MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to reconvene the Subcommittee on Supply, the debate of Resolution E1, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, with the Honourable Ernest Fage. We left off yesterday with the Liberal caucus. There was still time allotted, with 56 minutes remaining in their time. The honourable member for Richmond is speaking on debate on Supply in the Chamber so I will have a continuation of questions by the honourable member for Lunenburg West, Mr. Donald Downe. Your time has now begun. It is 1:55 p.m. You have 56 minutes remaining in your time for the Liberal caucus questions.
The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: I believe, Mr. Minister, my colleague was talking about fisheries and I want to lean more towards agriculture. I will ask a question, can you give us an update on a very complex and sensitive issue in dealing with Native fishery, and I realize it is federal - but I would ask, if without going on for an hour - I know that the department has been working hard to try to find solutions that we can have a win-win situation, it is a federal responsibility but the province plays a role in that and I wonder if you would mind just explaining the work that your staff has done, I think which has been very commendable from what I have seen to date, but still lots of challenges?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
HON. ERNEST FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his inquiry. Certainly since the Marshall ruling came down from the Supreme Court, the department staff has played an exemplary role, I feel, in representing the views of the industry, but the views of Nova Scotians and moving forward with recommendations to the federal minister, and the guiding course certainly from the industry in Nova Scotia's perspective has always been conservation, one management plan and a system whereby law and order prevails through the entire process.
The staff and myself have worked in close contact with our federal counterparts on addressing a number of issues where the federal government would be involved from the enforcement issue, the allocation issue, what were fair rules and fair play, how it may possibly impact upon the commercial fishery and how those safeguards need to be in place so issues like enforcement, there is one set of enforcement rules and one enforcement body so as we move through the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling, we have a vibrant industry which is shared between the Native community and the non-Native community, that fishermen are fishermen and they all play by the same rules, because then conservation comes into full course.
As a provincial government and a provincial department, we continually meet and bring the industry up-to-date on our discussions with the federal government and Native groups, and the process is reversed, the industry brings us up-to-date on their discussions with the Native community, the federal government and their views that they want us to help take forward. I think probably one of the key methods we have been able to engage the entire industry at once is dealing with not only the newly formed alliance of the fishing industry representing commercial interests, but when we hold our semi-annual minister's conference, we bring in the speakers from all those disciplines dealing with that, from allocation to vessels, to navigation, to training, all those particulars, and have a good thorough discussion with the industry so we have an understanding of how to proceed in that regard.
Probably a sidebar that deals with that is our own enforcement on land. Yesterday I talked about the illegal fishery in Nova Scotia, and the illegal fishery applies to all people involved in buying and selling, and last year we made modifications to our buying licenses that helped put controls and limits on the transfer of fish and fish products. One of those regulations would be that all Nova Scotians would have to produce to our inspection people, if they possess more than 25 kgs. of fish or lobster, for instance, they would have to produce a bill where that came from, who it's going to or the product would be seized. Those types of things go a long way in controlling volumes and dealing with movement of illegal lobster or other fish products.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, you touched on the issue of the new program. We are talking about the enforcement process of illegal harvesting of fish products and lobster, or whatever it is, and I commend you for that. I think that is something that the department, I believe has been working on - if I am correct, it has been looking into that issue for quite some time. So that seems to be the right approach.
Secondly, just as an aside on the whole issue of illegal activity. The recent court decision on allowing for jacking, although it is not part of the fishery, I would say that, I don't know how you would jack a fish, but . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Dynamite.
MR. DOWNE: Dynamite them, yes. I do commend you as well for that, for your stance on that issue of jacking and we concur with that direction. But, it is complicated, with treaties and treaty rights, federal jurisdiction, provincial jurisdiction and the inherent rights of all Nova Scotians to be treated fairly in this process. It is very difficult what you are going through and I just want to say that we don't lose sight of fairness across the board for all players. That's important and I am sure you and your staff have always kept your eye on that issue and it has been one that we had to deal with, the one you are dealing with and, hopefully, we can find a resolve where we don't see violence and we don't see things of that nature be the rule of the day but, in fact, logic and a fair approach is the way I would hope that we would go.
Mr. Minister, I would ask that the committee meeting that is being held today - as I recall correctly yesterday - on the foot-and-mouth disease issue, I understand there is a meeting today, is there?
MR. FAGE: Yes, correct.
MR. DOWNE: Would you be able to share at some point, if we are not in estimates, a little information for us all to have, to be able to share back to our people in regard to this issue and what direction the committee is looking at taking, not only from a direct point of view but indirect, the worst case scenarios. I realize you have to be - I noted with interest your comments yesterday, but in all fairness, Mr. Minister, one has to take a look at worst case scenarios, it is just like any situation. That is why we have insurance for disasters, you never know. You never want it to happen but you have to have some sort of backup plan, and I would encourage the minister and the committee to at least enter into that discussion.
Secondly, in this very traumatic time, a very sad time in agriculture worldwide, there will be, at the end of this, if it continues at the rate it is going, a tremendous need for replacement stock, whether it is semen that is free of any contaminated area. Is there anything that the province is doing, looking into a contingency plan in regard to assisting the European community in replenishing some of its beef or other livestock? We have a history here, our Holsteins, for example, are shipped around the world and they have been a great exporter for us in the dairy industry, in Europe and so on and so forth, but is there any contingency plan for this province to be gearing up or to be looking at ways we can assist or help the disaster that is happening in Europe?
MR. FAGE: Thank you for your question and, from yesterday in our discussion, I think it is important to make a few statements of fact. I certainly know it's difficult for you to ask your questions and articulate what you want to say when you are dealing with a press release by the president of the Federation of Agriculture who, it appears for whatever reason, was not informed of the activities of his executive director or of the executive. So I know you
are at a very large disadvantage in the type of information that you felt you were dealing with. As I said yesterday, we wanted to have the document we were handing out and dealing with to the farming community and to inspectors. So I have this here for members of the committee or anybody else.
In regard to preparation of the meeting, certainly in our discussions the last week, week and a half, with the federation and their officials who are informed and in the loop, a committee of Jonathan Wort and a number of other individuals are meeting this afternoon and will come up with contingency plans that they feel will work for the industry. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that proper consultation in dealing with the industry is the right way to go and not forging out with a plan that has not been consulted. The general rules here though the CFIA are a good guide. We want to represent the interests of the farming community here in Nova Scotia and ensure that the proper action plan and protocols are in place that suit this industry and give us the best opportunity to protect the industry from foot-and-mouth disease here in the Province of Nova Scotia.
In regard to inspection and those types of services, our provincial veterinarians are already versed and have attended seminars that we enrolled them in early this year to identify diseases. The technical staff are there, they are trained and have been informed. I would not want to leave the impression that the department and the ministry have not given this the highest priority; they certainly have. The number of meetings, organizations and the materials out there, the contacts with the federal minister give us the best odds and advantage to be inclusive with the industry to make sure that whole process moves forward.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I just think you gave me a backhanded slap here. I don't understand why you would want to start this day off like this. You indicated that I am at a disadvantage because I listen to the president of the Federation of Agriculture and read his press release for which he was misinformed, that he and his press release misinformed the public of Nova Scotia on a position of the Federation of Agriculture. Is that what you just said?
MR. FAGE: Again I thank the honourable member for his question. Over interpretation seems to be hard to define. I was making my statement to clarify on questions that you based your questions from yesterday in regard to a press release issued by the president of the federation. I think it is important to note that we have had direct contact with the executive director, our department, our staff, and have a plan in place. The disadvantage was that if the president of the federation had not informed you of those week-long contacts, then that puts you at a disadvantage. It is none of the things that you were just expounding upon there.
MR. DOWNE: This is easy to clarify. Simply, we can ask the president of the Federation of Agriculture very specifically this question that you are just saying that he was not informed by senior staff. I just . . .
MR. FAGE: . . . that you should ask those questions because we were being very clear and open and honest yesterday in our responses, and we have dealt very appropriately with the federation. I think it was important to clear those statements that were being discussed yesterday. Clearly the executive director of the federation and various members were in contact with department people and a protocol was in place. It puts you certainly at a disadvantage and that was what I was commenting on. You were questioning from a press release by the president of the federation who, apparently, was not aware of those discussions was all I was putting forward. I wanted to make sure that the proper factual statements of the sequence of events were put forward.
MR. DOWNE: Just so I understand then. You are saying that you or your staff met with the executive director of the Federation of Agriculture last week and informed him of all this activity and they agreed that this process is the way to go, and that there was no indication that they were not supportive or that they were not going to put their own press release out or that they were not going to do anything on their own agenda? Just so I understand because it is a very serious comment here that you are making that the president who put a press release out, who undoubtably checked with staff and undoubtably checked with executive staff and/or executive members of the federation and that that individual president was not aware that last week you met with the executive director and this problem was not a problem a week ago?
MR. FAGE: Again the honourable member interprets with putting words in other people's mouths. I did not ever state that I met with the executive director, staff met with the executive director.
MR. DOWNE: I said you or your staff.
MR. FAGE: The department, in a joint effort with Laurence last Friday, did a press release from our department. I would say when the executive director of the Federation of Agriculture does a joint press release and is consulted on the process, the announcement of the meeting, that he is in the position of being aware of what is coming out if he is part of it and it was joint press release.
MR. DOWNE: So you are saying that the executive director, who is on vacation this week, said that he was supportive of your press release, then in the press release that the president put out he was misinformed?
MR. FAGE: What I am saying is that the press release and the federation's executive director had been in consultation and discussions with this department. The press release that was issued by the president appears that he was not in knowledge of the discussions that his staff were having with our staff, that is what I am saying.
MR. DOWNE: Has anybody on your staff phoned the president of the Federation of Agriculture today to discuss this matter?
MR. FAGE: I understand that there have been discussions with staff and the president to advise him if he was aware of those discussions that were happening with his executive director and other staff people last week. I do not know what the outcomes of any of those discussions were, but I do know that the executive director and the department have worked closely since the Outlook Conference, this being one of the subjects that is the highest priority to ensure that the industry is involved, the protocols are in place. When the honourable members suggested yesterday that the department was not taking a lead role, being unresponsive to the industry, I think it is very important to point out for the record that the minister and the department, through press releases, through staff inspection and dealing with the executive director of the federation, are well versed and on top of the situation.
MR. DOWNE: I am just trying to clarify this minister. Who in your department talked to the president of the Federation of Agriculture?
MR. FAGE: The deputy minister talked to the president of the Federation of Agriculture today.
MR. DOWNE: Would it be appropriate if the deputy minister would inform this group what the president of the federation said with regard to the inquiry about the executive director supporting your press release and that the press release that is currently out is wrong?
MR. FAGE: I would ask the chairman to do that interpretation. What I would recommend and what I have stated are exactly the facts is the interpretation that we have. We have been in contact with the executive director, with the federation and are concerned very strongly about hoof-and-mouth disease and have worked with the federal minister to ensure that the protection is there. We are stating the facts of the case.
MR. DOWNE: You indicated earlier that you do not know the outcome of the conversation. Did the deputy minister not brief you on the conversation with the president?
MR. FAGE: I was aware that he was going to phone the president of the federation. I did not ask the deputy to relay to me the contents of the conversation.
MR. DOWNE: Did the deputy give you any information with regard to the conversation?
MR. FAGE: He only informed me that he had a conversation.
MR. DOWNE: Did he tell you anything to do with the outcome of that conversation? He did not give you any detail? He just said we had a nice little conversation, but I am not going to tell you what he said.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, I understand that there is a question from the minister that asked me, the chairman, if I allow an opportunity for the deputy minister to answer the question that is now being asked. It has been practice in the past that deputy ministers or senior staff have made a comment to the sub-committee, so if the deputy minister wishes to answer the member's question, he may have that opportunity.
MR. FAGE: Before we proceed, I would also like to advise the chairman that we are here debating the estimates. The honourable member has spent one hour of the people's time yesterday talking about a press release and a letter, and we continue to do the same thing today when the department has put all the protocols in place and are working strongly on the issue. I would like to say that to the chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I understand the minister's concern of getting on with the estimates debate, but the Opposition Parties do have the latitude to ask the questions in their allotted time. It is their questions they are asking within the parameters of the discussion. If the deputy minister wishes to answer the honourable member's question, he may do so. Repeat the question, and also when you do answer it, just for the record of Hansard, just say your name for the record.
MR. DOWNE: My question is, in your conversation with the president of the Federation of Agriculture, did you provide to the minister, or any of his political staff, the outcome of your conversation with the president of the Federation of Agriculture?
MR. PETER UNDERWOOD: I spoke to the president of the federation the first thing this morning. I did have an opportunity to relay the results of that conversation to the minister's executive assistant. I haven't, prior to this meeting, had a chance to brief the minister on details of the results of that conversation.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Deputy, I didn't even want to get into this conversation, except for the fact that I have been disadvantaged by the fact that I don't know the facts. Because of my inability to find out the facts that the minister was setting the record straight, that is the only reason we are in this conversation. I just don't think I need to be slapped like that or I don't think the minister needs to go that direction, but he persists to antagonize somebody on a simple question, so here we go.
My question to the deputy minister is, would he inform the members of this committee as to whether or not the president of the Federation of Agriculture agrees that the executive director understood what was going on and that he had made a mistake in putting out this press release?
MR. UNDERWOOD: I don't know what is in the mind of the president of the Federation of Agriculture. We did have a discussion about the apparent, if I can use the term "disconnect", between our press release of last Friday, which quoted the executive director of the Federation of Agriculture saying, "'We have a high level of confidence in the Federal Inspection Agency', said Laurence Nason, executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. 'However, we don't want to overlook any possibilities of this disease developing. Together with the provincial and federal governments we will continue to inform the farm communities.'"
The press release goes on to articulate, in some detail, all of the actions that we feel need to be taken, including communicating to the farm community the kinds of protective measures that they should take. I told them that I felt that that was inconsistent with the paragraph in his press release, which was primarily focused on the $75 user fee that said at the same time, our government has been remarkably quiet in regard to the possible implications of the animal disease outbreaks in other countries and what should be done to keep these diseases out of our province. That is from the Federation of Agriculture's press release. So I felt that there was a disconnect there. We did agree, in the conversation, that dealing co-operatively with this issue was a priority that was shared by the Federation of Agriculture and the department.
We should be focusing on the work that was to be done by the committee that has been struck, including Jonathan Wort, Chairman; Doug Bacon, the first Vice-President of the Federation, who will represent the beef and dairy industry; Henry Vissers, the pork industry; Donald Langille, the Federation; Ken Choo, CFIA; Dr. Lyn Ferns, our veterinarian pathologist; and Mike Horwich, the Provincial Manager, Food and Safety, for my department. They are meeting today. Those are the items that we agreed to and I was given the opportunity to express my concern over the apparent inconsistency between the two press releases.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Deputy, I am not going to ask you any more questions in this area because it is unfair. I don't want to put you in an awkward situation. Out of respect for you and the staff of the department, I would not do that.
Mr. Minister, you said that the deputy did not inform you as to what the outcome was. The deputy informed your executive assistant. Did your executive assistant inform you about the outcome of that conversation?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question and I think it is very important because it is so serious to make sure it is factual and that was the reason for commenting on the issue earlier, as the member himself has made numerous comments today and yesterday. No, I have had no contact with my executive assistant today.
MR. DOWNE: No contact, but did the executive assistant inform you, by any form - by letter, by note, by e-mail - the conversation or the outcome of that conversation?
MR. FAGE: Absolutely none.
MR. DOWNE: So you know nothing about the conversation other than the fact that it took place, and you came into budget estimates, for which we had discussions about the difference between the Federation . . .
MR. FAGE: Again, the honourable member is putting . . .
MR. DOWNE: I am asking a question.
MR. FAGE: . . . words in my mouth. The facts are the facts and that is all that is read in for the record.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, I would ask for civility by both members, and allow the question to be completed before an answer is given. I would appreciate that.
