HALIFAX, FRIDAY, MAY 6, 2016
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Keith Irving
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to call the Subcommittee of the Whole House on Supply to order, please. We are here for four hours to debate the Department of Environment's main estimates for our budget this year.
Resolution E7 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $36,800,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Environment, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to begin by welcoming the minister and asking her to begin with some opening comments. The minister may also wish to introduce her staff.
The honourable Minister of Environment.
HON. MARGARET MILLER: It's a great pleasure for me to be here today. This is my first time doing this. Normally I was sitting in your chair, but now I'm on this end taking the questions, which I think is going to be a little bit harder.
I would like to welcome my staff here. I have extensive staff for support here today. At the table, I have Shawn McNutt and Deputy Minister Frances Martin, so I thank them very much for being here.
Mr. Chairman, it's an honour to present the details of this year's budget for the Department of Environment. As I said, with me are Frances Martin and Shawn McNutt. Shawn is the manager of financial services for my department.
Mr. Chairman, Environment's role is to protect the environment, human health, and animal health by providing regulatory excellence, conservation, partnership, and promotion. The department does this through five primary pieces of legislation: The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, which we call EGSPA; the Environment Act; the Wilderness Areas Protection Act; the Special Places Protection Act; and the Water Resources Protection Act.
We also enforce the Acts of other departments and more than 100 regulations as they relate to water, designated protection areas, and industry regulations. Our mandate has expanded to reflect the direction set out for us in last year's budget. As members may recall, our government committed to separating the sector development roles from the province's regulatory role. As a result, more than 100 people transferred to the Department of Environment from four other departments. The consolidation was an opportunity to create a structure that would support improved services to Nova Scotians.
Over the past year, the department has been working to integrate all of the different ways that we protect the public, our environment, and our natural resources to reflect the department's expanded and varied mandate. At the end of March, we introduced a new organizational structure founded on these three divisions: the inspection, compliance, and enforcement division, which they love to call the ICE division; the sustainable and applied science division; and the policy division.
Staff at the inspection, compliance, and enforcement division are responsible for most field operations relating to environmental protection and the effective management of our natural resources. The division responds to requests for environmental assistance, issues approvals, and conducts investigations. It also enforces the regulations through its regional and district office network, ranging from conservation enforcement and fisheries inspection, to environmental health, food safety, meat inspection, animal health and welfare, and environmental protection.
The sustainability and applied sciences division provides subject matter expertise, policy development, program leadership, and support to the department and the province. The team focuses on mitigating short-term environmental impacts using regulatory, policy, and educational tools, as well as advancing the long-term environmental and economic sustainability of the province by promoting innovative and creative approaches towards environmental protection and sustainable development.
The policy division is responsible for legislative review, policy development, analysis, and research to ensure that our environmental laws are all fair and effective. The division also administers Nova Scotia's environmental assessment process. As of April 25, 2016, when the new reporting structure took effect, this division has new capacity for leading a culture of continuous quality improvement. It also assumed responsibility for reviewing decisions as part of the ministerial appeal process. Moving this function from the inspection, compliance, and enforcement division to policy further separates the work of the administrator from the individuals tasked with reviewing this work.
Each division plays a critical role in helping us to deliver effective and efficient regulatory management in our work to protect Nova Scotia's environment. The new structure will help staff apply the law and regulations more consistently and effectively. It will enable staff to better access and share expertise and maximize opportunities such as training. Above all, it will be a foundation for improving the quality of the department's work and help build greater trust among the public. The integrated approach will help us reduce unnecessary burdens on business, which in the past have had inspectors from different departments show up on the same day to do inspections.
As I mentioned, our scope is now very broad. Some of the staff refer to us as the department of everything: the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, the Environment Act, the Wilderness Areas Protection Act, the Water Resources Protection Act, Non-essential Pesticides Control Act regulations, the Dairy Industry Act, the Animal Protection Act, the Health Protection Act, the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act, and the Forests Act - 35 piece of legislation and more than 100 sets of associated regulations. Everything from abattoirs to air pollution, fish farms and migratory and endangered species.
Some staff are now public health inspectors. They support and enforce legislation aimed at protecting health, from new body art regulations to tobacco control to addressing public health hazards. Other staff are conservation officers responsible for protecting forest resources, protected areas, wildlife, parks, beaches, and wildfire investigations, as well as hunting and fishing compliance.
We have people working on compliance, regulatory inspection, and enforcement of regulations for fish processing, buying, and aquaculture at hundreds of sites. We have regulatory inspectors from the agriculture and food operators branch, mostly from the food protection division and a few from the agriculture protection section. Protected area staff secure and maintain ecologically significant lands such as wilderness areas and nature reserves.
All of these people work to maintain the integrity of Nova Scotia's environment. Integrating all of this work is key to our new structure and the transformation of our department. Our people have a common vision for Nova Scotia Environment, "A leader in regulatory excellence, conservation, partnership and promotion, we protect the environment, human health and animal health."
Our experts working in policy, sustainability, and applied science, and in communications work to review and modernize legislation, regulations, and policies; and to set the standards for industry, municipalities, and citizens to protect our air, our land, and our water. We work to communicate about that work so that Nova Scotians understand and comply with our laws.
Now under the new consolidation structure, our people will be undergoing training that will help transform how we do things to encourage a more integrated approach to our regulatory functions and responsibilities. Training is critical to transforming the department. It enables staff, as roles have expanded or changed, to do their new jobs. It helps us see how we fit into the newly transformed department and how we will interact with new colleagues and learn from each other.
In the environmental health and food safety division, we have fisheries inspectors who need training to become conservation enforcement officers. Conservation officers train to be conservation enforcement officers. Environmental health inspectors train to become public health officers, and food safety inspectors to become environmental health officers. A fur inspector becomes an environment inspector, and environment inspectors learn to do fur inspection. District managers with environment backgrounds and district managers with food safety backgrounds are all learning new areas. All of this training, which will be taking place over several months, will help our people work better together. It's a challenging time for our people at Nova Scotia Environment.
Mr. Chairman, in other progress, we have met our land protection goal under the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. Under the Act, we were to designate at least 12 per cent of the province's lands by the end of the 2015 calendar year. Now, 12.26 per cent of our lands are designated as protected areas. The newly designated sites were identified through the province's Parks and Protected Areas Plan after consulting with municipalities, the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq, community groups, industry, non-government organizations, and hundreds of individuals. Staff at Nova Scotia Environment and Department of Natural Resources have worked to balance many interests across departments and with community groups, industry, non-government organizations, and hundreds of individuals over many years to ensure the land protection process was open, accessible, and fair.
What are we protecting? Wilderness areas protect nature and support wilderness recreation, hunting, sport fishing, trapping, and other uses. Nature reserves offer the highest level of protection for unique and rare species or features. They are used mainly for education and research. Provincial parks and reserves protect a wide range of heritage values and opportunities for outdoors recreation, nature-based education, and tourism.
The province has now protected 110 properties identified in the province's Parks and Protected Areas Plan. That's impressive, and this includes 50 wilderness areas, 52 nature reserves, and eight provincial park properties. It's a significant achievement, as Nova Scotia's extensive coastline, pristine lakes, and parks make it one of the most beautiful places in the world. By reaching our land protection goal and keeping these lands natural, they in turn can protect biodiversity and provide places for all of us to enjoy now and into the future.
The province will continue to manage protected areas with a focus on protecting nature while supporting opportunities for outdoor recreation and education. We will continue to build relationships with partners - municipalities, Mi'kmaq communities, recreation, tourism, and conservation groups - to help realize the benefits of these protected areas.
How are we going to manage all of these sites? We will be prioritizing our management efforts and working with our many partners. Staff are currently working on a management and planning framework to guide our efforts, both at the provincial level and for individual sites. Our wild spaces play a crucial part in responding to climate change by capturing and storing carbon dioxide and by producing oxygen. They allow fish, wildlife, and plants to thrive in their natural habitats. These sites conserve nature, and they also have a big impact on local economies. They provide jobs and attract visitors' dollars in nearby communities through nature tourism. We aim to reach the 13-per cent goal, but our focus is to effectively manage what we have designated. This work involves developing management plans with partners and identifying opportunities for the public, end-resource resource use, and ecological sites at risk.
Mr. Chairman, Nova Scotia's wilderness areas provide exceptional opportunities for diversifying rural economies through nature-based tourism. Having lands legally protected gives businesses the confidence to develop tourism products that rely on long-term accessibility to natural areas with access to trails, lakes, and forests. For example, Trout Point Lodge is an internationally recognized luxury wilderness resort poised on the edge of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and attracts visitors from around the globe seeking an experience with nature. The lodge was also a leading advocate for the recent recognition of the region as an international starlight reserve and starlight tourism area, a designation made possible by the dark skies over the Tobeatic Wilderness Area.
The issue of climate change made headlines around the world in the past year. The COP21 meeting in Paris saw the gathering of global leaders. My predecessor Minister Delorey also attended the meeting and represented Nova Scotia's interests. Of course, Nova Scotia is not immune to the impacts of climate change. We are already experiencing it. More frequent and intense weather events are becoming the norm. We know that there is more to be done, but we also know that our made-in-Nova Scotia approach is working.
Nova Scotia has aggressive targets that are reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, we are well on track to surpass our 2020 GHG reduction target. Already, we have reduced our GHGs by 17 per cent below 1990 levels. Our provincial goal was to achieve at least a 10-per cent reduction over 1990 by the year 2020. Last August, Nova Scotia joined New England governors and eastern Canadian Premiers in a commitment to reduce the region's emissions to between 35 per cent and 45 per cent below the 1990 levels by 2030. This success is due in part to our equivalency agreement with the federal government. The final agreement, signed in 2014, is about reducing emissions in the electricity sector, our largest emitter of GHGs.
Mr. Chairman, we tabled the EGSPA progress report just yesterday. The report outlines the progress that we have made in greenhouse gas reductions and how we're moving forward on integrating environmental sustainability and the economy to the benefit of Nova Scotians today and future generations. The goals and overarching objectives are aimed at achieving sustainable prosperity. The report includes a brief overview of some of the new direction that the government has undertaken along with examples of other key initiatives which contribute to the Act's long-term vision of integrating the environment and the economy. The 25 goals are grouped under cleaner energy, climate change, healthy air and water, leadership and sustainable practices, protection of biodiversity, and sustainable management of natural assets.
As of March 31, 2015, 12 goals have been achieved, and 13 are currently works in progress. The report includes what progress has been made and what outcomes are maintained with respect to the achieved goals. The report is based on information and data available up until March 31, 2015. Our staff collect the information and reports and data from across the government in order to report on our progress. By the time we release the report, and we are looking at how we can do this more efficiently, our goals and targets are actually even in better shape. For instance, Nova Scotia is on track to beat the 2020 goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent from 1990 levels. Emissions are already down by 17 per cent. This demonstrates the effectiveness of our made-in-Nova Scotia approach to climate change.
The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is linked to our equivalency agreement with the federal government, as I mentioned, and many other sustainable practices and initiatives in our province, from producing our energy to protecting our air, water, and biodiversity; greener building practices; promoting local food; developing active transportation; and sustainable management of our natural resources. We exceeded our target of 25 per cent renewable electricity in 2015 and are on track to meet the 2020 goal of 40 per cent renewable electricity. Our greenhouse gas emissions are projected to be 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, well below Nova Scotia's legislated target of 10 per cent below.
We protected more of Nova Scotia's landmass and biodiversity. By the end of 2015, we had protected more than 12.26 per cent of our province, meeting the EGSPA goal. Wild spaces play a crucial part in responding to climate change by capturing and storing carbon dioxide and by producing oxygen.
We are continuing to build using sustainable practices. More and more buildings are undergoing certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, more commonly known as LEED.
We are improving the quality of Nova Scotia air. The province has lowered nitrogen oxide emissions by 40 per cent, surpassing the target of 28 per cent below 2000 emissions by 2015. I mentioned the 2014 equivalency agreement to reduce coal-fired greenhouse gas. Provincial regulations provide equivalent or better emission reduction compared to the federal rule. We are advancing sustainable transportation. The Connect2 program connects residents with each other and community hubs.
Mr. Chairman, Nova Scotia is achieving many of its environmental goals through the energy sector. Over the last few years, we have made significant progress increasing the use of cleaner and renewable energy sources and reducing overall demand through energy efficiency. We will continue to invest in tidal and solar energy innovation and sustainable transportation and modernized regulations that encourage responsible sector development.
Nova Scotia has aggressive renewable energy targets that are reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We exceeded our target of 25 per cent renewable electricity in 2015 and are on track to meet the 2020 goal of 40 per cent. New community solar projects will be installed in public buildings across the province. There's new funding for smart energy innovation to find ways to incorporate intermittent renewable energy. There's new tidal innovation funding to support tidal projects that reduce costs and increase our competitiveness on the global marketplace. The Sustainable Practices/Provincial Capital Assistance Program is supporting municipal green-building practices. The province contributes toward the cost of high priority municipal projects.
There is a 30-per cent reduction in greenhouse gases from the waste sector since 2002. When organic matter decomposes in a landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Nova Scotia's disposal rate is 15 per cent lower than the Canadian average. More than 4,000 people work in solid waste and resource management.
We are promoting innovation through globally competitive energy research and development. Examples are the Marine Renewable-energy Act, new in-stream tidal feed-in tariff, and agreements to fund innovation research projects.
The province is laying the groundwork for private energy vendors to be able to sell their renewable electricity directly to consumers. The province is beginning to allow consumers to choose from whom they purchase electricity and what kind of electricity they buy.
Energy efficiency for low-income households benefits 1,300 Nova Scotians every year. The province legally requires Nova Scotia Power to invest in energy efficiency when it is the most cost effective for ratepayers. Efficient LED streetlights are the law in Nova Scotia.
Buying and eating local food helps reduce greenhouse gases linked to transporting goods from other areas. The Select Nova Scotia marketing program increases consumer awareness and makes local goods easier to identify thanks to strong help from industry partners.
The Path We Share, A Natural Resources Strategy - much of our economy is based on sustainable use of our natural resources. Government continues to implement this plan for 2011 to 2020 with sustainable resource development an overarching goal.
In addition to work on the goals, there are many initiatives under way in our province that make progress towards achieving our vision of sustainable prosperity. These include regulatory reform and efficiencies by Nova Scotia Environment, the equivalency agreement with the federal government that I mentioned on the reduction of coal-fired greenhouse gas, agriculture's awareness programs Think Farm and Farm Next, the Cape Breton Privateland Partnership pilot project, the wild Atlantic salmon enhancement program, the agriculture regulation review, the municipal climate change action plans, the Production and Innovation Voucher Program, the Aboriginal economic development fund, the electricity plan, the Marine Renewable-energy Act, and the tidal feed-in tariff program that I mentioned earlier.
