be my observation why they placed that skills set there as quickly as possible.
MR. MACDONELL: I have to partially agree with you. I think the point I want to make is that it's practically impossible to distance yourself very much considering the $2.2 million is taxpayers' dollars. If ADI was a revenue generator on its own and they saw fit to do this and they were not using taxpayers' money, I would say by all means, they can do whatever they like. If the $2.2 million is coming from the taxpayer then I would say that the minister would have some concern there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for clarification for Hansard - ADI?
MR. MACDONELL: Agriculture Development Institute.
MR. FAGE: I should have identified that. Again, the appropriation of the money is in the budget and that is an operating grant that there would be probably hundreds of organizations in Nova Scotia that would receive operating grants. The minister obviously is responsible for allocating that in the budget. The services that they offered, again the majority of the board is from the farming community and it is industry driven. It is being reactive to what the industry wants. There was extremely extensive consultation once they hired the executive director. Dale Kelly spent over two months meeting with the industry, the commodity groups, and those are the ones they chose.
MR. MACDONELL: I agree. I think that there must be organizations that apply for grants that do not get them. Looking in the Estimates Book on Page 3.9 it says Grants and Contributions. Obviously, there are organizations that do get them. I am assuming that since it comes under - well, this says Agriculture and Marketing, I am assuming it means - Agriculture and Fisheries that the department and the minister would be concerned that these organizations are making some benefit to the industry or the agriculture sector. I think that is probably where I will draw the line, and I would say that even though they get a grant you want to feel assured that when you are speaking to the industry what happens with that money and that organization somehow fits with what you would like to see the industry do.
MR. FAGE: That's absolutely prudent because accountability, how those funds are used and expended, audit, disclosure, all those things are going extremely to the agriculture industry; obviously very important to me as minister responsible for the funding. Issues on that service delivery, again an organization like the federation that had a concern would make their representation directly to myself and the department on more accountability, less accountability, more funding, those types of issues, and that would be a normal ongoing procedure. Honourable member, you are absolutely right, accountability is going to be number one there.
MR. MACDONELL: I am wondering if you could just tell me a little bit about the New Entrants Program. If you qualify, then how long can you qualify? When are you not a new entrant, or when can you not be one? The kind of dollars that are accessible, is this just connected to the Farm Loan Board, is it a separate pot of money?
MR. FAGE: We tried to use staff and resources as efficiently as possible. The Farm Loan Board has a fine staff and accounting system, so they administer the program. Staff can correct me if I give some of the details improper, it is based on a first-time new entrant under 35 years of age entering the farming industry. It can be buying an existing operation or taking over a family run, creating a new one. It is a maximum, I believe, of $20,000 and it is $10,000 a year for the first two years that you are in farming.
MR. MACDONELL: Are we just saying that that's a maximum of $20,000, the two years? Is it interest free?
MR. FAGE: It is 100 per cent no strings attached, straightforward to the individual.
MR. MACDONELL: Is it a grant or a loan?
MR. FAGE: It's a grant. It's there to help young farmers get started. If they are approved, they would be up to $10,000 a year. They would receive that for two years in a row for a maximum of $20,000.
MR. MACDONELL: If they needed $100,000, I am assuming that $10,000 of that would be - can they still get the grant on top of a loan, I guess is what I am trying to say?
MR. FAGE: Absolutely, that would be the normal case. The other thing is that this grant is not contingent on borrowing the money from the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, it is any financial institution that you deal with, whether it is a federal institution or a commercial bank, a mortgage company. That is there, independent of being a client of the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board. The other great thing the department endeavours to do to support agriculture is the Farm Loan Board. Their lender is there to help Nova Scotia farm families and operations as a lending agency for purchases. The majority of purchases would obviously involve capital assets. It would look at, if it was a whole farm buy out, maybe a little more chattel there. The other thing that they administer for us, other programs, would be the beef loan policy. They would administer a number of those on behalf of the government, the timber loan policy from Natural Resources actually would be administered and run by the Farm Loan Board. It makes efficient use of their resources; they administer a number of those types of programs.
MR. MACDONELL: Is there any interest forgiveness for young farmers for the money they borrow from the Farm Loan Board?
MR. FAGE: No. It is in the form of the $10,000. Obviously, it can be deducted but it is a finite dollar amount. When you look at the large sums to acquire commercial operations, certainly it would be nice to be able to do more and hopefully, some day, if financial circumstances in the province improve then that can happen. That is the key to that industry, is that inter-generational transfer and new people getting started. Those first couple of years when interest payments are so high, that support is critical.