MR. DOWNE: You came into estimates knowing that last night there was a major concern about the discrepancy between the two press releases. That is all I ever started from. Reading the two press releases and realizing the seriousness of that and the problems associated with that and realizing your deputy in fact was to talk to the president of the Federation of Agriculture - you said earlier that he has been misinformed of what took place last week and that he misspoke by this press release because the federation had agreed to this process before, contrary to what was stated in the press release - realizing the deputy spoke to the president of the Federation of Agriculture today, you were prepared to come back in here, knowing that there might be a question on that, totally unprepared to understand what the president of the Federation of the Agriculture was saying to the deputy, but making it clear to me that the president of the Federation of Agriculture misspoke and that I was at a disadvantage because the president of the federation did not inform in that press release that you had worked with the executive director last week for the Federation of Agriculture. You are saying to me those are the facts, the way it is. If you wouldn't mind, is that a yes or a no?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, again the honourable member is putting words in, an interpretation, his spin on the facts. What I stated was that the apparent dichotomy between the two press releases put him at a disadvantage and I wanted to make sure that the facts were read on the record again today, so they were restated, so that the farmers in this province have confidence that this provincial government is working in the best interests with the industry, with the federal government, with the Federation of Agriculture and that his interpretation and his assertions of last night that nothing was being done or taking place was, indeed, not proper. I have put into the record the proper facts that are in place and that is what I am saying.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I will make some phone calls in my break time to find out, I think it is important to clarify it because clearly the press release that was stated, I will find out exactly what was said and assuming that you will accept that when I come back, I will try to write it down and I will see if I can find the president - and I tried to get the executive director, but he is away as I understand on vacation - just to clarify, because you are making the comments, not me, that they have been misinformed and that press release is not accurate. That is what you are telling me and I just want to clarify what was not accurate and why did the federation come out with one press release that says just the exact opposite, basically saying that the government wasn't doing a thing.
I am just trying to clarify the two points. I am not trying to pass blame, but you keep telling me that I am at a disadvantage because the federation's information, the president of the Federation of Agriculture did not know or did not understand what your department and the executive director had done the week previously. That is all and I am going to clarify that point.
MR. FAGE: Again, the assertion is . . .
MR. DOWNE: We can get the tape from this meeting.
MR. FAGE: Again, assertions are being made by the honourable member. The assertions and the questions of last night again were being made by the honourable member. If there was a communication breakdown at the federation, I am sure they can sort that out and the honourable member can make as many phone calls as he can in the time allotted to him.
What I am trying to convey to the committee is these are the facts of the questions of last night. These are the facts on what this government and this department is doing in regard with its partners to protect the Nova Scotia industry as best they can on foot-and-mouth disease. The assertions made by the honourable member and the word games are not what I, as minister, am interested in or looking to take part in on verbal jousting. I am looking to clear the record that this province is taking a lead role where they have jurisdiction and involving the industry. I am not interested in getting involved in the honourable member's word games on the issue.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I am not playing word games. You make the comments and this is a taped deliberation, you are under oath to tell the truth and I will just get a copy of that and play it to the federation and ask them who is misleading who. That will be easy to clarify, so I would like to move on to the next set of questions. You are the one who is making the statements, not me. I wasn't even going to spend this much time on this issue, but I think if that is the way you want to deal with this, then that is the way we will deal with it.
I want to move on to the ADA program. How much time do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 23 minutes.
MR. DOWNE: Well, maybe what I will do, my colleague wants to ask some questions on the fishery and I will see what I can do about getting back later on, Mr. Minister. I just want to make it very clear that I did not come in here to get into a detailed discussion on that issue, and I do not understand why you want to harass people about that and leave that statement, but I just want to say to you that you are just going at this the wrong way if you are trying to clarify a point.
MR. FAGE: I would thank the honourable member for his comments. Certainly, we are not here to harass anybody.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There was not a question there. It was just a commentary from the honourable member. Time now for the time to be transferred to the other member of the Liberal caucus. The honourable member for Richmond, Mr. Michel Samson. You have 22 minutes left in your time.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I guess the minister has not changed his tactics. In the time I have been here I do not think there has been an answer under five minutes in length. For a government that says they are open and accountable and wanting to be fair with the people of Nova Scotia and the Opposition, I think it is a disgrace to continually watch this minister give these long, drawn-out answers, repeating himself as many times as he can. Because of that, I think I will just - I know that he will give me the same types of responses, and in the same years the same silliness from the minister because he does absolutely nothing on concerns which affect the fishing industry in this province - I will use my time to highlight the concerns and maybe someone else listening in this government, or the next Minister of Fisheries, will be willing to take some interest in the industry in this province.
As I pointed out in my comments last night, the fishing industry in this province is one of the major employers and one of the major exporters of goods in this province. Last week we learned that the export sales in the province had exceeded the $1 billion mark. A tremendous accomplishment for the industry here in this province, yet a few days ago we see the Economic Development Minister on the front page talking about bad loans and referring to small fishing plants as being the ones who are suffering. One really has to question what is happening here in this province when we have export sales which are doing so well and yet the Economic Development Minister is saying small plants are suffering, and I won't bother asking the minister that because I am sure he has absolutely no idea what is happening in the small fishing plants from one end of this province to the other.
One of the other issues I pointed out - I have raised this with the minister the last two years - is the growing crab industry in this province. I know that the member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury would also have a good appreciation of this. The crab industry has managed to, in a sense, help save some of the many communities throughout this province who are devastated by the collapse of the groundfish fishery. Through the work of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and through the efforts of community groups from one end of this province to the other, a number of communities now have a very viable crab industry. What first began was just a matter of fishermen who were fishing the crab, little to none was being processed here in this province. Fortunately, producers were able to start up plants to process this and now we are seeing a significant number of crab which is landed on our shores being processed in our communities.
Unfortunately, once again the minister has done absolutely nothing to help foster this industry. His government continues not to provide funding that is necessary to set these plants up. One of the unfortunate things that was done by the federal government with the collapse of the groundfish fishery was that a moratorium was put on any government funding for new primary processing in the fishing industry.
Considering the impact of the groundfish closure on this province and now the opportunities which have arisen with the growth of the crab industry, one would think that when we see the Premier now going on his Campaign for Fairness in Ottawa, in this silly little show he is putting on that at least the Minister of Fisheries would have gone up, spoken to the federal minister and even to the Prime Minister and said it is essential for Nova Scotia's growth that you remove this restriction as relates to industries such as crab, shrimp, and even lobster for that matter, which are all viable industries in this province.
No one is suggesting that we go back to the days of seeing fishing plants throughout this province which do not have the capacity to continue to be viable, but the idea that we continue to have to send product out of this province because we do not have the capacity to harvest it and process it here in this province is an absolute disgrace and, as I said, the idea that the minister is sitting back not addressing this, not doing anything with the industry stakeholders, to go to Ottawa and to lead the charge, is absolutely nothing short of disgraceful.
This is the minister responsible for one of the biggest thriving industries in this province, yet he says that he is going to take a back seat. He is a cheerleader for the industry in this province, he leaves everything up to Ottawa. That is extremely unfortunate because we have a tremendous opportunity here to grow this industry, to make sure that Nova Scotia maximizes its potential, and we have a minister here who is happy to sit back and do a little chant and take out his pompoms and cheer them on.
The unfortunate thing is, groups throughout this province will be quick to tell you, that they have received little to absolutely no support from the minister himself. The minister has decided to allow these groups to suffer on their own. Many of them are faced with a lack of financing, the lack of ability to do the necessary promotions, the necessary lobbying, and the minister sits back and does nothing. A small investment in organization, such as the Canso Trawlermen's group would have a tremendous opportunity for rural communities throughout Nova Scotia. I question whether the minister is even aware of what a group such as the Canso Trawlermen's group, what they are doing now. Does he even have any idea what the Richmond County Inshore Fishermen's Association is doing now? Does he have any idea what the Cape Breton Inshore Fishermen's Association is doing?
The fact that he says this is a DFO issue, we have to leave it to DFO to decide on allocation, and we are going to sit back and do nothing is incomprehensible. I said it the first year when he was first appointed minister and didn't do anything; I asked him again last year to see if he would start taking a lead role and he still hasn't done anything. I have absolutely no hope and no faith at all that anything will be done differently here.
I can only hope, considering the impact that this has on my community and on communities throughout this province, that the Premier will do the responsible thing and appoint a new Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries who will decide to take this department seriously and will decide to assist this industry and not take a back seat to it.
MRS. MURIEL BAILLIE: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I don't mind the honourable member attacking the government, but I don't think it is right for him to take the individual minister and say what he is saying about the individual.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank the member for Pictou West for her point of order. I would trust that there is a line of questioning in regard to the estimates coming forth in this dissertation from the member for Richmond. I understand there is a series of questions in what you stated so far, and I was wondering would the minister have an opportunity to reply to your questions?
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, this is a debate on the estimates, I believe I am entitled to speak for as long as I wish on the topics I wish, pertinent to this department.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have until 2:51 p.m., so that is as long as you wish in regard to this time allotment.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, no problem. I believe there are another 34 hours remaining in the debate on the estimates, so I am sure I will have lots of time. I appreciate the concern of member for Pictou West on this. It is out of pure frustration that it has come to this. This minister has had an opportunity; this is the third occasion I have basically pleaded with him to take some control and to show some leadership, not to blame his staff.
We just saw in Question Period, the Minister of Justice got up to blame his staff for making an assessment on an offender, saying his staff was at fault, not him. When you are appointed a Minister of the Crown, you at the end of the day are responsible for the direction of the department, responsible for what the department does, and this minister has basically abandoned the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture as it used to exist. One of the running jokes among the fishing industry is that they were kind of pleased at first, some of them saying it is unfortunate the government has abandoned having an independent Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. One of the organizations, I remember, said having it combined with Agriculture, at least we have hope now that the minister will actually show up at the department more than once a month. It was a back-handed comment, but it really shows the frustration that is out there in this industry.
If this is the direction the minister wants to go in and the province wants to go in, they should do the respectable thing and rename the department and call him the minister responsible for lakes and ponds in this province, and clearly indicate that he is no longer interested in either aquaculture or the commercial fishing industry here in this province.
That is what it has come to, and it is extremely frustrating. When we see that provinces outside of Nova Scotia are still able to come and fish resources off our coast, continue to have increases in quotas and the minister in Nova Scotia says absolutely nothing, well if the Premier wants to go Ottawa on a Campaign for Fairness, not only should he add softwood lumber on his list, he should also add fisheries on his list, because Nova Scotia is getting a raw deal.
The New Brunswick shrimp fleet continues to get huge increases in quota off our shores. In the area of shrimp we have made a number of presentations to Ottawa, we have gone on our own - I have gone at least twice, three times I should say - we were successful in bringing back a community allocation of shrimp to Richmond County. I have to say that at the time, this was back in 1998, the honourable Keith Colwell, minister at the time, gave us resources, he helped fund the trip up to Ottawa; in fact, I believe he had made representations prior to us arriving, and helped assist in setting up meetings, and we were able to bring that back.
I have asked nothing more of the minister who is there now; do the same thing. Support the groups out there; go to Ottawa; holler at Ottawa; do whatever you have to do. But to say that I am only involved in fishing when the product hits shore, my God, my God, what an abandonment of his responsibilities. Again, as I said, I respect that the member for
Pictou West probably finds this frustrating, but I can tell her that having to do this year after year and seeing nothing done in an industry that means so much to my community, and that the minister himself wishes to do nothing, we are left with no choice but to try to point out to the minister that he is the one who is ultimately responsible for this, not his staff. He needs to give direction; he needs to invest in these communities.
Since he has taken office, we continue to see cuts to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. One of the examples I will give you, in the concerns raised by the member for Pictou West about the minister himself, one of the most contentious issues in this province when it comes to fishing is the siting of aquaculture leases. I know the member for Guysborough-Port Hawksbury would be familiar with that, there have been some issues in his own backyard; there has been an issue in my own riding; and there has been an issue in Victoria.
One of the systems set up by our government was that whenever a company looks at setting up an aquaculture operation, such as a mussel operation, a scallop operation, that is going to use a site in a harbour the department used to have a consultation process where they, the department, would go into a community, would seek input and would find out what the community's concerns were and to try to address them. The whole idea was that these were department staff coming in, they did not have a vested interest in this, they did not have a presumption regarding the community, it was an open and a fair process and it was one which was helping to build the aquaculture industry and it was very successful.
Since this minister has taken office, what he has done, rather than take the leadership himself on the issues of aquaculture, he has decided that rather than having his department - Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, I would expect the minister would at least sit in his seat when I am speaking, out of respect . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, he is in the room listening and being attentive. He is probably waiting for a question. (Interruptions)
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, well, if the member for Chester-St. Margaret's has something to say, I would encourage him to speak up and say how much he supports the minister and his activities for the fishing industry and how it has benefited his community. I don't expect to hear much from there. As I pointed out, what the . . .
MR. JOHN CHATAWAY: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I would think, we have sat here for about 15 minutes or something like this with the present speaker, he has literally given his view of what is going on, he might have a point of view or may not have a point of view. I thought this was to talk about the estimates. I would think that rather than just his view of things, let's get a question. Certainly, I would very much look forward to asking questions of the minister. It has been a very busy thing, but I would certainly like to have some time, rather than just a dissertation, maybe the present speaker could maybe give
us a tape or something like this and we could take it home, play it in the car as we drive along or something, who knows.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. All caucuses will have an opportunity to ask questions when their time has been allotted. Just a reminder in regard to the rules and procedures if there are questions of relevancy, he does have an opportunity to talk about these items during the debate on estimates. I could not call him on a point of order in regard to repetition because he hasn't been repetitive on a particular point. He is stating his points and cases and arguing certain viewpoints of the department. He is allowed to ask those questions because it is relevant to the department's function. (Interruptions) I would ask for order and civility, please, in these proceedings.
The honourable member for Richmond still has the floor.
MR. SAMSON: Oh, boy. No, I am not going to go there, Mr. Chairman. I am going to use civility as you have suggested. As I said, what was in place for aquaculture was that the department itself would send in representatives, do the community consultation, get the concerns and report back, and it would give the minister the information, and the minister in the end would decide. What this minister has chosen to do - this is such a divisive issue in certain communities - is say I am not going to do this any more, I am going to send in, do some consultation, but in the end, guess who I would like to hear from, the municipal council of the area.
Who gets thrown into this issue once again? The local municipal officials, more downloading on them, and all of a sudden here they are in the middle of this divisive issue. Clearly, they do not have the background that departmental staff would have, and clearly they do not have the expertise that departmental staff would have, and it gets into raw emotions. We saw it in Richmond County, that very divisive council, in the end because of pressure, voted no against what I would say was a very supportable proposal put forward by a very reputable company, that being Bounty Bay from P.E.I. that has annual sales in excess of $1 million in mussels. That is what happened in Richmond, it is raw emotion that turned that deal down. The minister, rather than take responsibility in leadership, left it to the municipal council. Maybe it was just a one-shot deal.
Instead, in Victoria County, once again, the same thing happened. Bounty Bay puts in an application in Victoria County, and rather than use his staff and use the process in place, the minister, once again, calls upon the municipal council and asks them, what is your opinion on this? I am going to hear from you before I make that decision. Once again, what happens? Raw emotion gets involved. In fact, I remember there were even some people from Richmond County who were opposed to the deal, who travelled to Victoria County to lobby against it for Victoria County. That is where it came from.
What has this done? It has discouraged anyone from trying to develop aquaculture in this province because of the fact that they do not have the support of this minister to make the tough decisions, the responsible decisions to allow this industry to grow here in this province. Once again, this is the responsibility of the minister himself, to show direction, to take leadership and to make these tough decisions. Here is another example of when they talk about heart and spine, well, we don't see any heart and we are clearly not seeing any spine when it comes to making these decisions; it is being dumped on these municipal councils.
Mr. Chairman, as I was saying earlier, the issue around shrimp continues to be a very contentious issue. I know that the Canso Trawlermen's Co-op is another group that has been trying to get a shrimp allocation to continue to have their vessels operating, to continue to have their people working in the processing plants. Right now, if you want to talk about a Campaign for Fairness, there are thousands of tons of shrimp caught directly off the shores of Richmond County and landed in Richmond County, I don't how many million of tons? Guess how much Richmond County gets out of that? It is 1.7 per cent of the total caught. With the increase last year, that number has now fallen to probably under 1 per cent of that catch.
These groups are not unreasonable, Mr. Minister. They are not going to Ottawa and saying, listen, take everything from New Brunswick and give it to us. They have put in a reasonable proposal, saying, any new increases in shrimp allocation for companies and industries outside of this province, the priority should be to take those increases and put them in the areas of this province where this product is being caught, which does not have an adequate representation in that. That would benefit Richmond County; that would benefit Cape Breton County; that would benefit Guysborough County; that would benefit the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, just to name a few.