Mr. Chairman, we still have more work to do on meeting the EGSPA goals. There are 25 goals. We have achieved 12, and 13 are in the works. I acknowledge and thank the round table for its ongoing work and commitment and especially for their help in developing greener economy recommendations last year. The 2016 mandate letter directs the Minister of Environment to ensure the integration of green economy objectives with shared economic goals rather than providing a stand-alone strategy. The Departments of Environment and Business are working towards that goal. Thanks also to the many businesses, organizations, and individuals who are helping to move us forward to sustainable prosperity. In 2017, we will be leading the review of EGSPA, which is legislated to happen every five years.
In January, the province's new fur industry regulations came into effect. Nova Scotians want their environment protected. Government has listened to the concerns raised by communities about mink farming and consulted with them as regulations were developed the Department of Agriculture. After three years working with mink farm operators to help them understand and comply with the regulations, the vast majority of the fur farms subject to the regulations are now in compliance. Of those that aren't, the department has taken enforcement action that ranges from warnings to compliance orders. Four farms received summary offence tickets. We recognize that fur farming is an important industry in Nova Scotia, and we are balancing that with a need to protect the environment.
Mr. Chairman, I wanted to tell you about some of the initiatives and programs that will support economic development and innovation and also deliver on our mandates to protect public health, animal health, environmental health, and manage our natural resources. As I mentioned, a major driver for consolidating regulatory inspection was to improve the climate for doing business. Nova Scotia Environment is sometimes the first point of government contact for proponents of new development. Environmental permitting establishes the site specific operating conditions that prevent adverse effects and often helps businesses achieve social licence through the required consultation process. We need clear rules for businesses that reflect environmental risk and compliance history.
We also need to make it easy to comply by streamlining our processes and using technology. We are changing how we handle low-risk activities to focus on activities that pose the highest potential risk to the health of Nova Scotians and the environment. For instance, last year, we made changes to our watercourse alteration program. How would you build a bridge or a culvert? Now we are streamlining our approach to on-site sewage systems. These changes will reduce red tape and streamline processes and also ensure that standards are met and audits are done. The new way of doing things, by using notifications and other processes, will allow staff to focus less time on paperwork and more time in the field preventing higher-risk activities.
Another initiative is updating our risk-based inspection model. We want inspectors to focus their valuable time on regulated entities. We need to know how to assess the likelihood and the impact of non-compliance, how to focus higher-risk poor performers into compliance, and lessen the burden on regulated entities that are performing well. In many instances, we also need to ensure that the party responsible for the mistake pays for it, rather than the taxpayer.
Dealing with contaminated sites is a major concern. Our contaminated sites regulations now provide a clear process for returning brownfield sites to productive use. Regulatory clarity will also make it easier for business by aligning provincial requirements with federal requirements to avoid double regulation. Consistent and fair enforcement and compliance across the province is a priority. That's part of our work to transform and restructure the department. One example is consolidating and standardizing our approach to fisheries and aquaculture inspections for aquaculture sites, buyers, processors and vendors.
There are initiatives that provide opportunity for innovation and industry growth. One example is our solid waste program and regulations. We have the lowest disposal rate in the country. There are over 4,000 jobs in the waste diversion industry. Bottle deposit programs support more than 80 small businesses and 600 full-time jobs. We can maximize our scale and efficiency for recycling and involve the private sector more. We can coordinate across municipalities and co-operate more.
Modernizing our regulations under the Environment Act has been a key focus of the department's work. This includes consulting on proposed changes to onsite sewage, changes to watercourse alteration guidelines, and getting feedback on administrative penalties. Now, some types of watercourse alteration will only require a formal notification to the department versus an approval. Industry information on these changes is available online, along with a guide for property owners.
We have reduced administrative burden by moving to a notification system while maintaining regulatory oversight. As of May 1st, on most on-site sewage system installations, we will no longer require approval from the department but formal notifications instead. To be eligible for notification, the system and its installation must meet the new onsite sewage disposal system standard.
These changes came about after much consultation with industry and other groups. Our goal is to become more efficient and effective regulators, reducing the burden to Nova Scotians while still achieving strong environmental incomes.
Mr. Chairman, you may recall that in 2014, government introduced air quality regulations that placed new emission limits on the electricity sector for 15 years. The regulations are designed to improve air quality for Nova Scotians and offer potential savings on power rates in a way that is more affordable for Nova Scotians.
In keeping with our work to improve our air quality, I am very pleased to advise that Nova Scotia has lowered nitrous oxide emissions by 40 per cent. This surpasses the target of 28 per cent below 2000 emissions by 2015. Also, Nova Scotia has lowered sulphur dioxide emissions by more than 50 per cent, surpassing the target of 50 per cent by 2010, relative to the 1990-to-2005 emissions allocated. We've also launched provincial air quality management zones in line with the national Air Quality Management System. This includes the use of more stringent, Canada ambient air quality standards for particulate matter and ozone.
During the last fiscal year, Mr. Chairman, we had 10 projects registered for environmental assessment, and three were wind farms. It's funny - the first time I ever had any contact with wind farms was in the year 2000. My husband and I had just finished farming. My parents are Dutch immigrants, and it was such a pleasure to go with them to Holland and see where they were brought up, and certainly windmills were the norm in Holland. We actually went into the northern polders, and we saw all the mills going. At that time, we actually even heard the noise that was coming from them because they would have been the first generation of windmills.
To see what that country has done with the windmill system, to see what they have done in producing their power, was certainly an incentive to me. I can tell you that on a personal note, that going to Holland with my parents was something I will never forget. They are both gone now, but we had that opportunity to go with them and see where they grew up, see the places they played, where they dated, where they met, where they were born. There was such a history there. I had the opportunity to even go and see the place that was the prison during the German occupation. My father had been held prisoner there for several weeks until just before the war ended. But to go there and see the old windmills - to see that technology and how far it has gone.
About a year later, I had the opportunity to go on a Baltic cruise, something everybody should do if they ever have the opportunity, and again to go to Copenhagen and to see the windmills there in the water. Your cruise ship is going by, and there is not a whisper. It shows the difference in the technology, where we are and how much we've progressed. These are all things that I find very interesting.
I love taking that drive to the New Brunswick border and seeing the windmills there. It is becoming the symbol of Nova Scotia, that we are celebrating and using our wind energy to the maximum.
In 2015-16, we also continued our work with other partners in the region on harmonized approaches to contaminated site management.
Mr. Chairman, as you can tell from my remarks, the department has made notable progress this last year. I can tell you that the last three months for me have been stunning, the amount of information. I came into this department in mid-January, and there has been so much information that has passed before me on so many files.
I have to commend the staff for the work they have been doing. The presentations that have been brought forward by my deputy and the staff have certainly kept me informed of almost every situation there is, I believe, but in a way that was not flooding me with information. It was coming to me at a pace that was absorbable. You could understand it, and you could really see the impact. Seeing all sides of those stores was very beneficial to me. I can't say enough about the work they are doing and how impressed I have been by the members of the staff and what they are doing.
In closing, we know there is much more work to be done, and our work continues as we enter this new fiscal year. I am pleased to extend my personal thanks to the staff of Nova Scotia Environment. As I said, I've been in my role only for a few months but their dedication to our mandate is evident.
Probably every minister thinks they have the best staff, but my staff are environmentalists. This isn't a job for them. When I think about the protected areas and the people who are involved - they love what they do. They believe in the mandate of our department, and they are working hard for us. They are working hard for all Nova Scotians. They are committed to protecting the health and safety of the public and the environment and to managing our natural resources responsibly.
At Nova Scotia Environment, I have seen their determination for field operations, for environmental protection and for assistance, approvals and investigations. Mr. Chairman, department staff do important work, good work, on behalf of all Nova Scotians, and I thank them. I welcome your questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just before we move to questions, with so many in the gallery, I thought I would just orient folks here a bit. This is the Subcommittee of the Whole House on Supply, and this is our 10th and final day of the debate of these tiny documents, which are the budget for the province for the fiscal year 2016-17.
In this subcommittee, we have four seats to my left reserved for the Liberal caucus. The Opposition Parties and independent member have four seats on the right here, usually rotating between the dedicated critics for the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party for the department that is presenting.
Today we have the Minister of Environment with her Deputy Minister and financial staff to respond to questions. We have four hours. We alternate between the Parties in one-hour blocks of time for questions.
To my colleagues here at the table, as we have been doing during the session, we are a little less formal. After acknowledging the questioner and the minister, I will allow free flow of questions and answers, unless we start talking over each other, and then I will interject and keep decorum.
Just one other reminder - and it's a constant challenge to remember - to refer to others in the third party, as if you are directing your questions and responses through the Chair. With that, I will turn to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Welcome to all the students. It's really nice to have you here.
I want to thank the minister for her comments. There was a lot of information there that was very helpful. I also want to thank her department. I know it has only been three or four months since you've taken on this huge portfolio, and it's a big one. It's a big concern to everyone, the environment. I congratulate you on the position that you received, as well as your dedication to the portfolio.
To start, we all know there's been an increase in the budget, and I would think that is more specifically due to creating these enforcement branches that came from other departments. I would like you to confirm, is the total increase in the budget due to those being transferred over, or what percentage of that increase is due to something else?
MS. MILLER: Besides the inspection services - that certainly played a big role because we were taking funds from the departments and bringing it to Environment. Those funds came from DNR, Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the Department of Health and Wellness. The only thing besides the funds that we received for that was an extra $196,000 for the environmental health legislation computer system.
MS. MACFARLANE: So when I'm looking at the numbers for Natural Resources, Agriculture, Health and Wellness, and Fisheries and Aquaculture, are those financial numbers that I see? Were those numbers that directly came out of those departments? Did they decrease or increase with that transition to your department?
MS. MILLER: Most of the changes were through negotiations with the separate departments, and that funding that was sectioned off for those inspection services did come to our department.
I really want to talk a little bit about the conservation officers and the work they're doing. The conservation officers came from DNR. They will also be working with the environment inspectors. With Agriculture, we have the food safety and the animal welfare aspects. To have these inspection services all together is certainly very beneficial because we're getting shared roles.
As we said, we have one fur inspector. Now if he needs help - when we did the inspections a little while ago, other officers could go with him to provide backup and support for his services.
I think the whole integration of these services has been very important. The goal is to have a state-of-the-art inspection service. I think we're working towards that end. My deputy has worked very hard on the transformation project, and so far we've seen very good feedback from all the people involved.
MS. MACFARLANE: I don't disagree. I think it's probably a good idea to have these enforcement branches under your department. What I'm asking, though, is with this transition, did we lose jobs coming over to your department? Under each one - Natural Resources, Agriculture, Health and Wellness, and Fisheries and Aquaculture - can you tell me if anyone lost their job in that transition? How many employees, exactly, were transferred over from each department?
MS. MILLER: I can assure the member that as far as enforcement goes, there were no layoffs. We have no reduction. Actually, there's probably going to be more - not more people but there are going to be more resources for departments because they're going to be sharing roles. So you're going to see more inspectors actually going out, although the whole number isn't more.
The only layoffs in the whole transition period were just two people, and they were in management. I don't want to say it wasn't an issue, but these were certainly agreeable layoffs. There was no issue with them.
MS. MACFARLANE: Can you give me a breakdown with regard to the four regions - Central, Eastern, Northern, and Western - of how many employees are working in those areas through this transition?
MS. MILLER: First of all, I would like to say that part of that restructuring is that now we have three zones. So there are no longer four. There is no longer a Northern Zone. There are just Central, Western, and Eastern.
We can get that information for the member, exactly how many are in each area. We don't have the updated figures for that. As the member can probably appreciate, this has been fairly recent. It was towards the end of April before all of this was finalized, so it hasn't been a long time.
I can tell you how many people were transferred. From DNR, 56 full time equivalents came over. Agriculture had 44.61 - I don't know how they worked that one out. Health and Wellness had 14.33. Fisheries and Aquaculture had five. If you want that information, we can still find out how many are working in each area.
MS. MACFARLANE: I understand we've gone from four zones to three, but presented in the budget here, I still see the four zones broken down. I'm trying to understand that, sorry. I didn't realize it had gone to three.
MS. MILLER: I just want to clarify on the last point. There were no unionized staff moved from any areas, so people who were working in certain areas are still working there. They're working with the same people. Most of the changes that have been made have been in the management sectors of it to create efficiencies, but in the offices, there haven't been that many.
As for why there are four divisions still in the budget, the rollout came out after the budget was already submitted and printed. Like I said, this has been fairly new, and you'll see that reflected in the next budget.
MS. MACFARLANE: I can appreciate that it is new. I'm just wondering, though, if you can outline whether there's any synergies between these positions that have been transferred to the division. Are you expecting any savings over the long-term plan?
MS. MILLER: What we're seeing is, with fur and agriculture, there's certainly a combination there that's working. With the fisheries, we originally had four officers. Now, in combination with conservation officers, up to 54 people are being trained for fisheries. Agriculture and fur is a combined service too because there's just one additional person who was in fur who now looks after agricultural.
MS. MACFARLANE: I want to thank the minister for those numbers. It's a much larger budget, a big transition. There have to be challenges with transferring these employees over to your department. I'm just wondering if you could elaborate on some of the challenges that you are potentially facing with that transition, if any.
MS. MILLER: Certainly, there have been some challenges. It's the same with anything. Some people love having new roles - like with me coming into this role as a minister. It's a challenge for me, and I love learning things. But you do get some people who are set in their ways and don't like changing. Some of those things, there have been some challenges. There's been a little bit of resistance.
But there's been a lot of meetings with staff on all levels talking about what the transformation can mean and what it can mean to Nova Scotia and the departments. There's been lots of engagement with staff. They've been working very hard with them. They've been doing lots of training. I think as people are getting out of their comfort zone and getting out of training, they're finding out that they're enjoying that as well. The combined efforts and everything that's happening - we've had, I would say, little to no pushback from staff at all.
They've been very accepting of this. It's been a long process. It's been a year that this whole process has been going on. Everybody in the department has worked very hard on this, knowing that there had to be changes to give us that state-of-the-art system that we want. The staff is seeing new opportunities to learn new things - as it is for me. I think it's something that they are embracing in the end.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm curious to know, were there any employees who actually had to move in this transition?
