Nova Scotia

University tuition, the Dorian crane and other post-cabinet meeting highlights

Nova Scotia's cabinet ministers commented on a variety of issues Thursday, including assistance related to COVID-19, the recent mass shooting and investigation, and the crane that collapsed in downtown Halifax last fall.

Nova Scotia cabinet ministers comment of a variety of issues Thursday

Nova Scotia's universities are facing great uncertainty about how COVID-19 will affect enrollment in the fall. (Robert Short/CBC)

Thursday marked the first time reporters have been able to interact with Nova Scotia cabinet ministers following their cabinet meeting since a state of emergency was declared in March. The exchanges were conducted via telephone.

Here are some of the highlights:

COVID-19 has thrown university operations into disarray and created major question marks about student enrolment heading into the fall semester in Nova Scotia, but schools will not be allowed to increase tuition beyond the three per cent cap.

Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousolis confirmed the news Thursday during a briefing with reporters.

"All the universities will have to abide by it for their undergraduate programs," he said.

Several universities have already announced that classes this fall will be conducted online.

Kousoulis said most universities are still waiting to see what the fall brings before serious conversations begin about what kind of financial help they might require from the government. That's because it's still too soon to know what will happen with enrolment, said the minister.

Although international student numbers are all but certain to take a dive, Kousoulis said some schools are hoping to see an increase in students attending from within Nova Scotia. The province will be there to help if universities need it, he said.

No new budget

Finance Minister Karen Casey said the province will not produce a new budget despite the financial upheaval being created by COVID-19.

The minister said the regular fiscal update this summer would go ahead as normal, but she said it's clear the numbers will be very different than when the government passed a balanced budget earlier this year.

Casey said the province has the capacity to meet the needs people and businesses are facing, but she also expects all government departments to review their budgets so they are able to respond to the most urgent needs.

"The impact of COVID is our priority," she said.

Dorian crane cleanup bill is in

Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said the final cost for cleaning up the crane that collapsed at a construction site in downtown Halifax last fall during tropical storm Dorian is $1.9 million.

Hines said his department is awaiting the completion of an investigation by the Labour Department into the collapse before deciding how to proceed to recoup the costs.

"We're not relenting on that," he said. "We're going to make every effort to do that."

Hines also said it's too soon to know what effect COVID-19 will have on this year's sailing of the ferry between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, however he said the terminal in Maine will be ready to receive passengers whenever public health officials in the province give the service operator clearance to begin.

"This government believes in the ferry and we will continue to support it."

Bay Ferries recently announced that the service start date has been pushed back until at least July 15.

Hines said construction on a new outpatient clinic in Bayers Lake in Halifax is expected to begin in late summer or early this fall and that the preferred proponent for the work would be announced later this spring.

Health minister confident in Northwood's future prep 

Health Minister Randy Delorey said he's confident the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax will be prepared in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 and wouldn't be subject to a deadly outbreak like the one it's facing now.

The home has had 45 deaths connected to the illness. Public health officials have said the source of the outbreak was several asymptomatic staff members who weren't aware they were carrying the disease.

Delorey noted that the outbreak was contained after additional resources were brought into the site and he believes such steps, along with knowledge about the illness that wasn't available at the time of the initial outbreak, will have the home fully prepared in the event a second wave of the virus comes to the province.

Premier supports border restrictions

Premier Stephen McNeil said he supports the federal government's position on restrictions at the U.S. border for non-commercial traffic and travel. The premier said there still needs to be a better understanding of what's happening in America with respect to COVID-19.

The premier said the decision on calling an inquiry into the mass shooting last month that began in Portapique, N.S., will be made along with the RCMP and federal government because the RCMP is a federal force.

"This will have an impact on policing across the country."

McNeil also said efforts will further be bolstered to try to address domestic violence, but he said there also need to be societal changes to make it clear that it's unacceptable.

"We as men need to stand up and be counted," he said.

"When we see something, we need to challenge it and we need to continue to tell our sons as they grow up, no matter how difficult and frustrating life may be, it's unacceptable at any level to use physical violence toward anyone."

Justice minister not concerned about conflict

Justice Minister Mark Furey said he doesn't think he has a potential conflict as it relates to talks of an inquiry into the mass shooting and the way it was handled by the RCMP.

Furey, a former RCMP officer, noted that he has previously been cleared by the province's conflict of interest commissioner as he examines the matter of the wrongful conviction of Glen Asssoun, a file that also includes the RCMP.

"In general terms the conflict commission indicated at that time that by the very nature of my role and my previous work experience, that in itself does not place me in a conflict of interest," he said.

"I don't feel that I'm in conflict with this file."

Like the premier, Furey said it's too soon to call an inquiry into the matter because there are federal elements that also must be considered.

Furey said he is aware that many people would like to see an inquiry, but for now he is focused on addressing the needs of victim services and acting as a liaison between Ottawa and the RCMP here in the province.

Forestry management guide coming soon

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said the public will soon get to see the new forestry management guide called for in the Lahey Report on forestry practices.

Rankin said consultation with stakeholders ended in March and the draft is now being revised by the evaluation team. He said it would then be shared with the public for further feedback, likely later this spring.

"We're working to improve that guide throughout that process," he said.

Rankin said the province's forestry transition team continues to meet on a regular basis to discuss opportunities for the sector. He said the global pandemic has made it difficult to pursue new opportunities for wood chips, a glut of which has developed since Northern Pulp shut down earlier this year.