02/10/2013 01:08 EST | Updated 04/12/2013 05:12 EDT

N.S. Tory leader touts lower taxes, frozen power rates as alternatives to NDP

HALIFAX - In a year that could see Nova Scotia's Tory leader campaigning in an election for the first time, Jamie Baillie is pushing lower taxes and a freeze on power rates as key alternatives to the NDP government.

Speaking at what could be the party's last general meeting before a provincial election is called, Baillie said lowering taxes and cutting "wasteful" spending will lead to more jobs in the province under a Tory government.

"Lower taxes puts the fundamental conditions for a growing economy in place," Baillie told party supporters at Halifax's Marriott Harbourfront Hotel on Sunday. "It means more money in people's pockets and allows them to buy locally."

He pointed to the government's "bailouts," referring to deals like the one given to the former NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill in Point Tupper, N.S., which resumed operations last fall following a $124.5-million assistance package from the provincial government.

New Democrat Mat Whynott, who sat in the audience for Baillie's question-and-answer period, said Baillie is touting "the same old ideas."

"He talks about supporting industries in Nova Scotia," said Whynott, who represents the riding of Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackille. "But, for instance, in Port Hawkesbury, he would have just let them go. This is the sort of thing that we need to continue to support."

"It's the same old party with the same old ideas and I think Nova Scotians are going to see through that."

Baillie also said the NDP is rushing through the process of approving the proposed billion-dollar Maritime Link — the subsea cable portion of the $7.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.

NSP Maritime Link Inc. — a subsidiary of private utility Emera Inc. (TSX:EMA) — has asked the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to approve $1.52 billion in capital spending with a variance of up to $60 million for the entire project.

"I believe to my very core it is irresponsible for any political leader to endorse an expensive project like Muskrat Falls without knowing how much it's going to cost when power gets to our homes and businesses," said Baillie. "I think they've made a bad deal on what could have been a good project."

But Whynott said the project will address the issue of power rate increases in the province.

"If we create an energy loop between Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the rest of the (U.S. eastern seaboard) and back up through Quebec, that's a loop that we don't right now," said Whynott. "That will bring energy security and better price stabilization for Nova Scotians."

Baillie, who was elected leader of the third place party in 2010, also promised to freeze power rates and buy renewable energy at the current rate.

The NDP government will mark four years in office this summer. Premier Darrell Dexter has not indicated when he will call an election.