Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party is daring the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives to condemn the latest government loan to business — up to $20 million in financial assistance to a Lunenburg company.
"This will be paid back to the government. This is not a corporate handout, as both opposition parties want to say," said Pam Birdsall, the New Democrat candidate for Lunenburg.
"I'd like to know what they're thinking about this."
Just days after calling the election on Sept. 7, the NDP cabinet approved a $5-million loan and a financial guarantee of up to $15 million from the province to help Composites Atlantic Ltd. bid on big contracts.
The financing was made public earlier this week.
The company, which specializes in the design, development and manufacturing of advanced composites for the aeronautic, space and defence industries, employs more than 300 people in the picturesque coastal community.
The money will be used to buy equipment and adopt new and updated technology to bid on multi-national aerospace contracts.
"There's at least $150 million worth of contracts pending with them, which means 113 new jobs for our area," said Birdsall, who is one of four New Democrat incumbents trying keep the South Shore all orange.
Composites Atlantic Ltd. has received $8.7 million in financial assistance since 2004. The province of Nova Scotia is a major shareholder in the company.
It is not only a large employer in a rural area but many of its workers, such as Wade Fralick, are young.
"It would mean the difference between me staying or leaving this town," he said.
"It's pretty well the best place to work in town here in terms of production and entry-level positions."
Liberal, Tory candidates on board with aid
Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, the Liberal candidate for Lunenburg, and Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil have both toured the plant. She scoffed at the timing of the government investment but does not oppose aid to the company.
"They are a good employer and we would work out some kind of deal with them," said Lohnes-Croft.
"We want to build big businesses as well as small businesses."
Brian Pickings, the Progressive Conservative candidate in Lunenburg, is also on side.
"A PC government will definitely support a business like Composites Atlantic," he told CBC News.
"It's a great employer and the South Shore has been devastated with job losses."
The Liberal and Progressive Conservative leaders have been sharply critical of what they call "handouts" and "bailouts" to large companies from the New Democratic Party.
They have said its wrong for a provincial government to pick winners, especially with non-repayable loans or grants.
"If it worked we'd all have three jobs. It doesn't work," Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said in a CBC leaders' forum in the first week of the campaign.
Baillie has said the Tories would channel government financial help for business through Nova Scotia Business Inc., a Crown corporation.
The Composites Atlantic deal is the second major government loan to a business on the South Shore. Just days before the election call, the province loaned $500,000 for refinancing to Blue Wave Seafoods Inc. of Port Mouton. The loan was criticized by the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association.