MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Subcommittee on Supply will reconvene. We left off with a continuation of discussions of Resolutions E8, for the Department of the Environment for $13,132,000. When we adjourned the debate last time, we had 35 minutes remaining in the NDP caucus. I will pass the microphone over to the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect. The time is now 3:00 p.m.
The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I would like to return to an issue of some concern to this caucus and an issue that was earlier brought to the group's attention, with the topic of inspections. I am aware of the fact that the one and only chief enforcement officer for the department has been laid off. This person, I understand, has 12 years experience in the department and as a past RCMP officer, his investigations were usually dealing with major cases in this province. I am just wondering if the minister could, perhaps, tell us what are some of the major cases that this particular employee, or soon to be past employee, dealt with over the past number of years?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of the Environment.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: As I understand your question, Mr. Estabrooks, it is a question about some of the kinds of cases he would have been involved in?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Yes.
MR. BAKER: There are a large number of cases that he would have been involved in, everything from summary offense tickets with respect to the Homestead Chief Sales Inc. to Tri-County Ford Mercury Sales, who, again, I believe, were charged, convicted and paid the $625 fine. There is a whole range of different companies that he would have been involved with in his capacity as coordinator. But the important thing to realize is that, in all these cases, it was field inspectors who were out in the field doing the investigation work and his function was purely a coordination function.
MR. ESTABROOKS: But I just want to clarify this, Mr. Minister, that the field people are there when crunch time comes, when decisions are to be made, when it is the actually enforcement of the Act, that many of these decisions would be made by this particular gentleman, or the recommendation will be made to the minister from this particular gentleman?
MR. BAKER: I think, to the contrary. The real decision making, as in any police case, is going to be with the inspectors in the field. It is the inspectors in the field who gather the information, who do the real work and, as was indicated earlier in estimates, my understanding is that the inspectors in the field have received extensive training to allow them to better do this job. I think we can make some analogy with respect to this in police work. If the investigation done by the person in the field is poorly done, then charges won't stand up.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Well, I have a concern about a major case and I want to bring some facts to your attention, because of the fact, it seems to me, that inspectors, as I understand it, eight positions are going to be removed from the inspection division. Is that true? I believe I have heard that number.
MR. BAKER: Five.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Five, okay. We certainly have some amalgamations, that for heaven sake, if I could use that term, where we have offices that are being combined. There is a particular case that is taking place in Truro, as I speak. That is the Rothsay Rendering plant. I would just like, if I could, to take the opportunity to bring to the minister's attention, these photos. As I continue my science experiment, let me tell you, this is not fudge. This is a major case. These details have been brought to our attention concerning the Rothsay Rendering plant. I have with me today, some information and materials where we have, in this plant, an absolute fiasco taking place. During the last three and one-half months, there have been nine serious spills.
The Rothsay Rendering plant handles materials from throughout the Maritime Provinces. One of the biggest concerns that I have, in one of those pictures, I believe, is a picture of a truck that arrived on-site dripping blood. There are also further pictures here of outside the fence, if you wish you can have a look at those. But this is a major incident. It has
happened for a period of time over the last three and one-half months. It seems to me that, with cutbacks, and the lack, for example, of enforcement, when we have people leaving staff and we have this particular difficulty on the outskirts of Truro, then we have a problem.
I am interested in the minister responding to this ongoing fiasco at the Rothsay Rendering plant and the fact being that there is, without doubt, a major need for enforcements there to make sure that this plant is operated in a safe and environmentally friendly way. So perhaps you could respond to some of these concerns, Mr. Minister?
MR. BAKER: First of all, perhaps, I can just respond in the general. One of the reasons that the government decided to, in effect, get out of the business of doing on-site sewage disposal inspections was because we are very concerned that the Department of the Environment inspectors be able to focus their time on issues of concern, like the issue that the member just brought forward. In particular, my understanding is that, as a result of those changes, there will, in fact, be more opportunity for inspectors in the field to spend investigating complaints, such as the one the member just mentioned, for just that reason. While there is a reduction in five positions in the inspectorate, in point of fact, the actual reduction in work of the inspectorate that was a percentage of the work of the inspectorate, that was involved in the on-site sewage disposal system, was far greater. In fact, it is a huge job doing the work that was involved in the actual field inspections of the on-site sewage disposal systems.
So what we have planned is a situation where the inspectors in the field are going to be there to make sure that quality is assured, to make sure that appropriate standards are assured, with respect to the people who are qualified, persons one and two, to make sure that in fact they are doing what they said they are doing. Our job is going to be what it really is, a regulator and protector of the environment.
With respect to this particular case, I am advised that all of the spills in this particular situation were inside the plant - that is not to excuse them, but they were inside the plant with the exception of two - the two that took place outside have been cleaned up, but of course we have very serious concerns in the department as a result of that. My understanding is that the company involved has in fact hired a consultant to investigate and report as to how this can be prevented in the future. Most importantly, the department is revising or looking at the question of the approvals to see whether revisions should be made dealing with these spills to make the reporting of these a condition of the licence.
MR. ESTABROOKS: If I may go back to this. Mr. Minister, we don't need any more consultants, we need people on the ground, we need people inside the fence, out on the marsh, responding to the constant need for monitoring at this particular point. This, according to what I understand, has been a major pain in the you-know-where for the people of Truro for a prolonged length of time. This is an issue that has been brought to the attention of the
MLAs from that area. This is a concern for the workers, it is a health factor, this is the sort of incident that environment people on the ground have to be dealing with.
There are a couple of things that come out of this. The key concern that I have first of all, is responding to the fact that this has gone on for too long. This has gone on far too long and that, within the last three and one-half months - and I must say to you, Mr. Minister, and you are aware of this I am sure - that this plant is on strike. This plant is on strike, in fact six of the nine spills in the last three and one-half months were brought to your department's attention by the strikers. They called. The people operating the plant in behind the fence did not bring six of those nine to your attention. So I ask - and this is the thing - when your inspectors are called and they are told about a spill - in this case at the Rothsay Rendering plant - do they respond immediately or do these inspectors call, in this case, the Rothsay Rendering plant saying, we have had a complaint, we will be over in a couple of hours or we will be over tomorrow morning, we would like to have a look at this spill? My question comes back to when it comes to spills such as happened at the Rothsay Rendering plant, do the inspectors, in fact, give a heads up that they are coming?
MR. BAKER: Thank you very much. I guess the short answer with respect to this particular case - I don't know the answer to that question. I can obviously make an opportunity to find out what happened in the particular case here, but I just want to reiterate the point I made earlier, which is that the reason we made the changes that we did with respect to on-site sewage disposal inspection was so that there would be more departmental resources available to investigate situations such as this where there are problems. I can also say that another reason that we looked at the merger of the Department of Labour with Environment is because there is an opportunity for cross-training, in particular, cross-training Environment inspectors and Labour inspectors because, frankly, having more people in the field at various sites on more occasions will allow a greater opportunity to handle matters such as this where there are concerns.
I guess the short answer is we are looking at two ways to address the problem. One is to try to reallocate resources to deal with the things that government has to do such as investigating this situation and to also merge the two inspection services so that we can have in fact more people in the field dealing with problems. I think that there is another thing, just in dealing with this particular case. I understand, with respect to the incidents that you mentioned, the last incidents, that these matters are under investigation and that a decision about enforcement action is still pending. I obviously cannot comment on what that decision is going to be but I can tell you they are still being investigated.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Minister, I took the occasion on March 14th to visit the plant. From the outside and the location I can tell you don't have to be an ecology major to know that the water system is very close, nearby, and the problems are very obvious. When trucks are arriving from Prince Edward Island that distance, with blood dripping out of them - and not to get overly graphic if you have had your lunch - we have a problem. However, I
want to return to this particular issue of whether inspectors from your department give a heads up to people that they have had a complaint registered against. In fact I think it is important enough that you as the acting minister would agree to send out a notice to all field offices that it is not policy to phone up in advance of an inspection. Would you agree to do that?
MR. BAKER: I can indicate that I would be prepared to review the matter with staff and look at the question of whether or not a directive would be appropriate.
MR. ESTABROOKS: If I may, I want to return to this Rothsay Rendering plant. Perhaps your staff can give you some background - and I know as an acting minister a lot of this information is coming to you - but when did you or your department or your field office in Truro receive the complaints first? How have they responded to - and if I am incorrect on this please correct me - the nine different complaints? More importantly, what is there in writing about the response to these complaints about the spills at this rendering plant outside Truro?
MR. BAKER: Mr. Estabrooks, what I can indicate to you is that I will attempt to find out further information from staff about the complaints - you indicated there were nine - and, subject to obviously issues that would not compromise the investigation or disclose information that cannot be disclosed, I would be glad to provide further information to you at the earliest possible opportunity.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I should point out, Mr. Minister, that this information in this particular issue had been brought to my attention earlier and I think it is important that we bring these sort of incidents up considering cuts to staff. I heard your comments earlier about private sewage inspections and so on, but this is the very sort of incident, in my opinion, where the particular gentleman who had 12 years' experience in your department and has been let go could show some leadership on and make sure that enforcement has some teeth with a company that obviously has been operating this plant in absolutely despicable conditions.
I have been talking about staff cuts and I understand that you have made the decision for various regional offices, but this, in my view - the Rothsay Rendering plant and the ongoing problem - is comparable to the Five Island Lake clean-up over a shorter term, of course, in my constituency. It is comparable to some other major incidents that your department has to face. It seems to me that the very man who no longer has a position should be the person on-site taking charge and making sure this company is going to be dealt with.
MR. BAKER: Perhaps I could just address this issue first. First of all, the person who is the incumbent in this position has not been let go yet. What has happened of course is that the funding for the position has been eliminated, so there may be some future role for this particular person in government. I don't want to indicate to you that this particular person is
gone. I understand the broader issue is the position not the individual. I can indicate to you that we felt the important issue here was to make sure there were as many inspectors in the field as possible and that, having the inspectors report through this particular individual or this position was not necessary. There were other people in the department who were responsible to supervise inspectors. This position was not adding anything to the overall enforcement effort.
I do, however, share your concern, Mr. Estabrooks, that we have to make sure we have an adequate number of inspectors in the field who are adequately trained and able to deal with serious problems. I am not sure if creating another level of bureaucracy in the Civil Service, however, is the real solution to the problem. The real solution to the problem, I believe, is to make sure we have enough inspectors, properly trained, in the field to do the job. That is the real solution.
With all due respect, it is like when you talk about police officers. The real solution, if you want to look at fighting crime, is to make sure that you have enough police officers in the field doing the job. That is the real issue, not how many superintendents or how many chiefs of police you have. I think that is the real issue, to make sure you have enough people in the field. There are other people in the Department of the Environment to whom the inspectors respond. Those people will continue to have an oversight role which will be seen. Your point is well taken, and I agree with it, that inspection is very important from the point of view of protecting the public and the environment. I am not disagreeing, I guess is what I am saying with you. I just don't believe this particular position is critical to carrying out the role of protecting the public and the environment.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you. Let's talk about some of this field staff then, because I firmly believe those are the people, in this case, on the ground in rubber boots, if I can get graphic, who can deal with this situation. Now, I am wondering, before you made some of these decisions about cuts to staff, did the department do some kind of time studies of how field staff currently spend their time in a day-to-day operation and, if it did, I would like to see them, because I would be very concerned about field staff and the time they spend, particularly, let's say, on paperwork as compared to being out there on the sites. So I would like to know (a) did your department do some time studies of how these men and women spend their time; (b) how much of their day is spent actually on-site as opposed to paperwork?
MR. BAKER: First of all, I would like to answer the question you posed earlier. Apparently, the department staff have been in contact with the field staff with respect to this particular company, and that with respect to the investigations that were carried out, there was no advance warning given. They showed up without giving any advance warning that they were coming. That is what field staff advised the department officials.
MR. ESTABROOKS: If I may interject before you go to that. So, that says to me, you have placed, or one of your staff has placed a call to Truro and said, did you warn them in advance. Does that imply that on other occasions they do call? What I am trying to say, is this the exception, or is this the rule?
MR. BAKER: I understand what you are saying, and I was trying to address your earlier question with respect to this particular company, did they call in advance. I think I made my position clear earlier, that I was prepared to look at the broader issue that you raised to determine what directives, if any, might be appropriate. I just wanted to answer your question as fully as possible with respect to this particular company. In the course of this repartee, I have lost your question.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I was asking about time studies, the paper chase as opposed to being out in the field.
MR. BAKER: I can indicate that department staff estimated that between 25 per cent to 35 per cent of department time was spent in on-site sewage disposal. However, the main issue here is we looked at what are one of the critical functions of the Department of the Environment. The critical functions as I think we both agree are in the inspection and enforcement area. They are in the area of prevention. In looking at reductions to programs, changes in programs, we decided to focus and continue to focus the efforts of the department on those critical areas of investigation and enforcement which you have identified as being important, simply because the other function was identified as being a less critical role, the fact the government was providing a free design service to the public.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Not to make light of the sewage disposal issue, because I know in a growing community it is, but I am just talking about field workers generally. I want to go back. You are changing staff. You are increasing the workload of a lot of these people, I would assume, who are going to be field workers, and I am wondering, is there not going to be more tied-to-your-desk paperwork, as opposed to, as you say, if you are combining things at a regional office level? Do you see these percentages changing, I suppose, with the cuts?
MR. BAKER: I can advise the member that one of the initiatives undertaken by the department is to create a new computer system which is designed to reduce the amount of "paperwork" that has to be done. However, in the case of any investigation where enforcement action is necessary, obviously, there is a large amount of documentation that has to be produced, simply because these cases very well may end up in the courts. I don't want to mislead the member by suggesting that we can somehow magically eliminate a lot of paperwork. There is a certain amount of paperwork that is necessary to make effective enforcement action. However, the department is trying, through a new computer system to reduce unnecessary paperwork. That's the best way of putting it, because clearly, there is some paperwork that is necessary if you have a role of enforcement.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I want to return to inspections. I want to talk about another specific case that took place through the winter, and that was Pioneer Coal. Kevin Adshade from the Evening News was in contact with me on a number of occasions, and because of the fact of relatives in Stellarton, I am aware of the fact of the concerns with regard to environmental permits and various other things with that coal mining operation, strip mining operation in dear old Pictou County. Mr. Adshade says, and he quotes a worker in the Saturday, February 19th, New Glasgow Evening News, a former employee who would speak only on the condition of withholding his name, said that the office of the Department of the Environment in Granton would call ahead to alert Pioneer Coal whenever they were ready to conduct an environmental inspection. He said the inspections were considered a joke. My boss would come on the radio, saying, we've got a visitor. Work was slowed down to allow the dust to disburse. This is concerning the fact of the strip mining, the noise and dust and so on.
Here we are with another inspector and I assume a different regional office, Truro as opposed to Granton, but here it is again. There are rumors, maybe even allegations that your inspectors, when they get a complaint, call the company involved and give them a heads up. I was wondering if you could respond to the situation with regard to Pioneer Coal and those inspections.
MR. BAKER: Thank you. I just received a note from the department indicating that between April 1, 1999 and December 31, 1999, a total of 38 site inspections were conducted by the inspector monitoring the site. Thirty per cent to forty per cent of the time, no notification was given to the company and in all of the other cases, the notice was no longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I thank your staff for the prompt response. So these figures say that 60 per cent of the time, if my math is right, they get a 15 minute notice, or whatever, that they are on their way?
MR. BAKER: That is what I understand, yes.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Why?
MR. BAKER: I can't give you the answer to that question today. Obviously, that will be an issue that, I think, was raised by your earlier question, and I intend to take a look at that.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I am concerned about the files, in particular. When reports are received, whether it is Pioneer Coal, but in the case, particularly, of the reports that you received back from the rendering plant, I am interested in what kind of detail those reports
are in. The things that have been given to me, whether it is out of the marsh, whether this is from the fence outside - I don't want to get too graphic on you - but what kind of written reports do you have on these things? The inspector goes, he or she makes the visit, what happens then? Who sees the reports?
MR. BAKER: Perhaps, just to deal with your previous question before I move on, I know that your time is going, but I thought it was important that I mention this, I am also advised that an unannounced compliance audit was conducted at Pioneer Coal on February 24, 2000. That is just dealing with part of your earlier question about whether there were pre-announcements given and advised that that compliance audit was unannounced. There is some indication that the department may be looking at amending the approval to deal with the current site conditions. I just wanted to provide you with as much information as I possibly could with respect to that particular company.
