Premier draws fire after saying jail was never promised to Springhill

Christopher Gooding
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SPRINGHILL - Premier Darrell Dexter is on the offensive this week in reaction to charges his government betrayed the town of Springhill by rescinding a decision to build a new jail here.

Dexter told provincial media on Wednesday there wasn't a firm commitment to build a new jail in Springhill and, despite the April 29th announcement, the project was in motion without funding and purely political.

In a document obtained by Transcontinental Media, however, the province was making promises much earlier than the contested announcement.

In a signed agreement between the town and Steve Chiason, acquisition and disposal officer for the province, the province purchased 33.06 acres of land - dubbed the Provincial Lot -from Springhill for $1, with provisions for the new jail near the community's secondary water source as well as other promises.

"The Province shall take all responsible steps and procedures to protect the reservoir and the waters of the reservoir as a source and supply of good quality water for the benefit of the town during the construction, use, maintenance, repair, replacement and operation by the province of a Correctional Facility on the Provincial Lot," the contract dated March 16, reads.

The agreement also says the province will construct a new access road to the secondary water supply for of the town to use, paid for by the province.

No announcement when the access road will be built has ever been made.

Justice Minister Ross Landry went on the record this month, saying the new jail will not be built in Springhill or anywhere else in Cumberland County, opting instead to build one jail to replace the aging jails in Amherst and Antigonish. Landry says the jail will be centrally located to Colchester County and the Minister's Pictou riding, saving the province $1.7 million in operations and $5 million in construction costs.

The decision is not sitting well with in this area, prompting petitions, statements from the county's municipal leaders and former NDP candidate Don Tabor resigned his position as Cumberland South's association president earlier this week.

Contrary to the premier's comments, Tabor says he feels the town did have a firm agreement.

"In March, the town signed the deed and land transfer documents with the province, that specifically stated the land was for the purpose of constructing a jail," Tabor says. "It wasn't a pie-in-the sky agreement. It was the real thing."

As CAO for the Town of Springhill, Tabor worked alongside Conservative MLA Murray Scott and the Rodney MacDonald Conservative government for three years, he says, to finalize the agreement. Dexter's accusations there was no money in the previous government's budget for the jail, Tabor says, are contrary to what Springhill was told after signing over the land to the province.

"Certainly our talks with then-Minister Murray Scott indicated to us the funds for the jail was in the upcoming budget," Tabor said.

In rebuttal to Dexter's assertions there was no financial commitment to the jail, the Progressive Conservatives says their government budgeted $18 million for correctional facilities, Springhill included, and can explain exactly how it was cut from the NDP budget.

When the NDP forced the election, PC public relations advisor Mike Kydd says, the Conservative budget was not introduced as record. Capital spending for highways and infrastructure renewal were presented as one lump sum.

"The budget would not show items as details on capital plans because of the number of highway jobs," Kydd explained. "And it won't be outlined as a budget item because the budget wasn't entered as record."

After taking power, the Dexter government issued a budget bulletin stating it was decreasing $20 million from its capital budget outlined for buildings.

"$18 million of that $20 million was set aside for Springhill and Antigonish facilities. The other $2 million was for tourism and heritage projects; the Ottawa House in Parrsboro and a fisheries museum in Highland Village," Kydd said. "I can tell you with 100 per cent confidence because I was in budget lock-up and when we asked where this money was coming from they told us."

The premier's logic to say no money was committed to the Springhill jail, Kydd says, could be used to explain why any given road in Nova Scotia is not being repaved.

Dan O'Connor, NDP's chief of staff, says that isn't so.

Speaking on behalf of the premier, who was en route to Copenhagen, and Landry, en route to Ottawa, O'Connor says the only money approved by cabinet was $1 million spent on preliminary work prior to the Apr. 29 announcement and that money for the jail was never a clear issue.

"The assumption - and I say assumption because we'll never know - would have been it would have to go back for further approval," O'Connor said. "When we were digging through that, we found in the budget highlights it was described as $18 million over three years. It was an unusual budget to present on the eve of an election. They weren't going to spend $18 million in one year."

As for the land agreement with the town, O'Connor says there's no doubt the province bought the land for building a jail but the operational and building costs of two jails is just too prohibitive.

Cumberland South's MLA Murray Scott took direct aim at the premier, saying Dexter has gone back on his campaign promise to keep Conservative promises and the land agreement proves it.

"If anyone in Nova Scotia believes there was not a promise to build the jail in Springhill then the premier is the only one," Scott says. "There's solid proof. I know what he said on the campaign trail and I believe a man is only as good as his word and he is breaking his word."

