The provincial Liberals say they mean to tackle something that grinds the gears of a lot of Nova Scotians. If they are successful in substantially limiting the amount of taxpayers’ money that goes to corporations people will, for the most part, nod approval.
Economic Development Minister Michel Samson said the legislation to be introduced this fall would increase transparency as to where public money is spent, with such transactions reported online and mid-year reports on the funding.
The government also intends – as Premier Stephen McNeil indicated while in opposition and on the campaign trail – to tighten rules regarding loans or other assistance to the private sector. They’ll track the number of jobs created by any such transaction.
In other words, it sounds like the tap has by no means been shut off, but the funding programs in place will demand more performance evaluation.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation expressed approval for the improvements, but added the legislation should also cover transactions already in effect.
Another point – and the government is surely well aware of this – the pressure is at the boiling point for assistance to a struggling industry that accounts for a lot of jobs in an area. Certainly Port Hawkesbury Paper comes to mind.
In Pictou County, as another example, we saw huge public demand for government to do something to fill the gap when the former owners of TrentonWorks pulled up stakes. The result, DSTN and production of towers for wind turbines, with its government stake, was applauded as it took shape. But as time passed, the industry faced its challenges, the projected number of jobs didn’t materialize, and the grumbling about that funding can be heard locally and elsewhere.
There’s no easy answer, but both pressure and jealousy for such loans or tax breaks will continue in a province that desperately needs jobs.
This legislation is at least a start in putting the process under greater scrutiny.