MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning. I would like to call the meeting to order please for the Subcommittee on Supply. We are in day four, today is Friday, April 12th, and the time is 9:19 a.m. We are continuing the debate with Environment and Labour as well as resolutions dealing with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, and as well the Securities Commission. We have 33 minutes left on the clock for Mr. Epstein from Halifax Chebucto. Your time is now 9:20 a.m.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Minister, good morning. When we left off yesterday we were having a discussion about lessons that might be learned from the public inquiry that was carried on into the Walkerton situation in Ontario. We were moving through a variety of different situations and asking ourselves how Nova Scotia measures up as against what occurred in Ontario.
I would like to move now to the operators of municipal water supply systems. I am particularly interested in the system of certification and training that is in place for the operators of those systems. Could you explain to us what qualifications are necessary for the operators of those systems and what role, if any, your department plays in that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Environment and Labour.
HON. DAVID MORSE: I am just trying to confirm the exact date that it became a legislated requirement to have certification, and I think we will just say that it was in the mid-1990s - I believe it was 1995, but I could be mistaken on the exact year. The requirements are part of a North American certification system in terms of the formal training combined with a certain amount of experience, and that would of course depend on the complexity of the particular water utility plant in question, as the more complex ones obviously require a higher level of operator's certification.
MR. EPSTEIN: One of the problems that the system in Walkerton encountered was that although the manager and operators of that system actually held certificates, they had been grandfathered in. What I am wondering is whether our regulations also were structured in a way that allowed for grandfathering in of people who had been operating systems prior to the certification system.
MR. MORSE: We are not grandfathering operators, but because of the events over the past few years and the focus on upgrading water treatment plants right across the country, it has created a shortage of certified operators. So in those instances what we're doing is we are working with the manufacturers of the plants to address the shortage of operators certified to the new level required to operate these facilities. They are being supervised by people who do have the proper qualifications and they have been given time frames to meet those certifications. There is a shortage of certified operators to the levels that are now required by the new plants that are coming onstream and this is how we're addressing the problem.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is it the case that each of the municipal water supply systems here has at least one employee with the appropriate certification?
MR. MORSE: All the plants have certified operators for the health issues, but specifically the one that is causing the problem is to address the THMs, the trihalomethane.
MR. EPSTEIN: Trihalomethane, yes. Sorry, what's the problem there?
MR. MORSE: That's where we have to address the certification levels to properly address that challenge which became apparent actually when we started releasing those test results, because the first way to realize that you have a problem is to do the tests. I think you are obliged to make that public in a responsible manner so that the people who depend on those water supplies can understand that there are challenges, and initially it may not have been enthusiastically received by the public but it has allowed us collectively, as a province, to focus action and get those levels down, and it has been quite successful over the last three years.
MR. EPSTEIN: The situation is that there are some of the municipal water supply systems where there's no operator who actually has the correct paper certification to deal with THMs.
MR. MORSE: There are a few Level IV operators in the province now who are going through the certification system, so we feel that they have the qualifications. But they are addressing the certification, so I guess what I am saying is that we have a comfort with the level of the operators, but we are working with them so that we can assist them in getting the proper certification.
MR. EPSTEIN: I think we all recognize this cannot be an instant process. I am wondering if there is a target time/date that the department is working with in order for all the systems to have the appropriate personnel with the appropriate qualifications?
MR. MORSE: We are requesting the municipalities to provide action plans and in that there would be time frames. So it is being done on an individual basis with each water utility, this is how we are managing the challenge.
MR. EPSTEIN: Are the certification programs available here in Nova Scotia or do the individuals have to travel in order to take the appropriate upgrades?
MR. MORSE: They are available in the province and coordinated through the Department of Environment and Labour.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is this a course of training that the department itself offers?
MR. MORSE: It is approved by the department; that is the curriculum is approved by the department but it is delivered by the associations and the private sector.
MR. EPSTEIN: What do the associations mean in this case? Does this mean, are we talking about APENS or are we talking about a different organization?
MR. MORSE: Water and Wastewater Associations, and from the point of view of independent scrutiny it is a North American exam, it is actually not even marked in the province. The province delivers the course but it has to meet North American criteria.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can I move to another aspect of this, which is the kind of monitoring equipment that might be in place in the systems? One of the observations of Justice O'Connor about the water supply in Walkerton is that at least the extent of the illness, perhaps some of the deaths might have been avoided if continuous monitors had been in place with automatic shut-offs and what I'm wondering is what's the situation in our municipal water supply systems in terms of the actual equipment, I'm wondering if any of the systems do have continuous monitoring with automatic shut-off?
MR. MORSE: We can get you the specifics of all the parameters that the various utilities have to meet, but at this point in time I'm not able to confirm that the continuously monitored system is in place in Nova Scotia. The utilities have to submit tests every week, and I might just mention that in fact one of my weekly reports is a tracking not only of the public water utilities, but also those private wells for public consumption - this is where more than 25 people depend on the water from a private well, and as a result of that it has certainly made us more aware of where there are areas of difficulty, and allows us of course to work
with the owners to address the problem, the latter being I believe an extension of what was in place before and so we may have a case here of a nursing home, or school, or campground that in essence is certainly servicing the public, and before this scrutiny was not in place.
MR. EPSTEIN: One of the other problems that was clearly a serious difficulty with Walkerton was simple falsification of the records by the supervisor and the managers of that system. I'm wondering whether your department has ever had any experience of finding any falsification of the reports, are you aware of any instances of this in Nova Scotia?
MR. MORSE: A very good question and I'm happy to report that we've never encountered any falsification of reports to the department, but as a double-check we do go out and do random samples. So again we're trying to put a safety net in place there, and I would also point out that our MOUs with the labs require them to contact us directly, so we're not relying entirely on the water utility. So there's a continuous double-check in place and then there's a random triple-check, if you like, with the audits.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, just to be clear, in Walkerton there were certain kinds of tests that were done by the labs and certain kinds of testing that was supposed to be done by the local administrators of the water utilities. The labs really were looking for bacterial infection and the kinds of tests that I think were being done at the local level had to do with chlorine residuals and with turbidity. So I'm wondering, again do we have that kind of a split where some of the testing is done by the local administrators of the water systems; that is, things that wouldn't go to the labs?
MR. MORSE: We do bacteria and chlorine residual testing, and the member would probably recall that in the Walkerton report that was one of the things they talked about, and the fact that I believe the chlorine was having trouble dealing with the bacteria load and that that should have been a clue. In fact, I think that one of the wells was without chlorination. That was one of the ones that was brought on to replace . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: Well 7 was not chlorinated for different periods of time around the crucial dates in May 2000; that is no chlorination at all. No, what I was wondering was whether there are some tests that are done just by the local operators rather than by the labs?
MR. MORSE: The operators do not do their own tests, it's all done through the labs and they check for these other parameters; also I should add, including metals periodically. I think that's a more expensive test, but it's one that is done on a regular basis.
MR. EPSTEIN: So part of the safeguard is that there are no - are there any tests that relate to the safety of the water system that are done exclusively by the local administrators or would all the tests in some form go through the labs?
MR. MORSE: I have been made aware that in fact some of the larger more modern plants, such as HRM, do have continuous monitoring - going back to the member's earlier question, we were unable to confirm that that was the case and . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: I would have to say I was a little surprised at any suggestion that HRM didn't have that. I was, in fact, pretty certain that they did, but anyway, moving along, go ahead.
MR. MORSE: So by virtue of the fact that they're doing continuous monitoring, obviously they're doing their own testing, but there is still the requirement to send the water off to the lab.
MR. EPSTEIN: As well? Okay. Just to go to your random testing that you were talking about. Is that random testing also unannounced; that is, is it the case that the local systems don't know that testers are coming from the department?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Terrific. A very important point. Okay, I have a couple other areas of inquiry I would like to move on. One of them - and I think I'm finished now with discussing Walkerton - can I ask you some questions about the stockpiling of coal in Cape Breton at the wharves? My understanding is that this is a practice that has to be permitted under your department, can you confirm that's the case?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: As I understand it, there are essentially two places where this has taken place - the international piers, the former Devco sites, and the former Sysco sites and my understanding is that at least at some point . . .
MR. MORSE: I just want to . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: Sure, go ahead.
MR. MORSE: . . . confirm the earlier answer.
MR. EPSTEIN: Fine. My understanding is that at least at one point there were upper limits as to the tonnage that was permitted and I think there were seasonal variations, perhaps 8,000 tons compared with 4,000 tons, one was a winter and one was a summer.
MR. MORSE: The variation actually was 12,000 in the winter months when the demand for electricity is greater in the province, and 4,000, I say the summer months - the winter and the summer actually, in the cooler months versus the warmer months.
MR. EPSTEIN: So now we've established the permitting system is still in place, that is, the requirement is still there?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Has the permitted volume now increased and was that done either by regulation or by guideline or simply through the issuance of a permit?
MR. MORSE: We have moved away from the tonnage rate. It was difficult to ascertain tonnage and the method that was used to approximate what was there was by volume, so, yes, we have moved away from tonnage and actually there are some fairly stringent terms and conditions in place governing the operation of the movement of coal, particularly, I'm thinking of the Sysco piers, the one that I'm most familiar with because the member for Cape Breton Nova was asking me some questions recently about this and provided me with some information over and above what I have already had in place and the department has provided me with more information again.
MR. EPSTEIN: So it's done on a volume basis. Can you tell me what we're looking at? What is the permitted volume?
MR. MORSE: You were asking for the new tonnage?
MR. EPSTEIN: I understand it more when I hear it in terms of tonnage, and if you can have an equivalent, I would be happy to hear it that way. That makes more sense to me.
MR. MORSE: We would prefer to try to deal with it in tonnage because what I understand is that the tonnage is being approximated by taking the area of the coals, if you have a pile of coal, and I'm sure that there's some geometric formula that probably you and I would have known when we were in Grade 12 and maybe you still know today, but it eludes me, but getting the volume and dividing it by some weight per cubic foot, you would come up with an approximation of the tonnage.
MR. EPSTEIN: So do we have some figures? It used to be 12 and four. We now think it's what?
MR. MORSE: Well 12 and four would apply to the Sysco pier. Now the Devco pier had a different number. So there are actually two which have approvals.
MR. EPSTEIN: And are there two approvals that are in place right now? So there are approvals for both piers?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: I see. So in terms of the Provincial Ventures, it is no longer just an application. They have an approval at this point. Is that right?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: So it was 12 and four for Sysco and what is it now?
MR. MORSE: Seven hundred thousand tons.
MR. EPSTEIN: Are there seasonal variations or not now?
MR. MORSE: No.
MR. EPSTEIN: And for the international piers, the former Devco site?
MR. MORSE: Forty thousand tons.
MR. EPSTEIN: Forty thousand is the existing permit at this point?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: What was it previously? Was there a different regime previously for the international piers, the ones now owned by Emera, the ones that were the former Devco site?
MR. MORSE: The same as was the case for Sysco. It was seasonal previously and it would have been 12,000 during the winter months and 4,000 during the summer months.
MR. EPSTEIN: It was the same, okay.
MR. MORSE: So it basically reflects the change and the source of our coal, now having to import it as opposed to mining it from Cape Breton mines.
MR. EPSTEIN: We're a little short on time, but you said that there were certain kinds of safeguards in place. Could you briefly outline those or is there some document I could see that would help me understand what they are?
MR. MORSE: We would be pleased to give you a copy of both approvals, but just for the record, there is an inspector in place, first of all, that's paid for by the companies that are taking responsibility for the importing of the coal. There are things like the wind velocity and direction has to be below a certain level. It measures the temperature. If the conditions change, they have to take the rail cars out of the loop that receives and loads the coal and
there's a spraying system to suppress the dust and it really is quite extensive, in an attempt to make sure there is no adverse effect on the local residents.
MR. EPSTEIN: I would be happy to take the minister up on his offer to have a copy of those. That would help. Can I ask, Mr. Chairman, how much time I have?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have nine minutes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Nine minutes, okay, thank you. Can I move to another topic now, Mr. Minister. I'm curious about the new fees that have been announced this year through your department. I'm sure you're familiar with the fees and recoveries document that was tabled with the budget that details the kinds of new fees that each department is going to have. Of course, they're called cost recovery measures and I've looked with interest at the new list for your department. So I would like to ask first about the basis on which the amounts were calculated. Were they, in fact, calculated on the basis of being a cost recovery measure or is it an opportunity to generate anything towards the other operations of the department beyond what's absolutely built into the fees charged?
MR. MORSE: As a general statement, it was to recover a portion of the costs. Processes like an environmental assessment, as an example, is a very time consuming process. It relies on a lot of experts, both within the department and outside of the department. As an example, we are trying to recoup about 50 per cent of the cost of doing environmental assessments, just as an example. So it's not contributing to the operations outside of that area. It's just trying to defray some of the pressures on general revenues.
MR. EPSTEIN: I should be clearer. When I looked at your list, I thought, in fact, it was quite a sensible list. I didn't have a serious problem with it. I wondered the basis of the calculations. But I was looking at some global numbers. When I add up the estimates for revenues generated under the new fees, there is $944,500 that is the new total projected to be generated. Then I'm wondering how this is reflected in the actual estimates for the department? So when I look at Pages 11.12 and 11.13, there are two different places where the Environment Branch of your department shows fees. They add up to a larger number, of course.
MR. MORSE: In the Supplement or the estimates?
MR. EPSTEIN: It's in the estimates.
MR. MORSE: I think we all know the answer to your question, but we would like to see exactly what you're looking at before we comment. So if you would bear with us for a moment. I might add that I think you would agree that it would be the correct answer. I think
that when you get the answer, you will agree it will be the correct one or that you will agree with the way that we're accounting for these user fees. I am confirming that the fees are netted out against the costs of providing the services so that the bottom line finger, for instance, for Environmental Monitoring and Compliance is net of the fees.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, I find that odd. I'm not sure I want to pursue this in too much detail. It's just on the face of it, here's what seems to be happening. Last year, there were about $400,000 or $500,000 worth of fees and you're proposing to add about $950,000 worth of fees. So normally you would think the total would be about $1.3 million but, in fact, it's only about $1 million. So I'm just kind of wondering what accounts for the difference.
MR. MORSE: There were some fees that actually I defended in the estimates last year that, in fact, were not implemented until April 1st of this year. So that would account for perhaps some of the discrepancy.
MR. EPSTEIN: I'm not sure that it does. The reason I'm saying that is I'm adding the projected new fees this year with the figures for last year. The figures that I'm using for last year are the forecast revenues as shown in the estimates here. I leave it to you. I mean, I will write to the department afterwards and see if I can get an answer for this.
The other part is about the recoveries. Recoveries are shown and I'm wondering if you can explain what those recoveries are? Where do they come from?
MR. MORSE: Could you take us to . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: Oh, sure. I'm still looking at the same pages in the Estimates Book, Pages 11.12 and 11.13.
MR. MORSE: You're looking at the $1 million?
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes.
MR. MORSE: Okay, that is the Resource Recovery Fund Board's 10 per cent.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay. And the $44,000?
MR. MORSE: Nova Scotia Youth Corps payments by the community groups. That program is based on a 50/50 cost sharing between the department representing Economic Development and HRDC who are actually the ones that fund government's portion and the community groups fund the other 50 per cent.
MR. EPSTEIN: Are these chargeable to other departments - item of $159,000?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have two minutes.
MR. MORSE: It's an adjustment accounting for MCPs.
MR. EPSTEIN: What's an MCP?
MR. MORSE: Management.
MR. EPSTEIN: These are services that are provided to other departments?
MR. MORSE: Management Classification Pay Plan.
MR. EPSTEIN: All right, I will have to find out what this is. I don't think I have any other questions about the fees for now. I will write to the department with the other question I have. I hope we will be able to nail that one down.
MR. MORSE: We would be happy to provide you with that information.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, thank you. I want to take a minute and talk with you about some problems I have with the way the environmental assessment process works at the moment. I want to just flag this for you as something we might get back to after my colleague finishes. It has to do with the circumstances in which a public hearing environmental assessment is required, or in which you choose to move on it. I think we've had some discussion about this before.
It's my view that no mine, certainly no underground mine, should ever open in Nova Scotia unless it has gone through the highest level of environmental scrutiny - by which I mean a public hearing and environmental assessment. I think I raised this with your department with respect to the Black Bull proposal, but as a general proposition, this is something we've been saying for a decade, since the Westray Mine disaster. That is fully a decade now.
I know I'm almost out of time, but I would like to get back to you to continue a discussion about this since I find it just intolerable that Class 2 environmental assessments are not automatically made for any mining activity. I know it's within your discretion to order that in any particular case, but I can't see why it should be left to discretion and that's a regulation that really needs some revision and scrutiny. Anyway, I yield to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has expired for the NDP caucus. Now we will move to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West. Your time is now 9:53 a.m.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, yesterday you supplied a list of the septic pumpers of Nova Scotia and sewage disposal sites. The sewage sludge that comes from these particular sites - are you able to ascertain as to where this sewage sludge is disposed of when it comes from these sites? Do you know if it's being dumped, let's say, on agricultural lands or lands where they do sods, that sort of thing? Do we have a tracking system to know where that sludge goes?
MR. MORSE: Your question is specifically about agricultural land? I mean . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Not specifically agricultural, but the sewage sludge that comes out of these disposal sites - where does it go? Do we have a tracking system to know if they sell it to a proponent outside the province, inside, or is it on agricultural or forestry land? Do we have any kind of a tracking system to know?
