A week after losing the Nova Scotia election on Oct. 8, Darrell Dexter's cabinet bumped up the severance for its political staffers at a cost of $250,000, government documents show.
The existence of the secret payout by the New Democratic Party was disclosed by Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil in question period on Wednesday.
"The previous government, when they let go of their contract employees, all of a sudden bumped up that severance pay, which Nova Scotians are having to pay for today," McNeil told the legislature.
McNeil was rationalizing his patronage appointment given to defeated Liberal candidate Glennie Langille, who has been made the province's Chief Protocol Officer at $85,000 per year — on a year-to-year contract.
The premier was alluding to a confidential cabinet decision on Oct. 15 — a week after the New Democratic Party lost the Nova Scotia election but before the Liberals assumed office.
For 14 political staffers, the cabinet added one months pay for each year of service in the New Democrat caucus to a maximum of 15 months, on top of what they earned while working in government.
Those staffers shared an extra $249,947.35 between them and were paid total of $894,697.36.
Senior New Democrat operatives collected the lion's share of the top up.
Communications director Shawn Fuller saw his severance increased by $48,000.03 to a total $105,979.24. The top up was worth an extra $43,347.07 for policy adviser Paul Black whose total severance was $109,031.06.
Then-premier Darrell Dexter's most senior adviser — Dan O'Connor — got an extra $24,287.38, giving him a severance of $173,051.94.
Acting New Democratic Party Leader Maureen MacDonald defended the payment and said its disclosure by the Liberals was an attempt to distract from Langille's appointment.
"The government, I think, quite skillfully think this is a way to deflect from their patronage appointment," she said.
"We determined that the contract had failed to include the severance that should be paid based on prior service in other parts of the public sector."
MacDonald said the timing of the release of the government documents was also suspect because the Liberals had let the payouts stand for more than a month.
"The first cabinet meeting they had, they reviewed this decision and decided there was nothing wrong with it," she told reporters on Thursday.
But the Liberals said they had accepted the deal under duress — they sought legal advice after a labour lawyer threatened to sue on behalf of the New Democratic Party staffers.
"The legal opinion said this could potentially expose the province to costly legal battles and that it wasn't 100 per cent clear as to how the province would fare out in this," said government house leader Michel Samson.
"While it may not be a legal convention, it is a moral convention … and they have clearly breached that in the generous severance they agreed to following their election defeat."
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