MR. MACDONELL: I noticed that the federation went to the term new entrants, rather than young farmers. I see that although you use the term new entrants, you have put an age limit on it, so the department has no advantage for people who are older than 35, there is nothing.
MR. FAGE: We consulted on those issues very closely with the Federation of Agriculture. When you develop a reinstated program, you look at parameters of what would be acceptable and what were the highest percentage odds that it would succeed, and those are some of the parameters that we developed in conjunction with the Federation of Agriculture for the inception of that program. They were strongly supportive and wanted to see that program redeveloped, and those were some of the parameters that they helped develop around it.
MR. MACDONELL: I think maybe in answer to one of my other questions, and I think also in your speech when you started estimates you had specifically mentioned the beef industry. I would be interested to know what initiatives you have underway. I know there was
a Beef Task Force a few years ago, if there is some of that that you have implemented, or have you taken some other direction of things that you are trying to do to promote the beef sector?
MR. FAGE: We have a brand of beef with the Nova Scotia Beef Producers as well as Maritime beef producers. That is a joint effort in marketing with Co-op Atlantic and it has been extremely successful. Last year, it was on a Maritime basis, it was so successful, it needs probably another 20,000 head to supply all co-op stores in this province and other provinces in Atlantic Canada. It has been well received by the consumers and the co-op chain of stores have done very well in sponsoring. It is beef classic, and you probably have seen it advertised, seen the promotions, and heard people talk about it at your local co-op stores, and it has been extremely well perceived.
Other initiatives in Nova Scotia, we deal directly with the Cattleman's Association. One was short term, when the killing facilities at Hub Meat Packers went on strike, for instance, we redirected some funds there while that was short term to help those cattle be moved to Ontario to be slaughtered, to support that program with our beef producers. We have had extensive discussions with beef producers and they help develop the loan project, and that is the beef development loan that the Farm Loan Board administered in the last year. We have also had a number of meetings and discussions in regard to income support, primarily that would be Equitable NISA versus the old provincial program of beef performance.
Although, producers really did like the 100 per cent provincially funded beef performance, we have been working with them to look at long-term stability, and with the opportunity to partner on 60/40 with those new stabilization agreements, we have been able to negotiate and sign with the federal government. It offers a lot more dollars and a lot more long-term support to the industry. So I would say those discussions are probably the ones that are ongoing right at this point and, again, the recently announced federal government $500 million additional ADA for the calendar year ending last Sunday. We continue to come to discussions to come to an agreement so that money is available now. It would mean an additional, for last year only, 50 per cent increase above what was already there. Those dollars would be critical to help generate NISA accounts or various other uses for the industry and would be of great long-term benefit to them.
MR. MACDONELL: So I will get you to explain, if I caught it right, the loan project?
MR. FAGE: The loan program. Yes, that program is there to guarantee up to 85 per cent of the purchase of cattle so a feedlot owner or a beef producer, a cow/calf operator, the Farm Loan Board would administer a loan program that would loan up to 85 per cent of the value. They would only have to come up with 15 per cent, with the cattle being the major part of the chattel or collateral for that. So it allows them a cash flow so when opportunities come to fill their feedlot or to purchase cattle, it gives them a line of credit that is there.
MR. MACDONELL: Is there a preferred rate on that line of credit?
MR. FAGE: The rate on it, and I would have to get the exact rate, would be the normal rate from the Farm Loan Board, which is usually a little better rate than commercial.
MR. MACDONELL: They could buy feeders or replacement cows?
MR. FAGE: Any class of cattle.
MR. MACDONELL: Anything?
MR. FAGE: Yes, any class of cow.
MR. MACDONELL: I am wondering if you foresee any problems, I know the industry may see it as a good thing, and I am thinking more long range, but I expect the beef prices are going to really keep going up with a shortage of beef in Great Britain and with the problems there, and probably the same will apply to lambs and so on. I think that it is probably going to be fairly tempting, depending on each individual's circumstance, for a lot of stock to disappear if prices stay high. So I just wonder if you have concerns about what the eventual outcome would be on the herd here?