MR. MORSE: You're right that forestry land is one of the approved areas, as it would show on the list of 41. There are five . . .
MR. MACKINNON: But, I mean, are we able to identify the particular sites? Do we have a tracking system so we know, for example, so you will know where I'm coming from, if, in fact, for lack of a better expression, a batch of raw sewage sludge that may be contaminated and pose a health problem, you would like to be able to kind of track down the source so you know which site to go to.
MR. MORSE: They all have approvals. So you've got forestry sites, you've got five agricultural sites, you've obviously got lagoons. In those approvals there are terms and conditions which would stipulate where it's able to go. We do keep track of the tonnages that are put there. Your question . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, so we're able to determine where the sewage sludge from every one of these sites goes is what you're telling me.
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: Great. I would conjecture from that there's a pretty tight monitoring system on it - that's really the question because if something comes up, if a health problem does come up from an agricultural property, then you're able to go back and determine the source. Am I correct?
MR. MORSE: We do work with our friends in agriculture. We do scrutinize the material that's brought for that land application. It has to meet certain criteria - it's tested to meet certain criteria.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay. I would take an undertaking from you if I could that you would give me the total acreage of farm land in the province that has sewage sludge spread on it.
MR. MORSE: We would be happy to provide you with that information.
MR. MACKINNON: That's fine. You indicated in your budget yesterday that this year's budget would be about - last year it was $27,072,000-plus and this year it's $26,743,000-plus. Obviously, that's a decrease in your budget - right?
MR. MORSE: That would be a decrease - estimate as compared to estimate. But, it's an increase as forecast estimate because in actual fact, we came in under budget. We came in at $25,749,000 so, that is the forecast as opposed to the estimate.
MR. MACKINNON: So, that's $25,749,000.
MR. MORSE: So we came in about $1,323,000 . . .
MR. MACKINNON: So actually you have an increase in your budget this year?
MR. MORSE: Yes. Of 3.9 per cent.
MR. MACKINNON: That I find a little concerning because I thought the whole idea of merging the department was to make things more cost efficient. You indicated yesterday you have less employees and yet the cost of the department delivery of your service has gone up.
MR. MORSE: I would like to go on the record to say that I have no recollection of saying that there were fewer employees in the department as a whole yesterday. I would ask the honourable member to check Hansard on that one. In actual fact I believe we're adding about 19.7 employees mostly to do with the delivery . . .
MR. MACKINNON: How many? I'm sorry, Mr. Minister, I can hardly hear you.
MR. MORSE: About 19.7 new FTEs, almost entirely to do with the delivery of the water strategy.
MR. MACKINNON: Have those employees been hired as of yet?
MR. MORSE: We've hired a few of them. If you would like to have . . .
MR. MACKINNON: That's the two hydrologists, is it?
MR. MORSE: No, we've hired more than two hydrologists. There are three inspector specialists, two hydrologists. (Interruption) We will get you the actual ones.
MR. MACKINNON: That's fine. So the bottom line is we're going to have between 17 and 18 more employees in your department this year than last year?
MR. MORSE: It's 19.7 approved FTEs and would you like me to read off what's . . .
MR. MACKINNON: No, I can just take it on notice. Perhaps I did misunderstand you yesterday or I had thought that you had said yesterday that we had less employees because you had made the reference to not replacing employees that had retired. So I took it from that perhaps, but I can just take that detail on a future day. That's fair enough.
In looking at the facilities, these other compost facilities, you gave me another detailed sheet yesterday, that one there. I notice, the particular one that catches my eye is New Era Farms. It's still operating under a ministerial order?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: New Era Farms, I believe, was in the process of trying to deliver some of its sewage sludge down to the proposed Torbrook site and that deal fell apart, you know, for a variety of reasons. What are they doing with that sludge that they were proposing to ship to Torbrook or are they still shipping it to Torbrook?
MR. MORSE: So are you asking about sludge or compost?
MR. MACKINNON: I'm sorry, I did say sludge. They had proposed sludge there, but it was compost they were shipping down.
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: Compost on this site, I will go back to the sludge in a moment.
MR. MORSE: So the question was what happened to the compost that was going to go to Torbrook?
MR. MACKINNON: Yes, what are they doing with that compost? Are they still shipping it to Torbrook?
MR. MORSE: As I understand it, New Era Farms gave notice to the Valley Waste Management Authority that they were going to stop accepting organic compost feedstock from the Valley, and they have made arrangements to secure a local composting facility in the Aylesford area.
MR. MACKINNON: Aylesford, I notice that's not itemized here.
MR. MORSE: Number 11, Northridge Farms.
MR. MACKINNON: Number 11, okay, thank you, because these here, they don't identify by community. Perhaps if I could receive an undertaking from you to provide this detail for me, if you could give me the total number of man hours that were spent by the department on the Torbrook site? I know that proposal didn't go ahead in the end, but I know the department expended a tremendous amount of energy and resources, you know, staff back and forth to that site.
MR. MORSE: I would advise the member that we never did get an official application for Torbrook.
MR. MACKINNON: But the staff was involved in visiting the site and preparing some preliminary reports? Am I correct on that?
MR. MORSE: The staff certainly did try to work with the community on this one, trying to explain the regulations and what was there to protect basically the environment from an adverse effect of having a composting facility located in their community.
MR. MACKINNON: Are you able to translate any of that into man hours?
MR. MORSE: We would be pleased to try to come up with an estimate. I think the honourable member appreciated the number that was shared at the Public Accounts Committee about another area of concern.
MR. MACKINNON: That's right.
MR. MORSE: And if the honourable member is making the point that sometimes these things can get quite expensive, . . .
MR. MACKINNON: That's correct.
MR. MORSE: I would share his concern.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, so you will provide that detail?
MR. MORSE: I'm also going to ask staff to copy me because I'm also interested in just what was the cost of this particular application and I would go on to say that I think that everything was quite reasonable in the way this went forward from the community. There were clearly two widely divergent views as to what certain groups would like to see happen and the department tried to give the appropriate assurances to both sides that we would be following the regulations and how they were there to protect them.
MR. MACKINNON: Are you able to ascertain - I know you represent the Department of Environment and Labour on this, but are you able to ascertain the total cost of what the Meadowview Landfill project was to the provincial government last year, you know, between the cost to the department, legal fees, compensation and the like?
MR. MORSE: So your question is what extra costs were involved in coming up with the recommendation that we settled for the $75,000?
MR. MACKINNON: I just need to know the bottom line, yes.
MR. MORSE: So you're looking for the amount of legal scrutiny that was applied to come up with that answer?
MR. MACKINNON: Legal, also staff.
MR. MORSE: I would say that that was 99 per cent before the time that I became minister, but we would be happy to try to get an answer. The honourable member I know will be pleased to know that it would appear that financially the province would appear to have done well to have settled last year because the proponent has moved forward and is suing another level of government and I believe that the member would recall that last year we felt that the $75,000 would just be a fraction of the legal fees. While we felt confident in the outcome of the case, in terms of defending the province, the costs of defending such an action were absolutely prohibitive and some multiple of the cost of the settlement.
MR. MACKINNON: Do you have a copy of that legal opinion that advised you to take that route? Does your department have that?
MR. MORSE: The former deputy would be able to answer that question and the current deputy will be able to answer the question upon consulting the file, the point being that this all took place a year ago.
MR. MACKINNON: Yes, but you were minister a year ago, too, when this took place.
MR. MORSE: I signed the agreement.
MR. MACKINNON: Did you see the legal opinion that was offered at that time to come to the conclusion that you should settle?
MR. MORSE: I remember reading a file. You've asked a very specific question about a legal opinion and it's been over a year since I've seen that file. I would want to do due diligence and be absolutely certain in my response because you've asked a very specific question and I think that when you ask a very specific question you deserve a very specific answer.
MR. MACKINNON: You don't have to dance around and get testy. I asked you the question and you said you had to refer to the former deputy minister or deputy minister and then, on a subsequent question, I asked you and then you said you did read it. So don't dance around. Be straightforward, yes or no. My golly, that's kind of petty, I think. If you do have the legal opinion or you do have access to it, will you table it for the committee?
MR. MORSE: I would tell the honourable member that I recall discussing this with the deputy of the day in some detail and I remember signing a letter authorizing the $75,000 and I know that it was part of a file. I just do not have that perfect recollection of everything that was in the file, but I can assure the honourable member that I was asking questions about the legal basis for making a settlement and I was satisfied with the answers that were given to me.
MR. MACKINNON: Will you table the letter that you signed authorizing the $75,000?
MR. MORSE: We would have to check on the solicitor-client privilege on that one. There was also, as you will recall, a confidentiality clause in this which the proponent waived in terms of allowing us to make public the amount of the settlement. But there were some conditions.
MR. MACKINNON: You can just black out the parts of the letter.
MR. MORSE: There were some conditions in place and, basically, what I would suggest is that we will refer back to the file and we will try to provide the member with what we can.
MR. MACKINNON: So the equivalency of a freedom of information request. Whatever you can provide, you will provide. Is that fair enough?
MR. MORSE: We could not override the solicitor-client privilege. So I think we had better get back to the file and see just what we would be able to release to the honourable member. I would like to be able to give him the information he's asking for, but I want to
make sure that legally we can do so and I know the honourable member would not want us to do anything that was breaching any protocols.
MR. MACKINNON: Well I don't know how you can spend $75,000 of the taxpayers' money and refuse to tell the people of Nova Scotia what the terms of reference are. That's absolutely silly to take the people's money and say we're not going to tell you upon what basis we spent your money. I can appreciate the solicitor-client privilege, but we're not talking about this. We're talking about disposal of taxpayers' money and the rationale for the expenditure of that money. So I would submit, Mr. Minister, you're dead wrong and you know you're dead wrong and you're dancing around it looking for an escape. So I would ask for a commitment that whatever you can provide on the equivalency of a freedom of information request, you will provide?
MR. MORSE: Once again, I've given you that undertaking already and I appreciate the fact that the honourable member recalls that we made this settlement last year and I would suggest, once again, that it was a very favourable arrangement for the Province of Nova Scotia and that we are pleased that we are not part of the action that's in the courts today because we would have, I'm sure, already expended more than the $75,000 and the meter would still be running.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, that could very well be, but I would equally suggest that you set a very dangerous precedent by taking on a municipal responsibility just to solve a political problem. That's my own opinion, but we will leave that for another day.
MR. MORSE: I would have to respond to that, that the advice from the solicitor, as it was relayed to me at the time, was that it would be advantageous . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Well, we don't know that because you won't tell us. You won't give us that documentation. You're saying that's what he told you, but you won't give us the documentation.
MR. MORSE: . . . to settle and if I would be allowed to complete my answer . . .
MR. MACKINNON: In all due fairness, Mr. Minister, I wasn't finished myself before you jumped in because you want to get a rebuttal and you didn't like what I said and before I finish my dissertation, you jump in. So, I mean, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. I know you're a little testy because it's in your backyard and it doesn't reflect well on you but I can appreciate that. In all fairness, it seems like bad luck seems to follow you around. I mean, I don't know if it's coincidence or not. We've got Torbrook. We've got Meadowview. We've got Mark-Lyn Construction. Who knows what else is out there. That's all just in your backyard. When's the meter going to stop running because you've got bad
luck with your constituents? That's my concern. That's all about an issue of value for dollar and I think that's a legitimate concern and you would raise the same with me if I were having the same difficulty. So if you have a communication problem with your constituents, I don't think the people of Nova Scotia should have to suffer and that's a legitimate concern. That's what we were elected to do and that's what we will continue to do.
MR. MORSE: The member is confirming that these are all in Kings South?
MR. MACKINNON: No, they're all in the Valley area, of which you're generally perceived to be the Valley representative in Cabinet. I know yesterday, you indicated that the decision to relieve the former deputy minister was made without your knowledge and without your input and yet you signed the Cabinet Order. So, I mean, talk about due diligence. I don't know if they stand you in the corner of the Cabinet Room and tell you to look out the window or say mea culpa or just say yes or no or what, I don't know. I mean, I don't want to get into Cabinet issues and I'm not going to presume that and you know that, but you can't say you don't know and then sit down and have a discussion and sign a document and say, yes, I'm agreeing to dismiss this person.
AN HON. MEMBER: . . . I don't know nothing about it.
MR. MACKINNON: I don't know anything about it.
I would like, Mr. Minister, if I could, on the issue of gravel pits, I don't think it's a requirement, but I'm leading up to sensitive areas in the province, so I will give you the premise for my question. When gravel pit applications are approved, is there any type of hydrogeologic analysis done or what type of analysis is done to determine whether or not you're in near proximity to water aquifers?
MR. MORSE: There could be, depending on the proximity to any known water supplies, whether it be groundwater or surface water. If in fact there are concerns that come to light as a result of it, they would be reflected in the terms and conditions of the approval.
MR. MACKINNON: I appreciate that, but what due diligence is done within the department to ensure that a gravel pit is not approved over an aquifer that could very well be disrupted?
MR. MORSE: The member has asked a very specific question that would require the department to have knowledge of every aquifer in the province in order to give a definitive answer. So I guess that the answer would be that if we feel that there's a reasonable chance that there would be an aquifer relatively close to the level of the anticipated excavation, we would make a requirement of the proponent to do the due diligence, get those tests done and then we would consider it with the issue of the terms and conditions. But if the member is asking us whether we have knowledge of every aquifer in the province, the answer is no
today, but as part of the water strategy, we are attempting to map this out, ascertain their capacity and that will be a tremendous asset, we hope, for generations to come.
MR. MACKINNON: That strategy should be able to give us a pretty reasonable estimate of what our water resource is then?
MR. MORSE: That is one of the goals of the strategy. Now that is going to be a work in progress for some time to come and we are trying to do it by priority area. Now when you talk about water accessibility, which you were inquiring about yesterday, the Valley area is a priority because of the heavy demands in agriculture and for the last five years there have been drought conditions and that appears to perhaps be following a change in the weather pattern, i.e., climate change.
MR. MACKINNON: I noticed on September 26, 2001, there was an article in the Chronicle-Herald, or they refer to it here as the Halifax Herald Limited, by Davene Jeffrey, Staff Reporter, and they quote David Briggins, Acting Manager of the Water and Wastewater Branch of the Department of Environment and Labour. It indicated that the water strategy would be unveiled within the next few weeks. Now, subsequent to that, at a UNSM conference, where I believe you spoke, Mr. Minister, you may recall, and you indicated to the delegates at that time that the water strategy would be unveiled by the end of the month. During questioning in Question Period by myself to the Premier, he indicated that the water strategy would be unveiled last fall . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: By the end of the year.
MR. MACKINNON: By the end of the year. So I'm just wondering, what is the status of this infamous water strategy and why is it taking so long?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member is pointing out that in fact the water strategy has developed some synergy as we work with the other departments.
MR. MACKINNON: Define synergy, please, Mr. Minister.
MR. MORSE: I would suggest to him that since the first draft, which started this official process of reducing it to a document, there have been substantial embellishments to the project. It is multi-departmental and, indeed, it spans all three levels of government now in some fashion trying to coordinate each one's potential input, collecting that information and, indeed, creating a reservoir of information. This is what has drawn it out, but there are specific goals that were outlined in the strategy with time frames. The honourable member has pointed out the importance, I think, through his questioning, of some of the goals that are incorporated in it. There are many more and this is why there has been a delay at this point in time. I gave an undertaking yesterday that while it will be as soon as possible, looking at
two to three months at the maximum for public release, I would tell the honourable member that I feel Nova Scotians will be well pleased with the final strategy.
MR. MACKINNON: Well I would hope so. For almost $1 million, they should get something for their money. You've been promising it since last Fall. (Interruptions) Just one final question. I want to be clear on the number of communication officers. It was a little convoluted yesterday. Is it 3.5 persons that you have down there?
MR. MORSE: There are two full-time and one part-time. The Acting Communications Director is Valerie Bellefontaine.
MR. MACKINNON: Is she included in that two?
MR. MORSE: Two and a part-time, yes. Penny McCormick, who does a lot of work on Occupational Health and Safety and Steve Smith, who is part-time.
MR. MACKINNON: And no one else does any work for the department?
MR. MORSE: Not as a member of our staff.
MR. MACKINNON: That's fine. I would like to turn the rest of my time over to Mr. MacEwan, for now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Chairman, welcome to the Chair. I don't know if you noticed the Queen Mother's funeral on television, but in Westminster Abbey, they seat the people like they seat them here, facing sideways. I'm not here to interview Mr. Clarke. I'm here to interview the man over here at right angles to me, Mr. Morse. So I just pass that on for your consideration, Mr. Chairman. Maybe we could be seated facing those that we are interviewing so we could have some give and take and some eye contact and those types of things.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You can just move your chair.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, things can always be changed. When I was first elected to the House, we had one table here in this room. It came from the good ship Nelson and we sat around that table.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It's still there.
MR. MACEWAN: It's still there, down the back somewhere now. It's not here. But these new tables have been put this way so I'm sitting here facing my friends across the way instead of the people that I'm trying to interview over here. My good friend to my left is blocking the way. Anyway, I better get on with it.
AN HON. MEMBER: There is a problem with the left.
MR. MACEWAN: There is always a problem with the left, but the right can be just as bad. Now, two departments are at stake here, Labour and Environment. They are both very important departments. I haven't got all day and so I will just ask a couple of questions on Labour and then move on to the Environment. With respect to Labour, I have a treatise here in my pocket entitled "The lowest minimum wage in Canada, by Paul MacEwan, MLA, Cape Breton Nova." It is an excellent article. You should read it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do you wish to table it?
