Minister Kim Masland leads the way for public infrastructure improvements in Nova Scotia.
Public Works Minister Kim Masland was first elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Queens-Shelburne in 2017 and re-elected in 2021. She is the Government House Leader—the first for a female in the province of Nova Scotia—and is also a member of the Assembly Matters and Internal Affairs Committees, and the Management Commission.
Prior to becoming an MLA, Masland worked in the banking industry and as the executive assistant to Gerald Keddy, Member of Parliament from 1997-2015. In 2015 she became the Senior Safety Coordinator for Queens County working closely with the RCMP Detachment.
Since her ministerial appointment in 2021, her department has made some major announcements toward achieving more resilient infrastructure. Most recently, the Gravel Road Capital and Rural Impact Mitigation budget was doubled, bringing the total investment to more than $63.5 million. Gravel roads make up about 35 per cent of the provincial road network.
Masland has also demonstrated personal resilience in keeping up with her hectic schedule while battling COVID. In fact, she and her family came down with COVID during the weeks leading up to the ReNew Canada interview, but she was determined to proceed and share her insights into the state of public works and how she’s tackling her to do list during one of the most challenging times in the history of the province.
You were introduced as the new leader of the Department of Public Works, formerly Transportation and Active Transit, on August 31, 2021. How is your previous experience in finance, safety, and public affairs helping you to perform in your relatively new role?
I am absolutely delighted to be in the new role as Minister of Public Works. It has been very challenging to learn so much about a very large department within our government and province. But being involved in government is not new to me. I spent four years in opposition and had various roles during that time, including critic of environment, fisheries and aquaculture, education, justice. I’m thankful for those years where I was able to get my feet underneath of me, to really learn about government and the legislature.
Before that, my experience working with Gerald Keddy was so valuable to me. I went back and forth to Ottawa, and I learned to navigate the many complex systems that exist in government and to help people access services and supports. I’ve essentially spent my entire adult life involved in public service and I love it. I was brought up believing we all play a role in society and should take care of one another. Stepping up into public service is my way of contributing.
What are some of the key goals that you have for Nova Scotia’s public works initiatives?
I’m a rural MLA. I grew up with lots of gravel roads around me and I understand and know the importance of our road system, especially our gravel roads. I wanted to make sure that we had a real focus on rural roads and was very happy when our Premier doubled the funding for those programs—that was my first announcement as minister of public works. It was exciting to come back to Liverpool and deliver that news at our local highway depot.
In terms of other key goals, I want to make sure that we honour the commitments made by previous governments, including our five-year highway improvement plan—which includes management of 23,000 kilometres of roads and 4,100 bridges. It’s important for our contractors, road building associations, and truckers to be able to plan ahead. We’re also looking at determining what resources are required to reduce our energy consumption and the embodied carbon in our energy portfolio. Moving forward, with building projects and in our major renovations, we will strive for net zero solutions and to maximize climate resilience. My department is responsible for 2,400 structures across our province, so we want to make sure that we’re doing our part.
Another goal in my mandate was to remove the tolls on the Cobequid Pass for Nova Scotia registered vehicles and I’m pleased that we were able to do that in December. There will still be a toll for out of province registered vehicles. It was great for me to be able to pay the last in-province toll.
You are checking off the to do list despite it being a tough time to do so. Are there specific steps your team is taking to deduce how to address the ongoing pandemic challenges currently facing public works?
As in most jurisdictions, the pandemic has been the focus for the past two years and we’re working to make sure we’re providing services and delivering projects that Nova Scotians expect and deserve. We’ve been quite successful in maintaining our transportation routes and continuing with our pothole management and brush cutting where needed. We will continue to implement the commitments identified in the five-year plan. It has been an unprecedented and very difficult time but we’re driving forward with our plans.
Our recent Top100 report highlighted some major projects in Nova Scotia, including the $717.9 million Highway 104 redevelopment project and the $2 billion QEII New Generation healthcare project. What can you tell us about the progress on these projects and how they will help the communities they serve?