Now to get back to the reports. My understanding is that the ministers have not been receiving detailed reports on these cases and it is not because of lack of interest, but because there is some concern that one doesn't want to be going down the road that we went down in the Public Prosecution Service, where ministers became involved in making the decisions about whether charges were laid or not. The situation here is very similar to the situation at the Department of Justice, with respect to the Public Prosecution Service. Government would never want to give the impression that a decision had been taken to prosecute or not to prosecute based upon interference by the minister. So the staff deal with the Public Prosecution Service directly, I understand, and the decision on whether or not enforcement action is taken through the courts is made with staff and the Public Prosecution Service.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have just over one minute left, sir.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Minister, I understand. I am talking inspections and I have some specific cases and that is why I have brought them up. However, my concern always comes when dealing with bureaucracy, in this case, your department. The report is made by the field person, the recommendation is made for whatever action. But, eventually, it stops on somebody's desk. Is that coming from the regional office out of Truro or out of Granton or wherever, to downtown, not necessarily to the minister's desk?
MR. BAKER: I am advised by department staff that it would depend on the particular case and whether or not the inspectors in the field make an assessment about the relative significance of the case. If it is a significant case of environmental pollution, then it would be referred to staff downtown. If it is a more minor or lesser case, the staff would deal with it at the local level.
MR. ESTABROOKS: If I may, in conclusion, I would recommend that the Rothsay Rendering plant be considered major, that there be steps taken immediately to make sure this plant is operated in a much safer fashion than it currently is.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Minister, if we can have as much fun today as we had on Friday, it is going to be a great start to the week. A few points that I just want to clear up from Friday. It was reported on in the press with regard to the Youth Conservation Corps Program, but it wasn't clear as to what the future of that program was. My understanding from you on Friday was that your department did not have any intentions of continuing funding for that program. Is that still correct?
MR. BAKER: It is correct that our department, the Department of the Environment, is no longer planning to fund the program. It is quite possible, however, the program may continue to be funded as a youth program under the Department of Economic Development. I am not the Minister of Economic Development and I am not going to comment on that. I am not going to read the mind of my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development. You, perhaps, can ask him directly.
MR. SAMSON: Well, he hasn't got much money left these days, so I don't think those prospects look very good. Does your department have any intention of continuing to run the program? Because, right now, naturally, your staff are the ones who design approvals and administer the program. Will you continue to do that or are you completely stepping away from the program?
MR. BAKER: No, I don't want to give the impression that we are completely stepping away from the program. What has happened is that the Department of the Environment will continue to provide, I guess, what you would call technical support for the program and depending obviously on the ability of the Department of Economic Development and HRDC to continue to fund that, as long as they provide the funding, we will provide the technical assistance with respect to the program.
MR. SAMSON: I would like to get more specific on a few initiatives, just to see where they are. The provincial Water Resource Management Strategy, could you indicate what the status of that strategy is right now?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that the strategy is being revised at the present time as a result of consultation with municipal units and that there is hope that the strategy will be unveiled shortly.
MR. SAMSON: What, specifically, I guess, is being revised since the consultation? What parts of the strategy are being objected to?
MR. BAKER: I think it was an issue with respect to administration fees and that is being revised at the present time.
MR. SAMSON: As part of that strategy, one of the items indicated that under the current fees being charged, that the department was looking at bringing the fee system on line with - I think the wording was - to be a more accurate reflection of the value of the resource. I am curious, where does the fee structure stand right now for water?
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer is that there are two components to this. It is still the intention of the department to proceed with rationalizing charges relative to consumption. However, the administration fee was a separate issue and with respect to the administration fee, that is being revisited at the present time.
MR. SAMSON: So, at this point in time, there have been no changes made for the fee structure for water removal?
MR. BAKER: At present, there have been no changes made.
MR. SAMSON: Do you anticipate, within this fiscal year, there being changes made to the fee structure?
MR. BAKER: I anticipate that is possible.
MR. SAMSON: I am wondering if, as part of this overall review, there are any changes being proposed to the fee credit system that is currently in place. As the minister is probably aware, users of this who are charged a certain fee are permitted to take a portion of that fee and give it to organizations for different initiatives dealing with water enhancement throughout the province. Are you contemplating any changes or elimination of that fee credit system?
MR. BAKER: The answer is that there is no plan to eliminate the fee credit program. However, there is a plan that up to $200,000 of the money that was going back to Stora, to Nova Scotia Power and other companies will be retained by the department to maintain the current water resource management activities.
MR. SAMSON: All right, let me get this straight. This was, did you say, $200,000?
MR. BAKER: Up to.
MR. SAMSON: So that is $200,000 that previously the department allowed these users to give back to community organizations and different groups. You are indicating that of the whole credit portion that is currently out there, the department is now looking at taking up to $200,000 of that and putting it back into the revenues of the department rather than allowing it to go out to community groups. Is that correct?
MR. BAKER: The situation is, up to $200,000 of the approximately $475,000 annual credits could be retained by the department to fund water resource management activities such as the study that was referred to earlier in the Annapolis Valley of the water use problems.
MR. SAMSON: Will that go strictly to these types of projects or will it also be used for general revenue in the department to pay for staff, as was done for the $0.5 million taken from the RRFB? Will this be reinvested in its entirety back into these communities and in these projects or will it go to general revenue to pay for the salaries of that division plus projects?
MR. BAKER: The answer to that question is that part of the money will be going to fund ongoing programs of the department, particularly the Water Resource Management Strategy, and part will be going to user groups, for the studies and so forth. The proportion of that has yet to be determined because it depends on the fee credits, changes and on the amount of the consultants' studies that are done and those kinds of activities.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, I am not sure if I get that. You said the $200,000 will go to pay for certain projects and also go for these major projects and will also be invested in community groups. Is that it?
MR. BAKER: No, part of it or up to $200,000 in funding would go to projects such as the water resource study and the remaining amount would go to fund the departmental activities in the water resource management area.
MR. SAMSON: Departmental activities, let's make it clear what that means. That means pay for staff. It means general revenue will go to pay the salaries of staff in that department?
MR. BAKER: It will pay for its functions in the Water Resource Management Strategy, yes.
MR. SAMSON: Which would be paying salaries of staff?
MR. BAKER: Which would include staff, yes. It would also include things like monitoring programs and those kinds of things.
MR. SAMSON: That would also be to pay staff for these monitoring programs.
MR. BAKER: It would cover all of those costs, yes.
MR. SAMSON: What section did you say this will go in, again, of the department?
MR. BAKER: Water resource management. It is part of the water resource management section of the department.
MR. SAMSON: Now that is currently, you say it could be up to $200,000 of the $475,000. Is the department using a percentage figure there? Are you saying because we know, or it is safe to assume that under your new structuring process, more than likely with the words being used of having a credit system that will more appropriately reflect the consumption and usage, one can anticipate that that means that the fees are going to go up and the revenue will be more than $475,000. Are you saying that it will only be $200,000 even after these changes have been made or is $200,000 reflective of a percentage basis that you have used in this process?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that with respect to this year, the percentage would not exceed whatever fraction $200,000 over $475,000 is, the percentage would not exceed that amount and we are not looking to obtain more than $200,000 in this fiscal year.
MR. SAMSON: So that would be about 45 per cent.
MR. BAKER: If you have a calculator, then I will take your number. I learned long ago that a witness should never repeat the question of the cross-examiner without checking themselves. So I am just simply telling you, that if that is the percentage, then I believe it. If it is not, then I don't.
MR. SAMSON: Well, I was never good at math so I am guessing 45 per cent appears to be close to that range. Basically, the point I am trying to make is that with this restructured fee system, more revenue will come in. My question is, if more revenue comes in, will the department take more than that $200,000 or will it ensure that there is only $200,000 taken, the rest, the additional revenue that one can assume will be coming, will go back into the communities as the program originally intended?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is the department would not be seeking to receive more than $200,000 in this fiscal year.
MR. SAMSON: But after this fiscal year, all bets are off.
MR. BAKER: I think, Mr. Samson, you and I both well enough know that government budgets on a year-by-year basis. I am not going to get my crystal ball out for the future.
MR. SAMSON: I think that is one of the first things your government has clearly said, that nothing is sacred, nothing is protected and don't ever ask for any guarantees on anything. That hasn't changed, I guess.
MR. BAKER: Just to respond to your comment, Mr. Samson, things change with time and one can't be, as the former government is, wed to the old ways. One has to look at the new ways.
MR. SAMSON: I recall the minister back to my initial comment. This can be a very short, painless process, or it can be a very long drawn-out process.
MR. BAKER: Point taken. Do continue, Mr. Samson. (Laughter)
MR. SAMSON: I would simply point that out and I am sure your predecessor would be able to advise you that some of his answers really contributed to this long, drawn-out, painful process.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can we have some environmentally friendly talk this afternoon?
MR. SAMSON: Always friendly here, Mr. Chairman. I will put this question. Is it the intention of the department, with this restructuring, to continue the fee credit system as it currently stands, or is that being looked at for elimination?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is it is the plan to continue with the fee credit program in some form.
MR. SAMSON: As it currently stands, the fee credit program is generally, for the most part, administered by the users themselves, with some input coming from staff. Is there any intention for staff to take over that responsibility in that staff will now play a larger role, even to the point of saying which ones can get approved and which can't get approved? I know there is a rule now but it is still, in a large part, left to the user. Is there any plan to change that?
MR. BAKER: The staff advise me that there is no plan at all to change the way they have always behaved which would be the way they behaved when you were minister. So that perhaps answers the question.
MR. SAMSON: The minister is probably left with the impression I am saying there should be no changes but actually one of the concerns I had was that there was not enough control by staff on who got these projects. For example, I remember one user had given - was it $35,000 - to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for a salmon study. I raised concerns at that time. I certainly did not believe it was up to the province to allow any of its credits to be going to the federal government, considering their financial positions compared to ours.
I am just wondering if there have been any of those concerns that have been addressed by staff so that hopefully we have local groups, not DFO benefitting from that fee credit program?
MR. BAKER: I can advise the member that in fact there has been direction given by staff earlier, perhaps when he was minister, to the companies involved in the fee credit program, indicating that it was no longer deemed appropriate to fund federal projects, which I think is the issue that the member brought up.
MR. SAMSON: So a directive went out. I am very pleased and I commend staff for doing that.
MR. BAKER: By the way, I would agree that that was an appropriate staff response and frankly, it was an appropriate response by the minister. Don't expect any more nice things today. You have used your quota up.
MR. SAMSON: Much more cooperative, the conscience goes that much faster. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can we call the question, then? (Laughter)
MR. BAKER: I was trying to undo the harm I did earlier.
MR. SAMSON: No, I am not quite done fishing yet, almost . . .
MR. BAKER: Fishing is next, Mr. Samson, if you ever stop talking.
MR. SAMSON: Well, I have a funny feeling it is going to be fishing for every department at this point. (Interruption) That is good, I am pleased to hear that. Following on the fee credit, as you know, the stream bank enhancement program was cut, as part of the last budget. What initiatives has the Department of the Environment put in place to try to get some sort of replacement funding for this very important program. As you know, this program was of extreme benefit, mainly to both residents and farmers in the municipality in the Truro-Bible Hill area. In fact, your colleague, the Minister of Health, certainly was very disappointed when this program was cut and I am just curious what has been done since then to try to recoup some of that funding which was lost. I believe it was about $125,000, if I am not mistaken, or $135,000. It was in that range, I believe.
MR. BAKER: The program, obviously, has still not been restored. All of the commitments that have previously been made had been completed when the program was eliminated and I would suspect that unless the federal government comes through with very significant money aimed in that area that it is very unlikely that we would have that program restored.
MR. SAMSON: So at this point in time there is no new money that has been found anywhere in the province for this?
MR. BAKER: No there is not and, as I indicated, unless there is something that would happen at the federal level with respect to infrastructure and those kinds of things, I doubt very much if that would happen in the future.
MR. SAMSON: One of the initiatives, or one of the proposals at the time, when this was being proposed, I believe, was to try to see to it that the fee credit system, some of those credits, could be directed toward this. Has there been any sort of directive from staff or any sort of effort to work with the users to see that money would go to areas such as Truro, that benefitted greatly from stream bank, or has there been anything said or directed from staff to these users to direct some of that money there?
MR. BAKER: The staff advise me that at the present time they have not received any proposals of that kind but I can indicate to you that I take your question today to heart and perhaps we can investigate the possibility of seeing whether or not part of the water approval fee credit program might not be able to be targeted to stream bank enhancement.
MR. SAMSON: I am pleased to hear that. I would caution that while I agree there might be some role that can be played there, I certainly wouldn't want to see a directive saying that money from users, which has been going to some of these smaller groups, would be lost. I know it was something that was being proposed. I was just curious as to whether anything had been done on it. So I encourage the minister to continue to look at it but at the same time, I don't believe that the fee credit program should be relied upon to fully replace the funding loss from this program. As you have indicated, you are looking at federal dollars or other sources. I applaud that and in no way do I suggest that the fee credit should completely replace the amount of money that has been lost.
MR. BAKER: Just to pipe in there, I guess what I am saying, I take your intervention for the positive comment that it is and in the event that we can assist the people involved in the fee credit program to perhaps look at those kinds of areas, subject to making sure that funding isn't eliminated for some long-time beneficiaries of the program, there may be an opportunity there for at least some funding in that area. At least it would allow some work to be done in that area until other opportunities might present themselves. So that is a helpful intervention.
MR. SAMSON: I guess it goes, again, to certainly concerned with the decision to take up to $200,000 from the fee credit system and put it into the department. I, myself, think the fee credit system, that some of that money certainly could have been used to try to assist the groups that will no longer get funding because of the cuts to the Youth Conservation Corps Program. Now there is an extra $200,000 that could have gone for that which is now going to the Department of the Environment's general revenues again. It is unfortunate that that
money could not have been set aside to replace what was lost in the Youth Conservation Corps.
One of the things I wanted to clear up, you made some comments yesterday on the issue of the Resource Recovery Fund Board and the decision of the Department of the Environment to take $500,000 and put it in its general revenue. I noticed in the press that there were some concerns raised by, I believe it was Derek Firth, who is the controlling officer there, about some of the comments made. I am curious as to whether you can clear that up for us. Is the Resource Recovery Fund Board sticking behind your statement that it was their decision to give the $500,000 and it was a done deal?
MR. BAKER: No, I don't think I ever intended to give that impression. I think I indicated that the government had some discussions with the folks at the Resource Recovery Fund Board and that those had been fairly positive. My understanding is that final approval has not yet been obtained from the board but we are hopeful that that will happen.
MR. SAMSON: Has a decision been made by the board to grant this funding?
MR. BAKER: To my knowledge, it has not yet fully been approved by the board, no.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, I certainly don't want to make allegations or anything like that but would you not agree that while this board is independent of government that by your government coming in and presenting a budget that is clearly based on the assumption that you are going to get $500,000 from the Resource Recovery Fund Board when they have not even approved such a thing, one would say, in legal terms, would be a form of duress on this board in that at this point in time it would be pretty difficult for that board to turn around and say we don't support it, we have changed our minds, when your whole budget, that the Chairman is so eager to call the question on, is based on the assumption you will be getting this $0.5 million yet now you are telling us that the Resource Recovery Fund Board hasn't even made the motion or passed the resolution to give you that money? Wouldn't you agree that is, number one, presumptuous by your department, and number two, places an undue pressure on the board to adhere to the demands of the Department of the Environment?
MR. BAKER: Obviously, I don't agree. What in fact happened is that there were approaches made by department staff to the staff of the Resource Recovery Fund Board. Those approaches were well received and were positive and clearly the Resource Recovery Fund Board can do what they choose to do and then government will respond accordingly. In fact, I wouldn't even use your characterization. I think it would be a mistake on behalf of the Resource Recovery Fund Board if they didn't support the government initiative because frankly I think the government's proposal is consistent with their mandate. I leave it to the
Resource Recovery Fund Board to deal with the matter. I am hopeful that they will carry through with the early indications which is that they support this.
