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Randy Delorey, Minister of Environment, on fracking, Boat Harbour, rising sea levels and much more

by Philip GirvanACALA TV

See video

A new provincial government has been sworn in and a fall legislative session has opened. What kind of initiatives might we see from the Department of the Environment? ACALATV interviewed Randy Delorey, Minister of the Environment, Minister of Gaelic Affairs, MLA for Antigonish, to learn.

Transcript taken from this video recorded live Monday October 28. Thanks to Tara MacDonald for helping to transcribe the video.

 

ACALATV: Minister Delorey, congratulations on your election and your appointment as Minister for the Environment and Minister for Gaelic Affairs. So, turning to your role as Minister of the Environment, what kinds of initiatives can we expect? What previous experiences of yours will you be drawing on to frame these initiatives?

Randy Delorey: O.K. We have a number of initiatives that the Department’s already been working on and we’re certainly going to be seeing these initiatives through. Everything from, of course, fracking is such an important issue that is causing a lot of concern within communities and about the potential environmental impacts so we’ll certainly be continuing to look at that issue. The MV Miner hasn’t been cleaned up yet. That’s an issue that we're going to have to be working with our federal counterparts to move forward on. We have other departments. The Protected Lands initiative has a plan in place that they’re executing on. We’re going to continue working on that. Our Water Waste group, waste management reduction plans and initiatives and targets that we’re working on, so all of these things are already in place that we’re going to continue working on. I’m going to need take a little bit more time to familiarize myself with all the details to set up, you know, where we may focus or re-direct any priorities but as of now it’s moving forward and I met with a number of people last week when I was in Halifax and they’re doing a lot of great work up there and I’m really proud of them.

ACALATV: Ok, super. The aims of business are often at odds with the environment. And, as someone with a background in business, can you give us assurances that you, as minister of environment, will prioritize the environment over corporate interests?

Randy Delorey: Well I think that’s a little bit of a loaded question. You know, I don’t think we need to put any interests ahead of any other interests. I think what’s important is finding the right balance. It’s about saying are we treating our areas you know whether they be environmental or economic interests, are we treating them appropriately? So for example, you know, are we being too restrictive in terms of simple paper work, right, which doesn’t actually necessarily do anything to directly benefit the environment concerns but it does have a negative effect on our corporate interests and our economic interests. What I think we need to focus on is emphasizing what we do for the environment we do things that actually contribute to helping the environment and/or protecting it. You know and that’s the piece. So I mean to say just outright you know the environment, yes the environment itself, but are there things within the organization, the department, that we can do to help continue to protect and prioritize and do good things for the environment while, at the same time, you know, recognizing that, you know, our economy is important as well and our commercial interests whether they be corporate or small business interests also have to be recognized that come into play as well.

ACALATV: Alright, so to be more specific, The Gulf of St Lawrence is a precious breeding ecosystem with counter clockwise currents that only flush into the Atlantic once a year; because of these currents, any oil spill would be catastrophic. So, given that the Gulf has the largest lobster production in the world, the highest concentration of krill in the northwest Atlantic and is home to over 2,000 marine species including endangered blue whale, what will your government do to protect our sustainable inshore fishery, our renewable tourism industries, our stunning coastlines, our historic communities and our unique culture?

Randy Delorey: Well right now the work that would or could be done to my knowledge right now there are no proposals for any kind of drilling in that area. So it’s, in terms of that, I mean, just to clarify there is no action right now being taken in that area. When and if proposals were to come forward, that is an area, the waterways off the coast there that are actually managed not by my department. They’re managed by a joint board with the federal and the provincial governments, which is, and they actually perform the environmental assessments and so on, as well, in that space so it falls outside of my mandate, my department’s mandate to actually control and work in that area.

ACALATV: Would you have input?

Randy Delorey: Would we have input? I’ll have to find out more about the terms of reference with that board itself. I’ve only been on the job for less than a week myself.

ACALATV: No, no I can totally respect that. Alright. Historically, the Department of the Environment has had a less than exemplar record with regard to public consultation, taking on the "we know best" approach to final recommendations. How will you ensure that Nova Scotia voices will be heard in the public consultation process on environmental initiatives, and reflected in final recommendations that address the needs and concerns of people who live in and are affected by these initiatives?

