After wrangling over deputy speakers and long sitting hours, the majority Progressive Conservative (PC) government has passed its desired bills and the Nova Scotian Legislative Assembly has risen for the winter, bringing an end to the 64th Assembly’s first yearlong session and removing any remaining bills from the order paper. The last five weeks have had their newsworthy moments, but through the thick haze of punchy headlines, what actually happened during this fall’s sitting?
A green hydrogen Rush(ton)
The PC government has acted fast on promoting and supporting green hydrogen. It believes, with first-mover advantage, the nascent industry will diversify the province’s renewable energy mix, accelerate offshore wind development, and provide tangible economic benefits to Nova Scotians.
To date, the government has signalled the development of a green hydrogen innovation program and has permitted green hydrogen producers to purchase power from the grid at wholesale prices for domestic purposes, to store green hydrogen underground, and to inject green hydrogen into pipelines.
Minister Tory Rushton has promised that the government intends to “make Nova Scotia a leader in the world for green hydrogen.” He admitted that while there were more regulatory steps to take, these changes and future ones would precede the publication of a comprehensive green hydrogen action plan in 2023.
For prospective green hydrogen producers, the writing is on the wall: Nova Scotia is betting big on green hydrogen. NATIONAL Public Relations is closely following the regulatory environment and will continue to provide expert guidance on navigating land lease applications, stakeholder engagement sessions, government relations, and more.
The price of carbon
With Bill 208, the PC government has pitched its alternative to the federal carbon tax. The new “output-based pricing system” introduces compliance obligations on regulated facilities such as mining, manufacturing, oil and gas, and electricity generation. Meeting these obligations earns a company a performance credit, while falling short results in a fine payable to the Nova Scotia Climate Change Fund.
The government believes unregulated companies would prefer to sign up to its program versus the federal carbon tax, but federal approval of the program is still up in the air. While organizations have reason to hope for a choice, they should plan for the introduction of the federal carbon tax as a contingency.
Government rates the rates
One of the government’s most talked about moves this sitting was Bill 212, which capped Nova Scotia Power’s power rate increase at 1.8 percent until 2024, much less than the 11.6 percent the utility initially proposed. Also capped is the guaranteed rate of return on equity at 9.25 percent. Excess profit splitting has been disallowed, and any revenues generated by the capped increase must be reinvested in reliability upgrades.
The bill has received criticism from businesses, consumer advocates, and NSP for its impact on the regulatory independence of the Utility and Review Board and on the NSP’s ability to meet the province’s 2030 climate goal of generating 80 percent of its energy from renewables.
The cap will amount to a loss of approximately $150 million in revenue for NSP, money it says is necessary to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets and make much-needed improvements to the grid. Parent company Emera has “paused work” on the Atlantic Loop project in the wake of the legislation as it rethinks its capital projects to protect its credit rating. Emera has raised concerns about attracting investors, stating that the introduction of Bill 212 calls the stability of the province’s regulatory environment into question.
The 1.8 percent cap does not apply to increases linked to fuel costs and will not prevent many Nova Scotians from paying more next year.
While some organizations may welcome the short-term relief provided by the rate cap, it would be prudent to consider what the long-term effects of this legislation may be on future rates, borrowing costs, and investor confidence going forward.
Everyone should know about Ruby’s Law
In a moment of bipartisanship, all parties came together to pass Bill 82, or Ruby’s Law, named in honour of Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Lorelei Nicoll’s stillborn grandchild. Passage was unanimous and respects were paid to Nicoll and Minister of Labour Jill Balser.
Under Ruby’s Law, an employee can receive up to five consecutive days of unpaid leave if a pregnancy ends without a live birth before 19 weeks, and 16 weeks of unpaid leave if such a pregnancy ends after 19 weeks. Employees get to choose how much time they take.
Prior to Ruby’s Law, the Labour Code did not explicitly address pregnancies ending without a live birth. The bill’s significance was echoed by Nicoll, who said it would give people time to grieve after experiencing the end of a pregnancy without a live birth, and said, “on behalf of all women, this means a lot.”
It is good practice for organizations to regularly review their HR practices, and now is a good time to align your policies with current legislation. Communicating these updates with your employees not only ensures awareness among staff, but also prevents confusion or escalation, enabling employers to better support their employees.
As wider audiences discuss shifting priorities around work-life balance and employee benefits, effective internal communication is key for organizations who want to retain their employees and attract top talent.
Budget 2023: A dream of spring
It feels too early to talk about Spring 2023, but when it finally arrives, so too will the government’s second budget. With official budget consultations on the horizon, now is the time for organizations to begin thinking about their provincial funding needs. Priorities not on the government’s radar before the consultation period begins will struggle to get the attention they deserve.
What the 2023 budget will entail and how this sitting’s changes will have shaken out will be of particular interest to Nova Scotians as the majority PC government enters the middle of its mandate.
The remainder at a glance
- Bill 196: Governance changes to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
- Bill 198: Telecommunications service providers will now have to guarantee access to NS 911, notify customers if access is disrupted, engage with government on access, and comply with emergency preparation and participation requirements.
- Bill 200: Governance changes to the Nova Scotia Museum.
- Bill 204: Municipal governments will be able to impose a marketing levy of 3% on short-term accommodations, including hotels and bed and breakfasts.
- Bill 205: Governance changes to St. Francis Xavier University.
- Bill 211: Government will now be able to appoint adjudicators to resolve payment disputes between construction contractors and subcontractors. Parameters for adjudication included.
- Bill 214: Effective December 1, 2022, Nova Scotia Business Inc (NSBI) and Innovacorp will be amalgamated into Invest NS, with a CEO and advisory board that answers to the Minister of Economic Development.
- Bill 216: Effective December 1, 2022, Develop NS and Nova Scotia Lands Limited will be amalgamated into Build NS, with a CEO and advisory board that answers to the Minister of Public Works.
- Bill 219: Governance changes to the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation.
- Bill 222: In addition to the powers vested in the Minister of Housing, the regional housing authorities will be amalgamated into the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency December 1, 2022.
- Bill 223: The Municipal Finance Corporation has been dissolved and its funding allocations given to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board to issue with discretion.
- Bill 224: The Perennia Food and Agriculture Corporation will now be a crown corporation under the purview of the Minister of Agriculture.
- Bill 225: The provincial government can nullify Halifax Regional Municipality’s (HRM) housing bylaws within 6 months of passage, so long as they do not explicitly target African-Nova Scotian or Mi’kmaq communities.
- Bill 227: Tax credit amendments to the fertility and surrogacy rebate.
- Resolution 385: Three new deputy speakers, all PC MLAs, have been appointed as deputy speakers for a total of five. This was a point of major controversy during the fall sitting.