As Dalhousie University boasts about helping Nova Scotia business leaders get into a prestigious program in Boston, the Official Opposition says it's students who are footing the bill.

The Progressive Conservative caucus has shared documents obtained through Freedom of Information that reveal Dalhousie University paid a $300,000 US invoice to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in June. 

"At a time when our tuitions are going up and up and students are struggling, that's going to be a bitter pill for them to swallow," said PC Leader Jamie Baillie.

Through the correspondence, it's clear the university hoped to get funding from prominent businesses as well as the province.

In an email, Jeff Larsen, executive director for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship at Dalhousie University writes, "We have gone out on a bit on a limb and committed with Dal agreeing to pay the fee, but certainly hoping we can partner with others."

No taxpayer money

But Premier Stephen McNeil says the money won't be coming from taxpayers.

"We are not funding the event," he said. "It's an amazing link. They're going down for some seminars and there will also be return people coming in, but that's a venture that has been happening between Dal and the private sector."

Dalhousie spokesperson Brian Leadbetter says the university is still "fully confident" they will raise enough money to cover the bill.

"We have a three-fold mandate of teaching and learning, research and service. This certainly does connect with the service obligations," he said.

"We also believe that our graduates will ultimately benefit from the work that's undertaken through this innovation entrepreneurship program."

Nova Scotia's elite

The Nova Scotia team is one of eight chosen this year from around the world to participate in the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) in October. The program matches MIT experts with regions to develop strategies in addressing economic challenges. 

Baillie calls the selected members "Nova Scotia's elite."

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone will serve as regional champion overseeing the Nova Scotia team. 

The other members include:

  • Bernie Miller, former Nova Scotia deputy minister of planning, currently partner at McInnes Cooper.
  • Chris Huskilson, CEO of Emera.
  • ​Jevon MacDonald, former general manager at Salesforce.com and co-founder and CEO of GoInstant.
  • ​John Knubley, federal deputy minister of innovation, science and economic development.
  • John Risley, co-founder of Clearwater Fine Foods.
  • Murray Coolican, Nova Scotia's deputy minister of business.
  • Patrick Keefe, general partner with startup fund Build Ventures.
  • Tracy Kitch, president and CEO of the IWK Health Centre.

"Those are successful Nova Scotians. We need more of that," said Baillie. "But the way to do it is actually to cut red tape, lower taxes for job creating businesses, give everybody in Nova Scotia a shot — not to send them off to school in Boston."

The $300,000 bill covers the cost of the program, but not travel expenses. Members will be required to attend training sessions at MIT at least four times over a two-year period.