HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 6, 2018
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Suzanne Lohnes-Croft
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I call this meeting of the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply to order. Today we have the Department of Municipal Affairs.
Resolution E16 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $212,581,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Municipal Affairs, pursuant to the Estimate, and the business plan of the Nova Scotia Municipal Finance Corporation be approved.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Minister, you may introduce your staff and start with your opening remarks.
HON. DEREK MOMBOURQUETTE: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman. With me is Darlene O’Neill and Deputy Kelliann Dean. I’ll start by thanking my colleagues in advance of the discussion that we’re going to have this afternoon; in particular, to the members opposite who are the critics for the department. Thank you both for the conversations that we’ve had since I’ve taken the position. It’s been, I believe a healthy relationship. I try to do what I can to provide the information so it’s readily available to you and your caucus members. I appreciate the relationship that we’ve had and look forward to the discussion that we’ll have this afternoon.
Thank you to everyone. I’m pleased to introduce Estimates for the Department of Municipal Affairs for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Our mandate at the Department of Municipal Affairs is to promote responsible local governance that supports healthy, vibrant, and safe communities. Our partners are the province’s 50 municipalities and the organizations that represent them, like the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the Association of Municipal Administrators, and the Village Commission Association.
Working together, we implement sound legislation and programs that support good governance, accountability, and effective planning. The Department of Municipal Affairs also works with municipalities and the federal government to build strong, healthy, vibrant, and sustainable communities.
The Department of Municipal Affairs administers the distribution of federal and provincial funding programs through the Canada-Nova Scotia Infrastructure Secretariat. Essentially, the secretariat works to help our municipalities access necessary funding to improve their infrastructure.
My department also administers operating legislated grant programs. The Equalization Grant and grants in lieu of taxes on provincial property are legislated by the Municipal Grants Act and provide for the payment of grants to municipalities.
With the addition in 2014 of the Emergency Management Office, my department works to enhance the safety and well-being of Nova Scotians by taking a leadership role in the emergency manning, planning, and response.
The Office of the Fire Marshal works to coordinate and facilitate the fire systems of Nova Scotia. The Office of the Fire Marshal also oversees the building safety, ensuring that the Nova Scotia Building Code Act and Regulations reflect the latest national standards.
The overall department budget for the Department of Municipal Affairs for the 2018-19 year is $212.6 million. You’ll notice that, this year, our departmental budget has decreased by approximately $120 million. This decrease is related to cash flow around federal infrastructure programs, the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, and the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.
In short, 52 per cent of our departmental budget is comprised of recoverable grants. Thirty-six per cent of our departmental budget is provincial contributions to federal infrastructure projects and statutory grants to federal infrastructure projects. The remaining 12 per cent of our budget is primarily discretionary grants, salaries, and non-discretionary operating expenses.
There is a new program that has been announced this year under the Department of Municipal Affairs. The Beautification and Streetscaping Program will provide financial assistance to municipalities to invest in projects that would improve aesthetics with a specific focus on attracting tourists.
As we know, a visually appealing community increases property values, attracts businesses and tourists, and improves the neighbourhood’s image. I also believe that beauty is the influential factor in community attachment loyalty to a particular town or city. Through the program, $500,000 will be available to municipalities. Municipalities will need to apply and could receive between $10,000 and $25,000, up to a maximum of 50 per cent of the project costs. Projects can range from planting flowers or shrubs to installing interpretive and entrance signs and enhancing lighting and building public restrooms. In the coming weeks, municipalities will be provided with the guidelines, criteria, and timelines for projects to be approved.
As I mentioned above, provincial and municipal governments, along with our many partners, work together to ensure a sustainable future for Nova Scotia communities. As part of that work, my department provides guidelines, resources, and advice for planning healthy, vibrant communities.
To that end, last July, I embarked on a minister’s tour of our local governments here in Nova Scotia. As part of that tour, I along with departmental staff made a visit to all 50 municipalities; met with our currently operating RENs, or regional enterprise networks; attended the REN conference; attended the AGM of the Association of Nova Scotia Villages; and met with the president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. The goal of my tour was twofold: to introduce myself as the new minister; and to hear first-hand about the issues, concerns, and great work that is being conducted by our municipalities, villages, the UNSM, and our regional enterprise networks.
While the individual meetings consisted of conversations unique to each locale, as the tour developed so did many common themes related to collaboration, connectivity, and continuing to review the Municipal Government Act.
In addition, in December 2016, the then-Minister of Municipal Affairs and the president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities signed a partnership framework, committing to work collaboratively on shared priorities, enhanced communications, and to be accountable for outcomes.
Another departmental mandate revolves around creating innovative approaches to regional economic development, such as updating and improving the regional economic network model.
As a former municipal councillor, I know first-hand the work done by the regional enterprise networks, municipalities, private businesses, and others to spur economic growth in communities across Nova Scotia. According to the 2014 One Nova Scotia report, economic growth is about changing attitudes and generating greater co-operation. It is also about innovation.
To survive, compete, and prosper in today’s global economy, Nova Scotia companies need to be competitive and so do the regions in which they operate. It makes sense, therefore, that building our provincial economy depends very much on the financial success of our municipalities and their success in working with each other.
Regional enterprise networks are set up quite intentionally to encourage more collaborative ways of approaching economic development. They bring together business communities, the province, municipalities, and other groups to provide regional economic leadership and support small, local business.
Regional enterprise networks also link the activities of municipal planning and economic development. As I mentioned earlier, during my tour of the province’s municipalities, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Regional Enterprise Networks and hearing first-hand about some of the initiatives they are undertaking to support economic growth.
I want to thank our Western, South Shore, Eastern Strait, Valley, and Cape Breton RENs and others working together towards regional economic development. Approximately 80 per cent of Nova Scotia municipalities are now part of the regional enterprise network. Recognizing the important role the RENs play, in the coming year we will work with our RENs, municipalities, and local business communities around updating and improving the regional enterprise networks in our province.
Another important aspect of the Department of Municipal Affairs mandate is to support our municipalities to ensure healthy, safe, and vibrant communities within our province. There is no question that reliable infrastructure is the foundation for building strong communities. All three levels of government - the Government of Canada, the province, and municipalities - recognize this and know that solid infrastructure contributes to economic growth, job creation, and productivity in Nova Scotia.
Another part of our departmental mandate revolves around working with municipalities and in collaboration with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal on Phase II of the federal infrastructure funding program to support municipalities and leveraging federal investment.
As we know, in July 2017, the Government of Canada announced the Investing in Canada infrastructure program. Under this program, Infrastructure Canada will invest $180 billion over 10 years, including new programs in areas of public transit, green, social, and rural and northern communities. The Nova Scotia allocation over 12 years will be $828 million.
My department will work with our municipal, provincial, and federal partners to ensure our province gleans the benefit of this program. Also, as I mentioned above, there is a significant decrease in our departmental budget. This is because a large portion of our budget has gone towards supporting Clean Water and Wastewater Fund projects. The fund is a federal program, which targets projects that will contribute to the rehabilitation of both water treatment and distribution infrastructure in existing waste water and stormwater treatment systems, collection and conveyance infrastructure, and initiatives that improve asset management, system optimization, and planning for future upgrades to water and waste water systems.
The Clean Water and Wastewater Fund federal investment has been matched between the province and the municipalities. Ultimately, the 74 Clean Water and Wastewater Fund projects throughout Nova Scotia will lead our province towards a stronger and more sustainable future.
In addition, I am pleased that, through the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, the federal government is supporting public transit systems in Nova Scotia’s municipalities. My department helps to administer this funding. Good public transportation provides Nova Scotians with more mobility and freedom. It gives people options to get to work, go to school, visit friends, or go to appointments. It also helps families save money.
From the environmental perspective, public transit saves fuel, reduces congestion, and reduces our carbon footprint. On the economic side, public transit helps grow our economy.
However, make no mistake, the Department of Municipal Affairs, independent of federal investment, also provides strong support for transportation infrastructure throughout Nova Scotia. The main role that we play at the Department of Municipal Affairs is supporting public transit in both urban and rural areas.
For many years, the province has worked with municipalities and community groups to offer a variety of public transit options for Nova Scotians in urban and rural communities. We have a total of 21 transit systems that receive funding from the province: 17 of them are run by community groups; four are run by municipalities. Together they provide almost all areas of the province with some type of public transit service.
To be clear, these are not motor coach or shuttle services that travel longer distances. Those are beyond the scope of our mandate at the Department of Municipal Affairs. The services we fund are mainly county-based. In some cases, they span a few counties in close proximity. In urban areas, transit systems tend to be fixed route services. Four are run by municipalities: Halifax Transit; Transit Cape Breton; Kings Transit; and the Town of Yarmouth Transit. Two are run by community groups: Strait Area Transit; and Antigonish Community Transit.
In rural Nova Scotia, a traditional fixed route transit system is often not economically feasible, given the relatively small populations in large geographic areas, but that doesn’t mean there is any less need for some form of transit service. With support from the province, people in rural communities are finding creative ways to offer transit service that meets the needs of the residents.
It’s community groups that have stepped forward to develop these services to offer door-to-door transportation to local businesses, shopping, appointments, medical services, community events, and other destinations that users need to reach.
The Department of Municipal Affairs offers three programs designed to help these community groups provide service in their areas and, in particular, for seniors, low-income earners, and people with mobility challenges.
For example, the Nova Scotia Transit Research Initiative Program provides funding to research options, develop a business plan, and run a pilot project for new transit service. Once a community group has a solid business plan, it needs vehicles. The Accessible Transportation Assistance Program provides funding to buy wheelchair accessible vehicles or to adapt vehicles to accommodate wheelchairs.
Although some funding comes from municipal sources and fair revenue, the province’s Community Transportation Assistance Program helps cover a portion of the operating costs for non-profit community organizations that improve transportation services for everyone, again with the focus on meeting the needs of disabled, elderly, and low-income Nova Scotians.
For the urban services that are mainly run by municipalities, maintaining their fleets, bus shelters, and terminals are typically the priority. To address their needs, we introduced a new program in 2014-15 called the Public Transit Assistance Program. The community groups that we support do a tremendous job to establish their transit services and deserve to be recognized for their initiative to provide these services for rural populations.
I would like to note that we also have a close working relationship with the Rural Transportation Association, which represents these community transit organizations. Ultimately, we know it’s important for Nova Scotians to have access to affordable, accessible, and reliable transportation in their communities. To that end, my department, working with Communities, Culture and Heritage and the Department of Seniors is developing a plan which will improve access to community transportation across the province to help strengthen our communities and our economy.
For example, government recently announced a community transportation project in the Town of Bridgewater which will help the town continue to provide much-needed transportation options for citizens who are unable to drive or do not own their own vehicle. Projects like this help ensure our citizens can access services such as health care, travel to a job or to school, and stay connected in their communities.
In addition, the federal gas tax funding, which is transferred from the Government of Canada to Nova Scotia municipalities via my department, can be spent on public transit.
Further to the investments in transportation, the province also supports other types of infrastructure throughout Nova Scotia. Through the Provincial Capital Assistance Program, we support municipal water supply, sewage disposal, and solid waste infrastructure. Through the Flood Risk Infrastructure Investment Program, we make investments to reduce flood risk and community vulnerability. Over the next year, we will continue to support all of these programs and help our municipalities build solid, reliable infrastructure across our province.
Now I would like to turn our attention to the work done by the Office of the Fire Marshal. The Office of the Fire Marshal oversees fire safety for the province, advising various levels of government on fire-related matters. The office also oversees building safety, ensuring that the Nova Scotia Building Code Act and regulations reflect the latest national standards.
This past year, the province worked with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the Association of Municipal Administrators, and the Fire Services Association to respond to a report into fire services in the province.
Society is changing, and many volunteer organizations are finding it a challenge to recruit and retain volunteers. Fire departments are no exception. They also identified issues with governance, organizational structure, and the funding model.
The Office of the Fire Marshal will continue to work with the fire service in municipalities to strengthen these important services. This work is a priority for the upcoming year. As you know, municipalities provide fire services and make those funding decisions as part of their budgeting processes.
The province supports fire services through the Emergency Services Provider Fund, which provides support annually to hazardous material teams, ground search and rescue organizations, and fire departments for safety equipment. These grants, to a maximum of $20,000, go to communities throughout the province to help the responders stay safe.
As we know, every second counts during a fire. It was reported last year that nine people died as a result of fires, and any number is too many. I encourage all Nova Scotians to refer to information on the Office of the Fire Marshal website and to make sure they have a fire safety plan.
While we are on the subject of safety, I would like to turn our attention to the Emergency Management Office. The mandate of the Emergency Management Office is to enhance the safety and well-being of Nova Scotians through innovative, collaborative, and integrated emergency planning and response. In times of emergency, municipalities lead the response. The Emergency Management Act requires every municipality in the province to have an emergency management coordinator and to have an emergency plan.
EMO supports municipalities in developing and reviewing the plan, carrying out exercises to test the plan, and training key staff in emergency response. In times of emergency, EMO opens the Provincial Coordination Centre to bring together any number of government and private organizations that may be needed to support the local response and recovery.
EMO coordinates identifying the needs and risks, and finding and using the necessary resources to resolve issues and help Nova Scotians stay safe. We just don’t know when or where the next disaster could strike, so the Emergency Management Office will continue its focus on helping Nova Scotians to prepare for emergencies.
In addition to governments and communities planning for emergencies, it is important for us to take personal responsibility and to be prepared. Everyone needs to know the risks and have an emergency plan and an emergency kit with enough food, water, and essential supplies for 72 hours. The Emergency Management Office website has resources in English, French, Mi’kmaq, and Arabic on how to prepare for emergencies and what items to put in your emergency kit.
In conclusion, ensuring that we are able to deliver on our mandate requires an innovative, nimble, and dedicated team that delivers its best each day. I want to acknowledge and thank every member of the Municipal Affairs team for their ongoing work to serve the citizens of Nova Scotia.
I look forward to working with our dedicated staff in the coming year as we continue to advance our municipal modernization mandate to create a legislative environment that fosters business growth and a strong economy and helps keep Nova Scotians safe and undertakes the responsible and efficient management of financial resources.
With the deputy and Darlene’s assistance, I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have about the department’s estimates or operations.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister. We will hand the floor over to the PC caucus. We will have Mr. Johns starting out, up to one hour.
MR. BRAD JOHNS: We’ll start on Page 18.1 of the main budget book and work our way through a few things. I will say that the last time around I think was at a bit of an advantage because I actually had the supplementary Public Accounts, which haven’t been released yet. I may be asking for a bit more detail than I did last time because we don’t have those before us right now.
I see the estimates for the 2017-18 and what the actuals look to be. It looks as if it’s down over $120 million. Can you just reaffirm why that is?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: That represents the federal contribution to some of the projects we have been involved with like the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund. As I said in my comments previous, that represents a number of projects across the province. The program has been extended a bit, so what you are seeing is, as those projects are stretched out over multiple years, seeing that decrease in the budget compared to last year. That’s what that represents.
MR. JOHNS: Where is the $120 million? It didn’t come in from the federal government. Where is it?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Just to give you a breakdown, $95.5 million of that number is the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, and then approximately $30 million, the rest of that, is PTIF, which is the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.