MR. SAMSON: With all due respect, Mr. Minister, this is an independent board and was always meant to be independent and not under any sort of duress from your department or from yourself. To now have it in your budget as an assumption, they are going to give you $0.5 million and for you now to publicly state you think it would be a mistake for them not to give you that $0.5 million and I am sure there will be different interpretations when you use the word mistake. I am curious, do you still hold that this is an appropriate behaviour for yourself, as minister, and for your staff when you have an independent board that has made no formal decision to even grant you this money and the other question is, what are you going to do if they say no?
MR. BAKER: Well, I guess I will deal with the first question first. I absolutely and categorically believe that it is very appropriate that the Resource Recovery Fund Board should assist in a solid waste management program. The solid waste management program is critical to their objectives and if that program were eliminated or significantly reduced as a result of funding issues, it would compromise their ability to carry out their objectives. I feel that it is absolutely and positively within the goals and objectives of the Resource Recovery Fund Board to do this.
Secondly, let us never forget that the money that is being collected is public money, money that is to be used for the public good. I suggest that the resource recovery management program is clearly for the public good. With respect to other issues about how appropriate it is, I can indicate to you that the budget clearly has lots of things in it which are predicated on revenue which has not appeared, for example, the Justice Department budget, which are dependent upon collecting costs for criminal offences which have not yet been committed. That is not because I want to see that revenue. I would be the happiest man in Nova Scotia if that revenue weren't to be received by government. However, governments project revenue into the future in every budget and what we have done is projected the revenue into the future based upon reasonable assumptions.
MR. SAMSON: But, Mr. Minister, going on that, in Justice you are going to put a fee there. You are putting that fee there, there is no question about that. You are doing that. You have based your revenue on history of the amount of offences in the past but that fee is going to be there. Even if there is no offence tomorrow, the fee will be there. You will have implemented that. Here, you are assuming that this independent board is going to give you $0.5 million and you have nothing other than some friendly comment to make that assumption on. Yes, this money is public money but the whole idea, and not to keep elaborating on this, was that this money was not to go in the general revenue of government. It was to be an independent board, a user recovery system where the municipalities would be rewarded for their participation in these programs and this money was to be reinvested in municipal units.
I do not disagree that the RRFB should assist with solid waste. They are doing that now. I disagree with the RRFB paying for the staff of the Department of the Environment and that going into general revenue. If there are cuts or anything there, this $0.5 million might go to fund investigations or inspections or other things which have nothing to do with the mandate of the RRFB. So I completely disagree with you on that point of the RRFB having to fund staff in your department.
My last question on this, Mr. Minister, and this is the one I am most curious about, you have indicated this is public money that is in the RRFB, as far as you are concerned. Therefore, one would leave the impression that you think it should be going into the government coffers right from the start. My question is, if the RRFB says no to this $0.5 million request, what are you going to do as minister? I hope you are not going to say that is hypothetical because obviously you will have to turn your mind, you have a budget here, $0.5 million of that, which I can't make out the percentage, I don't have my calculator, but $0.5 million of that is a significant amount, so you must have turned your mind to the issue of what are you going to do if they say no.
MR. BAKER: Actually, Mr. Samson, first of all, you have read my mind because I can tell you that I am not going to answer hypothetical questions, what if questions, because it is not fruitful to do so. So you can ask me as many hypothetical questions as you like, I am not going to give you hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions for things that haven't occurred. What I can indicate to you is that we have a very positive relationship with the RRFB. We are working with the RRFB and I am very hopeful, as is indicated in the estimates, that we will receive the $500,000. I am not going to engage in the what if exercise. I can tell you, for example, the government provides lots of support to the RRFB in the stewardship areas and other areas. Our arrangement with the RRFB must be a cooperative arrangement. It is not a confrontational arrangement but I simply pointed out that the funds that are being collected are public funds.
There is nothing more to that comment other than what I have just indicated which is that they are public funds. Clearly, they are public funds. The present arrangement satisfies me for the moment and satisfies the government for the moment. I am not going to go trolling down the path of what might happen in the future.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, I am not asking you to tell me whether it is going to be sunny on Friday or not. I would go so far in not throwing too many legal terms out here, but to say if you hold to your statement, to say you are being negligent, as minister, to not have a back-up plan should a decision be made to not grant your department $0.5 million of what you are proposing in your budget. For you to sit here and say I am not going to answer a hypothetical question because I haven't thought about it and I am not going to discuss whether we lose $0.5 million or not, I don't think is acceptable. I don't think it is appropriate and I don't think that is an answer which should be accepted by me or by anybody else. Your budget is only $13.1 million, $0.5 million of that is a significant amount of money.
Again, I think that the people of Nova Scotia and the municipalities who are participants in this, have a right to know what you intend to do should the Resource Recovery Fund Board, an independent body of government, make the decision not to grant your department $0.5 million that you have proposed here in your budget. I don't think that is hypothetical. You have to have turned your mind to it. The fact that they haven't even passed a resolution doing this, makes me even more concerned that there is a very strong possibility they are going to reject this application. What are you going to do should that very likely possibility happen?
MR. BAKER: I guess I disagree with the first premise of your question which is that it is very likely that it will happen. I guess that is our fundamental disagreement. Second of all, I never said that I hadn't turned my mind towards the possibility. What I indicated was that I wasn't going to publicly speculate on whether or not this would or would not happen. Clearly, there are a number of options that I have thought of and that the staff have thought of but there is absolutely no purpose in going down the road of speculation because all it does is to lead us away from the real issue which is, I believe, this is an appropriate use of $500,000 of the RRFB's funds. I have not changed my opinion on that and we disagree on that, I understand that we disagree on that, but that is as far as that goes.
MR. SAMSON: I don't only think I disagree, I think it fundamentally goes against the entire principles of why the RRFB was set up and that it was never to go in government revenue to pay for staff of the government because if we go down that road, then why don't we have people doing inspections, investigations, why don't the RRFB pay for those guys also?
You are opening up a can of worms where there will be no end and using your logic, I am quite concerned that the RRFB will end up paying more for staff in environment than giving the money back to municipalities which they should. Just to finish this, you had made a commitment to us that you would provide us with the minutes of the RRFB and any correspondence in your department on this issue. I don't have anything yet today. Can I assume from your comments here today that there would be nothing in the minutes of the RRFB to date which would even show that this issue was discussed?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is I am not sure. I have not seen the minutes of the RRFB so I cannot answer that. I can only repeat the issue is that I am advised that staff are getting that material together and that we will be forwarding it to you shortly. I guess there is nothing further to add to this except to say that I believe with respect to the RRFB, the important issue to look at is that with respect to these funds, this $500,000, valuable public work consistent with the objectives of the RRFB will be continued. That is the important issue.
I think it is pointless to speculate on the evolution of an organization over time. I can indicate to you though that there is absolutely no plan to change the present arrangement
where 50 per cent of the funding goes back to the municipal units. There is no plan to change that at all and I want to make that clear so that no fear-mongering should go on in that regard.
MR. SAMSON: Well, whether that is a dig or not, I am not sure, but . . .
MR. BAKER: It was not a dig. It was just a statement.
MR. SAMSON: You used that same argument on Friday, Mr. Minister, well, the 50 per cent has not changed and no one said the 50 per cent changed, but how did that revenue, $0.5 million is now gone under your proposal. So the 50 per cent is still there. No one is arguing that or saying that that is going to change, but you have taken $0.5 million out of that fund. So you can argue what you want, will they still get 50 per cent, but the bottom line is you took $0.5 million from that and from what I am hearing today, you have no hesitation to take more than that in the future should your government be looking for more money, that it can somehow justify taking out of that revenue. So you will continue to say, well, at least you guys still get 50 per cent, why are you upset, and the fact is you guys are raiding the fund from which this 50 per cent is coming from. So I don't buy that argument and I don't think too many municipal units will.
The last thing I will say on this issue, the RRFB is a public body. I am not quite sure why we don't have the minutes yet. I would, again, go to my opening comments to the minister that this can be short and relatively painless or this can make the difference between us being done with your department today or not being done with it today. So I would certainly encourage you to try to get those minutes in our possession so that we can move forward on this and make sure that we are not leaving issues not properly dealt with. So I leave that with you.
The other issue I wanted to discuss is that there was a commitment to designate four new nature reserves under the Special Places Protection Act by this year. Could you indicate to us where those are and why have they not been designated yet?
MR. BAKER: I am sorry, I did not hear the question.
MR. SAMSON: You are still stuck on the RRFB.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: This one comes right from left field so . . .
MR. BAKER: Perhaps in the interest of allowing some other estimates to be done in the course of the deliberations of the House, I can indicate to the honourable member that staff have indicated to me that regardless of whether you continue with the estimates today or not, we will provide you with that information tomorrow. The honourable member will
have the information he has requested tomorrow and the reason he did not have it sooner, frankly, was because obviously the estimates were on Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday intervened, and we are back here today relatively early in the day and so there was no ulterior motive in doing that. We will provide the honourable member with that information tomorrow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would you get back to the line of questioning in regard to the special places.
MR. SAMSON: Obviously the Chairman is interested so I am more than happy to repeat my question. There was a commitment made by the Department of the Environment that four new nature reserves under the Special Places Protection Act would be designated by this year. Could you just inform the members of where this is at and, secondly, I guess, why hasn't it been done yet?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that there were five candidate areas, four of which had clear land title, and there are three candidate areas that are being considered for designation. Those three candidate areas are awaiting transfer of the responsibility for the Special Places Protection Act from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of the Environment.
MR. SAMSON: When can we expect this? I guess my concern comes from, on Friday you indicated that three staff members from this division were being cut in this budget. This has been ongoing now for a couple of years. It does not appear to be going anywhere any time fast. Does the minister have any time line to indicate to Nova Scotians as to when they could expect this to take place?
MR. BAKER: Staff indicate that there have been some, I guess we would describe as administrative difficulties, but that they anticipate within the next couple of months - so I am thinking we are talking two to three months - that they would likely have the jurisdiction transferred under the Special Places Protection Act to the Department of the Environment.
MR. SAMSON: So you are going to get it in Environment in two to three months, or in a couple of months, whichever one it is?
MR. BAKER: Clearly we are not in the position, we, meaning the Department of the Environment, is not in the position to designate these places under the Special Places Protection Act until the Department of the Environment has control of the Statute. So, again, if you wanted I don't want to lead you in a circle, so that is why I am trying to give you a full answer, that as soon as the Department of the Environment has control over the administration of the Act and the Minister of the Environment has control over the administration of the Act, it is anticipated that three candidate areas will be added to that.
MR. SAMSON: So we can expect that it is not going to sit in Environment for any extended period of time. Once you get jurisdiction, it is ready to roll?
MR. BAKER: We are in a position to deal with the issue.
MR. SAMSON: I look forward to those three areas being designated in 2000.
MR. BAKER: I hope so, too.
MR. SAMSON: Yes, whether the minister will survive that long in the Department of the Environment, knowing its colourful past.
MR. BAKER: I am realistic enough to recognize the fact that whether I will be here in those three months time is again speculation. It is hypothetical. I don't intend to go down the track, but given the time line for Ministers of the Environment, you can draw your own conclusions.
MR. SAMSON: I certainly don't wish the minister any ill-will, but certainly I am glad that he is being cautious in regard to the past history. One of the other questions I had, your government has indicated through the Department of Finance that it would cost $360 million for the Sysco environmental remediation. There has been absolutely no money budgeted this year, from your department at least, for this to take place. I guess I have a number of questions. We will start off with the first. What provincial government department is going to be funding this remediation project?
MR. BAKER: I can indicate to the honourable member that my understanding is that that estimate came from a Jacques Whitford study and it is one commissioned by the Department of Transportation and Public Works and, therefore, the question is most appropriately addressed to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
MR. SAMSON: Would it also be the Department of Transportation and Public Works that would be responsible for the budgetary item dealing with this remediation?
MR. BAKER: Correct.
MR. SAMSON: So you are saying this $360 million figure came from a Jacques Whitford study commissioned by the Department of Transportation and Public Works?
MR. BAKER: That is my understanding, but again you should address the questions to the minister. I am not trying to be evasive, but it comes under his budget, and I think he would be the most appropriate person to address the question to.
MR. SAMSON: I just want to clear that up because I know when I was in Environment, the Sysco tar ponds file was frustrating because everyone believes it was Environment, but actually it was Transportation and Public Works, so I just wanted to make sure that wasn't being dealt with by Environment now.
Last year, there was a waste study made on solid waste and roadside waste and when the report came out, there was no shock to anybody as to who the main culprits were: the fast food chains, the grocery chains and other big businesses in this province. I know when we were there, we were trying to find some sort of initiative or some sort of a system that we would try to discourage these companies from continuing to produce these goods being discarded at will throughout our province. Driving up today, the proof is still on the sides of our roads. Have you, as minister, and your staff undertaken any initiatives to try to address these main culprits - I guess if I could use the term loosely - of roadside pollution in our province?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that the department staff and also perhaps as well the RRFB staff have had discussion with some of the larger fast food chains around the possibility of what kind of activities could be taken to help deal with this problem. I think it is fair to say that it is under further discussions. I can indicate to the honourable member that I know of what he speaks. My house is across the road from a fish and chips stand in the summertime, and I have my share of fast food paraphernalia landing on my front lawn. I know how annoying I find it, and I am sure it is more than annoying because it is unsightly and polluting the environment.
MR. SAMSON: I am pleased to see this discussion is taking place, and I would encourage you to move forward on this and to take some fairly strong action. I am not trying to be saucy or anything, but considering the amount of user fees your government has brought in and who they have targetted, I think this would be an appropriate time for you to bring in some sort of a penalty to these types of businesses to discourage what is taking place. If your government has any jitters at all or had any jitters, I think after Tuesday's budget those jitters should have quickly disappeared. At least, I think it would be a bit of a comfort to seniors and people on assistance to see they are not the only ones being targetted by government on these initiatives. So I urge you to move forward.
It is not going to be solved overnight, I realize that, but something seriously has to be done, and I think Nova Scotians are expecting something to take place. Considering the amount of money involved here, the profits being made, it is no longer acceptable for government to look the other way on this problem. I urge you to move forward on that as quickly as possible.
One of the other issues I had, sewage disposal in the Bras d'Or Lakes. I am curious, what new initiatives has the department brought forward as a result of this long-standing problem?
MR. BAKER: I assume the member is meaning residential sewage disposal into the Bras d'Or Lakes as opposed to the type that is regulated by the federal government with respect to shipping?
MR. SAMSON: No, your mom and pop cottages all along, they have the straight pipe going into the Bras d'Or Lakes. I believe 2,200 is the number that has been used as either having a straight pipe system or a malfunctioning system. So, the question is, what has been done to address this issue?
MR. BAKER: As a public service announcement, I am glad to hear the honourable member has been converted to the importance of using user fees in the appropriate circumstances. I am sure that is as a result of the budget deliberations here where you have managed to be converted to the importance of them in the right situation. I am glad to see the member now believes in the importance of user fees. We will move on, rather, again in the theory of not trying to prolong the debate.
With respect to the difficult problem in the Bras d'Or Lakes, by way of information, the department's main focus has been to create a program to allow for the disposal of sewage from vessels, and there has been a program in that regard. The department is also developing an on-site sewage disposal strategy which should be ready later this year or early next year, and that will be focusing on all on-site sewage problems.
I can tell the honourable member that although I don't live on the beautiful Bras d'Or Lakes, I live on the beautiful Mahone Bay in the Lunenburg area, and it is as much a problem in those areas as it is in the Bras d'Or Lakes. We are clearly interested in trying to address that. I can also indicate in situations where there are complaints made about particular problems, department staff continue to investigate those and deal with them.
It is a very difficult problem because it affects a large number of dwellings, some of which are permanent and some of which, it is a difficult problem because you are also dealing with, as the honourable member would know, people in some situations whose economic ability to deal with the problem is limited. That is a difficult problem, and I can tell you from my own home community. That is not because I am soft on the problem, it is simply because you oftentimes are dealing with people who have limited financial resources with which they could deal with the problem. One has to be sensitive to that fact as well.
MR. SAMSON: No, and I appreciate the answer. I go back to the minister's comment on user fees. While I see the current user fees on the poor and the seniors, ones that are being applauded by Mr. Coolican and the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, something tells me that a user fee on these big food chains and grocery chains would not receive the same support from the Halifax Chamber of Commerce with the current ones being proposed.
MR. BAKER: That is hypothetical too. (Laughter)
AN HON. MEMBER: With a high probability of success.
