08/28/2013 09:46 EDT | Updated 10/28/2013 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia premier says untendered contract for new ambulances justifiable

HALIFAX - Premier Darrell Dexter says the government's decision to award an untendered ambulance contract to a Yarmouth firm is justifiable because it boosts a Nova Scotia company, but the Opposition leader says the move is designed to get votes before an election.

The $31.4-million deal with Tri-Star Industries will see the government lease 150 new ambulances that are expected to hit the road in the fall. The eight-year contract renews one that was signed with the company in 2005.

Dexter said the government's procurement policy allows for the promotion of Nova Scotia-based companies, adding that Tri-Star Industries is a competitive firm with a solid international reputation.

"I make no apologies for using the locally made ambulances," Dexter said Wednesday. "They design those vehicles to our specifications to meet out needs."

The premier's office says Tri-Star Industries won the ambulance contract during a competitive tender process in 1995 and it was subsequently renewed without tender a decade later.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said while he has no problem with the contract renewal, he believes it's also an attempt to seek favour with voters in an area of the province where the government is unpopular.

"It's my personal view, there's not anything the government can do to appease the people of Yarmouth," McNeil said.

A government decision in 2009 to cancel a subsidy for a ferry service to Maine has sparked protests from Yarmouth residents who say it resulted in a drop in tourism as a result.

The government has since announced it is willing to give up to $21 million over seven years to resume the service and a company has been chosen to operate it.