Again, what you’re seeing is really a change in cash flow. A lot of those projects have started. They’re under completion. It was originally a two-year program, but now it has been extended to ensure that the municipalities had some more flexibility in completing those projects. That’s why you’re seeing that dip. There is a lot of work that’s ongoing right now, and some of that work has been stretched over more years than it was initially supposed to be. That was the request of municipalities needing some more time. That’s why you’re seeing that decrease.
MR. JOHNS: You’ll have to excuse me. Maybe I’m not catching this. I understand why I might see that forecast out into this coming budget year. The estimates for 2018-19 are down significantly from the estimates of 2017-18. We’re down in what’s coming up in the budget, but we’re also down in what was actually spent.
I guess I’m not quite catching where that money has gone. I understand how it could be stretched out over a period of time, and it would be reflected in future budgets, but the future budgets are down, and this money is down. I think it’s $120 million.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Probably the best way to describe it is that we claim that money as the projects are done. Generally, you’re seeing that decrease because some of those projects are now pushed out until 2020. What we will do is claim that money as those projects are completed. That’s why you’re seeing that change in cash flow, because some of those projects that were initially supposed to be done in a two-year mandate are now going to be done over a longer period of time. I think that’s probably the easiest way to describe it.
MR. JOHNS: Just to follow up on that, I know that in March, just prior to the budget being tabled, the government made that large announcement for $250 million worth of commitments. How much of that came under your department? Was there any switching where monies that were allocated to something in your department were switched over to that $250 million worth of announcements and/or did it come from gas tax - from your department and/or gas tax?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: That’s in regard to the announcement on broadband - that’s the one you’re talking about?
MR. JOHNS: Yes, there was a list of items.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There was nothing from our department.
MR. JOHNS: What I should say - I should have probably said it earlier, and the minister did speak about it - is that I do feel that the minister and myself as critic have a relatively good relationship. He has been very forthcoming when we have talked about other things. I appreciate the leniency here as well. When you get to talk to somebody outside of here, sometimes you build a bit of a relationship where you’re a little more casual, and so I do appreciate your leniency in that regard.
Last year was the first year I think that $500,000 was listed for beautification and streetscaping. In your mandate letter this year, it’s raised again. Was the $500,000 that was allocated in 2017-18 utilized? When I asked last time, you were unsure exactly how it was going to be administered, when the program would begin, how long it would run, or any details. You mentioned that was something you were going to be looking at instituting.
I’m wondering if it was instituted and how it has been instituted. Is the $500,000 in this year’s budget in addition to what is there, or is it the same $500,000?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: This is the first year for the program, so this is the first year we’re going to allocate the $500,000. There has been some discussion about it in the last year, and this was a platform commitment of the government in the last election.
What we have done since receiving my mandate letter - that was part of our tour. We heard a bit about it from communities across the province, what this would look like, especially in some of our smaller municipalities. There are examples, as we have all probably been involved with as elected representatives, of these programs being available at a municipal level. I think this is a good start.
We’re going to invest $500,000. Municipalities can come forward in partnership with community organizations. As we know, there’s really a lot of great champions within a lot of these smaller towns, not-for-profits or community groups that really lead the charge to tell the story about their community and do those important streetscaping and landscaping beautification projects. We wanted to make sure we were flexible with them and that they could partner with their municipality. We’re going to start with $500,000.
As I said in my letter and in my comments, we’ll look at some of the beautification aspects related to tourism. That’s going to be the focus to start, looking at your flowers and shrubs, looking at your public washrooms, and some of those things. My commitment to all of you is that we’re going to review this and determine how we can strengthen it after the first year, looking at some organizations that might need some resources in regard to investigating projects they may want to implement.
I think it’s a great start to help support communities that want to do a bit of beautification to encourage visitors to come into the community. This is the first year for it. I can make the commitment to the member that as we roll it out, he’ll have all the information necessary to determine how we’re doing.
MR. JOHNS: I certainly support small funds like the one in the overall budget that we’re looking at here. It really is somewhat - I hate to use the word “insignificant,” but it’s so small. I know from my personal experience how big an impact seed funding like that can have. A lot of times, it can generate so much more.
Going back, though, that didn’t really answer. It was allocated in the 2017-18 budget, was it not, as $500,000? There was not $500,000 there, then?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: No.
MR. JOHNS: Okay. I have a question in regard to the fire marshal. I note that currently there are some issues that the volunteer fire department in Sydney raised in regard to their current relationship with the CBRM. I’m curious as to whether or not your department got involved in that at all and whether the fire marshal had any impact there or if that is just being left to be worked out between the municipality and the fire department. Do you know anything about that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: You are referencing the latest media that was in the paper. I wasn’t aware of that meeting. I try to do my best as a local MLA to keep a strong relationship with all our first responders. Publicly, I had the opportunity - I’m going to recognize the first responders not only in the CBRM but across the province who do a tremendous amount of work. They are role models for our communities and volunteer their time to keep our community safe, in many cases.
I believe there was a meeting with staff. I was reading some media as well that the mayor is going to reach out to the fire departments to have a more at-length discussion. As MLAs, I believe all of us do that to ensure we can do whatever we can to support them, whether they are career or volunteer fire departments.
I will recognize the fact that one of the biggest programs we offer through our department is the emergency first responder program. We have $500,000 in our budget to support those organizations with very important equipment. We had a very good year this year. We were able to support many fire departments across the province. I’m going to do whatever I can, in my time as minister, to ensure that I advocate to the fullest for our women and men who are out there each and every day protecting our communities.
In regard to what is taking place at CBRM, I have very limited information at this point, but of course we’re always monitoring that. Our office wasn’t involved at this point.
MR. JOHNS: Moving on to Page 18.4, I see that there is a significant increase in the executive director program and service amount. I’m curious if you could clarify a little bit on that. I notice that the FTEs, full-time equivalent employees, are actually down in the executive director’s office, yet the expenses seem to be up significantly. Even though next year, they’re projecting 28 full-time employees, it’s still down less than what the forecast is. Can you elaborate a little bit on that, please?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: If you look at our policy and corporate services, you’ll notice a decrease there. What we’re doing is, we’re moving admin support from policy and corporate services into the executive director’s office.
MR. JOHNS: I’m just curious - why the realignment?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Essentially, it’s an internal structural change to increase and enhance services for the department. There was a decision made to move one resource from one area to the other.
MR. JOHNS: Talking about changes, I think perhaps it was in your letter that the offices of Municipal Affairs - has the office moved, or are they in the process of moving?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We’re staying where we are currently, so we will be located where we are now. We’ll be moving in a year, so we’re in the process of negotiating a new lease. We won’t be moving too far. We’re actually just moving floors, but we’re renegotiating our lease with our landlord.
MR. JOHNS: We’re not going to get into a whole lot around Bill No. 85, but I am curious to know what the plan is in regard to any major updates or review of the Municipal Government Act and the Halifax Charter and if there are any major plans coming. In addition to that, I think it became very evident during the debate in the Legislature and during Public Accounts that there is certainly a desire for CBRM to have a charter. I would like to know where the CBRM charter is on a priority list for the Municipal Affairs Department and if you can also tell me what’s coming up in regard to amendments or changes for the MGA and the Halifax Charter.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I appreciate the opportunity to give a bit of an update on that. We’ll start with the CBRM charter. We’re very early on in that process. The CBRM charter is actually something that was talked about when I was on council back in 2008. It wasn’t as much about the document as it was about the tools that CBRM had as a regional municipality. The member for Sackville-Beaver Bank in his conversation during our debate in the House was right about the CBRM wanting one and that desire. I believe that they have an argument to make, as all municipalities do, about the tools and the abilities they have to provide economic and social support to their community.
It’s very early on with the CBRM. I went back in January, and we had two public consultations. I appreciate all the feedback that was provided. We had great representations from stakeholders across the community about what a charter would look like from an economic perspective, what a charter would look like from a governance perspective, how the municipality could elect themselves, and looking at those structures. There were a lot of social aspects to it about how we could support different industries within the CBRM. I was pleased to have Membertou First Nation, the Mi’kmaq community, represented there as well. They provided their feedback in the partnership they have with the CBRM. It was very productive.
What I have always said and what the community said to me is that they don’t want to rush that process. Council wanted to be engaged in it, and I agreed. Our staff will be meeting with the CBRM in the coming weeks to look at a more one-on-one discussion with council about what a charter could look like for the CBRM.
CBRM is one aspect of it, but I’m looking at it from a province-wide perspective. We’re looking at a charter for the CBRM, but we’re also looking at that in partnership with what we want to do to support municipalities right across the province.
CBRM is a regional municipality. We have two other regional municipalities in the province, in Queens and Halifax. Halifax is Halifax, so the conversation has been very healthy between myself and the mayor and some of your former council colleagues as well as with our staff about some of the barriers they feel are in the charter. We want to help alleviate some of that pressure. We’re going to look at that in conjunction with what we want to do with all municipalities.
The tour was the best thing I could have done. We got out there right away, and we heard first-hand from those units. That’s what I’m using to help develop that policy moving forward. How can we give them more tools to support economic growth? How can a region come together to support one another? There’s always that discussion around amalgamation. We are not in the business of forced amalgamations.
We respect and appreciate the work that local governments do across the province. We would never deter an amalgamation conversation if communities want to have it, but that’s not my focus. My focus is bringing communities together to move beyond those traditional boundaries and support one another. Some municipalities have strengths that others don’t and vice versa.
How can we work together to support that? We’re seeing that across the province. We’re seeing municipal partnerships when it comes to energy and some of the services that municipalities are utilizing from their neighbours to support waste water and water infrastructure, et cetera.
We’re moving as quickly as we can. I have been very clear with staff, and even in the House and in the community, that I want to move on these files. They have been discussed for a number of years, and I’m going to do what I can, as minister, to try to move them.
I’m excited about the work. I have so much appreciation for the staff at Municipal Affairs who have been travelling the province consistently to work with municipal units. We’re moving on pieces of legislation now. Look at some of the bills that we have moved forward in this session. We’re looking at it not only from an economic and social perspective. The bill that I tabled earlier today in regard to - these are direct results of municipalities and elected municipal leaders coming forward wanting to build a stronger partnership with Municipal Affairs. So far so good, but we have a lot of work to do.
MR. JOHNS: I appreciate that. I think part of that is having a minister who does have a municipal background. There are obviously some benefits to that.
I think I can speak on behalf of the majority of my caucus. What Bill No. 85 really identified for us was the need. It has been well over - HRM received their charter 10 years ago, yet the CBRM, which actually amalgamated the year before HRM did, still doesn’t have a charter. When we were discussing Bill No. 85, what became really clear to members of our caucus was the uniqueness of an amalgamated municipality or regional municipality versus some of the towns, villages, and smaller municipalities across the province and the way a situation developed and the way the government had to deal with that situation through the amendments to the MGA, when really it would have been so much cleaner for the rest of the province if the CBRM had a charter.
I’m not privy on the day-to-day operations, but I think it would be really nice to see the department put a little bit more emphasis on trying to achieve that for CBRM so that when future issues come up, CBRM and HRM can be dealt with independently from the MGA. We have really muddied the MGA somewhat in some of these things.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I appreciate your comments. I think that you want to be as transparent as possible when you’re making any kind of changes so that everybody in the province is aware of what you’re doing. My personal opinion is that the MGA is outdated. It’s too big. It has a lot of language in it and a lot of things that I believe are not relevant to where municipalities need to go.
When I talk about any bill that we would pass in the case of the CBRM, or any municipality for that matter, we have always had singular requests come through. We have had these happen in the past. We have had situations in the Strait when it came to LNG development. We had it in Guysborough County when it came to the pipeline development. We had it in Halifax with the shipbuilding. These opportunities have come, and they’re going to come again. We’re going to try to be as nimble and as flexible as possible to support all communities across the province when it comes to legislation.
The larger narrative is that the MGA is outdated and that we need to look at it as a piece of legislation that is reflective not only of our regional municipalities, but all municipal units. How does regional government look under the umbrella of a new Municipal Government Act, which would include CBRM, HRM, and Queens?
Our municipal units have these wonderful economic opportunities on the horizon, and more are coming. How do we get them to a point where they can feel comfortable that the MGA is reflective not only of their goals or aspirations but that in a regional setting, they can strengthen those partnerships with other municipal units? That’s kind of the overarching thought process for me.
CBRM will have a charter. They are going to have one, but it’s going to be consistent with what we’re trying to do across the board. I think we want to move away from this idea that we always have to open and close legislation. I think we can do it in a way that shows the identity of CBRM in conjunction with a larger piece of law that reflects support for all municipal units. It’s coming.
Again, staff has been really engaged with CBRM. They’re moving very quickly because, really, the request for a charter has been on the periphery for a number of years. What I asked CBRM when I met with them on tour is, what do you want? CBRM reached out right away and said, this is what we’re looking for. I said okay, go out and get your public consultation. If you want a charter, the first, most important step is to get out there, meet with your community, and come back with the bones, I guess, of what we’re going to look at for what potentially could be in the charter. They did that. We’re three months from that meeting. I’m anxious to get to work on it.
I reiterate, it’s not just about a CBRM charter. It’s about the Halifax Charter. It’s about looking at our regional municipalities. It’s about looking at all 50 municipal units and our villages and how we can help them, how we can support them, how we can take a very outdated piece of legislation and rejuvenate it to support some of the needs, wants, and desires that our local elected representatives have.
MR. JOHNS: Following up on that, I was a little worried there for a second. Just to clarify, HRM will continue to have their charter, CBRM will have their charter, and the Municipal Government Act will be revamped to modernize it.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Yes.
MR. JOHNS: You have been going around talking with municipalities, and I’m sure that discussion of municipal modernization has come up - equalization as well, which we’ll get into in a minute. I’m sure that the discussion around modernization has come up.
What is the feedback? I think some municipalities are realizing the necessity of modernization. What is the feedback you’re getting from municipalities in regard to that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There are consistent themes that came out of the tour that were more - let me rephrase it. Some of the investments you’re seeing from the government right now when it comes to our broadband initiative are a direct result of the feedback that we’re hearing from municipal units across the province.
Government is making strategic investments in public transportation, working with our federal partners on the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, looking at what this new fund is going to be, the $820 million that will be spent over those years. We’re working with our municipal partners to determine what those strategic projects are going to be.
One of the most consistent themes over the tour - and I said this during the UNSM - is that municipalities are asking for change. They’re looking for more innovative and flexible ways to help support their communities. What I have told them is that we are more than willing and engaged to have that conversation with them. It has been very positive.
It has been a very healthy process. I think it has been a bit of a reflection time for the municipalities and for us as a department. We all understand that we’re operating under legislation that is outdated, and we also understand the needs of communities are changing, and the costs associated with those changes are happening. It has been very positive.
I’m going to continue to be out on the road. The most effective place for me as minister is out on the road with the municipalities. I’m going to continue to do that.
Any changes we make will be in full concert with the feedback that we’re receiving from our municipal units. The UNSM is heavily engaged in this process. The municipal administrators are heavily engaged in this process. Our villages are heavily engaged in this process. This is very significant work that is going to impact our partners and us as a government for a very long time. The MGA is the MGA. It’s reflective of the law of municipalities.