MR. SAMSON: Yes, there is a high probability of being right on that hypothetical I would say. Anyway, on the Bras d'Or, I understand your comment on there being problems with people who have limited income, but as you will probably know, the Bras d'Or Stewardship Society has looked at this issue. The fact is that now, based on our new economy dealing with real estate, most of the people living along the Bras d'Or other than the established communities, the new homes, are not people with limited income. In fact, they are people with quite substantial income.
One of the issues they raise is that while there may be a cottage that has been there for 80 years, and yes, it had a straight pipe, if it is being bought now, why should the Department of the Environment allow that new buyer, knowing that he is buying a system that is not proper, to buy that system and not be expected to upgrade that system? I know they have proposed grandfathering clauses for certain homes, if some sort of a penalty or user system came in.
What they have argued, which I thought was an interesting argument, is that while you might put in a grandfather clause for the mother and father who have had that home for 70 years, if the daughter wants to buy it or someone else wants to buy that home, at that point the department should have the ability to say, if you are buying that you are going to have to put a new system in because we will not permit you to buy that home and continue to have it with that system that exists. It is not a problem that is going be solved overnight and it is not a problem that began yesterday and in no way am I trying to make that assumption.
The changing dynamics of that area is that it has become prime real estate which is being purchased by people with significant amounts of money and in those cases there is no reason why these improper systems are permitted to be kept in place. The other big concern regarding the Bras d'Or is, there is great potential there for aquaculture development. If this problem is not immediately addressed and serious action taken, that entire body of water will be completely lost to aquaculture. I believe there are nine potential aquaculture sites that have been closed down because of human waste. If aquaculture is going to have a role in the future development of the economy of Cape Breton and the province, this needs to be addressed immediately.
I will leave that with the minister. I am pleased to see that they are still moving forward on that matter. That wraps up my questions for today and I anxiously await the minutes of the Resource Recovery Fund Board.
MR. BAKER: Just to deal with the last point raised by the member, the short answer is that I couldn't agree more. I just wanted the honourable member to know that it is not just
a problem on the Bras d'Or Lakes but it is also a problem in other coastal areas of Nova Scotia. The difficulty is that 40 years ago there were privies in a lot of these communities and some of the privies were built over the land and some of them weren't built over the land. What has happened is there are changing land-use patterns in a number of communities that I can think of even in my own riding. It is a difficult problem and I agree with the honourable member.
I can also indicate that staff tell me that hopefully tomorrow morning, the information the honourable member requested will be available. I am glad the honourable member has concluded his questions for the moment.
MR. SAMSON: I thank the minister for that and I guess we will have to wait to see if we are still here tomorrow morning or not when those minutes arrive.
MR. BAKER: Hopefully not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: My observation would be that the proverbial can of worms, as you mentioned, I hope it is a recyclable can with the deposit paid. Second of all you made reference to the fast food restaurants and trying to tax them or have a fee for the litter on the roadsides. I don't know if the honourable member is saying that restaurants can't have take-out service but I would ask, how would you put a surcharge or surtax on these corporations?
MR. SAMSON: I used that as an example, Mr. Chairman. In no way did I advocate how this could be done. Take-out is an interesting problem and I will give an example for all members and that is A&W. We will all recall for years and years that A&W traditionally had glass mugs in their restaurants as part of their whole sales marketing pitch. That is gone now and that is an example of where a lot of waste was being reduced by using glass mugs. This is an example of where government can start making some changes and trying to cut down on the amount of waste. It is not going to cut down on all waste but if you can cut down a portion, that is one way to do it. I use that as a practical example of one of the ways to cut down on some of the waste being created.
Restaurants use plates that are washed after being used. That is another example of a lot of waste being cut down. It is not something that will be solved overnight but certainly, considering the amounts of user fees being attached onto people, I think this government could turn its mind and find some practical means of addressing this very serious problem.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I now turn the floor over to the NDP caucus. The time is now 4:35 p.m.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Chairman, as an observation following your intervention, not too many years ago I can remember - even though it was never enforced - legislation on the books of this province that would require that at least 50 per cent of the soft drinks sold at retail outlets had to be in reusable containers, i.e. glass containers. When that was the case, that meant those containers were returned and it also meant there was an incentive for the industry to do their bottling within the province, whether that be for beer or soda products, because they had to use the beverage containers that were returned and that helped to maintain employment.
When the government is looking for ways to eliminate some waste, let's face it, the best recycling program is reuse and if we can go back to reusing the containers, then we would be promoting employment within this province as well as being more environmentally friendly.
There are a couple of topics I want to address to the minister; presumably neither one of them will come as a surprise and I am not going to dealing with the Estimates Book. One of them has to do with Good Earth, and the minister knew that.
I was a little surprised actually when I did receive a copy of the ministerial order that was sent to the owners of Good Earth, but I didn't receive it from the minister's department. I don't know if one came or not . . .
MR. BAKER: You could have gotten it from them, I am sure.
MR. HOLM: I am sure I could have but honestly - and I have had close cooperation, I will say on the upside, with your deputy and with others - I was surprised that I hadn't received that but I did get a copy faxed to me from another source. I was looking at the schedule and certainly a number of things had to be done - I didn't bring the schedule with me but I think the minister has it there - like products had to be removed from site within seven days and they had to stop accepting certain other types of materials and had to cover other materials. I can't remember the time-frames, but it was like in seven days . . .
MR. BAKER: It was seven days and then 45 days.
MR. HOLM: Well, 45 days, if my memory serves me correctly, was the time they were given to hire a consultant to come up with a workable plan to address the issues. I have now had complaints from at least a kilometre away. Now this was before the order was issued but the complaints were from residents and I have also had residents who live that far or further away tell me there are strange odours. The residents thought the odours were from cats visiting their gardens and they sprayed vinegar around their yards to kill the odour. They couldn't understand why on some days they got this cat smell and not on other days, but when I asked them the wind direction they caught on.
First of all, what I am seeking from the minister is an assurance that if the plant is not brought into compliance with the permit issued when it was started, that it will be shut down.
MR. BAKER: Honourable member, just before we go to that subject you addressed the issue of recycling and I want to speak for a second about recycling and reuse being the most important form of recycling, and I agree. As far as recycling generically is concerned, I think environmental education in the schools is of tremendous value. I might say that speaking as the father of a six year old and an eight year old, if I had any inclination to dispose inappropriately of pop cans or other kinds of beverage containers, I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that I have the environmental police in the back seat of my car on most occasions and they are very effective.
I don't think I am alone in that many parents in Nova Scotia have very effective environmental police living at home with them, and that is commendable. I think ultimately for the future, when you look at these things, there has been a tremendous change for the better as a result of education in schools of children. That is just to address the issue you raised.
With respect to the company Good Earth, I will give you a simple assurance that if this company does not clean up its act, a ministerial stop-work order will be issued with respect to this facility. I have very serious concerns about this facility and that is what led to the ministerial order in the first place. Failure to comply with the ministerial order will have very serious consequences in this case. It has clearly been a nuisance to neighbouring homes and I recognize that. We have had this discussion before and I want to assure the member that if the company does not fly right, then action will be taken.
MR. HOLM: First of all, picking up on the minister's comments about recycling and the environmental police that he has in the back seat of his car and commenting on the excellent job the schools are doing in teaching about environmental stewardship or proper stewardship of the environment, the only comment I would make to the minister about that - and I certainly agree that it is correct but he knows what is coming - if you are putting close to 50 students in a classroom or if you are going to try to do the kind of slashing of the Education budget, your children and other children across this province are going to suffer. If the educators for one thing can do anything other than crowd control, they certainly won't have time to provide these kinds of things.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I remind the honourable member we are speaking on the Department of the Environment's budget and not education.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Chairman, indeed and the Minister of the Environment himself led me down this route talking about environmental education. I want to thank you for your comments and for noting that my comments were dealing with the environment in education and therefore, I believe, totally appropriate.
The final comment to the minister and we have had discussion on this matter before, I just wanted this on the public record and the other reality is that local businesses around the area have told me that employees are threatening to quit because they cannot tolerate the stench. I have visited the site and have had the misfortune of parking my car downwind when it was coming towards me. As fast as I could I very quickly rolled up my car windows and beat a hasty retreat. The odour followed me to my office, my clothing was saturated with this odour and I was only exposed to it for no more than one-half minute but the odour was on my clothes for at least one-half hour or more. The smell lingers and if you are working in an area that is close to that, it would be intolerable. If you are working at a business where you are working with equipment, as some of the area businesses are, it can be extremely dangerous and the flies that come with it are the flies from hell. If you have ever seen those flies, not only are they numerous but you can't catch them. (Laughter) We can laugh about it but it certainly is no laughing matter.
As I say, I was there for the opening and was very supportive of it opening on the basis that it does, in fact, meet the terms of the permit because I am very much a supporter of composting and I don't believe it needs to be a nuisance to people around you if it is done properly. If it doesn't meet the permit conditions, I am sorry about the investment people have made of their own money, but you roll the dice and if you can't live up to the commitments you made or the licensed conditions, you lose but other business and residences around you should not suffer as well. So I appreciate the minister's commitment and I know that those who are around it will be expecting the minister to honour that. With the warm weather approaching, the problems there will only get worse but it is good to know that the minister has guaranteed that those residents will not have to put up with another summer like they did last year. Just to point out how bad it was, this winter people were still being bothered by it and that was in winter. I have had complaints in the summer but this was the first winter I ever received complaints and they were as bad as they were last summer.
The other main topic I want to speak on has to do with the Sackville River and the Sackville landfill which, of course, is closed out. I know the department no longer does monitoring of the Sackville River but I believe you do get the test results, the data that is done by the municipality.
MR. BAKER: Just for the honourable member's benefit, I understand there was some joint testing done between the department and HRM. When those test results are received, if the honourable member would like those shared with him, we would be glad to do that.
MR. HOLM: That is what I would like and I know that a previous minister who was to my left had also promised that I would receive those but I didn't. I had to . . .
MR. BAKER: Try again, Mr. Holm, you might be lucky this time.
MR. HOLM: I am requesting that those be done and it was a predecessor of many ministers who sat in your position, a colleague of yours, Mr. Leefe, when he was Minister of the Environment back in the 1980's was the one who first - in response to a question from me on the floor of the House, agreed to have testing done of the Sackville River. After that testing was done by the department, rather than only having one test done a year by the then Metropolitan Authority in August, those test results were what revealed the leachate that was getting into the river and caused the municipality to then be forced to come up with a leachate treatment facility and so on. The landfill may be closed but I want to make sure that the information from the testing is public so that we can keep on top of it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I trust that same report will be circulated to the honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank and Bedford-Fall River because the Sackville River does flow through their ridings also and would be of interest to those two MLAs.
MR. BAKER: Mr. Chairman, I can indicate the report will be made public and provided to those members of the House who are likely to be affected by that. I understand the member's point and can tell you it has been indicated to me by staff that there should be no difficulty once we have the report, to provide it to the honourable member and other members. I think it is important that information be made public and you won't have to look very hard if I am minister at the time.
MR. HOLM: I thank the minister and I also say through you to the Chairman, one gets almost a bit of an impression that might be somewhat construed as stepping a little bit beyond the normal position of the Chairman, who is supposed to be totally unbiased and only commenting about the actual proceedings and not trying to give advice.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am trying to be a good teacher.
MR. HOLM: I didn't know that the Chairman was the teacher. I thought the Chairman was a referee, not the instructor.
MR. BAKER: Can I get involved with this now, since these are my estimates?
MR. HOLM: I would say to the minister that if you hadn't, I would have been very interested in sharing the information with my colleague for Sackville-Beaver Bank as the landfill is situated in his riding.
MR. BAKER: As he has pointed out to me on many occasions.
MR. HOLM: I am glad he has. So that is the second point and I thank the minister. Maybe the minister could tell me how often the joint testing is done?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is, we are not sure. All we know is that there has been testing done and we are expecting the results. I am not sure, I think it may depend on what the results of the testing are, about what the future plans are.
MR. HOLM: My final comment to the minister is, the Metropolitan Authority used to assure us that everything was fine because the test results showed that everything was fine. They used to test it in the driest river in the driest part of the year, in August, when water levels were way down and any leachate or run-off, of course, would also be reduced to an absolute minimum, if at all. It was only by spot checks being carried out by department officials that they discovered that at other times of the year when run-off was heavy, lo and behold, leachate was in fact getting into the river. The point is, please make sure that the testing isn't only done during the driest cycles.
MR. BAKER: Point taken, thank you.
MR. HOLM: The last question. Your colleague, the Minister responsible for the Petroleum Directorate introduced a bill - I don't know what number - on Friday, an Act to Amend Chapter 147 of the Revised Statutes, 1989, the Energy and Mineral Resources Conservation Act, et cetera. In that legislation, there are some references to the Department of the Environment, I wonder if the minister could tell us what new responsibilities his department will assume as a result of that legislation?
MR. BAKER: Thank you very much for the member's somewhat mischievous question. My understanding is that the intention of the legislation is to make clear that the Department of the Environment's role in the offshore is as an environmental regulator and only as an environmental regulator, and the Act is also intended to provide that the Petroleum Directorate is a promoter of the resource, and of course the Department of Labour, as I understand it, will be involved as a regulator.
MR. HOLM: I appreciate that, but this is the onshore not the offshore.
MR. BAKER: That would apply to both onshore and offshore.
MR. HOLM: But it talks about, for example, ". . . removes the regulation and ensuring of safe practices in exploration and the controlling of pollution and the ensuring of environmental protection in exploration from the purpose clause of the Energy and Mineral Resources Conservation Act since these functions are now carried out by the Department of Environment . . ." That is the explanatory note. My question really is, are there going to be some new duties? I agree with the fact that it should be the Department of the Environment, but are some of these functions that used to be carried out under another body that are now being assumed by your department?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that this is simply a clarification.
MR. HOLM: So, you had been doing that already.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. HOLM: There are no new resources that are necessary to be allocated from the scarce resources that have already been ratcheted away from your department?
MR. BAKER: I won't necessarily agree with the premise at the beginning, but no, there are no more resources required.
MR. HOLM: I will turn the time over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I thank my colleague for relinquishing some time. Mr. Minister, I have a few concerns pertaining to things in my riding, and then some other general concerns as well. I had written the Honourable Ronald Russell, when he was the Minister of the Environment, regarding a Water Course Enhancement Program, and I am not sure if the honourable former Liberal Minister had alluded to bank enhancement or . . .
MR. BAKER: Perhaps I could deal with it and, for the member's benefit, indicate what was said earlier. The short answer is that there is no funding for the Water Course Enhancement Program. The funding has been eliminated. There is not likely to be any funding for that program unless there is some federal funding directed in that regard. I am trying to remember the answers again, but my recollection would be that the third point was that there may be some potential for funding for the water use fees for that program if the companies that maintained the water resource use credits chose to do that. I think that is the short summary of the answers.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I have written your department regarding this, and I am sure I will probably get that in the form of a letter.
MR. BAKER: In the fullness of time.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: In the fullness of time. I hope the department isn't abandoning the notion that this program is a good initiative, that at some point in time they will consider trying to enhance water courses that through human activity have degenerated. I don't think there is any way to separate the need for these water courses. Some of them may be small, but certainly I think they all play a vital role and we tend to overlook it. If you are not standing on the bank of a large river, you tend to think everything else is insignificant, but they all play a role in habitat and drainage concerns, et cetera.
One of the concerns that was brought to me through the farming community in my area is - and I know the Environment Act is being reviewed, can you tell me how long the hearings are, I know they are slated?
MR. BAKER: July 1st is the conclusion date for the report, so the hearings will be finished before that.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: The farmers in my area, some have the distinction of having their farms atop an aquifer, in the Shubenacadie area . . .
MR. BAKER: Distinction is a good way of putting it.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Anyway, with the fairly rapid growth of the more urban sprawl, from Enfield to Lantz in particular, there has been a real need to investigate a much more long term and better water source. The Shubenacadie River basically - that flows out of Grand Lake - has been the source for the most part, for supplying water to these areas. The farming community has actually become quite concerned. The aquifer, I think, although generally known to exist, was found through drilling for kaolin clay, so they have done some testing and found quite a good supply of water, which I think the municipality wants to develop.