MR. MACEWAN: Well, I may. Now it states here that if the minimum wage in Nova Scotia is not raised, and Newfoundland's is going to $6.00 an hour effective November 1st, that will make Nova Scotia the lowest minimum wage in Canada. Now just to compare that with some of the other provinces, the highest minimum wage in Canada is $8.00 an hour in British Columbia, under a Liberal Government in which New Waterford's Ron MacDonald is one of the chief advisors. So that's probably why. Then comes the Yukon at $7.20 an hour, Quebec at $7.00, Ontario at $6.85 and Nunavut and the Northwest Territories both at $6.50. Now we haven't heard from the NDP provinces yet, but in Manitoba, they have a minimum wage of $6.25 an hour, while socialist Saskatchewan stands pat with little Prince Edward Island at an even $6.00 an hour. "Oh shame on the socialists" - I'm just quoting from the article, Mr. Chairman - "for they so deceive the people." The bottom four are Alberta and New Brunswick at $5.90 each and then Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, but Newfoundland is going up so that will make Nova Scotia the lowest in Canada. I guess my question to the minister is, why do Nova Scotian workers deserve the lowest minimum wage anywhere in Canada?
MR. MORSE: I would suggest that the member knows well that the process is that about this time of year, there is an announcement on what the minimum wage will be effective October 1st and that process is moving forward. I would expect that we would be able to give the member the appropriate assurances soon.
MR. MACEWAN: Soon. Well, we will see, Mr. Chairman. I'm not wanting Nova Scotia to have the lowest minimum wage in Canada. Hopefully, he isn't either. All you have to do is raise it to whatever Newfoundland is going to, plus 25 cents an hour, I would say, for a little bit of an insurance and you won't have that designation of the lowest minimum wage in Canada. That's something I could speak on at some length, but it is important, in my view. I think those people are entitled to a fair wage and other provinces are paying much
more. He wants me to table my essay on the lowest minimum wage in Canada. Where is the table I put it on? I give it to you. All right, Mr. Chairman. It is tabled.
Let me move on next to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal. If you apply for an appeal of a Workers' Compensation case to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal, or WCAT, as it is called - the NDP want me to dwell on the national average of minimum wages. I would suspect it is somewhat higher than the minimum wage paid in Saskatchewan. I will say no more on that. We will let them take their hour's turn to explain why Saskatchewan is so low, but getting back to the WCAT, when you apply for an appeal to that tribunal. There is an official called the registrar that you have to make your application to in writing and say I want to appeal my having been denied workers' compensation because I lost my left arm and my right leg and they won't pay me five cents.
The registrar gets the appeal and makes a decision, a very critical decision as to what happens next because she decides whether this case will be what they call a paper review case or an oral hearing case. That judgment is critical in my view to the proper determination of a case. Yes, there are some cases that can be decided entirely by a paper review, I don't deny it. For example, if it was the interpretation of medical evidence and all the medical evidence has been submitted, there's no more floating around out there, it's just a matter of reviewing the file and seeing if you get the same conclusion on reading the papers that are in it as compared to what the previous reader came up with, a case like that, I think, yes, it can be decided by a paper review by all means.
There are other cases that in my view require oral testimony to be complete, just like in doing a jigsaw puzzle, you have to put all the pieces in place to get the whole picture. Just to take an example, say someone who was buried in a fall in the coal mine in 1947 and has dug up all the available documents that he can find, but they've only come up with a handful, it doesn't really give the full picture. For the registrar in a case like that to say, well, this is going to be a paper review case, you're not allowed to have a hearing, you're not allowed to meet anybody who will decide your fate or to give oral testimony under oath, or to be cross-examined, all that is shut out, we're just going to read the papers and that's it - well, maybe there are only three or four papers in the file to read - I think that is an injustice. I'm just saying that as a general observation. I'm not talking about case A or case B. I'm just saying in general.
My understanding and experience is that the decision of the registrar in that matter cannot be appealed. There's no provision for appealing it to say to the chair, the chief appeal commissioner, that I think this is wrong and I want to appeal this decision to have a paper review on the case of Frank Corbett rather than giving him a full oral hearing, you see. It's just an arbitrary decision and that's it and there's nothing you can do about it. I would like to ask the minister if he has considered this problem and if he has any remedy for people like
myself who are trying to deal with that tribunal and find this a very difficult problem to get over because when people retain me, or anybody around this table, to represent them in that process, they want me to do my best for them and if I can't get through by getting an open hearing where the case can be examined by a living person, it makes the appellant feel that they have been denied justice. They don't know who's going to review their papers. They don't know where that paper review takes place. They don't know when it takes place. Just one day in the mail you get a decision saying this is our final decision, you're denied or you're approved, but it doesn't seem right to me that the cases are being dealt with that way with no provision for appeal.
You see if our Law Courts were dealing with cases that way, had the right of an in-house behind-closed-doors paper review versus the full oral hearing and you got a decision from the court saying we're not going to give you a trial, we're not going to give you a hearing, we're going to decide your fate behind closed doors and we will send you the verdict in the mail, there would be, I would assume, if they did such a thing which they don't, some provision for appealing that, to go to a judge to hear argument as to why this case should be heard in an open forum and a decision will be handed down either sustaining the decision to hold the behind-closed-doors review or to have a full open hearing on the case. That's my point.
In this case with WCAT there is no such provision and to wind up this question, Mr. Chairman, I want to also point out that if you don't get what you want out of WCAT, there's only one further appeal allowed. Within 30 days of the decision you have to go to the Supreme Court. That's where you go. Now, I'm not a lawyer, I may be practising law without a licence but that's a different question, I am not a lawyer. I do this work for people as an agent and I have that right to do so as long as I don't charge them fees for doing it. I can appear on their behalf before an administrative tribunal, but I can't take their case on to the Supreme Court so if they are denied an oral hearing by one person, a registrar that they never ever meet, you know, have no idea what she looks like or how she made the decision, they just get a letter in the mail saying your case is going to be a paper review, that's it, I ask, is that fair.
Is it possible for people, given the high prices that lawyers charge, $175 an hour and so forth for hours that last maybe five minutes, you know, is it fair to those people to say you've got to go to the Supreme Court to get a hearing on your workers' compensation case? I don't think it's fair. I think the whole purpose of having the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal is to provide an intermediate step at which your case can be dealt with and can be resolved without having to go to the Supreme Court. Those are just my personal views, but I will state them. Now, if you want a kick at the cat, I will be quiet and give you the floor.
MR. MORSE: I appreciate the member's wonderful dissertation and many times he has I think impressed us in the House with his wonderful oratory skills, but I just wonder if perhaps the member would want to ask the Minister of Justice these questions because that is the one area of the system that falls under Justice, when you get to WCAT. The Workers' Advisers Program is under Environment and Labour and, of course, that provides legal assistance to people who have concerns about their Workers' Compensation Board claim and where they feel that they have a case, they do provide assistance and that assistance will take them through the WCAT appeals and indeed on to the Supreme Court of Canada in some cases, but the particulars around the structure of WCAT, I believe, would fall under the authority of the Minister of Justice.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, you do answer for an agency that deals with WCAT, the Workers' Advisers Program?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: And while I have the floor I might say that in the Sydney area, in the industrial part of Cape Breton, I feel that that office does a very good job. I know that they tend to get overloaded just like I do. Every time I go back home for a weekend, I pick up more Canada Pension appeals and more Workers' Compensation appeals and I wonder how am I ever going to deal with all this, but they try and they do their best and I think they have some very top level people working in the Sydney office. There's only one lawyer there, Rick MacCuish, but the people who assist him were legal secretaries to practicing lawyers in every case. That's their background and those lawyers whom they worked for were workers' counsellors so that they have a background themselves in dealing with Workers' Compensation cases even before they were first appointed and they get plenty further experience on the job, believe me. So I want to pay them a little compliment while I'm at it.
MR. MORSE: I would like to say that I appreciate your comments and I have also heard good things back about the Workers' Advisers Program and I would say that would include the office in Sydney.
MR. MACEWAN: It's a very difficult type of work. I am far more fond of having people come to me who have been denied their Canada Pension benefits than having been denied workers' compensation. CPP is far easier. All you have to do is establish two things - that they paid into the fund enough to qualify and that they are disabled. Cause of disability does not matter. They might have fallen out of bed in the morning. They might have fallen down the stairs at home. They might have slipped on the ice on the way to work and hit their head or they might have been injured on the job. It doesn't matter with Canada Pension, wherever you got hurt, if you're disabled and the doctors agree to that, you get paid. Workers' Compensation differentiates between 0.3 per cent disability and a 0.5 per cent disability and makes a great to-do about that type of thing and because the system is structured that way, it encourages people who are getting 0.3 per cent of 1 per cent to seek
more and they come to me to get it for them or to others around this table. That's the way it works.
I'm not suggesting we revise the Act or the program. I know great thought and much work has gone into that in the past and we have what we have. (Interruption) The Dorsey report, I trust that's not Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra. That's before the time of most people here.
AN HON. MEMBER: No, but there may be some swing to it.
MR. MACEWAN: There may be some swing to it says my honourable colleague. Well, we will see, yes.
Now, let me move on to the Department of Environment. Mr. Chairman, I represent an area where there are considerable environmental concerns relative to having a steel plant at Sydney for 100 years. It made a lot of steel and it made a lot of by-products. Some of these by-products are still around and causing us a lot of trouble.
Our government set up a fund - a large fund, $230 million, I believe - for the remediation of the Sysco site in Sydney. As we've heard the other day from the minister responsible for Sysco and the Minister of Finance, most of that money is not spent. I don't know how much of it has been spent, no one would say that there hasn't been any of it spent, because all you have to do is look at the site of the Sydney Steel plant right now and you will see that there's demolition work underway there. Many old structures that were no longer being used have been taken down. The open hearth building is gone - that was the largest building anywhere in the City of Sydney. Many facilities that they had at Sysco have been demolished now. The foundry, many others - I'm not going to go through them unit by unit. There are many others that are still standing and are operable right now.
If somebody came along that had the money and the know-how, they could reactivate the Sydney Steel plant tomorrow because the basic steelmaking units are still intact, are still serviceable, are still operational and could be operated again in the future. Either at that site or some other site, like maybe in India, but they could be used to make steel.
Now, we have a $230 million fund - I don't really know what the total purpose of it is in the end, I suppose it's to try to restore that site to green field conditions or to some condition which would be suitable for further use. The Minister of Environment must be interested in this project because it's an environmental project. It's not a project of some other type, it's environmental. What can you tell us about what you are doing to try to get your government to spend that $230 million in Sydney? Is that a fair question?
MR. MORSE: I would be pleased to assure the member that we actually have an inspector that's assigned to that whole remediation process which, the member would know, is provincially led by the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
MR. MACEWAN: I'm a critic for that one too, so we can get around to them.
MR. MORSE: In addition to the inspector that's assigned full-time to the file, there's also an engineer that spends a disproportionate amount of his time on the file. As the regulator, we are there to make sure that the appropriate protections that are provided in the provincial regulations are made available to the honourable member's constituents and those of the surrounding area. We would assure the honourable member that everything that can be done to expedite the appropriate regulatory compliance is being done by this department.
MR. MACEWAN: Well I hope they remain active on that work. The reason that I raise this whole question is that two years ago the government thought that there was a need for a large sum of money to fund work at the Sydney Steel site and they budgeted over $200 million for it. At that time, the expectation was that they would then get underway once the money that they requested was approved by the Legislature. I'm not talking about the current budget on this, I'm talking about two years ago. It was approved by the House. The money is there in a fund, it's not being spent.
The Minister of Finance comes in with a budget and says we've achieved a surplus of $1 million. That projection is based on this unspent Sysco site remediation fund being included in the general bank account of the province. That's how they get the $1 million surplus because they don't spend their money. By that standard, I guess I could have a personal surplus too by not spending my paycheque come payday to pay my bills. I would just keep it in my pocket and say I've got a pocket full of money. But, it's not real, it's illusory, it's imaginary. So I hope the minister will - I don't say take over as Whip within the Cabinet, I guess we probably have too many Whips in politics, I'm one of them myself, but I think that we should try to stimulate some action on that particular matter, if possible.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 10 minutes remaining.
MR. MACEWAN: Oh. Only 10 minutes, my gosh, I'm only getting warmed up. Well, let me move on now from the Sysco site to the Sysco piers.
MR. MORSE: Would the honourable member just allow me to bring a little clarification to the size of that fund?
MR. MACEWAN: Sure.
MR. MORSE: In actual fact, the fund is made up of two components. One is $250 million which is for the Sysco site remediation and there's a second one for $68 million which is for the Muggah Creek. So actually, it's . . .
MR. MACEWAN: So it's almost $300 million.
MR. MORSE: Well, actually, $318 million.
MR. MACEWAN: Oh, $318 million . . .
MR. MORSE: I know that the member is very pleased to hear that there are indeed even more resources available to assist his constituents to reclaim their beautiful city. We hope, as a department, that this challenge, which we didn't ask for but since we have in a sense soiled our own nest and part of our beautiful province, that the expertise that is developed - whether it be through our excellent private sector environmental consulting firms that are active in the province and which I think are noted as being perhaps leaders in this continent for the size of our province - from addressing this remediation is something that maybe in the future we can export. If the glass is half full or half empty, there's usually a way of finding a silver lining and we hope that something good comes out of this in the long run, although I do accept that it's not perhaps the way we would like it to be today, we do feel that will change.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, Mr. Chairman, every cloud has its silver lining, I know. The problem is that these concerns in Sydney right now are immediate and urgent. I shouldn't have used that word urgent - that's the code word for closing down the New Waterford hospital. Immediate - how's that? Suitable word? They are of much concern to the people.
Sometimes I agree with the government in part, because we were government too. I know you have to have a plan for doing something before you just go spending money. You can't do that type of spending and wind up at the end of the process with a good result. I would hope those plans that are required could be formulated - certainly in the tearing down of vacant buildings that are not being used and haven't been used for years. There's not a great deal of planning really required to do that, I would think. It's just a matter of taking down the structures and hauling away what products remain and that's being done, isn't it?
MR. MORSE: I would suggest that in the demolition of some of these structures that it's appropriate to have the proper protections in place so that the same concern that the member has about the storage of coal on the old Sysco pier . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Yes. We're getting on to that.
MR. MORSE: . . . does not occur as a result of tearing down buildings and smokestacks and so that when these approvals are given, there are terms and conditions to try to protect the residents. To be specific, I think in this case, a lot of those residents happen to be the constituents of the honourable member.
MR. MACEWAN: Oh, they are. Let me say this, time is quickly running out. I don't think the concern is so much with the Sysco site, which is what I've been talking about here, as it is with the coke oven site and the tar pond site. I think those are more the hot beds of environmental contamination. At the actual Sysco site itself, iron was made and then steel and then the steel was rolled into finished products. There wasn't any production of coke or of any other chemical on the actual Sysco site. That was up at the coke ovens which is on the other side of the overpass.
Just to sum up on this, I would say that in the work being done at Sysco, it probably doesn't require the same level of planning and of research and a formulation that the coke oven site does. I recognize there are special problems there and they require a much more detailed and much more thought out approach. The problems at the coke oven site are 60 feet underground. That's where the worst contamination is - it's not above the ground at all. What's on the surface there, what you can see, is being torn down now. It's the excavation that will have to be done there, if that's to be the process and I'm not advocating encapsulation - the O'Malley approach, I'm not advocating that either. We're going to have to work carefully in days ahead to get that work done. That's my final point on that.
Let's move onto the shipping of coal into Cape Breton. Every time I drive across the Canso Causeway, I see a great big mountain there at Auld's Cove - that's the first place you hit it. Then in Sydney we see the International Pier, that was the Devco pier and the Sysco pier also being either prepared or employed for the shipping end of coal. The coal's coming from anywhere they can get it. It may come from the States, it may come from Columbia and South America. I've heard recently that they're bringing in coal or planning to bring it in from South Africa.
All right. Why is this coal being shipped to Cape Breton? Well, the answer is because we have lights up there and people like to have their power on and the coal is required to make electricity because Nova Scotia Power has two massive power plants in industrial Cape Breton, one at Lingan in New Waterford and the other one at Point Aconi near Sydney Mines, and these two make I would say 60 per cent or so of the provincial power supply right now. That can go up or down because the plants have capacity for different levels of power, but that is what they're doing and they were making more of it than that a couple of years ago, but we need coal to burn in those plants. The plants were designed, one by the Regan Government and one by the Buchanan Government, but they have this one element in common, they're designed to burn coal. They can't burn gas. They can't burn oil. They can't burn wood. They can't burn, what else, kerosene. (Interruption) They can't burn
tires I'm told by the chairman who likes to keep the debate moving along. No, they can't burn tires.
So they burn coal and if we don't have coal that we're mining in Cape Breton to fire them, we've got to import it from elsewhere around the world. That's the way it is. Now, this creates problems. I couldn't begin to detail them in 10 minutes, but they are massive because all coal brought in creates dust and can create a source of environmental contamination. People live around there. It's not a coal shipping port like Roberts Bank is near Vancouver which is supposed to be the biggest, if not in Canada, in the whole world and there's no problems with it at all I'm told. I haven't been there to see it, but I'm not aware of any problems in Vancouver with that particular coal bank.