MS. MILLER: By and large, everybody is going to exactly the same place to work that they always had. There's a few in upper management who have maybe changed an office or are in a different position. But to physically have to move, like we saw with the last government, where I think Community Services went to New Waterford from Halifax - there's nothing like that, nothing even close to that. We're trying to keep people in their comfort zones, still near their homes, still near the communities where live, and still able do their job efficiently.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm curious to know out of the positions transferred, were there any designated provincial constables moved in that transition? As well, I'll just throw in, do they carry firearms?
MS. MILLER: There are three designations of conservation officers. The first is the First Nations Officers, and we have three officers who we have long-standing agreements with. They have been working for the department for a long time. We also have conservation officers and fisheries officers. There's three designations, and they do carry restricted weapons.
MS. MACFARLANE: Where would they be trained to carry such a weapon?
MS. MILLER: Most of the officers we employ already have been trained and have a history of being trained by some kind of police - at Holland College for their firearms there. There's also ongoing training.
I asked the deputy about this, too, because I know there's a place in Lantz that does firearms training, and a lot of conservation officers go there to keep up and do training there. They have a subsidiary office and training facility in Shubenacadie where they also do that.
MS. MACFARLANE: Are all the enforcement and conservation officers full-time employees? I think you might have given me the number earlier, I'm not sure. If not, how many are part-time or seasonal?
MS. MILLER: We now have 10 seasonal conservation officers, and we have 40 full-time conservation officers.
MS. MACFARLANE: It is a huge transition, and I would agree at this time that it's probably best to have them under your department. Morphing them together, though, is a big responsibility, and as you said, there probably will be challenges.
I'm curious to know, is there anything going to be implemented or a plan put in place to possibly review it in a year and see if this actually was a good move?
MS. MILLER: I would like to reassure the honourable member that our department has been very aware and watchful to see what's going on to make sure there are no problems or interactions here. We do have a quality group that is in effect all the time. We have also made it very clear to any of these officers or anybody who's been involved in the transition that if they are having any problems or issues in the new role, if there's some tweaks that still have to be worked out, or if they're not really comfortable with something, they should reach out either to their supervisory staff or my department with the deputy and bring those things forward.
We're very conscious that there can be something. Right now we're not seeing anything come forward yet. That's not to say that it won't. When it does, we'll certainly deal with it on a very sympathetic basis.
MS. MACFARLANE: I guess I can assume from that that there isn't a plan in place and that we'll just follow normal protocol as any other department would.
MS. MILLER: I would stress there that we do have a quality group in place. There is a group in place, and it's already addressing all these issues. We're not going to wait until a problem happens and then say we have no way of handling it. We're making sure that there is a way of handling it moving forward and that they're given more than one way so that if they're not comfortable going to the quality group, they can go right to the deputy minister or to the staff person. We're going to make sure that all of our employees are treated the way we would want to be treated, with respect and with respect for their jobs and the role they play in the department.
MS. MACFARLANE: For the minister's information, I'm going to switch gears here. I know historically, the province has provided grants to the SPCA to investigate animal welfare. I'm curious if this is still the case, and if there is a grant this year, how that is spread out regionally.
MS. MILLER: Thank you for this question. This is actually something that I hadn't heard anything about yet, so this information is also good for me. The funding for the SPCA was $240,000. It did come to our department as well. It will be administered exactly the same way that it was going out regionally around the province.
MS. MACFARLANE: That's good to hear. I was hoping for that. But I'm curious what the actual dollar figure is for the Pictou County SPCA.
MS. MILLER: We don't have that particular figure here, but we can certainly get that for you so that you'll be aware of what's in your own area.
MS. MACFARLANE: So we can confirm at this point, though, that we will receive some of the funding?
MS. MILLER: It's my understanding that the administration of the system is exactly the same, so if you got it before, you should still be getting it in the new structure.
I have to add, the SPCA does a great job. We see what they do across the country and across the province and the role that they've been playing in animal protection.
In my previous life as a dairy farmer - it was actually quite funny that somebody reported a heifer. It was an issue that she was pregnant and couldn't reach the water because she was limping. The SPCA investigated. At the time, we weren't really happy about that investigation and even more when we tried to bring her in and nobody could catch her. She was moving that fast, and she could get around real good. But it's still really good to have these officers on-site to make sure because a lot of times animal protection is a factor. We've seen dogs tethered for long periods of time. We've seen animals starved.
I can remember an incident in my own area many years ago where there was a farmer who had gone and bought cattle at the cattle market, brought them to his barn, and left them there. That was it - didn't feed them. They found the carcasses of 30 or 40 animals, I believe, still in the stalls. They were all dead. The people got a $1,000 fine for it and were not allowed to have animals again. Recently those same people had horses. The SPCA, through their work, was able to step in and address it and ensure that these people did not have animals again.
This is important work. These animals are sometimes the things that have been neglected. It's making sure that people do good work. We've seen some of the animal protection legislation that has come forward recently.
We fund the provincial SPCA, but we'll follow up on the specifics of Pictou for you.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you for that. I know everyone is curious about that. My children ask about it especially, so thank you for the answers there.
Home septic installations are a big concern right now, especially obviously in rural areas. I'm wondering how your inspectors or your department is planning to help alleviate some of the unnecessary red tape that may be associated with that.
MS. MILLER: That is an aspect that is going to change, I'm really happy to say. Really soon through the SAP program, there will be a notification process. What's going to happen is, operators or individuals who have businesses that do that type of work will be inspected. They will be licensed, and they will be able to do the work on a notification basis, so there's going to be a lot of elimination of red tape. Homeowners won't have to wait for authority to get a permit in paper. You're going to see a lot of changes there. I think it's something that the field is going to be very supportive of.
MS. MACFARLANE: Do you have a number of incidents last year that resulted in fines from this division in your department? The number of incidents that occurred, basically that resulted in fines, perhaps, from your department?
MS. MILLER: That's not information that we have available right now, but we can certainly get that information for you.
MS. MACFARLANE: So then in this division, what would you consider needs to be updated?
MS. MILLER: In the inspection division or with the inspection of septics?
MS. MACFARLANE: Of septics, yes. Because of it being such a rural concern, I'm just wondering if there's anything that you personally feel needs to be updated to streamline any of the permits or anything to make it easier for people to move forward with that installation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I go to the minister, just a reminder of the "you" word.
MS. MACFARLANE: Sorry.
MS. MILLER: Even as a former chairman of this committee, I still find it hard to do that, so I appreciate your challenge. It's much easier to speak to each other but certainly not in the third person.
What's going to happen with the notification is that operators will have certain guidelines and training so they're going to know what can be done a site and what can't be done. They'll be notifying the department of the progress. They will be licensed according to the department rules and regulations. Then there will be inspections and audits done to make sure that the work is being done properly.
For a homeowner, it's going to be really easy. They're going to be able to hire a professional to come on the site and do the work that needs to be done, and that will be it. They can assume that that person has done it the way that they are supposed to look after the septic system. It will be approved as such. There will be audits just to ensure because we always know that when anybody does work, there is the odd person who does not follow up. We will be doing audits just to make sure that the operators are doing the best job they can for their clients.
MS. MACFARLANE: How much experience would each of these regional managers and executive directors need to lead in this division?
MS. MILLER: Basically, you would expect around three to five years' experience. All of that would be outlined in the job descriptions. We can certainly get that information to you.
MS. MACFARLANE: Are there any vacancies right now for that division? If so, where are they?
MS. MILLER: All the vacancies there are now in the departments are being advertised in CareerBeacon, so they will be filled soon. We have a placement in Bedford that will be available, and also there is a regional conservation officer's position that will also be filled, but we don't have a location for that one yet.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm just curious about youth employment and how many summer job positions there would be through your department and where they're located within the province.
MS. MILLER: Right now in Nova Scotia Environment, all across the province, we have seven summer students working.
Beyond that, I wanted to tell you about a group called the Youth Conservation Corps; I was trying to get a little more information on this. I got a lot of information about them. We are funding them to the tune of $100,000, and this is an opportunity for youth right across this province to do good work that is environmentally related. They are doing stream clean-ups. They are doing solid waste reductions. They have other projects. There's also a dedicated First Nations component to get First Nations youth engaged in this. It's a really good way for young people to get involved with the environment and environmental protection.
More and more, you are seeing people become very strong environmentalists. If they have that background when they are young - a lot of my staff have backgrounds with the youth corps. That's how they got started becoming more aware of the environment and the work they could do to help. Like I said, it could be stream clean-up or whatever. You don't know where they're going to be working. It's all project-based. We're certainly happy to be involving students at this level.
MS. MACFARLANE: I have a couple of questions here. We have seven students employed. Are they university students? That's one of my questions. You mentioned the $100,000 that you have invested in this program, which I think is fabulous, but could you give me a breakdown of what per cent of that number actually goes to First Nations?
MS. MILLER: The youth corps is sounding even more fun. Most of the students are university students. We do have some high school students.
One aspect of this youth corps is, they're getting to be little James Bonds. They are going in to inspect tobacco agencies where people retail tobacco to underage minors. This is certainly with the approval of their parents. They know exactly what they're doing. They are getting to go in and see who is selling tobacco to minors.
I think it would be a fabulous summer job for a student, just to see - kids want to get away with things - see what the stores are doing with that. They also work under Nova Scotia Environment in that role.
Also, we can get you the information on how many are dedicated to the Aboriginal community on that. We don't have that information as a separate entity, but we can get that for you.
MS. MACFARLANE: So out of the $100,000, we don't have a number that actually goes to First Nations. If you don't, that's fine, and you'll get it to me. But if you do, I would like to know what percentage out of that $100,000 goes to First Nations.
Once again I'm just trying to figure out, are these students across the province, or centered here in the HRM area?
MS. MILLER: Yes, those students go right across the province, from one end to the other. They are not all congregated in one area, and they are doing work right across the province as well. We don't have that separated exactly how many are from First Nations, but we can certainly find that out for you.
MS. MACFARLANE: So speaking about youth, and I think it's really important that we have these discussions within our schools, as you mentioned earlier as well, that it's really important to start them at an early age to be aware of their environment and what they can do to reduce carbon footprints.
I am wondering if there are any specific projects that are happening with our schools and if you have a relationship with the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development in developing some programs that would be implemented throughout our school systems.
MS. MILLER: I'm happy to tell the member that we do have some funding. It comes from the federal government. It's not provincial funding. It comes from Health Canada, and it goes to community groups that do school programming, who actually go into the school and work with youth. Primarily their focus has been on climate change and on monitoring air quality.
MS. MACFARLANE: So all funding is federal, no funding from the provincial government to cost-share on these programs?
MS. MILLER: I guess we do fund the Clean Foundation to do air quality in the schools. We also do water education ourselves.
MS. MACFARLANE: Moving forward, I would like to bring up the topic of Mattatall Lake. I believe this lake is between Cumberland and Colchester, and we know there have been some issues over a number of years with regard to algae blooming and toxins destroying the lake. From my understanding, there's about 90 residents on that lake.
I'm wondering if you can provide an update on your end. I'm not sure of the dollar figure, but I think it was around maybe $10,000 or $12,000 from the Department of Environment to do a study. I'm wondering if you can confirm that amount and what actually came out of that study.
MS. MILLER: I would like to reassure the member that we did meet with the group from Mattatall Lake a few months ago. I was really happy when the group came in because I met an old friend that day who I hadn't seen for quite a while. I didn't realize she had a cottage on the lake. I know how seriously she takes it because if she is going to come and see me about something like this, it is a serious matter.
We're seeing it not only with Mattatall Lake. We're seeing algae blooms becoming a reality with more lakes. I know the Department of Environment has given them funding in the last year to do some research on that. There were some answers coming back on different ways to mitigate that - they received $10,000 before - some things coming back from that, some measures they could take. Some were electronic, and some were things they could put in the water, different things like that.
When they came back, they were actually asking again for funding to hire somebody off-site, out of the country, to do a study on the lake and what was happening there. We are working with them, and that was something I know the department is doing. We have the expertise here - we have scientists who are involved - so I really don't think going out of the country is the answer to this.
We're working with the group and Dalhousie on new approaches to the project. This is an ongoing project. There could be many, many factors. We're hearing things - whether it's runoff because there has been a freshly-cut area next to the lake, whether it's fertilizer that's coming off all the lawns, or whether the lawns are too close, and there needed to be a buffer in place. I think we're going to see this as we have climate change, and things warm up and stay warm. Certainly we can look at the last winter and what that was like.
We're going to have more and more issues like this all the time, so I think it's going to be really important to work with Dalhousie, to work with our scientists to find a solution. Mattatall Lake is maybe the first one that has become really apparent. They have a really good group there that has been very vocal and made their opinions known very well. It's something we will be addressing in the future and looking for solutions for many Nova Scotia lakes.
MS. MACFARLANE: So was the $10,000 not to address what the issues were and then find a plan to resolve them? As you stated, you have the expertise through your department, which I would agree with, so why aren't we doing something now to clean it up instead of waiting for the situation to get worse? I believe that's probably one of the reasons why they wanted more funding, because they felt that perhaps the department is not moving fast enough with the proof of knowing what is going on there.
As you have indicated, regardless of whether it's clear-cutting or for whatever other reason, something needs to be done now. I would suggest to your department that if something is not going to be done now, perhaps give them more money so they can find someone who can come up with a result because it is quite a serious issue. I'm just curious about what you believe you can perhaps do to speed this process up. The $10,000 that was given to them - what company actually conducted the testing for them?
MS. MILLER: The Mattatall group is very vocal, and they are working really hard because this is important to them. Their cottages are on this lake. It's so apparent when you look at the pictures and you see the algae blooms. Certainly, it is worrisome from their perspective, but it's also worrisome to know that this is not going to be an isolated incident. A lot of people have their houses right on lakes. There is no buffer for anything, so it continues to be a challenge.
Resolving the issue, it would be nice to be able to snap your fingers and say, okay, that's going to clean up the lake, and that's going to do it. We know this didn't happen over one or two years. This happened over the long term. The lake probably changed its chemical composition, contributing to the algae bloom.
We've been seeking advice from the department staff and from the Dal scientists. We're more concerned - I shouldn't say more concerned - we are certainly concerned with what's already happening at Mattatall Lake. To come up with a solution of how to fix it is something we're going to continue to work on. More than that, though, we want to make sure this doesn't happen in other places.
The Dal scientists have told us that we are working the right way, our staff has got the right direction of how we can address algae blooms and prevent future ones. I am quite hopeful that we're going to be able to do something for the people of Mattatall Lake as well.
MS. MACFARLANE: Excuse me, perhaps I missed it. I'm curious - where was the $10,000 spent? Was it Dalhousie, or was it an independent company that conducted testing?
