New Brunswick

No taxpayer money spent on Sears call centres in New Brunswick — yet

No New Brunswick taxpayer money has been spent on the two new Sears call centres in the province — at least not yet.

Gallant government had pledged up to $8.7M to open centres in Saint John and Edmundston to create 530 jobs

The government had pledged about $3.5 million to the Sears call centre in Saint John, which opened earlier this year and was expected to employ 350 people. (CBC)

No New Brunswick taxpayer money has been spent on the two new Sears call centres in the province — at least not yet.

Last January, the government announced it would provide up to $8.7 million to help Sears open call centres in Saint John and Edmundston, which were expected to create 350 jobs and 180 jobs respectively.

On Tuesday, Sears Canada announced it plans to seek court approval to liquidate all of its remaining stores and assets, which will no doubt mean the end of the calls centres as well.

"I can confirm that no money has been transferred from the New Brunswick government to Sears Canada," company spokesperson Joel Shaffer said in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.

But if or when any government money will be paid, either directly to Sears or indirectly, is less than clear.

Opportunities New Brunswick was expected to contribute the bulk of the funding — $6.5 million — through a combination of payroll rebates and loans.

More than 160 people work at the Edmundston call centre, which opened in January. The Saint John centre opened in April and employs more than 200.

To date, no funds have been disbursed because no claim has been received.- Bruce Macfarlane, Regional Development Corporation

On Tuesday, Opportunities New Brunswick Minister Francine Landry clearly said, "Opportunities NB has not advanced any government funds to Sears Canada and has no plans to advance any funds to the company."

But more than $1.3 million was to come from the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour through the One Job Pledge initiative.

The wage incentive program offers employers $10 per hour when they hire a recent post-secondary graduate in a job related to his or her field of study.

"The money which was committed through the One Job Pledge has not been dispersed," said government spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

Premier Brian Gallant appeared at two news conferences in January when Sears Canada announced new call centres for Saint John and Edmundston. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)
The program operates through reimbursement, however, according to the description on the government's website.

"Participating employers will pay the employees hired under this program and will subsequently submit wage claim forms to the department for reimbursement," the website states.

Macfarlane could not say what would happen if Sears submitted a claim, and Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Similarly, the Regional Development Corporation was to contribute $850,000. That funding "had been earmarked for leasehold improvements to the service centre in Edmundston through Opportunities New Brunswick," said Macfarlane.

"Our deal is with ONB, not Sears," he said. "We were never to give Sears any money."

"To date, no funds have been disbursed because no claim has been received."

Again, it's unclear what would happen if a claim is submitted.

"We'll have to review it," Macfarlane said. "But as of today, we don't have a claim. … We might never get a claim."

The closure of the Sears location at the Regent Mall in Fredericton would put 94 people out of work. (Shane Fowler/CBC )
The government had estimated the combined 530 jobs expected to be created at the two centres would increase the provincial GDP by $26.3 million annually.

If Sears receives court approval to liquidate its remaining stores, Shaffer told CBC News, it's fair to assume the two call centres will also be dead.

More than 200 people in New Brunswick will be out of a job if Sears receives approval to liquidate the rest of its stores across the country.

There are large stores in Moncton and Fredericton, which employ 111 and 94 people respectively, and smaller "hometown stores" in Campbellton, Tracadie, Shippagan and Caraquet.

Sears recently closed its stores in Saint John and Bathurst.

The company has about 130 outlets and 12,000 employees nation-wide.