09/24/2013 09:11 EDT | Updated 11/24/2013 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia premier touts jobs record but some job creation figures are unclear

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter championed the NDP's approach to stimulating employment in his bid to get re-elected, but neither he nor his government could say Tuesday how many jobs were created at BlackBerry as a result of a payroll rebate, one of the cornerstones of his economic development policies.

Dexter used the backdrop of the Irving Shipyard in Halifax to promote his government's record on job growth, which has been one of the major issues during the campaign for the Oct. 8 election.

While at the shipyard, Dexter was asked about the deal his government struck in February with BlackBerry (TSX:BB) that could see the troubled tech-giant get $10 million over the next five years if it keeps at least 400 jobs in the province at an average salary of at least $60,000 a year.

Dexter said the company will only get money back from the province if it meets its job targets.

"The government didn't give them money," Dexter said. "They gave us money and we gave them some back from what they invested in the province."

Dexter couldn't say how many workers BlackBerry employs at its facility in the Halifax suburb of Bedford, referring questions to the Department of Economic Development.

BlackBerry was lured to Nova Scotia in 2005 by the previous Tory government. The province offered $19 million in subsidies, including $14 million in payroll rebates and $5 million for training and recruitment. The company was told it had to create 1,200 jobs over five years to get the full rebate.

BlackBerry drew almost $11 million from the payroll rebate program over a six-year period ending in February 2012, said Nova Scotia Business Inc., which administered the rebate. The company has also received additional funding since it renewed its arrangement with the province in February, but a spokesman for the Department of Economic Development would not say how much that was because it is "the company's confidential financial information."

Gary Andrea also said any figures on the number of jobs created as a result of its financial deal with the company would have to come from BlackBerry. The company couldn't be reached for comment.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has criticized the government's efforts to boost employment. But Dexter said his measures are precisely what's needed to foster job growth, citing as an example the $260-million forgivable loan to Irving Shipbuilding that's intended to help it carry out renovations so it can begin building new navy vessels.

Dexter said without that loan and other financial incentives, Nova Scotia would run the risk of losing jobs to other provinces and jurisdictions throughout North America.

"The simple fact of the matter is that if you do not compete, you are going to miss the opportunity to bring those jobs into the province," said Dexter.

"Almost every other province in the country has far more beneficial incentive programs than we do."

In October 2011, Ottawa announced that the Irving Shipyard was the winning bidder for a $25-billion contract to build 21 combat vessels. The federal government has said its decision was based on merit.

McNeil said a Liberal government would not offer forgivable loans and any loans offered to corporations would carry conditions, such as job targets. He added that he believes the best way to grow the economy is through supporting the small business sector.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said Tuesday he wouldn't provide non-repayable loans to large companies such as Irving Shipbuilding.

"What a Baillie government would offer to the Irvings and every other company equally and fairly is frozen power rates and lower taxes," he said while campaigning in Halifax. "The Irvings pay power bills like everybody else."