That is not asking the impossible from this minister, to go to Ottawa and say, listen, I know you are responsible for allocation, it is a federal issue, but there are the people of the Province of Nova Scotia. I am responsible to represent people involved in the fishing and aquaculture industry, and I am coming up here to make my presentation to you, here is our Campaign for Fairness, for shrimp, for crab and for other industries here in this province. Again, this is not new information for the minister, he knows that. This is the third time I am giving him this speech. He still has yet to do anything, even strike an all-Party committee or show any sort of leadership to personally go ahead and fight on behalf of the fishing industry here in this province.
One of the other concerns, which is coming up from one end of this province to the next, is the Marshall decision and its impact on the industry here in Nova Scotia. Once again, the minister's response, it is Ottawa. I am going to sit in on a meeting, and I am going to support our groups here, and I am going to see what is happening. That is not what you do as a minister. He should be there; he should be working with the industry; he should be finding out the concerns; he should be balancing out the concerns of the industry, plus the
concerns of the Native groups throughout this province that are now trying to be part of this industry.
Instead, he is sitting back, allowing conflict to happen and saying, well, Ottawa is the one that's responsible, it is a federal issue, not one that affects me. That is completely unacceptable. There are opportunities here in this province which we are missing. I already mentioned to you crab processing. In my community the crab plant is now employing 70 people who were not employed last year. In Guysborough-Port Hawksbury and Canso, there are even more employed there. In fact, there is a new plant opening up in Mulgrave, which is going to benefit the member for Guysborough-Port Hawksbury . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Good minister.
MR. SAMSON: Good minister, well, I have to say, no. I challenge the minister today to stand in the House or even better to stand outside the House and take responsibility for the growth of fish plants here in this province and to say that he has had anything to do with that. I think he knows very well that we can joke about it here, but the sad part is it is such a golden opportunity for the minister to show some leadership and to be able to say I am working with this industry and to go cut these ribbons at the fish plant. I know of one plant where the local Tory association called and said, we would like to do a grand opening, the Premier is in town and we would like to cut the ribbon for your new processing facility and all the jobs coming with it.
I remember I got the phone call, he said, imagine the nerve, these guys did absolutely nothing, they wouldn't even return our phone calls, did absolutely nothing to help find us funding, did nothing to work with us in Ottawa, and now they want to come cut a ribbon because the Premier happens to be travelling through town. I am not going to repeat what that Tory was told by the owner of that plant on that request, but it shows what golden opportunities this government and this minister are missing.
If this minister showed any leadership, there should be not one pound of crab or shrimp leaving the Province of Nova Scotia. The problem now is that we do have the harvesting capacity to be able to do so; we do not have the funding in place to be able to assist that. The fact is this minister has done absolutely nothing to invest in this vital industry.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the member for Richmond has now expired. I will allow an opportunity for the minister to reply to any of the comments and the various questions throughout the last 20-some odd minutes. Mr. Minister, you have an opportunity to reply to any of the comments you were questioned upon.
MR. FAGE: Well, I certainly appreciated and listened to the member's comments. The member has his view of how the industry is performing and how the department is doing. I guess I don't share his version of gloom and doom for the industry and the department. Shrimp allocation is up again this year. There are processing plants in Mulgrave and Canso, and those lines are working along well. In his opening statements last evening, it appeared that the member may not be aware of that, but I think it is important to point that out, whether he is aware or not.
I think it is also extremely important to point out that the fishing industry in this province was over $1 billion of export. That is an extremely healthy industry that this government and I, as minister, are proud to work with and represent, because it is an industry that we have set up extensive consultation, we work closely with communities. I meet with processors and producers on a very regular and ongoing basis. We see stabilization and real opportunity for growth.
The member seemed to be under the impression that the snow crab quota has not grown in the last year or two, and certainly it is up hundreds of percentages, the amount of allocation coming here to this province. The department and the staff that I am extremely proud to work with, work very hard with our federal counterparts to ensure that those industries grow around this province. It has been a real boon to local communities that I meet with throughout Cape Breton. I know when I visited the member's area, they were very supportive of our department and very supportive of our efforts to deal with a number of issues related to allocation, processing and the opportunity for increases in those allocations to provide real meaningful work for the people who live in those communities.
I can certainly tell you that when I tour plants that are running processing lines, if I am in Baddeck, there are three plants now working with snow crabs, those people are extremely pleased with the situation. Several years ago that opportunity didn't even exist. Through our loan programs and other programs, we assist individual fishermen and help the promotion of the industry. I certainly appreciated, last week in Boston, having the privilege to represent the industry and help our processors and our staff to assist processors in meeting with opportunities for more retail and export south of the border.
It was a pleasure to have the federal minister make an announcement on international marketing funds, to be available for promoting fish and fish products abroad. As minister in our department I have worked very hard over the last 18 months, because there is real opportunity for growth there. It was very pleasing to have a meeting with the federal minister, Herb Dhaliwal, as well as Agriculture Minister, Lyle Vanclief, and to see our requests from Nova Scotia bear returns on hard lobbying on behalf of the industry with the announcement that the Department of Agriculture, federally, through their Marketing Division, will be making funds available for increased promotion and marketing in partnership with the province and the industry, much as we do in Agriculture for the fishing industry. It is nice to see those dollars return to that industry.
I would also like to make the comment, when you look at measurable outcomes, negative comments made by the member in regard to aquaculture, when we look at aquaculture increasing over the last two years from under $20 million to approximately $50 million this year, I would say responsibility, promotion of the industry, and helping to ensure that the right conditions are in place to promote the industry are very much in the fore of this minister and the department.
As well, when I look at funds for enforcement or buying of seafood products and dealing with the licence issue, that is under active review as we speak with regard to the review process of buyers and processing licences in Nova Scotia. I enjoyed the member's comments very much and certainly virtually every one that he raised are subjects that are being dealt with, improved, or being worked strongly on by the industry and by the department through committees and efforts to improve opportunities for coastal communities so I thank the honourable member for raising each one of them. I can assure the honourable member that staff and the industry are concerned about growth and moving the situation forward. Negativism is not what the fishing industry is about - it is about opportunities and opportunities for coastal communities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is an opportunity now if there are any questions from the PC caucus before I hand it back to the NDP.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: I have a question or two.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is now 2:59 p.m. The honourable member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: Thank you. I guess it was brought up a couple of times, Mr. Minister, on the issues of ACS Trading or shrimp quotas, crab quotas, that sort of thing for the local area in the Strait. I know there has been a lot of lobbying done by our MP, Peter MacKay, by your department, and you as well as myself on behalf of ACS Trading to get more quota for that plant. They now employ about 70 people in that plant. There could be a greater number of people employed there if there was more quota allotted. The difficulty as I see it is with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in trying to get more quota for that plant or the plant in Canso, Seafreez. What efforts have been made by your department to try to acquire some of the quota that is going to Newfoundland that is not being fished to get it to come towards Nova Scotia, ACS Trading, Seafreez and other plants that process shrimp?
MR. FAGE: As you are aware, the allocation issue, again, the federal government, through the years has allocated set amounts of quota to individual fishermen or fleets. The shrimp population has been on the increase for the last number of years and the increase to
Nova Scotia fishers are based on their percentage and so, obviously, they have increased, but not to the extent that our government feels that those fishermen and the province deserves as an allocation of that resource.
We lobby on behalf of the fishing groups with the federal department, DFO, at the minister's level and the allocation committees that a larger share should be allocated to fishermen that would land that and bring that ashore here in Nova Scotia. Thus far, there has been no extraordinary allocation other than that regular percentage and we certainly want to see that and will continue to push for that. Obviously, we would be supportive of, and look to Opposition members, particularly in the Liberal caucus, to talk to their federal brethren. They appear to exert a great deal of influence and if it is on the political front that they feel it can be decided, it should be an easy thing for them to accomplish. We would appreciate their efforts in that regard.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: The allocation that Newfoundland gets compared to Nova Scotia - what difference is there? How much more are they allocated than us?
MR. FAGE: I can't give you the exact percentages, but it is much higher than ours, but we will get those numbers for you.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: Seafreez and the Canso Trawlermen's Co-Op and their efforts to try to receive more crab quota and shrimp quota as well to supply the Seafreez plant in Canso. It is about the same situation - they are allocated by Ottawa and I know the trawlermen's co-op as well as other groups in Canso are trying to access more crab quota as well as shrimp. So, that would be the same thing? That would be allocated by Ottawa and taken from there would - it is a difficult time, I guess is what I am trying to say. We are having to - I guess, even meet with the Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Dhaliwal, he has made the commitment on numerous occasions to the people of Canso and that area to come to Canso to discuss fisheries issues and that hasn't happened. So, is there any effort by your department to try to bring the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to Nova Scotia, into Canso, to see if those quotas can be . . .
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. The Canso trawlermen's association has been granted access under special community compensation and they have shared in the increase the same as other individual fishermen in that area. I have met with their representatives in the community on numerous occasions to support them in a number of their endeavours on experimental permits in other zones to fish crab and to help make the viability of that volume there. That helps protect Seafreez.
In discussions with the trawlermen, they wanted an opportunity to take their case directly to the federal minister on the allocation issue and I was successful in having a federal minister set up a meeting previous to the federal election. That one, because the minister was busy, didn't come off. We lobbied on their behalf and it is my understanding that their
representatives met with the federal minister in Ottawa less than two weeks ago to discuss some of those very issues directly with the federal minister and they had a considerable amount of time allotted to them and, hopefully, their efforts on that direct contact will be successful. So we were pleased to help them arrange that meeting.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: Yes, I knew they were going to Ottawa to have a meeting with the minister. Anyway, those are all the questions from me and I will turn it over to my colleague, the member for Cape Breton North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, thank you, Mr. Minister, for your patience both yesterday and today. What I was hoping through the processes of yesterday is that we would be actually getting into some of the meat and potato issues affecting the estimates and the reasons for the tabling of the budget, which I think, by obvious public response, has been overwhelmingly received as positive and good news and your portfolio and the estimates you provide is indicative of that.
I want to refer back to the member for Richmond's statement, and really for your comment, because I don't think the question was asked, it was a statement, that the minister has abandoned the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. I would say if your response is in the negative for that, what leadership do you believe the government is offering to further the effective and efficient management of this vital portfolio, because, of course, obviously that comes right to the heart of the allocation and the use of your budget estimates?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question and those are very serious and proper questions that deserve, I think, a strong indication of where we are going. This industry, when you look at the fishing community, is still prosperous and on a very strong growth curve. We do everything we can as a department and a ministry to include the industry and foster that. No two finer examples are the two ministers' meetings each year that the industry representatives are in. There is no other industry that does that, that takes all those organizations involved in that industry, extends the invitation to them, brings them in and sits down directly with the minister and brings forward their concerns on every issue. It is a grassroots, one-on-one involvement, where the industry has the opportunity to supply to the minister a list of their concerns and how we are going to address them as a co-operative effort. That is the key.
Confrontation is one tool if there is no other course in dealing with another level of government or segments of the industry, but no fairness or deal is achieved under those terms. The industry is a mature industry that is reasonable and looking for some protection and some opportunity. There are some big, tough issues dealing with the allocation, dealing with illegal fishing when it is $50 million a year in this province. That is a huge illegal fishery and involves every fisherman and the stocks are out there.
The industry and its processing facilities continue to offer more employment in Nova Scotia and continues to grow and we foster and support that. The other segment that you mentioned is agriculture and certainly the agriculture industry has come off of the largest year they have ever had. It was a $420 million success story this year. For the first time in 10 years and two administrations, we have been able to sign deals that are more than one year with the federal government in regard to price support, income support, NISA and a fairness issue was addressed.
It is based on the percentage of Nova Scotia's farm gate in relationship to everyone else. That doubled the amount of money coming on income support to the farming industry and the farming industry is addressing the future with research development and looking for opportunity. They have their challenges, as well. There is no question that the department, on the leadership issue in both those two fields of endeavour, have been strongly there, I would suggest.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Minister, on another point that has come up on several different occasions yesterday and today is the overall relationship with the Government of Canada and the interdepartmental and intergovernmental discussions where areas of jurisdiction do overlap on both the agricultural side but, specifically, and I think in terms of where the public media would see, on the fisheries issues. Can you provide us with some background on both respective components of your department and your relationship with the federal government and your current status in any major dealings you have at this time?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question and, again, I would like to address the fishery issue first. When you look at issues, policies, relationships with the federal government, we try our very best and I, as minister, am a person who likes to make sure they try the co-operative and partnership route before one uses the adversarial route. We in the fisheries, certainly in relationship to the federal ruling on the Marshall case have played a major role in formulating the groundwork and the principles of what the federal government has been able to deal through DFO.
The issue is also dealing with aquaculture and a relationship with the federal government. I am very pleased to report that through extensive discussions with the federal minister, it was taking upwards to two years for an aquaculture site to have a yes or a no delivered on the environment. We had commitments with the federal minister. He is honouring those commitments and those time frames have now been reduced to approximately three to four months and the agreement that we have with the federal minister that we can turn those around in 60 to 90 days.
Those are co-operative efforts that are very important to the industry and to the people involved, because if you are a proponent, not only are you concerned about the location and the site and the opportunity, you have to put the resources of finance, physical locations, labour, all those other factors together and if you are waiting two years, obviously
it makes it extremely hard. So that co-operation, I am very pleased to say, that that relationship with that department is working reasonably well. Obviously, allocation is an issue that has been debated for 50 years and it will continue to be debated. We will put the best case forward we can on behalf of our fishing industry.
Another area that we see great opportunity in is boat building. There are opportunities to employ another 1,000 or 2,000 people there in the immediate future. Certainly, we look to co-operate with the federal government to export those vessels to that southern market that wants them down below the border. In agriculture, the relationship, obviously, is one that we are not the dominant player, as we are in fisheries, at the table. So it is also one that we look for co-operation and fairness in principled arguments as we move forward. We have been supported by other provinces and certainly by the federal government in the allocation of the funds under NISA going to farm gates shares that reflect the production of the province.
To give an indication of what that meant to the province, it doubled the amount of money coming under those agreements, extremely structurally important to the agricultural community to have underpinnings for when the price is tough or weather conditions are tough as you follow normal marketing curves with commodity markets in agriculture. We certainly are pleased and look forward to working with the federal government.
Over the long haul, I feel we have huge opportunities if we can capitalize with the federal government on the life and science economy, the science economy for agriculture, the management of the environment, food quality, health and safety. Those all offer Nova Scotia huge advantages and provide real opportunity and the federal government is certainly discussing the issues with us. I would certainly, at this point, say we have achieved some successes in both of those divisions with the federal government through co-operation and being firm when we have to be firm.
MR. CLARKE: If I may continue, Mr. Minister, another area that has come up over joint jurisdiction again is with our Native communities throughout the province. I know we have offshore issues, but I believe, on an ongoing basis, there is inland and onshore issues we have to deal with. Can you provide us with an overview of your department's relationship or communication strategy with the Native community for Nova Scotia and what efforts you are working on to strengthen relationships with them?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. If he will allow me, I would like to expand the parameters. Another department I am responsible for is Natural Resources and, obviously, in all three departments, as minister, I am responsible for enforcement of the various regulations and laws pertaining to the resources involved in Agriculture, Natural Resources, as well as Fisheries. Certainly on numerous occasions in the last year I have extended invitations to individuals and the leaders of the Native community to sit down and discuss pertinent issues with Fisheries, Natural Resources or Agriculture and I should add the lead agency in dealing with the Native community in Nova Scotia is under
Honourable Minister Baker, the Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs. We deal with the issue in a concerted effort where that is the lead agency in discussions and all issues are encompassed.
Currently we are in discussions with the federal government and the Native community on a number of issues, experimenting on the tripartite level so that the federal partners are aware of our provincial jurisdiction and we are aware of what they are discussing. If that forum can work positively, it allows an opportunity for the Native community to be dealing at the same table with all levels of government. I think it is a model, if it is workable, that will help simplify things, but we have met with the Native community on a number of issues and certainly since the enforcement case with the logging that was reached recently, as quickly as two days after that, we met with representatives from the Native community to start the discussions on co-operative efforts of how we can help address their concerns and allow them to be participants in making a living in Nova Scotia.
MR. CLARKE: I have a number of other questions, but I believe some of my other colleagues from caucus may have some questions at this time and I will defer to them and maybe return to my other questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's.
