Tories call on McNeil to end former leader's 'plum patronage job'

Tories call on McNeil to end former leader's 'plum patronage job'

Premier Stephen McNeil is standing by his former boss and a contract the leader of the Opposition calls a sweetheart deal.

Former Liberal leader Danny Graham heads up Engage Nova Scotia, a non-profit group that, among other things, works with communities around the province to help improve social and political engagement. In 2015, the McNeil government inked a deal with Engage for about $400,000 split equally between direct funding and in-kind support.

But Tory Leader Jamie Baillie is calling on McNeil to kill the contract.

Expense breakdown for 2015

The Tories released information Thursday from a freedom of information request showing taxpayers put $444,564 toward Engage's $566,692 in expenses in 2015.

The spending included: 

- $220,000 for professional fees and consultations.

- $196,000 for in-kind government services.

- $30,000 for "attitudinal research."

- $28,000 for in-kind office space in Halifax. 

The document also shows Graham was paid $13,584 a month for his services. Baillie, who protested the agreement when it was first signed, called it wrong.

"Premier McNeil cut the food budget in nursing homes to less than $5 a day per senior, but he gives his Liberal friend Danny Graham $447 a day to research the attitudes of Nova Scotians," Baillie said in a news release.

"This is nothing more than a plum patronage job for another one of the premier's Liberal friends."

'The work they're doing matters'

But the premier noted Graham, who advised him early after the 2013 election, has done work for other governments — Engage was first contracted by the former NDP government. Graham is paid less now than he was by previous governments, said McNeil.

"The work they're doing matters," McNeil said following a health-care announcement in Windsor.

"It's always difficult to be able to say, 'That happened because of this,' but we're seeing a change in Nova Scotia and it's unfortunate that the leader of the Opposition always takes every opportunity to be political. This is a good thing."

McNeil pointed to community development work Engage has done in Amherst, Pictou County and Lunenburg as examples of efforts to get people involved in their communities. The premier said he sees the "momentum and confidence" building in communities from that work whenever he's on the road.

Graham is considered a leader in the province in multiple sectors, said McNeil.

"If Danny wasn't recognized as a friend of mine, there'd be no issue here."