Nova Scotia premier defends $7.5M deal to fund dairy plant expansion

Darrell Dexter made history in 2009 by leading the NDP to its first victory in Atlantic Canada. The Canadian Press

HALIFAX – Premier Darrell Dexter is defending a $7.5-million package for a dairy plant in central Nova Scotia that’s intended to help it grow and build new ice cream machines, saying the money is needed to keep the facility competitive.

The funding announced Friday will go to the Scotsburn dairy plant in Truro as the company plans a $10-million expansion to meet what it says is an increasing demand for its products.

Dexter said Scotsburn needs the assistance, which includes $2 million to help the company buy new machines that will make premium novelty ice cream products. Another $5.5 million will be loaned, which is intended to create 40 jobs.

“You could sit around on your hands and do nothing and you watch those jobs go out of the province to other places,” Dexter said following a separate news conference in Halifax where he announced the expansion of a farmers’ loan program.

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“Governments don’t like to be in the position of giving payroll rebates or loan forgiveness. Nobody likes that. But we recognize the reality is that if we’re not prepared to compete, then those jobs are going to other parts of the country.”

Up to $480,000 of the loan is forgivable based on job creation, and the loan is repayable over 15 years.

“It’s about preserving the jobs that are already there, making sure the expansion takes place and providing more jobs into the economy,” Dexter said. “That’s what governments should do.”

He made a similar defence earlier this week of the $260-million loan the province extended to Irving Shipbuilding last year to help it with an expansion as it prepares to build the next fleet of combat ships for the navy.

Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the money is “pork-barrel-style” politics given that the province is preparing for an election call soon.

“We’ve seen this all through this pre-election period,” Lacey said. “Taxpayers’ money being thrown at business after business in an attempt to buy votes.”

He said the government should bring down corporate taxes if it wants to stimulate investment in the province.

“We need to create an environment where businesses can make money and they can’t in the current environment because the costs are simply too high,” he said.

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The funding announcement for Scotsburn, one of the prime employers in the Truro area, was made by Lenore Zann, the NDP member for the riding in the area.

Geoff MacLellan, Liberal economic development critic, said the loan is good news for Scotsburn and he welcomed the fact that most of it is repayable.

But MacLellan said the government is trying to curry favour with voters in the run-up to an election.

“I don’t see anything in terms of a long-term economic approach,” he said. “These are just one-offs and they are doing it in time to try to please everyone.”

The Progressive Conservatives did not return a message for comment.

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