MR. JOHN CHATAWAY: Thank you very much for the opportunity to say a few words. I don't ever expect to necessarily pontificate for as long as some people can. However, I very much did enjoy this report, Mr. Minister, certainly on agriculture and fishing. I do know that your background is agriculture, but I think also, of course, you aptly pointed out the great progress we have made in fishing in this province. Basically, I think anybody could be not terribly well informed, but to read your report would be very worthwhile reading to see all the various things that are involved in agriculture and fishing, also the many issues.
It is also very informative as to the groups that are evolving in this whole process. Of course, also the great thing is the progress that you have made in the last year. Basically, $1.5 billion, this is important to the Nova Scotia economy, over $1 billion of sales in this province, that makes us the biggest income of any other province in that we have the biggest sales of fish, et cetera, in this province. It is just wonderful. Your report also tells of the competence of the farmers and the fishermen in Nova Scotia. You also point out that, of course, it is very competent, it is just not something simple. It is a rather competitive business and certainly takes people with good common sense to get along in that. Also I understand, too, that the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture have joined together and I think it is very important, too, that the staff are working together and going ahead in the future and doing well.
I think a long time ago when my hair was black, et cetera, I knew a good farmer. Eventually he got into banking for agriculture and a rather important job. Years ago he said, you know, this is not agriculture, this is agri-business and I am sure he would use the same thing, this is not necessarily just fishing, it is agri-fisheries, or sorry, fisheries, in that regard, because it is very important. I think one of the reasons by your testimony to date, maybe my question would be, in order to get people working well, you can't dictate to them, you have to get them and convince them all to work in this direction and things like that. I just wondered when, the expansion in agriculture, or sorry, agri-business, it has gone from about $20 million to $50 million and I would like to know how you involve the people in an area, when you are expanding sites?
MR. FAGE: Thank you very much, honourable member, for your question. Siting agriculture sites is never an easy process or issue but, first of all, you have to identify an area that suits the needs of that particular species that you are going to grow. Then the other issues that come into play are ones of provincial jurisdiction where the application would be made, would be recommended or not recommended at that stage, and then the federal government would be involved under permitting as well and the federal government would deal with environmental concerns. Small crafts in harbour would deal with navigational concerns and then once those permitting levels, if approved or disapproved at the federal level, then it would come back to the province.
There are several ways that a site could be allocated and, obviously, the minister under the legislation has the final say. Certainly in our process, in the first stage, we strongly suggest to any proponent that they need local community involvement. We would suggest to them that local community partners are certainly wise and making sure that they hold their public presentations and meetings to advise the local community of what their intentions are and to try to alleviate any concerns, fears of possible disruption, recreational, view plane, all those types of issues that would be of concern to a local community that have traditionally not seen - whether it is a finfish cage, or a buoy on a mussel farm - those activities, and reassuring them that it is done on a code of practice and a sound, safe, environmentally prudent basis.
I must say, last year in discussions with the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia over their procedures and the need to be self-promoting as well and be proactive for the general public, they have come up with their own code of practice which is stronger than government regulations which an industry should do, and the proper thing to do, so that they can directly advertise to members that they exceed provincial regulation guidelines. Again returning to federal permits, then as minister, one could go back for public consultation if there were concerns. Depending on the type of concerns and the amount raised, one could go to a public hearing known as RADAC. In a particular site, if there were still more concerns, the RADAC would report to the minister on the judgment of the environmental concerns and would also take into account a number of other social related issues to the area,
but at the end of the day, once that is all in, I, as minister, would have to make the determination if the project was going to go forward or not.
MR. CHATAWAY: It is certainly very pleasant to hear those words because I think you have emphasized that you just can't sit in Halifax and decide for all around the province that this is going to happen here and that is going to happen here and then there is another speaker here who said, oh, you got the opinion of some town council there for some reason and this person didn't necessarily agree with it. Well, that was terrible to listen to them. Well, of course, you should be listening to them and I think it is very important that that process be continued because inevitably a lot of the people who live in rural Nova Scotia have for many years made an income, and literally for generations have made an income, from fishing and/or farming, or maybe a bit of both, and it certainly is good to inform them because they wouldn't want to see their future in an older-time industry be displaced by something new, or something that would be ruining what they presently do.
I guess one other thing, maybe one other question, I think you made your comment yesterday about the Coastal Act, I believe you have reviewed it, and I just wondered if you could briefly review what you have done and any improvements with that?
MR. FAGE: I believe and I would take a supplementary question, the one you are referring to is under the review process now, and we were questioning whether the province should be putting in a submission, was the review of the allocation based on community and individual fishers that the federal department, DFO, are currently conducting. That was the question and that is a federal program that is under review right now, but there is an actual program that is provincial that you mentioned right there and that will be reviewed in the coming year. It is currently not . . .
MR. CHATAWAY: Maybe one other thing, certainly you outlined much of the progress that has gone on, say last year specifically and even before that, but what are the future challenges? Life has many challenges. Are there any sort of important challenges to that in the immediate area?
MR. FAGE: In regard to the aquaculture?
MR. CHATAWAY: Yes.
MR. FAGE: There is no question there are going to be opportunities for different species, populations of wild stock, whether they are molluscs or pelagics or finfish, they are going to vary and there is going to be some opportunity, but I think as a whole, the majority of species, people realize that the wild fishery, even with strong management, is probably stable. When you look at opportunities to provide income, employment and stability to a lot of rural Nova Scotia communities, and especially coastal communities, aquaculture is where the opportunity for growth is and it is growing at a significant rate in Nova Scotia. There is
no question about that, but I think it comes back to the question that you asked earlier and that is that balance and being responsible and incorporating it into local communities and making sure the local communities are part of the decision making. Yes, very key.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, just to finish up I have a couple of other comments. The first one is with regard to something very pressing in the Cape Breton area and that is the offshore oil and gas development as it affects the inshore fishery. That is something that the inshore fishermen representatives have a concern with, and in the Port of North Sydney there are stationed a large number of inshore fishing vessels and operations and the local spinoff benefits become quite significant as well.
Because of those concerns with development, I know that the government has made a commitment to ensuring that development would be complementary, what type of dialogue or communication have you had with the various departments affecting this and, once again, another area where our federal counterparts, I believe, play a role?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board is the actual agency that would deal with offshore petroleum development and certainly as Minister of Fisheries and the Department of Fisheries, we have made a strong commitment and effort to ensure that the fishing community has dialogue, input and their views and concerns are raised and heard. Certainly as a government, as you have properly stated, we are looking for that balanced approach that the two industries can co-exist and work together on that particular initiative.
In regard to what has taken place in the last year, in some areas, as you are aware, a moratorium of one year is in place right now so that more study and evaluation can happen before seismic testing in some areas would be allowed, but even at our Ministers Conference we would make sure we brought various experts in from the petroleum industry, from the seismic industry, the North Sea, as well as the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore group, so that they can have dialogue directly with our organizations as well as public meetings around Cape Breton and Nova Scotia.
MR. CLARKE: Just one other area and I will conclude my questions likely at this point, but it is an area, once again, close to the constituency and the area around Sydney Harbour, and that is the development of the fishery. From my days as a youth in that area when, in fact, there were two very vibrant fishing plants located right on the main street of our community, to seeing both of those closures, to subsequently see some recovery in the fishery, some success in the inshore, to see Clearwater relocate another plant there, and then also to see another company actually relocate to the area by choice, M. V. Osprey Ltd., which
is in the shrimp fishery and has been a phenomenal contributor again to the local economy with a $50 million plus annual revenue, with two $20 million to $30 million vessels each in cost.
They have taken over the federal government wharf and are operating that as a private enterprise with common-user ability with that and, once again, chose to do business in that area of Nova Scotia because they wanted to invest in that area and have created dozens and dozens of jobs, both on the ships as well as on land, and have also complemented the transportation opportunities as well in the province whereby reefer units bring produce down and return with frozen product from the landed site and also seeing the purchase of local goods and services which includes everything from locally produced eggs, vegetables, milk, in excess of $3 million to $4 million a year directly into the local economy and, once again, adding to the overall stability of the industry.
It is that type of initiative that obviously shows that there is positive movement available and that this company operates as an international player in that business, and the recent accord signed in China will have a direct impact on that as well, showing the ability of Nova Scotia companies to compete internationally. I guess the question I would ask as that preamble would be, how do you see the increasing role of Nova Scotia companies competing on the international stage, because I know there is concern about international, or companies from outside of Canada playing in our waters and in our marketplace?
MR. FAGE: I thank the member very much for his question. I think there are two divisions there and one is, actually who is harvesting the resource in the water itself. The second one is one of marketing and promotion, once you have the resource landed how do you prepare it, process and value add it to get the greatest return either in the domestic market or the foreign market? Certainly the rules on who is allowed to catch it, under what circumstances are pretty clearly defined in respect with federal regulations, a little different from boat size to inshore fishery to offshore fishery to different segments of the industry. Those are under review and allocation with the federal government as we speak. I guess on vessel size and where they are allowed to go, we would make representation to the federal government on behalf of boat owners and fleet owners on various safety issues and how far they are offshore to allow them to compete in and fish in a safe manner.
On the front, dealing with marketing and promotion of the seafood products, I think one of the most significant things that typifies how Nova Scotia for many years has been the fore of marketing and promotion would be the International Boston Seafood Show, where it was not started by U.S. interests, but Nova Scotia and then Canadian interests as a way to showcase our seafood on the Eastern Shore just before 1980. Subsequently, that was such a success in showcasing what we had to offer in fish and fish products and value added that it subsequently has grown and the United States and local area have taken over ownership of the show, but it is virtually one of the largest seafood shows in the world. That was an initiative started from this end of the country in approximately 1980.
Last week's meeting with the federal ministers, Honourable Lyle Vanclief and Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, I met with them in Boston last week, and their agreement that they would be putting dollars into marketing on the international seafood, I think, is welcome news for a province that produces more seafood and seafood products than any other province in the country. Those are the types of efforts, along with joint ventures with our companies and a number of them who take part in trade shows and trade expeditions around the world, not only with the Nova Scotia Government by with the Canadian Government; it helps position us.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any more questions from the PC caucus? Hearing none, I will now pass the floor over to the Opposition Party, the NDP caucus. The time is now 3:39 p.m. We will have a short recess.
[3:40 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[3:45 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, the minister and his staff are good for an hour, I guess. I want to come back to something we raised at the end of yesterday, and that was around the effect of draggers on the coral. You had mentioned BIO, and I think I raised it in conversation with DFO representatives at the Economic Development Committee. I was a little disappointed with the response that DFO had, in that it struck me as though they didn't really have a position on whether draggers had a serious effect, a negative effect, which didn't really necessarily bother me, but what bothered me was they seemed to have an opinion that they weren't that interested in finding out.
I guess I would be curious to know whether or not the minister and the department have an opinion on the effects of draggers on these corals and on habitat for fish and whether or not the department has ever pursued the notion - or it occurred to them to do some kind of partnering with the federal government on research to determine - whether or not there is a serious effect by draggers and whether or not the concerns that are raised by some of the fishing sector, not all of it, by those people who raise it anyway, whether there is anything to those concerns and to kind of put this to rest one way or another, has the department had some discussion around that?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. I think there are two things I would like to mention in that regard. First of all, when you talk to scientists as well as fishermen, bottom and habitats certainly are important. I think both of those, the academic and the fishing community realize that. A crab trap or a lobster trap, the fishermen would put it on rocky ground or ground with cover rather than a sand bottom. I think one thing the department was pleased to see, and think there is opportunity for progress in that light, is
under the new DFO or federal Fisheries Act part of their mandate now is to deal with oceans and habitat. We certainly support that move strongly, because it deals directly with some of the issues and science of what you have raised there. That becoming part of their mandate I think affords the opportunity for stronger input for research and tying the various harvesting methods and practices closer to addressing some of those issues of habitat. That is now in their mandate and purview.
MR. MACDONELL: I guess what I am wondering is if, through your department, you have pursued the federal government, DFO, to do any studies or ask them if they even have any studies, if they have ever put this on the table as something they want investigated? If the Act is as you say, I would think that at some point they would want to. I just wondered if you pursued them on that issue?
MR. FAGE: I certainly have had some discussions with the minister and several directors. I would hearken back to last summer there was an announcement by the federal government and the federal Fisheries Minister. I attended a conference with him in Dartmouth and part of that initiative was increased funding for those types of research over at the Bedford Institute and a demonstration and display for us of the type of work they are able to evaluate on bottoms and habitat. It was phenomenal, the types of records and imaging they can now do so you can evaluate different methods of harvest in relationship to the habitat on the bottom and, certainly, we will continue to urge and work with the federal government that that is extremely important.
MR. MACDONELL: I was pleased to hear you mention allocations, in particular, shrimp to Mulgrave and I believe to Canso as well. I am just wondering if you can tell me if you know the level of allocation for Mulgrave and how much - the proper term I am looking for is, whether that comes close to the full capacity of the plant or they are at a quarter of their optimum capacity or half?
MR. FAGE: I couldn't, at this point, give you the exact figures but we can get those for you and let you know. In the case of Canso, the comment I would make there is that they view shrimp as a commodity that is strong enough and important enough to them that a complete product line and processing line, and new equipment was put in place there, I believe, within the last year, approximately a year ago would be when it went in.
MR. MACDONELL: It's my understanding that when you are talking about shrimp and Newfoundland, that Newfoundlanders take the position, that's our shrimp, even though it has appeared, correct me if I am wrong, that probably the allocation of shrimp for Newfoundland far exceeds their capacity to manufacture or process that allocation. I have been curious, I know Newfoundland fishermen fish around Nova Scotia and I just wondered if that's not a lever for trying to get a greater allocation. If it turns out the amount of the shrimp allocation to Nova Scotia is somewhat equivalent or greater than what they would take in groundfish or whatever in another sector of the fishery, then it is probably not much
of an argument, but if it turned out that they have an allocation of fish stocks around Nova Scotia that are significant compared to our shrimp allocation, that that may not be a lever to say, look, Newfoundland is accessing this much in Nova Scotia, we are not accessing near that amount in Newfoundland, we would like to kind of even the playing field, we would take shrimp if you want this. Has that been dealt with or at all suggested?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. Those would be adjacency, a number of the considerations and arguments we would make on why we deserve increased allocation. The shrimp fishery, I should add, there is the northern shrimp fishery, there is the zone that is beyond the 200 miles in which foreign fleets share. Along the coast there is the trap fishery, which is a different shrimp fishery that they use an actual trap to catch them. Then there is the shrimp that is allocated off of the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Those all inter-play with each other and sometimes the discussions, the lines get blurred.
It is like last summer when P.E.I. was allocated a licence over the 200 mile zone on that shrimp allocation of northern shrimp, where foreign fleets and other fleets were there. Obviously, the shrimp is far enough offshore, it doesn't really benefit the province because it is not brought back to that particular province to process. It is quite complicated, but I guess our view is every kilogram of shrimp allocation we can have allocated to Nova Scotia, especially in those closer zones, ensure there are opportunities and prospects for Nova Scotians in those communities and other communities.
MR. MACDONELL: I agree with the minister that probably I am making it too simple, in that my understanding of all of the facets associated with those allocations and the different zones and so on, I am not considering or maybe not aware of. I guess in not knowing that, in my naïveté, I would certainly think an argument may be made considering it is different when you are dealing with people from a different country but when you are dealing with your own, and I realize the jurisdictional problem of the federal government's role in this, that you are really trying to be an advocate for your communities and try to get the best deal that you can. I know there are lots of other concerns around these allocations. So, I will leave that with you, that whatever levers are available to you I would encourage you to use them. I know from your comments in regard to the honourable member for Richmond, that you are making use of certainly some of those levers. I will be interested to know if there is a time when you are able to get the quota for any of these communities, that is above the incremental increase in allocation that would really - actually I guess you could answer this question for me. The incremental increases in allocation, those are not on a particular timeline, those would be on conservation measures I am assuming; you can't say by January 1st the federal government will always make a statement about allocation, can you explain how that works?
MR. FAGE: Normally the DFO allocation and their scientific group would do samplings from fishermen, do their own samplings, determine what the size or volume of the stocks are and if the stocks appear to be sufficiently healthy, the volumes there, the right age-class groups, then they would do an additional allocation to the industry, and normally if you are already in the industry, if it's shrimp, if you had a multiple of 10 allocations that went up by 10 per cent, so you have 11 now, this year, 11 shares or whatever. Other stocks, where it is expanding quickly, you get temporary licences issued instead of permanent licences, so that would allow somebody new to come in, but they are not there on a permanent basis. At the end of the day those are important relief valves because biomass on any given fish stock, whether it's shrimp, snow crab or a fish, they are going climb and then they are going to decline and that allows stocks, because of age or many reasons, are on the decline, and then somebody with a temporary licence is back out and the core of permanent people continue to fish.