We’re going to make sure as we make changes that not only our municipal colleagues, of course, but all of you as elected representatives who represent either single or multiple municipalities have the opportunity to provide feedback.
MR. JOHNS: I don’t want to belabour the CBRM charter thing, but I do remember when I was on HRM Council at the time, Mayor Morgan was kind of pushing back then for a CBRM charter. I do think it has been something that Cape Breton has been looking for, for quite a time, and I would like to see it as something as a priority . . .
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: If I can just jump in at this point, the charter is one thing. I think what CBRM is really looking for - the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank really did a good job of talking about it in the House. They’re looking for that reflection that they are a regional municipality. They went through an amalgamation, a very difficult amalgamation, an amalgamation that they incurred debt as a result of. You had multiple communities come together, and I think that’s really the biggest piece of it. The charter plays a part in that.
I try to differentiate myself from the role that I play here and as an MLA, but I hear the stories because I’m from Cape Breton. It was nice to hear all Parties and all members of the House talk about Cape Breton Regional Municipality as a regional municipality. I can tell you that that was received very well by people at home for all Parties - that after 22 years since amalgamation, the CBRM feels like they’re starting to be heard and they’re starting to be respected for what they are, a regional municipality. They went through that process at the exact same time as Halifax. I just wanted to give you credit, and your colleague and all members of the House for that reflection. It has been 22 years since they went through that process, and now many at home are starting to feel that they are being heard. Kudos to all of you.
MR. JOHNS: Having been on Halifax Council meeting with Mayor Mike Savage numerous times since being here, I think that Halifax doesn’t see Cape Breton as a threat. They see them as a partner. I think that even locally, there is a desire to see Cape Breton kind of get their due, which comes into equalization payments.
I do believe that HRM doesn’t get any equalization payments, but I do know that Cape Breton gets somewhere around - is it $15 million?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Right now, we’re at $30.4 million in the equalization, and then CBRM would be half of that.
MR. JOHNS: My understanding of equalization payments, because HRM doesn’t receive any, is relatively limited. Until I got here, I really didn’t pay much attention to them, so I am curious. That’s generated through grants in lieu from Nova Scotia Power and things like that. Where do those equalization - I know some of it comes federally. Is the entire amount federal?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: First, maybe I’ll differentiate a little bit. There’s the equalization payments that the federal government transfers down to the provinces. Then there’s what has a similar name, the equalization grant. That is a combination grant in lieu of taxes. That has been frozen for a number of years.
That program has been in place for a very long time. It was in place to reflect some of the services that municipalities provide - protective services, et cetera - to communities across the province. That has been frozen since 2014, and that’s reflective of a fiscal review that we’re going through. Recommendations eventually will come forward. It was frozen to provide consistency to the municipalities so they could determine their proper budgeting. That fund is still frozen, and that’s where it currently stands right now.
MR. JOHNS: The argument I guess that CBRM is bringing forward is that it’s not based on a per capita - it’s not equal, based on how many people, or representative of that. Can you explain to me what that formula is right now, how it works out?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Are you looking for the formula from our department?
MR. JOHNS: Yes.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: The grant through our department is based on assessment from their communities. That’s how our program works. It is separate from what the transfer payments would be from the federal government. Our program is geared towards those municipal units that qualify for the program based on assessment.
MR. JOHNS: The assessment is by assessment Nova Scotia. They provide you the . . .
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: It’s PVSC, the assessment.
MR. JOHNS: I’ll go to something totally off the board while we talk about this. It’s another question, but it will give me a chance to get back where - I just lost my train. I’m curious to know if there has ever been discussion in the department about mandating sprinkler systems in new residential construction across the province. Have you ever talked to the fire marshal about that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Not in my time, no.
MR. JOHNS: In your opening letter, there was a discussion in regard to 911 - “Complete the acquisition and deployment of 911 hardware/software upgrade in collaboration with our partner organizations (Bell, Emergency Health Services, 911 . . .” What’s the timeline on this project, and when will it be completed?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We’re always upgrading our infrastructure to make sure that we’re meeting all regulations in regard to technology and public safety. We’re always going to be expending funds to do some of that work. I missed the last part of your comment.
MR. JOHNS: What is the overall cost to do it?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Every five years, we do a refresh of the equipment. This year, we’re pretty much at completion. It was $1 million.
MR. JOHNS: Going back to the New Build Canada Fund and the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, how much was actually spent last year? Where can we find that in the budget?
While staff are looking through that, I will offer to the minister - the next budget process, if you want to give me one of these books, it would make life a whole lot easier.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: No comment. That would take all the fun away from it though.
The books are not completely finished yet, but we expect to spend $86 million under the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund in 2017-18, and then $24.5 million under the Public Transportation and Infrastructure Fund.
I’ll take this opportunity to thank staff for working incredibly hard with our municipal units to ensure that they had all the information and they could do their very best to access these funds. These are significant projects as a result of commitments from the federal government. We work tirelessly to ensure that if municipal units can access those funds, we work with them to navigate through the process, to work through the proper documentation, and to advocate their voice on behalf of any negotiation that happens when these funds become available. A big thank you to everybody who’s involved.
MR. JOHNS: I asked this last year in regard to what the current breakdown for the cost share is. Has that formula changed, or is it still the same? Can you remind me what that formula currently is?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: It’s similar to last year. Under the PTIF, the Public Transportation and Infrastructure Fund, for municipalities it’s 50 per cent, and the federal government is 50 per cent. CWWF is 25 per cent for the municipality, 50 per cent for the federal government, and 25 per cent for the province.
MR. JOHNS: I think the last time around I had asked whether or not there might be an opportunity to review that cost share with an increase to the provincial portion. Was that ever looked at? I believe the last time I mentioned it previously it was one-third, one-third, and one-third, and it has changed a bit now.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We could have a more at-length conversation about this as it rolls out, but there is a reflection in the new federal program for some of those percentage changes. My commitment to you is that as we roll it out, you and I can have that conversation about the breakdown.
MR. JOHNS: I appreciate that very much. Thank you.
Just following up, I may have asked some of these, but I want to make sure I ask some of the questions that staff asked me to make sure I asked. In regard to the federal gas tax, exactly how is the province supporting municipalities with creating an inventory of public infrastructure?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We’re actually engaged now in an asset management plan. It’s a test, a pilot. We have a number of municipalities that are involved with it. Essentially, what we are doing with them is, we’re mapping out the infrastructure to get a best case of where we stand with those municipal units. We have actually started that work. We’re working closely with those municipal units, and we hope to continue to expand that. That work is ongoing.
MR. JOHNS: In regard to UNSM priorities as well, I know that at the Fall AGM for the UNSM there were a number of priorities that were highlighted there. Can you address which ones the department has been looking at and what the progress is on those?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I would say the biggest piece that we have been working on with the UNSM has been the partnership framework. This is something that the municipalities and the UNSM have been advocating for, for a period of time, essentially to ensure that, as we make decisions and we make moves as a provincial government, we do our very best at all times to engage our municipal partners so that they are aware of any implications of legislation and that they can help implement them within their communities.
There were a number of priorities that were outlined in that agreement. The first one is to develop a protocol for consultation on legislative and regulatory changes that may impact municipal governments. Collaboration on the Joint Municipal Accountability and Transparency Committee to develop standardized regulatory framework, which we tabled in the last session, has been seen very favourably with the municipal units. We’re working very closely with them to ensure that their expenses are transparent and that the committee’s work is fulfilled. That was another big one.
We talked about the continual review of the Municipal Government Act. The HRM Charter - we had a very at-length conversation about that. You’re very well aware of where my thoughts and intentions are on trying to revise the MGA.
The review of municipal governance models to identify options for structural change to strengthen municipal viability is all part of our municipal modernization, looking at how we can help support municipal units to take some of the newer challenges that are coming their way and help strengthen them to adapt to the needs of Nova Scotians now.
As well, we’re looking at some of the financial aspects of municipal units and the conditions they’re under to try to support in the index and look at ways to help them generate more economic prosperity.
Regional planning support, including development of minimal planning standards - we’re working with municipal units to help them. We just talked about the asset management pilot, looking at our infrastructure and looking at our asset inventory. We’re looking at helping them plan better, how they can partner with municipal units to look at various infrastructure projects that could be joint partnerships.
As well, we’re looking at the regional enterprise network model. As I said earlier, 80 per cent of our municipal units are under the REN model. We see that as a great avenue to bring private sector, local government, and community organizations together to support economic aspirations on a more regional level, moving beyond those traditional municipal boundaries.
As well, we’re looking at other ways that we can support the protective services that we provide through strengthening our emergency management plans, looking at our fire services groups, how we can provide more resources and support to them. That has been a very positive step.
We had the round table a number of months ago now where we had the leadership of the UNSM. I appreciate that some of my colleagues were there with me from Energy and Business, the Deputy Premier, and the Minister of Justice, as was the Minister of Environment. He’s giving me the eye - the Minister of Environment. He also plays a very important role in our partnership with the municipalities.
We signed the agreement and credit to President Stewart and the rest of the executive and the staff of UNSM. It has been a strong relationship with them since I have taken the role as minister. They are embracing a lot of the work that we’re doing because we keep very open lines of communication with them. It has been very healthy, and we want to continue to expand that relationship to ensure that the more feedback we receive, the more partnership opportunities we can provide with our municipal partners, we’re going to do it. It has been very good.
That’s been the biggest piece. There have been some other resolutions that came out of the UNSM that we continue to work on and that we will continue to work on with them.
MR. JOHNS: I appreciate where you’re going and what you’ve been doing with UNSM. I’m curious to know, does the DMA actually provide any funding to UNSM? How much is that? Can you tell me how much?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We provide about $125,000 a year through the gas tax. That allows us to work with them and help them provide some support through communication with our municipal partners and other programming. They receive $125,000 from us.
MR. JOHNS: What I would comment on, going back to Bill No. 185, is that I was very surprised by the stance UNSM took at Law Amendments Committee. I respect where they were coming from. I’m somewhat surprised by it. I did have an opportunity because I asked some questions in regard to that to see some correspondence that went back and forth from the executives and the executive director from UNSM and members on the board. Looking at the dates, I was somewhat disheartened to see that I didn’t really feel that there was adequate timing for UNSM to come forward with an informed response to that. I was looking at the emails, looking at the dates, and looking at everything else. You can kind of follow through.
I do feel the UNSM offers something. I don’t know if within the MOU with the executive there is some type of confidentiality or anything like that, but I would encourage the government to ensure that they give adequate time to the UNSM to be able to debate well some significant changes that are coming. I don’t know how well that particular piece of legislation was able to be debated. When I saw the correspondence, it was only a day or two before it came. That’s just a comment.
Madam Chairman, how much time? I want to go into the RENs and stuff but I don’t want to start down that road if there’s no time.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: There’s a little over three minutes.
MR. JOHNS: Three minutes, okay. I’ll see if there’s something I can get in here that’s a little bit quick. This might be a little quicker.
In the letter, you are looking at establishing an occupational health and safety committee. I’m assuming that that’s within the department. The department didn’t have an occupational health and safety committee? Or were they utilizing the one that . . .
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There was a committee in place, but it’s a refresh. There’s some new programming coming in. We thought it was a good time to update our committee. There has always been an occupational health and safety committee.
MR. JOHNS: I would assume the internal communication strategy, there wasn’t one before? Internal Internet, the same thing?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Essentially, these are a number of initiatives that the department has taken to strengthen communication with staff. They are utilizing different tools to enhance that communication between our staff to ensure that we provide the best service possible to the people that we represent.
MR. JOHNS: I see some of these things as just ongoing initiatives that a department typically always has. They seem to be all being revamped. There’s a number of initiatives that are being revamped, resigned, or whatever. Is there a reason why this is all happening?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: From my experience, and I’ll give you experiences outside of what I do now - and I ran a business for a number of years - we are always looking at ways that we could enhance our communication and support for staff. This is exactly what this is. I think every so often it’s an important exercise for organizations to go through a review of how they are communicating with one another and how they’re communicating the programs and services that we offer to people. That’s how I view this. It’s an internal function that we’re undertaking now to ensure that we’re doing our very best to support our staff in the important jobs . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. Time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative caucus. We’ll move over to the NDP for up to one hour. Mr. Wilson.
HON. DAVID WILSON: I want to thank the minister and his staff for being here. I appreciate the comments in the minister’s opening statement around fire safety. Of course, in our community, we had that tragic loss of life recently. It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy sometimes to make people revisit their emergency plans or get them ready and prepared for the event of a fire in their house.
I know that over the years there has been a lot of work, especially in schools and stuff, around fire safety. You are a little younger than me but not much, I don’t think. When we were kids, we did those drills and that. I get a sense that it’s not as in your face anymore, maybe because we’re more comfortable, I think, and complacent.
I looked at the fire marshal’s budget, and it’s about the same as last year. There’s not much difference. Has there been any talk since the recent deaths that we have seen in the province this year alone of maybe doing a province-wide campaign? Maybe the fire marshal’s office would spearhead that, maybe not - maybe EMO. I’m wondering, have there been any discussions since then to maybe do a province-wide campaign? I know we do Be Ready for disasters, but specifically for fire and fire protection and what people should have in their homes and wake them up a bit. Don’t be afraid to use the tragedies to try to educate people. It’s tough to talk about, but it’s a reality, and it’s in your face. It will wake people up.
I’m just wondering if the minister has any comments on that. I do appreciate the minister starting off with mentioning fire safety.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I appreciate the member’s comments and the experience that he provides to the Legislature as being a former first responder and some of the passion that he brings and the stories he has told, very difficult stories at times for him. I can’t thank you enough for the service that you provided - well you do now, but what you did before this job. I wanted to say that to you.
It has been a very difficult year. We have seen a number of very tragic situations and we’re looking at ways we can strengthen that education process. We’re working closely with the HRM Fire Marshal’s Office, and I have had some conversations as the local MLA in my community. We’re constantly looking at ways we can enhance how we communicate with all ages in regard to being prepared and fire safety. EMO plays a big part in that, but the fire marshal also does. We’re constantly looking at ways we can enhance that. If you want to have a more at-length conversation at some point, I would be more than happy to have it with you.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate that. I don’t think it would take - I’m not looking at a huge budget line item in the budget. It wouldn’t take much, I don’t think, to get something together. If the province shows some leadership and maybe has stuff prepared that the municipalities can use, fire services can use, and take the cost off them, I don’t think anybody in this House would be criticizing you for spending more money. I would be more than happy to go to Treasury Board to talk to the Chair of Treasury Board to make sure you get more money to do that.
I just think it’s a good opportunity for us and for you and your department to play a role in making sure that residents know that you can’t be complacent with it and that we don’t want to see the tragedies we’ve had over the last number of months.
My colleague asked - I thought he was looking at my notes for a little bit there. I guess we would have to win a couple more seats next election so we can go second, or even be in government the next election, but that’s the way it goes. I’ll try not to ask the questions that have been asked. If I do, it might be just to get some more clarification.
We’re starting off about the change in budget. I appreciate the member’s comments on the Clean Water and Wastewater program from the federal government.
