POLITICS

Nova Scotia vows to tighten controls on financial help to private sector

11/19/2013 12:33 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia government would be required to report how companies that receive public funding are using the money under legislation the province's economic development minister is promising to introduce in the upcoming fall session.

Michel Samson says the legislation would strengthen rules governing public assistance to the private sector and is intended to increase transparency on how taxpayers' dollars are spent.

"We want to send a clear message to Nova Scotians that the premier's commitment during the campaign of having more accountability in business transactions is something we took seriously," Samson said in an interview Tuesday.

He said the bill would require the government to post information for each transaction online, with a mid-year report on how the funds are used. It would cover transactions made after April 1 from the cabinet-controlled Nova Scotia Jobs Fund, the Nova Scotia Fund and strategic investment funds.

"This legislation is looking forward, not looking behind," Samson said. "We are interested in helping to grow our province rather than spending our time reflecting on the past."

During the election campaign, the Liberals were especially critical of the previous NDP government, accusing it of not being open enough about its financial dealings with businesses.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil zeroed in on a $260-million non-repayable loan to assist with preparations for the $25-billion federal shipbuilding program. McNeil questioned the rationale for the loan, saying the government wrote a "blank cheque" with little to show.

Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation welcomed the legislation, saying the public has a right to know how its money is being spent. But Lacey said it should cover previously announced loans that are currently active, and he mentioned the loan to Irving Shipbuilding in particular.

"This is a good piece of legislation but you can make it that much better by ensuring that it's not just the deals that go forward but also includes deals that the government is currently paying out," he said.

Samson said the government also plans to hire a fund manager who would focus on jobs fund controls, governance and compliance.

There would also be specific goals for each department funding program. Samson said the aim of the legislation is to track the number of jobs created by transactions with the private sector.

The fall session of the legislature is set to open Nov. 28 with a throne speech.