MR. MACDONELL: That wouldn't necessarily mean, even though the temporary people may be out, the permanent people might experience a reduction in their allocation as well, but still in the fishery.
MR. FAGE: That is some of the management techniques that the allocation of the federal government employ, that there is the core fishery and then if there is opportunity for other people because the biomass is there, there are several ways they would allocate that.
MR. MACDONELL: You may not know the answer to this and you may, and I will certainly suspect that your deputy would know, but my thought is that the increase in the shrimp volumes are directly related to the decrease in the cod stocks thinking that it is probably a food supply for the cod fish. I have been worried that the increased pressure on shrimp stocks as a fishery, which has been a great thing to provide income and support for communities, may, in the long run, interfere with the rebounding of cod stock. I just wondered if this is a concern that has ever raised its head, or people have said there is no connection here, there is no relationship, or if DFO has already made comment about this to your department?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. I guess all I can do is make observation with comment from the deputy. I am not a member of the scientific community, but in speaking to the deputy, one of the theories that is advanced even probably stronger is water temperature, shrimp like it cold, cod need it a little warmer, and that could influence the stocks as much as any. There are a number of theories out there and premises, but they look at stocks and they will build, or they can be overharvested, or they can decline because of other reasons.
I think the prime example, and it would deal with Newfoundland, is snow crab. Our populations here last year and the zone allocations were increased again significantly. In Newfoundland, it was increased by one-third last year, and whether that is attributable to overfishing, water temperature, any other thing, that is the monitoring, to make sure the resource is there so you don't fish it too excessively when it's on a downslide, but stocks will never build forever. They are going to go up and down.
MR. MACDONELL: Right. Okay, I will just leave that. I think it is my background in biology that tends to make my mind wander to the ecological side, but those things do worry me, I will leave it in those terms. I would like to discuss aquaculture for a few minutes. There certainly has been significant growth in the aquaculture sector, as you have indicated. I am wondering if you could tell me if that is mostly around the finfish side of the industry rather than the shellfish?
MR. FAGE: We will supply you with the exact numbers, but it has probably been a balance of finfish as well as shellfish. There is a significant growth there as well. One I would really like to add is that we have had real significant growth in marine plants. There is a significant aquaculture industry in cultivating marine plants in this province and it has undergone some dramatic growth in the last few years as well.
The other observation I would like to make is aquaculture in this province is very diversified with a large number of species. It affords more opportunities for growth, the opportunity to use different sites for different purposes because they each require a different set of environmental or ecological niches and it provides a lot more stability. I mean we have companies involved in halibut and finfish, the traditional ones like salmon and trout, and they are spread all across, shellfish as well. Marine plants are significant as animal feed supplements, bioceuticals, all those types are being developed and sold provincially and internationally here.
MR. MACDONELL: I find it interesting about the plants. Even in estimates last year, I don't remember that coming up. So I find that particularly interesting. I am assuming when we say plants, because seaweeds are not plants actually, they are protist if I am not mistaken, but am I to assume it is basically one type that is grown or do you know, is it dulse or is it a wide variety of laminarias?
MR. FAGE: There is certainly the rock kelp and it is a major one, but there are a number of kelps grown not only in tanks but in seawater that are used for bioceutical, proteins, lipids, those type of things, and strong markets for them in research. Certainly the rock kelp and a number of them are strong supplements in animal feed, bioceuticals and bioceuticals for humans for vitamin supplements, all those types of things would be involved in every one of those areas.
MR. MACDONELL: If I am not mistaken, the old-time one we have heard of for years, the one that was used in cosmetics and kept ice cream held together and so on, I think it is algin, if I am not mistaken. If anybody knows they can correct me.
I would like to draw some attention to the finfish sector and the concerns around raising rainbow trout or salmon. The shellfish sector in aquaculture does not seem to have raised the same environmental concerns as the finfish sector has. I am just curious as to whether or not there has been any research or direction to the feasibility of moving finfish aquaculture onto the land where it is easier to monitor pesticides, feces and some of these other concerns.
I know the people from the industry have spoken to the Resources Committee and perhaps Economic Development. At one point someone made the statement that if you were to remove an aquaculture operation out of a bay, for example, that it would take about three years for the currents and the movement of water and so on to clean up the debris from that operation. It occurred to me that if that aquaculture operation was there three years, or if it was there 30 years, wouldn't really expect that three years would take care of both situations.
There have been real concerns raised around raising fish in pens, in bays, and the assumption always is that the current will always keep it clean underneath and where we have existing fisheries, like lobster, for example, which we know is making money and we certainly don't want to negatively impact it. So this one actually causes some concern. In particular, this past fall, I believe, or this winter, there was 100,000 salmon that escaped in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.
AN HON. MEMBER: Gulf of Maine.
MR. MACDONELL: Gulf of Maine. I don't think we have actually analyzed the full impact of these farm-reared salmon on the wild population. I think in British Columbia they are causing some really large concerns because of the impact on the domestic stock. So I think the question starts to arise, is the benefit worth the risk? I think one of the obvious things that I could see would be that the finfish would almost have to be raised on land. Believe me, I can see what the monetary difference would be in setting up operations on land. I just wondered if the department actually has ever looked at this in connection with the industry or if it is something the industry just says, look, we are not going there. If you have a comment?
MR. FAGE: First of all, the environmental segment, again, that is the federal permit that we achieve before a site goes forward and they would grant that one. There is a huge volume of scientific knowledge out there that deals with everything from temperature, current depth of water, type of bottom, and deals with the science of anything being harmful submerged into the water, all those issues.
We, as a provincial department obviously are concerned about that as well. One of the things we do is monitor and inspect aquaculture sites, everything from appearance to mortality has to be brought ashore, buried off site. Last summer we employed a research student to monitor one site so we would even have more information on issues such as how much food on a normal finfish operation is not consumed and may reach the bottom; fecal material, how much of that would reach the bottom, that type of data. We are collecting that as part of information so we can distribute that and use it with the general public of Nova Scotia and aquaculture, themselves.
The federal government is responsible for those permits but, obviously, we are concerned about it as well and we are collecting first-hand knowledge and data and inspecting the sites regularly, every fish site.
MR. MACDONELL: Is this a study that will go on over a number of years, or what is your timeline on gathering information?
MR. FAGE: Probably two parts. Every new aquaculture licence has that monitoring system attached to it, but the actual study and the compiling of those results, the study was last summer, and the results of the monitoring with the student project are being compiled this winter from the data; that is one year, that was last summer.
MR. MACDONELL: Last summer. Is it possible to get a copy when the department has that compiled?
MR. FAGE: Certainly, the data, when it is available, we will make sure you get a copy.
MR. MACDONELL: Thank you. I want to talk a bit about the province's role in the present debate on the Marshall decision, realizing that it is in the gamut of DFO and Indian Affairs and Northern Development both, I think. I know from speaking with one of the chiefs over a year ago, the chief in Millbrook, Lawrence Paul, he had concerns about this past month of March, when those interim agreements would run out. So I am just curious as to where you see your department's role - if I am not mistaken, yesterday, you had mentioned talking with Berndt Christmas, so I just wonder if you have an ongoing dialogue with that community and, if so, what your notion is of how that dialogue is going?
MR. FAGE: I think it is important to put a couple of parameters out there. The entire issue of the Supreme Court finding with the Marshall decision encompasses fishery and a number of other provincial and federal jurisdictions. So it is a crosswork of federal and provincial jurisdictions. I think it's really important for all of us to keep in mind that when an eventual agreement comes under DIANDS it will involve gathering parts of agriculture, parts of natural resources, mines and energy and the fishing industry.
There are a number of shared jurisdictions there and when we get specific with the status of incorporating the Marshall ruling and incorporating the Native community into the commercial fishery, as you are well aware, last year there was temporary allocation issued. When you look at the Native community, we, and I say we collectively, because the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is the lead agency in this province and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries would work in direct partnership with them. So, under most circumstances, there would be representatives from both departments when you would meet on a particular issue so that we are consistent in the province and deal with the Native community fairly and openly.
It cuts down on a lot of, walk in one door, meet one group, walk in another door, and it is frustrating to the Native community if each government department isn't dealing in concert. So we try to make sure that always happens. In regard to the temporary or non-permanent access granted last year, the majority of the Native communities signed that one year agreement. We are at a stage where new interim agreements and allocation for this year were supposed to be in place last week. So, really, the federal government, and I am relying on a report given to me from a ministers' meeting that I was unable to attend with the federal minister last week, but the long and the short of it is the federal minister is prepared to make sure that there is allocation and, hopefully, agreements again this year.
I cannot give you any indication of the size of those temporary allocations other than the minister, in the report, is prepared, if he can, to achieve agreement the same as last year, and impose one.
MR. MACDONELL: I understand the complex nature of those discussions. I guess what I was hoping to hear is that your door is open.
MR. FAGE: Absolutely.
MR. MACDONELL: Even though the majority of discussion will be with the federal government, and I understand the role of Natural Resources, but as long as that community recognizes there is an ear in this government where they can go and look for someone to help continue a dialogue if they feel it gets stalled. That doesn't mean that I am advocating that you be adversarial with the federal government either, in the way they handle the negotiations, but sometimes I find people stake their ground and it makes it difficult to move off it. So as long as there is some reassurance that a genuine dialogue is accepted and welcomed, I think that certainly goes a long way to promote individuals to come and do that.
MR. FAGE: Yes. I should have added that we have extended written invitations to members of the Native community, their leadership, on an ongoing basis. The last time we met was approximately two weeks ago, and another meeting is set up to continue discussions on allocation and access to resources for the Native community, and that door and that invitation is ongoing and always open.
MR. MACDONELL: I am glad to hear that. I will move back to agriculture here. The committee that was raised by the member for Lunenburg West, I think was in a press release from your department, yesterday, you said as soon as you had some names for the committee you would let me know. Today you were mentioning Jonathan Wort, Doug Bacon and Henry Vissers. Is that the committee?
MR. FAGE: Yes, that is the committee the federation named this morning.
MR. MACDONELL: Good.
MR. FAGE: The meeting began at 1:30 p.m. between staff and the federation, today, on how the industry would like to proceed and engage.
MR. MACDONELL: Good. I want to come to a couple of points that were in the Speech from the Throne. I will probably be winding up here in a minute. One is that the speech identifies organic farming when it comes to assistance to farmers. "We will also support the industry by expanding the curriculum at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College to include the emerging fields of life sciences, environmental engineering and biology, organic farming, value-added products, and aquaculture." So this is one that I will give you a "heads up" that I am going to pursue you on. I see this as an area where the province has a lot of growth potential, and as far as bringing new entrants into the agricultural sector it is definitely an area where I would say the marketplace is really driving the agenda. I would say that when it comes to promoting Nova Scotia products - and with your Brand Nova Scotia - if the government saw fit to do labelling for genetically modified products, you would probably see an increase in production that was not that way, but you would see the market really consumed. If you want to make a comment on it?
MR. FAGE: I welcome all the help I can get and appreciate that, honourable member. Certainly, in the issue of GMOs, organic and brand labelling, I think we can probably do something in the area of organic as far as labelling and designation as the industry moves forward and the supply of organically grown produce is there. Obviously, I agree with you. It is an opportunity, and if you are going to promote the opportunity you have to be able to identify it.
MR. MACDONELL: Right. I guess the last thing I will raise is I am assuming the loss provision program and other programs that existed in connection with federal support are still in place? I just wondered if it is possible to find out for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, how many farmers applied to make access to the federal/provincial support program and how many were accepted and what went out in dollars from the province and federally to those individuals, if that is information that we can get?
MR. FAGE: There is no problem and we will certainly make that information available as in numbers rather than the individual person who would have received it. It would be in aggregate numbers, and I did not catch which particular years or which . . .
MR. MACDONELL: Starting in 1998, 1999 and 2000, I do not think there would be a big draw in 2000, but certainly 1998 and 1999 would . . .
MR. FAGE: Yes, and in 2000, I probably should make a comment there. To accommodate under negative margins which was a short-term measure that we supported with the Federation of Agriculture, access to a number, especially pork and vegetable producers, their year end ends up not being the calendar year. So, we will be supporting negative margins on the 2000 year to allow them the same access opportunity for support as farmers whose calendar year ended at the year 2000. Just so you would know that we have made that provision to be able to let them receive the same type of support as farmers who did not have a year end to coincide with the calendar year.
MR. MACDONELL: With that, Mr. Chairman, and minister, I will close my questioning. I want to thank you and the staff and any of those points I raised, if that information could come whenever it is available, I would really appreciate it.
MR. FAGE: I thank you for your questions, and certainly as soon as we have the information we will forward it to you.
MR. MACDONELL: Good, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Now is the time to go back to the Liberal caucus. Any further questions for this minister on Resolution E1?
The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Minister, I am curious. Since January 1, 2001, how many times have you had a face-to-face meeting with the Honourable Herb Dhaliwal?
HON. ERNEST FAGE: What was the honourable member's question? I did not catch the beginning of the period you were asking?
MR. SAMSON: January 1, 2001, so that is January of this year.
MR. FAGE: It would be one time.
MR. SAMSON: Once. When was that?
MR. FAGE: That was March 27th, I believe.
MR. SAMSON: And where was this?
MR. FAGE: That would be at the Boston Prudential Building.
MR. SAMSON: In the year 2000, how many times did you meet with Minister Dhaliwal that year?
MR. FAGE: If you will give me a moment to recollect through the year. If it would be reasonable with the honourable member, I would get back to him with an exact number. I know it is in excess of four, but whether it is five, six, or whatever, I am not sure. So, if the honourable member would allow me the latitude to give an exact accounting, that would be preferred.
MR. SAMSON: And if you could, I would assume that your recollection probably will not be better for 1999 either.
MR. FAGE: In 1999, I would have met with the federal minister, I believe two times. We took office in August and we met in Quebec City and subsequently met in Halifax at least two times, and it may have been three times in 1999, but I can get that exact number for you as well.
MR. SAMSON: How many times have you gone to Ottawa with a delegation to meet with Minister Dhaliwal, that being a community-type delegation from Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: I have never gone to Ottawa under those circumstances.
MR. SAMSON: Okay. Could you tell me how many pounds of snow crab were landed in Nova Scotia last year?
MR. FAGE: If it would please the honourable member, I do not have the exact kilograms. We will get back to you with the exact number of kilograms of snow crab landed in Nova Scotia. Would you also like the exact kilograms of allocation?
MR. SAMSON: Yes. You do not have that in your briefing book?
MR. FAGE: Not at this current time.
MR. SAMSON: But you do have that with your department?
MR. FAGE: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: Could you tell me how many people were employed last year in the processing of crab in Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: Again, we can supply you with those numbers, I do not have the exact figure.
MR. SAMSON: But in your department you do have those figures?
MR. FAGE: We would have the approximate figures. Right now, I think it is important on a number of those issues for factual purposes to point out that the actual accounting from the 19 snow crab processors in Nova Scotia, their employment records, their total amount processed, those numbers are currently being collected by department staff for the previous year. As soon as we have those exact numbers from that survey and audit and the numbers supplied by those 19 processors, then we can give you - hopefully within a half a percentage point - very accurate figures, but they are being compiled at the present time on the current year.
MR. SAMSON: Could the minister tell me how much snow crab was shipped outside of Nova Scotia for processing?
MR. FAGE: We could get those numbers as well. Again, I met with the processors' association. Previous administrations did not keep those types of records and that is part of the audit program under the new buyers and processors licence review that is being assembled. I met with the snow crab processors last December, and for the first time they have agreed to supply the department with accurate numbers so that we can make reasonable, and measured and proper decisions with regard to the number of licences, the capacity with processing facilities, all those issues that are extremely important to maintaining processing facilities on a long-term basis in Nova Scotia and it is exceptionally important to processing facilities in Cape Breton.
When you meet with a number of the co-ops, the plants in the Sydney area, making sure that the investment that is there now has reasonable opportunity and protection is important, and that future opportunities for growth can be protected as well, that is what those local communities really want, they want a stake in the process, as workers in the communities and processors want a degree of comfort. That is why we have initiated the buyers' and processors' licence review program. For the first time, when that review is done, we will have those accurate numbers for you and we will supply them to you.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, how many crab processing plants are there in Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: For the exact number I would have to check the records. Presently, there are 19 processors. Some processors run multiple plants, some run them temporarily in one location or another, and that is the type of information that is going to be correlated in the study, for accuracy.