These are two very, very exciting projects. Safe highways are absolutely essential for the economic and social well being of all communities. This will provide a high-quality highway for many years to come. The Highway 104 project will see 38 kilometres between Sutherlands River, Pictou County, and Antigonish twinned as well as the construction of new interchanges and bridges. The project includes a new, four-lane divided highway, the twinning of an existing highway, two new interchanges, about 24 new bridges, environmental enhancements and more. This project is very welcome by residents and travellers will appreciate it as well.
The QEII New Generation project is a very complex, multi-year project that will lay the foundation for how we will deliver health services for the future. The redevelopment of the QEII is a multi-phase project involving several healthcare sites in and around the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). The project will transform our health care delivery, providing modern services for patients through renovations for the Hants Community Hospital in Windsor and the Dartmouth General Hospital, a new Community Outpatient Centre in Bayers Lake, a new hospice residence in Halifax, movement of the cancer centre, and more. The healthcare community has been very involved in this project. Anytime you can collaborate with people on the front lines who really understand what’s needed, it’s the best. This project will create such positive change for so many people.
Canadians are increasingly experiencing the impacts of climate change with extreme weather events from coast to coast to coast. How is the government working to make sure coastal communities in Nova Scotia are becoming more resilient?
It’s a very good question. We all know how important it is to protect our unique coastline in Nova Scotia, Canada’s ocean playground. Our rising seawater levels are putting our communities at risk. The new coastal protection legislation, when finalized, will guide new development and redevelopment, and protect future construction along our more than 13,000 kilometres of coastline. Ecosystems are also at risk. Nova Scotia has partnered with other Atlantic provinces and the federal government to support the CLIMAtlantic program to share critical data, which will help develop strategies to respond to climate change, including risk planning and flood mapping. We want to make sure that our municipalities are prepared. Cape Breton recently suffered a severe storm in which we lost roads. Some bridges were completely washed out. We’re undertaking several engineering and feasibility studies to figure out how to plan for more resilient communities and roads.
Speaking of transportation, you recently introduced the Joint Regional Transportation Agency Act – Bill 6, an Act to Establish a Joint Regional Transportation Agency. How will this new legislation improve transportation conditions and accountability in the province?
Yes, I introduced this in the last sitting of the legislature. Any time that we can improve the flow of people and goods in and out of an area it’s a good thing. This legislation is specifically looking at the flow of people in and out of the Halifax Regional Municipality. The growth in our city and urban areas has been incredible over the past few years. We need to make sure we’re doing the right things in the right areas. It’s a great way to collaborate and it will lead to success. We are collaborating to build a long-term plan and guide future work for roads, ferries, and public transportation.
This winter there was a controversy over the use of public equipment being used to plow private roads. Some attribute this as a legacy of political favours from the past. A freedom of information request last year revealed the province provides some level of service on 348 roads totalling about 95 kilometres. How are you addressing the situation?
We’re currently in conversation to sort this matter out. I can tell you that back in the mid-1990s the province took on maintenance of these private, mostly gravel roads. There have been no new private roads added to the list on my watch. It predates my involvement in the department. In the meantime, we want to assure a level of safety for everyone. My understanding is that some of these roads lead to churches, community halls, and grocery stores. We are maintaining the status quo for these 95 kilometres of road, but I am asking my staff to clarify the practice of servicing these roads.
Are there any other up and coming plans for public works that you’d like to share with ReNew Canada readers?
Another incredible project I’d like to highlight is the Cape Breton Regional Municipality redevelopment project. Similar to the HRM project, it’s a multi-year, multi-phase endeavor, which will result in a new cancer centre, energy centre and a clinical services building that will house a new emergency department, critical care department, in-patient beds, surgical suites and maternal services area. There will be a community wellness and recreational centre that will be life changing for people in the community.
I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge the work of the people in public works department. I’m in awe of the ongoing efforts of these incredible public servants that go above and beyond.
[This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 edition of ReNew Canada.]
Connie Vitello is the contributing editor of ReNew Canada.
Featured image: Nova Scotia Public Works Minister Kim Masland visits a department depot garage and takes the opportunity to get in the driver’s seat. (Nova Scotia Public Works)