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Nova Scotia taxpayers to pay for axed business loans program until 2034:deputy

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia taxpayers will be paying for a defunct provincial business funding program for six years more than originally expected and at a cost higher than recently predicted.

The Nova Scotia Jobs Fund was eliminated by the Liberal government in 2014, and estimates released in July predicted taxpayers would foot the bill for about $700 million in existing business deals until 2028.

The timeline estimate has now been revised to 2034 and the overall cost estimate has jumped by $192 million.

Business Nova Scotia deputy minister Catherine Woodman told the legislature’s public accounts committee Wednesday that the cost of continuing deals is estimated at $32 million a year, with a cumulative five-year cost of $159 million and a total commitment of $892 million.

“It is a tiger, if you will, with a long tail,” said Woodman. “We are honouring our previous commitments and it’s fairly complex and so it ( the fund) has to be managed carefully.”

The cabinet-controlled fund created by the former NDP government provided business loans to a host of companies such as Irving Shipbuilding, and to paper mills in Pictou County and Port Hawkesbury.

Woodman told the committee 78 companies were part of a fund that included 112 accounts when the program was discontinued.

However, she couldn’t provide opposition committee members with information about such things as the total value of the commitments, the corporate tax revenue generated, and the number of direct jobs created.

The lack of detail on those and other questions prompted NDP committee member Maureen MacDonald to take a shot at the Liberal government.

“This is a government that seems to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing,” MacDonald said.

Outside the hearing Woodman said the discrepancy in the overall cost estimates was the result of a more thorough evaluation of the deals.

“The larger number represents the full commitment from the beginning of all arrangements to the 2034 timeline,” she said.

Woodman also said there were no cumulative numbers for things such as job targets associated with the fund because the government’s performance assessment has historically been done on an account-to-account basis.

Progressive Conservative committee member Tim Houston said that’s not good enough.

“If we are going to spend taxpayer money we need to know what the benefits are and we need to know what the economic spinoff is.”