The first question around budget and number details would be, I wonder if you could provide the amount of money the federal government transferred to your department. I have asked this in Finance and Treasury Board, and it was indicated that there is some that goes directly to Finance and Treasury Board, but there is some that goes directly to departments. Do you know that figure? If you do, where is it in here? If not, could you provide the figure and maybe a breakdown of what it’s for? I know the federal government often has strings attached to money like the Clean Water and Wastewater stuff. I’m wondering if I could get that breakdown from you.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We have a list here for you. There are five. Recovery from federal government, the federal gas tax, the 2018-19 estimate is $58.549 million. Then we have Government of Canada New Building Canada Fund, Small Communities - that is $7.297 million for 2018-19. Public Transportation and Infrastructure Fund is $3.484 million. Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, CWWF, the 2018-19 estimate is $16.346 million. The National Disaster Mitigation Program is $354,000.
MR. DAVID WILSON: The last one, I’m definitely a little bit interested in that. I try to keep up on all the announcements and that. The disaster fund is $354,000. I’m just wondering if you could give a bit of detail on that one and what it’s going to be used for. Is it matching dollars, or is that sheer transfers from the federal government put into a program? Do we need to match it in any way?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I have another list for you for the $354,000: Fundy risk dike assessment, $201,000; risk assessment to flood-prone areas, HRM, $85,000; coastal and inland flood mapping, HRM, $50,000; Fundy agriculture marshland flood maps, $69,000; risk assessment to flood-prone areas in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, $36,000; Advocate Harbour, Cumberland, and flood mitigation, downtown core Kentville, $30,000.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I wrote most of those down, but if I could get a clean copy of that after estimates. It could be next week if you want - both the breakdown plus the details. If possible, breakdown of the five different areas would be good.
In that disaster one, you talked about coastal erosion. Definitely with climate change - we saw some of the storms this winter. They’re not that big of a storm, but the higher water levels and that are really taking a toll on our roads. Everybody sees the social media postings of Lawrencetown or wherever in the province when the road’s cut off, and the snowplow is ready to clear the rocks out of the way. There’s a lot of attention around that.
Part of that $354,000, I assume, will go to coastal erosion and stuff that you talked about in HRM. Are there any matching funds from the province to that? Is that a specific program transferred from the federal government to spend the money on disaster stuff like that? Are there additional funds from the province?
The reason I ask is, we know climate change is impacting the East Coast, the whole Eastern Seaboard, I think. I don’t know if I’m in touch with a lot of what’s going on in California and B.C. We’re in dire need to make sure that we’re prepared.
Attending conferences over the last 10 or 11 years, especially down in the U.S., you’re looking at places like Atlantic City and New York that have been hit really hard with rising tides and water levels. At every conference I go to, there’s always somebody talking about how we need to be prepared for the next 10 or 15 years.
I’m just wondering how prepared we are. Is there an increased ask to the federal government? I know we can’t provide it all. Then is there matching funding from the province on that disaster fund?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There’s two different programs. The first one is the National Disaster Mitigation Program. That’s cost shared between the federal government and the municipalities. The municipalities can apply through the program to match funds. We administer that program for them.
The second program is the Flood Risk Infrastructure Program. That’s a provincial program, so there is money allocated to that. There’s $500,000 that’s allocated to that program that can support areas across the province.
I don’t have a number on this, but probably the largest role we play, as you would know, is that through EMO every municipality is required to have an emergency plan. We work very closely with all these areas in regard to what their emergency plan looks like in the event of a disaster. As we have seen, there has been a number of different events that have happened between droughts and floods and tidal erosion and whatnot.
We always work very closely to ensure that we can do whatever we can to support those municipalities in establishing an emergency plan. We play an important role in administering that national program, and we’re always advocating to determine what resources we can receive from the federal government to support the municipalities if they want to apply for those. We have a number of those initiatives ongoing.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I know personally in your area of the province, with the flooding there a couple of years ago, it was devastating to a number of communities. In Cape Breton, it has been a little quiet on that issue lately around purchasing the homes and relocating individuals who were close to where that flooding took place. Is the province settled with the residents there on all requests and engagement with owners or former owners of the houses? Where is that at right now?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I’m going to get some information because I can answer specifically about the south end, and then there’s the greater amount of applications that have been completed by EMO. Just bear with me for one moment.
Specifically, I’ll start with the most affected, most impacted area, which was the south end of Sydney, which saw those 18 families displaced from their homes. All those families have settled their claims, and happily all those families are in new homes.
Staff did a tremendous amount of work supporting those families. If they are listening, I can’t thank them enough for supporting those families in the CBRM.
The remediation is actually done at this point too. Those families would have received compensation for the value of their home, which would also have included the remediation and teardown. They were supported through all their living expenses through that process, a very difficult process for them.
After that process was done, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal put out the tender. They hired a local company, they did the remediation, and that remediation is now done.
In regard to the more global side of what transpired in Cape Breton during that flood, we’re still in that $14 million expended to families across the communities that were affected by the flood that qualified under the national program. As I said, there were 1,100. We have a few files left that we’re advocating for and working through, but the majority of it is complete.
A tremendous amount of work was done by staff in EMO and Municipal Affairs to get us to this point. Also, CBRM deserves a lot of credit, and first responders deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the work they did during the storm and afterwards.
I’m very happy with the response and the work of the federal government and the partnership that we have had with them to ensure that folks received support after the process. We renegotiated that process a number of times, and again, a tremendous amount of work was done by a lot of people. All the families that were severely impacted are in new homes.
MR. DAVID WILSON: It’s good to hear. Thank you for the update. I know it’s not easy to go through something like that, especially if they have been in those homes for long periods of time.
On the coastal erosion question, I know your department oversees the program. You have some of the flood risk programs and disaster programs. Would you consider yourself the lead department on the need that’s out there? Or would it be one of the other departments that would have a broader look at the province on where we’re going to see issues as more storms happen and as a greater impact on our coast happens over the next couple of years?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We work with multiple departments on coastal erosion. I would say that we’re a partner - I wouldn’t say we’re the lead. We play a big role in administering programs that municipalities can access through their climate action plans that they were developing. We’re an engaged partner in that.
Our biggest role on the EMO side is to ensure that we do whatever we can to support those emergency plans. I would say there’s multiple departments out there. Environment would play a big part in that. Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal would play a big part in that. With anything, we want to do whatever we can to advocate for municipalities for the resources that they receive.
We’re a very heavy partner in it, but I wouldn’t say we’re the lead. When I say that, I’m not negating the fact that we play an important role in that.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate that. I’m just going to go to a couple more line items in the budget, Page 18.4 in the Estimates and Supplementary Detail, the Corporate Policy, Municipal Planning Advisory Services, and under Programs and Services, Executive Director. I noticed between estimate and forecasts of 2017-18 an increase in budget of about $122,000. I’m wondering if you could indicate why the increase from estimate to forecast. My supplementary question after that would be about a significant increase again to the estimate for 2018-19.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Essentially, we’re just moving staff around the department. There’s no additional hires. We’re moving admin support from one area to the other. It was an internal decision to support some of the work that we’re doing around municipal modernizations and some of the services that we’re providing.
MR. DAVID WILSON: We’ll go to the next page, Page 18.5 under Programs and Services of the Emergency Management Office. I notice there is a line, Strategic Services Unit, that had not a substantial amount of money, about $39,000, estimated last year and then a forecast of about $21,000 but nothing budgeted for this year. I’m just wondering if you could elaborate on what the Strategic Services Unit does. What was their responsibility? Why is it unfunded for the upcoming year?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Again, that’s reallocation, we took $20,000 and transferred it into administration to align with the EMO structured within our department. Then $19,000 was transferred to Ground Search and Rescue to align them with EMO. Again, it’s just a reallocation of resources.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Just one line under that is EMO Disaster Assistance. I think I know the answer, but I’ll still ask for some clarity. In the estimates, it was about a $300,000 program that was estimated in 2017-18, and the actual forecast was about $1 million. I’m just wondering if the minister could indicate what the increase was for. Was that direct federal funding coming in? What specific disaster was it pertaining to? Was it the floods in Cape Breton or whatever?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Yes, that represents the flood. That’s some of the last resources that are needed to deal with the flood. That’s recoverable money through the federal government.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Are we able to get a breakdown of that? Or is that just for the program itself?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Are you looking for a breakdown of the . . .
MR. DAVID WILSON: Of the use of the program, where it went.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Where the money went.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I don’t need that today.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Okay.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I’ll just go down to Search and Rescue New Initiative Fund. The estimate for last year was $70,000, but only about 14 per cent was spent, so about $10,000. I’m just wondering what that Search and Rescue New Initiative Fund was for. Why was only about 14 per cent spent last year compared to the amount that was estimated?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Essentially, that’s a new initiative fund. There was some extra room left in it because of the number of eligible projects that came through.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Sorry. I couldn’t hear.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: What that is reflecting is a gap in eligible projects that came forward under the fund, so it was underspent.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Is that for search and rescue groups to ask for new funding? I just want maybe a little bit of detail of what the program entails. What is it for? Is that $10,000 just what you received? Just a little more information.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I’m going to have to get back to you. We’ll get you some more information.
MR. DAVID WILSON: The question is, that initiative fund no longer exists because there is no budget for this year. If you could explain.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Sure, absolutely.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Kind of along the same lines, EMO and some of the emergency preparedness initiatives that happen - I want to thank the minister for the engagement. When stuff is happening around the province, you call me. I don’t know if it was Christmas Eve or Christmas Day . . .
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: It was the lightning snowstorm.
MR. DAVID WILSON: It was a holiday though, and I was surprised. I didn’t notice the number, and I wasn’t going to answer, but I did answer. I appreciate that.
You asked if there was a significant power outage in my area and if I was hearing anything around HRM, knowing that you were on Cape Breton Island at the time, so I appreciate that. I think that’s the appropriate way to go.
Out of that, there had been a number of times in the province when we have seen power outages for a number of days. They seem to be more frequent in the last couple of years than they have been in the last decade or so. I don’t deal with a lot of calls in my constituency around long power outages, and I’m very fortunate. I have to say in the last couple of years, I have been getting more.
When it comes to warming centres, I know that they had been announced. In HRM, for example, when power was out for a number of days - two or three days, I think - warming centres popped up. I was getting emails and phone calls about it. The closest one isn’t too far, but in bad weather I could see it being a distance. The closest one to Sackville would have been the Canada Games Centre.
I’m just wondering, how is it determined? Who takes the lead on it? Is it the EMO? Is it the municipality? Is it the province? Who determines where those centres are? How do I engage that process to look at my community when we are in need of a warming centre opening up when we know power outages are going to be 24 hours plus?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: The municipalities really take the lead on where the centres are. We work with them very closely to help them set that emergency plan, and we’re actually doing that. Every time we have a situation like this, we’re constantly reviewing best practices with them.
Nova Scotia Power actually takes some initiative, too, and took some in the last little while in opening their own warming centres. We try to do our best to get that information out.
The one thing that I can do, especially in the role that we play and you play as critic - in the time of an emergency or an outage, the more information we can get to you and our colleague from the PC caucus and all MLAs the better because they have their own ways and avenues of distributing that information. My commitment to you is that we’ll continue to do whatever we can and make sure you get that information. What I will commit to you, if you want to come in, is that we can have a chat and maybe bring in EMO to talk about the communities specifically. They’re constantly in contact with the municipalities. If you have some suggestions on stuff, we would be more than happy to let the municipality know.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Excellent. I appreciate that.
Of course, years ago I was a paramedic, but I was also a volunteer firefighter. I know at the time - and that’s going back a bit - one of the stations out in Sackville was always deemed to be one. They had an emergency power source and could be opened up for something. I appreciate that. I will take you up on that and hopefully do that before the weather turns bad in the Fall.
I want to talk a little bit about an area of deep concern for me, and that’s supporting our first responders and our paramedics and this initiative I have been working on a couple of years now around first responders and their ability to obtain workers’ compensation benefits, WCB benefits, for PTSD. As this progressed, there was more knowledge and awareness around the topic of municipalities that have fire services or first responder services that don’t have WCB and the challenges they may have as a smaller unit. Has there been any work in your department, or has there been an ask?
There might not be too much yet because those benefits aren’t there yet. I hope they are coming. I know that’s in a different department. But when they do come, I’ll be encouraging municipalities to ensure that their members are covered. Has there been any discussion on working with the municipalities, as the Minister of Municipal Affairs, to achieve the ability for smaller units that might not have the funds to at least have access to the WCB coverage and benefits for their first responders, especially the volunteers?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Honestly, not at this point. We haven’t had that conversation within the department. I haven’t had that conversation with my municipal partners, as minister, but we’re always engaged and open and having conversations about anything that affects municipalities.
As we move down the road, if you and I want to have an at-length conversation, I’m more than happy to have it with you.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I would encourage you to maybe not wait for them to come to you. Honestly, I’m asking for your support in hopefully moving your government along quicker to making sure that first responders have that coverage and that that change does come.
I know there was an indication of about a year from last October. The clock is ticking. I’m going to hit up every person I can for support to make sure your government does the right thing and offers these benefits to first responders. You can play a role and be a leader in making sure that first responders who are volunteers in our province receive these benefits. I could eat the remainder of my time with what the volunteer firefighters and paramedics and police officers and others see on a daily basis. I’m just asking for your support in that and your commitment to make sure that you’re a champion in the Department of Municipal Affairs to make sure that the government does that.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: What I will commit to you today is that I am more than happy to sit down and have a conversation with you. I can say this as the minister of this department, one of my favourite parts of this job is to be able to provide that ESPF, the first responders fund, and to meet all the people, whether they are career or volunteer first responders, Ground Search and Rescue - the passion, the excitement, and the pride they have and doing the work they do to keep us all safe. For me, that’s something I am very proud that the department does for our first responders. Sir, as we move forward, I’m more than happy to sit down and have a conversation with you.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate that. As I said, I don’t think there’s anybody in the House who doesn’t appreciate them, especially if you come from a rural area that is serviced by volunteers. It’s amazing the work they do.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: They play that role. They’re fundraising as well. They’re supporting families that need it the most. They’re role models for a lot of youth in the community. In a lot of cases, they are the pride of their towns. You are absolutely correct.
MR. DAVID WILSON: And they save a lot of money for municipalities and the province by volunteering and not having the province have to step in and provide emergency services.
I’ll shift a bit here to water issues and that. Something came to me recently that I didn’t know a whole lot about but I’ll ask if you’re aware of it or if the department is aware of it. It’s around land-lease communities in our province and the practice of the owners of those land-lease communities to start charging for water.
Municipalities of course, the Water Commission for example in Halifax, fall under the URB, I believe, and there’s rules and regulations around it. Has the issue of land-leased communities come up around those owners charging residents of those communities for water? Should there be some parameters around the ability to do that? I can get more information down the road. It was new to me so I’m just wondering if you are aware of that.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: To the member, we have not had those discussions, they have not come to us. They may have come through other departments but not through Municipal Affairs.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I would hope if I get more information that . . .
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Absolutely.
MR. DAVID WILSON: You can see where it lands on the government’s responsibility.
The other one is an interesting one that came up, too, it’s kind of off-the-wall ones and you see it a lot on new renovation shows and stuff, it’s these tiny homes. The minister smiles.