MR. FAGE: I guess the normal cattle cycle, usually when you get dispersal of cattle, it is not when prices are rising but when they are falling, and I guess if I had a concern, it would probably be that you get concerned if people started paying exorbitant prices for a backgrounder's feeder cattle on the purchase side, not the sale side, because people see the price rising and see opportunity, but all cycles peak and go down. When prices are high, you always see numbers build instead of decrease and, if I had a concern, you just would not want to see producers pay such a high price that the margin is not there, and the chance that the market might fall off, at that point you are vulnerable.
But I guess I would be more concerned on that side because we are on this side. When prices are going up, people buy instead of sell and then they get jittery when they are going down and then they start liquidating. That's part of our partnership with the federal government on NISA. Three year income support programs for the red meat sector is if we can have an income support program in place, that puts a floor basically in those cattle prices for that producer, the good years the money goes into his account, it is matched two to one by the provincial and federal government. When those prices fall, it kicks in and holds him halfway up the hill if the prices and that money comes back out, and that affords him the opportunity to keep his cattle numbers instead of having to liquidate them for cash flow. It lets us get the opportunity to have a stable industry that has more growth potential.
MR. MACDONELL: It is difficult to argue with what you say. My concern is that this may be an opportunity, if prices really look like they are going to go through the roof. I think there is a good possibility of that, that there will be a lot of people who would sell and then wait to buy when prices are low, and I am not sure there will be anything to buy. That, I guess, is my concern.
MR. FAGE: Yes, I guess that's always a possibility, but when you look at the season we are in right now, it's coming towards spring and people traditionally buy cattle and feeders to go to grass. You look at low-cost feeding and, hopefully, people are in the industry long enough that it is like selling the golden goose, it is hard to get the eggs again. I hear what you are saying but I hope it doesn't get to the point where it would be so dear that what people really then decide to do is exit the industry.
MR. MACDONELL: Those are some of the burdens we have had in other years as far as the supply of hay and things that would cause people to sell. Those kind of pressures are not there this year but the thoughts of a big price might be but anyway I see we are both thinking of the same thing and I would be a little worried about what that might mean for an industry. This program with Co-op Atlantic I think is a really good one. If I was running a retail store, a meat store and I did for a year many years ago, then you have to know that the carcass you have today, in 25 weeks there will be another one. I think getting consistent quality and supply are major and as much as some people have said, well, we need to produce more beef in the province, which is true, but we need to produce beef of a certain quality and that will sell themselves. If this program leads to that then I think that is a really good thing.
I did not catch what you called the name of the program with Co-op Atlantic, did you say Brand Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: No, it is Beef Tender Classic, Tender Classic is the brand name.
MR. MACDONELL: I want to refer to the Supplement to the Public Accounts for a few minutes. Page 9, Grants and Contributions, the Agri-Focus Farm Development. Agri-Focus is a federal program is it not?
MR. FAGE: That would be provincial funding.
MR. MACDONELL: That is all provincial funding. What types of programs would come under Agri-Focus?
MR. FAGE: Agri-Focus would deal with assistance in regard to resource management production, technology innovation, environmental management plans and human resource development and market development plans.
MR. MACDONELL: I am curious how that is different or is it different from the services that were offered in the production technology branch?
MR. FAGE: A number of those programs and individuals would be charged with delivering management expertise rather than expertise that was associated directly with a production type set-up or livestock or crop. These ones are associated with management, with environmental science or those type of issues and they would involve program dollars as well.
MR. MACDONELL: Is that kind of a part of the department, the Agri-Focus Farm Development?
MR. FAGE: Yes, it would be 100 per cent part of the department.
MR. MACDONELL: So it is not quite the same as say, the Annapolis County East Livestock Health Services Board which is not connected to the department?
MR. FAGE: The connection with the department on that one would be that that board would supply some of the supervision and audit the disbursement of funds to the local vet and the department under boards and commissions would pay usually a small per diem meeting fee and normally they would meet four times a year.
MR. MACDONELL: In what other way would they distribute dollars? I am just looking, it says $27,000, that seems a lot of per diem unless it is to pay veterinarians. I'm on Page 9.
MR. FAGE: If you could repeat the question.
MR. MACDONELL: It was the Annapolis County East Livestock Health Services Board - $27,000. I am just curious as to what would consume those dollars from that board?
MR. FAGE: I will give you a general overview and staff can help me or correct me if I am improper but those funds would be funds that they would disburse on behalf of the department and there would be some of those normal little operating costs but to the local large animal vet service on the travel allowance, on things like herd health performance policy, those dollars would be how much support came from the provincial government in regard to those services and there would be a proper accounting by that local board on the disbursement of those funds to that local vet clinic.