My understanding is, if it is determined that this is slated as a watershed area, this could impact on their farming practices. They feel kind of threatened by that. I think there is a clause in the Environment Act that says you can't claim for injurious effect if it is determined to be a watershed. This is one clause that they would like to see removed on the basis that through nothing of their own fault, in some cases they fear it could impact on being able to farm there at all. I am just wondering what your view of this is?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is that I believe this to be a question that basically speculates on what the recommendation of the committee would be. I am not prepared to indicate that. I understand your comments and when the report has been received, I will take those concerns into consideration in looking at that. I understand what you are indicating about historical users being concerned about the effect on their use and how it might impact their ability to continue in their farming operations. But, I don't want to go down the road of speculating on what the committee may or may not put in the report, because it just isn't fruitful, and I think you understand where I am coming from. I am not trying to be evasive, but it would be unfruitful for me to go along a series of questions and answers which are premised on something which may never occur.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I think I can agree. The point I want to make is I think the wrinkle in all of this is a situation whereby it is known that this water source has not been
contaminated by the farming operations that have gone on there for 100 years or so, so it is not a case of concern over the fact that these operations are polluting the water. They just happen to be there above it. Determining it to be a watershed, unless the department changes how it considers watersheds or whatever, and I can understand your not wanting to go down that road, but you can understand my reason for wanting to go up it.
MR. BAKER: I do, and I can just indicate, by way of information for the member, that the process in the existing legislation requires, if there were any designations, consultation with all the affected users, and that obviously would include the people who are farmers in that area. I think it is fair to say that there would definitely be an opportunity for significant input by affected user groups, including farmers.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: The question my honourable colleague had raised was around Good Earth, and I want to raise about compost that had been hauled out into the Upper Rawdon area, and I think it was from New Era. Not that that in itself is a bad thing, but the fact is that I am pretty sure from the response of the community that it wasn't composted completely. My understanding, I have never been to a site, from people who have is that what comes out of those sites as a finished product is relatively odourless and benign, for the most part.
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that properly treated compost is effectively odourless, or certainly a very limited odour to it. I know that - and I am speaking from personal knowledge here - my cousin who owns the cottage next to my own has received compost from the Lunenburg County landfill, which was fully composted, and has put it down, and there was literally no odour to be found from that fully-composted material that was used to grow grass and those kinds of things. In answer to your question, I think if it is properly done, the material that is produced at the other end is benign in its truest sense.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I think the impression in this case was that it definitely wasn't completely composted.
MR. BAKER: That is the problem.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Then there became this back and forth between, I think, the municipal councillor in particular but my office as well with the department. I have to be honest with you and tell you that I found it very difficult to get information from the department on this. I know that one of the last documents I got from the Honourable Ronald Russell was a quick note that told about the testing program, the time intervals that testing was occurring. Actually the testing intervals were so long that I think the material could compost while it is there and still be tested to be all right, which I kind of took to be rather ineffective. We were also told that there was only one testing apparatus to do all of this, which we found to be a bit strange considering the program.
It is a concern, those residents certainly wanted to know that there was going to be no more of this material showing up there that was going to have this odour. I just wonder what your department's view of this is? Actually the last letter I wrote was to a member of your department, Mr. Frank MacNeil, and I think I put on the letter Grant MacNeil. That may be the reason I haven't had a response, but I thought someone in there would probably figure out the direction that was going and get back to me. I haven't heard anything back. They may be looking for a Grant MacNeil there. I would like to know what your department's view of this is. Do you plan to not allow this to go on unless it is actually known that this material is composted?
MR. BAKER: There are two parts to this question. First of all, I understand that New Era was having problems with their process at one point in time, and some material was apparently removed to Hants County, which would be the site that you are talking about, as part of fixing the problems they had with the composting facility, which I understand have largely been corrected. I can also indicate to you that we have been advised that there is no further plan to take any material to that site in Hants County. From the point of view of your constituents, the problem should be cured.
I can also indicate by way of further information that testing is supposed to be conducted on all material to determine that it is fully composted. I believe the material in question was not fully composted as a result of the fact that they were in the process of fixing some problems and they had to clean out the facility that they had in order to do some modifications. I think that is what happened in this particular case. I apologize if the communication broke down at any point, but I am advised that at least from the point of view of New Era, there should be no further material going to Hants County.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Good, thank you. Another concern was raised by the people who run the enviro-depot in the industrial park in Elmsdale. I think it is because of perceived friction between them and the municipal office. They find that some of the material, plastic bags, et cetera, that I think would go to be recycled, they don't have the facilities or actually I think they feel that it is not cost effective for some of that material to be cleaned. They can't clean it and send it to be recycled and get enough out of it to pay for cleaning it. They have set it out with the garbage. The municipality, for the most part, is not keen on putting this stuff in a landfill. I wonder about the problems associated with what these recycling depots are supposed to do, and if we want to avoid this material getting into landfills, is there any mechanism to govern how they get paid? If their reward for this is what they get for the material on the open market, then I think if they can't sell it and make a profit then this jeopardizes the whole program.
MR. BAKER: I understand that the problems have been worked out with respect to that particular depot. Apparently the concerns between the municipality and the depot had revolved around unsightly premise issues, and the fact that the municipality felt that the operator's storage of these materials outside was unsightly. Apparently the RRFB is assisting
operators to find markets for this plastic material. Apparently such markets do exist. There was a meeting between staff and the operators of the enviro-depots, I think it was yesterday, and there seemed to be no concerns expressed by the operators at that meeting about the ability of them to find a market for this plastic material. It seems the problem is solved, to use that phrase.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I think they know they can sell the material, and I am not sure what the percentage is but I think a large percentage of it they can take, package and sell, that is not a concern. I think the problem is plastic that comes with something on it, it is dirty, and they can't just pack it because nobody wants to buy it in that state, and they can't afford to clean it.
MR. BAKER: Again, staff indicate to me that it is appropriate under the existing regulations for contaminated plastic material to go to a landfill, and the municipalities are required to accept that.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: There was something specific they had mentioned and that was regarding glass. Glass would seem to be a material that you could recycle. I think the closest area that they could sell that is to Moncton; as a place there would buy it. I think $20 a ton is what they get paid for it, but they said that they cannot get a truck, it cost $26 a ton to truck it there.
MR. BAKER: Just to clarify what I understand the arrangement to be with the enviro-depot operator, the enviro-depot operator gets so much per bottle or container as a handling fee. The enviro-depot operator is then being paid to handle and dispose of that material and they could dispose of it by sending it to Consumers Glass in Moncton or any other market they can find. Obviously, it is a commodity that fluctuates in price. The price goes up and the price comes down but they are getting paid, they have a contract, they have agreed to accept this material and they are responsible to dispose of the material and presumably they will make a business decision about whether they can make a profit as a result of that process.
Obviously there certainly are a number of companies that feel they can make money by doing that and presumably that is a good thing because it is providing a service to the public, but clearly they are not tied to Consumers Glass if they can find some other source that wants to take that glass material and use it in their appropriate way. I know there has been talk, for example, of putting glass into pavement and those kinds of alternate uses and whether they can find a better market for that, but it is really up to them to find because they are being paid a fee to accept that material.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Yes, and that makes some sense. I think at one time glass had a $70 to $80 a ton value, and of course now people are collecting it and there is a lot of glass so the supply is there. So I think maybe it is more transparent than we realize.
MR. BAKER: That is the idea with most glass actually.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I guess my concern is about the whole notion of what we want to accomplish and the fact that material that can be recycled, but does not generate a value - what he gets for his handling fee, I am not sure how that works, but he certainly would not want to lose money shipping the product somewhere to have it recycled, and I think we certainly want to make sure that anything that can be, can be.
MR. BAKER: Staff indicate to me that one of the mandates of the RRFB is to try to find alternate uses for recycled materials, which of course would include glass. The department staff indicate to me that at the present time they are investigating opportunities in that regard. For example, with water treatment as a filter medium, whereas crushed glass was used as a filter medium. I can indicate that in an opportunity to provide the most cost effective but user friendly or environmentally friendly use of materials, they are looking at every opportunity to use the material in the province because obviously the more localized the use of material is, the less the trucking cost is and that just simply benefits everybody.
I think we should never overlook the fact that this has been tremendously effective, at least in some areas of the province, in creating a much higher diversion rate than used to exist. I think there are municipal units that have in fact met the 50 per cent diversion criteria and it is a result of changed consumer patterns, and because people now take their glass bottles and their plastic containers and sort them. I know in Lunenburg County we do that.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I know this individual has looked at some of these alternate uses. Maybe the filtering one is one, I forget, it was something they presently use gravel for right now. He approached someone who would be involved with this and they said we will take your glass for nothing. He said, well, you would have to buy gravel. If you don't use glass, you are going to have to buy gravel to do this, my glass must have a value. They were not interested in paying him anything for it.
My last question is regarding Soil Remediation Technologies, outside the City of Dartmouth. They have a quarry where they are using contaminated soil, et cetera, they put it through a process to reclaim parts of the quarry. In my discussion with them, and I am looking more for direction than I am anything else here, but my understanding is that any material that has contaminated the soil, that soil cannot be used unless it is down to 100 parts per million in the soil and any leachate, water cannot be released unless it is 1 part per million. Am I right to say that?
MR. BAKER: Staff believe your answer is correct, but we will have to get back to you with an answer because we don't have the technical expertise here who could answer your question. I would not want to give you an answer that is incorrect.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Yes, that is okay.
MR. BAKER: I think that if there is an answer, a very clear yes or no, these are the standard kind of issue. I can get back to you with the answer.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: That is only tangential to where I am going here. My understanding from talking to the people at Soil Remediation Technologies is, depending on the material that that soil is contaminated with, it will go very quickly to say 500 parts per million as far as removing the contaminate, and then some of these materials fairly quickly will go from 500 parts per million to 100. Some of them will take months and months to go from 500 to 100 and their claim is that even with the higher than 100 parts per million in the soil, the leachate into the water still does not go above the 1 part per million.
I think what they are looking for is some kind of a sliding scale, that depending on the material that the soil is contaminated with, they can actually use it with a higher level in the soil as long as what goes into the water does not exceed the 1 part per million. I have not had much of an opportunity, all I said to them was, and it makes some sense, but I was not sure about any environmental concerns that the department might have or the department has looked at this because I am not keen on seeing soil with 500 parts per million, going for reclamation if there has been some evidence to indicate that the 100 parts per million the department has is for a good reason. So I am just wondering if there is . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to advise the NDP caucus members that you have 15 minutes left in this time allocation.
MR. BAKER: I can indicate to the honourable member that there is a study being undertaken at the present time as a result of their concerns. I can also tell you that the department is very concerned that they have to have very good science before they would change the limits because, obviously, the last thing the department wants to do is to do something which would create environmental contamination, in other words moving the problem from one area to another. We are aware of the concerns expressed by the company. A study is ongoing, but before any change is made to those limits, the department would have to be convinced of the science of this, and I think you understand why we would be very concerned about the science of this to make sure that we were not contributing to a problem.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I want to say for the record that on first blush I was not necessarily opposed to their thoughts, but I wanted to know what the science said.
MR. BAKER: Exactly, neither are we, but we want to know what the science says.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I want to thank the minister and his staff for their help. I appreciate it. I took more time than I had intended from my colleagues.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto, Mr. Epstein.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: How many minutes?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just under 15.
MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Minister, can you help me with a small item in the Supplement to the Public Accounts, Page 60? There is a line item there with a name attached to it. The name is William Coulter. There is about a $57,000 item. It may be that this is a different William Coulter than the one I know, but the William Coulter I thought I knew about was working for Environment Canada and had to do with the environmental assessment process. Is this a different person or is it the same person?
MR. BAKER: What page of the Supplement to the Public Accounts.
MR. EPSTEIN: Page 60 in the printed text that I have.
MR. BAKER: We are checking on that. He is a phantom employee, no. (Laughter) It is the old joke, has anybody ever met this man? He is just collecting a cheque. The answer is this individual retired from our Nova Scotia Department of the Environment in October, 1999.
MR. EPSTEIN: Are you telling me it is a different William Coulter?
MR. BAKER: I don't know which William Coulter you know.
MR. EPSTEIN: There is a William Coulter, who should be known to all of your departmental staff, who works for Environment Canada and who has to do with environmental assessment process. My question is, is this the same person?
MR. BAKER: The same person.
MR. EPSTEIN: All right, well, why are we paying him any money? I did not think he worked for the province. I thought that he worked for the feds. Have I been completely mistaken in this or have we some kind of working arrangement in which we reimburse the feds for something that he has been doing for us?
MR. BAKER: I understand from department staff that for the last two years he has been working for the federal government on secondment from the provincial government. So the provincial government was paying him and then being reimbursed by the federal government.
MR. EPSTEIN: So this money goes out, but it comes in somewhere else.
MR. BAKER: Exactly, that comes in from somewhere else.
MR. EPSTEIN: Fine, thank you.
MR. BAKER: I am sorry to be so difficult on the whole issue because the short answer is the department and you know the same person, and he was supposed to be being paid.
MR. EPSTEIN: Good, and he does a good job, I want to put it on the record.
MR. BAKER: Well, he is retired now, so he did a good job.
MR. EPSTEIN: Coming down the page, I see there is a sum attributable to Michael Gardiner here. Is this Gardiner Pinfold Consulting and, if so, what does this represent?
MR. BAKER: This is a different Mr. Gardiner. This is Mr. Michael Gardiner who works in the Sydney office.
MR. EPSTEIN: Good, thank you. I want to go back, Mr. Minister, if I may, to a different topic that came up. Questions were asked earlier about special places and the potential designation and we dealt with those, but these are different, I think, from wilderness or protected areas.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: I wonder if you can bring us up to date with respect to what is going to happen with wilderness areas? In your opening address the other day I understood you to say that the plan of the department now was to cap the number of areas at 31. Is that the department's plan?
MR. BAKER: The department is focusing its resources on the 31 protected places at the present time. However, the Department of Natural Resources has the Integrated Resource Management Program, of which I am sure, Mr. Epstein, you are familiar, and as a result of that process there may be additional places identified and, obviously, if there were additional places identified as a result of that process, they may be added to the existing areas. So the short answer is that that process is ongoing, the Integrated Resource Management Program is ongoing. However, the department staff, at the moment, are concentrating on the protected areas that have already been identified, except there is also some preliminary assessment going on with respect to Gully Lake and Eigg Mountain and those may be added to the list of the 31 places in the future. Those are candidates that have already been identified.
MR. EPSTEIN: Perhaps I am not understanding the lines of responsibility correctly. You are telling me that out of the IRM process that is going on in the Department of Natural Resources, they might identify additional candidate sites?
MR. BAKER: That is correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: But you are also telling me they don't have exclusive jurisdiction over identifying sites, or is that not the case?
MR. BAKER: That process is a joint process wherein which they take the leadership, but the Department of the Environment participates in the process as well because there is an environmental component plus there is, obviously, a land use planning component, and that is why it is called Integrated Resource Management. It is just for that reason because it is trying to marry the resource management component to the environmental protection component to create, obviously, an integrated response so that two government agencies are not working at cross purposes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Perhaps I am a little bit at a loss trying to understand what it is that is being said when, in your words, the program will now be redirected and limited to the 31 areas currently designated. I am not sure what that means. I am not sure what I am being told when I hear those words.
MR. BAKER: I think what you are being told is that the Department of the Environment, on its own, is not going out to seek out additional places, that they are relying on the Integrated Resource Management process to identify places. There are two exceptions to that rule, I guess you want to call it, Eigg Mountain and Gully Lake, because they have already been identified by departmental staff. So there are 31 plus those two, plus whatever comes out of the result of the Integrated Resource Management process.
MR. EPSTEIN: What exactly is going to happen with Eigg Mountain and Gully Lake?
MR. BAKER: The Department of the Environment staff are assessing those areas for their merit as candidates for protection. If they are determined to have merit, then it would be the department's view to continue to pursue that option.
MR. EPSTEIN: Any idea what time-frame we are looking at for the assessment?
MR. BAKER: I understand from department staff that that process is close, but I can't give you an exact date, whether it is two months or six months, I am sorry. Staff indicate they can follow-up on that and try to provide further detail. I am not trying to be evasive, I just don't know the answer.
