Newly released documents show Nova Scotia’s public works department continues to use its equipment and staff to maintain some private roads across the province as a legacy of political favours from the past.

Public Works Minister Kim Masland says she is not prepared to stop the practice, even though there is a policy against it.

“I certainly do not want to be the minister that’s going to all of a sudden stop plowing someone’s road that has been plowed for 31 years now,” she said in an interview.

A freedom of information request last year revealed the province provides some level of service on 348 private roads totalling about 95 kilometres.

When asked why the department stopped doing some work on two private roads in Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Inverness County, the department would not provide anyone for an interview.

Instead, it issued statements saying the province does not maintain private roads.

‘Subject is particularly sensitive’

In newly released documents obtained by CBC under freedom of information legislation, the department’s acting executive director of maintenance and operations tells other officials that the topic is touchy.

“This subject is particularly sensitive as it relates to services provided from political promises years ago,” Guy Deveau wrote in an email in response to the initial freedom of information request.

“In a nutshell, mostly in the late 70s and early 80s, political promises were made to provide services to a number of private roads across the province. The services included winter plowing and/or summer grading only.”

In another email, Deveau said the province does some plowing and grading, but does not provide maintenance, which he described as “pipes, gravel, ditching, etc.”

Some roads have been dropped from the list as their condition deteriorated and threatened government equipment, he said, but many remain.

Masland said she will not end the practice.

“Is it something that could be looked at down the road?” she said.

“Possibly, but as of today, the department will be maintaining the status quo of minimal services to the 95 kilometres of roads that we are doing and there’ll be no plans to change that.”

The province has a policy and an agreement with municipalities to maintain some local roads built prior to 1995. It also says it may offer maintenance on local roads built after that, but only winter plowing and at a cost of about $8,500 per kilometre per year. 

Masland said she did not know the work on existing private roads was being done based on decades-old political favours, but did know that transportation workers used to be hired and fired every time a new government got elected.

“I was certainly aware of changes of employees when governments changed,” she said. “I remember my father being one of them.”

Masland said she would be looking into the issue further with the department.

Dave Butler says the government stopped maintaining his private road in the 1960s but still maintains others, and he calls that discrimination. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Dave Butler, who lives at the end of Bungalow Lane, a roughly 400-metre private road in rural CBRM, said the government should do all of them, or none.

“Well I think it’s discriminatory,” he said.

“If this government … wants to maintain some private roads because of favouritism, then so be it, but they will have to take the consequences and face the possibility of discrimination charges.”

In the 1960s, the government stopped running a grader over the road Butler shares with others in rural Cape Breton County.

Province denies maintenance

When he asked for some grading last year, the province said it doesn’t maintain private roads.

That’s when he put in the freedom of information request and discovered that wasn’t quite true.

“How can you have some roads that are considered private, that the government admits are private, that they are maintaining and others that are not?” he said.

Wayne Hopkins of Orangedale, Inverness County, also complained last year after the province stopped plowing the last two kilometres of the private road he lives on.

Wayne Hopkins (right) says public works officials did express concern over the condition of Stoney Point Road, but neighbours spent about $3,000 on it and it’s now in better shape than the public road. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

It plows the first four kilometres, which are a public road, but last year the province widened Stoney Point Road where the public portion ends so the plow could turn around without having to finish the last two kilometres.

“That’s very, very disheartening, isn’t it?” Hopkins said Friday, after hearing what the minister had to say.

Public works officials did say they were concerned about the condition of Stoney Point Road, he said, but neighbours pitched in and spent about $3,000 cleaning it up.

“Our road is in twice the shape as what the public road is,” Hopkins said.

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