MR. MACDONELL: The one for Hants East Livestock Health Services Board $82,000 would be the exact same service delivered?
MR. FAGE: Exact same, just reflective of a larger area, a larger livestock population.
MR. MACDONELL: Can you tell me what the Atlantic Dairy Livestock Improvement Corporation is?
MR. FAGE: The short name is ADLIC and that would be the milk recording program. It is Atlantic Canada wide. That would be the milk recording as in the sample taken. A number of dairy farms are enrolled in the collection of a sample once a month that would be analysed for protein, butter fat and they would use that record for their feeding plus their genetic chart.
MR. MACDONELL: That would not be at all related to the sample that is taken when the milk truck comes and for somatic cell count or . . .
MR. FAGE: Those options on health standard like a somatic cell count, I believe, can be incorporated in that but the official sample in the milk truck is taken by the driver and government inspectors. This is a volunteer organization that uses those samples for management and economic purposes so that sample would be analysed for its economic potential.
MR. MACDONELL: So that would be, say if you were to analyze your butter fat, then that would give you some idea as to where you would want to set your breeding targets or things like that. Or feed I suppose.
MR. FAGE: This would incorporate like your purebred tester, that traditional program that they would come once a month, weigh the milk and do that. This one involves in the majority of cases, the owner taking the samples that month, a technician comes and picks them up, takes them to the lab. All the other pertinent material like feed, there is a whole page that goes with it so the feed consumed, the protein of the feed, all that type of analysis, that is input into the computer by the technician and then you get feeding recommendations and breeding recommendations back, that individual producer would. That would be our share to keep the program going last year, the majority of it is cost recovered.
MR. MACDONELL: The producer would pay a fee?
MR. FAGE: Yes, the producer pays a fee, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick each pay a percentage based on how many dairy cattle they have on this program. That is our share to finish out the support of the cost for that corporation.
MR. MACDONELL: This corporation, they actually do the testing or just the collection?
MR. FAGE: The procedure would be, the owner would take the samples, fill out the data forms, a technician would come from that corporation, pick up the samples to have them sent to the lab and they have a hand-held or a laptop right there and then they would input the
specs on each cow. Then a generated sheet, once it was known what the yield of that milk was with component values of it and give as a guide as to how much and what type of feed should be fed to them and what ratio and what genetics you should be . . .
MR. MACDONELL: Using to improve?
MR. FAGE: Yes.
MR. MACDONELL: So, what I am curious about is, do they use the province's lab to get the results?
MR. FAGE: Yes, they do.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, so they are basically picking up the sample and providing some information, consultation, I guess, information about what your options might be in regard to the potential given in the sample.
MR. FAGE: Yes, that's correct. The fee for the provincial lab paid out of that for doing those samples would come from that corporation.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay. I am looking at - I guess two-thirds of the way down on Page 10 - Improved Sire & Dairy Production Programs. Is this assistance on buying bulls or on buying semen, what's the story here?
MR. FAGE: That particular amount represents payments to purebred breeders for superior genetic animals. It could encompass, I believe, both male or female.
MR. MACDONELL: Would this cover embryo transplants, anything along those lines?
MR. FAGE: I could get that specific detail for you whether it covered - I assume it does. It would all be part of the genetic material package, but I will get that specific detail, if it does cover embryos.
MR. MACDONELL: I am curious as to whether there are any sire improvement programs. I don't think there is any ram program or any sire program for sheep anymore.
MR. FAGE: There is no program that I recall. It would be this one only.
MR. MACDONELL: None for swine, none for embryos or semen. I know a few years - it wasn't that long ago - some sheep producers brought semen from Scotland, I think. So there is no programs to help assist and improve breeding stock?
MR. FAGE: None per se as a direct payment. Nova Scotia Animal Breeders' Co-op would be associated with semen transfers and those type of storage issues, and would be proactive in selling genetic material and negotiating and all those types of things.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, but there would be no line item . . .
MR. FAGE: There is no direct payment.
MR. MACDONELL: So, the department obviously sees a value here for the dairy sector. Does it see one in those other sectors?
MR. FAGE: That particular line, I believe, - and we will check 100 per cent to make sure - does cover genetic material on beef, it is not exclusive to dairy.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, we are talking bovine here, but you do not know whether we are talking ovine or swine?