In Whitney Pier there are considerable concerns right now and apprehension about what it's going to mean when all this coal in massive quantities, far greater than were ever shipped in the past, is brought in and put on the ground for storage and banking for two purposes. One is to burn at the two power plants that I've mentioned and the other is to sell on the spot market to any other people who want coal anywhere around the world, to have like a storage facility at Whitney Pier by the shore, by the dock, so that ships can come in, load up and take it away to wherever.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One minute.
MR. MACEWAN: One minute. Well, if the minister wants to answer all that in one minute, he can have the minute, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MORSE: I would like to acknowledge that past governments have endeavoured to make good use of what appeared at the time a very abundant energy resource in coal in Cape Breton. The member points out that power plants were done to accommodate this. I gather Point Aconi was done under the Regan Government.
MR. MACEWAN: No, the Buchanan Government.
MR. MORSE: I understood that Lingan was done under Buchanan.
MR. MACEWAN: John Buchanan personally authorized the fluidized bed construction program there. It was taken from Japan.
MR. MORSE: I would not want to get into a debate with the honourable member about . . .
MR. MACEWAN: It was Premier Regan who authorized the Lingan plant. That came first.
MR. MORSE: . . . the development of those power plants, but I would say that those were things that were well received by I think all Nova Scotians and perhaps particularly the citizens of Cape Breton at the time because it gave them a secure market for their coal and, therefore, ensured continuous employment. Unfortunately, circumstances since that time have led to the closure of the Devco Mine and now we, as a province, are dependent on those coal-fired generating stations and we are trying to find a way to accommodate the need to supply those stations with coal.
MR. MACEWAN: Are you going to work hard on getting that Donkin Mine producing? Just say yes.
MR. MORSE: I kind of have a sense that my minute is probably pretty much gone.
MR. MACEWAN: And Prince Mine, too.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member's time for asking questions has expired. I now pass the next question session to the NDP caucus. I understand the member for Hants East may have a couple of questions for the minister. The member for Halifax Chebucto?
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: No further questions for the minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have no further questions?
MR. EPSTEIN: No further questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does Mr. MacDonell have any further questions?
MR. MACDONELL: No, no questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any further questions from the Liberal caucus for this minister?
MR. MACEWAN: I don't want to prolong the festivities, Mr. Chairman, this is not the only opportunity I get to ask him questions. We have Question Period three times a week in the House and we have the debate going into Supply and we have various other devices and if he has any legislation he wants to introduce concerning the subjects I've raised this morning, we can debate those bills on second reading and Committee of the Whole House on Bills and on third reading. So there will be further opportunities and I think the Minister of Justice is coming in here to get his comeuppance and we don't want to keep him waiting. So I think maybe I have indicated the general drift of my concerns and I can raise them with the minister again. I want to say this minister has proven himself to me to be a very helpful minister and he tries to get an honest answer to your question. So we will take advantage of those other opportunities at another time, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any questions from the government caucus? Hearing none, I will ask the minister if he would like to make some closing comments before I read the resolutions.
MR. MORSE: As was the case with my opening comments which I undertook to keep brief this year and I hope that the members would concur that they were brief, which gave them more time for what I thought were very thoughtful questions, I particularly enjoyed the dialogue with two of the members present here now, including the last one who has a very entertaining way of making his points, that would be the member for Cape Breton Nova, and I would also like to particularly acknowledge as well the member for Halifax Chebucto who asked some very thought provoking and appropriate questions on the environment.
I would say that I enjoyed all the questions and while the member for Cape Breton West sometimes would seem to enjoy the banter that he provokes in his discussions, I would like to acknowledge that on this occasion he did do what I felt I had to do at the end of estimates last year in the main Chamber and he asked some questions that were specific to the estimates. So I think we've had an excellent mix here with the questioning during this time. I've enjoyed the process.
I would like to particularly acknowledge the staff who have worked very hard to prepare all the material that we had here today to try to be fully ready for your questions and those staff who have borne with me during the process and perhaps particularly my new deputy, Ron L'Esperance. I know this has been a challenge for him because it is a very broad and diverse portfolio and there's a lot to learn. I think he has done a remarkable job in a short period of time.
When I began my comments, I pointed out that this is our first balanced budget in 40 years. I think that all Nova Scotians would recognize that as quite an achievement and I think that all Nova Scotians would also recognize that by having a balanced budget that, first, in future years that perhaps the advent of the Spring budget will not necessarily entail those difficult cuts which have become the hallmark of Nova Scotia budgets over the last 10 years with the exception of perhaps the MacLellan years which created a fairly significant increase in the deficit during his time.
I would like to suggest that we are moving forward with various initiatives in the department, some of which have been touched on through the budget process. We're making strategic investments in our water strategy, investments in new technology to address some of the points that the Auditor General brought up in terms of risk management and documenting our inspection work and, indeed, being able to compile the statistics to be able to substantiate the work that is done by our various inspectors and officers.
There is going to be some investment, as I pointed out, and, in fact, some of it has already taken place in some new staff positions that pertain to the water strategy. I think that this is something that would be welcomed by Nova Scotians and I would like to point out that if we were to look at what professions actually, perhaps, save the most human lives over history, one might discover that it could quite possibly have been engineers and not physicians because some of the fundamentals such as the early sewage treatment systems in cities cut down on disease, which lessened the load on physicians. So I think we should always be conscious of the importance of caring for our environment and we would like to think that the initiatives that have been undertaken, not only by this government, but going back in time that are being carried on by this government and being brought to fruition will do a great deal to protect the health and safety of Nova Scotians.
There was some discussion of air quality, occupational health and safety and climate change. With regard to occupational health and safety, it should be pointed out that some of this overlaps with our federal counterparts. I'm thinking about the offshore and we look forward to moving ahead on addressing that mirror legislation and we hope that that takes place this year. I can assure the honourable members that everything has been done by me personally and by my deputy to try to expedite that with the federal minister and, indeed, directly with some of his staff that are charged with producing that mirror legislation. As with air quality, we talked about the fact that we have to clean up our own act before we have the moral authority to look to those other jurisdictions which in fact create 80 per cent of the trans-boundary air pollution.
We've talked extensively about climate change. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a world and Nova Scotia is doing its part in working with the federal government and the other provinces to make the appropriate adjustments to address our own emissions. Regulatory management, we feel, is one of the most important areas of government for protecting the citizens at large, the environment and, indeed, the economy and with that, the health and safety of the employees in our workplace. We are working hard as a department to ascertain the most up-to-date best management practices and implement them right across the board.
I would like to conclude my remarks, as I did at the start, with just a brief summation. I very much enjoyed the three days and I guess I would look to the chairman to move acceptance of our estimates.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister. The question is now before us. For clarification, before I read the resolutions, I want to remind the minister and the deputies that any information that was requested or undertaken to be provided, that information is to be tabled with the Chair, as well as with the all three caucuses at the same time so that all information that has been requested will be received by all.
Shall Resolution E6 stand?
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
[Resolution E6 stands.]
Resolution E23 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,070,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Securities Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E25 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $2,630,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolutions E23 and E25 carry?
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
[The resolutions are carried.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes your business. I would like to call forward the estimates of the Minister of Justice.
Resolution E10 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $91,753,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Justice, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Chairman, perhaps I will just wait for some of the people who are on their way out to go before I begin my comments. I appreciate the opportunity to open the debate today with a few remarks of my own. I also should indicate that what I'm going to attempt to do is to hit a number of the highlights and a number of my responsibilities. So the remarks may not be as comprehensive as I otherwise could have done, because I understand that there's been some discussions between myself and members of the Opposition about time. So in the interest of that, I will keep my remarks relatively brief. I believe it is important that we provide some context for the discussions that we will have with respect to the areas for which I'm responsible. I also think it's important that members
are aware of some of the initiatives that are underway and the progress that we are making with regard to the very programs offered by agencies I have the pleasure of overseeing.
I will begin with the Department of Justice. We continue to employ about 1,400 people across government. These people are involved in providing administrative support to the courts, including the Supreme and Appeal Courts, the Provincial and Family Courts, as well as Small Claims Court and our Summary Offence Courts, which we are in the process of expanding into Cape Breton. We offer legal services to government. We provide for safe and secure correctional facilities, safe and secure custody of offenders in five adult correctional facilities and two youth facilities and we provide community supervision for offenders through 16 offices throughout the province. We promote the rights of victims of crime and provide information on programs and services for victims of crime. We also work with municipal police agencies across the province to ensure that the delivery of policing services meets acceptable standards. All of our core business functions relate to the safety and security of Nova Scotians, to the quality of life we enjoy.
We have completed a number of major initiatives over the past year, which I believe are worth noting. We have received and responded to the report of the honourable Fred Kaufman. He was asked to determine whether the response to institutional abuse was reasonable, fair and appropriate. He determined it was not. While it is clear that it is time to move on, we, of course, continue to work with the current and past employees who have been wrongfully accused. As you are no doubt aware, I have hired Mr. Brian Johnston, a very experienced labour lawyer, who will work to address the concerns raised by current and past employees. We responded to the report completed by Dean Dawn Russell and Professor Diana Ginn of Dalhousie Law School. Ms. Russell was asked to examine the relevance and effectiveness of the Framework for Action Against Family Violence. She found the framework provided a solid foundation on which to build. She suggested we provide ongoing training, greater inter-agency co-operation and domestic violence legislation. We are doing that.
We are creating a new Justice Learning Centre in Truro, which will provide training on a range of justice issues, including family violence. We have passed the Domestic Violence Act. We have held two meetings with interested groups, the first on March 1st and the second on April 14th, including transition houses and women's centres regarding the supporting regulations and policies which apply to the Act. These meetings have been extremely productive. We have discussed the purpose of the Act itself, as well as who should be designated to make an application for a protection order on behalf of a victim. We hope to proclaim the Act within a reasonable time, once we have fully addressed those issues. We are also spending $157,000 to create victim coordinator positions. These individuals will work with police agencies and will develop risk assessment strategies. As well, we will develop and implement protocol response to high-risk cases. I want to be clear. The funds for these initiatives were found within the budget of the Justice Department.
While discussion continues regarding funding around some of these services provided by the Department of Community Services, I want to assure you of the government's commitment to family violence prevention. One of the other major initiatives we completed this year was the construction and transition into the new 272 bed adult correctional facility in Burnside. The Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility is a state-of-the-art structure, which provides for a much more secure and safe setting for staff, the offenders and, of course, the public. As the honourable members know, we moved into our new facility in October of last year. It was later than we had expected. As a result, we had to house offenders in other areas and did incur some additional costs. We are now in discussion with the developer regarding the recovery of those costs that we incurred. Because this issue is under negotiation, I hope the honourable members will understand that I cannot divulge the figure we are seeking, but that we are looking at a cost recovery.
I also want to address an issue raised by the Auditor General. In his report, he suggested this project was $5.5 million over budget. This is not the case. The original budget approved by Cabinet was $57.5 million, plus or minus 5 per cent. This budget was intended to cover costs related only to the design and construction of the facility. It was not intended to include such things as land cost, consultant fees and project management, which was part of the calculation Mr. Salmon used. The actual cost overrun was $325,360, which is well within the normal parameters for a project of the scope and magnitude of this one. I have brought this issue to the attention of Mr. Salmon, as well. These were costs related to the move to Burnside. The fact is, had we stayed at the original site, changes would have been made to accommodate the increased traffic flow. One option was a diamond interchange on the Bedford Highway, the estimated cost of which was about $5 million. Another option was to widen and extend the off ramp from the Bicentennial Highway to Hammonds Plains Road. Both options would have cost more than the $3.1 million it took to move the facility to a non-residential property zone area. In my view, we made the right decision. It's the right location.
We continue to upgrade our correctional facilities and are now in the process of constructing a new adult correctional facility in Yarmouth. This will replace the current structure, which was built in 1862 and needs to be replaced. We expect this $7 million project to provide 65 direct jobs and another 55 indirect jobs during the construction peak. This should generate about $2.3 million for the local economy. We will bring the staff complement up to 30 from 15, which will bring an additional $800,000 into the local economy for a total of $1.6 million. We expect construction to begin this summer and hope to be operational by the Fall of 2003. John K. Dobbs and Associates will design the 38 bed facility, which we expect to be about 29,000 square feet.
We have already begun an information session in February for people in the Yarmouth area. We will keep the residents of the area advised on that infrastructure. I should also mention that this building will offer a much safer environment for staff, offenders and the public and will be constructed and owned by the people of Nova Scotia and will not be a P3 project. While it's important to upgrade the physical infrastructure related to our correctional facilities, it is important to note that we continue to have the lowest average number of adults in provincial custody per 100,000, as well as the highest average of probation per 100,000 people. All of the offenders in our custody live in a tobacco free environment. We are now approaching the first anniversary of our program, which came into effect on May 1st of last year.
We are moving forward with the construction of a new court facility in Port Hawkesbury. The facility will be built on Granville and Kennedy Streets and will be designed by Bob Ojolick Associates of Sydney. This is a $6.5 million project, which we hope will be operational in the latter part of 2003. There are other changes within our court services division. We have been working to develop a program to assist self-represented litigants in the court system. This is becoming more and more prevalent and we have recognized there is a need to respond appropriately. We have a number of committed volunteers working on the project. Our objective is to develop a realistic program and tools to assist self-represented litigants at all levels of court administered by the province. As I mentioned, we are planning to expand our Summary Offence Court to the Sydney area. This court has worked well here in metro, diverting about 2,700 cases from the provincial docket annually. We expect that our experience in Sydney will be positive and we anticipate that about 90 matters a month will be diverted from the Provincial Court, leaving more time for the serious cases in the Provincial Court. The court will also offer a more convenient option for legal consumers, offering night sittings so it isn't necessary to lose time from work to attend court.
We now have a new centralized Justice of the Peace system in place. We had to reconfigure our system governing Justices of the Peace in response to several court decisions. The courts were clear. If JPs were performing judicial functions, they had to be independent of government. The 14 JPs who worked out of the centre in Dartmouth report to the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court. They are responsible for issuing search warrants, warrants for arrest and conducting bail hearings. The service for the centre is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are still a number of JPs who perform civil wedding ceremonies, swear affidavits for a fee, et cetera. These individuals are not performing judicial functions in keeping with the court's direction.
We are taking additional steps to protect the safety and security of our staff. Sheriff's officers will now be equipped with body armour of bulletproof vests. This wasn't prompted by any one incident, but was a result of a risk assessment and a request from staff. A
committee was established to look at available options and we are now in the process of distributing the vests, which must be worn while a Sheriff is on duty.
We are also building on a Restorative Justice Program. This program has now been expanded to all areas of the province. Restorative justice is about accountability, forgiveness and healing. It is a concept that is deeply rooted in the past with its sight firmly set on the future. The program has been operational since November 1999. There have been well over 1,000 referrals made to the program in the first year. The first phase of our 4-year evaluation process shows that 93 per cent of participants in restorative justice reported their experience to be satisfactory.
We firmly believe that holding offenders directly accountable to those who have violated the law is a powerful and meaningful way to help offenders understand the consequences of their action. In finding ways to restore the emotional and material losses of the victim, the offender faces what is a very tangible impact of the crime they have committed. While our program is still fairly new, our experience, and certainly that of other jurisdictions, outlines the benefit of this approach. When offenders are faced with the more demanding and active opportunity to face their victims, they are more likely to respond in a positive manner. Having to make amends to the victim requires the offender to be responsible and responsive. There is no opportunity to become detached from your crime, nor from the person you have harmed. Too often in our current structure, we see that detachment.
Our research shows that the vast majority report that they were treated fairly and that they had their say, as I indicated, and were satisfied with the outcome. We know that the offenders are more likely to successfully complete restitution obligations with restorative justice. A restorative approach offers a real chance to get at the root causes of crime so that we can prevent it from happening again. Our restorative system also gives the victim a voice and an opportunity to participate in a very meaningful way. Make no mistake, this approach isn't soft on crime. I want to be clear that this is not a replacement for the current system. It is an opportunity to enhance and build on what is available through the traditional justice system.
Along with activity in the crime prevention sector, our Policing and Victim Services section will lead an evaluation of our current capacity to respond to and manage threats to public safety. We will also explore legislative means to enhance public safety and security measures, including an examination of our existing legislation. We will also complete the development of a self-audit program for municipal police services so that these agencies can effectively monitor key operations. We also intend to strengthen the planning process for provincial policing. We will be working closely with the RCMP as we develop priorities and objectives.
We are working with the federal government to prepare for a sex offender registry and I understand that the federal legislation will be brought forward in November of this year. This is an important initiative to which we are committed. My provincial colleagues and I were successful in convincing the federal government that a national sex offender registry was needed. While we were prepared to move forward on our own, this approach is a much more practical and effective method to protect the safety of Canadians. We believe the registry can enhance some of the tools police currently use when dealing with high-risk offenders.
Another important initiative underway is the preparation for the new federal government Youth Criminal Justice Act. The youth justice strategy will focus on preventing crime and on rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders. It will also ensure that effective targeted measures are in place to deal with those committing serious and violent offences as well as the majority of youth offences which are less serious. We are in the process of producing materials which will be needed for the training of Justice personnel. The Act will come into force on April 1, 2003.