Since cancelling construction of the jail in Springhill, Minister Landry has ordered the province to keep the land it acquired. ---

Organizations: NDP, Transcontinental Media, Correctional Facility Progressive Conservatives Ottawa House

Geographic location: Springhill, Antigonish, Cumberland South Cumberland County Amherst Colchester County Pictou Nova Scotia Parrsboro Highland Village Copenhagen Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Robert
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    This NDP government is showing its true colours. I wonder what the next hit will be? I imagine no tax breaks for this area, no school for Hickman street, and the removal of the courts. Should be a painful time until the next election.

  • NDP
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Funny how the province has the money to send a bunch of people to Copenhagen for the Climate Change conference but doesn't have money to invest in real, needed infrastructure projects here in their own Province? Oh that's right the NDP haven't heard of Cumberand County. We can only hope Mr. Dexter is in Copenhagen is promote the environmental projects that are working in Springhill's geothermal potential? I feel sorry for Brian Skabar...nothing like being hung out to try by your own party. Welcome to your first and only term as MLA. The Amherst Daily News should be asking Mr. Skabar about what he's doing to keep in in Cumberland.

  • Danny
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Again where is Skabar. This is a big issue, you shouldn't have to call him to get his stance on this issue. He should be in the paper, but he is not which leads people to believe that he was told not to comment. If that is the case he is a puppet, and not fit to represent a constituency. Until he speaks up he's going to have to take the bashing, and the longer he waits the less likely he is to ever get re-elected.

  • Jack on the rocks
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Moriarty,I am one of his constiuents.But he didn't get my vote that's for sure.I can't believe he got anybody's vote.Just where is he hiding on this issue??Just an NDP puppet being told what to do and when to do it.Just what good would a call do anyway?Set up a *i'll meet you behind the office @3:00*(do ya remember Moriarty,the after school fight thing,I'll bet ya don't?,cause ya wouldn't).Speaking of jokes...........

  • Greg is my Real Name
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Moriarty, you have repeatedly told us that if we want Skabar's opinion, that we should call him. It seems that every other politician, be it Municipal, Provincial or Federal whose riding/jurisdiction is affected by this issue has stepped up and spoken out about the impact it will have on this area. If you wondering why everyone is talking badly about Mr Skabar, it's because his silence is showing us that he is not willing to step up. For any of us to have to call him for his opinion would seem to indicate that he is shirking his responsibility to this riding. Those of us who are not elected officials are doing a better job of representing the view of this riding than our MLA.

  • Moriarty
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    ..................I'm wondering how continuosly insulting Brian is going to get anything accomplished.

    Jack on the rock's comments serve no purpose at all. You want to talk yellow??!! Why don't you call Brian up and say what you said to him??!!

    Yah...that's what I thought. You'd rather hide behind a fake name online rather than atlk to Brian yourself.

    Give him a call Jack. His number's been published all over the place over the last few weeks.

    If you're really one of his constiuents who is concerned, he will talk to you. What he's not doing, is grandstanding in the media and trying to score political points.

    If you're really that concerned, you'll call him. On the other hand, if you're some PC stooge lurking on this site to post disparaging comments, I don't have much hope for ya.

    And to the other stooge:

    Dexter going to Copenhagen is important for the entire country. If premiers like Dexter weren't going, Canada would be represented by Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice---two Calgary oil men.

    In times of national crisis, when the prime minister is ineffective and unpopular, we are lucky to have provincial premiers step up to the plate.

  • Mike
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Just an opinion...I don't know why everyone is crying about this. Like you didn't see it coming?!...When was the last time you heard of an honest politician It's been a fact for ages that governments promise one thing and do another. Sorry if you're upset at the so-called loss of jobs but got news for happens all over the country...get in line and suck it up. We all get screwed at one point or another.

  • WTH?
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Soo, we should just wait until everything is taken away from Cumberland and redistributed to the rest of the province and then complain about it when it's too late to actually make a difference... interesting approach.

    Or do nothing ever about any political decision that negatively affects us because we should've known something bad was going to happen?!

    People are going to be losing their jobs and possibly uprooting their families over this jail relocation, but I guess a couple of posters believe the rest of us should sit back and do nothing except say I told you so or tell them they're sour grapes... that's some compassion. Christmas must be fun at your house.

  • Moriarty
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    ...............Alright, was unfair to go after Jack for using a handle.

    But the point still remains...why don't you call him Jack?

