Nova Scotia

N.S. won't provide detailed project list for $228M stimulus program

The McNeil government is refusing to provide specific details about how $228 million in COVID-19 stimulus money is being spent in Nova Scotia.

Government says people can compare capital plans with tender website for details

The Nova Scotia government's COVID-19 stimulus program includes lots of road work, although it won't provide a detailed list of all projects. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The McNeil government is refusing to provide specific details about how $228 million in COVID-19 stimulus money is being spent in Nova Scotia.

The money was first announced in May and represents the province's largest response to the pandemic to date. Further details of how the money would be spent were released in June, but the largest portions of the spending — including about $150 million in capital work on roads, bridges and buildings — were not broken down at the time.

Spokespeople for the Transportation and Health departments said in June that the project lists were still being finalized and would eventually be made public.

Last month, CBC News requested a detailed list of tenders awarded to date and their value as part of the stimulus program. After weeks of promising the list was coming, on Friday a spokesperson for the Transportation Department said that list won't be produced.

Opposition says transparency lacking

The spokesperson said all of the projects are included in the government's 2020-21 capital plan, five-year highway improvement plan, or the programs for school and health-care capital improvements.

"The capital plan and highway improvement plan are available online. Projects that have [been] tendered, awarded or completed through standard procurement processes are public on the provincial procurement site," Megan Tonet said in an email.

That may be true in theory, but nothing on those websites explicitly says whether projects are connected to the stimulus program or would have happened during this fiscal year even without COVID-19. The decision is a marked departure by the province, which has previously released details about COVID-related spending and programs without issue.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said it is "bizarre" that the government wouldn't make public the complete list of stimulus projects and their value. 

"It doesn't make any sense to me. This is not a government that's known for being open and transparent, but even this is bizarre for them."

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it makes no sense why the government wouldn't release a detailed list of stimulus projects and spending.

200 projects approved

A transparent accounting of whether the government's approach to helping the economy during the pandemic is effective requires easy access to information, said Burrill.

"That's something that you should be able to distinguish easily, that the government should feel obligated to report on regularly and clearly, because a big part of whether or not they are doing the economic job they need to do has to do with the judgment about what they're doing specifically on the subject of stimulus spending," he said.

In an interview last month, Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said at that point more than 200 projects had been approved and tenders awarded as part of the stimulus effort.

The work is spread around as much as possible, said Hines, and includes upgrades to museums, schools and hospitals, along with improvements to bridges and roads. The minister said some of the work was added on to existing projects, while other projects were on the books but not originally scheduled for this fiscal year.