I believe they are not allowed in the province or in municipalities, is that true? Are there currently any restrictions in place for the ability for someone to build a tiny home? I don’t know why they’d want to build a tiny home but there may be reasons why people would want them and it’s becoming more and more popular, I know in the U.S. I’m wondering if there’s any comments on - are there currently any restrictions in place? If there is, why? Is there any opportunity to maybe look at changing that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There are some restrictions in place currently. A lot of it deals around the municipal bylaws as to where they can be placed.
It’s something that has come across my desk actually a couple of times, so we’re working closely with building code officials to determine what the next steps are going to be but it’s something we’re very aware of.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you for that. I know my colleague asked about the charter. I know I spoke in the House around recent changes in legislation. I’ll abide by the rules and not talk about legislation before the House, but definitely the question of a charter for the CBRM has been of interest in that region of the province.
I’ll give the minister another chance to maybe give some kind of a timeline. Is there something you are shooting for? Is there other work that’s a priority now and you will get to that? Just a few more comments maybe.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: As I said, the first step for us and CBRM may be an official ask on tour. They organized their public consultations at my request, which we did. We’re heading down there - well I’m from there, but staff is heading to CBRM to meet with council in the next few weeks actually, to just chart out what the next step is going to be. Council wants to be engaged in the process.
I want to move as quickly as I possibly can but that is going to be in consultation with the pace that they’re comfortable with. They’ve struck a charter committee themselves. I have an idea of what I think should be in the charter, as a local representative, but they want some more feedback and we’re going to be there to support them, so we’ll move as quickly as we can.
I don’t have a specific timeline right now. The most important thing right now is that our staff is going to meet with them and we’re going to do a day session on what the charter could look like for them and how they can play a larger role in it.
Right now, they are really engaged and excited at the opportunity, and I’m more than happy to support them in that process.
On a global perspective, when it comes to legislation and looking at revisions of the MGA, we’re working as quickly as we can, in consultation with our municipal units, to look at what the future looks like. We’re going to move as quickly as we can but we’re moving at the pace they are comfortable with as well.
MR. DAVID WILSON: The CBRM has recommended that an economic development study be done. I think they initiated that request in 2014. I know it was before your time, but they only just recently received a letter about moving forward with a study in January, and it’s just a study on the taxes.
I’m just wondering, if they have been asking for a couple of years, why it took this long to move forward on an economic development study for the CBRM.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I can’t really talk about what happened in the past, and it goes back to some of the comments that we have all made. I look at the CBRM as a regional municipality as you do and as your colleagues do. I think that’s why we’re getting to this point. There is that acceptance and that recognition that the CBRM is a region. They’re looking at doing a viability study, which I support.
I have supported that letter. We’re looking at them from a regional economic zone perspective because they are a region. We’re working with them to determine what a REN model would look like for the CBRM. These are all very important steps to recognize the fact that it goes back to the charter. Again, it’s that reflection of CBRM being a regional municipality and going through that amalgamation process similar to Halifax.
Our staff is heavily engaged with them on the viability study, looking at the regional economic zone models to determine the best path forward for them, so I look forward to the results.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Is there any timeline in mind about that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I think you’re going to see a timeline come to be once we get down there again in a few weeks. They went through their public consultation. There was no set timeline at that point, but this next meeting we’re going to have with them is really going to get into the nuts and bolts of how we’re going to proceed. We’ll be able to map out some timelines from there, so as quickly as possible.
One other point I’ll mention, and I’ll thank the deputy too. As part of that letter I sent to them, we asked them to establish an advisory committee which consisted of municipal leaders, maybe some academics in the field. We have some great professors down there in Jim Guy and Tom Urbaniak and a few others who are heavily engaged in this legislative process with the city. Our First Nations communities play a role in the viability of the CBRM and the partnerships that have existed and will grow. That’s also part of the timeline.
A lot of that stuff is going to be ironed out in the next few weeks. You’ll start seeing a bit more of the timeline.
MR. DAVID WILSON: From my understanding, there’s going to be heavy emphasis around taxation assessment and that kind of stuff. What role will immigration play? I bring this up because our caucus had a presentation from New Dawn. I know that they have tried to engage with the government. From my understanding, the proposal is to try to allow CBRM and Cape Breton Island to have a bit more control of immigration.
What they were looking at is the Island but looking at P.E.I. and some of the success they have had with immigration and their small population and how that plays an important role, especially around the university and international students. I know there’s a good percentage of them who go to CBRM.
What role do you think you play, as a Minister of Municipal Affairs, to help a region, for example, if they want to have more control on immigration and the ability to adapt to a region? How can they advocate the Minister of Immigration - who is the chairman? Can I ask the chairman a question? Is that out of order?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I don’t mind answering you.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I’m trying to build allies.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I’ll give you an hour instead of a minute.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I guess the minister will be careful in his comments. I kind of didn’t realize the Minister of Immigration was here. What role do you play?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: It’s a very good question. I have an opportunity to thank my colleague, the Minister of Immigration, for the work you have done to support New Dawn. Actually, one of the first functions I had - my first function was with the Minister of Fisheries, to represent him, and then you came to Sydney to announce the funding at New Dawn to support immigration in the community.
I think the most important role for CBRM - again, it goes back to this recognition that CBRM is a region. It went through a very difficult process of amalgamation with very limited resources. I take that experience as a municipal councillor to this role now as minister.
It’s not only CBRM. I say this with all municipal units, but we’re talking specifically about CBRM now - to work with my colleague the Minister of Immigration on it. She is very open and accessible to some of the questions and concerns that come from Cape Breton and from CBRM specifically in regard to immigration. Look at some of the programs provided for new entrepreneurs through some of the other streams through Immigration that we try to push as local MLAs, and as minister to try to promote within the municipalities to make sure they have all the information at their disposal.
It’s a big advocacy role when it comes to the immigration side. For us, we’re looking at the viability of the CBRM and other municipal units through the tools we can provide through revisions of charters or development of charters or globally, the umbrella MGA. That’s where it’s going to be for us. What can we do to give municipalities more flexibility to support economic growth and social growth as well?
If we can do that, give them that support, I think that those immigration programs that are available will be more easily accessible to people who are coming to those municipal units to use. I think right now the important thing for us is that we have set a clear path with our municipalities. We have a partnership framework. They are very engaged in the work that we’re doing. We’re very transparent with them with the work that we’re doing. We want to expand that to every department within government to ensure that, if there are programs through Immigration or through Environment or Health and Wellness, they have that information at their fingertips and that we make sure we can flow that information through our department to them.
Our RENs are actually involved with some of the immigration pilot programs. In Cape Breton, the REN there was involved with the immigration pilot. They’re actually utilizing these programs, partnering with municipalities to try to leverage both provincial and federal funds through other programs.
It has been very successful. For me, specifically, it’s about trying to get to a point to give more flexibility to municipal units so they can support social and economic growth but also access other programs. Hopefully that answers your question.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Really, it’s to make sure you recognize that, yes, we’ll have an overall provincial strategy on immigration, but local areas know best what they may need, what they need to work on to make sure we can attract immigrants and, more importantly, retain them, especially in Cape Breton’s example of the students who are coming there. They are at an important point in their life to really put roots down, and I think that’s the key. If they put their roots down in Cape Breton, they’ll stay. They definitely need to have all the other things, the jobs and that. I appreciate the minister’s answer on that.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Just a quick comment on that - you are absolutely right. I think about Cape Breton for the uniqueness and beauty of our island. We also have very unique communities within that would support various levels of immigration attraction and newcomers to the area. It’s the Cape Breton partnership that I was actually talking about which has been working with business and employers to try to attract newcomers to the area.
We have seen some successes with that. We want to be as flexible as possible and make sure we advocate for the programs outside of Municipal Affairs that municipalities can acquire. We’re on the same page.
MR. DAVID WILSON: There’s all kinds of different things we can do to make our immigrants feel welcomed, not that I’m talking about legislation. If they had the possibility or the ability to vote in municipal elections and stuff like that, you could really help them feel like they’re part of the province, part of the municipality, part of the town. Hopefully, you’ll look at those opportunities to do that in your department.
I know when we first started talking about some of the federal transfers and monies that we receive from the federal government - I’m trying to read my own writing where I wrote down some of the five areas. I think public transportation is one area. What about initiatives like increasing bike lanes and support for the biking industry? I ask on behalf of my colleague. I have a few colleagues who are very passionate about ensuring Halifax, for example, and Dartmouth and other regions are bicycle friendly and safe. Is there funding through the federal government specifically for bicycles, or is that more of a provincial issue that maybe you’ll work with municipalities, issues of that nature? Or is it a municipal issue where each municipal unit works in their own department and with their own budgets to support bicycle safety and the use of bicycles within their municipalities?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There’s no funding specifically through Municipal Affairs for active transportation. Municipalities take the lead on that. We advocate with them through multiple departments to determine if that infrastructure is there.
You’re absolutely correct in how important that infrastructure is for communities. We see it more and more as time goes on, the importance of accessible transportation and different modes of movement around communities. The gas tax plays a part in that.
The gas tax money the municipalities do receive can actually go to active transportation. What I would encourage, and I encourage any elected leader when I talk to them, is that if there are projects, we always want to hear about projects and aspirations of municipalities. If we can’t help them directly, we always try to steer people in the right direction.
To your colleagues, if there are specific projects through your municipalities, I am more than happy to hear about them and make sure they go to where they need to go.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate that. It’s interesting as you do research getting ready for this, especially with lots of support from staff in each of our caucuses. I came across an article from the Centre for Local Prosperity. It’s talking about important replacements, local prosperity for rural Atlantic Canada. It’s interesting - it goes through a number of areas.
The interesting thing is the impact of a 10 per cent shift in demand in each of the four Atlantic Provinces towards local goods and services was calculated. It’s amazing, if we all shifted to that, what we would see in increased jobs and that. In it, it gives some roles for municipalities and municipal governments and roles for provincial governments. It indicates that one of the roles for provincial governments is providing options for upgraded decentralized grids or local grids to provide an economic incentive for communities to generate electrical power locally.
I know of recent - not that I’m talking about legislation - asks from the municipality around the energy district, for example. I know the amendment to the legislation was specific to one project but overall . . .
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There’s a few of them in the community.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Yes. Would it not be beneficial to give more power to - interesting that I said “more power” - the ability for a municipality to enter into those agreements instead of requiring amendments to the charter or whatever we’re dealing with at the time? Like I say, I respect the legislation and process, but would it not be beneficial to maybe allow for municipalities to do that? Is there a reason why the province wants to keep a bit more control on it in that if there is a project, they come to the government, and we’ll pass legislation?
I just think the evidence is showing that if we give a bit more autonomy to municipalities, they can play a role in economic prosperity. Projects like energy systems, for example, could benefit in attracting economic growth, development, and all that stuff.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Less than four minutes remaining for this session.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There’s actually some of those partnerships in energy that exist outside of HRM. Just to mention some, Antigonish Town, Berwick, and Mahone Bay have an energy partnership that they do.
On the second part of your question, just for clarity, are you talking about the decision-making process in general? (Interruption) Yes, that’s something that I have had some at-length conversations about with Mayor Savage and some of the other councillors in the HRM. That is one of the barriers that continuously come up in the decision-making process for HRM in the charter legislation.
To the member and his colleague, we have had the conversation ourselves. That’s one of the aspects that I’m looking at in the review of the HRM Charter, how we get to a point where everybody can be comfortable with how we move in and out of the decision-making process. That’s something top of mind for me. We want to do whatever we can to make that process as flexible as possible because you keep coming back for decisions.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I think as you have seen in the House, all support on the recent changes that you are bringing.
I’m just kind of closing off here with a little bit more specific questions. I ask this of every department, if they could provide me, at a later date, a current organizational chart of the department and any vacancies. It’s pretty easy to do up. I don’t need it right now, but a chart and any vacancies.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I can get it to you very quickly.
MR. DAVID WILSON: A question from my colleague - I don’t know the full background of this, but I might know a little bit about it. Has your department been approached at all about HRM and their ability to change their name to make sure they can use “city”? Are there any rules against them doing that on their own? Can HRM say all of a sudden that it’s the City of Halifax?
I know that somebody has probably been asked in the department, but I ask for my colleague.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Less than a minute.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: They would have to change the charter to change the name. Of course, they can brand themselves, as most towns and cities do, but for them to make an official change, it would be a change of the charter.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Okay, thank you.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: With the approval of the committee, may I take a four-minute recess?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Time for the NDP is now finished. We’ll take a break for a couple of minutes.
[1:20 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:25 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: All right, we are back in business. It is 1:25 p.m., and Mr. Johns has the floor for an hour. Please commence.
MR. BRAD JOHNS: The minister will be glad to hear that I don’t have any plans of using an hour. I’m not quite sure who else is lining up from our caucus, but I certainly won’t be using an hour. From what I heard, I believe TIR was left with 45 minutes yesterday that members of your caucus had to fill. I’m not quite sure about that, but it may be the same thing today, I’m not sure.
I want to ask a question - in the business plan laid out, there was something that tweaked my interest. I didn’t really quite catch it. I did ask staff if they would go back and look at what the implications of it are. I want to be clear about something and see where we sit with this.
The business plan lists a number of things in the section that talks about the 2018-19 policy and corporate services. Number 3 is “Develop a replacement for the Municipal Equalization Program that aligns with the principles identified in the Provincial Municipal Fiscal Review (2014)” - I think that’s this document - “and encourages regional collaboration; and amend the Municipal Grants Act, Municipal Government Act and Halifax Charter where appropriate.” We have already discussed some of those things.
What I want a clarification on is how much of a role this 2014 Provincial Municipal Fiscal Review consultant’s report will be playing now in the department.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: It will play a part in the work that is going forward, absolutely. It was before my time, but I know there was extensive public consultation that was part of that fiscal review. My thought process has been that these things have been happening for a number of years, so we want to start getting to an end game on some of the stuff.
This is important work that municipal units have been working on for a number of years. This report will play a part, and that will all be in concert with the work that we are doing now in our partnership frameworks with the UNSM, with our relationship with the municipal administrators and the consultation that I have been doing with municipal units across the province.
MR. JOHNS: My reason for asking that is because I hadn’t seen this for a while. I thought this was shelved or maybe had moved on. Some reports sometimes get done, and nothing seems to come out of them. This one does open up a can of worms in a number of different areas, so I wanted to know how much that is going to impact policy as we move forward. Given those comments, I think it may be playing a larger role than I thought it might have been last year this time.
Based on that, that brings in some other questions I have. We touched briefly on the equalization payments. I mentioned that the equalization payments were actually frozen in 2014. I think it’s in the report that there’s a table that breaks down the equalization payments, how they were comprised, and what they were at that time in 2014.
At that time the total sum, the 2013-14 value, was $41 million. The proposal was to increase that at the time by $21 million, which would have taken it up to about $62 million. I know that it was frozen. My assumption would be that it would still be frozen at $41 million. However, it’s not currently. Equalization payments are only at $30.4 million. I’m curious to know, if things were frozen in 2014, why are we not at that $41 million?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Equalization has never actually been at $41 million; $30.5 million has been the highest level it has been at. Where do you see the $41 million? I want to make sure you have the accurate information.
MR. JOHNS: I can give this to staff to look at.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I’ll answer the question, and then I’ll make sure you get the proper information, so you have it at your disposal. It’s at $30.4 million, and it has been at that level for a period of time. I don’t have the exact - at least since 2014-15, but it has been before that. It was frozen there to reflect the fiscal review and the consultation we were going through with municipalities at the time to ensure that they had a plan forward, that they knew what funding was going to be available to them as we went through the fiscal review.