    Call him, and then come immediately back to these boards and post what he says to ya.

    As I've said before, Skabar's a decent honest and straightforward person. THAT'S why people voted for him.

    This cynical business of just firing off empty statements to the local media everytime a shoe drops is a thing of the past. I would say it's probably a good thing you didn't vote for him if that's the kind of behaviour you expect.

    And I'm not just an NDP stooge, I'm also a Cumberland North stooge, who finds the manipulation of our local politicians by Mr. Scott to be reprehensible.

    Is Mayor Small going to drive to Springhill to stand beside Murray at a press conference when he pitches a fit in the new year over the border gas issue?

    Let's hope he doesn't, but that's why Rob should be careful where he puts his stake in the ground.

    Our municipal leaders have been caught up in Murray's grand plan for Karen Casey's job.

    It's cynical, manipulative, dirty and typical of the old school politics from the PCs in Cumberland.

    It's also EXACTLY why I supported and still support Brian.

  • Sour grapes
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    The NDP Gov. is making a tough decision, one that benefits all of Nova Scotia not just one area. I understand why Cumb. Co residents are concerned. I cant imagine Antigonish is happy about it either but, they didnt go through the political games like the ones played here, so I figure its Sour Grapes for Cumberland. Can you imagine what the rest of NS was thinking about the Politics that were going on in Cumb Co. Prior to the change of Gov.? No wonder they switched. Im not really into Politics and I could believe it was happening and on all levels. As far as Im concerned the PC Gov, made a mess of NSs finances, so dont criticize a new party after only a few month, at least give them a chance to show what they can do. If they dont do what we expect than criticize.

  • WTH?
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Oh that's rich. You're hiding behind a fake name but you're flinging poo at someone else for doing the same thing. By the way what exactly is the difference between a PC stooge making disparaging comments and an NDP stooge making disparaging comments?

    Dexter going to Copenhagen is important to the entire COUNTRY?! The country didn't elect him; only Nova Scotia can take responsibility for that lapse in good judgement.

    It couldn't be more obvious that Dexter is getting out of the kitchen because he can't take the heat. Gutless!

  • Ron
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I think people better stand up to this ridiculous government because more is on the way. The next on the radar is amalgamating all health authorities into one or two. Sure, who cares about the CEO. But there's going to be a lot of hard working people afftected by this when it happens. It didnt work in New Brunswick!

    I feel really bad for the jail employees. Having their jobs ripped away and given to others in Pictou. You just can't pick up and move away if you are established here.

  • Jonathan
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I am glad I at least live in a riding where the person in office stands up for his ppl. NDP will get there 4 yrs and I would say that will be it. We were warned and didn't listen. I bet the Dexter is not even talking about geothermal. he probably doens't know what it is. Since he won't come is terified to come here we can all see it well except for Moriarty, I bet you are the guy that tried to get my wife to vote for Skabar, and when she said she didn;t live in that riding and was voting for Mr Scott you put her own to the lowest. But that is just a guess byt me. I'll tell you straight out I voted for Mr Scott because he has done stuff for this area. Had he not then he wouldn't get my vote, and I have known him all my life. He is as honest a politican as there is, and to be honet it is time for ppl to respect him.

  • Moriarty
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45


    The premier said yesterday that there was some land purchases...and that's ALL the document you *obtained* says as well.

    People are beginning to realize you're making a mountain out of a molehill Brad and Darrell, and from what I've hear they're already starting to tell you so.

    This is the AMHERST Daily News, NOT Murruay Scott Broken Record.

    The premier told it like it is yesterday...suck it up!

  • Robert
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Fake Name Moriarty?

    Shall we dig up your recent post on why you use an alias or is it that no one else is allowed to? People are mad at Brian because he refuses to do anything about this and refuses to make an *official* comment as to why. I'm sure if he stood up for the people that voted him in, instead of remaining invisible, people would stop...

  • 4 years of NDP Hell
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    my oh my, WELCOME TO THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC of NOVA SCOTIA. NDP is a party of lies, raising taxes and broken promisses. I'm requesting Dexter and the NDP party to step down and call a new ellection, you can't run a Province running in circles.

  • Jack on the rocks
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    The NDP should change their color from Orange to YELLOW.It would match the stripe on our Cumb.North reps back.Where is Skabar?????????

  • Jack on the rocks
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Last one today,Moriarty.Enjoy your 4 years of supporting Mr.Skabar,because that is EXACTLY what you are going to get,4years ONLY.........