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Another voice has sounded in the wakeup call to the provincial government about how it ‘invests’ public money in the private sector. With any amount of luck, the Liberals will pay heed.

A report issued Thursday focuses on the Jobs Fund, which as it stands makes funding available with decisions still made by the provincial Cabinet. The report’s author, former Dalhousie University president Tom Traves, maintains such judgment should belong to an independent arm’s-length body.

It’s not hard to see why that would be essential, to ensure politics or other favouritism don’t mix with business.

The Liberals, following their election, got off to a rocky start on a couple of issues, including this one. Although in opposition they’d said the Jobs Fund needed an arm’s-length overseer, Premier Stephen McNeil later back-pedalled from that pledge.

Traves suggests Cabinet should have veto power, to maintain some control, but that identifying projects or applicants with potential should belong to an independent body.

That position – and that of the Liberals and former NDP government – stands in contrast to Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie’s contention that the Jobs Fund isn’t needed. The province already has Nova Scotia Business Inc. in place to consider venture capital for the private sector.

These debates certainly keep the profile of a contentious issue in view. Obviously, a lot of Nova Scotians oppose, or at least question, providing funding or loans to private business – can’t afford it, it distorts the playing field. The Liberals themselves make a point of saying the last government blew it on this front.

Another factor at work makes it hard to avoid though, and Traves also refers to it – other provinces and governments provide such incentives. Competing is unavoidable in some circumstances in hopes of attracting desirable businesses.

But identifying those with great potential would be done better by people with business expertise rather than politicians.

Organizations: Jobs Fund, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia Business

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