As I said recently to a previous question, we’re trying to move to an end game on some of these studies. As indicated in the business plan, we’re under review with this grant. At some point, we’re going to come forward with some recommendations.
MR. JOHNS: The 2014 Provincial Municipal Fiscal Review identifies there in the conclusion that it will freeze provincial equalization payments. I thought I wrote it down. I will clarify for you where I got this table from. What it almost looks like to me is that in the table - let’s see if I can call on staff for a sec.
I’m sorry, it wasn’t in the Municipal Provincial Fiscal Review. It was in a supplementary report draft for discussion. I’m just trying to - oh, that’s fine. I’ll clarify that.
What it does is, it highlights exactly the grants programs at that time, where the money was coming for provincial equalization. I’ll forward you a copy of this. I’m curious to know, currently how much money is the province actually paying? I asked this before, but how much money is the province currently paying towards equalization directly? Can you tell me that again?
If I could elaborate, this chart shows the contributions from HST, Nova Scotia Power . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, would you mind having a Page photocopy that.
MR. JOHNS: I have no problem with staff and the minister reviewing that paper, thank you. It’s the answer that’s the important thing, not my scribbles.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I appreciate the information you have there. I’ll reiterate, our grant program is not decreasing through Municipal Affairs. The money that is there has been there for a number of years. The important thing is that, at some point in the near future, you and I can have a sit-down and just go through some numbers to make sure everybody has the most accurate information.
With full confidence, our grant program is the same. We’re under the umbrella of the fiscal review. That’s why we froze the funding, at the request of the municipalities, to ensure they had that sustainable projection moving forward as we went through it. We will be making some recommendations on the grant programs through our department.
MR. JOHNS: I believe, although I’m not sure, that may be from a local government task force report from 1992 (Interruption) No, it wouldn’t have been from there.
Okay, continuing on, there was a report. It was, as I suggested, the local government task force report from 1992. That report makes some suggestions around the combination of municipal units and identifies three of them that potentially could be combined - Cape Breton County, Pictou County, Halifax County, Colchester County, Kings County. Are they being addressed directly through municipal modernization, do you know?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: If we could have an open discussion just so I can get some information from you, that report, which I haven’t seen, talks about amalgamation of communities. Is that what it is?
MR. JOHNS: Yes.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: This is just me thinking out loud without any information in front of me because we’re having an open conversation. I would suspect that that report would probably be one of the rationales for CBRM going through the amalgamation three years later, because it was 1995 when the CBRM amalgamated. I can’t confirm that.
On the more global topic of communities coming together, I have been quite open about the fact that we have no intentions of forced amalgamations with anyone. If communities wanted to have that conversation, we wouldn’t deter that either. That would be an open conversation for those communities to have, and we would play a supporting role if they wanted to do it.
I’ll use an example outside the CBRM. Let’s look at the Pictou area. I had the opportunity to meet with all the municipal units within Pictou. It came up in Question Period today, one of the schools that the member for Pictou West is actually dealing with. We had a very open conversation about that. Those conversations are always happening.
Those relationships exist within those municipal units, but we want to do whatever we can to support regional economic growth. In my opinion, that does not include amalgamating municipalities. What that includes is inter-municipal agreements that support economic and social growth. There’s a lot of work that has to be done around that, but I think that’s the best path forward. We could have a discussion about what the magic number of municipalities would be, but I don’t think that’s going to get us anywhere. I think what we need to do is respect the municipal governments we have in place and the history and the traditions they have, try to support them, and do that within a regional context.
MR. JOHNS: You have been very clear on that. I do appreciate the clearness on it, and I hope you stay right where you are for a while, minister, so that doesn’t change.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I can appreciate why you have to keep asking the questions.
MR. JOHNS: The other question in regard to transfers between the provincial and municipal governments - I know there was a long time when I was on municipal council that there were discussions around service exchanges in regard to housing, correction, and education that the municipalities have to pay to the province and then what the province provides back in regard to community grants, cost-shared grants, et cetera.
Are there continuing or new discussions around that service exchange and looking at aligning services in lieu of grants?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There haven’t been any discussions in regard to that. My focus has been on what services we can enhance to support municipalities. That’s why you’re seeing these increased investments in public transportation. That’s why we’re looking at the rural transit pilots. That’s why we’re advocating for municipalities to ensure that, as federal funds become available, and we have very significant projects coming forward, we’re doing our very best to look at those percentages that have been historic where the municipalities have had to pay certain percentages, looking at how we can be more flexible with those municipal units. To be honest, my focus has been on those new initiatives that I’m trying to bring forward from the department’s perspective and, as well, making sure that the voices of municipalities are heard loud and clear when we are negotiating those new, very significant pockets of investment for communities.
I haven’t had a lot of conversations about the service exchange. My focus has been on municipal modernization and looking at how we can support new ways of funding avenues for municipalities through these new agreements.
MR. JOHNS: From my perspective, I would think it would be cleaner to have municipalities fund those things that fall under municipal mandates and the province take care of provincial responsibilities. You’re saying there is money coming from the province to assist in transit and initiatives like that, but I would think it would be easier to just try to clean that up.
It does seem to be a bit of a bone of contention for municipalities across the province. I have heard it, and I know that you have heard it as well. A lot of them have an issue paying for housing, corrections, and education in their tax rate. We have heard this for many years. I don’t know why nobody has ever fixed this.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I don’t know either. What I can say is, I appreciate it too. I used to get that question when I was on council, about some of those fees around education and whatnot, some of the other things that came through that we question as councillors as to why. We tried to do our best to break that out in our tax bills with the residents of the CBRM, so they could actually see where their tax dollars were going.
Listen, I don’t want you to get the impression that it’s not something that I haven’t thought about. I have thought about it, and that could be part of the municipal modernization discussion moving forward. My focus primarily has been on the legislative tools that municipalities can use to support social and economic growth. With these new programs that are coming forward, municipalities are really going to have a great opportunity to access to help support some of the important community infrastructure, whether it is social or economic in our communities.
As always, as you know, I’m very open to having any conversations, or I’m more than happy to hear suggestions you may have.
MR. JOHNS: I know I’m jumping all over the place a little bit. Going back to equalization payments, can you explain to me what percentage of equalization payments that go to the municipality funnel down to the villages? Do you know that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Villages don’t directly get equalization. Equalization is an operational grant that is used at the discretion of the municipality. The municipal unit can give a village money towards a project, but they wouldn’t get it directly through the equalization program.
Was there another part of your question in regard to the percentages?
MR. JOHNS: That was really the question, the percentage that funnelled down through to the villages. It is just based on what the municipalities decide to give them, is it?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Yes.
MR. JOHNS: How come that has never been established as a formula? Is there a reason for that? What I did notice when I was going through, looking at what villages across the province received, was that it’s so varied. It’s all over the map. I was wondering why it was never actually established in a MOU or some kind of rules around that.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: The parameters on the equalization grant are outlined in the Municipal Grants Act. That’s how the money is distributed to those municipalities. That’s why it doesn’t flow into the villages, because the equalization grant is reflected in that Act towards the municipalities. The municipalities, it’s operational. At their discretion, they can determine how that money is going to be used and can flow it into villages. That’s how it’s broken down in the Act. The formula is actually in the Act.
MR. JOHNS: New Minas is actually considered a village, is it? Although they could be a significantly larger portion of the overall municipality, as a village they receive 20 per cent of what the province gives. They don’t have a way, other than going to the municipality? They can’t come to the province and ask for that?
I guess what I’m saying is that a village could be proportionately larger or have a larger concentration of the residents versus the entire municipality, but because of the way the formula is structured now, the money all goes to the municipality, and the municipality decides what the village will get. Really, the village could be even bigger than the municipality in some respects, right?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: That’s why we’re doing a review. That’s part of it. This review has been going on for a number of years. I can’t take credit for it because it has been going on since 2014. What I can say is that this is one of the aspects of why we’re going through this process.
I look forward to the result when the time comes. I don’t have a timeline on that yet, but you make a valid point.
MR. JOHNS: I love the answers that are yes. They leave nowhere to go.
Just before I turn things over to my council colleague who also wants to address you for some of our time, I wanted to know about the RENs. I’m curious to know how they have been working out, now that they have been in place for a little bit. Can you just update me on the RENS a little?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We’re just going to pull some information together now. I can say that I had the opportunity to visit all the RENs when I was on tour. As I said in my earlier comments, they’re fairly new, but people are really engaged in the RENs. It’s a great way to be transparent with public funds. You have the private sector engaged with government and engaged with community organizations.
We have seen the RENs partner with municipalities to secure funds through other departments. I used the example of the Cape Breton REN and the immigration pilot. They’re working with local employers in the community to try to attract certain skill sets to their professions or their operations. We have seen successes that way. We have seen them involved and trying to help with asset mapping with our municipal units, which has been very positive as well. That’s something we’re very engaged in. We want to know what infrastructure we have and what assets municipalities have, so we can help them plan better. It has been very positive.
We’re constantly working with them. If concerns come forward, we want to ensure that we’re doing whatever we can to help them be strong and help them grow and adapt to economic opportunities that are in the region. Again, that’s where it’s at. It’s about regional economic planning. In a province our size with as many municipal units as we have, we want to ensure that municipalities are succeeding, not only individually but also breaking down those traditional political boundaries to say, as a region, how can we benefit and support one another?
I’m very excited about them. There’s always going to be work to do with these organizations, but so far, so good. In my first 11 months on the job, I have had the opportunity to be all over the province and talk to them. I made the commitment to them to do whatever I can to help support them.
MR. JOHNS: For clarification, are they all up and running now? Are they all operational?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Not every community right now is represented under an REN, but a vast majority of them are. Western REN is one example - Yarmouth, Digby, the District of Yarmouth, the District of Digby, the District of Clare-Argyle-Barrington.
We have some great representation across the board. We still have some work to do to get full coverage across the province, but we’re working with our partners to encourage them to look at the REN program as a viable option for them. It’s something that we provide, resources through our department, to support economic development and social development. I used to be in social entrepreneurship before I became an MLA. That’s an important role that small business plays.
We’re constantly working with the municipalities to encourage them to be part of it. If they are interested, we have a process we go through. Staff is very engaged to ensure that if communities want to come together and become an REN, we’re more than happy to help them do it.
MR. JOHNS: The last time we were together, actually we spoke a little bit about the RDAs that used to be around and the differences between the RENs and stuff. I was much more familiar with the RDA form of economic development versus the RENs. I am curious to know, now that the RENs have been in operation for a little bit, are there any shortcomings or suggestions for areas of improvement that either yourself or staff are seeing in the program?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I can say that we’re always looking at ways we can strengthen it. Sometimes it’s geographical adjustments to the REN that play a part in it. Municipalities may want some adjustment. The biggest difference I see with the RDAs and the RENs is that these are private sector-led, where before they were government-led. I think this is a more transparent way of expending public funds under these models.
You’re always going to see improvements when you’re dealing with as many municipal units as we are. We’re constantly monitoring who has concerns and who has successes. We have seen a number of successes come through it, and we see situations where we try to make adjustments to reflect the region that they represent.
It’s always going to be a moving target, but for us the important thing is that we want communities to engage with one another. We want them to move beyond traditional municipal boundaries. We want to make sure that we’re as transparent as possible in that process as we expend public funds towards economic development initiatives across the province.
MR. JOHNS: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I certainly want to reiterate what I said the first time when we talked. You have always been very open and forthcoming with me whenever I have had any concerns or issues. I certainly appreciate that - the same with the staff as well.
I do want to recognize that the last time we were together, there were a number of questions. I did receive a supplementary from staff that followed up on any of the questions that I raised at the time. I certainly appreciate it and thank both yourself and staff for that. With that, I’ll turn the remainder of the time for the PC caucus over to my colleague.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Just in response, the Municipal Affairs staff are a pretty incredible bunch of people who do a ton of work travelling all over our province to support municipal units. They’re also involved with the public safety of our residents and the emergency planning with our residents. It’s an honour to do this job.
I think we have a great relationship because we are both former councillors, so we both took our shots at the government in our day. Now ironically, I’m in this position. Listen, I always have an appreciation for your comments because you were a councillor. Not to take away from any of my other colleagues who weren’t because there are other people who have worked in municipal units. You just have maybe a little bit of a different perspective on the department, but you get it because you have lived it.
I have always noticed that you had a deep appreciation for what we’re trying to accomplish. My commitment to you is that, as we move forward in some of these changes, you’re going to see them. You’ll have my full access for any questions or concerns that you or your caucus members may have. I hope it will be more positive than negative, which I think it will be, because I will make the commitment to you to keep the lines of communication open. Thank you kindly.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We’ll turn it over to Ms. Smith-McCrossin.
MS. ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I have a few questions. They’re mostly fairly broad.
The first one is on the same topic as the RENs. I’m not sure if you have had a chance to meet anyone from the Cumberland Business Connector. That’s the REN model that we have up in Cumberland, and it’s unique. I just want to say I’m so proud of the business leaders there. Susan McIsaac was one of the first ones to kick it off. I didn’t know if you had had a chance to meet with any of the board members of Cumberland Business Connector.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Actually, we did. It was when you first started. I actually went to your office, and I talked to somebody. You weren’t there. You were out doing the good work of the people of your riding. My commitment to you is that when we go back, and I hope I get to go back soon, we try to engage all the MLAs, regardless of political stripe, to make sure that you have full access to us while we’re there and you know why we’re there.
It was a great experience. We met with some of the business characters. We also met with some of the business leaders in the community and talked about some of the challenges you face, some of the things you talked about in the House in regard to that border connection with the community. We did, and we’re always open to those conversations. I have said this in the House - if there is an economic project or any other project for that matter, that you are engaged in as an MLA in conjunction with your municipality, we’re more than happy to hear it. If we can’t help you directly, we try to steer people in the right direction.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Awesome. We have a big project on the go. I’ll be calling you.
I find it interesting that the RENs are through Municipal Affairs and not the Department of Business. Why was that set up that way?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I guess the best way for me to describe it in my time is that Business is a bit more policy. We have such a strong relationship with our municipal units, and we wanted to engage local government in the process. The REN allows us to link local government with our private sector partners, a very transparent way to expend public funds. I think that’s why it ended up in Municipal Affairs.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I’m so proud of the municipal governments, both of the Town of Amherst and the County of Cumberland. We have very strong staff and strong councils. They’re working really well together currently.
I’m curious about the plans for the future within Municipal Affairs to look at the different municipalities around the province and look at amalgamation. Is there going to be a push towards that? We have certainly seen some dissolutions around the province - some forced, some not forced. I’m just curious. What is going to be the direction of your department?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I can’t speak for future governments, but I have said this on the floor of the House when your colleague, the member for Pictou East asked the question. We will not force amalgamation on anyone. I don’t believe forced amalgamation is the answer. I actually think that we could waste a lot of precious time trying to do that. That’s not the solution for me.
When I say that, if communities wanted to have an open conversation about amalgamation, I would not deter that conversation either. That would be a role we would play as a support to those communities. If that was the path that they wanted to take, they would have that option.