MS. MILLER: The majority of the funding did go to Dalhousie University, but if the honourable member wants a specific breakdown of exactly where the $10,000 was spent, we could certainly make that available to her.
MS. MACFARLANE: I would like to see that, where the actual $10,000 went. As well, their request to receive more money - is that a dead end for sure?
MS. MILLER: My department, the Department of Environment, has been working already with the staff and with Dal scientists. I think before we start throwing money at a problem, we need to address and see what we can do. We think we are going in the right direction, working with the staff and with the scientists that we have already working on this program and working to find a solution without spending money. If it doesn't work out, then certainly we're always going to be receptive to them asking again.
MS. MACFARLANE: Are you concerned about the issue of bacteria actually causing any health concerns, though? It is a lake. I'm told by some of these families that they and their children are on the water. Bacteria is a huge concern. I'm curious if you are concerned, with the summer months coming, that we should ban being on the water there. What are your thoughts?
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member's question, I'll say again that this didn't happen overnight. Certainly the Department of Health and Wellness does recommend, if you have algae in your lake, that you not use your lake. You probably shouldn't be in it, because of the connection with that.
We have a lot of areas like this where people can't use their water. That's the first thing you say, oh now we can't use our lake because there's algae in it. But this didn't happen overnight, and the solution isn't going to happen overnight. We are going to work towards it, and we think that by using this approach and dealing with the staff and the scientists, hopefully we'll find a solution soon.
MS. MACFARLANE: That sounds like you're advising not to take any water activities on the lake this summer.
MS. MILLER: I think that you would find that across Nova Scotia, there's probably a lot of places you can't use the water. We certainly heard from the LaHave River people who used to have swimming there. They are not going to do that anymore, now that they know what's there.
The thing is that most people don't realize what's in their water. I have a pond near my house too. I know how much algae is in that pond, and there's no way that I'm going in. We won't even speak about the turtles in the pond - I'm not going there. This is an ongoing issue.
I do have some figures for you now on Mattatall Lake. The $10,000 they received went directly to the Mattatall Lake group, and they used it for their lab costs for the analysis of the water from Mattatall Lake. About $5,000 went to Dal. It's a separate project to look at how we can support non-drinking water areas generally. They've had a few things going on, and that's where the money has been allocated.
MS. MACFARLANE: So it was $10,000 to the group and an additional $5,000 for Dalhousie? That's my understanding. Okay, thank you.
I'm going to move on quickly here to EPR. It has been an issue that has been going on for years. It seems like all governments hall all been involved with it, and we don't seem to be making any headway. I know Minister Delorey had it on the table, and then Minister Younger . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Please do not refer to former ministers by proper name.
MS. MACFARLANE: I do apologize. Past ministers - our first minister - I'm not sure how to word this, Mr. Chairman. One had it on the table, and one took it off the table. I'm wondering if you can update me in your role where you are at with EPR?
MS. MILLER: EPR has been a question that we've been talking about, not only in the House. Some of my colleagues involved in small business as well have been strong advocates not to have an EPR program or else to have a really high rate.
People have been talking about this. Certainly, anybody associated with the municipality - I think one of the first questions I have for my own municipality was, when does an EPR program come in? They consider it as way that they would have extra funds coming in for the municipality. It certainly would be to them.
You know as well as I do that Nova Scotia is a world leader in solid waste management; we've already been doing a really great job. First, I want to talk about waste management. We are producing 384 kilograms per person, which is half of any other province in Canada. We've been doing an amazing job. I got a notification from my municipality just last week that they're down to 315 kilograms per person, so that's even better.
We've spent some time consulting on EPR. The general feedback supports it, but there was a disagreement about what the system should look like in Nova Scotia. Based on this, we decided not to expand the EPR program to include paper packaging at this time so we can fully assess and analyze our options.
We are working on the matter, and I'm going to be meeting with municipal reps from across the province soon to talk about this. Right now, EPR has to have a strong business case, and it must improve the environmental footprint and performance, not just shift the costs around. If EPR moves ahead, it will be a full EPR model, and for paper and packaging. But it needs to be something that's going to work for business in Nova Scotia and that's actually going to improve waste reduction in Nova Scotia.
MS. MACFARLANE: Have you had the opportunity to meet with representatives from CFIB on this topic?
MS. MILLER: I haven't met with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business yet - I certainly have as an MLA, but not as the minister. I appreciate their concerns on this. We are working with the Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness on this, and we're working through the business case to make sure that there is a good business case for it or not.
We need to do our homework. We realize this has to be a balance between the cost to municipalities and to business.
MS. MACFARLANE: It's frustrating to know it has been on the table for so long. Two and a half years ago with the past minister, I was under the impression, through estimates and through Question Period, that we were almost at a conclusion on what we were going to do. What work has been done previously that will help you assess and determine what the outcome is going to be, and when do you anticipate having an answer on this?
MS. MILLER: EPR is a complex problem. What has happened in other jurisdictions - we do jurisdictional reviews on most things - is that other jurisdictions have had some issues with it, and now they're trying to resolve those issues.
We're going to make sure, before we bring in any kind of a new program, that it's going to be the best program possible for Nova Scotia, and there's not going to be any hiccups. We want to resolve these possible issues before they happen. I can't give you a definite time frame on that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has elapsed for questions from the Progressive Conservative caucus. We will now move to the New Democratic Party caucus.
The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River.
MS. LENORE ZANN: First of all, minister, I would like to congratulate you on your new position. It must be very exciting. I know there's a lot of work that goes into trying to learn a new portfolio quickly, but you seem to be taking to it very well.
I know it's not easy when you've had certain stances as a citizen and as a MLA and then, when you become a minister, to have to look at certain pieces of legislation or situations on the ground that perhaps are not following along in your government or Party line. I know there have been a couple of difficult situations for you already with regard to Alton Gas and even with regard to Northern Pulp. Now there seems to be a number of other things coming up with quarries around the province. A lot of people seem to be concerned about that issue.
First of all, I'm going to get to the budget part of it. So you've had a consolidation of enforcement officers - I'm sorry if somebody has already asked you these questions. There has recently been a consolidation of enforcement officers. With all these officers now located within the Department of Environment, were there any job losses at all associated with this consolidation?
MS. MILLER: This has been a long-standing process. The department and my deputy have been working on this for over a year, so it has been a long progress.
With the consolidation, there was a lot of consultation with all the people involved with this. They knew something was coming for a long while. They discussed the roles and where they are. With the change, of course, we're improving the situation. We're making sure that officers can - there was only one fur officer with the Department of Agriculture. He is now working with other conservation officers. We have conservation officers with Fisheries and DNR being able to work together.
It's going to create a lot of efficiencies for us as a government, making sure that, when we need additional officers in any role - there is a cross-training involved, so they are all learning new roles, which I appreciate is sometimes hard to do. I think, on the whole, most people are really embracing that.
There have been no unionized losses to date at all. Only two people did lose their jobs. One was a layoff - I guess both of them were layoffs - one person I think was going to retirement fairly soon. There were no layoffs of officers at all - these were upper staff management levels.
MS. ZANN: Upper staff management levels you said. The people who were investigating all the turkeys and chickens, are they now in the Environment Department rather than the Agriculture Department? The food safety handlers, are they all there now?
MS. MILLER: Yes, it would have been agriculture inspectors at that time, and now they're also with the Department of Environment under the food safety aspect.
MS. ZANN: What was the reasoning for putting them all in the Department of Environment?
MS. MILLER: I'm sorry. I didn't hear you.
MS. ZANN: I'm just curious, what was the reason for putting all of these inspectors - the meat inspectors and safety inspectors for food - into the Department of Environment?
MS. MILLER: What we found is that different departments each have inspection divisions, and each have their own policies and their own inspectors. Sometimes, as in the fur industry, there was only one inspector. If there was a role where something was going on like recently with enforcement about changing regulations, he would be the only boots on the ground.
Bringing all these services into one sector under the Department of Environment, now we have inspection services that will be state of the art. If they're not already, they're going to be there pretty soon. There is a lot of training going on. People are cross-training their different roles, so now that fur inspector has someone to help him. We have fisheries officers and conservation officers now that are going to be able to help each other when things arise. It means that it's a more efficient system, and it's going to work better.
The departments will have their own regulations. We certainly aren't setting up regulations for food safety. We're not setting up regulations for Agriculture or for Fisheries and Aquaculture. Our inspectors are enforcing the regulations that are already in place, under Environment.
MS. ZANN: When you say they're only going to be paying attention to the environmental aspect of it, then what about the food safety part of it then? I'm not quite sure what you mean by that.
MS. MILLER: We're not just looking at the environmental aspect. These inspection services have all gone to Environment. We're not just looking after just that. It certainly is still food safety under the Food Safety Act under the Department of Health and Wellness or the Department of Agriculture.
We cover about 35 different Acts. This is not only the environmental aspect of that, but certainly what's in those Acts themselves. We've just taken on the whole inspector compliance issue.
MS. ZANN: So that means then that the daily operations for some of these officers has changed?
MS. MILLER: Absolutely it has. On a routine day, conservation officers will still be doing the same thing, but when they're called on to assist a former fisheries officer, they'll have a little different role that day. I would think it would make a more interesting day for the majority of them. They're learning something new. They have new skills, and they have new training. It's just enlarging their job a little bit.
MS. ZANN: There were some concerns that I've heard raised about this consolidation, that it's part of a move towards general inspectors that are not really tied to any particular department. Do you see any truth to this?
MS. MILLER: We've been very careful with this whole process to make sure that the roles can still be identified the same. We have fisheries and conservations officers working together. It's not a big stretch, going from one to the other. They're not losing their identity. They're still going to be wearing basically the same uniforms, doing the same role. Occasionally, they will be called on to take those other roles.
We have the meat inspectors. We're certainly not going to ask a fisheries inspector to be a meat inspector. That's not going to happen. It has to be roles that are working together and cohesive just to make sure that the inspection service is the best and that people actually have that ability to interact between the two on a reasonable level.
MS. ZANN: So I would take it that the same standards will apply for their training, that in order to be experts in certain parts of the field, they're going to have to have the same kind of training that they were having before?
MS. MILLER: That is correct. Any of these inspectors - a fisheries inspector becoming conservation and maybe working on something with the former DNR inspectors is going to have a little bit different training in order to feel secure in that role. So we're making sure that they do have the best training available and that each of those officers is going to be very comfortable in the role before they go out.
MS. ZANN: Speaking of the fur inspector, does that particular person inspect the mink industry as well?
MS. MILLER: Yes, they do.
MS. ZANN: I'm on the Resources Committee as well, and we know that the mink industry is in big trouble right now, I think mainly because sales have gone down and the dollar and things like this. Many people were concerned and worried about the mink industry and the pollutants from that industry.
I know that when I was in government, we did a lot of things and we made some more regulations that at first they weren't very happy about, but you've got to protect the environment. You can't have all this pollution coming downstream into the lakes and creating all these terrible blooms on the lakes and things like this.
Could you give me a little update about where we are in regards to that situation, please?
MS. MILLER: That's something that we've been very active in paying a lot of attention to. I guess you're going back to accepting that there are good operators and there are bad operators. There are people who get into the business, and they set up perfectly. They're looking at the environmental conditions and the precautions they're going to be able to take. Other people look at it and say, let's set up a few pens here, and let's raise a few mink - whatever. Whether it's mink farming or any other business, you are going to see the same thing.
We were hearing from the industry that there were a lot of mink producers who were not doing a good job, and we were hearing about environmental concerns in the mink industry. This has been a long process - a three-year process. What we heard is that Nova Scotians wanted their environment protected, and we've listened to the concerns of the communities about mink farming and consulted with them as regulations are being developed.
I think this is really important because you don't want to be seen as the hammer. You want to be seen as going out and talking to people and letting the industry set the standard of where it should be. Farm operators have had three years to come into compliance with the regulations that were effective as of January 11th. I think I started the day after that, so it was one of the very first files that I heard about.
First, let me say that if a breeding mink farm has 100 or less animals, they don't fall under the Department of Environment rules. If a person has only a few mink, we don't have to worry about them. They are not within the guidelines of the Department of Environment.
We had 112 farms that were subject to the regulations, and only 19 of them were not in compliance by January 11th. They were already doing a really good job. The department has taken enforcement action that ranged from warnings to compliance orders. My inspectors have worked very hard with those farmers to make sure they had the opportunity to get in compliance. There were repeated visits, and I know in some areas we even changed the requirements so they had a little bit of extra time to get in compliance. There were some big projects like a tank or something. We recognized that there might be a weather issue, being able to get those tanks in place or get some of that work done, so there were a few extensions.
In the end, there were only four farms that received summary offence tickets. I think that that's really good for the mink industry. It showed that they really took on this role very seriously. Our inspectors went on-site to those that absolutely were not going to make any changes - not the changes necessary - and they did receive summary offence tickets.
Fur farming is huge and, as the member spoke about, there was a huge downturn in the industry. I believe they were getting up to $130 a pelt, and I believe it was down to about $30 last year. This makes it almost impossible to still operate, so we had a lot of farmers who decided to reduce their herds. Whether it was because of the environmental changes they had to make or not - I can't speak to their business decisions. Many of them went to under 100 just to make sure that they could stay in the industry and do a little bit, but they weren't losing the vast amounts of money that some of them were already losing. This is all about balancing that need. We want the business to grow. We want the mink industry to grow, but we also need to protect the environment.
MS. ZANN: I'm just wondering - down in the Tobeatic region near Yarmouth with the lakes that are there, I think there was a lake called Lake Fanning where there used to be a summer camp. It got a lot of algae blooming, blue algae blooms, and they were complaining that it was from the runoff from the mink farms that was coming down the river. People weren't able to swim in it or canoe in it or anything anymore. I'm just wondering if you are aware of that situation . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Refer to the minister in third person.
MS. ZANN: I was just wondering if the minister was aware of that situation and if the department could give me a briefing on where we are in that particular area and what's happening with it.
MS. MILLER: That is certainly a situation that my department is very aware of, and they have been monitoring the situation. But to say that it's from the mink industry - you certainly can't identify where that is from. In our last session, we talked a lot about algae blooms and what's happening in a lot of our lakes. We have a lot of issues: people building their homes too close to the lakes, runoff from cut-off areas, or whatever. There's a lot contributing to algae in the lakes. To specify that it's from the mink industry, I can't verify that or deny it. I'm not sure, but I am sure that the investigations are ongoing.
MS. ZANN: Whether it's from the mink industry or something else, the department has been looking into it for as long as I've been in government, so seven years now. Could you give me an update on the status of Lake Fanning and that area in that Tobeatic region and tell me, is the algae clearing up? What is the department doing? What kind of testing are they doing? How often? That kind of thing.
