[HALIFAX, NS] — Premier Darrell Dexter is calling $25-million in loans to one of the region’s largest aquaculture companies simply a happy coincidence for his government.
Cooke Aquaculture Inc. is receiving a $16-million interest-bearing loan as well as a $9-million forgivable loan to expand its operations in Shelburne, Digby and Truro.
The aquaculture loan announcement made by Dexter on Thursday was good news for a region that has been hit hard economically. Resolute Forest Products Ltd. recently announced its shutdown of the Bowater mill near Liverpool, throwing hundreds out of work.
Dexter says Cooke’s expansion — expected to cost about $150 million — will create 400 jobs in the province.
“[The announcement] was actually scheduled for me to be at before we knew what was going on with Bowater,” Dexter said. “The two are not related.”
Cooke’s expansion includes a new fish processing plant in Shelburne, a salmon hatchery in Digby, and expanding a feed mill in Truro.
The bulk of the jobs, about 320 positions, will go to the new processing plant in Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Sterling Belliveau’s riding.
Dexter’s opposition colleagues both said they would have preferred the NDP develop an aquaculture strategy before providing more money to the industry — especially to a company that has money for an attempted takeover of Nova Scotia’s Clearwater Seafood Ltd.
“We were looking for no sites to be approved until (an aquaculture strategy) had been done,” said Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil. “Here we are, another very large company has received millions of dollars tax free from the people of Nova Scotia."
“We have to get away from shoveling money into large companies like this. If that worked, we’d be swimming in jobs in this province,” added Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.
The money comes from the Nova Scotia Jobs Fund, formerly known as the Industrial Expansion Fund. The government recently used that fund in an attempt to prop up the Bowater mill.
With files from Alex Boutilier, Metro Halifax