[HALIFAX, NS] – The fund touted as a more accountable version of the much-maligned Industrial Expansion Fund has committed more than $396 million of public money since its inception.
Ten funding announcements for the Nova Scotia Jobs Fund since Feb. 14 total $371.1 million. Most of that money is earmarked for Irving Shipbuilding, who will benefit from $304 million over the 30-year life of the multi-billion federal shipbuilding contracts. Even when the Irving deal is excluded, the Jobs Fund still committed $28.2 million more than the IEF did in 2011.
Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Minister Percy Paris, who introduced the Jobs Fund legislation, said he considers the money well spent.
"I see this as a good thing," Paris says. "When I look at the businesses that we've attracted to the province in the last 18 months, I think they're significant."
Criticized by opposition parties as a slush fund for cabinet ministers, the IEF was the subject of a scathing report from auditor general Jacques Lapointe in May 2011. That year, the provincial NDP announced $38.89 million in funding through the IEF.
In 2010, the province announced $190 million in funding from the IEF. Companies like Irving ($20 million), DSME Trenton ($59.3 million), and Northern Pulp ($75 million) benefited most from that funding.
Paris says he believes the Jobs Fund is more accountable, mostly due to an appointed board to provide investment advice to the government. However, he concedes the final spending decision still rests with cabinet, like the IEF.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil says he doesn't believe Nova Scotians are getting a return on their investment.
"We committed money to Bowater. It's closed. We commit money to Scanwood. It's closed. We committed money to Imperial Oil. It's closing," McNeil says.