Nova Scotia

N.S. government takes steps to legislate accountability from telcos

In the wake of a post-tropical storm that left thousands of people without phone service, the Nova Scotia government is taking steps to legislate accountability from telecommunications companies.

Bill comes in response to problems following post-tropical storm Fiona

John Lohr is Nova Scotia's minister responsible for the Emergency Management Office. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

In the wake of a post-tropical storm that left thousands of people without phone service, the Nova Scotia government is taking steps to legislate accountability from telecommunications companies.

"Really, nothing changed from [post-tropical storm] Dorian until now," John Lohr, the province's minister responsible for the emergency management office, told reporters at Province House on Thursday.

"We're not happy with that so we want to send a signal that we're not satisfied with that, that things have to change and that this is how we're going to hold these companies to account."

Legislation tabled by Lohr would require telecommunication companies operating in the province to develop annual emergency response plans that must be approved by the minister.

Those plans must outline reasonable actions the companies would take to ensure the continuation of service during a storm, or prompt restoration.

The bill would also give the minister the power to require the presence of company representatives and critical service providers at an emergency planning and response table, and that providers share records related to their response to emergency situations.

Although telecommunications companies are federally regulated, Lohr said the province has jurisdiction over emergency management. The bill is being introduced in that capacity, he said.

In the wake of Fiona, Lohr and Premier Tim Houston were critical of the decision by most telecommunication companies not to be present at the provincial co-ordination centre ahead of the storm's arrival and during its immediate aftermath.

"This was one of our big disappointments," said Lohr.

Having company representatives present can help co-ordinate what areas need response the soonest to help restore service and prevent any potential delays, said the minister.

"At that moment, being in the room is critical," he said.

"This is about being able to respond instantaneously to a crisis."

Failure to comply with the legislation and regulations would result in a company being fined up to $250,000 a day.

Lohr said he hopes fines won't be necessary because the companies collaborate with the province to improve response plans.

A spokesperson for Bell said in a statement that the company activated its own internal emergency response process ahead of Fiona's arrival and established contact with all Atlantic provincial emergency management offices and other partners, such as Nova Scotia Power.

Lines of communications were also established with Atlantic premiers' offices and key federal ministers," Katie Hatfield said in an email.

"From the first day the Nova Scotia EMO was activated we have had a Bell Aliant representative physically in the command centre, with the exception of one day when we remained connected virtually. We continued to have a physical presence until Oct. 6."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

now