We are also working with the legal community service organizations and other government departments to respond effectively to children under 12 who commit crimes. We are now also making sure that those who have fines imposed by the courts actually pay up. In partnership with Business and Consumer Services our collection rate on outstanding fines has been improving. We will continue to work on the process. In the last four years since the inception of the fine collection project, we will have collected $7.2 million in outstanding fines and our collection rate consistently gets results. During the first seven months of the project we collected $758,065. In 1998-99 we collected $1,325,673. In 1999-2000 we collected $1,840,136 and last year we collected $1.6 million. As minister I believe it is particularly important that fines are collected. We cannot stand by and have some offenders undermine the integrity of the justice system by failing to pay fines imposed by the courts. This project we began some time ago with the Halifax Regional Municipality and it's working well.
I'm going to skip ahead, Mr. Chairman, because I can see that I have more speech than I have time. So I'm trying to hit the highlights. (Interruption) The honourable member should know there are many more highlights I could hit.
In January of last year I unveiled a process for the promotion of employment equity. We introduced a number of measures which are designed to address the historical under-representation of indigenous Black and Mi'kmaq lawyers in Nova Scotia's legal profession. A committee of government representatives, the profession, the faculty of Dalhousie Law School and the Barristers' Society are working on several fronts. An employment equity policy for Crown law agents has been developed. Firms doing business with government will be required to sign a commitment to employment equity and to planned program initiatives.
The commitment must be prominently displayed and clearly communicated to current and prospective staff. Firms with 12 or more lawyers must collect and record information on the representation and employment status of designated group members and the steps taken by the firm to achieve employment equity goals. Large firms must also designate a senior partner to oversee compliance. Firms with 11 lawyers or less must report on the representation of designated group members within their firms on June 1st of each year.
One of the most important aspects of this initiative occurred in bringing the key players together. In opening up the lines of communication we made real progress. The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society has also hired an employment equity officer and revived the Race Relations Committee. We have examined professional development opportunities for students and revived the mentorship program. Our goal is to ensure that accurate and reliable information is available regarding that program. That's why we believe it's so important to compile a database that will profile the students and their career paths after graduation.
While we are in the early stages of gathering data, we have some statistics to report. As of June of last year there were 29 Crown law agents, nine of the firms have more than 12 lawyers, the remaining employ 11 or less. Early numbers tell us that 10 of the 29 Crown law agents were involved in hiring either summer or articling students. There were 31 summer students hired in 2001 and 15 positions were offered to women, 11 accepted. Two positions were offered to Black students although none accepted. Two positions were offered to persons with disabilities and one has accepted. Of the 45 articling clerks hired for this year, 25 positions were offered to women, 22 accepted. These are very early numbers, but we are in the process of getting a much better picture.
Now I will move on to one of my other areas of responsibility - Aboriginal Affairs. I will now present some information to the sub-committee related to Aboriginal Affairs. As you know, this important function was created in 1998 to address issues of considerable importance to Nova Scotians. It has been a year of progress in many ways and we have a great deal of work ahead of us. We have been working with the Government of Canada and the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia to address outstanding issues. We have now reached a point where we are preparing for formal negotiations. Let me put this in some context.
The Office of Aboriginal Affairs has five goals: to represent our interests in discussion and negotiations; to promote a coordinated approach within government by working with other line departments; to enhance the awareness of Mi'kmaq heritage and culture; to foster Aboriginal economic development across Nova Scotia; and to build a sustainable framework for First Nations and government relations. The business plan I have approved takes a very strategic and realistic approach to those five goals. Our government has made repeated references to the importance of resolving Aboriginal issues. They all point to the need to work together to provide certainty and clarity to work together to make our province the best possible place to grow, to go to school or to pursue a career. Those are aspirations that have nothing to do with your descent. They're human desires we all share
and those documents reinforce the mantra that I deliver almost every time I meet with the chiefs or my federal counterparts.
Mutually acceptable agreements can bring certainty and stability to Nova Scotia and negotiation is the key, not litigation. Future negotiations must be open and transparent, allowing for input of stakeholders and the public. We have spent a great deal of time discussing our relationship with the Mi'kmaq and how that should evolve and how it can improve. Since taking on this portfolio I have been and will continue to engage in an honest dialogue with the chiefs.
First, the dialogue has helped us to identify a broad approach on how we can resolve outstanding issues. All three Parties agree in principle that we can follow three separate but related tracks. First, a formal negotiation process to address treaty and related issues is required. This has been the primary focus of office staff. Second, we need to sort out a process that helps determine how consultation will occur when it is determined to be necessary and I won't attempt to go into the legalities of this, but suffice to say the courts require specific types of consultation. The third track is our continued support for a restructured Mi'kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada tri-Party forum. We have agreed that if some of the larger issues move to the negotiation table, the forum can be used to address other social and economic issues that are in need of attention. I will skip over the rest of that because there are a number of other responsibilities and I will very, very quickly hear the highlights so that we can go to questions from members.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission under the leadership of its executive director is moving in a number of exciting directions. During the past year the commission has continued to face the challenge of a rapidly evolving field, which continues to make improvements in service delivery. They are fulfilling their mandated duties of investigating complaints, providing policy advice to government, offering training and promoting awareness of human rights in the community. In the coming year, the commission will continue to take positive steps to improve its service efficiency and its move to the next phase of organizational review.
The review of roles, responsibilities and structures was initiated as part of the commitment to improve the effectiveness of the commission's service to the public. This is the first comprehensive review of the commission in 30 years. Since it was established in 1969, the commission has seen an increase in the number of grounds of jurisdiction in the Human Rights Act. While human rights legislation has been updated, the commission itself has not undergone a significant change since that period. The executive director and the staff of the commission realize that change is needed and have been laying the foundations for that change.
Under the effective leadership of the executive director, the commission continues to work within its resources, while taking these steps to improve services. Successes have been realized. I have been informed that as of March 2002, more than 90 per cent of cases at the commission are less than two years old. That accomplishment has meant carefully examining how staff and resources are being utilized. The organizational review begun by the commission has continued to help identify more efficient and effective ways for the commission to serve the public. The process is in keeping with the ongoing review of agencies, boards and commissions, which the government has been conducting. As always, the goal is to ensure that Nova Scotians are receiving good value for their tax dollars.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is positioning itself to face the many challenges of this new century. The provincial government supports the objectives of this review as a means to strengthen our commitment to social equality without the loss of identity to any constituency or diminish service to those constituencies. It reinforces our goal of providing Nova Scotians with flexible and responsible government.
Again, in the interest of brevity, I will skip over the rest of my remarks, although I would be glad to read them later if any of the members of the committee would want to hear them. I would be more than happy to use my time in that regard. I think there is very little chance of that, Mr. Chairman, but one is always subject to being surprised in life. I know some members of the committee would love to hear them, but others, I think, may be more reluctant. (Interruption) Yes, I'm sure. I will just briefly touch on the Public Prosecution Service and the Public Service Commission and then I will be open to questions.
The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service works hard for the people of the province, representing the public interest in criminal proceedings. Let me remind you that Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service was established in 1990 under the Public Prosecutions Act as the first independent and, indeed, the only independent prosecution service in the country. It employed 86 Crown Attorneys and has a total staff of 149 in 18 offices across the province. Our Crown Attorneys handle more than 40,000 cases every year. Last year, those included 29 murders and attempted murders, 250 robberies, 400 sexual assaults, 1,800 break and enters and about 3,000 thefts, and it prosecuted those cases on a budget of $12 million.
In addition to prosecuting all Criminal Code offences in Nova Scotia, the PPS is responsible for prosecuting cases involving violation of provincial Statutes. The PPS also appeals decisions made by courts when the service determines that the court has, in their opinion, made an error in law. Since its establishment over 10 years ago, it has prosecuted cases that have garnered national attention and, I might say, a national controversy, to be sure. As a service, the PPS delivers quality front-line prosecution service and continues to sharpen its skills and expertise in major and complex cases. I want to emphasize the good progress we have made with the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys Association. In February 2000, we announced that we had reached an agreement with the association on a salary-
setting mechanism. Salary negotiations concluded with an arbitration decision last September. I'm pleased to say that the issue of salaries and classification levels for Crown Attorneys is now settled.
Let me now turn briefly to the challenges facing our prosecution service. Canadian justice statistics indicate that Halifax has the highest rate of violent crime per capita of any city in the country. In the past year, the service's Halifax Region has handled over 12 murders, a contract killing and an abduction and torture case, along with other major cases involving violence. This is not a unique problem. Major cases require extensive work by Crown Attorneys preparing for court. There are often complex Charter challenges to proceedings. There are usually dozens of witnesses. Major cases are complex and high profile. Public safety and the public perception of the justice is influenced by the outcome of these cases.
Over the past year, this service has begun to implement a practice of assigning at least two Crown Attorneys to each major case, at least one being a senior Crown Attorney. In order to professionally respond to the demands of these difficult cases, this practice will be implemented. Again, we will skip over further information here in the interest of brevity because, needless to say, there are many, many things going on in the Public Prosecution Service.
Lastly, Mr. Chairman, I will talk very, very briefly, about another minute or two, about the Public Service Commission and then I will be open for questions. The Public Service Commission is a new agency created in 2001 to manage human resources in the provincial government. The Public Service Commission has four important roles. It is responsible for the development and implementation of corporate human resource policy, programs and services. It must ensure, through audit and evaluation, the quality and value of human resource management practices. It ensures a fair and effective hiring process and it's the government agency for collective bargaining.
Mr. Chairman, government is committed to improving public sector management and strengthening accountability through operations. A strong human resource capacity within government is critical to having a professional Public Service that delivers quality programs and services to Nova Scotians. The past year has largely been a year of transition and we adjusted to the new and expanded responsibilities. As part of this transition, the human resources community from line departments across the provincial government have worked hard as a HR community to guide human resource management in Nova Scotia. Together, the government's human resource community is working to create a better working environment that is productive, supportive and positive.
Mr. Chairman, it is our long-term vision to ensure, once again, Nova Scotia becomes the employer of choice. In doing so, it is important to understand what our employees value. Research tells us that compared with Canadians elsewhere, Atlantic Canadians place a
greater premium on non-wage benefits such as work-life balance, security, training and benefits. The development of effective human resource planning and a high-quality work environment must recognize these values.
With that, I will conclude, for the moment, my remarks and would be prepared to entertain questions. I might add, just by way of information, if I might know which general subject area the questioner might be planning to go to, it would make it easier for me because, as you can appreciate, with all those areas, I will be having people jumping up and down like yo-yos, if I don't have some idea. So, with that, I would be glad to take questions, if you could identify the area.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto. Your time is 11:38 a.m.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Chairman, as you can see, the Critics for Justice of the two Opposition Parties are not with us. They're both, of course, in the other Chamber since they have duties to do with the Department of Education, at the moment. So until they are able to be here, I do, however, have some questions, and I wonder if we could start with Aboriginal Affairs.
MR. BAKER: That's fine.
MR. EPSTEIN: I was interested to hear you say, Mr. Minister, that the preferred strategy was to negotiate not litigate.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: I have to say that was encouraging but puzzling, given that we are, in fact, involved in some litigation. I have in mind, of course, the logging case that's wending its way through the courts now. There has been one judgment, and it has been appealed, as I understand, or will be appealed. It certainly will move through the courts.
MR. BAKER: I think there are maybe two judgments, actually. I believe it was tried in the Provincial Court and there was a conviction entered, and it was appealed to a judge of the Supreme Court alone and that appeal was denied. I understand the appeal is now on to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals. I think that would be the third level of what I think is probably a four-stage process.
MR. EPSTEIN: Probably it will. It then becomes a little puzzling to hear a comment made that the strategy is to negotiate, not litigate. I think this litigation started as a result of Prosecutions, which was an active step on the part of the province to take the matter to court. I understand the pressures that resulted in that, and that's something that has already started and we're in the middle of it.
Nonetheless, what I'm concerned about is what stage we're actually at. I heard you say that the province is now preparing for formal negotiations. Does that mean a date is set for the start of negotiations - preparing could cover quite a lot of ground? What I wonder is whether you have someone with whom to negotiate? Is there interest on the other side to negotiate? Are dates set? Is an agenda set? Just how close are we to actually seeing some negotiations get underway?
MR. BAKER: Mr. Chairman, this is a subject on which I think there is good news to report. We are in the process of, I guess, finalizing details on a framework - I have to be careful, apparently these things have a certain staging to even negotiations - it's a framework agreement. We are very close to the completion of that process, whereby Nova Scotia's Aboriginal community and the provincial and federal governments would have agreed on a framework agreement, and that process, the initial agreement phase, if you want to call it that, is very nearly completed, which would then move us on to the next level of negotiations. I'm not trying to be arcane here, but this is a very staged process with increasingly detailed levels of process.
We are now very nearly concluding the first level of that process, and we will be moving onto the second process. I believe and I'm hopeful that we will have an agreement signed within the next two or three months in that regard.
MR. EPSTEIN: Clearly, we're not at the stage of setting any dates for actually sitting down to negotiate the substance of the matters. Who would the parties be, the federal government, the provincial government . . .
MR. BAKER: It's a tri-party process - the federal government, the provincial government and the Mi'kmaq.
MR. EPSTEIN: It's really the nature of Mi'kmaq buy-in to this process that I was wondering about. Is it the case that all of the Mi'kmaq communities in Nova Scotia are prepared to participate in this? Have they in fact formed a unified front for coming together with the two levels of government to talk?
MR. BAKER: Yes. The short answer is that we're hopeful that all of the parties, or we have an indication that all of the parties will be signing under the umbrella agreement, so that we would be moving forward collectively - I guess that's a good way of saying it - to engage in those discussions. Every community, as I understand it, is in that process, which has been one of the reasons that these things, obviously, take a great deal of time, you need to allow each community to determine that they're prepared to involve themselves in the process, and they have.
MR. EPSTEIN: Just to be clear, we're talking here, really, about land claims negotiations.
MR. BAKER: It's broader than that. We're talking about every issue. There are no issues off the table. I think all the parties have agreed to discuss any issue of mutual concern. Obviously, land claims have been an issue identified by the Mi'kmaq, but that is not exclusively the issue. There are lots of issues, dealing with economic development and all sorts of other concerns to communities, taxation, there is a wide range of issues, as you might expect, that the Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaq community would be interested in discussing with the government.
We have indicated that this process will provide an opportunity to discuss those issues. Natural resource access issues, of course, are a major issue. That, in some respect, involves the federal government, of course, because it's a tri-party process. That process would involve the federal government in the process, and that would involve access to fishery resources, as an example. It would be erroneous to describe it as just one thing when it's a very broad process.
MR. EPSTEIN: That's a very fair point, I would say. On the other hand, land claims is nonetheless part of what it is that you expect to come to the table about.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Following what has happened in other provinces, where there at least has been some settlement of some land claims, there has been a fairly hefty price tag associated with that. That is one of the ways in which it's easy to imagine land claims negotiations are dealt with, it's not by turning over land, especially where some of that land is already settled, although jurisdiction over land could be part of it, but cash is also part of it. I'm wondering if your government is thinking of taking any steps to book any sums towards possible settlements?
MR. BAKER: No, I think this is not an item that is, at this stage, very easily calculable.
MR. EPSTEIN: But neither was the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds, but you booked that. You booked that.
MR. BAKER: I think that's a separate track. I won't compare it. I think we've made a decision that clearly Nova Scotia needs to come to the table, we have things to offer and we have things to discuss, important issues. The federal government clearly needs to come to the table, too. I don't think we can ever forget that in order to resolve these issues, many issues are either areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction - fisheries, I'm thinking about that - and there are areas where, frankly, the federal government has, I believe, a significant
responsibility to bring money to the table. That is not to say that there will not be issues for the provincial government as well, but I think it's fair to say that we have not booked any particular amount because we have not been able to estimate, at this stage, what the extent of the issue is.
I might say there are other discussions that are going on in other areas which are different. I will give you an example of that, there are issues involved in taxation, gasoline and fuel tax in particular, and that's a separate issue that we're hopeful of resolving as well. I don't want to mislead you by suggesting that there aren't some areas where you can calculate a liability, such as on the taxation side, because clearly there has been a difficulty with respect to the tax collection regime with respect to motive fuel taxes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is it the position of the provincial government that Section 88 of the Indian Act, which makes all laws of general application apply in the context of Indians, extends to taxation regimes?
MR. BAKER: I think there are some specific cases with respect to motive fuel taxes in particular which say it does not. Whether my position was one thing or another, I think there has been litigation which indicates that motive fuel taxes with respect to motor fuel used by status Indians on reserve is not subject to taxation. That's one of the issues that we are in the process of trying to deal with. So that's why I said - and those issues which, and I think you may have seen TV media reports, Mr. Epstein, for example about in Eskasoni, because that's the largest community in the province, where there is I guess an initiative which we're hoping to put in place with respect to smart cards where people would be able to pull up to the pumps and, if they provided the card, would buy the fuel exempt from taxation, but if I pulled up, not being a person with status, then I would simply pay the regular retail price. That card, which would be part of your regular driver's license, the technology exists and we are very close to reaching a satisfactory resolve on that actually.
MR. EPSTEIN: I know it is a complicated problem.
MR. BAKER: And that's why I say it.
MR. EPSTEIN: It is complicated and other laws of general application in the province, public health and safety laws for example, the extent of their application on a reserve I guess is still an open question?