MS. MILLER: I can't speak to that specific lake, exactly what's going on with that. In this situation, we're going to follow up with that information and make sure we get that to you.
As for algae blooms, we're dealing with that in many lakes around the province. We've been talking about what's causing that, whether it's the pH levels of the lake - I'm not the expert on water quality in lakes. But it is a concern, and we've been working with our own scientists and with Dal scientists to make sure that we find out what the cause is of all these algae blooms. This could be very much associated with climate change, but if this is going to be an ongoing factor in Nova Scotia lakes - Nova Scotians want to be able to swim in their lakes. They want to be able to enjoy them. That's something that we want to identify and see what the answer is, what the solution is to change that.
MS. ZANN: As I said, it's been several years now. Maybe towards the end of our time in government, I started hearing about it. Anyway, I've been hearing about it for some time.
I'm very curious because I actually learned how to swim down there. I learned how to canoe down there. I went to a summer camp called Camp Wapomeo, which was a very popular camp. It was beautiful. It's just gorgeous down there, as the member for Yarmouth would attest to, so I do have a personal desire to see it healthy and cleaned up and restored to what it once was.
Is there ever any talk about using the algae that is forming on some of these lakes for energy?
MS. MILLER: I'm not aware of anything about algae to energy, if that technology is even out there. It very possibly could be, but that would be more of a question for the Minister of Business or the Minister of Energy.
MS. ZANN: I just thought that since they are kind of connected, maybe it would be something to look into. If you want to do something with a lot of algae that you have that you would like to get rid of, maybe there is a process of turning it into something that could actually be used while also cleaning the water.
Moving on to protected land, late last year, government reached 12.3 per cent of land that's now protected in Nova Scotia. What is the plan for this year regarding protected areas?
MS. MILLER: I'm really proud of this, the protected areas. I'm meeting with my staff, and their dedication and passion for these protected areas just amazes me. I'm so glad that we have people who are actually working for the Nova Scotia Government, who are working so hard for the enjoyment of the Nova Scotia property for Nova Scotians everywhere. I'm really pleased with that.
We know we have one of the most beautiful places in the country. Now that we know that we have 12.6 per cent of our land base as protected areas, we know that that's always going to remain that way for future generations. It is certainly a wonderful legacy.
I've been meeting with many groups, and we're getting various responses. We have groups that are advocating for new protected areas in their area. Chignecto, there's a group from there by the isthmus. It's a very ecologically sensitive area, so they want to make sure that gets protected.
We have other groups that have come forward, too - groups from the Eastern Shore, groups from different parts. We have other groups that come in that are ATV groups or snowmobile groups that want to have access to these areas through trails. What we're trying to do is make everybody happy, and that's sometimes a hard thing to do. We have trail agreements that are going to be available for groups to be able to monitor different trails to have access to have through-traffic areas, still keeping that diversity.
We have protected areas, and with the protected areas the opportunities are there for tourism. I'm really excited at the thought of eco-tourism. Our young people are much more conscious of nature; I know my children are. Farming, we just took for granted - it is what it is - but my children are much more conscious. My daughter, for her 40th birthday, hiked Machu Picchu by herself. She loves being out hiking and doing things - going out for three weeks to Costa Rica to go see nature. I think we're going to see more of our young people doing that. To know that these protected areas are going to be available to us is very valuable. It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to my department as well - and the opportunities that we have there.
Our mandate is to go to 13 per cent protected area. We will be working towards that. We're identifying different areas now that we consider. We actually have a lot of land that is on the list now. I think it's up to 13.89 per cent that has been identified as possible protected area. At this point, we're only going to be going to 13 per cent - identifying the land where maybe there are no mineral rights issues or things areas can be easily protected or that are particularly ecologically sensitive.
This is what the mandate of our government is. It's a very special project. Again, I want to thank the people for the work they're doing on this. It's amazing work, and it will be benefiting Nova Scotians for generations.
MS. ZANN: Well, the government was legislatively required to protect 12 per cent by the end of 2015. We had a policy plan, the NDP Government that started this, called Our Parks and Protected Areas 2013, Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, to protect 12 per cent by the end of 2015 and then, with the policy plan, to protect 13 per cent. Can you give us an idea when you think the 13 per cent will be reached?
MS. MILLER: The goal is to have 13 per cent by the end of our mandate. We are at 12.2 per cent now, which is actually over the 2015 goal. I look forward to that 13 per cent. I'm already making plans for special things centered around that 13 per cent.
MS. ZANN: So by the Fall then?
MS. MILLER: I'm not sure which Fall you're talking about. (Laughter)
MS. ZANN: That was actually one of the things that I was very proud of as well in our government. I remember the day we reached the highest point. In fact, we made this the second best province in Canada for having protected our lands that much; I know CAPW were very pleased with us. It was a very exciting time, so I'm glad to see that you are as excited about it as I am and that you are continuing on with that work.
I do have some concerns, however. I noticed that the other day, April 27th, the minister did a notice of motion which was about Hope Harrison and Terry Harrison donating land to the province that increased the size of a planned nature reserve by nearly two thirds, protecting a remnant patch of intact mixed forest in an agricultural and managed woodlot landscape, an under-represented kind of property in our protected area system. Is that particular land part of this 12.26 per cent, or is this extra?
MS. MILLER: That land is currently not part of that 12.2 per cent. The Harrisons have been very generous in making this donation. We will be meeting with them in the near future to celebrate their donation and thank them for what they are doing.
MS. ZANN: Have all the details been gone through, and it's a done deal now? Or are you still waiting for it to be finished?
MS. MILLER: It's my understanding that the donation has been made, so we are going to be meeting with them and acknowledging the donation. One of the members of the family is not very well right now, so it was a priority to have this done before she passes because this was a big goal of hers, to make sure that this was donated to the province for this purpose.
MS. ZANN: It doesn't really say in here - how much land are we talking about? How many hectares?
MS. MILLER: I've found I made a mistake. I can confirm for the honourable member that the donation was 94 hectares, which is about 200 acres, and it is actually included in the 12.26 per cent.
MS. ZANN: So that 200 acres is actually now part of this 12.2 per cent?
MS. MILLER: Yes, it is.
MS. ZANN: What per cent of that would it be? Does anybody know? Anybody good with math - hectares, acres, percentages?
MS. MILLER: It turns out the 500 hectares is only 0.1 per cent. If you do the math on that it is much less - 5,000.
MS. ZANN: Did you say 5,000 acres? So it's not 94 hectares - it's 5,000 hectares?
MS. MILLER: Yes, 5,000 hectares relates to 0.1 per cent in the plan. So 94 hectares would be the portion of that.
MS. ZANN: I, too, am really happy to hear about this donation. It sounds fantastic. It was a woodlot linked to a farm they had forever - four generations. It had been managed and protected from clear-cutting. It has a mature forest with older red spruce, yellow birch, white ash, and other hardwoods. It's near the confluence of the Maccan River and River Hebert. So it sounds beautiful.
I'm just concerned. I'm hoping that it doesn't have any mineral resources under it and that it will actually be safe in the future from any possible mining actions or mining interest in that property. I'm just wondering if you're at all concerned about that.
MS. MILLER: This property has already been protected. This is all part of the provincial nature reserves, so there are no considerations there.
MS. ZANN: So it will be part of the nature reserve, and as such, no mining companies can come in and expropriate or try to dig anything up?
MS. MILLER: That is my understanding.
MS. ZANN: That would be great. I hope that happens.
Also, I want to talk about a clear-cut. Back in November, there were more than a dozen hectares of land within the Long Lake Provincial Park that were mysteriously cleared of trees. Can you give us an update on that situation?
MS. MILLER: We were made aware of the cutting on Long Lake. There were about 10 acres cut, a little over four hectares, over however many days it was cut. This is really concerning. It's concerning to me because this is the very first time we've ever had this happen.
We've noted a few things, like the statute of limitations, which is very short. It's only six months if you're caught actually cutting on Crown land or on anybody's land - you have to be able to file charges within six months. This is a real concern. It should be a concern for everybody for I think anybody in the industry or who has land that people are cutting over. In a lot of cases those people who are cutting illegally on another person's property may be gone for a year. How do you go back when you have no recourse after a year? If you have somebody who has large tracts of forestry land, they aren't inspecting them all the time. We've had some landowners who have come forward and been very concerned about this.
At Long Lake, because it was part of a park property, conservation officers with the Department of Environment have been on the site. They have inspected. We've turned over all that material that we have to the Crown. As you know, the Crown is an independent entity. They've been working with our department. They've been collecting more information, asking for more information. They're trying to make sure that all those i's are dotted, t's are crossed. We expect them very soon to bring forward charges.
MS. ZANN: So have they actually found the person who did it, are you saying?
MS. MILLER: At this time, all the information is with the Crown prosecutor. I wouldn't want to jeopardize the case by putting out any information that I probably shouldn't, so I'll just leave it at that. I'm sure that within the next few weeks, the honourable member will have a lot more information to add to her base.
MS. ZANN: So is there any way to say, without telling anything out of school, how people think this could have happened without anybody noticing it?
MS. MILLER: I can't speak to how this happened. This happens everywhere. In my previous life, and I keep going back to that, we were logging contractors as well. We saw many times that it's up to the property owner - not the person who's cutting, but the next property owner - to define where the lines are. This has been an ongoing problem for years. An operator may be cutting and not actually realize where the lines are or what's happening. It's something that you're seeing all over.
I can remember in the big forestry companies, people would actually go on their property, cut for two weeks, walk away with thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of logs, and there's absolutely no recourse - whether they can't track the people down, or whether it's the time frame, and maybe it happened a year ago. This is a concern, but at this time, I can't add further to that.
MS. ZANN: Just while we're on clear-cutting, I would like to just make a point. It seems to me that there's a lot more clear-cutting going on right now. I have a cottage up on the northern shore, and when we drive there from Truro, we've noticed that there have been a lot of clear-cuts on the sides of the road. I'm just wondering if that concerns the minister at all, the amount of clear-cutting that seems to be taking place these days?
MS. MILLER: That would be a question, I would think, to take to the Department of Natural Resources about clear-cutting. I have my own opinions on clear-cutting. I'm sure a lot of us do, and we do have concerns. But what a person does with their own land is not a concern to the Department of Environment, as long as there are no environmental impacts.
MS. ZANN: I just meant that as the Minister of Environment, I would think that it would also be your responsibility, in a way, to make sure and have oversight that there's not too much clear-cutting going on that is going to be affecting the environment. We know that the trees are the lungs of the earth and that runoffs from clear-cuts can oftentimes create problems further down.
MS. MILLER: Our concern mostly with clear-cuts is that operators do it the way that they should be under the Environment Act. I know when my husband was cutting, he was very conscious of any watercourses because there are very strict regulations on how close to a watercourse you can cut, what you can cut, and all of that. That's something that we do as the Department of Environment. We do have control over our 13 per cent protected areas.
As for your comment about trees and oxygen, yes, we know all that. But I know personally with our own business, we made it a point that when we were clear-cutting a lot - and as former farmers as well. You look at trees in some cases as being a crop. At a certain point, it's time to cut that crop before it starts deteriorating, and trees are rotting, or whatever. I'm sure my protected areas guys are really having a fit back here. They won't comment on that. We always made it a regulation for ourselves to make sure that anything that was clear-cut was also replanted. It was all evaluated and replanted. But that's just on a personal note.
MS. ZANN: Well I would love to ask more questions about the clear-cutting and partial clear-cutting, but as you said, that's more in the other department.
Anyway, now I have some questions about Northern Pulp Boat Harbour. Last September, the stack tests that were done at the mill by a company, Stantec, showed that emissions from the power boiler were at 190 milligrams or particulate - or fine dust particles, as you know - per reference cubic metre. Their limit set for the boiler was 150 milligrams. As a result, we know that government ordered an independent engineering study. Can the minister give us an update on this issue?
MS. MILLER: This certainly has been something that the government worked very hard on these last two years, to ensure safer and cleaner operating and to ensure that we support Nova Scotians in their desire for an environmentally healthy and prosperous Pictou County. I know how important Northern Pulp was to Pictou County, but the employment was also certainly important to Pictou County.
When the precipitator was put in, I know there was a lot of talk, a lot of negotiation, on what the levels should be. I was really happy to hear that the numbers on those emission tests came back, and instead of 150 or 170, it was actually at 4.6 I believe. That's pretty impressive to see that and that technology can actually make those changes and improve the air quality that much.
Northern Pulp continues to operate, but they do have industrial approval. We monitor the terms and conditions of that approval to make sure they are operating within the limits set forth in their agreement.
MS. ZANN: I know a lot of people who live there, and as I said, I have a cottage that is nearby. It's not affected by the mill itself because it's off in River John, which is further over. But obviously, I visit there every summer, and I get to see what's happening. A lot of people I know who live in Pictou Landing First Nations and also in the area are really concerned. A lot of people are getting sick. There are a lot of cancers and things like this. They say it's the environment.
There has actually been new research that has come out. Researchers have known for a long time that particulate matter is an air pollution that - if you are exposed to it for a long time - is implicated in lung cancer and heart disease as well. This new study shows that it's also associated with a sharply higher mortality rate from cancers of the breast, the upper digestive tract, and other organs. Between 1998 and 2011, scientists followed more than 66,000 people who were at least 65 years old at the time of the enrolment and their exposure to particulate matter with a diameter of about 2.5 micrometres or less. They said that such pollution forms when gas is emitted from cars, trucks, whatever, and from these kinds of plants.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. May I ask if the member is reading from a document that should be tabled?
MS. ZANN: I'm taking some information from it. I'm not reading the whole thing, but I'll get you a copy of it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you.
MS. ZANN: They found that every increased exposure of 10 micrograms per cubic metre was associated with a 22 per cent higher risk of dying from cancer - any cancer. For some cancers, the greater mortality risk was much more: 42 per cent for the upper digestive tract and 80 per cent for breast cancer.
This makes me really concerned because people who have been living in the area have been saying for a long time that many people are getting cancers. They have problems breathing. They've got asthma. The children are using puffers and things like this. They say it comes from the effluent in the mill. I know that last May, government gave a five-year industrial approval to Northern Pulp that called for a major reduction in water consumption and waste water volume over the life of the permit, but then government pulled back on those requirements.
I'm also wondering, can the minister take us through the reasoning for allowing this to happen and for going back and retroactively saying that they're going to accept the water consumption? Also, is the minister concerned about the health of the people in the area from breathing in this effluent?
