58 seasonal staff laid off, two visitor centres closed in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has long promised program and spending cuts to bring the province's books in line. He reiterated that promise at a business lunch in Halifax on Feb. 11, 2015 .
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has long promised program and spending cuts to bring the province's books in line. He reiterated that promise at a business lunch in Halifax on Feb. 11, 2015 . Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government is closing two visitor information centres and laying off 58 seasonal employees.

Visitor centres in Digby and Pictou counties will both be shut down, affecting 20 seasonal employees, said Patrick Sullivan, the CEO of the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. Another 38 seasonal employees were laid off after changes were made to seven of Nova Scotia’s 20 provincial parks.

Natural Resources Minister Zach Churchill said the parks will no longer have gate attendants and instead visitors will register at automatic kiosks or call in.

“All of our parks on average lose $3 for every $1 we gain back in revenue,” said Churchill. “That’s not a sustainable model for taxpayers across the province of Nova Scotia, but we know how important our parks are to people across Nova Scotia and in our rural communities and so we wanted to keep them open, and in order to do that we needed to change the service delivery model.”

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The parks affected by the change are Laurie Lake, Porters Lake, Islands, Smileys, Boylston, Salsman, and Whycocomagh. Custodians and other attendants will still staff the parks and look after maintenance, said Churchill.

The seven parks had some of the lowest occupancy rates, said staff at the Natural Resources Department. The occupancy rates vary between 50 per cent occupancy at Laurie Lake Provincial Park and 12 per cent occupancy at Boylston Provincial Park.

The changes made to staffing at the provincial parks will save the province $600,000 by 2016, said Churchill.

The cuts are the first to be announced following government-wide departmental reviews, more are expected in the upcoming budget as the government tries to balance the books.

The tourism agency said the visitor information centres are being closed because they are near other information centres. The agency’s CEO also said the centres had low usage rates, as more and more people go online to get the information provided at the centres. Visits to tourist information centres dropped 40 per cent in the last decade.

The centres that are now closed represented six per cent of visitation to visitor centres in Nova Scotia, but accounted for 17 per cent of the total cost of running visitor centres. Sullivan said the closures were announced before other cuts because staff would soon begin pre-season planning.

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The closures will save the province $450,000 annually starting in 2016 said Sullivan. “I think will certainly help the Nova Scotia government, this was identified in our program review.”

“I think it’s a pretty significant saving.”

In a press release the provincial NDP questioned the move. “I can say with certainty that this decision by the McNeil government will have a negative impact on rural communities that are already struggling to maintain jobs,” said NDP MLA Denise Peterson-Rafuse.

Together the cuts make up a savings of more than $1 million. Even though much more is being spent on programs like the Nova Star ferry, which carries passengers from Yarmouth, N.S. to Portland, ME, Churchill defended the choice in cuts.

“(The ferry) is a money generator for the province, every single ferry in the country is subsidized to a certain level by governments,” said Churchill. “That is done because they’re viewed as transportation links, as extensions of our highways and as connectors to very important markets.”