MR. EPSTEIN: No, it is fine. I am glad to hear there is work being done regarding those two sites, and you might refresh my memory because even though we just passed it a year or two ago, I don't remember the details of the Wilderness Areas Protection Act. Do we have to pass additional legislation to add those sites if they are recommended for designation or is it done by regulation?
MR. BAKER: I am like you, I can't remember either. I think it is kind of a fog to all of us to be honest with you. I would have to check the legislation.
MR. EPSTEIN: It is all right, I will check it myself. If it isn't a quick answer, I will check it myself. Thank you very much for those answers though.
Going back now to a question that my colleague, Mr. Estabrooks, was pursuing with you earlier, which was allocation of departmental staff, particularly in the regional offices. I know he went through a couple of things with you but what I am hoping for is this, because I didn't hear a definite answer to one of his questions. One of the questions was about the time studies and I think it was suggested that somewhere between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of the time of the field office staff was spent doing on-site sewage inspections. How was this number generated?
MR. BAKER: I believe it was generated as an estimate of staff time that came from departmental assessment of the workload of inspectors. It was an estimation of the time that employees were spending based on studies of their workload and those kinds of things. I don't know if there was any science to that in the sense that they can say absolutely, but I think quite clearly it was the feeling of department staff that represented those numbers.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, so perhaps time studies wasn't the right term. There was an estimate done, is that right?
MR. BAKER: An estimate, yes. Maybe I used the wrong phrase. It was an estimate based on an assessment of the job functions and so forth. It is an input from all the regional managers, managers, people who field inspectors to try to come up with an approximation of how the resource was being used.
MR. EPSTEIN: What I am really wondering is whether you can help me think through the net result of the changes to the regional offices? What is going to happen is that the staff will no longer do on-site inspections, but they will review paperwork that comes in from the private contractors who are going to be hired by the lot owners.
MR. BAKER: That is correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: Plus, of course, you are reducing some of the staff in those offices.
MR. BAKER: By 3 live bodies out of 73 positions that are actually filled today, of which 3 positions will be gone, so I don't know what percentage terms that is, but whatever 3 fills into 73.
MR. EPSTEIN: But there are also some vacancies, is that right?
MR. BAKER: Two.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have time for one final question.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, the next part is, there is going to be increased . . .
MR. BAKER: There are 75 inspector positions in total, just to try to answer your question Mr. Epstein, 75 total positions of which 2 are actually vacant today, three will become vacant as a result of changes in staffing. I haven't got the rough numbers but if you figure out 3 of 75, it is roughly 5 per cent to use your math. If you talk about the 2 positions where there is no incumbent in the position, it is a slightly higher percentage, probably around 6 per cent or 7 per cent.
MR. EPSTEIN: I guess my hour is up. I will get back to this.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time for the NDP caucus has lapsed. Are there further questions from the Liberal caucus?
MR. BAKER: I can see we are only going to get through one department. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I am still waiting for those minutes, but I am quite confident they will show up tomorrow morning. With all of these cuts taking place by this government I would hope that the Acting Minister of Environment has left a little bit of money in his budget to take his staff out for a well-deserved supper. They have done a bang-up job here, and for an Acting Minister of Environment, my compliments. You have done very well and it is my sincere hope that the curse of being Minister of the Environment will not in any way hamper your political aspirations or well-being. (Interruption)
Mr. Chairman, with that I want to thank the minister and his staff for their cooperation and they have certainly been very forthcoming with answers and it has been greatly appreciated. That wraps up the questioning from the Liberal caucus. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Back to the NDP caucus. The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto, do you have any further questioning for the minister?
MR. EPSTEIN: I do. It is not dinnertime for the minister and his staff yet. (Laughter) Let's just continue with the analysis of staff time. There is going to be a saving of 25 per cent to 35 per cent, there will be additional paperwork to be reviewed, there is going to be cuts in staff and presumably there is going to be additional travel time because you are closing a number of regional offices. My point is that when you were doing the estimates and I don't mean the overall budgetary estimates, but when your department managers were doing the estimates of the savings to be gained through making these changes, I wonder what numbers they assigned to those other categories?
Let me tell you my numbers. If I take your 25 per cent to 35 per cent saving in terms of sewage site inspections, I figure you have to add about 10 per cent, at least, for the paperwork review that is going to go on, there is going to be an additional 5 per cent burden because of cuts in staff and there is going to be at least an additional 10 per cent due to travel time, not to mention the cost of the travel. My point is that you have 25 per cent on one end and you have at least 25 per cent on the other end and what I want to know is, did your managers make that kind of analysis, are the numbers different, do you dispute the numbers or the analysis? Can I hear some reaction or commentary on this?
MR. BAKER: Staff are going to provide me with some further information but just to give you an illustration of one situation I am keenly aware of, which is the situation in Lunenburg-Queens, because the Queens office is being closed, the vast bulk of the Queens County population, hence the Queens County problems that would be reported, are located on the Lunenburg County side of Queens County. If you divide a line down Queens County, Liverpool and area east, the vast majority of the population and certainly the vast majority of the complaints would be located within 15 to 20 minutes from the Bridgewater office. So, for example, in 20 to 25 minutes you can drive from Bridgewater to Liverpool, this is an example, I am just using this as an illustration, to estimate that in some way the closure of these regional offices is going to create a huge change in the time allocation, I don't think is accurate.
The other thing that is not being factored in, and I am just trying to give you a background, is that the department in the past had made a number of decisions which defied knowledge of rural Nova Scotia and I will give you an illustration.
Someone decided that western Nova Scotia should be segmented like a worm and that you would take the Counties of Kings and Lunenburg and put them in a single district; that you would put the Counties of Annapolis and Queens into a single district and you would put into a single district the tri-county area. Well, they got it right in one area and wrong in two because, in fact, the travel patterns, the roads and everything else, are constructed so Lunenburg and Queens are, in fact, a single area and Annapolis and Kings are a single area.
As a result of reorganization in the department those anomalies are being corrected so travel time in that area of western Nova Scotia will be greatly reduced because no longer will you have staff driving from Annapolis to Liverpool and from Kentville to Bridgewater. It was a huge waste of resources and time on staff. So, I am simply making the point that you have to look at a larger picture, you can't look at the small picture.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, that particular example you give makes sense, but it is province wide we are looking at the impact on travel time. What is your estimate of the total impact on travel time province wide?
MR. BAKER: I will try to answer your question a little more fully. The department looked at the whole change and reorganization and I guess senior staff are satisfied that, overall, the system we are going to have is going to give far more time to inspection of high-risk categories. There is going to be a risk assessment process, and I want to go off the topic because I think it is useful.
One of the difficulties they have with the present system is that a large amount of the resources, far more than 5 per cent or 6 per cent or whatever you might call the percentage for on-site sewage disposal is being used in that program, it was felt by senior staff that the changes that we would be implementing would create, overall, more time to do inspection of high-risk sites.
Second of all, looking at the travel time issue, for example, there is a tremendous amount of travel time involved in on-site sewage disposal assessment. In fact, gigantic amounts because they are going out at random because applications come in at random all over rural Nova Scotia. Again, I know from my own home area of Lunenburg County, for example, an inspector may have an inspection one day in one area and the same day may have another case 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Then because of the luck of the draw, a week later comes in another one just next door to the one that he has just previously inspected because there is no control over the application process.
All I can indicate to you is that there were no detailed studies done to provide hard numbers, if you want to call it that. Clearly, it was the feeling of management that this would involve a very significant benefit to issues involving serious environmental risk and as a result of changes that were made under the previous administration where the QPII and QPIs were implemented for some situations, this department has been able to re-target a significant amount of inspection time on to industrial sites and so forth.
Just to give you an illustration with respect to regional offices, the budgeted changes is $8,000, so a relatively minor amount of departmental expenditures would be projected to be increased as a result of the closure of the district offices. So I think it is fair to say that as far as the budgeting process is concerned, for all the reasons I alluded to, that there is a
perception that there will still be significant improvement in the amount of staff time that will be involved in being re-channelled to higher priority areas.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, Mr. Minister, I am glad your management staff are satisfied, but we have estimates so I can be satisfied. I would have been a lot happier if I could have heard something more convincing.
MR. BAKER: I would have been more happy if I could have given you something more convincing.
MR. EPSTEIN: Good. Well, let's ask another part of it. Next year, when we do this again, what are you going to be able to tell me about how you have been tracking it all year; to tell me the results of all this?
MR. BAKER: What I can tell you is that your point is taken. I understand a point when it is being made and I got the point some time ago, and we will be actually taking some effort over the next while to track what our inspectors are doing. Because quite clearly, part of what we want to do is to focus on areas of high responsibility and we recognize as a department the issue of administrative negligence and those kinds of issues. We want to make sure that departmental resources are targeted, which is really I think the point you make, to make sure that we are better off than we had been. Frankly, from personal, anecdotal experience I would expect that to be the case, but I think we need to do some more hard-number crunching.
MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Minister, you indicated that the intention was to focus more on high-priority areas and you just suggested that would be the industrial sources of pollution and I think you are right. On the other hand, you are closing a Liverpool office that is handiest to a pulp and paper plant, so I have to say I am a little bit worried about this. I am not sure what the impact will be of closing the other plants in terms of access to main industrial polluters, but I hope next year the department will be able to indicate what it has done in this regard. Unless there is something that you want to say about that?
MR. BAKER: I just want to add something to that point, and I know I indicated earlier but I just want to re-emphasize that particular point, which is with respect to some higher population areas such as the Strait area and the Antigonish area, which are both relatively higher population areas. There may be the opportunity of some of the district offices, or both of the district offices, although one of them that might have closed under this budget with respect to the merged department, there is a significant possibility that both offices will be able to remain because there will now be enough work, if you want to call it that, in both Labour and Environment combined to justify an office to remain open because, of course, as you can appreciate, you have to have a certain volume of work to justify office cost.
We are hopeful that, for example, in the Strait area, which is the Port Hawkesbury area and in the Antigonish area, as a result of the merger of Environment and Labour, there may very well be advantages to both the departments that are merged. As a result of that, because you may have a situation where the rent cost for a single person in an office is prohibitive, all of a sudden if you start putting two or three people in that office the expense is much more controllable.
MR. EPSTEIN: Part of the point I was getting to, albeit fairly labouriously, was the question of the notion of priorities inside your department. I have to say it hasn't really been evident in what we have heard so far, that the major polluters are really the targets of the reorientation inside the department. As I see it, there is a heavy emphasis inside the department that has existed in the past and that seems to perhaps have survived this reorganization, that is an orientation towards items that are not the main sources of pollutants in the province and that may generally be characterized as being municipal areas of responsibility. In saying that, I have in mind sewage, I have in mind solid waste, and I have in mind drinking water. For the most part, these are municipal areas of responsibility in terms of policing and administration, and certainly part of the thrust of what we see is to turn over some responsibility for these things to individuals as well.
If this is being done so that the department can free up resources and orient them towards the major polluters, then that is fine, I would be happy to see it. I am looking forward to seeing the evidence of it. It has long been my contention that the major polluter in Nova Scotia is Nova Scotia Power. I see you sort of looking a little dubious, minister, but in fact . . .
MR. BAKER: I am not looking dubious, I am just considering that.
MR. EPSTEIN: . . . it may be hard to choose who is the major polluter, but I don't think it is too hard. When I put it to one of the vice-presidents of Nova Scotia Power, under oath, during a hearing at the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board that his company was the major polluter in the province, he didn't rush to embrace that, but then I asked him if he wasn't who was, and at that point he agreed that perhaps his company was the major polluter in the province.
I don't see a lot that has emerged here as to what the plans are for going after Nova Scotia Power. I don't see that there is a major orientation here, I see a lot of bumf about solid waste. I have to tell you that when I compare the activities of Nova Scotia Power with the garbage problem, you have your priorities wrong. Garbage is not number one on the list of environmental problems in our province, and yet, have a look in your department and see how many staff are involved in dealing with solid waste matters, even if it is just doing planning and setting rules for municipalities, nothing wrong in doing that. The problem is it seems to have squeezed out other areas of priority.
I know perfectly well that there is shared federal-provincial responsibility on this. On the other hand, it is our provincial Environment Act that does have a regulation about the SO2 emissions by ton that hasn't changed. It was brought in in 1995, I don't think it has changed. It was brought in at a time and at a level when Nova Scotia Power's known emissions were below that. That is fine, but that is hardly the way to regulate an industry, certainly not if you are trying to improve. I don't think that 145,000 or 165,000 number has changed in the five years, and in the review that is going on right now of the Environment Act, the regulations are excluded. The three person committee that was given the mandate to go off and review the Act was told and told the public, we are not looking at the regulations, thank you very much, we are just going to look at the Act. The regulations is where the one effective piece of regulation of Nova Scotia's number one polluter happens to exist. We are going to put that off to some other decade they say.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I trust there is a question in this line of questioning.
MR. EPSTEIN: There doesn't have to be a question, Mr. Chairman. We can use our hour any way we like. I don't propose to lecture the minister for an hour about Nova Scotia Power or the other major polluters that we have, but really there is a question of priorities. You have suggested to us here that the changes that are being made in the department are to try to reorient the department toward the major polluters. I don't see it. It just hasn't appeared here. I hope that at some point this year, we can see some kind of clear documentation and a true reorientation towards the major polluters. That would be very welcome, I have to tell you.
Actually I do have a question, what are you going to call this new department, when it is merged with the Department of Labour and . . .
MR. BAKER: Speaking as Acting Environment Minister, as I am, I like Environment, Labour and Regulatory Affairs, but I suppose if you were in Labour, you would like Labour, Environment and Regulatory Affairs. I guess that is to be named later. I don't make light of that. I think Environment, Labour and Regulatory Affairs is probably going to be it, but I think the name has yet to be struck for sure.
Just to respond a bit to what you are saying, staff indicates to me that Nova Scotia Power is Nova Scotia's largest SO2 emitter, Nova Scotia Power would be the largest emitter in Nova Scotia of greenhouse gases and of mercury, which just follows up on the point that you made. I just mention to you that staff would agree with your assessment with respect to that. Nova Scotia is fairly heavily regulated, but I think it is just fair to make that point. With respect to the issue of redirecting resources, clearly two areas that have been identified by staff and told to me are contaminated sites and industrial users. There is a scoring system that is being used by department staff in looking at allocation of resources, based upon severity and those kinds of things. Your point is well taken, I am just making that clear.
What staff wants to do is target their time and energy and resources to those problems that are most urgent and most affect Nova Scotians as a whole; not to minimize the importance of other problems, but simply because that is a good thing to do in the sense of wise strategies when you have limited economic resources. I think it is also important to indicate that we can't totally lose sight of the department as a promoter of good environment, and I sense that with the municipal solid waste, because I have met with people in communities and we heard today from the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid about what happens when you don't treat solid waste appropriately, you can have long-term environmental problems or potential long-term environment problems as a result of that.
There is a balance to be struck. I think the honourable member knows far more about environmental matters than I. I am not going to lecture him on that. I am simply making the point that there is an attempt by the department to reallocate resources to the highest priority areas.
MR. EPSTEIN: I am going to make one final point for the benefit of the minister and his staff. If they are looking to do something serious, maybe about Nova Scotia Power, this year, they should look into the question of NSP getting high-efficiency turbines at the Tufts Cove Plant instead of the regular gas turbines that they are thinking of getting. There is not going to be any appreciable environmental benefit from what Nova Scotia Power is planning over at Tufts Cove. I hope you have some frank talks with them in conjunction with your federal colleagues.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does that conclude the questioning from the NDP caucus? Then I will invite the Acting Minister of the Environment, if he wishes, to close the debate on his departmental expenditures.
MR. BAKER: Mr. Chairman, I will be very brief, I know they are anticipating the Department of Fisheries coming up. I want to thank the honourable members for their questions. I can indicate that staff and I will attempt to answer those questions that were posed by all members of both the Liberal and NDP caucuses, and to attempt to provide the answers within a reasonable time. With that, I would move the question, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E8 stand?
Resolution E8 stands.
On behalf of the committee members, I would like to thank the honourable minister and all of his staff for being very patient and cooperative in their time here. This concludes the debate on the estimates for the Department of the Environment.
I think we should take a few minutes rest break, and allow time for the other department to come in, and also be cognizant of the fact that we must be out by 7:30 p.m.,
hopefully, for the Law Amendments Committee tonight. The time is now 6:00 p.m., we will take a few minutes intermission.