Randy Delorey: I don’t want to, you know, starting off there saying that the Department of Environment I think the last four years the entire Government has operated in and had a less than stellar record for public consultation. I speak from experience in another trying to work with another department. You know if you followed the campaign, if you followed the position of our leader and the party that’s formed government throughout the campaign, we have an immense amount of commitment to public consultation and we mean legitimate consultation. I think in terms of your reference to, you know, have to take a look at specific issues to see where the consultations have failed in this department, but certainly I'm aware from the other side the importance of having a meaningful input through the process and so I`m certainly sensitive to it. What exactly would I do, I`d have to know the exact details of the issues and the challenges that this department has had to be able to look at how we’re going to address those specific ones, but certainly as, you know, as the Minister I am aware, as an individual and as the Minister I am aware of those types of challenges and what it means to actually be heard, right, it's one thing to have a public meeting, it`s another to actually be heard at those meetings and I'm certainly sensitive to that.

ACALATV: Sounds good. So, a Parks and Protected Areas strategy was moving towards approval by the NDP government, what will the Liberal government be doing with the current legislative requirements to put this in place?

Randy Delorey: The Parks & Protected is already moving forward I think we’ve, the goals at that time, it was actually approved back in 2007 the original plan. That was approved unanimously in the House so I don't see any issues continuing to move forward on this particular initiative. I believe currently we're at about 9.5 plus or minus percent of lands of the goal to hit 12. The strategy that's in place right now would have us on target to actually end up protecting close to 13 percent. So you know I don't see any hurdles or roadblocks in continuing to work on the work that they’re doing.

ACALATV: That’s encouraging. That’s good. OK. So as you think about your responsibilities as Minister, what will you do differently to ensure that Nova Scotia is part of the solution to the problem of climate change?

Randy Delorey: I think one of the big things is continuing to work on education. I mean an earlier question you brought up this question, you created, the reason I say it`s loaded is because it continues to treat commercial, economic interests and environmental interests as polar opposites and I think that's problematic because as soon as any groups start taking the position that we are working towards opposite ends then we’re not going to get consensus we’re not going to move things forward in a productive way. We need to have dialogue. In order for that to happen I think we need to have some education and we need to have education in the general population so that they understand both the environmental and the commercial interests and how the two can work together. They also need to understand that the interests can work together. There’s lots of economic opportunity in the, you know, that can benefit the environment as well. You know, right now we’re focusing on some of the things that might cause risks, but with green energy and other initiatives within the green space. A few years ago in my role as a Professor at StFX, I went to a business competition and the national winner at this competition was actually proposing a business to provide green consulting services out on the West Coast. So, there’s lots of opportunity where economic development can actually be developed to help actually move forward our environmental interests. So to say, you know, back to that earlier question, about this contradiction I think that’s the kind of thing that we can do to work together and they’re not polar opposites.

ACALATV: What actions will your government be undertaking to help Nova Scotians adapt and manage the results of rising sea levels, coastal erosion and relocation. For example, would your government develop a much needed coastal management strategy for protecting and living by coastal ecosystems?

Randy Delorey: That is actually an important issue that’s becoming more important every year that goes by is the rising tides. One of the things I mentioned, again, earlier is education; so we need to educate our citizens, particularly those that reside in low lying areas of the risks and the challenges. I believe, and I have to double check these details, but I believe there's an initiative with municipal agencies, municipal units, where they can begin working on kind of the flood response plans and strategies there. I don't have the details on that yet, but I believe there`s being something done in that space. So I think it will probably be working with our municipal units, our municipal partners, as well as our citizens in terms of information, and planning, and strategizing so we can address these things.

ACALATV: Very good. Many Nova Scotians recognize the importance of protecting the health of natural soil and water in our watersheds. Will your department continue with and expand upon the important Nova Scotia Water Resources Management Strategy to protect water and aquatic ecosystems?

Randy Delorey: I'm aware of the strategy and I spoke with some of the members in that department about the work that they were doing last week when I first came on board and took on the position. I can`t make any commitments right now in terms of, you know, expanding it. I do need to familiarize myself a little bit more but I do agree that the work they're doing is important and they’re doing a lot of great work from management of, you know, water that we consume as well as our waterways and our natural environments and it`s interesting I think that the department is fantastic because these initiatives really complement an earlier question about the Parks and Protected Lands. When they strategize and target their protected lands they do look for opportunities where they can protect areas that may have watersheds for municipal units or they may have other ecologically sensitive water spaces. So, you know, I think it`s important to recognize that the department is already working together in the different divisions on different strategies that actually complement each other and can help continue to move that waterways protection forward.

ACALATV: In view of the potential for environmental damage from shale gas fracturing and its resultant negative impacts on health, will the Liberal government retain and extend the moratorium? Are there plans to produce environmental and health baseline studies tailored to our particular demographic and health profiles?