MR. BAKER: Yes. Certainly the position of the provincial government has been that those laws, like laws of contract for example, you know the Province of Nova Scotia has lots of laws, as we all know as lawyers, that deal with contracts and what the nature of the contract says and what remedies there might be available. My view is, as an example, those laws apply to a contract between two individuals on a reserve just as much as they apply to two individuals who would enter a contract in the Red Room of Province House. Of course
lawyers can always argue about where the line lies, but I think it's fair to say that we have taken the position that many of these laws of general application do apply, but there are some specific decisions in the area of taxation which make the area much different.
MR. EPSTEIN: I heard something recently from Bernd Christmas when he was speaking at the Law School this year which was a bit of a surprise to me and . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: . . . I'm going to mention here, I don't know, I hope it was something already known to the minister or his negotiators, but Mr. Christmas said that in their view land claims that they wish to assert included the offshore, and the offshore as far as Canada claimed it; that is to say - he went on to explain - 200 miles at the moment and, if Canada expands its jurisdiction so too will the Mi'kmaq claims be expanded accordingly. It's an appropriate negotiating strategy to come with as large a position as you can possibly have, so I pass this on in case you haven't heard of it.
MR. BAKER: I've heard of it, yes, and it's not a surprise. Even if I hadn't heard it, which I had, it wouldn't have been a surprise.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, just so long as you're prepared.
Okay, what I wondered as well was whether there were any other pieces of litigation involving the Mi'kmaq at the moment, and their rights either under the Constitution or treaties? I'm aware and we've mentioned of course the forestry litigation and it seemed to me that there's a piece of litigation over SOEP as well, in the pipeline, is that correct?
MR. BAKER: I will have to provide you with some of the further detail on that, Mr. Epstein, but there is other litigation. For example, an example of litigation which I believe is still ongoing is the famous deer jacking case.
MR. EPSTEIN: Oh, yes, sure.
MR. BAKER: I mean that's an example and the difficult thing is that some of these issues are issues raised by individuals who may have some community support for their legal fees, but really are individual cases involving what I might describe as individual rights and not as collective rights.
MR. EPSTEIN: Sure.
MR. BAKER: Then there are other cases which are much more collective in their outcome. I use the deer jacking case as the ultimate example of an individual case involving individual rights which is simply where - there are lots of cases involving those kind of
issues. For example, we met with, I met and the Minister of Natural Resources met with a group of people the other day and one of the individuals said that he had one charge against him by the provincial government - which I wasn't even aware of - and one by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans as a result of a dispute that he has with respect to his Aboriginal status. So that's why I say individuals may sometimes litigate these things individually.
MR. EPSTEIN: So how does notification get to your department? Is this treated as a constitutional question and therefore notification comes under the Constitutional Questions Act, or is it just if something arises the prosecutors let you know?
MR. BAKER: First of all I might let you know that the Public Prosecution Service has a protocol, so if a prosecutor in the field has a case involving Aboriginal rights it is handled up the line so to speak, so that there is some kind of coordination. Secondly, obviously, the Constitutional Questions Act, I get a number of issues under that, and oftentimes the Province of Nova Scotia in a civil area in particular is a direct party and of course we're served with notice accordingly in that case. So I guess it's fair to say it comes in a number of different ways, depending on the foray but they generally come through either the Public Prosecution Service and the line prosecutors, or through the Constitutional Questions Act, or being directly served.
MR. EPSTEIN: So are there a lot of cases outstanding then?
MR. BAKER: My note said that there are four civil actions by the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and CMM, Confederation of Mainland Mi'kmaq.
MR. EPSTEIN: So there are four civil cases . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: . . . and some criminal cases or quasi-criminal cases?
MR. BAKER: Yes, and then there are other cases involving federal offences - Fisheries' charges, those kinds of things, where the provincial government would either be directly involved or would be . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: They took place in Nova Scotia.
MR. BAKER: They took place in Nova Scotia and the Province of Nova Scotia would have interest in at least keeping track of that case because it may involve a line of reasoning which would apply to provincial resources as well as federal resources. Fisheries' cases, oftentimes, as we've seen in the Marshall case, the logic used in that case may have a very direct application to provincial resources although it may be, in essence, a federal
prosecution, and that's why I said it's not so simple as to just draw a line and say it's federal or provincial.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, a very good point; in fact I would be quite happy to take you up on the offer to have a list of those cases at some point.
MR. BAKER: Yes, we will provide it.
MR. EPSTEIN: I don't need a huge elaboration, but just a list of some kind would be wonderful to have. I'm going to yield to my colleague, the member for Glace Bay, who has some questions he wants to ask.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is your caucus reserving the rest of your time for later?
MR. EPSTEIN: When the critics arrive, they will probably take over.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I will now pass the floor over to the Liberal caucus. Your time is 11:57 a.m.
The honourable member for Glace Bay.
MR. DAVID WILSON: That's if we allow them to take over.
Mr. Minister, I have a couple subjects that I would like to raise with you because I know your responsibilities include a couple - well several areas, including the recent one in Communications Nova Scotia, which you've taken over in that huge Cabinet shuffle that occurred in Nova Scotia. If I can . . .
MR. BAKER: Mr. Wilson, are most of your questions going to deal with that period . . .
MR. WILSON: No.
MR. BAKER: We're going to be punting around, are we?
MR. WILSON: I can wait.
MR. BAKER: I'm just trying to think, if you've got any Aboriginal . . .
MR. WILSON: I was going to ask you about that and maybe the Public Service Commission. I understand maybe you have to change staff, is that what you're saying?
MR. BAKER: That's the only thing. You can ask any questions you want. I don't mind that, I'm just . . .
MR. WILSON: Oh, thank you, Mr. Minister. Let's not go there, okay?
MR. BAKER: I am trying to be helpful.
MR. WILSON: I know; I understand.
MR. BAKER: I am trying to be helpful so that you get an answer. Do you have any questions about Aboriginal Affairs? If not, I will get the other staff . . .
MR. WILSON: I would just like to ask you a few questions about Communications Nova Scotia, can we start out with that?
MR. BAKER: Okay, great, that's fine.
MR. WILSON: Well first, just to make a statement and to see if you would agree with me or not. The blue book that was published by the Progressive Conservatives, I think clearly states that this government would not engage in politically motivated advertising, is that a correct statement, would you say?
MR. BAKER: I believe it to be a correct statement, yes.
MR. WILSON: The previous government, if I'm to understand, was criticized by both Opposition Parties of the day for promoting the budget in 1999, I think that's fair to say as well, is it not? You don't recall?
MR. BAKER: I can't recall that, to be honest with you, but it wouldn't surprise me to be that correct because the 1999 budget was flawed.
MR. WILSON: I'm wondering - that's a good answer, Mr. Minister, I don't agree with it but it's a good answer - now if that's the case, and you agreed that's what the blue book said, then why now do you think, since you're the minister responsible for Communications Nova Scotia, that it's okay to spend money promoting the budget?
MR. BAKER: Well, I guess the question is that I don't believe that this is politically motivated advertising to answer your earlier comment. We believe it's important that Nova Scotians understand the facts about our financial house and the state it's in. I believe those facts were stated in a very non-partisan way, in a way that simply provides to Nova Scotians the information that they need to have in making a critical assessment about government and
a situation. I believe that it's a very good thing when you provide that information to the public, and I might say that by comparison, by example, to the federal Liberal Government we do very, very little information and provide relatively little - perhaps we should provide more. I will be glad to hear your comment on that. I think it is the short answer that I don't believe it to be a violation of that commitment.
MR. WILSON: You know full well that the brochures that were distributed recently, the only way I can describe them is that they're blue brochures.
MR. BAKER: Yes, they're blue.
MR. WILSON: Perhaps that's a coincidence that they would be the colour blue, I'm not sure, but they were distributed to every household in Nova Scotia?
MR. BAKER: I believe that to be the case.
MR. WILSON: Can you tell me how much it cost?
MR. BAKER: Yes, I can. Apparently we're hunting down the person who has that answer at the moment.
MR. WILSON: I'm wondering - I guess it would probably be contained in the same information - if indeed did that cost cause Communications Nova Scotia to go over budget?
MR. BAKER: No, it did not. I can answer that one.
MR. WILSON: Without knowing how much it cost?
MR. BAKER: I know the answer to that question because I asked it earlier, that's why I recall the answer. I'm not trying to be evasive, because if I knew the other answer I would tell you because it's not in my interest to do that.
MR. WILSON: Basically I wanted to know how much it costs and I would also like to know how much is budgeted this year for advertising with Communications Nova Scotia. But I would like to know who would have compiled that brochure, who would have put things together, and who would have determined what was going to be in that brochure?
MR. BAKER: We're looking, as I said, for Mr. Vibert, but my understanding is it would be Communications Nova Scotia, and the staff at Communications Nova Scotia would certainly have been involved in that process, probably led that process.
MR. WILSON: So you're aware that there was a rather glaring omission from that brochure, are you not?
MR. BAKER: What omission are you referring to?
MR. WILSON: I think there was $100 million figure that was not mentioned in that brochure, as was mentioned in Question Period the other day by the Liberal caucus.
MR. BAKER: Oh, you're talking about the amount of growth in the public debt in Nova Scotia?
MR. WILSON: Yes, that wasn't mentioned in that brochure.
MR. BAKER: I do not have the brochure in front of me, I don't know if you have it or not.
MR. WILSON: I find it strange if you're saying, and you joked before that indeed another budget may have been flawed and this was to tell Nova Scotians the truth of what's going on with the budget. Indeed, you would agree that the overall truth with the budget, that $100 million that's added to the provincial debt would be part of the truth that's associated with the provincial budget, is it not?
MR. BAKER: Yes, but I don't think anyone would believe it would be helpful to communicate to - I suppose you could make an argument that every Nova Scotian, if they got a copy of the complete Public Accounts and Supplement to the Public Accounts of Nova Scotia, that theory might be helpful, but I don't know if Nova Scotians would all take the time to read that.
MR. WILSON: So what you're saying then is that this brochure was published but the information in it was disseminated by someone at Communications Nova Scotia who would pick and choose what material would be there to suit the benefit of whom, yourself? Are you saying that it's okay to distribute propaganda on behalf of the Tory Party, is that what you're saying?
MR. BAKER: First of all I'm saying it wasn't propaganda on behalf of any political Party, and second of all I would suggest to you that what happened was that in any information you have to choose the most relevant information and present that. What was selected, in my view, was an attempt to provide the most relevant information and present that information to the public. Now, obviously, we probably don't agree on what is the most relevant information, but I think we probably can agree that it wouldn't be helpful if you were trying to communicate to average men and women in Nova Scotia that you send the complete Public Accounts of Nova Scotia to them. First of all the cost would be prohibitive, and secondly it would probably not convey that information in a way that they would be able to make use of it.
MR. WILSON: I'm sure you and I would agree too that it would be very helpful to the general public if the truth was delivered in their mailbox, not just part of the truth but the whole truth. I'm sure you would agree with that, Mr. Minister.
MR. BAKER: I think we agree that the truth is important, yes.
MR. WILSON: And it would depend on who's determining what the truth is, I guess. Have we found out the cost of that brochure yet?
MR. BAKER: Apparently Mr. Vibert is amongst the missing, but will be located shortly I am sure.
MR. WILSON: Okay. Communications Nova Scotia does some polling I understand. Does Communications Nova Scotia do polling?
MR. BAKER: I'm not sure if they do polling, but they sometimes engage people to do polling, yes.
MR. WILSON: Is Communications Nova Scotia required to do polling on behalf of other government departments?
MR. BAKER: Government departments do polling from time to time and Communications Nova Scotia, I believe, acts as the clearing house for engaging those contracts.
MR. WILSON: Also, am I to understand that Communications Nova Scotia purchased some backdrops that had been used for various press conferences, that these backdrops - and I've seen them and I'm sure you have because I'm sure you've used them - they're pretty similar to ones that were used by the Progressive Conservative Party in the last election, aren't they?
MR. BAKER: I don't believe they're the same ones, no.
MR. WILSON: I didn't say they were the same, I said they're similar.
MR. BAKER: I think they're blue, if that's what you mean by similar, I guess they're blue.
MR. WILSON: Well, if you've seen them you will know that they're very similar to the ones used by the Progressive Conservative Party in the last election. I guess what I'm getting at here is - and I'm not blaming it on staff at Communications Nova Scotia, I know how professional the staff is there - I'm not sure about what direction they're getting or in what direction it's headed, but I can understand why some staff there might be a little bit
uncomfortable about such things as buying these backdrops, or whatever the case may be, considering that they're supposed to be Communications Nova Scotia and they're supposed to be working in a non-biased atmosphere. They're supposed to be independent of politics, but actually what they're being asked to do is play politics and put out propaganda on behalf of the Tory Party of Nova Scotia under the guise of being a government department - a hands-off department of government that is not supposed to dabble in any way, shape, or form, in politics.
MR. BAKER: First of all I might say my experience with Communication Nova Scotia is that they are not partisan. Clearly their job is to communicate the government message, and while you may refer to that as a partisan message it is a function of being a government, that the communications function of government exists to communicate to Nova Scotians about what their government is doing, what their government thinks are important issues, those kinds of things, and Communications Nova Scotia is clearly engaged in that.
You talked about the backdrops. I don't think it's possible to have a professional-looking opportunity for public speaking if you don't have a backdrop, particularly with respect to televison. For example, against glass windows, if you don't have a backdrop you basically end up with the witness-protection-program look, as one reporter reported to me, because what happens is the window glare overwhelms the speaker. So there are reasons for purchasing that. Why they picked blue, well to be honest with you, my understanding is blue is sort of Nova Scotia's official colour, as the flag of Nova Scotia is white and blue.
MR. WILSON: I don't think, Mr. Minister, that I questioned the colour blue or why the backdrop . . .
MR. BAKER: Well, I'm just simply saying the Conservative Party happens to be blue too. It's a coincidence.
MR. WILSON: What I did say was that it was very, very similar to the backdrop that was used by the PC Party in the last election. It is just a coincidence I guess.
Let me ask you, as the minister responsible how do you perceive the role of Communications Nova Scotia?
MR. BAKER: My view is that Communications Nova Scotia provides professional, non-partisan communication advice and assistance to the Government of Nova Scotia in communicating to Nova Scotians important issues involving policy and directions of government.
MR. WILSON: Has Communications Nova Scotia, to your knowledge, ever provided media training to backbench MLAs from the Tory caucus?
MR. BAKER: To my knowledge, I mean I know members of our caucus have received media training - I don't know. (Interruptions) None? No, the answer is no. I know members of our caucus have received media training, but I don't believe it was through Communications Nova Scotia.
MR. WILSON: I would like to move on. There are other things. I would like to get that information though when it's available.
MR. BAKER: Mr. Wilson, you asked questions about the cost of the brochures. The cost of the brochures was $63,000, that's production and mail-out.
MR. WILSON: As you said, it did not force Communications Nova Scotia to go over budget?
MR. BAKER: No. Communications Nova Scotia was within budget.
MR. WILSON: How much was budgeted for advertising this year?
MR. BAKER: I will have to look at the estimates.
MR. WILSON: I'm sorry, I don't have my books here in front of me.
MR. BAKER: The answer to that would be that all of the advertising costs are recovered from line departments. So for example budgeting with respect to the cost of advertising for the Department of Justice would be recovered from the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice would be responsible to pay that out of their existing budget. If the Department of Health has advertising, the Department of Health would pay that out of their existing budget, as well. The $63,000 was recovered from the Department of Finance.
MR. WILSON: Pardon me?
MR. BAKER: The $63,000 for the householder that you referred to was recovered from the Department of Finance by Communications Nova Scotia.
MR. WILSON: So it actually came out of the Finance Department's budget, is that what you're saying?
MR. BAKER: Exactly, that's correct. The initial invoice would be sent to them and they would then recover that money as a transfer.
MR. WILSON: I will move on from the subject of Communications Nova Scotia. I wanted to ask you a few things in your role as the Minister of Justice in this province. The Justice Minister is a fairly influential person, I would take it, in the justice community. Now,
take it from a lay person, I am not a lawyer - nor do I want to be - and that's only a joke to any solicitors who are in the room, that's nothing personal . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: You are really outnumbered today.
MR. WILSON: Yes, I feel very nervous at this point. As a Minister of Justice what you say, I would think, within the justice community, for the most part a lot of people would hinge on what the Minister of Justice in this province says in regard to policy or programs or whatever. Now as Minister of Justice you took part in an emergency debate in this Legislature last night regarding the crisis that exists with transition houses, shelters, women's centres, and men's programs throughout this province right now. Earlier this morning as a matter of fact, sitting here as the Minister of Justice, I think you used the phrase to describe, when you were talking about programs for family violence, what has been done so far, you said your department is extremely productive, I think that was the exact phrase that you used.
I must tell you that at this particular time, with what's going on in this province and with what is being said by the service providers of women's centres and transition houses and men's programs that we've heard from over the past few days, I think - and I will allow the minister to react to this - I find that statement to be rather callous and I find it to be offensive at this point in time, based on what's happening and what we've been hearing from the service providers and from women and children in crisis across this province.
Now the same kind of statement, I think, you made last night during your speech in the Legislature, and I would just like you, as the Minister of Justice in this province right now, to tell me and to tell the people of Nova Scotia that it's okay to close transition houses and women's centres and put women and children in this province at further risk, women and children who are in abusive situations. Surely, as the Minister of Justice in this province, you can't possibly think that that is the right thing to do in this day and age, Mr. Minister?
