Herschel Specter has lived in Shelburne for about 20 years and says many in town have watched with frustration as Cooke Aquaculture has failed to come through on a promise to build a fish processing plant.

The New Brunswick-based company promised five years ago that a processing plant would be built in the area, creating more than 300 jobs. But nothing has happened.

Salmon being processed

Construction of a Cooke Aquaculture fish processing plant in Shelburne has been delayed. (CBC)

"Unemployment is a characteristic of Nova Scotia and along comes somebody and dangles a huge number of jobs in front of them and of course the government and everyone else jumps on board," Specter told CBC Radio's Mainstreet

Back in 2012, the NDP government awarded Cooke Aquaculture $25 million.

"This investment represents a tremendous opportunity for southwest Nova Scotia and the entire province," Premier Darrell Dexter said at the time.

The provincial investment included a $16 million interest-bearing loan and a $9 million forgivable loan through the Nova Scotia Jobs Fund and JobsHere.

Empty promise

But Specter says people in Shelburne are angry, calling Cooke's promise of a processing plant in Shelburne an empty one. He said the date keeps getting pushed back. 

"It's the carrot that draws people forward. It's like somebody crossing the desert, desperate for water and you dangle a glass of water and you can make them do anything."

Specter questions why the provincial government awarded Cooke Aquaculture taxpayer money and wonders why there hasn't been a more thorough investigation into the how the money has been spent so far. He also questions how the provincial government can both regulate the aquaculture industry and promote it.

"I want to know how is the provincial government serving the people of Nova Scotia with regard to aquaculture," he says. 

"A lot of us have heard promise after promise that never materialize. It's the ever-receding mirage. Well, enough is enough."

Mark Furey, Nova Scotia's minister of business, says the government is working on file. Of the $25 million, Furey says $16 million is intended for four projects and $2 million was spent on salt water cages at Cooke sites across Nova Scotia. He says there is $7 million that remains in the hands of government.

Two of Four projects complete

Of the four projects that Cooke had promised, two of those projects are completed.

"A third one, the expansion of the feed mill site in Truro, they've just recently applied for a licence," Furey says. "And the one project that there's been no advancement on is in fact the processing facility in Shelburne that Mr. (Specter) has referenced."

"The monies that were expended were for Cooke to develop that industry and how they've utilized that money and what they retain, I'm not sure I can actually answer the question. But the money was intended for the overall development of that industry."

When the minister was asked if the provincial government might ask for some of that taxpayer money back, Furey said: "Those are possibilities, but I really want to give this industry and this corporate partner an opportunity to live up to their commitments and we recognize that it will be beyond the date of the commitment.

"But I think government is certainly accountable for taxpayers money. At the same time we have to balance the opportunity to engage industry and to give industry opportunities when extenuating circumstances may be driving some of these outcomes."

"Industry has been challenged, given the economy has been challenged in the last number of months."