MS. MILLER: Last year, I sat here and listened to Andrea Paul tell her story of what was going on in her community in Boat Harbour. It brought me to tears. She talked about the people - the people who were dying, people who had cancer, people who used to fish in Boat Harbour and now can't - how the fish were coming out misshapen and mis-grown. It horrified me.
That was during the debate on the Boat Harbour clean-up legislation. I can't speak to what happened over generations of pollution in Boat Harbour. I find it abhorrent. I hate that this has happened to the Aboriginal people of the community. But I do know that we as a government have addressed it with the Boat Harbour legislation. Boat Harbour will be cleaned up. It is now with TIR. There is a plan for closing Boat Harbour. There is a plan for a new discharge system for Boat Harbour. Boat Harbour will be cleaned up.
I regret that, for all these years, these people have been subject to that pollution that has affected their lives. There is no question that it has. I take this very seriously. It broke my heart to hear her talk. I do plan to go meet with her this summer and go to Boat Harbour.
As for the Northern Pulp issue, this came to me very soon after the time that I came in here. Nova Scotia Environment is the regulator for Northern Pulp. We take our role very seriously, and we are aware of the link between the air quality and human health. We all know that's certainly something that - I can't even speak. It bothers me so much, what has happened there.
We are regularly monitoring the air. So when I hear about the numbers going from the hundreds down to 4.6, it gives me hope because we know that there is no more going in the air, that the little bit that's still going in the air is something that is manageable. We know that the data is open data. It's available to the public, so the public can also monitor what's going on.
As for the change in the approvals with Northern Pulp, Northern Pulp came back to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment, and their appeal concerned the water levels - the amount of water that they could use in their approval. They said that they couldn't manage, that they wouldn't be able to operate within that level. So what happened is, there was a study commissioned. The study looked at the amount of water that could safely be taken from the Middle River to a maximum. They determined how much was going to be used for Michelin and how much was going to be used for other purposes. They said that the maximum daily average water consumption rate would be 92.310 cubic meters by January 30, 2020. That gave them a little room to maneuver.
They are not to exceed 80,000 cubic meters per day by January 30, 2018, and it's down to 70,000 cubic meters by January 30, 2020. Gradually, they're going to be able to reduce those numbers, but the water was available and able to be used. Those numbers are all calculated averages, but there are also daily limits set.
There are other terms and conditions that were added to their approval. They had to submit a list of proposed capital water reduction projects one year prior to the proposed implementation of the project. They had to follow that by a review of the department. Detailed engineering plans for a project may be required from the company. They had to retain the services of a qualified third party professional engineer to determine the impacts of water reduction projects on the quality of the effluent entering and being discharged from the effluent treatment system. They had to conduct an assessment of total reduced sulphur levels in waste water which compares current emissions to performance objectives by June 15th and submit an annual report of waste water, total reduced sulphur, loading results to the department by June 30th of each year. That's in addition to the changes implemented as of July 9, 2015.
For people who thought that we were backing down, we assessed their appeal, we put in terms and conditions so that we would make sure the people of the area, the people of the First Nations community, and the people of Pictou would be protected, and yet it would still serve the purpose of the Department of Environment.
MS. ZANN: I'm just wondering, what's the minister's response to the people who say that this particular mill is getting away with using more water than any of the other mills that they own around the world, that their environmental impact is much greater than any of the other ones, and that they are being allowed to get away with that as opposed to having to be set up with the same standard as other companies that they have in other places?
MS. MILLER: To the member's question that it's perceived that they're getting away with it, certainly not. We have terms and conditions to the approval to make sure they are meeting the environmental requirements of this province.
We have to look at Northern Pulp with a realistic eye. They are not a new mill. When you look at any kind of operation like this, you have to look at the age and the efficiencies that were built into that operation when it was in existence. This mill has done a very hard job, and Nova Scotia has done a very hard job, to make sure that they are updated as much as they can be to perform the best within the boundaries that they can and still operate.
MS. ZANN: Can you give me an actual date for the closing of Boat Harbour?
MR. CHAIRMAN: While the minister is checking on that, eight minutes remaining in your time.
MS. MILLER: Actually I had a discussion on this with the minister just last week. We were talking a little bit about it with a question from another member. I know it's coming fairly soon. I can't say specifically. I don't want to give a date and be wrong, so I'll get back to the member with that information.
MS. ZANN: The minister said that they are prepared to also rebuild another place for the water effluent, other than Boat Harbour, where it's caught right now. I've been told that basically the plan is to have some kind of pipeline taking it over to another area, which is near the Pictou Lodge. Is that correct - the location for the new effluent catchment, for the water?
MS. MILLER: I really can't speak to the exact location. That's certainly not with the Department of Environment. We are the regulator, so we have the terms and conditions for approvals. I really can't specify as to where that location is. That would be something that TIR would be able to address with you.
MS. ZANN: Apparently, it's not too far from where it is now, actually. It's over near the Pictou Lodge. The Pictou Lodge is closer to the northern shore. There's Pictou, then the Pictou Lodge, and then there's Toney River, Seafoam, and Tatamagouche, and River John is kind of in the middle.
People are concerned, I know, including in my area up there, about the fact that it will just be another facility in another area, instead of actually cleaning it up and doing something else with it. So what kind of catchment is planned? Is it going to be the same as is in Boat Harbour now? How is it going to be different?
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member's question, I can answer this question because I have been talking to the Minister of TIR and not because it's with my department, which it isn't. I have been assured that the effluent that will be leaving the water treatment plant that comes from Northern Pulp will be clear water. So it's not taking that same effluent that was put in Boat Harbour and moving it to a different location. This is going to be a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that is going to make sure that whatever is released is totally of no risk to the environment.
MS. ZANN: I will be waiting with bated breath to find out exactly what does happen. What year did you say that was going to happen by?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Just a reminder to address the minister in the third person.
MS. ZANN: Sorry. What year did the minister say this was going to happen by?
MS. MILLER: I don't have that exact date, but we can certainly get that to you.
MS. ZANN: So is there an actual date that we can get?
MS. MILLER: Last year's Boat Harbour legislation did have an exact date in place.
MS. ZANN: Okay, but none of us can remember what that was? Nobody has that in the department? I know that by 2015 they had to have - I figured somebody would know.
MS. MILLER: Boat Harbour will be closed by January 2020.
MS. ZANN: January 2020. How much more time do I have?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Three minutes.
MS. ZANN: In my last few minutes, I want to ask you about the Donkin coal mine. Can the minister give us an update on the relationship between the Department of Environment and the Donkin coal mine?
MS. MILLER: Donkin is certainly something we've been hearing about a lot. It is part of our energy plan for Nova Scotia, so for most of that, the honourable member will have to ask the Energy Minister. We are the environmental regulator and we have asked Donkin to provide us with a GHG plan for future GHG emissions.
MS. ZANN: Did the minister say she has asked somebody for the GHG emissions? Who was it that they asked?
MS. MILLER: When the Donkin mine was proposed to be opened, they would have had to have gotten another environmental assessment. As part of that environmental assessment, they would have to provide their GHG emission levels.
MS. ZANN: Did our Department of Environment do the environmental assessment?
MS. MILLER: Yes, we did.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. That concludes the time for the New Democratic Party caucus.
Perhaps before we move to the PC caucus, it would be a good opportunity for a break. Shall we take five minutes?
We will now recess.
[1:40 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:47 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please, I'll call the committee back to order. Just before we move to the Progressive Conservative caucus, I want to remind the honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River to print off that document you were referring to and table it. Thank you.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Earlier, you mentioned in your opening remarks that you had surpassed emission reductions, I believe, by 28 per cent. I think that was the number that was thrown out. I'm just wondering, how did you do this? Were there any specific areas in the province that enabled you to reach that target.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. You referred to the minister as "you," I believe, or perhaps this was a general "you," referring to government.
MS. MACFARLANE: Right, yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MS. MILLER: Welcome to the member, coming back to ask some more questions. It's great to see her. As she said, Nova Scotia is on track to meet its 2020 goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10 per cent. Emissions are down by 17 per cent already, so we're going to meet and exceed our 2020 level, which is really great.
The success is linked to our equivalency agreements with the federal government to reduce emissions in the electricity sector. Basically, Nova Scotia Power produces the most GHGs in our electricity sector, so most of the things that are reductions are based on the regulations there.
In 2015, Nova Scotia joined the New England governors and eastern Canadian Premiers in committing to reducing the region's emissions by 35 per cent to 45 per cent. The ways that we're doing it are producing cleaner energy, protecting our air and water and a variety of species, promoting greener building practices, local food production and consumption, promoting active transportation and ensuring sustainable management of our natural resources.
By protecting 12.2 per cent of our landmass, we're meeting our goal under the EGSPA agreement. As the member knows, we're taking it to 13 per cent. Also by lowering nitrogen oxide emissions by 40 per cent, the province has improved Nova Scotia's air quality, surpassing the target of 28 per cent below the 2000 emission levels by 2015.
MS. MACFARLANE: With regard to coal combustion, we know that it releases many toxic elements. I have a group in Pictou County known as the Trenton-Hillside Environmental Watch Association, and they have been quite involved with the Department of Environment for a number of years. I'm wondering if the minister could update me on any recent dialogue with that group.
MS. MILLER: I haven't met yet the group that the honourable member speaks of. I certainly would welcome meeting with them at any time if they want to discuss that. We are reviewing the industrial approvals for Trenton, and Nova Scotia Power is reducing the emissions. Staff are also working with Dr. Strang on this about the emission levels.
MS. MACFARLANE: We are aware that this particular group, for many years, has had the opportunity to meet with many ministers from different departments such as Energy, Health and Wellness, and Environment. We have been advocating for them to have medical tests done. Are you aware of the request . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm so sorry, Mr. Chairman. Is the minister aware of any requests to have these health studies done?
MS. MILLER: As to the member's question, staff are certainly aware of it. I haven't met with the group yet, so I haven't been talking to them about their concerns, but staff certainly is aware of the issue. The health issues with these groups are with the Department of Health and Wellness. They're not with the Department of Environment. We are the regulator. We look after regulating the air quality and the air emissions in the area.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm going to move forward to the Toney River wharf. We had issues this past season, like we did last year, with regard to the fishers to dredging their harbour in order to get out. It happens every year. Of course, there are some new regulations through the Department of Environment. I'm wondering if this is something that the department is looking at with the federal government to ensure that we will not run into the same issue as we did this year with regard to dredging.
MS. MILLER: The dredging issue is something that I've been briefed on quite a bit. We were concerned about not just the Toney River area or the Toney River wharf area, but right around the province. We have a lot of harbours around this province that need dredging at different times. We know that a lot of that material that's coming from there is contaminated, and we have to know how to deal with it. That is something my department has been working very closely with the federal government on. There are regulations being formed, and we should have something fairly soon on that.
MS. MACFARLANE: The DFO was experiencing many difficulties with obtaining environmental approvals to proceed this year. Will they run into those difficulties again next year?
MS. MILLER: As I said, my department has been working very closely with the federal department. We are satisfied that we can permit dredging and protect the environment. We just have to look at all aspects of it and see the best way that we can do that.
We don't want to prevent dredging. We know that this is critical for many harbours in order to be able to do business. We don't want fishermen not to be able to go out and bring in their catches. We don't want recreational boaters not to be able to go out and use these harbours. It's very important. It's important to us, as I know it is important to these communities. But we need to make sure that we can protect the environment as well. So we will be working very closely with our federal counterparts to make sure that it's the easiest process possible and that we're all protected.
MS. MACFARLANE: The dredging that was taking place in Toney River at that particular wharf, the contaminants were then transported to private land. They negotiated a contract with a company to transport the contaminants. That company also ended up buying land so that they could do this on an annual basis, so there was quite a large investment made. Am I correct in assuming that they can no longer dredge and transport the contaminants to private land?
MS. MILLER: As I've said, dredge spoils are an issue. We've seen this in different areas. My close colleagues are also dealing with this in their own areas. We don't want to solve one problem by taking the dredge spoils to an area and creating another one. It can certainly be done on private land, but we have to make sure that there are no risks to the environment, that they're mitigated. Those lands would have to be approved to be able to take that material.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm a little confused because I believe that I have a letter here indicating that there would be no more dredging that could be transported to private lands because of salt. I'm trying to find out for this company in Pictou County if their business is going to be in jeopardy because they can no longer transport the contaminants to the private land that they purchased a few kilometres away from the wharf. We are under the impression that you dredge, and then the contaminants have to be left or put somewhere on the wharf. So I'm trying to clarify whether the department is clear on definitely not having it transported to private land.
MS. MILLER: I certainly can say there is not a ban on dredge spoils going to private land, but we need to make sure that we're protecting our watercourses and our groundwater. That has to be a priority for the Department of Environment.
MS. MACFARLANE: We discussed, a few months ago, perhaps having the minister come and visit that particular wharf. I am wondering if the minister would still be open to coming and visiting.
MS. MILLER: Certainly, I would be open to coming and visiting the wharf and coming to see Pictou County; it's always a treat to be in the area. I'm going to be doing some tours of a lot of the Environment offices around the province, and I'll make sure to contact the member and make arrangements to visit it some time during the summer.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm going to move over to coastal protection. Perhaps you can give us an update on what your department has been doing to ensure that there is a plan in place for coastal protection. Perhaps the minister would allow us to find out if there have been any recent meetings with the Ecology Action Centre on this particular subject.
MS. MILLER: Our coastal strategy and coastal protection are very important to us. I think we're all recognizing that our coasts are going to be changing as climate change progresses. I have met with the Ecology Action Centre; we had a very brief discussion. Literally, I was meeting with the whole group, and each had a few minutes to talk about what they were doing. I hope to talk to them again at some other point, but Fisheries and Aquaculture mainly would be the lead on the coastal strategy at this point in what's going on.
MS. MACFARLANE: Is there an anticipated date when there would be a plan implemented?
MS. MILLER: Again, that would be up to the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
MS. MACFARLANE: There was a pilot project that was initiated, I think it was in the western area, with regard to individuals calling, and their identity not being exposed. I'm wondering if you can update me on that pilot project, if it has been implemented anywhere else in the province, and what the results of that were.
MS. MILLER: I believe it was a policy in the past that if a person had an environmental complaint, they would call, and they would be asked to leave their name. When it came forward and people were objecting to leaving their name, our main concern is to get the information the people have. We want to know if there has been some kind of an environmental impact - whether there has been a spill or whether there has been any other condition that we need to know of. Their names were not the important part of it, so we changed our regulation so that people can call and register some kind of complaint without leaving their name now.
MS. MACFARLANE: So the pilot project is over with, and as it stands right now, anyone can call and not have their identity exposed when calling with a complaint.
