Saturday, November 13, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Scott Brison big on decentralization
Public Works minister explains plan while visiting Cape Breton


SYDNEY - Scott Brison has repeated his commitment to moving more government offices and services to the regions.

"We have a real opportunity to move public servants closer to the people being served by them," the federal minister of public works said in a speech at a Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Mr. Brison said his own department could move offices out of Ottawa and he will press ministers of other departments and agencies to look at ways to reduce the number of buildings government owns.

"Quite frankly, owning the buildings makes it more compelling for ministries to stay exactly where they are, as opposed to thinking creatively and outside of the box and considering where they ought to be," he said.

According to Mr. Brison, 52 per cent of federal government office space is in the Ottawa region.

Earlier Friday, local MPs took Mr. Brison on a tour of federal government offices in Sydney, including a Citizen and Immigration document processing centre downtown.

They also took him around the tar ponds and coke ovens sites. Public Works Canada is the lead federal agency for the cleanup of the sites, contaminated by hazardous waste generated over a century of steelmaking.

"Cape Bretoners have waited far to long for successive governments to deliver the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds," he told the luncheon, standing behind a banquet table stacked four binders high with research on the sites and their cleanup.

What wasn't on the table was a copy of the project description - a detailed plan of the cleanup from start to finish. The province hasn't finished drafting it, although it's expected to be finished before January.

"We're looking forward to getting the project description from the province so that we can move quickly on the environmental assessment side," Mr. Brison said.

Environment Canada will review the project description, then decide how thorough an assessment is needed. The most thorough would be a full-panel review with extensive public consultation.

The president of the chamber of commerce wants to government to get on with the work.

"We believe in studies, but the studies have been done," said Bruce Meloney. "We've had over 950 public consultation meetings on these tar ponds. Its now time to move forward."

But there hasn't been any evaluation of this specific proposal, Mr. Brison said afterwards.

"But we have a real opportunity to move quickly on some projects that will occur while the environmental assessment process continues," he said.

Over the next two years, the brook on the coke ovens site will be rerouted, the Victoria Road water main will be relocated, the cooling pond on the former steel plant site will be repaired, and a coffer dam will be built.

In April, the federal and provincial governments announced they'd jointly fund the 10-year cleanup project to the tune of $400 million.

Mr. Brison said one incidental return the federal government will get on its $280-million investment is that the process will teach his department's staff so much that they'll be able to help other countries trying to clean up toxic sites.