For me - and I believe for many of us - we respect the history and tradition of those elected units and the role that they play in representing the people who elected them to do that. I just really want the municipalities to start collaborating more with their neighbours. That’s where I think we’re going to be the most successful. You mentioned two municipalities. The success of one is going to be the success of the other. I think that there are some conversations that need to happen around how both can benefit from regional projects. That’s where the REN comes in. For me, forced amalgamation is not the answer.
As you have been hearing through some of my dialogue in the media or in the House, talk to your neighbour. We want you to break down those traditional boundaries, but we respect the fact of who you are. You have your councils. You have that history. We will embrace that. We will support that. As a province, we need to look at ways that we can think regionally without amalgamation. It can happen. It absolutely can happen.
I think CBRM was an example of an amalgamation where - and I was 15 at the time, but my uncle was a councillor. I kind of lived it, too, because municipal politics has been in my family a long time. That was a case of an amalgamation that, in my opinion, didn’t provide the tools to reflect what they are as a region.
In Amherst, you have multiple municipal councils, but you’re still a region. I think we can support both of those groups, and I think they can support one another. That’s where I’m going to be. That’s our philosophy. That could change down the road, but I personally think forced amalgamation is not the way to go.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: They definitely have a good working relationship and have several shared service agreements. I’m just curious about the bigger picture.
Back a few years ago, Laurel Broten had come out with a report on taxation and had several recommendations for taxation reform here in the province. You look at commercial taxation specifically and the change of retail and the deterioration of a lot of downtowns and what comes with that - empty buildings and decreased property values. What is the long-term vision when you’re looking at commercial and residential property taxation? Are you projecting making any significant changes in the way municipalities currently tax?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: We’ve actually taken one small step in Bill No. 177. Are you familiar with Bill No. 177? It was passed two years ago, so it would have been just before you would have started. There’s actually the ability for municipal units to do phase- in tax agreements in downtown areas. That may be something that my staff can give you some more information on as well. That may be something that could benefit your downtowns.
This is part of the municipal modernization. We went out and did our consultation. We’re taking that information. We’re working closely with the UNSM and our municipal administrators and the village commissions to look at what economic tools we can provide to municipal units across the province. As I have always said, we’re willing and able and open to meeting with any municipal unit that has a project. If we can do something to support, we will. If we can’t, we can steer you in the right direction. We do our very best to do that.
In regard to taxation, that’s a larger conversation that I have not finished yet. That’s the residential side. I think there’s an education component to this that needs to happen before we decide, as a collective, how we’re going to proceed. I’m trying to do that part of the process now. We’re out engaging our municipal partners in regard to future taxation, but there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done on that. I don’t want that to sound like I don’t want to try to do something with it, but I can’t, in all honesty, give you a direct answer right now because I just don’t have it.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: That’s okay, it is big, but I think it is something we probably need to be looking at too. I don’t know what other countries do, but a few years ago when I was studying more specifically downtown commercial tax rates, I got into looking at some areas where commercial and residential actually pay the same tax rate.
I will put on my employer hat and say it’s challenging for businesses to be paying oftentimes double the residential tax rate and often being provided with similar services. Sometimes if you’re right in the downtown core, you may have more snow removal services or something. When you’re looking at the pressures on the business community with increasing electricity rates, increasing property tax rates, and the push for increasing the minimum wage, business can take only so much. As margins get smaller and smaller, we’re seeing more and more small businesses close around the province.
It’s an interesting topic to look at. I always scare municipal councillors if I bring up the idea of changing the way they collect taxes because nobody wants to see their budget decreased. However, no matter what level of government you’re in, you always have to be cognizant of where you are getting your money from. People can only give so much.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: It’s a great conversation. You look at some situations where you have communities that face those challenges. They talk about how geographically they don’t have the ability to expand, so how do we help them generate some more growth and prosperity within their communities? That’s all part of what I have been hearing on the tour. There’s an appetite for change, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I think all of us have to come up with some really solid suggestions on what that would look like. I just don’t think we’re there yet.
I can say this much, I’m as flexible as I can possibly be when it comes to projects that come forward from municipalities. We advocate very hard, when federal funds come to our disposal, to look at what those breakdowns of percentages look like. The voices of municipalities are there.
Kudos to my staff, who do an incredible job advocating for our councils on a daily basis. That’s there, but we have a lot of work to do on some of those other pieces, and I still have to figure that out - totally honest.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I’m going to ask you a more specific question. The other day, our friends in the NDP put forth a bill around the children’s oral health program. One of the things I had brought up in speaking to that bill was prevention. One of the things that’s well researched and well known is the benefits of fluoride in the municipal water supply. I think we’re sitting at around 50 per cent, and it has come up in Cumberland recently. Pugwash has a new water system, and the Municipality of Cumberland hasn’t yet made a decision on whether they are going to put fluoride in the water. We have had some local dentists share their expert opinion. We have had local community health boards lobby the county council to try to convince them of the benefits. Do you have any advice on how we could try to increase the percentage of municipalities that have fluoride in their water?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I actually dealt with this at CBRM when I was on council. There was a great debate at the time because there were some opponents to it. Then we had the medical community professionals come out and talk about it.
There’s nothing that’s mandated under our department to determine it. Ultimately, the decision is with council. I don’t know if I could provide you with any advice, just with the response that we would not have any say in that. I do understand where you’re coming from because it was a very lively debate at home which ended in the council leaving the fluoride in the water because the fluoride was actually there. Your council has the decision to make.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Did they leave it in the water there?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: They did, yes.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: When I see the Department of Health and Wellness and the different departments, if we were able to have the different departments working together for greater outcomes, I think that Nova Scotians would benefit.
We look at the cost of fluoride, and we look at the results and the outcomes as far as decreased dental cavities, in children specifically. When I found out that 25 per cent of our surgical OR time is for children, pediatric dentistry, it’s phenomenal. If we could reduce that to even half and have that OR time for other surgeries that have big wait-lists - everything is all interconnected.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I’ll say this in a broad sense, not specific to this issue but issues in general, what we try to do - I don’t know if you were in the room when we were talking about how we have no partnership framework with UNSM. Essentially what we try to do is ensure that, as policy is developed and designed, we do our very best to ensure that communication is free and open with our municipal units so that they can flow information to municipalities in regard to decision making. That’s just a high-level response to that.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I want to bring up an area that you may not want to talk about, the Municipal Government Act, the amendment we just passed. I had brought it up in the House, that there’s differing opinions on this in Cumberland County. As a former business owner, I was always very frustrated by the fact that we couldn’t compete with our neighbouring province. The reason I was always given was the Municipal Government Act. The municipality didn’t have the ability to be flexible with land price and/or taxation.
I did hear you say in the House that your department would be willing to work with any municipality moving forward. I’m just wondering, if Cumberland had an industry that was interested in coming, and they wanted to be able to compete with Moncton, would your department be willing to look at that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Yes. First and foremost, absolutely, as I said, I’m on the record. I have said to your municipal partners that I want to be as successful as possible in this position. I’m doing my very best to do that.
Like any initiative that comes forward, we put it through a pretty extensive process. Bill No. 85 has been a very public process. This started back in November with CBRM council. There was a public session. This is where the requests and the motion came from. To get to the point where we’re tabling legislation and passing it, they went through a very extensive process.
We told them that this has to be vetted, so they went and got a third-party independent review. PricewaterhouseCoopers came back and told them that they would need certain economic goals. It’s a low-risk approach to what they’re doing. We vetted it through trade to ensure there were no trade issues or concerns that came forward, and it also came back low risk.
Then we looked at it against what we have done in other projects across the province historically, what we did in the Strait and what we did in Guysborough. Halifax is probably the more recent, more relevant example where they actually defined land in their regulation and gave council the opportunity to look at tax agreements. We would do that with any project.
If a municipality came forward and said, we have this idea or this potential opportunity, what we would do is go through this process. We don’t just blanketly say we’re doing this or we’re doing this. We have to ensure that it is - the other part I should mention is that public consultation is very important through all this for us too. If there was a project, we would put it through the processes that it needs to get to a point where we felt that it’s in the best interest of an economic opportunity for the province. Absolutely, we would look at any of that. We put it through a very extensive process to get it into the room across the hall.
If there is something, and your council wants to meet, I’m more than happy to meet with them.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I don’t always have the support of the actual CEO or staff in this because of the fear, and I think it ties in with how the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce responded, sort of the race to the bottom.
The other argument is if you can incent a business or an industry to come, and they’re going to be there for the next 50 years, and you are competitive enough to attract them, then your economy is actually better off in the long run. In business, you have to be competitive, and our municipalities, in a sense, are in business, if they are in competition trying to attract new industry.
We have definitely been at a disadvantage not being able to compete with our neighbouring province. Time and time again, I have seen industry going to the Moncton area specifically. That’s great for Moncton because they have grown so much, but it’s frustrating when I see that we could have had them if we had been able to be competitive.
I will share that there has been some talk, and I’ll just sort of plant this seed here today. The industrial park in Amherst definitely has some vacancies. However, the pieces of land are quite small. We have lost a couple of significantly large industries because we didn’t have the space in the industrial park for what they needed. They were a much larger operation.
We have been chatting informally a little bit about trying to expand our industrial park on the other side of the highway. If you know where the industrial park is now, the land is mostly owned by the county. If you are driving to New Brunswick, it’s the land on the left side of the highway. It has been an idea passed by previous councils in the past. If we move forward with that, one of the pieces will need to be infrastructure for water and sewer, which actually is needed quite desperately by one of the local businesses, the Wandlyn Inn. That business has struggled for a few years, and one of the main reasons is because the federal government has given them a deadline of when they have to have a new septic system. There has been a lot of good work between the county and the town with looking at putting in new infrastructure, but the bigger picture would be also expanding the industrial park around the same time. I don’t know what you think about an idea like that.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: What you’re saying is, it would be a partnership between the town and the county. That’s exactly where we want the municipalities to go. I believe that’s going to be one of the keys to success for the province going forward, these inter-municipal partnerships, and we’re seeing them. As you said, there are service agreement relationships. We see energy partnerships with Antigonish Town and Berwick. As I said, the bill we just passed isn’t the first time that we have done this. We have done this multiple times, and it’s going to happen again. This could be one of those times it could happen again.
These opportunities are going to come, and as flexible as I want to be in trying to steer you through that, I think the important thing is if both of your municipal units are in this together. This is going to be the success of our province, those inter-municipal partnerships, breaking down those traditional barriers to ensure that, as economic opportunities arise, we can capitalize on them. There’s shared benefit - there’s shared risk, and there’s shared benefit to it too. If they’re both involved, they should both share the benefit. That’s our conversation. That’s what municipal modernization is about, breaking down those traditional barriers so that as opportunities arise, everybody benefits - not only both of your communities, but the province also benefits. The province benefits from a development in Amherst as much as it benefits from a development at the Port of Sydney and as much as it benefits from a development at Melford or in Halifax. That’s where our focus is.
I would be very interested to see it, and I hope I get the opportunity to reach out to your councils. As I said, if your councils want to have a conversation, I’m more than happy to have it.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: I’m hoping that this project - I’m certainly going to be pushing for it. We know we would need federal government involvement as well. Back probably 15 years ago, I remember the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce worked a lot on the Atlantic Gateway model. I remember being really excited about that because Amherst is right in the middle of it. I know that Debert has actually grown a lot and has a huge area there with distribution centres. There’s a lot of potential for that along that whole corridor. We would love to attract some of that type of business. It just makes sense geographically. We’re in the perfect location.
I’ll end my questions and comments by just saying that you are always welcome to come up to Amherst, in Cumberland County. It’s a beautiful part of the province. We’re looking forward to a lot of good economic growth, and we’ll be looking forward to working with your department on that in the future.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I appreciate the questions. I had the opportunity to be in your community, and it was a great experience. Please pass on to your councils my appreciation for having me and staff. Staff is always engaged with the community. Again, if something arises, don’t hesitate to reach out to the department, and we’ll make sure.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We will now switch over to the NDP caucus with Ms. Roberts. It won’t be quite an hour.
MS. LISA ROBERTS: I’m going to start by asking about the windfall that is going to be invested in wireless and Internet coverage. I’m just wondering if the minister is aware of the projects that Annapolis County has undertaken to build its own - I don’t know if it’s middle mile and last mile. The property and the legacy of their investment is community ownership of that infrastructure. What do you think of their success? Do you see potential for other municipalities?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Thanks for being here. You were here the last time too. I appreciate the conversations that we can have.
I think that’s a great success story, what’s happening in Annapolis. I’m aware of it. It really speaks to how, as we roll out this investment and as more information becomes available, I think there are going to be multiple solutions to expanding broadband service within communities outside of our major urban centres.
I suspect that you’ll see more municipalities possibly under similar agreements because I think it’s going to take multiple solutions to get to where we want to go. It was the largest issue we heard on our tour. Actually, when I started the tour, I thought it was going to be roads, but it was Internet by far.
I’m very excited with the investments that government is making. It’s a big, significant move towards the larger picture of trying to expand broadband across the province. I think the Annapolis community project is great. I think you may see more of it as we try to find solutions to expand across rural Nova Scotia.
MS. ROBERTS: One thing I’m always trying to understand, having never been where you are inside government, is what role the minister or even the department has in making sure that business, for example, is aware of successful models. How do you promulgate things across departments? Obviously, the UNSM is often out there trying to get messages through. Do you play a role in quarterbacking stuff and doing the connecting and communicating?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Absolutely. I view it, and I’m sure most do, as our biggest role. The municipalities need to have access to connections and support within the provincial government. We play a very significant role in advocating for municipalities. It is the most primary role we play, whether it’s on this initiative or - look at the federal programs that have been announced. The Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, we’re involved with millions of dollars advocating for municipalities. The new community fund that’s coming out, there is $820 million in that fund, and we play the role of ensuring that we’re advocating the concerns that are brought forward from municipalities in regard to funding breakdowns or getting through the documentation to ensure that they have the ability to access those funds.
It has been a great relationship, and our staff works incredibly hard to make sure that municipalities are in the right place and the right frame of mind to ensure that they can access those funds such as for public transportation. We work with many municipalities on public transportation. We’ll be working closely with them on this, absolutely. We will be advocating on their behalf. We will tell the stories in Annapolis, and we will look at the models across the province that could be used to help expand it.
One of the reasons this significant investment is being made is because of the tour work that we did. I made it quite clear to the Premier and to my colleagues that this was, by far, the biggest issue we heard on the road. That’s not to take away from the other concerns and projects and aspirations that other municipalities had, but it was consistent from day one that this was the issue to support economic growth in municipalities across the province.
It’s exciting. I can assure you that we will be advocating extremely hard for municipalities as funds are distributed to make sure that they can access it.
MS. ROBERTS: Municipalities obviously are related by the UNSM. I know that they have recently revised their resolutions process, the way that they prioritize things and bring them to the floor of their annual conference or convention.
To me, UNSM resolutions are sort of like Auditor General recommendations. Maybe they don’t have quite that heft, but they’re like something to be checking back on, how it has advanced. For citizens and for municipal politicians, is there a repository of the outstanding requests and whether they are being actively pursued, where you can see what the progress is?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: There is a process now. In the past, and I remember my time with UNSM, you would get a multitude of motions. Kudos to the UNSM: they are trying to streamline that a bit. What we do is, we have a mechanism now. We also have our round table discussions with the UNSM. It’s kind of an update on where those resolutions are for them. That came up at our last meeting.