MS. MILLER: Absolutely.
MS. MACFARLANE: If there are concerns from the Department of Environment, are there precautions put in place so that the department can follow up?
MS. MILLER: This very much reminds me of my role with MADD Canada as national president. We were asking people to do the same thing - just call and report impaired drivers - and this is the same thing. We were getting exactly the same response - people didn't want to leave their name.
In that case, it was for police officers to follow up, and sometimes people would leave their name if they wanted a follow-up. They don't have to leave a name, but in some cases, if people actually want to know what happened and what happened with the investigation if we did have something to share with them, they do leave their names. The important thing is the information. If people choose to share their name, that's their choice.
MS. MACFARLANE: Were there organizations or individuals that took place in the pilot project to determine what the outcome would be?
MS. MILLER: The complaints weren't for any specific group, whether it was people or organizations. This was for every complaint that came in in that area, in the western area. Every complaint that came in, whether it was from a person or a business or whatever it was, was all treated the same, with the same discussion.
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm going to move forward and discuss Northern Pulp. If I repeat any questions that were asked earlier, I apologize in advance - I wasn't in the room until the last five minutes or so. I'm wondering what recent meetings have taken place with project manager Ken Swain with regard to Boat Harbour.
MS. MILLER: Boat Harbour is something that is very near and dear to me - I said this a little while ago too. I heard Andrea Paul here talking last year when the Boat Harbour legislation came in, and I can't tell you how much it affected me when she talked about her story and what happened.
The Boat Harbour cleanup has all been assigned to TIR, so Ken Swain would be the lead on that. We are still the environmental regulators. We will be regulating that project, but we're not running the project. It is TIR's project. They're looking after the construction and everything to do with that. We're looking after the regulation to make sure it's done with concern for the environmental impacts.
MS. MACFARLANE: Do you believe that . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Oddly enough, I'm looking at the Hansard from last year, and there's "you" everywhere. You're doing a great job, Mr. Chairman.
With regard to air monitoring stations, it's been a great concern of mine, of course. I know that the minister is aware that I live in the Town of Pictou. We've been asking for an air quality monitoring station for years. I'm wondering if the minister has any thoughts on implementing and ensuring that an air quality monitoring station will be put in Pictou.
MS. MILLER: I certainly appreciate the member's concern. She spoke last year a few times about the air quality in Pictou and how bad it was. I can appreciate it because when you have children and you know that they're breathing in contaminants and you know that there might be an issue - I can't imagine the people who have lived in the area and have been breathing the particles from Northern Pulp for so long and worrying about what's going to happen in the future to their health and if it's going to be based on what happened and the particulates in the air.
The Department of Environment has placed stations based on scientific monitoring. The company also does their own air quality testing. We have a station in Pictou, and the data from that station is available through the Open Data system.
MS. MACFARLANE: How often is that data collected?
MS. MILLER: I think the honourable member will be very happy to know that the data is collected continually. It's in real time, so there are no lapses - 24 hours.
MS. MACFARLANE: The data that is collected, is it posted on the website?
MS. MILLER: Yes, all the information is posted on the Open Data website.
MS. MACFARLANE: What role exactly does the Department of Environment play in the cleanup of Boat Harbour?
MS. MILLER: The cleanup of Boat Harbour and the construction of the new facility - the responsibility for that has all been given to TIR. They seem to be the builders in our province, but we do the environmental oversight. Those projects still require an approval, so there will still be environmental oversight over the project.
MS. MACFARLANE: I believe because both departments are very involved in the cleanup of Boat Harbour that there would be ongoing meetings. Once again, I will ask the question, has the department or the minister been able to have a tour of Boat Harbour?
MS. MILLER: I spoke with Chief Andrea Paul earlier this year. It was after I became minister, and we were talking about what was going on in her area. I'm looking forward to this summer when I can get out and have a little bit more free time and go to Pictou, visit Northern Pulp, see Boat Harbour, and see with my own eyes what has been going on. I'm certainly looking forward to that.
Nova Scotia Environment will receive a project plan from TIR. We treat TIR like any other proponent, so we're looking at them under the exact same lens as we are looking at anybody else that has a project going on in Nova Scotia.
MS. MACFARLANE: Back to the air quality monitoring station, there have been a lot of concerns with how the air is in Pictou. It seems to be up and down. Since the precipitator has been installed, I personally believe it has improved. However, there are days when we witnessed that something has gone wrong.
What role does the Department of Environment play on those days when we know that absolutely something has gone wrong because all we can see is a bunch of black smoke?
MS. MILLER: I certainly appreciate the honourable member's concern. I share that concern for the people of Pictou. That's why it's so important for us, as a department, to continue to do monitoring. Any time that we hear about any malfunctions in the system, our investigators do an investigation to ensure that the people of Pictou are protected.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thirty minutes remaining in your time.
MS. MACFARLANE: Nova Scotia Environment has issued, I believe - and I could be wrong here - since 2012, three different directives with regard to the power boiler. I know that three out of five stack tests have not met regulations. Do you believe that the compliance model, which is through the Department of Environment, is in the best interests of the constituents of Pictou County?
MS. MILLER: The Government of Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia Environment has been working very hard these past two years to ensure a cleaner and safer operating mill and to ensure that we support Nova Scotians in their desire for an environmentally healthy and prosperous Pictou County. I am sure that the majority of people in Pictou County are working there. I think the honourable member mentioned it herself, that her father worked there for many years. That certainly is not a consideration when it comes to the environmental concerns of the community, but it is something that still is a concern.
Northern Pulp, with the agreement that was issued mid-January, we were talking a lot about the water and what was happening then. Northern Pulp issued an appeal saying that, in the original decision, they couldn't meet the standard for the amount of water that was allocated to them. A study was done on the Middle River at that time to determine how much water could safely be taken from that river in order to run the mill.
With that information, the appeal was granted with an amendment to change the daily maximum water consumption rate of 92,310 cubic metres by January 30, 2020 - that's the maximum. But that's changing as it goes. It's not to exceed 80,000 cubic metres per day by January 30, 2018, and 70,000 cubic metres by January 30, 2020. The numbers are calculated on an annual average.
As part of that approval, they were also expected to submit a list of proposed capital water reduction projects one year prior to the proposed implementation of the project. Following a review by the department, detailed engineering plans for a project may be required from the company.
Also, we asked Northern Pulp to retain the services of a qualified third party professional engineer to determine the impacts of water reduction on the quality of the effluent entering and being discharged from the effluent treatment centre. We also told them to conduct an assessment of total reduced sulphur levels in waste water, which compares current emissions to performance objectives, by June 15th and submit an annual report of the waste water total reduced sulphur loading results to the department by June 30th. These requirements were part of that amendment, but they're also in addition to the changes implemented as of July 9th.
Do I believe that they're operating with the intentions of the community? Certainly, I do. I think that we have the best balance here for both.
MS. MACFARLANE: We're all anxious and excited to see that Boat Harbour is going to be cleaned up. It's a colossal project. There are going to be a number of departments involved. I will keep the faith that it can be done by 2020. I'm not totally convinced that it can be. I realize that there will have to be environmental assessments conducted.
I don't believe there has been a decision made yet, but perhaps the department can let me know if the assessments are going to be conducted federally, or will it be Nova Scotia Environment conducting the environmental assessments? How long will they actually take?
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member's question, we don't have an application yet for the project. When we do, I expect that we will have both federal and provincial environmental approvals needed.
MS. MACFARLANE: The project is to be completed and ready to go by 2020. How long will an environmental assessment take? I am under the impression, through Northern Pulp, that it could take up to two years. Would that be correct?
MS. MILLER: I can appreciate that sometimes, with a very complicated structure, it might take a long time. It might take up to two years or maybe even more. This is all going to depend on the application, so I really can't speculate. It depends on what they're asking, what has to be assessed, and what has to be determined. I can't speculate at this time. I can't even say that we're going to have an answer for you soon.
MS. MACFARLANE: What would determine the difference between a federal environmental assessment and a provincial environmental assessment? Why federal over provincial?
MS. MILLER: As the member appreciates, this goes step by step, so we would first have to get the application. Then we would have to look at the federal and provincial legislation. Each of them has different triggers in their environmental assessment. I could speak to a quarry assessment that was just done, and the environmental assessments on that were both provincial and federal. I don't know how long they took. But it all depends on the application and what triggers that at the provincial and federal level, what assessment looks like.
MS. MACFARLANE: My understanding is that a federal assessment would be conducted if it has to do with water, but anything on land would result potentially in the provincial Department of Environment conducting an assessment. Would I be correct on that?
MS. MILLER: Apparently, it's not that straightforward. It depends on the application and the list of what the triggers are. We would have to read the legislation and see from there - the federal and provincial legislation.
MS. MACFARLANE: Is there a worry that the mill would be in jeopardy of having to shut down in the interim of making sure Boat Harbour is cleaned up and ensuring that the project to install a new water treatment facility is being built?
MS. MILLER: I really can't speculate on time frames or anything there. But I can tell you that we have a very good working history with our federal counterparts and working together on projects. I can't speculate if the mill will be closed during this period or not. It may not. I don't know. It all depends on the conditions at the time and what is brought forward. The first thing is, we have to have an application.
MS. MACFARLANE: This will be my final question. Has there been a plan given to the Department of Environment with regard to what is going to take place?
MS. MILLER: No, we've received nothing from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal yet.
MS. MACFARLANE: Was there a plan given to the Department of Environment from Northern Pulp?
MS. MILLER: Can I have clarification of that question? In what regard?
MS. MACFARLANE: I'm asking if Northern Pulp has presented a plan on how a new system would be implemented and built.
MS. MILLER: Thank you for the clarification. No, Northern Pulp hasn't submitted a plan yet for that.
MS. MACFARLANE: That's all I have, Mr. Chairman. I'll pass it over to my colleague
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. JOHN LOHR: I do want to ask some questions - maybe a bit more local. I know I've already addressed this issue with the minister in Question Period. As the minister knows, there was a dump fire in the Kentville area. I just wanted to clarify the timeline. I know that the minister's department was involved on March 10th, approximately two weeks before the fire. Could the minister tell me what transpired on March 10th in regard to that dump?
MS. MILLER: Thank you to the honourable member for joining the table today and welcome.
I'll tell you a little bit about the background to what happened with this. On March 31st, Nova Scotia Environment issued a directive to the operator to stop the flow of discoloured water from the site, and the operator did take immediate action. The directive issued on March 10th was to remove all non-construction and demolition materials from the disposal site by May 25th. We placed an emergency order on March 24th that required the facility to cease operations, and they both remain in effect. In the meantime, as the honourable member is aware, I issued a ministerial order. (Interruption) Excuse me, please.
There was a ministerial order issued. We asked the proponent to hire a consultant, and he had to ascertain what contamination there was as a result of the fire. That is ongoing.
MR. LOHR: Could you just go through that list again a bit slower? I think the first date you said was March 31st. I don't know if you meant March 31st. Could you just go through that sequence again just a bit slower so I can grasp what you were saying?
MS. MILLER: On March 31st, Nova Scotia Environment issued a directive to the operator to stop the flow of discoloured water from the site. On March 10th, he was issued a directive to remove all non-construction and demolition materials from the disposal site by May 25th. The emergency order was issued on March 24th. That required the facility to cease operations, and those both remain in effect.
Shortly after the fire, the ministerial order was issued asking them to hire a professional and to assess what was escaping as a result of the fire, if there was any runoff of contaminated water and if it was affecting any watercourses in the area.
MR. LOHR: The ministerial order - the last one you mentioned - was issued on what day? What was it about?
MS. MILLER: I don't have the exact date of the ministerial order. I may have it in a second. It was to hire a site professional and ask them to monitor the site and to make sure that it . . .
MR. LOHR: Pardon me? It was to what? Could you speak into the mic a bit more? I just can't quite hear.
MS. MILLER: That's two of us because I'm not hearing much either.
We don't have the exact date, but we will certainly get that to the member. The ministerial order was actually - we were investigating the contamination to the soil and water around the site.
MR. LOHR: What can you tell me, Madam Minister, about the condition of the site right now and what's happening right now?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Just a caution on using the word "you" and to direct your comments through the Chair.
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member's question, we are still investigating. That investigation is not complete. We can share that information at the time the investigation is completed.
MR. LOHR: I'm just wondering if the minister can tell me when this site first attracted the attention of the Department of Environment.
MS. MILLER: The first recording I have is on March 10, 2016. That was when I ordered them to remove all non C and D from the site. Prior to the fire, Nova Scotia Environment had issued a directive to operators on March 10th to remove all non C and D materials from the disposal site by May 25th.
MR. LOHR: I would just like to ask a general question. What sort of requirements would there be for an operator to have this type of construction and demolition dump? What types of permits or investigation would there normally be for this type of a setup?
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member's question, the site did require industrial approval. It would have had a set of standards, and the set of standards for that approval is on the website.
What I would like to add to that is that this has become an issue. Certainly, it has become an issue with me because this isn't the only thing that we're dealing with around C and D sites. As a result of this fire, I ordered my inspectors to go all over the province to look at other sites. It turned out that in the regulations there was only a routine inspection every five years, I believe, unless there was a complaint about a site. That allowed the site to get out of control, obviously. It got beyond where it should have been. That's why, when we heard about the materials that were there, we ordered that directive to clean up that site.
As a result of that recent investigation - there were 27 C and D sites around the province - nine of them have conditions that take them out of compliance. That is also a concern to me, so we're going to be working with those sites to make sure that that doesn't happen.
We're also dealing with things like disposal sites and some that don't require any kinds of conditions or approvals at all. It used to be that if you tore down a building, or you tore down a house, you would hire a truck, they would take it somewhere, they would dump it, and it would get buried. Things have changed. We have the ability now, and we've seen some really, really good operators - I toured one in Milford last year - who do a really amazing job of separating all this construction debris and doing a really good job of doing other things with it, whether it's asphalt shingles that end up going back on roads, or cattle bedding that's made out of wood and gyprock. These are all amazing things.
We are seeing the majority of our operations are doing a really, really good job around the province, but as in any other industry, we do have people who circumvent regulations, who don't comply. Those are the ones that we are addressing right now. This fire certainly shows that this was somewhere that probably should have been seen earlier. I'm glad that it was reported to us so that we could investigate and make those directives, but the fire created a whole new problem. It's certainly something my department will keep working on, and we're working on new regulations for C and D sites right across the province.
MR. LOHR: I have two questions. Will the nine non-compliant sites be made public? Maybe we'll just go with that question. Will you make the list of nine non-compliant ones public?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Please refer to the minister through the Chair.