MR. SAMSON: What is the total shrimp allocation caught by fishermen based here in Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: Again, I would not have those numbers here with me. I certainly would supply them to you.
MR. SAMSON: Could you tell me how much shrimp is processed here in Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: Shrimp is processed here in Nova Scotia at the Seafreez plant. It is processed at Mulgrave, and there is shrimp processing taking place, I believe as well, in Sydney. Again, those exact numbers, for the last year, when the collection of the processor data is turned in we can supply them to you.
MR. SAMSON: Could the minister tell me what the quota allocation was for the New Brunswick fleet that was caught off the shores of Cape Breton last year?
MR. FAGE: We can get those figures for you, but I certainly wouldn't have the allocations at hand here for New Brunswick, P.E.I., or Newfoundland. Those figures are obtainable from the federal government, and certainly we will make that request of the federal government to make those figures available for you.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, with all due respect, I know how to get those figures myself, but I find it disturbing that you don't have them. I am not the minister; I am the member. I raise that with you in the hope that you will get those numbers for yourself. I have a good idea of what the numbers are, and I could certainly get them on my own. What troubles me is that you don't have those numbers. It goes to my argument that there are serious issues out there which aren't being dealt with because of the fact that you don't have these numbers and they are not readily at hand for you to be able to use, and to know exactly how much crab is caught here, how much is processed, how much is shipped out, how much shrimp is caught here compared to other areas, it is unfortunate you don't know that.
Could you indicate to me how many community organizations in Nova Scotia currently have been allocated quota?
MR. FAGE: I would like to answer your first question. Again, I am certainly pleased that you are able to contact the federal government and get the allocations, so you understand and know what they are. Secondly, the allocation or the volumes that have been caught in the
last year, again I reiterate for your understanding, for the first time we are getting accurate figures instead of estimations. Those accurate figures, the processors have agreed to supply them to us. Those numbers are being collected, and when they are compiled by the department, then we can issue them to you.
MR. SAMSON: Rather than getting into the specific amount of quota, could you tell me the total number of organizations? You indicated earlier, when I criticized you for not being in contact enough with the organizations throughout this province, and your colleagues were quick to come to your defence when clearly there was no defence, so I ask you today, could you give me the names of the organizations in this province that you are aware of that currently have allocations - I am not asking you numbers, I don't need specifics - could you tell me the names of the different community groups and organizations in Nova Scotia that have been granted some form of quota allocation by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?
MR. FAGE: Certainly, there is no problem supplying those individual names to you. In Nova Scotia there are approximately 82 fisheries organizations that have allocations. We can supply you with a list of the names that those organizations represent, and provide the types of TRQs and the quota allocations that would be allocated to those different groups.
MR. SAMSON: Could you tell me right now how many of these organizations are working through your department and you are supporting that have current requests with DFO for allocations? Could you tell me how many you have been supporting personally?
MR. FAGE: I think the question is one that bears careful consideration. Obviously the honourable member knows that each and every community may have individual requests that do not comply with the overall strategy of other fisheries organizations or other communities and allocations. What I as a minister and my staff do is we meet with individual fishing organizations and individual fishermen that would want a particular action to take place with the federal government. We would discuss the issue and if it is consistent with the policy of the department, and what we and the industry feels is the overall good of the fishing industry, then we would support that request and put forward a request to the federal department, DFO, or the agency involved. We would evaluate them as individual requests, based against the overall good of the industry and what the overall objectives of the industry are.
I think it is really important to re-emphasize that this is a vastly diverse industry here in Nova Scotia. When you look at the types and varieties of species that are harvested here, and the types and objectives of the different groups, it is one of balance, because whether it is the scallop fishery, inshore, in restricted company zones, or whether it is the offshore, all the variety of harvest methods, or whether it is aquaculture, or whether it is the shellfish industry and all the different related venues there, it is a complex question.
I think the best way I can answer it is we meet when we have a request. We are proactive with groups, everything from quality control programs to best practice of handling and support of marketing initiatives, any host, we are there to support the producers and fishermen in their discussions with Ottawa. The support is coming and the intervention is there, if it is consistent with the overall objective of the entire fishing community.
MR. SAMSON: Could the minister indicate to me the total number of permits in Nova Scotia granted by DFO in regard to being permitted to fish for shrimp using traps? I have spoken to the minister two consecutive years at estimates, encouraging him to pursue this as an environmental means of fishing shrimp, a means of allowing inshore fishermen to have more access and different resources, to avoid dependence on employment insurance. I know the minister was very committed to looking into this issue when I raised it with him two years ago, so I am just curious if he could tell me what is the total amount of permits that currently exist in this province for trap fishery and shrimp?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. It is a very good question and I think it is very important to point out that it was through the efforts and sponsorship in sponsoring fishermen that the trap fishery was developed here in Nova Scotia. It offered another opportunity for inshore fishers to diversify and be involved in a fishery that really supports coastal communities. I think a prime example of that, as the member would know, would be an area such as Canso, and the efforts of that particular co-op there, as well as individual fishermen involved in that entire area there to diversify and allow them an opportunity not only to lengthen the season, but to increase their economic viability with that diversification of another species. The exact number of traps in the water in any given year, or the licence holders, I don't have that definitive number with me, but it would certainly be my pleasure to supply that to the honourable member.
MR. SAMSON: I know that the minister takes this issue very seriously and he is a big supporter of this new form of fishing shrimp. I wonder if the minister could tell us how big these traps are?
MR. FAGE: Again, I think the important thing is the development of the technology and certainly, suffice it to say, that the trap is of sufficient size to allow a shrimp in.
MR. SAMSON: That was a diplomatic way of saying I have absolutely no idea, Mr. Chairman, and it is sad, it really is, when you look at this two years in a row. If the member for Pictou West is wondering why I am getting upset with the minister, here is just one other example. The fact this his colleague for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury, on the government benches, is in one of the areas that has been growing this industry and the idea that the minister, who has consulted, has absolutely no idea when I talk about a trap, what this looks like, what it is made of, what size it is, what the method of using it is, and why we say it is environmental. It really hits home on my whole questioning of the minister and his understanding of the industry and the fact that he has no idea how this works.
Mr. Minister, in speaking of the revenues in aquaculture, in 1998 I believe the total revenues were in the range of $26 million or $27 million. In 1999, that reached $52 million. It was a 52 per cent increase in aquaculture. (Interruption) It wasn't that? Okay.
MR. FAGE: It was $36 million or $37 million in that year. The current year, the estimate is to be approximately $47 million to $50 million in this year, the actual numbers are in.
MR. SAMSON: Could the minister explain where that increase is coming from?
MR. FAGE: The increase is coming from a variety of areas. First of all, sea plants obviously contribute to that, or marine plants. Secondly, finfish, salmonoid, there has been an increase in their numbers, certainly the shellfish, oysters, clams, those types of areas. It has been spread across the whole gamut of those issues and it is really important to point out that there is a very diverse aquaculture industry here in Nova Scotia. We have some real promise with other species like halibut, as the technology appears and science is perfected. We have several sites where they will be coming out of the water very shortly and on to the market and offer a whole new opportunity of species venue to supply markets on the eastern seaboard.
MR. SAMSON: What, Mr. Minister, within the last three years, have been the numbers for the revenues from the finfish aquaculture industry in this province?
MR. FAGE: We can supply you with those exact details. I wouldn't want to hazard a guess. We would sooner supply you with precise figures and we will supply those for you.
MR. SAMSON: Is the minister familiar with what the total sales have been of the Scotia Rainbow operation since it opened?
MR. FAGE: I have certainly been apprised of that file and have dealt with the file since becoming minister in August 1999. The last couple of years, obviously, we would look at figures in relationship to what sales were. Certainly, I guess I would strongly emphasize, and I know it is in the member's riding, that we certainly want to see the operation continue. I think it has been extremely good for the community you represent and it has been a big part of the aquaculture industry in this province, as a percentage. You look at just a single contract of $20 million that was associated with the Japanese buyer. It has been a significant force and certainly, as we work through its problems, we want to see it continue to be a significant force. Even with its problems in this year, obviously those millions of dollars that it has put into the local economy are important. I would want to reassure the member, with receivers and other people involved, and other government departments, we are doing what we can to ensure that it remains there for the future.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I can't tell you enough how I appreciate hearing that from the minister. It gives me comfort in one sense, but I know for the people back home whose jobs are on the line, the businesses and everything that have relied on this, who have heard absolutely nothing from your government, either yourself, your colleague, the Minister of Economic Development or others who are involved with this, that has been one of their main concerns, where is the province? Why are they not showing that they do support or that they are interested?
So I have a few questions on that. I am curious, is the minister aware, we know that the plant is in receivership and is being operated by Ernst & Young, is the minister aware of any proposals currently being examined for the purchase of the company?
MR. FAGE: I guess many of my comments will be prefaced because it is in the legal hands of the receiver and they are conducting their discussions with a proponent that they have accepted their offer. So I am certainly very apprised of the file. I am aware of no irregularities or holdups in the discussion that is occurring with the receiver and the proponent who has been successful. I believe the legalities of it were sorted out a couple of months ago and that that process is proceeding normally. That would be my comment. I apologize if they are being a little guarded, but I am not of the legal frame as my honourable colleague is doing the questioning, so I am being a little careful.
MR. SAMSON: And I appreciate that. Could the minister indicate if the deal has closed?
MR. FAGE: Again, it is my understanding, of the most recent update on the file last week, that it is proceeding as the receiver would proceed in dealing with a proponent and there are no irregular problems that I am aware of in my briefing and that course is proceeding as it normally would.
MR. SAMSON: With all due respect, Mr. Minister, I hope you are right, but all of the opinions I have received is that there is a problem here. Unfortunately, this deal, the last court date was back in October you will recall when Ernst & Young indicated that they were accepting the offer from Shur-Gain to purchase the assets. That was in October 2000; we have now reached April 2001 and the deal hasn't closed yet. I would humbly submit to you, Mr. Minister, that it is not normal that the process is taking this long, and, on top of that, we are now at the stage where timing is a serious factor in that fish need to be moved. They need to be fed and there needs to be work done before there is a risk of permanent damage or that the stock is not prepared when it needs to be prepared.
So I am wondering if you will make some further investigation on this file because I don't believe things are proceeding normally. The community is getting extremely concerned about the fact that the deal has not closed. Ernst &Young remain as the operators at the facility and it is causing a great deal of concern in the community.
MR. FAGE: The member is certainly very correct in his remarks concerning when anything is unsettled and there is uncertainty about something's future, it does cause a lot of concern and worry in the community, but I would assure the member that as late as last week the proponent is doing their due diligence and the receiver is doing their proper job of running the facility and working through the due diligence required by the proponent, and that process is ongoing which is, as you would know, their legal right and proper to do. That is probably as strong as I can comment.
MR. SAMSON: Well, I am pleased to hear the minister say that and I would go one step further in asking if the minister would be prepared to put those very comments in the form of a release to be issued, so that the community can be aware of your comments and that it is your position that the process is being followed and that things are proceeding normally; I believe it will go a long way to alleviate the fears that are out there. While I certainly don't expect you to get into any of the legal aspects of this, I think basically putting on paper your exact comments, that you feel the process is working and that you have been updated on it and that things are proceeding as expected and that you are pleased with the process, I think that would go a long way in addressing the fears there are in the community.
So I am curious if the minister will accept my request and be prepared to issue a release, as the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, indicating that the process is going in due course and is proceeding favourably?
MR. FAGE: Again, I am not prepared, nor would I want to do the job of the receiver and be the one speaking on their behalf, so I would decline the member's request of doing a public announcement in that regard. The honourable member has asked in the testimony here to give an update, and I certainly am prepared to do that and have done that with as much information as I can release. I certainly feel the receiver has his responsibilities and I am not prepared to be reporting for the receiver.
MR. SAMSON: It is unfortunate. I certainly wasn't asking the minister to do the receiver's job, but simply to indicate as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, considering his interest in this industry and his interest in seeing this company survive, that he would put out a statement just indicating that the process is going well. I certainly wouldn't expect him to get involved in Ernst & Young's business. I know the minister is keeping a very close eye on this file, so I am curious if the minister could tell us who at Ernst & Young is responsible for the file of Scotia Rainbow?
MR. FAGE: Could you ask the question again? There was chatter at the back . . .
MR. SAMSON: Do you know who is the person at Ernst & Young who has been named responsible for the sale of the assets of Scotia Rainbow?
MR. FAGE: I couldn't supply you with that name at all. We are not responsible for that and the receiver is the one. Certainly staff people would be in contact with that particular file, but I am not aware of who the individual is; not at all, honourable member.
MR. SAMSON: Well, I have to tell you that I find that very saddening, Mr. Minister, that while your words show your interest, you have no idea who is even running the file. As the minister responsible for a company of this size, I certainly wouldn't expect the minister to be on a first-name basis with everyone who works for Ernst & Young who has worked for the province, but I think in this case it is a bit of an exceptional situation considering the public investment and the potential for the company and its impact on the community, and the fact that you do not know who was running that file causes me great concern.
It really fits back into the community's concern that your government has taken a hands-off approach to this. You have basically left everything in the hands of Ernst & Young. Unfortunately, we have seen from their history at Sydney Steel with Devco, and now with Scotia Rainbow, that that doesn't appear to be in the best interest of the people of Nova Scotia, that your government take a hands-off approach and leave that completely in the hands of the receiver without wishing to get involved in that. It hasn't been successful in those two other occasions and there is a great deal of fear.
I certainly hope I am wrong, I want to assure the minister of that. I hope I am really wrong, but there is great concern there. Again, knowing how interested and how involved the minister is with this file, I am curious, could he inform me how many meetings he has held with Shur-Gain to discuss their proposal and their intentions of what they see as the future of this company and of this important aspect of the aquaculture industry?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. Being a layperson, I guess the only thing that astounds me a bit about your comments is that I would assume that the legal training that you have taken certainly would have given you some knowledge and insight. Certainly, regulation and law dealing with receiverships and regulations and how that procedure unfolds would definitely be taken into account by any prudent Minister of the Crown.
MR. SAMSON: Well, that was quite an amusing answer, Mr. Minister, and I think your government's understanding of receivership is reflected in the success that you have had with receivership in this province, which has been a complete failure. Once again, knowing the interest of the public with these files, the idea that you would argue that receivership is an escape for you not to get involved and have no idea, and I take it from your answer that you have not met with anyone at Shur-Gain as a Minister of Fisheries, that is once again extremely disturbing and it shows that, in many ways, you are just as committed to this as you are to the shrimp trap fishery in this province by having absolutely no idea what a shrimp trap even looks like.
Mr. Minister, back on the issue of aquaculture leases and licences, can you indicate to me how many applications were received last year for aquaculture leases and licences?
MR. FAGE: The exact number, we certainly don't mind forwarding that to you. In the venue of applications and discussions, we probably would want clarification, if you wanted the exact number of inquiries. If we could supply that, the number of phone requests or actual applications filled out, if you could give us a little more detail there we will do our best to give you those exact numbers. Of course, because of confidentiality of the clients we deal with, we obviously can't supply you with the individual names, but overall numbers are certainly no problem at all, honourable member.
MR. SAMSON: Just a problem for here in estimates I guess. I do hope that your department, in all the cuts, has at least kept a couple of vehicles so that your staff might be assisted in providing you with all the documentation. I find it extremely disturbing that you would come before us today with absolutely no specific numbers to present to us to justify what you have been doing, and the fact that we are left with mere platitudes here and you have absolutely no numbers to back up what you have been doing.
So I am going to ask you an easy one this time, Mr. Minister. How many staff work for Agriculture and Fisheries?
MR. FAGE: There are 510.
MR. SAMSON: Good answer, 510. Out of those 510, could you tell me how many deal directly with the licence applications for aquaculture leases?
MR. FAGE: We have a number of employees who would deal with anybody applying for an application; there is a department that deals with the application. As well, we have a number of regional fish representatives around the province, as you would know, and so those particular people would also play a role in bringing forward those applications. The exact number of department lists of people who would have contact, from fish reps to inspectors who would be part of the process, would be 51.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, I think one of the main frustrations of the industry there is the fact that there is not enough staff, and that is not a slight against your staff. I know Leo Muise, I believe he is still with your department dealing with agriculture. Leo is a trouper to say the least, but the unfortunate thing was Leo was only one person and it is too bad we could not have cloned him and had more like him who were that determined to try to address the issues and the frustrations that came along with it.