[6:00 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[6:10 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time is now 6:10 p.m., I would like to reconvene the Subcommittee on Supply. We are considering the estimates of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
I would like to invite the honourable minister to introduce his staff to the members of the committee, and I would also invite him to make a few opening comments to the committee, if he so wishes.
Resolution E11 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $5,716,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, pursuant to the Estimate and the business plan of the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Chairman, first I would like to introduce, on my right, the Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Peter Underwood; and, on my left, from our Accounting Department, Chuck Allen. It is a pleasure to do a few opening remarks and to present the 2000-01 operating budget for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
As one of the smallest departments of government, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture has one of the biggest impacts on our economy. This is especially true for rural Nova Scotia and coastal Nova Scotia. With less than 100 employees and an operating budget of $5.7 million, the department provides direct support to the province's largest export industry. The export of fish has been continuous in the province for approximately 500 years, and certainly still leads the way as the leading export of fish and fish products from the Province of Nova Scotia. Our seafood leads all provincial export commodities, and for the first time has topped the $1 billion mark in 1999, which is a wonderful milestone, certainly in volume, certainly in price of product, and contributes immeasurably to the rural and coastal communities of Nova Scotia.
Mr. Chairman, it is interesting to note that behind fish and fish products, the next export happens to be tires, I believe, from the Province of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia exports more seafood around the world than any other province in Canada, and certainly that makes us significant in that regard, when we deal with our counterparts across this country. The economy of rural communities in fishing and aquaculture, the generation of over $1 billion
ensures that it is the economic backbone for over 350 communities in Nova Scotia. About 13,500 people are employed in fishing and aquaculture businesses across the Province of Nova Scotia; another 7,000 jobs are generated in spin-off. The sport fishery generates $82 million and 3,000 jobs across this province.
Mr. Chairman, I think it is important to note earlier this spring, in connection with that fishery, the province and I, as minister, were pleased to announce that seniors would no longer pay the fishing licence portion of that, charged into the sport fishery, for their licence here in Nova Scotia, but they would be required to pay the enhancement and stocking program fee of $5.00 plus the HST. Certainly we received many compliments from senior organizations, that it was the right thing to do to make it consistent with other fees and licences relating to wildlife, fishing and habitat here in Nova Scotia.
The non-traditional fishery accounts for another $22 million here in Nova Scotia. The non-traditional species include shrimp, sea urchin, silver hake, rock crab and Jonah crab. This particular number is quite phenomenal, as several years ago the number was non-existent. A target was set, the staff and the industry went out to see if they could establish that mark, and actually the mark was set at slightly over $10 million in the length of time, and we are at $22 million. Certainly, congratulations to the industry, specifically, and certainly the staff in the department who have been able to champion that cause along with our industry.
Mr. Chairman, sustaining and growing a viable and vibrant fishing industry is what this department is committed to, and it is committed to making sure that prosperity continues in the future for rural communities in Nova Scotia. A viable, well-managed fishery is the key to ensuring strong, self-reliant rural communities. We are focusing, as a department, on the importance of seizing new economic opportunities, as I have highlighted before, with the alternative species or new species fishery, with aquaculture, and certainly with the $1.5 million operating loan to the boat-building association. We expect to see a great opportunity and skilled craftsmen growing in that particular industry as well.
The department structure has a core staff of 97 employees, employed in Halifax, Pictou, eight field offices and two hatcheries. These facilities are spread throughout Nova Scotia. Also the department is the lead agency for aquaculture development in the Province of Nova Scotia. The department is responsible for issuing leases and licences for aquaculture sites, and certainly, in conjunction with that, championing the cause of integrating those types of facilities into rural and coastal communities. When required, we will institute a RADAC to involve the community totally in making the decisions on whether a new facility would be granted a permit or an existing facility would have its licences renewed and its leases renewed.
We are also involved in fish health services with our provincial veterinarian and our laboratory facilities. We are also involved in research and development projects to introduce new species. New species as we stated earlier have grown to $22 million. We also oversee lending operations through the Nova Scotia Fisheries Loan Board to fishing and aquaculture
industries. This is a vital and important component of the Department of Fisheries, which provides capital to individual fishermen and associations for the purchase of boats and in particular circumstances other monies loaned to ensure that the fishery, as a group or an individual, can move forward.
We also manage the inland fisheries and support angling and community groups through the issuance of free group fishing licences to worthy organizations or groups that would deserve such consideration. We also operate two hatcheries and stock several hundred lakes, streams and rivers each year. This contributes immeasurably to the ability of the inland sports fishery to attract the $82 million worth of investment that it does, and certainly affords the opportunity to all Nova Scotians, whether youth, in our middle years or seniors to enhance their opportunity to be able to catch a fish. We also help to conserve wild fish stocks through the field and extension services where we do habitat studies, where we do such things as density counts and habitat enhancement projects. We also support ecotourism in regard to inland fisheries as well.
Providing markets and product research is a large part of what the department does to promote the industry. Through this, that would be the attendance and promotion of Nova Scotia fish processing, Nova Scotia fish companies and product, as well as the advertising of what fish and fish products are for sale and processing in this province at trade shows, at product development and carrying out straight promotion. We also calculate statistical information for various processors and various fishing organizations to keep them informed of what opportunities may be available. We also provide educational and promotional materials on fisheries and seafood products. These are especially important to the retail clientele, restaurants and the consumer in general. We continue to examine ways of improving services to clients, including the use of the Internet and other forms of technology to ensure that information and product availability are easily accessed.
Also we are responsible for the policy development for our coastal resources. This represents the provincial interest in the multi-jurisdictional discussion on resource management. Field services; staff provide one-stop community-based assistance to commercial harvesters, processors, aquaculturists and sports fishing groups in general. Also technology and inspection assists harvesters, processors, aquaculturists in transferring and applying new technology. In an industry that is ever-changing and has the ability to incorporate technology at an amazing speed, this is one of the things that will keep our industry in the leading edge and continue to allow us to be the number one province for fish and fish products in Canada.
We also provide assistance to maintain essential harbour infrastructure. This was begun two years ago, I believe, and we offer a small amount of money to encourage and help with levering extra dollars from other sources to maintain small wharves, docks and marinas. We also administer and issue licences for fish processing and buying activities. These are especially important to regulate food safety and the regulation of orderly marketing and
ensuring that illegal fishing products can be identified and proper enforcement takes place. We also inspect processing plants, fish buying activities, aquaculture operations, marine plant harvesting and other activities related to the processing, storage and handling of fish and marine products.
The department has been involved for a number of years in the training and provides training on a cost recovery basis at the Pictou facility for the delivery of core programs, both at the school and at the community level. If a need is identified in a fishing community or a particular part of the fishery, the school has the ability to be mobile and move their classroom for the opportunity to teach and instruct to that community and this service is certainly appreciated and taken wide advantage of across this province. The training school also custom designs courses for specific clients here and worldwide. This school also supports government's efforts to improve lifelong learning opportunities for people involved in the fishery and coastal communities.
The mission of the school is to serve, develop and optimize the harvesting, processing and recreational segments of the Nova Scotia fishing and aquaculture industry for the betterment of our coastal communities and the province as a whole. The clients of the Department of Fisheries are wide and varied and they are the fishermen themselves, the plant workers, the processors who employ the plant workers. They are the fish buyers, the aquacultural operations, boat builders, anglers, but also the department has many partners. The department works closely with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It works closely with both federal and provincial Justice as well as Aboriginal Affairs, harbour authorities, Environment Canada, Canada Nova Scotia Petroleum Board, ACOA, and the Department of Economic Development.
All these partners are crucial in the development of the industry and the development of individual projects from aquaculture operations to opportunities in offshore development in regard to fisheries and new species, new zones, and as well, opportunities associated with the safe handling and safe environmental concerns related to petroleum and gas production.
Our common cause really is conservation of the marine fish stock and habitat, eliminating illegal fishing activities, a smooth transition of the Supreme Court decision that allows for commercial Native fishing and treaty rights, also access to marine resources for new commercial ventures and certainly one that is topical right now is offshore snow crab. We also represent Nova Scotia's interests in Ottawa. We have priorities for the 2000-01; our initiative programs and services and access resource for non-traditional fisheries. We will continue to expand the Jonah crab, which is proving very successful. Sea urchins are doing well, as well trapped shrimp has come on in many areas and is showing great growth potential. Aquaculture research promotion in non-traditional species, such as halibut and haddock, are coming to the forefront.
Addressing illegal fisheries, we are adding in this year's budget an additional $125,000 for enforcement. This is a commitment the government made in its blue book before taking office and certainly one we are pleased to fulfill. We are making that commitment in real dollars in enforcement to help curb illegal fishing here in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Also we are continuing with the Ministers' Conference on April 26th and April 27th in Truro. It has proved to be a great forum and arena for consultation with all fisheries groups involved in Nova Scotia, providing harmony, dialogue and an opportunity to exchange viewpoints for a more unified fishery so that we are able to articulate (a) what the fishing industry would see Ottawa dealing with in regard to allocation of the resource; and (b) on issues related to organization and division of the resource within Canada and Nova Scotia specifically.
Also we participated in support for the Boston Seafood Show. We had a provincial booth there which we have had for a number of years as well as the support for a number of Nova Scotia companies who are able to exhibit their wares and develop new markets. We will continue to be involved in the development of new product lines with industry to promote the sale of fish and fish products. Harbour infrastructure, partnering with communities and other governments, will continue; assist boatbuilders in its $10 million growth; 200 more jobs may be involved in this export trade and certainly our commitment to the $1.5 million in operating line to ensure that a number of complete boats are ready for the Annapolis boat show is a strong example of that effort.
There is a huge untapped potential to supply the hulls and boats here in Nova Scotia and we would like to see that opportunity develop for Nova Scotians. We have lobbied for Nova Scotia's interests and certainly a recent example was the higher cod ground quota with Ottawa which was recently allocated and won here in Nova Scotia. Seniors' licence reduction was a very positive step and certainly well received by the angling industry. Certainly the development of a new and improved website goes without saying to promote the industry and inform not only people in the fishing industry, but all Nova Scotia what takes place with the fishing industry here in this province.
With programs we intend to improve seafood quality and to that regard we will be hosting a quality workshop for snow crab to ensure that what can be imparted and what can be done to achieve a higher quality snow crab entering the market place and processing and buying facilities to not only increase the return to the fishing industry and the individual fisherman, but also to ensure that we have the highest quality product in the market place to ensure we capture and maintain those market places.
We will provide loans and loan guarantees to commercial fishermen and aquaculture for worthwhile projects. Stocking programs for lakes and streams will continue and 500 lakes and streams are targeted to be restocked in the coming year. Barrier free fishing areas, angling opportunities for physically challenged and senior anglers certainly will be a continued service
that is offered by the inland fisheries division. Along with other services, the licencing of aquaculture sites will continue. Many new sites and new operations are currently under review and in various stages of regulatory review and certainly Nova Scotia affords a great opportunity for growth in that industry.
We will continue to regulate sea plant harvesting to ensure that it is sustainable and that the resource is there for years to come. We also will continue regulating fish buying and fish processing. We will continue to deliver front-line services such as loans in aquaculture applications, trout stocking requests from the general public, and marketing and promotional services.
Mr. Chairman, we have some challenges too. The Aboriginal and commercial and food fishery will continue in this year as it has in the last, to call for negotiations with Native groups concerning DFO and, obviously, we will continue with our position that we are looking for one conservation plan, one management plan, one fishery, which is a fishery that has the underpinnings of peace on the water and an integrated fishery that protects the largest commercial fishery in Canada. Environmental issues impacting on aquaculture will continue to be pressure points for that industry. Community groups are intensifying to address the growing interest in aquaculture and its impact on the environment.
We have to have a balanced approach and ensure that communities are aware of the economic potential and also of the potential for certain regulations and restrictions around those sites and the common sense approach of integrating those into the community and informing those communities so they are not seen as threats, but worthwhile and useful economic opportunities and welcome participants in the community. We will also continue working with DFO and the Council of Ministers.
Work and harbour infrastructure will certainly be an issue of great concern to coastal communities and fishermen in Nova Scotia. This winter's devastating storms which damaged wharves and other infrastructure critical to the fishery and to many coastal communities will be certainly a situation where much emphasis will be required to continue to put the pressure on the federal government to honour their obligation in regard to repairing these wharves and continuing to supply the dollars needed to ensure that coastal communities have these facilities.
Enforcement will also be front and centre, trying to address the issues of illegal fishing and we will work very closely again with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to coordinate our efforts in identifying illegal fishing operations and ensuring that we have sound opportunities to prosecute. Also on the horizon this year, Mr. Chairman, will be the issue of oil and gas exploration and, obviously, this is an issue that, unless it is a great passion and interest, it is also an issue that, as every Nova Scotian knows, if the resource is there and can
be successfully developed, offers great economic opportunity to all Nova Scotians. Our challenge is going to be to ensure that the fishing industry has opportunities to present its views and we will do that by organizing workshops in Cape Breton and bringing oil industry and regulators to our Truro conference.
We have some future expectations connected with the department and certainly ensuring that Nova Scotia receives its fair share of resources is at the top of the list. We will continue to work closely with DFO. We will continue to vigorously enlist the support of our other provincial colleagues in regard to allocation of the fish resources as well as infrastructure and other resources related to the fishing industry. We will continue our active lobby and our active involvement with the federal minister and the federal government to ensure that we receive our fair share of funding and opportunities as well.
We intend to improve department and industry relationships and resolution on many other fisheries issues. We intend to address the problem of illegal fishing, buying and selling. Also expanded opportunities for economic growth in Nova Scotia rural communities will be certainly a number one priority. Promoting and marketing Nova Scotia seafood products worldwide will be put forward and continue to be in the fore of an expanded opportunity for not only the export, but the value-added opportunities which would provide more jobs and opportunity for Nova Scotians in coastal communities.
We will be promoting expanded partnership opportunities to optimize public investment in the fishery and we will build on the inherent strengths of our rural and coastal communities by developing new fisheries, aquaculture, recreational fisheries and boat building. Also we intend to manage Nova Scotia's freshwater fisheries resources to increase even greater opportunities for individual operations, whether it be ecotourism or whether it is the opportunities in the hotel hospitality and accommodation industries and we intend to see the $82 million value of that recreational industry continue to grow.
We will also work toward improving production, value and sales of Nova Scotia wild and farm seafood and, Mr. Chairman, I think it is important at this point also to examine in the last six or eight months what we have done in this department and as a government. Our commitment to the course ahead is, first of all, to ensure our commitments made to Nova Scotians through the blue book are honoured and we have made good progress in that regard. This is a small department, but it has big opportunities and big issues that affect all Nova Scotians. We intend to defend Nova Scotians, defend Nova Scotia's interest and to keep fisheries at the fore in relationship to other provinces and the size of the industry in Canada.
Our commitment is to ensure that we tackle the growing problem of illegal fishing and buying and selling by strengthening our fisheries enforcement and that, again, was a blue book commitment. We have honoured that commitment by adding an additional $125,000 to increase our enforcement capability. As a side note, it was certainly pleasing after extensively lobbying the federal government for more enforcement on illegal fishing to see an additional
$13 million included in the federal budget and the federal minister was quick at the news conference in Dartmouth a week ago to give Nova Scotia's Department of Fisheries and the minister credit for keeping that in the fore and one of the reasons why it was there.
We also continue to participate on the federal-provincial enforcement task force that is also working to address illegal fishing. We will ensure that the federal government clearly defines who is eligible to participate in the Native food industry. This is a major concern for commercial and all Nova Scotia fishermen and citizens and certainly that clarity is needed from the federal government to ensure that it can be operated in a manner that does not affect the Native community's right to do it, but it does not affect the conservation of the fishery as a whole here in the Province of Nova Scotia. In that regard we are working closely with Aboriginal Affairs, the federal government, the Mi'kmaq leaders, the fishing industry itself and other organizations involved.
We also commit to meet with the representative of our fishery in an effort to effect a joint process we are advocating on behalf of the industry with the Government of Canada. Clearly we see this as a major issue to ensure that with the number of issues that are before the industry, with the opportunity for continued growth, that that dialogue and advocacy with the federal government is absolutely paramount and certainly in that regard we have ensured in this budget that the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs is one of the departments to receive more funding, resource and personnel to ensure that departments like Fisheries play a higher profile and have a greater opportunity to be in Ottawa on a regular basis dealing with the federal government and the minister.