MR. FAGE: That is what I would have to check specifically. I know the swine industry, their champ program is the one that their association runs to deal with genetics and improvement and those types of things, and we would offer support in some areas under those types of programs as going to an association rather than a line item from the department. That is why it is hard to definitively say no.
MR. MACDONELL: So the Pork Development Program, which is on the other side of the page about one-third, one-quarters of the way down, that's more as a marketing tool, it's not a support program like NISA, it's $1 million.
MR. FAGE: What that represents is a program that is no longer in existence. Remember, these numbers are from one year ago and that represents the pork risk fund, that was a contribution the producer, the processor and government made, payment to a special fund. When prices decreased, then they accessed it. The replacement with the industry that took place this year is the NISA accounts with Equitable NISA, which was the successor that replaced that. That was the now defunct pork development risk fund.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay. I see above that, Paramutual Rebates, and I realize this may be close to a year ago, but I am curious if that's basically where the $1 million into the harness sector went?
MR. FAGE: I just wanted to be absolutely clear on the detail. That particular tax was rebated back to the industry. The tax has since been eliminated in the last year, but what was on the books was a paramutual tax of 11 per cent.
What happened, the industry, for support through the years, the government chose to rebate 10 per cent of that 11 per cent and keep 1 per cent back. It was basically collected from the industry and then rebated back to them. Like an entry in and out with a difference of 1 per cent. That represents $900,000 that was collected as a parimutuel tax from the racing industry and then 10 cents of those 11 cents was rebated to them, and that's the amount. I should add, that has since been eliminated in this current year.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, so you do not have to rebate it because you are not taking it?
MR. FAGE: It seemed like a proper housekeeping and prudent measures. By the time we expended the dollars to collect the tax and then expended the dollars in administration to rebate them, virtually even, maybe it was time to eliminate the tax, we eliminated it; it appeared prudent.
MR. MACDONELL: Yes, I would say it might be a smart move.
Something that has not come up, I am wondering about your department's plans around the harness industry. Are you supplying dollars this year to the industry?
MR. FAGE: The harness racing industry will make its case, not to the Department of Agriculture, it will be making its case to the Gaming Corporation.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, alright. I think probably that is the right place to take it, so I guess I would be curious to know whether or not you would be supportive of whatever they might be presenting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to advise the honourable member, you have 15 minutes left in your time.
MR. FAGE: I would not want to lead the honourable member - just looking at the book, it currently is in this year's estimates at $1 million. Tomorrow, I will have clarification on that, whether that is a typo or what's happening there.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, so when you say this year's estimates . . .
MR. FAGE: That is the Estimates Book for the coming year.
MR. MACDONELL: Right, and that is Agriculture and Fisheries?
MR. FAGE: Yes.
MR. MACDONELL: Can you tell me the page where I can find that?
MR. FAGE: It would be in the budget document. It would be Page 3.2 under Estimates, Province of Nova Scotia for the fiscal year 2001-02.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, but it is not under Agriculture and Fisheries. It must be Agriculture and Marketing, is it?
MR. FAGE: Agriculture and Fisheries.
MR. MACDONELL: I have Page 3.2 under Agriculture and Fisheries . . .
MR. FAGE: We have two different books.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay, the Supplementary Detail, that is what I have.
MR. FAGE: Okay, in the main book is where you would find it, on Page 3.2.
MR. MACDONELL: I will just circle this and look later. On Page 10, again, if you go down, a little over half way down under Other, it says Archie's Welding Limited. Can you tell me what that represents?
MR. FAGE: That figure represents the cost of the aboiteaux on the Avon River. That was the contractor who installed the aboiteaux for the Avon River.
MR. MACDONELL: Okay. That's helpful. I am just wondering if I could move to some fisheries questions. Earlier - I guess probably since Christmas, I can't remember when this committee met - the Southwest Nova Fishermen's Association came before the Economic Development Committee and they raised a number of concerns. One of those concerns was around their fear of privatization of the fishing industry around the collection of ITQs by the larger corporations and so on. I am just wondering if you have an opinion on whether or not their concern seems to be justified or not?
MR. FAGE: I think first it is important to point out that, again, that is 100 per cent federal jurisdiction, the allocation of ITQs, or the resource. Secondly, I think it is important to point out that the federal government and DFO are in the midst of the review right now on those specific issues, on allocations and engaging the industry on issues such as this one specifically. So that process is currently ongoing and they are taking public input.