MR. FAGE: I agree with you.
MR. SAMSON: Yes, well, I am glad to hear that. I guess on Leo's behalf and the industry's behalf, I would encourage the minister to put more resources towards this. I know that Ottawa is to blame, or I should not say blame but holds a lot of responsibility for some of the regulatory red tape that exists there. I don't know if your Red Tape Reduction Task Force had the opportunity to look at the red tape in your department which comes with licence applications for leases, but clearly that is one of them and I cannot encourage you enough to put more staff there because this is a tremendously potential industry for our province, and I have got to tell you, when you look at New Brunswick and P.E.I., we are way behind. We are not even close to where they are and in many ways it is because of that red tape. It needs to be addressed and it needs to be sped up, while at the same time respecting the concerns of the communities and making sure the proper environmental work is done.
Mr. Minister, I will just wrap up on an issue. I want to go again on the issue of shrimp just before I finish. As I stated before, this is the third time I have spoken to the minister with these concerns and I know it is a very serious issue for him. One of the issues that has been a frustration to the inshore fishermen, especially around Richmond County, is that right now - as the minister I am sure is aware - there is a line that stops draggers from being able to come in close to shore and what has happened, especially with the trap fisheries, many of the inshore fishermen feel that if they had the activity of the draggers closer to shore this might stir up a bit more shrimp and maybe help with their increases; in fact even just outside the mouth of the harbour is another area where they would like to see this.
I am wondering what representations - because I have raised this a number of times with the minister - has he made to the federal government to try to get that line removed so that the draggers would be allowed to come basically right up to the harbour, that there would be no line, and that they would be allowed to fish around this area to kind of stir up the activity and help the shrimp trap ones and try to get higher catches for them and make it a more viable industry?
MR. FAGE: I certainly thank the member for his question, and obviously the member himself is very well versed in how problematic it is dealing with the present federal government on issues such as this, and certainly coming from a fishing and family background involved in the fishing you can see the rightness of the policy. The particular issue on moving zone line boundaries, allowing a certain type of gear to be employed in one area of the offshore fishery, or the ocean, certainly is an area that staffing and department would have consultations with the federal government on.
It appears, as you stated earlier, that the frustration and the amount of time that one would spend in dealing, as you said it is purely a federal jurisdiction, commenting on urging and prodding, advocating on behalf of the industry takes a lot of time and it is a very important role at the end of the day that the department and the minister deal with those issues and help the commercial fishery and communities address them.
This particular one that you have raised in regard to the shrimp fishery is very typical of the provincial department putting a lot of discussion and time and effort in with the industry, and a situation that has been there for a number of years, but for a variety of reasons that never sound as strong as the arguments for why they should be moved at times, the federal government chooses to impose those type of boundaries and restrictions around them, and I certainly see no fault with the observations that you make in regard to how it would improve opportunity for local fishermen.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, will you make a commitment today to support the efforts and make representations to DFO on behalf of the inshore fishermen, that there not be a line imposed, that they would be allowed to fish throughout the entire area, even right up into the harbour, like in Arichat for example, and that they would be permitted there to try to stir things up and, hopefully, get more shrimp moving and that would benefit the draggers. So will the minister commit today to supporting those efforts and make sure the next time he speaks with Mr. Dhaliwal that he would raise this and try to support that?
MR. FAGE: I certainly have no problem representing the interests of the fishermen, but certainly the commitment I would make is to ensure that the industry in Arichat and other communities, all segments of the fishing industry, are in support of the effort. Certainly if they are in support of the effort, we will go through the process again.
MR. SAMSON: I appreciate that answer but, you know, as I am sure the minister recalls, this is the third time I have raised it. It is not a new concern and, again, I know how close he has been addressing the issue of the shrimp fishery here. So I guess I would just like to hear today, to be able to go back and say that you have made a clear commitment, this being the third time that I have had the opportunity to discuss this with you, and you have been supportive each time, but what I would like to see today is a clear commitment from you that this is the right thing to do and that you will support their efforts in trying to lobby DFO to make the necessary changes.
MR. FAGE: There is no question, I think it would be very prudent for you to return to the area, ask them to draft the options that they would want me as Minister of Fisheries to engage the federal minister on, and deal directly with me, and my staff, and certainly would want correspondence in regard to the specifics of the request to the federal minister, but I think the first step and the most important step is for those people in the industry involved to renew that request directly and we will proceed with it, honourable member.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the minister's very detailed comments on that, but I would remind him that if he had gone through the estimates for the past two years, the issue, in fact, was that the local inshore fishermen have been lobbying DFO and your department - and the member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury would be familiar with this - to impose an eight-to-ten mile line jurisdiction to keep draggers outside of inshore
waters in Nova Scotia to allow for the growth of the shrimp trap fishery. In fact, they do not want them inside harbours or anywhere near, but would like to see them ten miles out.
As I told you two years ago, the New Brunswick fleet is restricted, I believe it is either 12 or 15 miles that they are not permitted to come in due to the size of their vessels. It was an initiative which we brought forward to DFO and that I have raised with you two years in a row and it is great to see that you have been working hard on that initiative to represent the inshore fishermen of Cape Breton County, Richmond County, and Guysborough County.
I think it is the proper way to wrap up my questioning of Fisheries and it really gives an accurate reflection of the great job and commitment that the minister has shown to the department. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. FAGE: I want to thank the honourable member again for his questions; they were certainly insightful. Next year I will bring along my measuring tape as well, so I will be able to get him to measure some dimensions for us.
I would only want to comment on the last question by the member. I think it is extremely important that the member realize that it would be prudent for that request to be brought forward in writing on a yearly basis. Representation to the federal government and provincial government needs to come directly from the fishermen and the communities involved, and certainly those requests are prudent and obviously the concerns are just and we are looking for opportunities for fishermen in every community in Nova Scotia. Proper documentation and requests certainly go a long way when you are making representations to another level of government on the request. That particular form is the way to do those things.
I want to thank the honourable member for his questions and I did my best to answer them.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, what I would suggest to the minister, a quick way of better understanding the proposal is maybe get his staff to get for him the estimates debate for 1999 and 2000. I would have thought you would have at least been briefed through those just to make yourself aware of what type of questioning would come, how the Opposition would look for commitments as to the concerns that they had raised over a year ago, but obviously the minister was much too busy to do that and it is really unfortunate and, again, really displays how the community organizations throughout this province that are fighting to try to make a better Nova Scotia, especially through the areas of fisheries, are not receiving the support of this minister.
It is extremely unfortunate that when members of the House bring these concerns forward on their behalf that they are then told to go back and make a presentation and get them to write something up and, in the interim, absolutely no action is taken by the minister on those issues. It is extremely unfortunate and while we have a lot to be proud about in our fishing industry in this province, there is a hell of a lot of opportunity that we are watching go by and that other provinces around us are taking advantage of and, in the eyes of most Nova Scotians, making a fool of us.
With that, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will pass to my colleague for Lunenburg West.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, again I want to thank the member for his comments. Obviously, when the member has an opportunity to discuss with his local community their concerns, bringing forward written requests rather than verbal interpretations make it much easier to deal with the matter in a more forthright request on behalf of the industry to the federal government that is the only request I am asking for.
The issue is important. It has been noted in other years, and discussions occur at our First Ministers' meetings and other meetings with the industry, but again I would try to impress upon the member, a written request from the group helps activate, invigorate and it is a request from the people involved and not one involving people's interpretations.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe that the NDP have no further questions at this time so I will pass it back to the member for Lunenburg West. The time is now 5:16 p.m.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Minister, with three very important portfolios, you are very busy. Can you inform us approximately how many hours - and I realize that when I had three or four portfolios how limited your time is in each portfolio - can you tell us how many hours you spend roughly on Agriculture a week and how many hours on Fisheries a week and Natural Resources a week? You can exclude Natural Resources, because it is not part of the debate here, if you want to.
HON. ERNEST FAGE: I have never given it much consideration of the division in those terms, so I guess the most forthright answer I could supply to the member is that the hours that I perform my duties as a Minister of the Crown are mostly devoted to executing the duties surrounding those departments.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, did you read your briefing book before you came to this session today?
MR. CHAIRMAN: There was a question.
MR. FAGE: I did not understand the question, or did not hear it properly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could I ask the honourable member to repeat the question, or clarify the question for him?
MR. DOWNE: I wondered, had the minister read his briefing book before coming here today?
MR. FAGE: Certainly the minister has read his briefing book on a number of the issues and hopefully the majority of them have been involved in operating the department and have a working knowledge of the issues involved in the book.
MR. DOWNE: I was just asking the question in light of the previous questioning, minister just to get a clarification, that maybe you are just so busy.
I would like to move on to the ADI program and I understand that we have now chosen, due to the leadership of the farm community, a staff person to look after ADI. If I recall correctly, last year after you gutted the Department of Agriculture - 99 jobs of the Production Division - the cry from the farm community about having established some program to be able to provide on-the-ground service delivery to farmers, the program ADI was brought forward with the direction of the farm community, Elspeth McLean-Wile, Peter Clarke and other members. At that time, a question was asked of you in the annual meeting. There was $2.2 million allocated last year to that particular budget line, to the industry, and you made a comment that that would be there for three subsequent years. Has there been any change to the $2.2 million per year for three years?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question and as I pointed out at the federation meeting, the commitment was there years into the future. As the honourable member realizes, being a former Minister of the Crown, budgets are reallocated each year. The commitment to the industry from the government is that the $2.2 million will be there in subsequent years. It was there last year, it will be there this year, and we are looking at that commitment as a minimum will be there in the coming years. Under the process, all I can do is acknowledge the commitment.
MR. DOWNE: It seems to me you made the commitment for a minimum of three years, either in the Legislature, the House, or in this debate here, but there was a commitment for three years. I assume you will live up to that three years and hopefully go beyond that, with some growth. The question that was also asked of you is in the event that we don't spend all of the $2.2 million, which was pretty evident at the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture's annual meeting, in light of the fact that the executive director or chief executive officer had not been chosen yet - and it is a big task to find somebody - what are you going to do with the money? My question to you, Mr. Minister, is, can you explain in detail where the $2.2 million went?
MR. FAGE: The allocation last year in the budget of $2.2 million for alternative service delivery, obviously with ADI taking a number of months - as we all knew it would - to get up, hire its people, get a service and consult the industry, much of that money was allocated for transition so that services were not lost to the agricultural community in the year of transition, service delivery by ADI. ADI, right now, if I can go on just a bit, have hired Dale Kelly as their executive director, and with the approval of the board they are in the interviewing and hiring process of eight more individuals for that institute.
Again this year we made the commitment to the industry that the transition will be in place as well this year, until they are up and running, honourable member. The dollars were spent on programming through the transition, taking out of the $2.2 million, because that is where the money was intended for those services, and some allocation to ADI. The exact budgetary numbers for how those funds were disbursed to individual programs, we can supply that to you.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, you have your senior staff here, the allocation of that $2.2 million, that is what we are here to talk about, where the money went, can you be a little more specific than that? I think they probably have that information.
MR. FAGE: I apologize, the staff does not have those numbers, where the actual amounts were spent. We can supply those to you. I can assure you amounts that were not spent on programming, if there is excess, will be transferred to the ADI program.
MR. DOWNE: If I understand correctly - I have a problem with hearing - out of the $2.2 million - and you are going to give a detailed breakdown - other than money that was earmarked for that ADI program, any diversion of those funds for any purpose other than specifically ADI, are you going to replenish those funds on top of the $2.2 million committed this year?
MR. FAGE: What we are talking about is last year's, and $2.2 million is set aside for those services, alternative service delivery. ADI was not up and running and able to access the funds. The industry needed services supplied to them. The transitional funding, obviously because it is the same service, was allocated through regular department budgets drawing on those funds, so that services were allocated. The Agricultural Development Institute operated as of February 1st this year.
What we are talking about, again, is last year's funds. Those were under the direction of the department and were allocated to individual projects and services. An example, an easy one would be, if it was an inspection service then that inspection service for that industry was carried out and certified; if it was a test - I am thinking of one like the beef test station or those types of trials - then staff was retained and that service was provided to the industry to run that program. That was the allocation to ensure that there was no disconnect in the service delivery last year.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I appreciate you don't want to lose the $2.2 million, but basically the $2.2 million became a slush fund for you to do with as you wished in other parts of the department?
MR. FAGE: I apologize, I didn't hear the honourable member's question.
MR. DOWNE: You mentioned, out of the $2.2 million, that it went to services. So it formed a slush fund for you within the department to spend it where you wanted to spend it?
MR. FAGE: No. The services were ones requested by the farming community . . .
MR. DOWNE: Through that body, that was the corporate body?
MR. FAGE: Again, ADI was not up and running . . .
MR. DOWNE: No, but the committee was up and running. Did those recommendations come from the committee, like Peter Clarke, or did . . .
MR. FAGE: Yes, those recommendations would have come . . .
MR. DOWNE: Through the committee, where to spend the $2.2 million . . .
MR. FAGE: The $2.2 million, again, was expended on services for the agricultural community in every field of discipline . . .
MR. DOWNE: And that was under Peter Clarke's direction, or the committee's?
MR. FAGE: They would have suggested the service that would have been there in a previous year and we would have supplied that service through transitional staff and transitional funding. What we committed to ADI and the industry is of the $2.2 million - the exact accounting is being confirmed at this point - if there are, and there will be, excess funds of that $2.2 million of last year, that will be allocated directly to ADI, the surplus.
MR. DOWNE: That is what I understood was said back at the Federation of Agriculture meeting, but that is not what you said a minute ago. But I am glad you clarified it because the impression we got was that you spent the money in other areas, service delivery, different services in the department, so . . .
MR. FAGE: I apologize if the terminology was . . .
MR. DOWNE: So we are going to get a detailed list, and every one of them have been approved and directed and supported by Peter Clarke and his committee, every single expenditure?
MR. FAGE: I would qualify that to the extent, honourable member, that the committee for ADI was not in place until mid-summer. A number of services were identified by the Federation of Agriculture that had to be carried out in the spring season and those would have been allocated similarly.
MR. DOWNE: I remember the discussion at the Federation of Agriculture annual meeting. So, staff will provide to me the monies that were allocated and directed by the federation of the $2.2 million, the funds that were directed and allocated from ADI, from the summer on, and the residual balance of the $2.2 million, and how you have been able to bring that forward to the new ADI. So, ADI's $2.2 million could be $2.8 million, it could be $2.9 million, it could be $3.1 million, or whatever that figure is, whatever it is it could be more?
MR. FAGE: They will have their $2.2 million allocation in the budget this year, plus the start-up money which will come from this budget here.
MR. DOWNE: How do you bring forward money if it has not been allocated under the GAAP?
MR. CHAIRMAN: While we have this short moment here, we have about a half an hour left in our time today.
MR. FAGE: I apologize for the delay in answering, I just wanted to be absolutely certain on the question. ADI, again, is independent of government, I think that is important, as a board, the allocation, once the accounting is finished, a cheque will be drawn and issued to ADI and it will be done before the official closing, or the closing at the end of April, of the previous year's books.
MR. DOWNE: March 31st is year end for government. How can you write a cheque in April for the past year? It seems to me the Auditor General wouldn't support that.
MR. FAGE: The reason I am supplied with is the commitment was made to ADI before March 31st.
MR. DOWNE: Is there a written obligation for that?
MR. FAGE: I am told there is.
MR. DOWNE: Could I have a copy of that written obligation?
MR. FAGE: Yes.
MR. DOWNE: I am happy to see that you are able to do it. I support that, I just want to make sure it is done right. The last thing you want is to have the Auditor General come down and say there has been a breech of some sort of technical thing, and all of a sudden the farm community loses that money because of some change in GAAP, that's all. We understand, Mr. Minister, you are going to provide me information on the $2.2 million for the federation's direction of how it was spent, specifically with ADI money; Peter Clarke's group and how it was allocated, the residual that is left over, how that has been allocated to this fiscal year we are currently in right now, to top off the $2.2 million allocated to ADI.
In ADI, we used to have, under the production division, around 90-some individuals. We are now going to have eight specialists - from 99 to 8.
