01/10/2017 12:06 EST | Updated 01/11/2018 00:12 EST

NDP criticized for singling out Nova Scotia billionaire in wealth-gap critique

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's NDP is being criticized for singling out one of the province's wealthiest businessmen and philanthropists, as it condemned the Liberal government on income inequality.

The New Democrats noted Tuesday that the net worth of Kenneth Rowe, executive chairman of IMP Group International Inc., increased by $270 million last year, which is $25-million more than total social assistance payments in Nova Scotia.

"I think most Nova Scotians would agree that it is unacceptable that 13,000 children visit food banks in our province, while a small group at the top prosper to such extremes," NDP Leader Gary Burrill said in a statement, adding that Premier Stephen McNeil "seems uninterested" in addressing the wealth gap.

The NDP attributed its data on Rowe's wealth to the Forbes list of the 100 richest Canadians, although it later clarified the source as Canadian Business magazine.

Rowe founded IMP in Halifax in 1967, which now has holdings in aerospace, health care, real estate and other sectors. Canadian Business estimates his wealth at $1.43-billion, making him the 71st richest person in Canada, with his net worth growing by 23 per cent in the last year.

Liberal committee member Iain Rankin said the province should "celebrate the success of its entrepreneurs."

He added there is no correlation between Rowe's wealth and whether the province is doing enough for those with much lower incomes.

"I think that we have one of the most progressive tax systems and we tax the higher earners more than most if not all provinces, so I think we are doing what we can," Rankin said.

Marian Mancini, the NDP's community services critic, said the party wasn't trying to fan class warfare with the statement, which came as the legislature's community services committee discussed special needs funding for people on income assistance.

"I think everybody in the province probably agrees that those are grossly huge salaries, especially in the face of what people are struggling to deal with," Mancini said in an interview after the meeting. "If you're making $8 million, we don't want it all. You can still live your life and have your lifestyle. We just want some of it."

Progressive Conservative Chris d'Entremont said it was unfair to single out a single business leader.

"I personally think it confuses the issue," he said in an interview. "We're talking about government programs ... We shouldn't be talking about private industry and the way that it works."

A spokesman for IMP had not responded to a request for comment Tuesday. On its web site, the Halifax-based company says it employs 4,500 people.

The NDP also noted that Canada's top CEOs made more by lunch on Jan. 3 than the average Canadian makes in a year.