The issue of communities sharing and of management's plans that currently community-based groups are able to put forward is supported by the vast majority of the fishing industry. I guess, obviously, it's important when you have support by the fishing industry and the vast majority that we would all support that position.
MR. MACDONELL: Is your department making a presentation? Is the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries making a presentation to those hearings?
MR. FAGE: The exact process of what is going on there would be that that department staff would be supportive of helping those different fisheries organizations in the process of making their presentations. If there were deficiencies in the presentations, we would point that out. I don't believe we are directly involved in making presentations, the system isn't designed like that. They would like to deal with the fishers and the industry. We, collectively, would help represent that view of the Nova Scotia industry to the federal government, but, as an entity, it is much better if the fishing community engaged the federal DFO regulators directly on their management plan.
MR. MACDONELL: It would seem like it might be a little bit strange if a large part of the federal Liberal caucus made a presentation to the federal Department of Fisheries, but it wouldn't seem out of the way for the province. Actually, it wouldn't seem out of the way for any province, whether they had a Liberal, Conservative or New Democratic Government, to make a presentation. Is there another side entrance or doorway, without using that process, where you have an avenue to make concerns known?
MR. FAGE: We have the consultative avenue of the findings and what they are hearing at those committees, and would have the ability to have discussions with DFO correctly. This process of the review is much more important now that the industry is involved directly because they are the participants, and DFO wants to engage them on development of where the industry should go on the allocation of the resource and who should participate and how they should benefit, fundamental questions on the allocation that they are dealing with.
MR. MACDONELL: I think I would agree on questions of allocation, but I would also think that as a Department of Fisheries, there must be people from those communities who come to you and this department and say, we have concerns about a, b, c and d and we would like you to be a voice for us. To help them make their presentation, I would certainly think that if you concur with what they say, then you certainly would have more weight than they would have.
MR. FAGE: Again, we meet with groups and individuals on an ongoing basis and we consult on their views and help critique and all those types of issues, and intervene with the federal government on their behalf. This is a consultative issue between DFO on the policy management and their meeting with industry organization community groups. They are not looking to meet with a provincial government delegation. They are engaging the communities and the industry. We provide support and meet with those people individually, but if we are doing a consultation, let's say on the regulations of illegal fishing, we would do the consultative process with the federal government, Department of Finance, DFO, but we would not want the federal government to come and be the presenter, we want the industry
to present to us. That is the situation they are involved in. We would be talking to DFO, we would be talking to the participants, but one level of government making the presentation to another level of government, the industry feels they are being left out or are pawns in that situation. It is a difficult one to try to do.
MR. MACDONELL: I certainly would think that you wouldn't feel that out of place if a municipal level came and made a presentation to your department around a particular issue, it would seem that for the provincial government to make a presentation to a federal committee would be as about appropriate as you could get. I will move on though.
You mentioned a fisheries conference that involved DFO and Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and I didn't know whether that was a specific conference that you just have dialogue with . . .
MR. FAGE: We have dialogue on those issues, and with representation from those particular departments on a number of issues, we would have people in from the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore petroleum institute. That particular one I was referring to, twice a year the department holds a ministers conference for the industry. I, as minister responsible, would meet directly with the representatives of the different fishing organizations around the province twice yearly. Part of the two-day program is engaging pertinent issues that are involved with the industry. Those groups would be in if you are dealing with the Marshall issue.
If you are dealing with offshore petroleum and the issue related to leases or seismic testing or development or exploration of mineral or gas or petroleum, then those people who are responsible for those decisions or departments, we would have them in and have a discussion directly with the industry so they can get some very good dialogue and have an opportunity to speak to people who are very versed in those issues.
MR. MACDONELL: You mentioned DFO and Indian Affairs and Northern Development and contact with the commercial industry, but you didn't mention the Native sector. I just wondered, are they involved in that two day conference?
MR. FAGE: The last one, they were invited. Sometimes they would show up, obviously, if they wanted to be participants, and sometimes they would show up depending on the issue, and the individual would be invited to attend to articulate their position on the issue.