I think the biggest thing, moving forward with the UNSM, has to be the partnership framework. There is a framework designed by the former minister in conjunction with the UNSM. You can see it. There are nine recommendations in it that talk about collaboration and talk about ensuring the proper communication flow so information can be flowed about government decisions, whether it is Municipal Affairs or other departments. That’s the role we have committed to, ensuring that they are well aware of what’s coming down.
I’ll give you a couple of examples, not to list them off. It also goes into the review of the Municipal Government Act and the HRM Charter. It goes into some of the other services - fire service and EMO - those reviews that we make sure they’re engaged in and developing protocols to make sure that people are aware of legislative and regulatory changes and the impacts. It has been really good in the last couple of years. Again, the UNSM is taking the lead on that with our staff, and kudos to the former minister for developing that. I was happy to sign off on that with the current president of the UNSM a few months ago.
Dialogue is very open and transparent. As I said, we want to make sure municipalities have as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions as legislative policy changes come from us.
MS. ROBERTS: Obviously, I represent a very urban constituency. I have very good relationships with the two municipal councillors who overlap with my constituency. I do hear on occasion - to some extent from them and to some extent from former councils and from citizens too - that there has been an experience of a long debate about whatever issue in council that then results in a letter from the mayor to the province saying, can we please make this change? That sometimes results in a two-year or three-year wait, or sometimes there’s no response ever.
Is the Municipal Government Act review going to change that? If so, how? If not, why not?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I don’t know how that’s going to look at this point. I can say to you that this was the conversation I had with Mayor Savage and some of your colleagues, exactly what you said, the timeline it’s taking to make decisions because we have only two legislative sessions, and something comes through. We’re trying to get to a point now - I’m very cognizant of that. That’s something I believe is a barrier to the HRM.
I also believe that that’s going to be something we have to look at across the board with the full MGA review, how we get to a point where everybody is comfortable with a process that’s more free-flowing and faster for decision making. My goal is to get there. How I’m going to get there yet, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s something that is top of mind for me. It’s an issue for sure.
MS. ROBERTS: Quite a few years ago now, I was a campaign manager for a municipal election campaign in Halifax. That was my first real political experience. We had a number of public conversations in the course of that campaign around election finance reform. I think that conversation contributed to an initiative at HRM to look at election campaign finance reform more formally.
I was, at one point, quite hopeful that we would see some real results from that and change before the 2020 election. Frankly, I’m no longer feeling so confident because it seems to have gone off the radar, but I might be wrong. I wonder if you are on top of that or if you would be able to update me.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: To the member’s question, I don’t have a timeline on that yet. I know that, through this process, committees have been struck and could be struck to look at electoral reform and financing specifically. I don’t have a timeline for you. We can have a future conversation on it if you want to see what else we can find out or any more information you want to provide. I haven’t talked about it since I have become minister.
MS. ROBERTS: I’m going to turn to taxation and actually start out with a more rural situation, which is something I also had the opportunity to raise with the Minister of Agriculture, and that is taxation of land. Does PVSC officially fall under you? Yes.
I know, for example, that in both Inverness and Annapolis, there’s real concern about agricultural land going out of production. One of the barriers perhaps, or certainly something that doesn’t help to incent agricultural land remaining in production, is that the taxation rate on agricultural land is quite low, regardless of whether or not it is actually being used for agriculture.
I believe in Prince Edward Island, the taxation rate is significantly different for agricultural land that is under cultivation and agricultural land that is not. I believe that there is also a difference in taxation for non-residents. If you own a beautiful farm that you enjoy for the view in Inverness County, and you fly in for a couple of months to go golfing, you would pay taxes differently on that land versus if you were a farmer who was living in that house and actually working it, or even if you leased that land to a young farmer who wanted to cultivate it.
I’m mostly wondering if that’s on your radar and if it’s something we can look forward to seeing some work done on.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: After consultation with staff, I’m going to have the gentleman who just explained it extremely well give you a call. Essentially, there’s a grant in lieu that’s involved from the province for acreage for farms and stuff. It’s something that was actually brought up in some of the other discussions we had across the province. He just gave an amazing response to your question, so I’m not going to try.
MS. ROBERTS: I would like to hear it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Unfortunately, he’s not allowed to respond.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: He’s not allowed to respond in here, but as I have said, our staff is always extremely accessible to MLAs who have questions.
It is something that actually came up in some of the conversations that I had. We’re in early days of looking at any kind of different tax structure for that. He’s going to give you the full meal deal on what we do here. He was talking about P.E.I., too, so I’m not even going to go there.
MS. ROBERTS: I’m glad it’s now on your radar. One of the things I did not realize until quite recently is how much of property taxes actually flow to the province through mandatory provincial taxes that come through property tax. In HRM, I always thought my property taxes went to the city, and my provincial income tax went to the province. In fact, the province receives about 29 per cent of the property tax in HRM.
There was a proposal recently. I know it came from Deputy Mayor Waye Mason. I’m not sure if it has endorsement from council. It was to look at trading some of those points which currently flow to the province for housing. The municipality wanted some of that scope itself to do housing.
I have a lot of public housing in my district and also a keen awareness of where the province is, frankly, really falling short in housing development. Just for example, for all the conversation we have in the House about both rent supplements and public housing in general, all the metro regional housing stock - both rent supplements and the actual public housing stock - is intended for either seniors or families. We know many people who are really struggling to find housing are actually single individuals and single individuals with disabilities. It’s also the bulk of the caseload for income assistance, and we know that the income assistance rates are far below what anyone needs to find a dignified place to live.
I would be really interested in the city, which seems to have a real interest and energy for housing, having the capacity to do some of that work. I’m wondering if you are in support of that proposal or if there’s openness to that.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: At this point right now, there isn’t a lot of change. I’ll make this commitment to you. This is all part of the municipal modernization process, and some of your council colleagues here in Halifax are engaged. I’ll make sure that your comments are brought back to the committee so that, as they do their review, it will be part of it.
MS. ROBERTS: The property tax cap, is that also part of the review?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: You asked me this question last year.
MS. ROBERTS: I know. What has happened?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: This has been a conversation across the province as well. I don’t have a path forward at this point. I know that this is something I have talked about before as well. I still believe there’s a significant education process that we’re trying to embark on as we do our consultations across the province. There are some who feel that by removing the cap, it would be very detrimental to their communities. We also see the challenges that the cap has in HRM and CBRM specifically. That’s where I hear a lot of the conversations.
It’s top of mind. The conversations we’re having regarding municipal modernization, we haven’t figured out a formula that would replace what we have now, but I’m very cognizant of the conversation. It has been something I heard when I was a counsellor as well. We’re going to continue those consultations on the public education side of it.
MS. ROBERTS: As I understand it, the issues in CBRM and the issues in HRM are different. In HRM particularly, property tax values have been going up. There isn’t so much the disparity of new sale to old stock. The issues are very different. Certainly, there are many cases where it’s not clear how it is equitable - the situation on a given street.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: You’re absolutely right. That’s the biggest challenge that we hear, that inequity. You hear the examples of somebody who just purchased a home. It’s the same home as their neighbour, and that inadequate level of taxation is there. Government is trying to take some initiatives to help support first-time home buyers, which will help combat some of that.
It’s outside of our department, but this has been a long-standing conversation. Eventually, we’re going to have to come up with some sort of rationale for an alternate way of doing things. Until we get the public at a level where they’re comfortable with us having that conversation, we have some work to do.
MS. ROBERTS: I would argue that the public rarely wants to talk about the details of how their taxes are calculated.
I think that engaging groups - for example, even CARP Nova Scotia. There’s the equitable impact of a young family with two kids possibly paying for daycare also paying really high property taxes at the same time they’re trying to pay off their student loans. That demographic is really hit. Also, I hear about the perverse impacts of it when it comes to seniors. Seniors cannot afford to move out of their homes because they have their home paid off, and their property taxes are really low. Even though they can’t negotiate the stairs, and even though the house might be falling down around them, they’re not going to leave. There’s a bunch of different issues there.
I would never argue to force someone to leave their home, but at a certain point when you have a four-storey house, and you’re living in your living room because you can’t get up to the second floor – obviously, there is a whole host of things to unpack there, but property tax actually becomes a piece of it where somebody might actually want to downsize. I’ve heard this exact situation where somebody wants to downsize to a bungalow, but they won’t downsize because their property taxes would go up so much. Then there’s a misallocation of housing for people’s stage of life.
I actually would not want to be the politician who would try to stick-handle a review. Nova Scotia used to have a way of consulting with people where we had Voluntary Planning, those long processes with people representing different stakeholder organizations that engaged in consultation and came up with proposals. It strikes me that something like that is needed where UNSM appoints a few folks, and the province appoints a few folks, and you actually equip them with the capacity to do the consultation, including a whole bunch of people who are good at numbers - better than me. Anyhow, for what it’s worth.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I appreciate it, and I am sure everybody around this table and their colleagues on all sides of the floor have heard this issue before. I don’t want to avoid the conversation. I don’t think we can avoid the conversation. I think that we have to be very careful that people understand that there are some impacts of the cap that are affecting communities across the province.
There has to be a solution or an alternate that takes a couple of things into account - the public education piece of it and also protecting our most vulnerable Nova Scotians through this process. To just blanketly remove the Capped Assessment Program would be - I don’t even know what word I would use. We have to make sure that whatever review happens in the future, whatever discussion happens in the future, there has to be an extensive public education process.
It also has to keep in mind the protection of our most vulnerable citizens in this. We have to look at our programs and our services, and we do a lot as a government to try to support our most vulnerable, outside of this conversation, with our pre-Primary and some of the new initiatives that we are doing. We want to keep people in their homes, and the removal of the cap would have to be done in concert with looking out for those most vulnerable Nova Scotians who could be severely impacted by just the removal of it. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re engaged in that.
We had this conversation. This conversation has been going on before this government. I remember being on council having this conversation. We would talk about those scenarios, about those examples on the streets and the people who have student loans, and they’re trying to purchase their first home. We’re trying to look at initiatives for them through some of the programs we’re offering. It has been long-standing and eventually an alternative could be found. I’m trying to move that conversation forward to determine what that alternative potentially could be, but we’re not there yet.
MS. ROBERTS: My argument would simply be that I don’t think the politicians - respectfully, to all of us, including myself - are going to land on the alternative. I think it actually needs to be a conversation that happens one step removed from government to arrive at that.
I don’t know how much time I have left exactly (Interruption) Not long. I’m interested in climate change adaptation and mitigation and land use planning in particular and zoning - well, land use planning is zoning. What are the initiatives of the department in that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Just before I start, Madam Chairman, how much time do we have?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ten minutes. You need to do your statement. I’ll give you a minute to do your statement.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: If I could have two minutes at the end just to thank everybody, that’s great.
There are a number of initiatives we’re involved with. There’s the National Disaster Mitigation Program, which we administer. It’s a 50 per cent cost-share with the federal government and the municipalities. We have had municipalities utilize the program. We administer and disburse the funds on their behalf, so that’s one thing.
We also have our own program through Municipal Affairs. There’s a $500,000 budget for it. The name of it escapes me at the moment. (Interruption) Flood Risk Infrastructure Program. That’s for municipalities, and we use it to help look at areas prone to flood risk. Those are two initiatives that we’re involved with.
We’re involved on the EMO side as well. We work with municipalities in regard to their emergency plans. Every municipality is responsible to have an emergency plan, and we work very closely with them to ensure that they have the resources and the planning and the tools necessary that we can provide to them to help them with those plans.
Then there’s the Municipal Climate Change Action Plan. We’re engaged as a partner with them as well, through the planning process. We provide support, too, with municipal planning to do whatever we can to help municipalities plan and set their planning strategies around some of the flood risk that may exist in their communities. There’s a number of initiatives we’re involved with.
MS. ROBERTS: A number of years ago now, I heard concerns from environmental groups and also from the Insurance Bureau of Canada around continued real estate transactions of properties and also development of land that actually should not be developed at this point, given coastal erosion and given increased storm surges.
How much property out there do you feel is potentially at risk where a new homeowner could be purchasing it not realizing that a nor’easter in January could take it out or that it’s five years away from that?
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: I don’t have the exact number or the acreage of land that is available, but I can say that we have a very strong relationship with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. After the Cape Breton flood, we actually had those conversations about our process and their experiences through dealing with that disaster and other events that happened across the province.
We are mapping now. We’re really trying to get a grasp on how much land is actually out there so that we can work with the municipalities in those areas of flood risk. You are right. We don’t want residents or municipalities getting into situations where they’re doing development in uninsurable areas. We’re very extensively mapping and working with the Insurance Bureau of Canada and working with the Department of Environment and other departments to determine the best map forward for planning for municipalities.
We’re doing that on a daily basis. I have only been in this position for 11 months, but it’s very prevalent now because of what has been happening, not only in Nova Scotia. Really, you have seen more events happen across Atlantic Canada and across the country in the last number of years. We just want to make sure that we can give the municipalities as much information and resources necessary to do adequate and proper planning to ensure that we don’t get into situations where residents are residing in and developing areas of high flood risk.
We’ll do our part. I can tell you that staff is doing a tremendous amount of work now, working with them and with others.
MS. ROBERTS: Thank you.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Thank you. I appreciate it.
I’ll just conclude by thanking you for today and the multiple conversations and the discussions that we will have on other issues pertaining to Municipal Affairs moving forward.
I’m so proud and honoured to have this position. I’ve said it a few times throughout the afternoon, but I’ll take the last of the time I have to thank all the staff in Municipal Affairs for the support they provide to me in my position and the support they provide to all Nova Scotians and municipalities to help us grow. We have been very aggressive in our agenda in trying to support legislation that is reflective of the work that we complete on a daily basis with our municipalities and their long-term goals and aspirations. We’re going to continue to be aggressive in that work. We have a great relationship with our municipal units, and I believe it is only going to get stronger in the future.
I want to thank both Darlene and Deputy Dean for being here with me today and everybody in the back who scrambled to answer some of the questions I couldn’t answer, and the communications people in the back as well.
How much time do we have left?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Two and a half minutes. Keep talking.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Listen, if anybody has a quick question (Interruption) Sure.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Glavine.
HON. LEO GLAVINE: I was wondering about the streetscape program and how that’s going to roll out.
MR. MOMBOURQUETTE: Excellent question - thank you for asking it. This program was actually a platform commitment from our government. This is something that we heard about from some of our communities across the province. We are starting with a $500,000 program. It is geared towards tourism.
This is also for the larger urban areas too. We don’t want Halifax and the CBRM to think they can’t apply, because there are some more rural areas within your municipality.
It is geared towards tourism. We’re looking at projects between $10,000 and $25,000. Community organizations can partner with municipal units to go after those funds. We’ll look at signage. We’ll look at facilities in public areas. We’ll look at some greenery, flowers and shrubs, et cetera.
We’ll continue to monitor the program. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to support that initiative that communities want to beautify their downtowns to support encouraging new members of their communities. Thank you for that question.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E16 stand?
Resolution E16 stands.
I call this meeting closed and the hours done.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 3:02 p.m.]