The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is raising concern over the value of non-profit Engage Nova Scotia and asking the provincial government to cancel the contract it has with the organization.
Engage Nova Scotia has a mandate to provide opportunities that allow Nova Scotians to be more inclusive, embracing of change and to tackle the province’s challenges, according to the organization’s website. But the taxpayer federation’s Atlantic director feels it isn’t meeting expectations.
“This organization has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from taxpayers and yet there are no tangible benefits the taxpayers have received for it,” said Kevin Lacey.
The federation’s call comes after it obtained documents under access to privacy laws that show Engage Nova Scotia’s chief engagement officer Danny Graham is receiving $13,584 a month. Calculated over a year that’s a $163,008 salary.
The documents also show the agreement sees the organization receiving $200,000 per year in cash from the Nova Scotia government, and the province will also match every “eligible” dollar donated to the organization up to $200,000 in contributions per year.
In addition, Graham is a former Nova Scotia Liberal Party leader, something Lacey has concerns with.
“The question is why has (Engage) received all this money and the only answer that one can come to is that it’s patronage that the former Liberal leader is getting this money because of his political connections,” Lacey said.
Graham maintains his appointment and salary is entirely separate from his connections to the Liberal Party. Graham said he volunteered for a year and a half before being paid for his work. He said his salary started under the funding provided by the Liberals in fall 2014. However, he said it was the organization’s non-partisan board that determined the salaries of employees with no input from the Liberal government.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie says if he were premier he would end the deal between the government and Engage NS.
“This is nothing more than a plum patronage job for another one of the Premier’s Liberal friends,” Baillie said in a press release.
But Graham said Engage’s responsibilities started before Stephen McNeil and the Liberal Party took office, with various grants first being given by the former NDP government to get the organization off the ground. He said Engage Nova Scotia received approximately $10,000 under the NDP.
“It’s easy for somebody to point back to the potential connections that I would have, but these questions weren’t being raised when we were receiving support from another party,” Graham told Global News.
“For the board and all the people, the volunteers from across the province that are supporting the work that Engage Nova Scotia is doing in a non-partisan fashion … it should be clear to them that the work that we do is neutral and is in the best interest of Nova Scotians.”
He said this work has included Share Thanksgiving – an event which sees Nova Scotians bring in newcomers to Canada and international students to share a Thanksgiving meal – as well as other community initiatives in Amherst, Annapolis Royal and Pictou County.
Graham has worked as a lawyer for the government dating back to Progressive Conservative Premier John Hamm. His says his legal work for the government wound down in 2015. He said he has not worked for the province in the past year.
The $13,584 a month salary was also not his initial pay, he said. He couldn’t say what his starting pay was or when it ramped up to the current rate.
Graham added he hasn’t attended a Liberal event or donated to the party in more than 10 years.
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