MR. MACDONELL: I have a couple of other questions regarding the Native fisheries issues, but before I go there - I don't want to forget - there have been some strong concerns raised around the impact on corals off Nova Scotia and the view that these corals represent habitat for a variety of fish. This is actually one of the concerns that was raised by the Southwest Nova group. Their particular concerns are around the use of draggers and the
impact they have. Recently, DFO came to an Economic Development Committee meeting and made a presentation and this was one of the questions I asked those representatives. They said that they didn't know what the effect was. My response was, it doesn't bother me that they didn't know, what bothered me was the fact that they didn't seem to care, they didn't seem to think, well, this is the position that people have raised and maybe it is something we should look into, whether or not it has any effect at all.
I guess that is the point I am coming to for your department, whether or not the department recognizes that this is something that should be looked into, whether you agree or don't agree that there is an impact, but whether or not you think there is enough information to let you know whether there is an impact. Is there any investigation being done by the department in that regard?
MR. FAGE: Again, 100 per cent federal jurisdiction. Our resources, within the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, obligations, are related to when the product comes ashore. I would like to comment on a few of those issues you raised from an objective standpoint. When you look at how policies are administered within DFO, decisions seem to come hard and it takes a long time. The other thing is, I have had the pleasure as minister to deal with the Bedford Institute. Some of their unique mapping camera equipment, contouring, is really starting to help provide the science out there to manage those types of situations and actually do a science and quality evaluation. I really think if one is on either side of that discussion, you need the science to prove it. That particular institution goes a long way to having that.
MR. MACDONELL: I agree, Mr. Minister. I agree wholeheartedly that you need the science. What I am concerned about is the idea of, if our concern is when the fish hit the shore, I think when they stop coming ashore it's going to be a little late to say, gee, I wonder what happened there. I assume my time is up.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your time has expired.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you, Mr. Minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is time now for the continuation of questions by the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Richmond. You now have the microphone for about four minutes remaining in our time tonight.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I will just be making some comments, considering the few minutes that do remain. I will certainly be bringing these concerns back to the minister. This is the third time I have had the opportunity to make comments to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to try to raise with him some of the concerns which the industry has from one end of this province to the next. I would like to say that I am becoming more optimistic that he is listening.
Unfortunately, each year it becomes more and more disappointing. I have come to the conclusion there are three options, and I am not sure which one it is: either the minister is not listening, he doesn't care, or he has no idea what I am talking about. I am not quite sure which one it is, because year after year the same problems exists and the minister is refusing to show a leadership role on that. I know that his deputy, who has been involved in Fisheries for many years and in the industry, has worked very hard and diligently on issues, and it is unfortunate that the minister has not chosen, himself, to show leadership within this industry.
As I have pointed out, in light of the comments from the Leader of the Official Opposition in the House pointing out concerns about the industry groups that are out there, those are true, and industry groups have come to the point where they have almost given up on the province, and they are going directly to Ottawa with their concerns on their own, having no support coming from the provincial government. It is unfortunate the minister's belief is that as long as the fish and the product is in the water, he has no jurisdiction and no concern until it reaches shore.
That is extremely unfortunate because even with that being the case, Mr. Minister, with all due respect, when it is reaching shore, you continue to show little leadership in issues affecting the industry. For example, I have already spoken to the minister on numerous occasions about the fact that shrimp, for the most part, continues to be landed on the shores of this province yet continues to leave this province in a raw form and is not being processed here in this province. The majority of what is being caught by the New Brunswick fleet continues to leave this province. We are lucky enough to be able to refuel their ships and to unload them and to provide them with food, and that is about the only economic benefit that comes.
Allocation continues to be a concern in this province, one that I would submit to you, Mr. Chairman, the minister and his department should be working actively on and supporting both community groups and organizations out there in their efforts to bring more product to our province. On the other side, it is extremely questionable, this minister's and this government's support for the fishing industry, when last week we heard that the export sales of this province have broken the $1 billion mark, the highest they have ever been, only to see in the front page of the daily newspapers a few days ago the Minister of Economic Development say that small fish plants throughout this province are suffering and are one of the reasons why loans to this province are not being repaid. It's extremely questionable what the message is here from this minister or from this department.
Mr. Chairman, the crab industry is another example which continues to grow at a very significant rate. Once again, there is absolutely no direction or mention coming from this minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wish to advise the Subcommittee on Supply that our time for tonight has expired. We will pick this up again tomorrow shortly after Question Period. The time remaining for the Liberal caucus, if the member for Richmond wishes to continue, is 56 minutes. We will carry on with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. If we should conclude with that department tomorrow, we will go on to the Department of Economic Development.
We now stand adjourned until tomorrow.
[9:25 p.m. The subcommittee rose.]