After today’s cabinet meeting, ministers spoke with reporters. Jennifer Henderson reports.
Climate plan delayed
A multi-year plan promised by the Houston government to tackle and adapt to climate change has been delayed.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman said it is more important “to get it right” than to meet the spring target the government had previously announced. Halman described climate change as the issue of this generation. Under the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, a concrete Plan must be tabled by the end of 2022.
Halman said work among 10 government departments is ongoing but the climate plan itself is not yet ready. What is almost complete is a Climate Risk Assessment report that provides an up-to-date scientific outlook for the next 30-50 years. Halman said he expects that Assessment will be released to the public within the next few weeks.
Mass Casualty Inquiry
“I stand with the families,” said Premier Tim Houston when asked about the decision of the Mass Casualty Commission to prevent their lawyers from conducting direct cross-examination of two senior RCMP officers who were key decision makers during the Portapique tragedy.
The two officers who were granted special accommodation at Staff Sergeant Brian Rehill, the commanding officer the evening of April 18, and Sergeant Andy O’Brien, the operations manager.
“I share the families’ concerns about how this is unfolding,” said Houston. We need to make sure the inquiry gets to a place where people can feel confident in the findings and respect the findings and have an action plan to move forward.”
Houston said he regards the ability of lawyers to ask questions in their own voice as an important part of what he expected from a public inquiry. But Houston did not say he has lost confidence in the commission process, noting that “it is still ongoing. We have seen some course adjustments by the commission over the inquiry to this stage, so I am hopeful they are listening.”
Salaries for MLAs and Nova Scotia Power executives
Earlier this week, the Speaker of the House of Assembly (PC Keith Bain) appointed a panel of three lawyers to review the salaries and benefits paid to the members of the Nova Scotia Legislature. It’s been 10 years since the last review.
MLA salaries are $89,000 a year with cabinet ministers taking home an additional $50,000. The Premier earns $113,000 a year.
The government has been under pressure to provide additional financial relief to Nova Scotians hard hit by higher food and gasoline prices. In February, it sent $150 cheques to people who receive income assistance. Houston told reporters the salary review “is not something I personally would have done because this is not the appropriate time.”
The panel appointed by the Speaker’s Office has given citizens only until June 10 to express their views on salaries for elected representatives. Written comments may be submitted by email to email@example.com or by mail (postmarked before June 10) to Remuneration Panel, c/o Clerk’s Office, 1st Floor – Province House, P.O. Box 1617, Halifax, N.S., B3J 2Y3.
Nova Scotians can make a 10-minute presentation to the panel on Wednesday, June 8. To schedule, people must send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before 4pm on Monday, June 6.
Following today’s cabinet meeting, Houston was asked whether executive compensation, including base salaries and bonuses that will be paid to executives with Nova Scotia Power for the next three years, should be made public as part of the upcoming Utilities and Review Board hearing. That process will decide if the company can increase power rates by 10% over the next three years.
Houston said the province’s position — as laid out in its letter to the UARB — is that compensation paid to Nova Scotia Power executives should be disclosed publicly and not kept secret. The Consumer Advocate and lawyer for a group of large manufacturers has made the same point.
Nova Scotia Power has asked the UARB to respect business confidentiality and privacy legislation with respect to keeping executive compensations under wraps. The UARB will have to make a ruling.
Where are we on COVID?
Health Minister Michelle Thompson said Nova Scotia Health is “getting close” to having enough beds and staff to be able to resume doing elective surgeries at the same level prior to the Omicron wave in January.
Thompson said elective surgeries have resumed in the Central Zone (Halifax) but she did not have up-to-date information for the province as a whole
There is still no concrete plan for dealing with a backlog of 27,000 surgical patients although Thompson said “every option remains on the table,” including finding operating rooms where procedures could be scheduled outside normal business hours.
While the number of people being admitted to hospital with COVID has fallen over the past month, the weekly death toll has continued to remain in the double digits, dipping to nine last week. The percentage of Nova Scotians who have signed up for a booster shot against Omicron has not moved, stuck literally around 65%.
Houston was asked, “where are we on COVID?”
“There’s still COVID active in our communities,” answered Houston. “There is no question about that. I feel strongly people have the information they need to make decisions about protecting themselves and protect their families in terms of masking or staying away from events or crowds and social distancing. Look, it’s painful to see Nova Scotians continuing to perish because of COVID…that weighs heavy on the mind. But we are moving through the stages of the pandemic.”
Sounds as if the government is leaving it up to individuals to remember COVID has yet to take a summer break .