Nova Scotia

N.S. premier vows to move Halifax jobs

Nova Scotia's government says it plans to move civil service jobs out of Halifax, a move that has alienated the province's largest public sector union, one of the NDP's traditional allies.
Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis reads the throne speech at the opening of Nova Scotia legislature in Halifax on Thursday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's government says it plans to move civil service jobs out of Halifax, a move that has alienated the province's largest public sector union, one of the NDP's traditional allies.

The surprise announcement came Thursday in the middle of a throne speech that opened the spring session of the legislature.

"To show clearly that provincial departments and agencies serve all of the people, regardless of location, my government will seek locations outside this immediate area [Halifax] for new and consolidated agencies and offices of government," said the speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis.

"Communities throughout Nova Scotia are good places to live, work and raise a family, for civil servants as well as for hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens."

It's a commitment made by previous governments that never came to fruition.

There were few details about how the government plans carry out the move, but the head of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union was quick to criticize the measure.

Joan Jessome said 4,000 of the union's 7,000 members in the civil service already work outside the Halifax Regional Municipality.

"You can't drive anywhere in rural Nova Scotia and not pass a Department of Transportation office or Department of Natural Resources, Community Services, justice centres — they're everywhere," she said in an interview as she and about 50 union members rallied for a protest outside the legislature.

"We've got locals dotted all over the province. We've got 12 civil service locals and only three in metro [Halifax].… I don't think it will materialize."

Premier Darrell Dexter declined to say how many jobs would be relocated, but he confirmed the number would not be in the thousands.

Union caught off guard by proposal

"There are some services that could be better delivered from communities outside of Halifax," he said outside the legislature.

"We live in a day and age when it is no longer necessary that everything be done out of an office building in Halifax."

He said he wasn't worried about losing support from public sector unions.

"I don't think this is going to alienate anyone," he said. "I think people are going to be very pleased to see that we are responding to what really is common sense."

But Jessome said she was caught off guard by the proposal, saying no one from the government consulted her before making the announcement.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he was worried the government was looking for a way to grow the bureaucracy.

"There was no commitment that they would be moving existing jobs," he said. "We need to see more details."

However, McNeil said he wasn't opposed to the idea of relocating some departments outside the capital city, including the Agriculture Department.

Speech lacked details, says opposition

Progressive Conservative Leader Jaimie Baillie described the move as "an important objective," but he said the plan was too light on details. He said it didn't appear to be a real commitment.

The throne speech also includes a long list of new, vaguely stated strategies for the commercial fishery, aquaculture, mining, clean energy, tourism and Cape Breton's economic development, among other measures.

The speech says the strategies are needed as the province prepares for a strengthening economy, mainly because of the $25-billion shipbuilding contract recently awarded to the Irving shipyard in Halifax.

"Nova Scotia is heading into an era of what promises to be great prosperity — a time when good jobs are the norm," says the speech, the fourth produced by the NDP government since its breakthrough election in 2009.

"From Yarmouth to Cape Breton, you can see and feel the optimism for the future, even before any direct impact has hit."

Baillie said the strategies will cost a small fortune — money he said will likely come from the government's decision almost two years ago to raise the harmonized sales tax by two percentage points to 15 per cent.

"[The money] is going into an ever mounting list of frameworks and strategies," he said.