MR. BAKER: Thank you for your question. I will begin by saying that I will not attempt to directly or indirectly do estimates for the Minister of Community Services who, I'm sure, is more than capable of doing that for himself. I will, I guess, hinge around the Justice policy part of that because, as you can appreciate, there have to be some lines with respect to estimates. I can tell you that I do believe that transition houses in Nova Scotia provide a very valuable service. I don't believe anything I said last evening said otherwise, and certainly was not intended to say otherwise. I am familiar with transition houses and have been professionally familiar with transition houses pretty much since I started practising law because I did do family law in this province, and over the years a number of my clients were people who were actually staying in transition houses at the time when they were my clients.
What I would also indicate to you is there is nothing wrong in evaluating a program to determine if those dollars can be spent more effectively. Now, obviously, we have a disagreement and there may be a very fundamental disagreement between us with respect to the most effective way to spend those dollars, but the fact that women's centres provide a valuable service, I don't think anyone, certainly I haven't heard the Minister of Community Services say elsewise and I believe that. I think the quote you made was that the meetings have been extremely productive. What I was referring to is that in fact the transition houses and women's centres have been represented at two meetings, March 1st and April 4th, with respect to the implementation of regulations under the domestic violence Act. So that, I think, was the reference that you made.
In short, I believe that there is no magic cure for domestic violence; there is no magic bullet to solving domestic violence. It requires a number of different approaches that address a number of different concerns. For example, there are clearly some women who need to go to shelters; there are other women for whom staying in their home with adequate legal safeguards is the ideal solution; and there are other people for whom counselling is another solution. So I believe it is a multi-faceted approach where you have to find the right tools to assist those women.
Also, you obviously have to make sure that government agencies like the police are able to provide the kind of services and protection to the victims of domestic violence that are possible. I guess the short answer, for the honourable member's benefit, is that I believe that I never indicated or suggested other than that we need a very comprehensive and sensitive approach to domestic violence and, as I said during my opening remarks, I believe that we have done that, that we have done a lot of good work in the domestic violence area and there's much more to be done.
MR. WILSON: So, Mr. Minister, would you agree then that one way of helping this situation was to cut $869,000 from the existing budget of transition houses, women's centres and men's programs throughout the province? Would you describe that as a good start to making those programs better?
MR. BAKER: I think that's a specific question to the estimates of the Minister of Community Services.
MR. WILSON: Well, I think it reflects on the Minister of Justice as well because, as you've just said, what happens within the justice system in this province regarding families in crisis is exactly what we're talking about here now. Now, you, yourself, as you said, you practised family law.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. WILSON: So I'm sure that you've seen a lot of cases that have dealt with abuse. Last night in this Legislature you stated that perhaps the best place for a woman involved in an abusive situation would be to stay at their home.
MR. BAKER: I don't want to interrupt you, but I stand by what I said. I don't think anyone believes that the victim in an ideal situation should be driven from their home. I mean, I don't believe, you know, I mean the goal of society, I believe, should be that the abuser leaves and the abused gets the opportunity to stay in their own home.
MR. WILSON: In a perfect situation, Mr. Minister, the abuse wouldn't occur at all, but we don't live in a perfect world.
MR. BAKER: Unfortunately not.
MR. WILSON: The fact is that when it does happen, women and children are forced from their home and where they've been going in this province has been to transition houses and now under the proposed document, that draft document that was tabled in the House the other day, five of those transition houses or shelters, it is proposed, are to be closed in this province. You have also mentioned, and I don't know how things work in the Justice Department, but I'm sure that you consult with people on a regular basis and you probably consult with them before you make decisions, and you've said that a consultative approach to things is how you do business, but that was not the case with this decision because obviously there was a budget cut made of almost $870,000 without consulting with anybody, with any of the service providers. None of them were consulted.
Surely, if you were going to come up with, let's say, a policy on family violence in this province as Minister of Justice, would you not consult with the people who are involved, the service providers who are involved, the groups that are involved? Would you not do that first before you decided what that program was going to consist of and how much would be budgeted for that program?
MR. BAKER: I guess in answer to your question, in fact, we did just do that. Dean Russell in her report which was commissioned by the Department of Justice consulted widely, consulted extremely widely with all sorts of affected community groups about what the most effective way to deal with family violence was and, for example, the domestic violence Act came out of a recommendation in the Russell report, as an example. For example, our Justice training centre came out of a recommendation in the Dean Russell report which suggested more effective training and coordination. Our opportunity to approve police auditing capacity flowed out of the Russell report and those were all based on a consultative process. So I guess what I'm suggesting to you is that I think the department and I, as minister, try to the extent most greatly possible to consult with affected individuals.
MR. WILSON: I don't think the Russell report recommended closing five transition houses throughout this province, did it?
MR. BAKER: No, it did not and I never suggested it did.
MR. WILSON: So you're using the Russell report as, you're holding it up and saying this is what should be done, we've consulted, but you're not following any of the recommendations of the Russell report?
MR. BAKER: I don't think the Russell report addressed that issue one way or the other. (Interruptions)
MR. WILSON: Well, Mr. Minister, I think, and I've said this and I will say it again, what is going on in terms of families in crisis in this province and what has been done by this government is absolutely reprehensible and offensive to a lot of people right now in this province. I find the attitude of a lot of government members is callous and cold-hearted and I can't understand why because I know in this province, that in every constituency, everywhere you go, at one time or another, probably would know somebody who has had to deal with this sort of a situation. We're all affected by it whether it has happened to us personally or not.
As the Justice Minister I'm sure you know the issues that come before the courts in this province that deal with domestic violence on a daily basis and I find it hard to believe that you are not personally in your role as Justice Minister outraged that this is being done and the end result of what's happening here will be that there will be more abuse in this province and that there could potentially be someone seriously injured or perhaps even killed because these transition houses and shelters and women's centres will no longer be there and that's just based on the abuse that's there. As I've said before, women's centres, as you well know, do much more than just provide shelter for women and children who are in need of that. With that statement, the minister may want to react to that statement, but I will make that my closing statement for now, Mr. Chairman, and whatever time is remaining, I will turn over to my colleagues from the NDP caucus.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time is now 12:25 p.m. I believe the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, has a few questions.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: A few, sure, I have a couple. How are you today, Mr. Minister?
MR. BAKER: Fine, thank you.
MR. DEVEAUX: I'm going to go around, you covered so much of those various departments, maybe we will start with Victim Services. That's something that came up in the fall around a resident of mine, Michael Tran.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: How much was brought in by Victim Services in the last fiscal year?
MR. BAKER: Which book is that in? (Interruptions)
MR. DEVEAUX: Maybe I will ask you at the same time, how much will be coming in in this coming fiscal year?
MR. BAKER: The victim fine surcharge is about $700,000 a year.
MR. DEVEAUX: $700,000?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Last year?
MR. BAKER: It's much the same year over year.
MR. DEVEAUX: And it's 15 per cent of a fine, is that right?
MR. BAKER: Yes, that's right.
MR. DEVEAUX: So with these new fine increases today, does that mean we're going to bring more in?
MR. BAKER: We would get some more revenue although the provincial government would not necessarily get very much increased revenue because most of the speeding charges actually flow to municipalities.
MR. DEVEAUX: Speeding or all motor vehicle offences?
MR. BAKER: Most of the motor vehicle because municipal police forces which are paid for by municipalities give a speeding ticket. So motor vehicle offences are an example of where very little of the real revenue, except on Highway No. 103 or Highway No, 102, or whatever, . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: 100-Series Highways.
MR. BAKER: That's why I said the vast majority of the revenue that would be received with respect to that would actually go to municipal units. We would only receive the 15 per cent which would go into the victim fine surcharge and that would only be 15 per cent, obviously, of the increase.
MR. DEVEAUX: And do you have some idea of how much that 15 per cent will result in in an increase in the victim fine surcharge?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that has not been worked into our estimates or into the estimates of any of the other departments for the simple reason that the date of implementation has not, to my knowledge, been decided.
MR. DEVEAUX: So in the last fiscal year you estimated $699,000 would be spent on Victim Services?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Presumably that comes from the victim fine surcharge fund, but you spent $913,700?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Can you explain to me the difference between what was estimated and what was forecast?
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer is that Victim Services in Nova Scotia cost far more money than we actually obtained through the levy.
MR. DEVEAUX: Well the point of reducing the services provided by Victim Services a couple of years ago by your government was to reduce, presumably, the amount that was being provided to Victim Services. It used to be that you provided other things.
MR. BAKER: That's right. In short terms, unfortunately, the victim fine surcharge, the tax on fines, does not produce nearly enough money to cover all of the costs of Victim Services in Nova Scotia and, clearly, changes in the compensation program, which is what I think you're alluding to, were made in order to constrain costs.
MR. DEVEAUX: They have reduced the deficiency, but didn't eliminate it.
MR. BAKER: That's right, absolutely. It would be very hard to do that because, in fact, in many ways, and this is just anecdotal, since the 20 years and a little more that I've been a lawyer now, I've seen a significant decline in the number of offences. I think it's a function of Nova Scotia's aging population as much as anything and as the number of offences, particularly the offences for which fines are levied, goes down, the victim fine surcharge at least does not increase.
MR. DEVEAUX: Have you thought about increasing it to 20 per cent? Was that ever considered by your government?
MR. BAKER: No, I can honestly say, I haven't given it a lot of thought. I guess there's always a question at which point you get into some legal issues. I don't know what limit it becomes when the courts would begin to say that you may have another problem with respect to the size of the penalty.
MR. DEVEAUX: You can double the fine and no one is going to say that the . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes, I know, but sometimes the courts don't like - it's been pointed out to me that one of the obvious situations with any fine or victim fine surcharge is the courts have the ability to waive the victim fine surcharge the way they cannot impose a fine. So the fact is that it may be a classic example where you could move it to 20 per cent and the net effect is they reduce the fines and you don't actually garner any more revenue.
MR. DEVEAUX: How much of the $900,000 last year, or the estimated $893,000 this year, actually goes to counselling, like providing counselling services?
MR. BAKER: Just a moment. About $100,000 goes to counselling.
MR. DEVEAUX: So where does the rest of the money go, just to operations?
MR. BAKER: No, just a . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: My understanding was when you changed the rules a couple of years ago, you changed it such that counselling is basically the primary function of funding under the Victim Services program now.
MR. BAKER: No, I think you're thinking of the victim compensation fund. Counselling is basically what's left in that program. There are lots of other victims' services that are covered out of the fine revenue.
MR. DEVEAUX: Coverdale, for example.
MR. BAKER: Exactly, there are lots and lots of victims' services that are provided out of that fund.
MR. DEVEAUX: Maybe you can undertake to provide me with a copy of a breakdown of Victim Services funding, if that's possible. You don't have to provide it to me now.
MR. BAKER: For example, just to give an illustration of what comes out of that money. You've got the regional program, which provides counselling to victims all across the province. There's the child victim witness program. There's the criminal counselling program and then there's restitution, which helps victims of crime fill out the forms where they seek restitution through the courts, the criminal process, and victim impact statements, as well. We can provide you with a list. That's no problem.
MR. DEVEAUX: When we talk about counselling, that was the interesting thing when I was doing this last Fall, because psychiatric counselling would come under MSI. Does that mean that your office, if it is related to a victim of crime, the fund has to pay instead of MSI? What do we mean by "counselling?"
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that the counselling that is included there, certainly, anyone is able to obtain psychiatric counselling, but sometimes victims of crime need counselling other than psychiatric counselling and this provides counselling to people by other professionals, particularly in parts of Nova Scotia where - and they may not just be seeking psychiatric counselling, but where other kinds of counselling may be sought. So it's a wide range of counselling. I guess it's a broader definition of counselling than MSI would cover. So it's not like workers' compensation where we're trying to backfill the health system. We're trying to provide a different or augmented service.
MR. DEVEAUX: I wanted to talk for a minute about the Fatality Inquiries Act and its administration. Under Page 18.9 of your estimates of the province, last year the Fatality Inquiries Act provided a $1,000 grant and/or contribution and I guess I'm wondering to whom that would have gone?
MR. BAKER: Just bear with me for one second. You're referring to the $1,000 grant in the forecast?
MR. DEVEAUX: That's correct.
MR. BAKER: We don't have the detail with us. We will have to provide that to you.
MR. DEVEAUX: It's only $1,000. There's no one here from the Fatality Inquiries Act?
MR. BAKER: This would be through Dr. Bowes' office, I believe. That's why we can't answer your question.
MR. DEVEAUX: How many fatality inquiries did we have last year?
MR. BAKER: Comeau is the only fatal inquiry that I'm aware of.
MR. DEVEAUX: I'm sorry?
MR. BAKER: The only technical fatal inquiry would be Comeau because although Bailey is an inquiry, that's under the Police Act and we have Richards, which is also under the Police Act. So those are technically not fatal inquiries. I'm not trying to be evasive. That's why I mentioned the other two.
MR. DEVEAUX: Over the last few years, would you say that's consistent, maybe one a year would probably be what we do?
MR. BAKER: Yes, that's not a bad estimate. Actually, last year was a busier year than average with the three: Richards, Bailey and Comeau. That would be busier than would be average.
MR. DEVEAUX: How many staff are working under Fatality Inquiries?
MR. BAKER: Fatality Inquiries would be Dr. Bowes and his staff, basically.
MR. DEVEAUX: I'm trying to remember who Dr. Bowes is. Is he . . .
MR. BAKER: He's the Chief Medical Examiner. There are five staff. There's an administrative officer, a secretary, a health records technician and two program administration officers for a total of five staff.
MR. DEVEAUX: A million a year we are paying. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the Fatality Inquiries Act. I guess it also provides autopsies, does it? It is more than just fatality inquiries?
MR. BAKER: Oh, yes, I'm sorry. It includes everything that would be classically known as the Chief Medical Examiner, the medical examiner system in Nova Scotia. So, for example, included in that would be other costs related to having medical examinations done in death and that kind of stuff.
MR. DEVEAUX: So where an autopsy is ordered by the police or by the medical examiner, you would fund that?
MR. BAKER: That's right and the routine, for example, a lot of unexplained deaths require a physician who is a medical examiner in a County like Yarmouth, for example, to go out and look at the remains and determine the cause of death. The cost of that service is paid for out of this budget and there are private doctors, as you would be aware, throughout Nova Scotia who are medical examiners in various places.
MR. DEVEAUX: And if they do one, then you pay for that. Okay, I see the deputy nodding, I will take that as a yes.
MR. BAKER: And it was pointed out to me that that includes body removal service because oftentimes you have to remove the body from the scene. It's not an ambulance call unless, of course, there's some hope of resuscitation. So if it's a body removal service, we pay for that, toxicology tests and that kind of stuff.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to talk a bit about court services. I want to particularly talk about Port Hawkesbury. Are there plans for a new court in Port Hawkesbury?
MR. BAKER: Absolutely.
MR. DEVEAUX: And where will it be located?
MR. BAKER: It was in my earlier address, but Grafton Street I think comes to mind. (Interruption)
MR. DEVEAUX: The old Centennial School site I'm hearing from the member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Where is the court located now?
MR. BAKER: It is located in the bottom floor of the Provincial Building. The space is not suitable for jury trials. It is a very, very inadequate space.
MR. DEVEAUX: Were there renovations in the last couple of years to the old court?
MR. BAKER: Yes, because we couldn't continue to sit at all in Port Hawkesbury until those renovations were made because of air quality problems.
MR. DEVEAUX: So how much was put into fixing those problems at the old court?
MR. BAKER: The Provincial Building, just a second. (Interruption)
MR. DEVEAUX: It comes out of Public Works?
MR. BAKER: Yes, Public Works, you would have to ask Public Works.
MR. DEVEAUX: So it doesn't come out of your budget at all?
MR. BAKER: No.
MR. DEVEAUX: It wasn't just the court, it was the whole building that had the problem?
MR. BAKER: The problem related to space used by court staff but, obviously, it relates to the building because it's a building under their responsibility. It's the Provincial Building in Port Hawkesbury.
MR. DEVEAUX: So you lease the space from them?
MR. BAKER: That's right. We're the tenant for their space.
MR. DEVEAUX: So it wasn't a decision of your department to fix the problem where the courts were?
MR. BAKER: Well, certainly we encouraged them to fix it.
MR. DEVEAUX: Did you have to pay for it or was it paid by Transportation?
MR. BAKER: Transportation and Public Works paid for it.
MR. DEVEAUX: And the new court is going to cost how much?
MR. BAKER: It will cost $6.7 million, I think, yes, and it's a facility that hopefully will be based on a design that's a bit of a model for the province.
MR. DEVEAUX: Are there other courts in that area - Richmond, Inverness?
MR. BAKER: There is a courthouse in Richmond located in, I was about to say Argyle, but that's a different place.
MR. DEVEAUX: Arichat.
MR. BAKER: Arichat and in Port Hood.
MR. DEVEAUX: And will they remain open?
MR. BAKER: They're going to remain open. One of the decisions we made was not to reduce court services to our Acadian population in the area which is in Richmond County or to the Port Hood area particularly since Port Hood serves not only Port Hood and south but, of course, Port Hood and north and, of course, you've got areas that are fairly far-flung, like Cheticamp, and in the wintertime to try to go to court in Port Hawkesbury from Cheticamp would be a very difficult thing.
MR. DEVEAUX: So there is no travelling court that goes up to Cheticamp or do they have to come to Port Hood?
MR. BAKER: Port Hood is the county seat for Inverness County. (Interruption)
MR. DEVEAUX: Well, it's funny because when I was in Ontario, it used to be you would go to the local elk lodge and they would set up court. I'm not trying to be . . .
