Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter put an untendered lease on hold on Wednesday, after being accused of wasting money in its rush to move the provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Department out of Halifax.
Dexter said he's reviewing the move to Cornwallis, in the Annapolis Valley, after the opposition parties questioned whether the 10-year lease — which would cost $289,000 annually — was a wise use of public money.
"We want to make sure that this is an appropriate lease cost so we're looking now," he told reporters Wednesday.
"I've asked to have it referred back to us to have a look at it."
Earlier this week, the government announced 20 jobs with the provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Department would be moving to the library of the Lester B. Pearson International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Cornwallis.
A department official said the 10-year untendered lease with the non-profit Cornwallis Park Development Association would cost the province $289,000 a year after operating costs and property taxes are factored in.
The lease covers an 8,000 square foot office space as well as a nearby garage and compound.
According to an online property listing, the same building was recently sold to the non-profit organization for $162,500.
"This deal is bad for taxpayers," said Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil.
"It's great for that non-profit organization but it's bad for taxpayers."
'I'll stand and defend it'
Marc Phillips, the general manager of the Cornwallis Park Development Association, said he did not know why the province didn't just buy the building.
"I think that's a fair question for the province. I don't know why they made the decision that they made," he told CBC News on Wednesday.
"We're thankful the provincial government has decided to make this decision."
Just hours before Dexter put the untendered lease on hold, Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau defended the lease agreement and said he wasn't aware the building was for sale because the lease was handled by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
"I'll stand and defend it," he said.
"We made the right decision in the best interest of all Nova Scotians."
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said Belliveau was not in any position to defend the lease.
"There's no way that the minister with a straight face can say that he got a good deal for taxpayers if he hasn't even done a proper tender and found out what his options were," said Baillie.
It's unclear whether the hold on the lease will affect the government's plan to open the new office — to be shared with regional staff from the departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources — next summer.
The move is part of a government program to shift civil service jobs from Halifax to rural parts of the province.