09/09/2013 09:53 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST

Liberals promise performance standards, fines for Nova Scotia Power

HALIFAX - Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil is training his sights squarely on Nova Scotia Power early in the provincial election campaign with a promise Monday that would bring the utility to heel if it fails to meet performance standards.

After a relatively light day of campaigning on Sunday for the Oct. 8 election, Premier Darrell Dexter focused Monday on improving the state of local roads, while Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie wants to scrap the small business tax as a job creation measure.

Speaking at a north-end Halifax park, McNeil said the Liberals would bring in legislation to protect consumers while shifting some of the burden associated with the costs of energy-efficiency programs back to the utility.

"It's time fairness comes in and that energy policy set in this province is based on the ratepayer and not the executives at Nova Scotia Power," he said.

The Liberals say they want to force performance and reliability standards to try to prevent outages caused by poor maintenance of electrical infrastructure.

McNeil said the law would impose fines of up to $100,000 per day for some power outages. He said the legislation would also ensure the utility can't pass the cost of the fines on to electrical ratepayers.

"Everyone recognizes when you are going to get these freak storms that come through, but we have been having power outages in the middle of the summer," McNeil said.

He said the standards would be set by the government and be administered by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

The Liberals would shift the $46 million cost of funding programs run by Efficiency Nova Scotia from customers to the utility, which McNeil said would be able to pay for the program from its annual profits. He said the move would save consumers about $120 a year.

The Liberals campaigned Sunday on a promise to break the utility's monopoly.

At a restaurant in downtown Halifax, Baillie said the tax rate for small business is an impediment to growth and eliminating the 3.5-per-cent tax would give those companies that pay it more than $62 million to help create jobs.

"This will allow small businesses to pay more workers instead of more money to the government," said Baillie, adding that Nova Scotia would have the lowest rate in the country under his plan.

"Our goal is a simple one. We want to make Nova Scotia the most friendly small business province in all of Canada."

Baillie said he would also increase the small business threshold from $350,000 to $500,000, putting Nova Scotia in line with its Atlantic counterparts and most of Canada. Under the change, small businesses would not pay tax on the first $500,000 of their earnings.

The tax cut and threshold increase would be phased in over the course of the party's first mandate, he added.

Baillie said money saved from eliminating the Nova Scotia Jobs Fund would help make up for the loss in tax revenue. The NDP spends an average of $90 million annually on the fund, he said.

Speaking in the Halifax suburb of Timberlea, Dexter committed the NDP to a multi-year plan to pave local roads if re-elected.

The roads plan, which the party says would be a first for the province, was included in the NDP election platform released Friday.

Dexter said the program wouldn't cost any additional money because it would come from a reallocation of government resources. He said it would be based on the system used under a multi-year plan to pave major highways and secondary roads.

"It's not necessary to take anything away from anything else. It's simply a commitment to make sure that it happens."

Dexter said the aim, as with the previous roads plan, is to take the politics out of paving through a set of transparent criteria.

"We look at engineering standards, things like road safety and whether or not there are economic development reasons for a particular road," said Dexter.

Communities would also be able to track when their roads are slated to be paved on the Transportation and Infrastructure Department's website, he said.

In a tweet issued late on Monday, McNeil said the Liberal Party plans to release its platform on Wednesday at a lunchtime event.

The New Democrats announced their seven-point plan on the day before the election was launched.

The Tories have yet to release their platform.