MR. BAKER: No, no, I know you're not.
MR. DEVEAUX: But they would set up and they would go to a local Lions hall or elk lodge or moose lodge or whatever and they would set up court for the day. In some cases in the north, they would just fly in, but I didn't have to go up there, but in other parts they would just come in for the day, set up the court, hold the court there and, you know, everything was done that way. Is that something that has ever been considered?
MR. BAKER: I don't think it would meet the approbation of our Provincial or Supreme Courts because, in fact, one of the reasons we made some of the changes to our existing court structure was because it was becoming obvious that the courts were unwilling to sit there as a result of the fact that the facilities did not meet minimum court standards.
MR. DEVEAUX: Do we have policies in place about what minimum court standards are?
MR. BAKER: Yes, we do and I don't want to mislead you by suggesting that all of our facilities are superb yet, but they're a lot more superb than, and I can remember visiting one facility in Tatamagouche which was the fire hall, where the judge's bench, or the judge's desk more accurately, sat where the bingo caller used to sit, and where the judge, the witnesses, the prosecution and the defence all shared a sort of sitting area. It's fair to say that it was becoming obvious that it would not be possible to get the Provincial Court to sit any further under those circumstances. They figured security was insufficient.
MR. DEVEAUX: By that you mean the judges?
MR. BAKER: Yes, yes, the judges, the judges were concerned.
MR. DEVEAUX: I can understand security issues necessarily. If it's a security issue, fine. If it's otherwise, then I would suggest that providing justice in the community is more important than a comfortability issue.
MR. BAKER: I don't disagree and we still have, I think it's fair to say, in Nova Scotia a very comprehensive system of courthouses which, for example, we have maintained, and I hope that we will maintain, one courthouse in every county and that means, for example, and many counties have many more, for example, Shelburne County has one in Barrington and one in Shelburne Town. Lunenburg County has one in Lunenburg Town and one in Bridgewater. I guess you'll find that . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: I presume the one in Lunenburg isn't closing any time soon?
MR. BAKER: Well, it actually may be, but we will see. The next court facility in Nova Scotia on the list, a list that was created before my time, is the Lunenburg County Court House.
MR. DEVEAUX: Well, good luck with that.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to ask you about the jail, the central Nova Scotia correctional facility. It is something that came up yesterday and I guess I'm just trying to get some clarification. Let me start by saying, because there was an original lease signed by the Liberal Government, I believe, with regard to . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes, Minister Harrison signed a lease or a commitment to the lease within a week or two of the writ, not of the writ, of the election date.
MR. DEVEAUX: Was a whole new lease signed when you guys came into government or did you just renegotiate where the land would be located?
MR. BAKER: We built exactly the same facility that had been designed and approved by the Liberal Government. We were only dealing with the location issue of the facility because from the developer's point of view it made no big difference to the developer whether that was constructed in site A or site B. So as soon as we would have tried to get the lease as a whole cancelled or the agreement to enter the lease as a whole, we would have been into penalties whereas from this point of view it didn't involve any penalties.
MR. DEVEAUX: So you never resigned a lease?
MR. BAKER: No, that's right.
MR. DEVEAUX: You stayed with the lease signed by Minister Harrison, other than the location?
MR. BAKER: Well, the commitment was signed by Minister Harrison, yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Okay, well, what does that mean?
MR. BAKER: Well, because the process is that there's a commitment to enter into a lease; once the facility is actually built, then you sign the lease itself. So I . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: Were the details negotiated for the lease before . . .
MR. BAKER: No, no, that's already committed to in the commitment. So it's only a formality. It's like an agreement to enter into an agreement, but the agreement is a binding agreement. It's not one of these things where you can change any of the terms.
MR. DEVEAUX: Where you haven't dotted the i's and crossed the t's though?
MR. BAKER: You have to dot the i's and cross the t's, but that's it.
MR. DEVEAUX: Okay, so something like late delivery of the facility in proper working order, was that something that Minister Harrison had negotiated or was that one of the dotting i's, crossing t's, that would have been worked out subsequent to you coming to power?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is there was a standard format for P3 leases which, obviously, had been arranged under the previous administration.
MR. DEVEAUX: You're talking about ones that were used for education?
MR. BAKER: Yes, and that was the format that had been agreed upon as being the format for these leases.
MR. DEVEAUX: And did that format include any late delivery penalties or not having to pay lease charges until delivery of the building in working order?
MR. BAKER: There were dates in the original, and I'm going by memory, but there were dates in the original commitment, delivery dates, which I believe was the end of October. (Interruption) This is fairly complex. There are a number of dates. One is the substantial completion date which is the date in which the building's finished, and that was when the training was supposed to be - and of course, it's substantial, not completion, but
substantial completion. That date was the date when we received a certificate from the architect saying that the building was finished. The difficulty we had is that when the staff - and that's the date at which the staff could actually go in and start to train.
MR. DEVEAUX: No actual inmates there, it's just training.
MR. BAKER: No, no, because you have to train staff, obviously, with a very automated building. Substantial completion date comes when the architect certifies it was certified in accordance with the contract. Staff move in there to begin training and find out that the simplex computer system which operates the doors - and a bunch of other things, but the doors being obviously the most important part of that - is inoperable, or partially inoperable, whatever you would like to say, not complete. That, of course, meant that staff training could not be completed until the system is completed, and then staff training can be completed. That is the date that pushed the date, when we would have moved our inmates in, back, because until our staff training was complete we obviously couldn't bring the inmates in. The actual final occupancy date was pushed ahead as a result of that.
MR. DEVEAUX: It was originally supposed to be final, full occupancy by June 30th or July 1st?
MR. BAKER: No, that was the substantial completion date.
MR. DEVEAUX: The scheduled substantial completion date.
MR. BAKER: Scheduled. Part of the difficulty here has to do with dates when the government was told the facility would be available, and it was not.
MR. DEVEAUX: By the architect, you mean?
MR. BAKER: By the developer.
MR. DEVEAUX: The developer, Read Management, or whatever it's called.
MR. BAKER: That's the developer. We had been told that the building would be ready and capable of having inmates moved into it on certain dates and, obviously, there's a dispute around that so I don't want to go a long way down that road for the obvious reason that it's semi-litigation between the parties, or discussions between the parties. Suffice it to say, we believe and government takes the position that we were told that the building would be ready to be occupied by the inmates on dates much later than when we were able to move those inmates in.
MR. DEVEAUX: Much earlier.
MR. BAKER: Much earlier than when we actually moved the inmates in. That was the critical problem. We had made our plans based on what we were told and those plans went to naught when the system wouldn't work.
MR. DEVEAUX: There is $800,000 in lease payments that were made while the building wasn't fully functional?
MR. BAKER: I've heard that number.
MR. DEVEAUX: I guess I'm asking to confirm what the number is.
MR. BAKER: It's important to remember that we expected that we would be paying rent for six weeks of this period because we expected that during that six-week period we would be in there doing staff training. So, I don't want to give anyone the impression that we had not expected to pay some rent when we didn't have inmates in the building because clearly, for six weeks, we anticipated that we would have to do that. The difficulty was that it was far longer than six weeks.
MR. DEVEAUX: It was a matter of months, right?
MR. BAKER: Months, yes, and of course all of our plans for inmates had been predicated, which is the closing of other facilities, on dates that we had. So, in other words, it's as you would expect, a very complicated thing merging these systems because we have staff to train, we have to reduce the number of facilities that we're operating, but we don't want to do it too early. Obviously, what happened was, we would have done a lot of these changes much later had we had the choice, because we would have waited.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, I'm not sure if I got a number, was it $800,000?
MR. BAKER: That's the total amount that was paid, but part of that would be the six-week period, yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Without that, what would we be talking about?
MR. BAKER: We would have to get the . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: Do we have a weekly lease rate or daily rate or something?
MR. BAKER: I think we can provide you with the period of time and how much the rent is for the period of time, which is easy to do, and we can also tell you how much six weeks' rental would cost, then you can do the rest.
MR. DEVEAUX: Right, okay. So, I guess I go back to my original questions which were around the lease itself. There were commitments made before you were elected.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Based on the standard P3 contract and lease that had been done for schools?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Does that mean that you and your government were unable to negotiate a clause that if full completion was not provided by date x then you would not have to pay rent, or pay the lease? Do you follow me or do you want me to repeat that?
MR. BAKER: Yes, you had better repeat that.
MR. DEVEAUX: Okay. Commitments were made by Minister Harrison. Did those commitments include an agreement as to what would happen if the building was not provided fully functional by a certain date?
MR. BAKER: I think your question is, is there a penalty provision in the contract, I think that's the simple thing. There's not a simple answer, and the reason for that is that we, meaning the government, in reliance on information we were provided by the contractor and developer had made certain decisions. Those decisions were within the penalty contract periods in the contract so that they weren't in breach of those penalty provisions in the contract. But, they created costs to the government in reliance on those things which would not trigger the contractual provisions because they were earlier than the contract had contemplated - if you follow where I'm coming from - they had indicated that they were going to be ready, the building was ready earlier than the penalty provisions in the contract would have kicked in.
MR. DEVEAUX: When we say penalty, we mean you wouldn't have to pay, basically what we're talking about.
MR. BAKER: That's right.
MR. DEVEAUX: We call it penalty on the developer, I guess. So, what you're saying is there were penalty provisions - you would agree that there were penalty provisions for non-delivery of the building, you would agree with that?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: But there was a period of time in which they had sort of a margin of error in which they could deliver and they did deliver within that time period?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Okay. So basically my question then is who negotiated that penalty agreement and the margin of error, period? Which government, let me ask that.
MR. BAKER: I certainly wasn't involved in that process. I don't want to give you a categorical answer because clearly the essential details of that contract were all negotiated before we took office.
MR. DEVEAUX: Including, potentially, that clause?
MR. BAKER: I would believe so because clearly there were very limited amounts of instructions that I ever was required to give with respect to that contract for the obvious reason that it was a done deal, to use the phrase.
MR. DEVEAUX: With regard to that, basically you say it was a done deal. That meant that other than the land you were not able to - if you asked the question of your deputy, wait a minute now, based on what happened with the casino and all the arbitration we did there, we better make doubly sure. I'm not saying you did say this, if you did say that it would have been too late to actually have resolved the penalty agreement, you would have had to open up the whole agreement.
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that we had a complete contract with the developer when we came to office. I think it's important to understand that one of the questions we asked when we came to office was, do we have a completed obligation? In other words, do we have a complete contract? The answer to that question, which I think is the fundamental question you're asking, is yes, we had a completed contract. Because, to be perfectly honest, our government has always had misgivings about P3. If we would have had an option we might have re-evaluated the P3 model as a model for service delivery here. For example, the correctional facility that is being constructed in Yarmouth is on the design model that is being used, the modular concept that is being used in Burnside, but is not being built as a P3 project. It's being built as a conventionally built government construction project.
MR. DEVEAUX: I understand your government, clearly, on schools decided to move away from P3 . . .
MR. BAKER: That's why I said if we could have moved away from this we would have.
MR. DEVEAUX: There's a difference between a commitment to the developer that they will be able to build and they will lease to you and you will pay x amount of dollars. Clearly, if you tried to say we don't want to go P3, we want to go a different way, the former government made the commitment to the P3 process to a lease, to certain payments based on certain things, there's a difference between that and working out the details as to penalty agreements and such. So maybe when you came to government it was too late to get away from the commitment to a P3 process but did it also mean that all the details had been negotiated with regard to delivery dates or with regard to penalties or with regard to architectural plans or what type of equipment would be put in place?
MR. BAKER: I think your question is the number of days to complete the process and all that kind of stuff. Those dates did not move. There were some dates, as a result of our decision to change and go to a different site, that would have moved ahead, but the actual dates on the lease from the date they started, the sites available and all those kinds of things, those dates were, as I understand it, locked in when we came to office.
MR. DEVEAUX: I'm not talking so much about the dates. I understand that. I guess I'm asking, did the former Liberal Government negotiate a lease or did they have a memorandum of understanding with the developer that they would commit to the P3 process for a certain price or did they actually negotiate all the details of the lease, including the penalty agreement that you say you were bound to?
MR. BAKER: The documentation on this is quite complex, so I'm not trying to be evasive at all. There are many components to this as far as documentation. There is a project piece, a construction piece, and then there is an ancillary lease piece. The essential details of both were determined; the project piece was determined when we came to office. It was a construction issue, if you follow where I'm coming from. The issue here is not a lease issue as much as it is because the lease sets out the rent and all that stuff. The project piece was determined when we came to office.
MR. DEVEAUX: The Liberals had already negotiated it?
MR. BAKER: That's right because that was a construction contract.
MR. DEVEAUX: And that included the penalty and delivery dates and such?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that would have included all the construction-related details because had that construction contract not been entered into then we would have had options which we didn't have.
MR. DEVEAUX: I guess I go back to my original question. I understood you couldn't break the P3, you couldn't break the project, but did you feel you were prevented from actually, if it had occurred to you, ensuring that penalty agreement was clearly defined to
ensure that you wouldn't have to pay $1 of rent or lease money until you were delivered a final and fully operational building? If you had considered that, did you have the ability to add that clause to the project component of the agreement?
MR. BAKER: I'm not honestly sure whether or not - the difficulty is that the problem here didn't relate to what was in the contract as much as to issues of representations that were made. So I guess the difficulty here is that it is hard to tie your question to the actual facts.
MR. DEVEAUX: Well you've talked about a penalty clause that only kicked in after a certain . . .
MR. BAKER: That wasn't in the lease, as such. It was in the construction part.
MR. DEVEAUX: I understand; which was negotiated under the Liberals. I understand you couldn't break the whole deal, but would that have prevented you, when you were minister, if you had thought about it - let's face it, it is something that could be overlooked - or your department had thought about it could you have tried to clarify or ensure that not $1 was spent on the lease of the building until it was functional, whether for training or otherwise?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is those details had been contracted for when we came to office and there was no opportunity to change those.
MR. DEVEAUX: You hope to get all the money, I take it, as much as possible . . .
MR. BAKER: As much as possible would be good. Obviously, we would like to get our money.
MR. DEVEAUX: What's the procedure if you can't come to an agreement? Is it arbitration or do you have to go to court?
MR. BAKER: It's an arbitration clause.
MR. DEVEAUX: Is it fully binding?
MR. BAKER: Yes, it's fully binding. It's the Arbitration Act.
MR. DEVEAUX: Is that initiated by one party at some point? What's the time line for that?
MR. BAKER: We are at the discussion stage, so we both agreed to discuss it, I suppose. I don't want to go down the road because I'm hoping the discussions will produce the result and, if not, if the result isn't satisfactory, then lawyers will give advice on what they believe our remedies would be.
MR. DEVEAUX: I'm just trying to remember under the Arbitration Act, can one party initiate the arbitration?
MR. BAKER: My recollection is that, generally speaking, one party, the dissatisfied party, can only initiate arbitration. The agreement provides the triggers but, typically, agreements provide for the disgruntled party to have access to arbitration, but there's a dispute resolution provision.
MR. DEVEAUX: This was a joint thing with the Department of Health, so is it fully under your department?
MR. BAKER: Good question. Most of the issues, well certainly because they're legal issues, the Legal Services Division is intimately involved, but most of the legal issues - most, I don't want to say all - are related to the delivery of the correctional part because staff were into and actually had patients in the hospital part of the facility much earlier than they had them in the correctional facility.
MR. DEVEAUX: How much time is remaining, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Depending on the House rising, we could be out of here in five minutes or 13 minutes. It depends on what they do over there.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to go back to Court Services on Page 18.5 of the Supplement to the Estimates. Under Administration, it increases $1.1 million, approximately, a little less; it's over $1 million anyway. Why the increase? Going back to 2000-01, it was only $73,000, now it's 6.4 million. That's a massive increase in two years and it's another $1 million over last year. Can you explain both, why it has increased dramatically in the last two years and the $1 million increase in the previous year?
MR. BAKER: You're looking at the line that says, $6,451,000 for Administration?
MR. DEVEAUX: Yes. If you look across to the left hand part of the page, Actual spending in 2000-01 was $73,000.
MR. BAKER: We're having a hard time finding the detail that you're looking at.
MR. DEVEAUX: Okay.
MR. BAKER: I just want to make sure I'm answering the question you're asking. Can you repeat the question again?
MR. DEVEAUX: Under Administration of Court Services, in 2000-01 the Actual cost was $73,000. Last year it went up to $5.4 million. This year it's $6.4 million. Why such a massive increase over two years, and then why another $1 million increase in the last year?
MR. BAKER: Okay, so you're looking at the line which says $5,834,000 on one, to $6,451,000 on the other?
MR. DEVEAUX: Well, let's be clear. It says, Estimate $5.8 million, Forecast $5.3, which is a more accurate - and then $6.4 million now, but I don't know if you've got the supplementary there, but if you go over to 2000-01 it says in Actual cost in 2000-01 was only $73,000.
MR. BAKER: When you figure out the question it's easier to give the answer, although you can generally give any answer, but it's even better when you give the right answer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, please. In accordance to the rules, Section 62F(2)(a), the House has now risen. We cannot sit while the House is not sitting, so we stand adjourned. We will reconvene on Monday, April 15, 2002, and, at that time, the NDP will have 13 minutes remaining in their hour of questioning.
[1:15 p.m. The subcommittee rose.]