Premier's support for project had no bearing on approval, says deputy minister
Lobbying by Stephen McNeil provided "no added weight" to the decision to spend $2.3M in his constituency
A provincial deputy minister told reporters Wednesday that Premier Stephen McNeil's lobbying for a track and field facility in his constituency held no sway over her department's decision to fund the project — and more generously than normal.
Tracey Taweel, deputy minister of communities, culture and heritage, said McNeil only did what other MLAs do when it comes to supporting pet projects.
"MLAs are involved in a number of projects, and so the MLA in the area was certainly involved in advancing the project the same way MLAs are involved in advancing any large project that happens" in their respective constituencies, she said following an appearance before the Legislature's public accounts committee.
No extra push
Taweel denied McNeil's position as premier added any extra push to accept the proposal.
"I would say no added weight because when we look at projects across the province we look at the need in the area," she said.
"We look at the support in the area. What's the catchment area? How interested is the community in supporting this project? So who the MLA is is not relevant to the decision to fund a project."
The project was announced last month by McNeil and West Nova MP Colin Fraser.
Ottawa has committed $1.1 million to the project. Nova Scotia is providing $2.3 million, more the double the federal share and more than $1 million more than is usually provided for similar cost-sharing arrangements.
Taweel defended the decision to kick in two-thirds of the cost. She said the municipality and the community group backing the project didn't have the means to provide a third of the cost.
'We could quantify the need'
"There was some money left in the small communities fund, the project was ready, we could quantify the need and the interest."
The project includes both an artificial turf field and a grass field and an eight-lane running track with jumping runways and pits.
The track will be built next to the recently opened Bridgetown Regional Community School. That project was questioned by Nova Scotia's auditor general in a 2016 report.