MR. FAGE: Again, ADI is independent of government. It is a producer-controlled organization with the majority being there. The Province of Nova Scotia and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will allocate funds for delivery of services and the ADI board will instruct or approve, under the direction of their executive director and his staff, the number of staff they feel they require. I certainly cannot judge or offer opinions on whether they judge what number is sufficient. What I think is critical is that the industry and the board have identified, through extensive consultations with the industry, what services they require. It is up to them to determine the degree of staff level they need on an ongoing basis or on a term basis to be able to deliver those services.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, as I understand it, I assume there will be administrative staff involved with that. The bottom line is you are the single shareholder of ADI, you are the minister responsible, you are the shareholder, you own that company, you are responsible for that company, and the board of directors directing the activity of ADI are all very qualified and highly regarded and I deeply respect them all but, at the same time, you are the shareholder, you are responsible. I am asking you simple questions about ADI, that you are ultimately responsible for. They will be taking some direction, I am sure. Am I correct on that?
MR. FAGE: Again, I certainly wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that as minister I am outwardly responsible for the budget allocation each year, obviously I don't think you are suggesting that I, as minister, would be dictating the direction and circumventing the input of those five individuals who are on there. As you stated, they are colleagues of both of us and are extremely competent people who, as long as I am minister, I would take their view as, obviously, I would want them to have the full prerogative to run on behalf of the industry what they view as the right mix of services, employments and the
opportunities that they can deliver to the farm community. Certainly, I wouldn't be strong-arming them in any way. I wouldn't want to leave you with that impression.
MR. DOWNE: I don't have that impression at all, Mr. Minister, but you are ultimately the minister responsible. The buck stops with you at the end of day, how things are run. My 100-plus per cent support is to the board because they are all capable people. I think it would be a matter of a co-operative approach between the minister and the farmers who are on that, or the board. That is how I envision it, I don't see a problem with that. You must not hear me correctly or something, but I am not trying to say that you are going to dictate anything.
I will ask one question, realizing maybe it needs more staff and it's limited to the number of dollars it has to work with and so on and so forth, if ADI were to come forward with a proposal for user fees to farmers would you or would you not support that?
MR. FAGE: Again, hypothetical questions are unbelievably hard to give a direct answer to. I would simply say I would have to see the specific issue before I would pass my opinion on what's going on. Obviously, with this group of esteemed individuals who I have the fullest confidence in and who would be supportive of that executive director and the staff, they would be the ones who would make the decision on what proposals are coming forward or not coming forward. I wouldn't even hazard an opinion until I had seen a specific proposal because they are the ones making the decisions.
MR. DOWNE: When you give an answer like that, I can interpret that you are not saying no and you are not saying yes. It's like the individual who says I am going with my gut feeling, and it's maybe. The reality here is that if a proposal goes forward that you think is justifiable, then you would support user fees, if you didn't feel it was justifiable, you would circumvent their direction and not implement user fees.
MR. FAGE: Again, this board is majorly controlled by the farm community and representatives there, and I have a huge amount of respect for their judgment. I would respect that particular board's viewpoint and judgment. I am not there to strong-arm the board, as was stated previously. I think it is extremely important that the board is the one comes up with the policies on how services will be delivered to the agricultural community, what services they are and the conditions they would see fit to deliver them. I am in no way prepared to be dictating to the board.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, the way the budget is set up, we have Agriculture and Fisheries together, two very important sectors of the economy, it's hard to tell where dollars are going. A prime example of that is we understand that about $0.5 million has been spent in transition money out of the $2.2 million. It is very difficult to know, in marketing for example, how many dollars on the marketing side has gone to Agriculture and how much, specifically, to Aquaculture and Fisheries.
I realize you were down to Boston, and I support your going to those initiatives, those are great programs to promote Nova Scotia - a Taste of Nova Scotia. I have indicated to you in writing that I supported that initiative, it's a good way to promote our product in Fisheries, but it is also a good way to do Agriculture. I think there might be a clearing at some point that will have an idea of how those dollars are actually allocated, not that they would be wrong, I would just like to know for information sake, and maybe you have them there.
MR. FAGE: Obviously, part of the synergies of combining the two departments and certainly the disparity between two departments and a single budget estimate coming forward this year make it hard to analyze the numbers and acknowledge that, and it is just very hard to get any way around it; you have to get that initial year in. Certainly, as a department, we view the marketing and promotion of food and food products as one that is complementary, and as you have alluded to there, opportunities, whether it is Boston or whether it is cans in Montreal, all those issues, and the same retail chains, in many cases the same buyers and retailers you are dealing with in your market promotion, going to branded product in Nova Scotia will apply equally well to an agricultural product as a fish product.
So the emphasis will be on marketing food products and that will break down into individual categories that would be related to growth opportunities for each commodity. The actual accounting of the dollars that are expended, I think, in general terms, we will be able to do that, but the division of marketers time and certain individuals, that allocation will be problematic. They will be staffed, but individual products, individual programs or projects, honourable member, we will break them out. We weren't looking to break staff commitment and time out.
MR. DOWNE: I have a lot of faith in the staff at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the joint staff, your deputy and senior staff. I know that it will be handled properly, I have no question about that. I just think if there is any way to keep some sort of a record for awhile - because I think farmers are going to want to know if those dollars are invested.
I want to move to another subject matter. Ottawa has offered $4.4 million in additional money, basically for the Safety Net Program. The federal minister has said that this is designed specifically to help hard-pressed farmers in this province. The federal government wants that money in the pockets of farmers by the end of April. That is not that far away. I understand that the province has to come into a matching program to get that - 40 per cent of those dollars have to be matched by the provincial government, approximately $2.8 million. My question to you, Mr. Minister, I can't find it anywhere in your estimates, where is the $2.8 million that you need to get to be able to get $4.4 million from Ottawa to go into the pockets of farmers who are needing it right now?
MR. FAGE: That is an excellent question, honourable member. The same federal minister wanted that money in the pockets of Nova Scotia farmers by March 31st. We would have very dearly desired to have it in the pockets of our farmers, and made representation to
the federal minister who wanted that. The problem is in dealing with the staff under the federal minister. First of all, they have to agree on what dollars are eligible for the 40 per cent because we are dealing with the last budgetary year and the program was announced March 1st.
So we are in discussions with federal officials on two specific issues - what dollars were expended 100 per cent by the provincial government in the fiscal year ending March 31st, would be acceptable on the 40 per cent or the $40 out of $100 and the amount of new money. Once you have that, then you know the amount of new money that would be required. Then we would move forward to make that request for those dollars.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, you are leveraging last year's expenditures on dollars spent, and you are saying that more needs to be leveraged against this year. Where in the budget are any dollars allocated this year, specifically for the $4.4 million that's before us? The federal government is anxious to pay it but they haven't been able to get a commitment from you.
MR. FAGE: Again, you can't requisition dollars if you don't know you are going to use them. We have to conclude our discussions with the federal government. Indeed, the majority of that money may be acceptable. The federal government and the province are having wide-ranging, flexible talks, the same as every other provincial government in this country on what dollars were expended in this year just finished March 31st, wholly expended by the Province of Nova Scotia that would be a credit to the 40 per cent share. Once we know the exact amount we would need in the coming year, we would deal with that request to finance once it is identified.
In similar ways, we would ask for an additional allocation, the same as the deal we signed on July 31st. We need to know the amount. The discussion is occurring with the federal government. They were unable to conclude those discussions with us as of March 31st. We don't know how little or how big the Nova Scotia bill is going to be, honourable member.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, you are looking at your negotiating dollars that you spent last year to be able to trigger the $4.4 million this year. So, number one, there is no new money to partner with Ottawa to get the $4.4 million. Is that correct?
MR. FAGE: No, that is not correct.
MR. DOWNE: Okay, well tell me where I am wrong then.
MR. FAGE: We do not know the amount. It may be 50 per cent of new dollars, 50 per cent of allocated dollars; it may be 75 per cent or it may be 100 per cent. I cannot tell you the figure of the new dollars the province would have to commit until I know the amount of dollars the federal government will agree with us on the previous year.
MR. DOWNE: In other words, for the money you spent last year, Ottawa hasn't said, yes, well that represents $1 million, $0.5 million, $1.5 million, $2 million or whatever. They haven't identified that. So let's just say that they are going to allocate $1 million of last year's expenses. Would you be able to find the $1.2 million to be added to that to be able to trigger the $4.4 million? Is there anywhere in your budget that that money is earmarked? You must have some idea. But say if it is $1.1 million or $1.2 million, half the money, is there anywhere in your budget you have allocated for that money?
MR. FAGE: Again, when we know the exact amount we would go back to Finance, in this budgetary year, and ask for an extraordinary appropriation. We have made that commitment to the agriculture community that we are going to be in the program. What is up for discussion is the negotiation discussion with the federal government on the allocation of the dollars.
MR. DOWNE: So if Ottawa says, in your negotiations, Mr. Minister, we can accept half of what you have spent but we can't accept any more, you and the Minister of Finance have agreed that there will be an additional appropriation of funding to get the money, to get the $4.4 million from Ottawa? One would have to think, if you used last year's programs, I can appreciate that, to leverage Ottawa money, that that money had to come out of a specific program, the development fund, as the case in point. There is $3.6 million allocated for the development fund. That is the grant fund for agriculture programs, I would assume. Is that where you are negotiating from?
MR. FAGE: There are a number of programs and certainly the exact specifics that we are dealing with, that department, we are looking at all program dollars. Until we get an agreement with the federal government, again, which ones are accountable and achievable, it makes it very difficult to answer a specific question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would just like to advise the committee that we have 10 minutes left in our time today. I am not sure if the Liberal caucus wishes to conclude questions for this minister today or carry it forward again on Thursday. If this is going to be a conclusion of your questions today, I would like to have some opportunity to call for a vote at the end of the day for Resolution E1, or an opportunity for the minister to make any closing remarks.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, if I can get an answer to my question here without going through a long period of time, I am prepared to stop. But if I don't get an answer, we will be here until I get an answer. Mr. Minister, what other programs that you spent money
on last year would qualify to leverage federal dollars? Could you please list the programs that would be there? You are in negotiations now.
MR. FAGE: I am in negotiations now and I am not prepared to have a negotiation across the table in estimates. Suffice to say that we have made the commitment to the farming community that we will participate in the announcement that was late coming from the federal government in additional income support. The federal government, obviously, and their Auditor General had surpluses and an allocation of $500 million was made to help hard-pressed farmers across the country. Our negotiations with the federal government encompass dollars that could be involved in the entire Agriculture budget, but I cannot narrow it down any more specifically than that; I cannot name program by program that I would limit our negotiations by naming them here.
We have made that commitment publicly to the agricultural community, that we are participating in the program. Our negotiations with the federal government will determine what programs that were 100 per cent provincially funded last year would apply toward that bill. I am really not prepared to, or would not want to be prepared to outline absolutely everything that is up for discussion with the federal government in a negotiation that is ongoing. I would ask that much latitude from the member.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I would think we are all here to try to help you get more money out of Ottawa and if there is anything we can do to help that process I would assume that you would want us to be a part of that. That is fine. I understand that under Development Programs, the $3.6 million, some of that is for supply management commodities and some of it is for non-supply management. This $4.4 million will not go to supply management commodities, it is going to go to programs under GRIP and NISA, net income stabilization. Supply management doesn't qualify for the Net Income Stabilization Program.
For you to leverage dollars to get money into non-supply management commodities, are you committing that you will not take any money out of programs that would be designed or would benefit supply management? Would supply management lose any on this program, or are you going to make sure that that will never happen, under the Development Programs?
MR. FAGE: Again, to be crystal clear, what we are talking about is dollars that were expended in the previous year's budget, not new ones that are going to be spent in this year's budget. The negotiation and discussion with the federal government is where those dollars were expended. Just to be crystal clear, we are discussing expenditures already incurred, it will not affect any individual farmers or any commodities budget allocation or what went into their industry, because those funds were expended last year.
MR. DOWNE: The Pork Risk Management, you have $750,000 there for that. Didn't that all get paid off last year with money that we helped negotiate out of Ottawa? Isn't that paid off? That was another negotiation process with Ottawa that took awhile. It seems to me I was involved with that.
MR. FAGE: Just for clarification, your statement is contained in the expenditures of 1999-2000, or what is in the budget forecast for this year?
MR. DOWNE: For 2000-01, there is $750,000. The pork stabilization program, there was an unfunded liability there. Wasn't that paid off?
MR. FAGE: The pork stabilization loan was approximately $3.5 million . . .
MR. DOWNE: And that was paid?
MR. FAGE: The agreement was to pay it off at $500,000 a year. In negotiations with the pork industry, I came to terms with them and the province assumed and paid off the entire pork loan.
MR. DOWNE: That was money that came from Ottawa that was used to pay off that loan?
MR. FAGE: Some of those dollars would have come from Ottawa . . .
MR. DOWNE: Most of the money came from Ottawa, as I recall.
MR. FAGE: . . . would have been involved in the doubling in the new deal. That particular loan, I should add for the member's understanding, was a liability of the pork industry.
MR. DOWNE: Oh, I understand it. You and I were in the House, you were speaking in favour of the loan by the Liberal Government for the pork industry. We did that. The money was outstanding, and we gave the extra chance to the hog industry, which you supported and I supported. I understand Ottawa came and brought some money down. We negotiated that under different administrations and that money then went to pay off the debt to the province of the hog industry. Is that roughly it? We are almost out of time, I just want a simple answer.
MR. FAGE: Again, some of the statements you have made . . .
MR. DOWNE: In general thrust, Ernie, is that . . .
MR. FAGE: . . . are not accurate. I think what we need to remember, and look at the facts - just to go through that protocol again - that is not to say that when I say not accurate I am talking about the source and sequence of events, not your general statement. What happened last summer, in July, was myself and my provincial counterparts negotiated a new arrangement with the federal government that basically doubled the amount of money that the federal government brought forward. Again, those were 60/40 dollars. Those funds, on a 60/40 basis was how the majority of that loan was paid off.
You and I both agreed strongly that support of the industry was needed when the $3.5 million was allocated during the last hog cycle. In discussions with the hog industry this year in dealing with the old risk management fund, with processing, ownership and commitments from the province, and processors changing, a new deal was struck with the hog industry. The hog industry is looking now to an Equitable NISA for income support, instead of the old fund. To relieve the industry of the burden of trying to pay down a $3.5 million debt, these funds came from the new ADA program, which is a 60/40 deal, signed in July of this year with the federal government.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have about 2 minutes left, are there any further questions?
MR. DOWNE: I just want to conclude, Mr. Minister. I have a lot more questions here but my sense is that they want to try to move on to some other areas.
I want to congratulate your staff. For 27-plus years of my life working with the Department of Agriculture and Marketing and then for the last number of years with Fisheries, I don't profess to know an awful lot about the fishing sector, the complexities of it, but I will say that we are fortunate to have qualified staff, you are lucky to have qualified staff, in both those departments. I congratulate you for that. I don't know why you are so adversarial and arrogant when trying to answer some simple questions that I asked. I am here to try to help the agricultural industry, as I know you are. We are just trying to get some answers to some questions. I find it very frustrating. I don't understand, Ernie, why you are that way. I don't know what your problem is.
The agricultural industry and the fishing industry are dynamic industries that are looking for some good leadership and co-operation. I just want you to know that I am here to try to help co-operate and support where things are going forward in Agriculture and Fisheries. I am concerned, and as I indicated before, I will be getting the information in regard to the comments today about where the things are off the rails, but my hope will be that you will work closely with the Federation of Agriculture, as you have indicated in the past you have always committed to.
At the end of the day, this industry needs co-operation and it needs the ability for the minister to work with everybody to co-operate. That is what we are trying to do here. If the questions seem a little strong, it's simply because I am trying to get an answer to concerns
that are out there. I want to thank you and your staff for your participation. That will conclude my comments on the budget estimates for Agriculture and Fisheries.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E1 stand?
Resolution E1 stands.
The resolution is carried.
That concludes the business for Agriculture and Fisheries. On Thursday, we will be calling forth Hon. Gordon Balser to deal with Resolution E3, Economic Development; Resolution E20, Nova Scotia Business Inc.; Resolution E21, Nova Scotia Petroleum Directorate; and Resolution E36, business plans of the Bedford Waterfront Development Corporation Limited, the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, the Nova Scotia Innovation Corporation, the Trade Centre Limited and the Waterfront Development Corporation.
We now stand adjourned, as our four hours are up for today.
[6:01 p.m. The subcommittee rose.]