We have taken a number of actions in that regard and the second minister's council meeting scheduled in late April, April 25th and 26th, is a good start on the minister's conference and ensuring that consultation and input from the industry are heard, and that there is an opportunity to discuss the current issues, such as Native fishing, value-added seafood, waste removal at wharves, a mechanism to allow licences and fish quota to be used to acquire loans through the Fisheries Loan Board, as well as issues related to offshore oil and gas production, particularly off the coast of Cape Breton. There will be 100 key industry representatives expected to attend, and certainly that conference will help the department and me as minister to hear the concerns of the industry and move toward meeting their needs.
We intend to continue to aggressively represent Nova Scotia's fishing industry in Ottawa. I will continue to bring forth concerns and interests relating to Nova Scotia to the federal minister and his staff directly as well as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, federally. Also, we will continue that close working relationship on a number of files, whether it be the illegal fishery, whether it be the Native fishery, whether it is the food fishery, or whether it is the allocation of quota like the recent cod one, which we were able to help the minister with guidance in ensuring that the allocation was more in line with what the industry's care and capacity was.
Also, with the Atlantic Council of Fisheries Ministers and Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers, we will certainly assert our presence there as a province to ensure that our industry receives the recognition and commitment from them as we make the commitment nationally to the fishing industry in coastal communities. We will be supporting policies recognizing the strength of the fishery in all sectors from processing plants, vessels and gear type. We will continue to expand opportunities for new commercial fisheries, and this sector actually grew by 38 per cent from 1997 to 1998, for a value of $23 million. These types of opportunities exist because there are underutilized species. There are new opportunities to use species that have not been traditionally commercial in Nova Scotia, as well as the expanded opportunity for marine plants.
Aquaculture is another section not covered under this $23 million. We will also continue our efforts to expand Nova Scotia's aquaculture industry, which recorded record production value of $33 million in 1999. That industry certainly affords huge opportunities, but it is also an industry that requires a huge commitment on behalf of coastal communities, on behalf of fishermen, entrepreneurs and business and promoters to ensure that it can be incorporated into coastal communities in a common sense manner that allows all interests to have their say. An industry then comes forward with the support of the majority of coastal communities.
We will promote research and development of new seafood products, especially value added. This offers a great opportunity for continued growth. Certainly a number of Nova Scotia companies, new and old, continue to develop new products and value added to export to markets across the globe, and we are certainly there as a strong promoter and doing what we can with our market and research departments to help those ventures. We have been developing and working on a plan to promote value added, as I have mentioned. Efforts are being pursued for a new federal-provincial development agreement on marketing and certainly are high on the order, and within that marketing agreement we seek with the federal government, value added and diversification will be key components.
Also, we will place real emphasis on marketing Nova Scotia seafood products, especially as an integral part of Buy Nova Scotia First program, as it comes into fruition in the coming year. Partnershipping with Taste of Nova Scotia to promote and identify an identity for Nova Scotia seafood will be an integral part of this strategy. We will continue to participate in trade shows, emphasizing the value, the taste, the quality and the perfection of Nova Scotia fish and fish products.
Also, we are committed to allow licences, ITQs and EAs to be considered as value assets for the purpose of loan arrangements through the Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board. This commitment to the industry, when fully developed and put forward, will offer a realistic venue of what these commodities represent as collateral in the acquisition of new assets for individual fishermen or organizations, so that they can adequately finance their operations and continue to expand and do good business here in Nova Scotia. In that regard,
an industry committee has been established to put forward recommendations. We are working with DFO to resolve technical, legal aspects involved in assignments, and the next step will be discussed at the Ministers' Council in late April, as to the progress.
In conclusion, throughout the next fiscal year, the department will continue to direct resources to addressing the several remaining blue book agenda commitments. As well, the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture is a vital partner in boosting Nova Scotia's commercial fishery, aquaculture, sports fishery industries, and all rural and coastal communities here in the Province of Nova Scotia. When there are turbulent times, the department provides the service to the fishery to help make it grow in value. When there is a growing, healthy fishery, all Nova Scotians benefit because it creates jobs in our coastal communities and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the provincial economy.
I wish to present the 2000-01 Estimates for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and other committee members for allowing me to make these brief opening remarks.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps for the benefit of the caucuses, a photocopy of your remarks could be made for each of the caucuses for their future reference. We will be asking that of each of the ministers as they make presentations to the Subcommittee on Supply.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, it would certainly be my pleasure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am sure the legislative assistant could assist us with that task at the present time. Being Opposition Day for the NDP, I will be giving the floor to the NDP caucus first.
The honourable member for Hants East, you will have the floor. Just be cognizant that we have to recess at 7:10 p.m. The time is now 6:47 p.m. We will be recessing in a little more than 20 minutes.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I am glad for the opportunity. I want to say to the minister that during the last estimates debate that we engaged in the deputy minister offered to sit down with me sometime and explain the relationship between the provincial government and the federal government, regarding constitutional issues around the fishery, and we did have that meeting. I want to thank the deputy minister for doing that, it was helpful. I probably should apologize to him, I think the meeting started to extend into the next day, pretty near, and I didn't really intend to put him through that. I really appreciated his effort and his patience for putting up with me.
There are a number of issues I would like to address, but I think one of the first ones, actually, is something that affects my constituency in a way. Most of my concerns probably touch more on federal jurisdiction, but this one, I think, does not.
I wonder if the minister could tell me if we have a policy or any regulations around species of fish that are not indigenous to a particular waterway or body of water, if there is a penalty for introducing those, or some regulation for their extermination? I will mention specifically, the one I am referring to is pickerel. Although it is indigenous to Nova Scotia, it is not indigenous to my area, but yet I live on the northern tip of Grand Lake, which is not too far outside the city. Some of my neighbours tell me that pickerel have found their way into Grand Lake and I think Shortts Lake, so I have real concerns about the effect on the other species in the lake, considering the kind of aggressive nature of pickerel compared to what would normally be there. I just wondered, do we have a policy relating to that?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question and observations. Obviously, I think it is very important for the betterment of the Fisheries Department and fisheries in general, that we promote understanding and opportunities to interact with the department, so it is a pleasure for the deputy to spend some time with you and try to ask some of your questions with regard to federal-provincial jurisdictions.
It is my understanding that species placement or transportation is a federal issue and they are in charge of penalties and regulations and I do believe there are restrictions, penalties and regulations for that introduction. It is a federal jurisdiction. As far as the provincial policy, introductions of species that are non-traditional or non-native to any given waterway offer a lot of concerns. Certainly, we don't condone that and when you look through Nova Scotia, there are various viruses and bacteria that may be indigenous to one stream that you would never want to see transferred to another. We would frown upon that.
In the case of Shortts Lake and pickerel, to help alleviate that problem now that it is happening, we actually do have a winter fishery for that particular lake on that particular species to try to keep the numbers in check now that it is in that water course. Thank you.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: So, just to be clear, even though it is a freshwater species and in inland waters, that is still a federal jurisdiction?
MR. FAGE: Yes, it is, that is my understanding.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I guess I want to, at some point in the estimates, talk about the restructuring as far as the Department of Fisheries and the Department of Agriculture is concerned, but I won't go there right now. I understand that as far as exploration in the gulf, there has been a moratorium placed on that, I think for one year. I am wondering if the department, or the government, has entertained the thought of having environmental assessments done there prior to exploration or if they are in support of any notion of doing an environmental assessment in the gulf?
MR. FAGE: Yes, it is my understanding that that work has been postponed for a year, for more environmental assessment on the site off the coast of Cape Breton. The Canada-
Nova Scotia offshore committee are the ones that are responsible for determining whether there is the need and how large a need and what type of environmental assessment and that particular committee, if my facts are correct and I believe they are, comes under the auspices of the Petroleum Directorate.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: If it is the Canada offshore committee - who would be there on behalf of the province; is it the Petroleum Directorate people?
MR. FAGE: That comes under their direction. I stand to be corrected, but I do believe that Nova Scotia appoints two members on that committee. I think we have two members from Nova Scotia. Also there is a fishery advisory committee that reports as well to the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore committee.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Are you aware if anybody has been speaking for the province has been promoting the notion of doing a full environmental assessment on that?
MR. FAGE: As a province, obviously, a balanced approach with all practical environmental concerns addressed and safeguards in place to protect the traditional fishing industry but also to offer, where feasible, an opportunity for exploration and development of gas and oil certainly is in the best interests of all coastal communities and all Nova Scotians.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Okay, I want to come back to something we discussed last time. It was around offshore quota and the notion that people may have told me that there was quota not being used. You encouraged me to investigate, well, I have tried. I wonder if you can tell me what a TVRP is?
MR. FAGE: The acronym stands for temporary offshore vessel replacement and there are circumstances when an inshore vessel would be given a temporary permit to harvest or work in an offshore zone and to replace a vessel in that jurisdiction.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Let me get this right. If we have an offshore vessel, they would give permission to another vessel to fish part of their quota? Is that what it actually means?
MR. FAGE: My interpretation would be that, if for some reason, whether the boat was out of commission, was unable to do it, consideration would be given to granting that temporary permit to allow an inshore vessel - because they are restricted to the zones they fish in - to temporarily fish and fulfil that quota there if it was approved.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: So if it was to a smaller vessel, then in effect, it would be offshore quota being fished on the inshore by another vessel.
MR. FAGE: Well, again, this is federal jurisdiction, but in principle, what is happening is if for some reason a quota exists in an offshore zone, if something is preventing the offshore vessel from doing it, if a vessel that meets the safety requirements happens to be in an inshore zone, they can get a temporary permit. In essence, they are harvesting that offshore quota, which in no way is pulling the quota from one zone to the other.
It is the same as you breaking your baler this afternoon when you are trying to get the hay in for the sheep, so you go over and borrow your neighbour's baler across the river and it will still bale the hay and still go across and you didn't inherit his right to bale hay or he didn't inherit your right. You offered a piece of equipment, it was granted that it could go do it.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I guess my concern is whether or not I am baling my hay in my field or baling it in somebody else's field. I guess I am curious as to whether this gives offshore vessels access to inshore fishing grounds that they otherwise shouldn't have access to.
MR. FAGE: Probably for absolute clarity the best thing is we can get you the federal regulations and this is 100 per cent federal jurisdiction, but obviously the permit is issued because there is a circumstance, the quota doesn't transfer the right to do it. You have hired your neighbour to bale your hay this afternoon, that doesn't mean he got your hay or he got your field.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I think I follow. I guess what I am thinking is that there would be an inshore fishery and they would assume that they would have access to that inshore fishery and I would think that if quota from offshore boats is fished in the inshore, then that is putting a stress on the resource that those inshore fishermen might take offence to considering they would like to think there is a line beyond which the offshore isn't going to get into their territory is what I am getting at.
I know that is federal jurisdiction, but I certainly would appreciate the regulations. I mention these only to you, Mr. Minister, because I recognize you as a voice to the federal government in this regard, and a louder voice than mine, I think - you know Mr. Dhaliwal is not calling me, so I am assuming he is not keen to talk to me - but I think certainly there is a red phone line to your office, so I would like you to consider some of these things.
The other thing I worry about and, believe me, fishing at this level is not something I grew up with so everything I pick up I have to bounce off people. I have a concern about bycatch and the fact that if someone is out fishing say for haddock and they bring in 2,000 pounds of cod, but there is no market for their cod. In other words, if they are fishing for a plant let's say and they tell them right now they need haddock, then it is my understanding
that quite often that cod goes over the side because that is not what they are there to fish. It would seem to me that allowing the market to try to sell a product that basically is - when you put your net in the water you basically have to bring up whatever you catch. A lot of these species, once you dump them overboard, because they live at a certain depth, getting down there, they may not survive the trip.
I can see there is a fair bit of waste I think in how we fish, so it would seem to me there should be some pressure placed on what you bring in - what you get on board the boat should come in, and then that should be sold or at least some mechanism for trying to sell that. Then that has to somehow go into the pot about how much you are allowed to catch for that year and, therefore, you are not going to be out there throwing fish overboard when we have a fairly finite resource. I don't know if anybody else has ever brought that to your attention, but do you have a comment on that?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. Just before I attempt to answer that question, I certainly would like to bring some clarity to any misunderstanding about the previous question of the temporary placement. The quota doesn't transfer, the boat goes to the other zone, so the last example you gave in your preamble there was not how it works or was ever intended. If the offshore boat for some reason isn't there, the quota is over here, honourable member, the inshore boat here is allowed to go fish. They don't fish it in the inshore zone. They drive the boat over to the offshore zone and fish the quota where it is allocated. There is no transfer of that quota, so I wouldn't want any misunderstanding on that part. It is the boat that moves if one is for some reason taken out of place.
In regard to species and bycatch, obviously again that is 100 per cent federal jurisdiction; all allocation of the resource, and quota is federal jurisdiction. Certainly there are spot-checks. There are observers aboard boats monitoring bycatch. There is a whole host of regulations to do everything they can to keep that to a minimum. There are regulations I understand that if it exceeds a certain amount or percentage then they have to move. Again, those are federal regulations.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I appreciate that, and I thank you for the clarification because that is a help. I believe there are regulations; I have no doubt. I think when people complain about the way the regulations work, then I can see that is a problem. I was actually given an example of somebody fishing from a rock on the shore and hooked 4,000 pounds of cod - now I don't know how long that takes to do that - which makes you believe there are some cod out there. There is an awful lot said about how much you can catch or that people can't even catch any. The point is that there is cod for some people but there is not for others. All these things I think are concerns for people whose boats are tied up at the wharf and they would like to go fishing. I asked this individual if I could give you his name to be contacted by your department about his concerns, and he said, yes, by all means tell the minister. It is a man named Ronnie Rolkins from down around Cape Sable Island or down in
that area. I can give the deputy his number. These are some of the concerns that he has raised, and he certainly would like to talk to somebody in your ministry to see whether or not there could be a voice to the federal government about some of these issues.
MR. FAGE: If I may respond, certainly the gentleman has had contact with our department. We have correspondence with him, and I would hope if he is a holder of a cod licence, he would be very happy with our department and our intervention. The federal government's allocation was going to be 4,000 metric tons. We were able, along with the industry, to put forward the arguments, and the announcement was made less than 10 days ago that there 6,000 metric tons are allocated for the southwest on that particular cod fishery. I think that is good news. It proves that the federal minister and department do take into account some of our observations. The average cod in Nova Scotia - I did a calculation for you - is roughly 2.5 pounds, so that is 1,400 cod that gentleman caught off that rock. I would think you would better help him get a commercial fishing licence in a hurry.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: He's probably retired. He had lots of time. I am wondering if you can tell me, for that allocation of quota, is there any way of knowing where that went?
MR. FAGE: That is already allocated to fishermen who hold valid groundfish cod licences in southwestern Nova Scotia. Those licences obviously are allocated by the federal government, and if the gentleman is not a current holder, then he would have to purchase or acquire the holdings from another fisherman.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: So when the federal government allocates that, is it distributed evenly or do they have to buy it from the federal government?
MR. FAGE: The allocation is to those existing producers. Each year in rough terms there are a number of fishermen who hold ground cod licences. With the scientific community, DFO and research, as well as observations and monitoring of average ages of the fish was caught from the previous year, they would determine how large a volume could be harvested this year. So you could be a cod fisherman, be allowed to catch - and these are hypothetical figures - 1,000 pounds this year. If there was a decrease in the biomass, you would be allowed to catch only 800 next year. Maybe the following year because it was a good species year and they were four years old, that particular year, maybe you could go to 1,200. That is the type of allocation, honourable member; it is variable with the biomass. It isn't a given number of kilograms per year; it is relationship to the biomass available.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I think I understand that. What I am getting at is if it is the scientists who determine the stock is a certain size and that the quota would have to be reduced, then I am assuming there is a proportional way that everybody is affected in the same way?
MR. FAGE: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You may want to adjourn debate at the present time.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I move to adjourn.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time allotted for debate in Subcommittee on Supply has now expired. The Subcommittee will now rise and report progress to meet again on a future day. The time is now 7:10 p.m. The committee stands adjourned. We have our four hours in as required for today. We will pick this up on a future day, probably tomorrow. Thank you.
[7:10 p.m. The subcommittee rose.]