MS. MILLER: To the honourable member's question, we're still investigating these nine sites and seeing what violations there are. Some will be minor violations, and some will be major. There will be orders to clean up and change or improve the sites. If those sites stay outside of their compliances, charges would be very possible, and those will be public.
MR. LOHR: I know that in the case of the Kentville C and D site, there is some discussion of the bond. I believe there's a $100,000 bond associated with it. I just want to ask if that's a normal condition that all 27 sites would have, that they would have to post a bond as part of the approval process. Is that a typical thing, or is that only a characteristic of the Kentville site?
MS. MILLER: It's my understanding that all C and D sites do require a bond.
MR. LOHR: Can the minister tell me what that bond is intended to cover or what the purpose of that bond is?
MS. MILLER: That bond would be applicable to any environmentally related concerns.
MR. LOHR: I don't know that much about bonds, and maybe the minister can correct me. I would assume that bond is payable to the Department of Environment in case there's any infractions with the conditions of operating that site. Would that be correct?
MS. MILLER: That bond would be to the province through the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board.
MR. LOHR: What would be the conditions that would trigger that bond to be paid out on?
MS. MILLER: The bond is in case there any concerns with EIA. If there's any risk of contamination, that would cover that. Also, it's very much a necessity because you're going to get operators who are simply going to walk away from a site, and there needs to be a cost remediation of cleaning up that site. That's also part of that.
MR. LOHR: I know I have very little time left, so I want to go to another topic. I know that your department is now responsible for inspections. There was a situation recently in Kings County where a farm operation had a mobile kitchen to sell hot dogs and hamburgers, presumably. They had numerous outhouses. There was a conflict between a municipal inspector and a provincial inspector where one saw the unit as mobile, and the other didn't. As a consequence, the farm was required to put a bricks-and-mortar outhouse adjacent to a trailer that could be towed, that was a food wagon.
I don't expect you to comment on that specific case, but I'm just wondering what your department, Madam Minister, is doing to deal with these sort of conflicts between municipal and provincial inspectors. How do you see you're going to resolve these types of things so that businesses can operate without having to deal with different inspectors at different levels with different opinions on how the laws should be interpreted?
MS. MILLER: I remember hearing something about this - not through my department but I think in the news or somewhere else - and thinking, how ridiculous is this? We don't want this happening. We want business to be able to operate in Nova Scotia. We don't want these little discrepancies.
I'm not aware of the situation on an official basis, but certainly my provincial inspectors would be working with municipal inspectors to make sure that businesses like this can operate within reason. I think some things have to be judged on a case-by-case basis and what makes sense, and sometimes things don't make sense. Our government has a mandate of being very open and trying to work with business, and my department will certainly be part of that discussion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings North, with one minute.
MR. LOHR: Just switching gears very quickly, maybe you can comment on the EGSPA report. I believe that just came out a couple of days ago. This is a report for 2014-15. As I see it, that's one whole year ago. We've already gone past 2015-16. That's one issue - why did this report just come out very recently? It was more than 12 months in the making. That's one question.
The second question out of that is, right on the cover of the report, it says there are seven new buildings that completed the LEED program. One achieved gold, and several achieved silver. So with the seven buildings, could the minister tell me where those buildings are and whose buildings they are that have achieved LEED? So those are two issues. I think my minute will expire - it's probably gone now. If the minister could just answer those two questions.
MS. MILLER: Certainly. The EGSPA program, I was very proud to be able to table that the other day. I think it's great. As to why it took so long, this is a volunteer organization. This is a group of professionals from around the province. Some are involved in the industry, some are not. We have representatives from the Ecology Action Centre. We have an old friend who was a farmer on there. We have all kinds of people on the EGSPA group, but it is a volunteer group. It meets usually when there is a job to be done. Doing this report was part of that job or part of their role as committee members.
I don't want to say you can't demand that they to work faster. I think that they work very hard. They set a gold standard for us of what they would like to see happen in Nova Scotia. I certainly thank them for their work and efforts, but things sometimes don't happen quickly. I was very happy to table the document that we did. We still have a lot of work to do even though a lot has been done.
As for the information on these buildings that have that LEED distinction, we will get that information to the member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative caucus.
We will now turn to the New Democratic Party caucus to take us into the home stretch. We have about 21 minutes remaining to allow the minister to have a minute to wrap up and read her resolution.
The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River.
MS. ZANN: I just have a few more questions. I did notice that my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party was earlier asking about Trenton and about the situation there with the Nova Scotia Power generating station. But I was noticing that she didn't actually ask about the issue of when the stacks are blown and all of this fly ash - the dark soot - comes out and covers the cars, the houses, et cetera. Has there been any progress on that particular issue? That's what a lot of people have been complaining about.
MS. MILLER: Yes, my department is very aware of what has been happening in Pictou County with Northern Pulp and their emission levels, which have been greatly reduced. They have done an amazing job. We are also monitoring what has been happening with the emission levels in Trenton and we're investigating.
MS. ZANN: What has been found from the investigations? This has been going on for some time and I know the people on the ground are very concerned about the fly ash and soot that is covering everything and that they are breathing in. Has the department been able to find out exactly how much is in the effluent they are breathing in and what can be done to mitigate it?
MS. MILLER: Trenton, like any other business or any other operation in Nova Scotia, operates within terms and conditions that are in their approvals. We continue to monitor Trenton for emission and discharge levels. If they are above those levels and are not in compliance, they will be dealt with.
MS. ZANN: How do they know they are not in compliance when we're hearing people saying it's unacceptable and that they can't breathe with all the effluent that's coming out? How does the department know when it's unacceptable?
MS. MILLER: I think I'm about to make the honourable member quite happy. On June 30th of this year they are going to need a new environmental approval, in which case we will be addressing some of those air quality measures at that time. Right now they do have to report on a regular basis and they are meeting national air standards.
MS. ZANN: The minister is saying that right now they are meeting national air standards?
MS. MILLER: Yes, they are meeting national air standards at this time. Part of that new industrial approval may include a change in standards. We will be looking at that approval with the air quality in mind.
MS. ZANN: Great, I hope that does come forward and it's better and makes it a little cleaner for everybody to breathe. Is there any chance that the effluent may also affect the air quality coming out from Northern Pulp as well?
MS. MILLER: As for the air quality from Northern Pulp, the province has been working very hard with them to make sure that they are operating within the necessary regulations. With the new technology that was introduced last year, the emission levels went from, I believe, 300 to 4.6. Those are phenomenal results, far surpassing anything that they even thought they were going to be able to do.
The air quality in Pictou is no longer a factor for Northern Pulp, or is a minimal factor, I should say.
MS. ZANN: Unfortunately, I wouldn't say it's not a factor anymore because really all we have to do is look at Facebook and see the pictures and hear people complaining constantly, even as late as today, about the air quality and the troubles that they're still having. I would say it's far from over, and it's far from being dealt with.
I can appreciate that the minister is new to the department and that this has been a very difficult situation for everybody. It really is a serious issue, and people are still suffering right now. I notice that Chief Andrea Paul, who's also a friend, has put up a meme on Facebook counting down the days till the closing of Boat Harbour, so people are very much watching for that.
Yet I notice that some of her comments and other people's comments are saying things like, they're not quite sure how this is going to happen if there needs to be all these environmental assessments and approvals and still build the facility all within basically three years. I do hope that that is done on time and that these people finally get some kind of respite from that particular issue. But the air quality is still a major, major issue.
On that particular point, I would like to ask if the minister received any kind of visit from some of the woodlot owners and the people who cut the logs down and provide them to Northern Pulp within the last year and a half, even just as an MLA before she became the minister?
MS. MILLER: That's a funny question for me to answer. Previously, my husband and I had a logging business, a forestry business, so certainly I would be meeting with members of that community and talking to them. Since then, I have met with the Forestry Association, I think at an event they had here in Halifax. I have two lumber mills in my area. I know the people very well. I certainly do talk to them on a continual basis. So yes, I meet those constituents as I meet other constituents. I don't believe I have seen anybody from the logging sector or the forestry sector in my office since I've become minister.
MS. ZANN: The biggest logging operation in the province - what's the name of that particular logging firm?
MS. MILLER: I really can't speak to who the biggest was. Probably the Minister of Natural Resources would be able to answer that question.
MS. ZANN: I just thought if the minister is in that business herself or has been - is she still in that business herself? Does she still have a logging business?
MS. MILLER: No, my husband and I got out of that business in the downturn of the industry, I believe seven or eight years ago, or something like that. So I haven't been involved for quite a while.
MS. ZANN: I just thought perhaps if she's been in that industry, and she knows people and has been meeting with them, she might be able to tell me. I'm just trying to remember. Was it Stora? Is Stora still in operation in the province?
MS. MILLER: Yes, I believe they are.
MS. ZANN: Thank you. I think that's the name I was trying to think of. Neither they nor any other companies have come to see the minister to talk to her about Northern Pulp and whether or not it's important to keep Northern Pulp in operation?
MS. MILLER: Absolutely not, I haven't met with any stakeholders on the Northern Pulp issue.
MS. ZANN: Just to follow up on that line of questioning, not even before she became the minister? Nobody from that industry came and talked to her about how important it is to keep Northern Pulp going and that we need to do whatever we can to try and keep it going?
MS. MILLER: Certainly in casual conversations, a lot of people have talked about Northern Pulp and the importance of Northern Pulp to the industry in Nova Scotia. I've also talked to people in Pictou about the importance of air quality in Pictou. I don't give either of them - any facts are based on decisions, in terms and conditions and approvals. I'm looking at it as a minister, and my department is looking after the environmental concerns of Nova Scotia.
My concern was not whether Northern Pulp should keep going but if they could operate within the terms and conditions of their approval and still (Interruption) I guess just the terms and conditions of their approval is enough.
MS. ZANN: Sometimes it's hard to read other people's handwriting when they slip you little notes. I know all about it.
Not to put you on the spot personally, but I am aware that the industry has been going around and taking meetings with MLAs. In fact, they came to see me in my office several months ago to talk about how they felt that what the government was asking of Northern Pulp was just not appropriate and was completely impossible to do and that the timeline they were given and the water - and all of this - was just ridiculous. They wanted us to basically lobby the government to go easy on them because they were afraid that the company itself would just pick up and leave. That's why I was wondering if the minister had also received a visit because I know I did, and I know others who did as well.
MS. MILLER: I did actually meet with some constituents who are lumber mill owners because they had concerns with what was happening with Northern Pulp. There was actually even a petition going, a form letter that went out. I think I probably received 60 of them, and they went in my file.
As the minister, I take off the MLA hat, and I look at it with the environmental impacts, and my decision has to be based on scientific fact. It has to be based on the terms and conditions of the approval. It isn't based on what happens with my constituents. Certainly I care about my constituents. We have that with other issues as well. My decisions are all based on scientific fact and the evidence presented before me. Then decisions are made - not based on whether somebody comes to my office and talks to me about any issue. It's about what's before me, what the facts are, what we can do, and what we can't do. Then I make that decision.
MS. ZANN: As she should. Again, I was asking if she had been visited before she became a minister. She wouldn't have had any inkling that she would become the Minister of Environment, I'm sure, when this would have happened. I do know they were visiting the MLAs and talking about this and basically lobbying us to lobby the government to put the brakes on the timeline for Northern Pulp. I know there are many people out there who would like to ask these questions and are very, very concerned. It's my duty, as an MLA and as a critic, to ask the questions.
When it comes to the Paris summit on climate change, the former Environment Minister travelled to France for the Paris summit. I know the current minister wasn't there, obviously, but I'm sure she has been briefed on the issues, so could she give us an update on what the department took away from the summit and what they plan to do in order to address climate change, as was proposed in the Paris summit?
MS. MILLER: Unfortunately, I didn't become the minister before the Paris Summit. It would have been wonderful to have been there and to not only see Paris, but to work with all these national and international leaders on climate change. This is an extremely important file.
Right after I became the minister, I went to an environment ministers' conference in Ottawa and I heard the discussions about climate change. We all talk about climate change in the abstract. A few people are really noticing what's going on. When our winters are like they were last winter, we're saying, "hoorah, this is great," but when I talked to Johnny Mike, I believe his name was - the federal minister from Nunavut - he talked about the impact of climate change on his community. He was talking about how the permafrost disappeared, and it just struck me that we're all talking about it in the abstract, with a couple of degrees that doesn't seem to be affecting Nova Scotia a lot - not that the average person would notice - but he's seeing it in his community and what it really means to his community.
This certainly has reinforced for me - before this, I think I was a little bit skeptical. I was saying, "well, no, this is just a change in weather patterns or whatever," but it's not that. We need to look and see what we can do. Reducing GHG levels is critical to reducing the temperature of our Earth.
I will be working within my mandate as the minister to make sure that we continue to meet and exceed. Nova Scotia is now recognized as one of the leaders in climate change initiatives - whether it's in our solid waste reduction or whether it's in our GHG levels. We're going to have 40 per cent renewables fairly soon, when Muskrat Falls does come online. We have tidal energy. We have windmills. There are so many things that Nova Scotia has embraced.
I can't even take all the credit for it and say it's this government. It's not. This has been successive governments doing a great job to reduce GHG levels and to make Nova Scotia a better place. Certainly the 12.26 per cent of our province that is now protected areas for our future generations - that is huge. This means so much to me. I'm really getting ready to celebrate when we get to 13 per cent. I want to do some fabulous things and really show Nova Scotians what that 13 per cent means - what this is going to mean to Nova Scotia.
I will never forget what Johnny Mike said in talking about what's happening. Now I see the stories of the polar bears and their icecaps. I'm paying more attention to those stories. I think we as a province and as a nation need to pay attention to that.
Paris was certainly a big deal. It's a big deal for Canada and it's a big deal for our Prime Minister and it's going to be a big deal for all of us. For me, this is going to be what we can do for Nova Scotia - how we can improve things in Nova Scotia, how we can reduce those GHG levels, how we can make this the most environmentally friendly province in Canada. I want to keep working with that and move forward.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We have one minute remaining, if you would like to make some wrap-up comments and put your resolution on the floor.
MS. MILLER: First, I want to recognize some of the people who are here today with me: Peter Labor from Protected Areas; Elizabeth Kennedy from Science; Lorrie Roberts from Policy; Andrew Murphy from Science; Kerry Miller, Conservation Offices; Adrian Fuller at our Regional Offices; Mary Anna Jollymore with Communications; Shawn McNutt; and of course Frances Martin.
Thank you very much for being here and providing support to me today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall the resolution stand?
The resolution stands.
Thank you all. This meeting is adjourned for about one year. (Laughter)
[The committee adjourned at 3:10 p.m.]