Randy Delorey: Yeah right now, you're right, there is a moratorium in place and there are no plans to modify that moratorium to remove the moratorium. We certainly are committed to obtaining independent assessment of the impacts of fracking. I believe in August, late August, early September, it probably got lost a little bit with the election run up to the election but the previous government, and so our department, did identify an independent consultant to begin looking into this. I have to get briefed on what the status of that particular initiative is, but the goal is to keep it arm’s length from government as well as corporate interests. We want to have a truly independent assessment. I think there's a lot of, back to the point of polar positions, on what the impacts and value of what the fracking industry are, we really are committed to getting an independent assessment on that because we need to have the information and try to make evidence based decisions.

ACALATV: The transport of toxic and hazardous chemicals by rail is increasing rapidly in Nova Scotia. The Town of Antigonish is expecting increased rail transport on a line that travels along the Antigonish Harbour then passes through the town and directly below the hospital. How will the Department of the Environment move forward to protect communities and the environment from the serious effects and potential accidents involving the transport of dangerous goods?

Randy Delorey: Well I think in terms of, if you're talking about when an incident occurs, you know how do we respond? We have protocol in place to respond in those instances and the Staff and the Department in conjunction with other agencies in terms of actually the cleanup and contaminated sites and dealing with those responses. If you're talking about in terms of the regulation of the transport of the materials, again it becomes a complicated issue because it’s a type of issue that involves the integration of, and negotiation and working with things like the Transportation Department which actually would regulate the railway lines themselves and so on. So it becomes a very complex issue to try to just have a specific response right now.

ACALATV: That’s fair enough. That leads into this. So, transportation, energy, health, and environmental issues are all closely linked; however, minimal inter-department communication ensures that the departments' research and policies remain siloed. First, do you agree with that? And, if yes, how do you plan to address this through your own department? What steps will the Liberal government take to promote a whole of government approach to healthy public policy?

Randy Delorey: I think that’s an interesting point because I think you're right. In some instances, departments are operating in silos yet the work that they do does affect and impact others. I think if you look at the team that is formed government right now we have great working relationships so I’m pretty confident that we're going to continue, you know, our dialogue certainly at the ministerial level and around the caucus table so we know what's going on with any two of the departments and if we see challenges and issues there we have the opportunity to address them there and as the opportunity comes up for further interactions at the Departmental level, at Staff level.

ACALATV: What will your government do to rectify the deplorable pollution at Boat Harbour, next to Pictou Landing First Nation?

Randy Delorey: That is an issue that I'm aware of. I became aware of it during the election campaign despite not falling in my immediate riding; I’m certainly have contact with people in the area, that, you know, and there are concerns about what’s going on right there. I need to ramp up on the file, both on the departmental information that we have on that as well, as, you know, recent information being brought forward to the department from other independent or community interests before saying exactly what can be done. Again, Boat Harbour itself is a very, very complex issue from what I`ve already ramped up on and become educated and informed about. It`s an issue that goes back before I was born, so, you know, again, less than a week on the job, that`s not something that I`m going to have a solution for right out of the gate but it’s certainly on the radar.

ACALATV: What do you see as the top three priorities Antigonish Town and County (communities) should plan for in the next 3-5 years to allow us to be a more resilient environmentally sustainable community?

Randy Delorey: Well I think Antigonish Town and County already do some good things, and I think in some ways continuing to do what they’re doing. I think in particular here in Antigonish and across the province, from a Waste Reduction perspective, I believe we as a province are leading the way nationally, in terms of limiting the amount of waste we produce. It`s probably, you know, 40% less waste being produced in Nova Scotia on average per person relative to the rest of the country. That`s pretty significant. So we`re doing some really great things already in our municipalities. As I mentioned, when the question came up, about the waterways, and as I mentioned there are some initiatives there around the waterways and identifying some response plans that municipalities can work with the Department on and we'll work with the Municipalities. In terms of actually identifying specifically for the municipalities, I think it`s important that, you know, we don't hear what I have to say as, you know, kind of dictating to the municipalities cause we certainly want to work with municipalities, in whether it`s continuing the waste reduction, their water and sewer treatment initiatives and so on that they want to work on, again, rising tides or other environmental concerns that they may have. It`s about working with them and collaborating with them and whatever those top priorities end up being as they go through. It`s knowing that they have a partner to work with, with them, in identifying and prioritizing those initiatives. Like I said I do I think we have a pretty good record in Antigonish and, you know, and I think it`s something they've done very well in their waste management. In fact, people from away who come here, and the way we have to sort our garbage and so on it’s not overly burdensome and yet it has a really positive impact and when you think back to when we were kids and the way that, you know, everything just went out, I think we have made some good strides and we need to continue to do that.

 

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