AMHERST – The delayed renovation to River Hebert District High School is the source of tug of war between the province and Conservative Party Leader Jamie Baillie.
The Tory leader and Cumberland South MLA wants to know why the NDP government is using school construction money to buy land as part of the NewPage/Stern deal in Port Hawkesbury.
“In River Hebert students are going to school in a construction zone because the NDP tells them there isn’t enough money to finish their school,” Baillie said. “Now we know why, because they’re using money for schools to give to Stern for their mill.
Baillie points to the government’s financial update, released Tuesday, that says the land purchase is almost entirely offset by reduced capital spending by the Department of Education for renovations and by the Department of Health and Wellness for IT projects.
“The priorities of the NDP are upside down. This is exactly what I mean when I say they are mismanaging this province,” Baillie said.
Baillie also questioned delays with the West Highlands Elementary School project in Amherst and suggested this area’s MLA, Brian Skabar, should be questioning what’s taking so long.
The West Highlands project was announced in December 2010 but was delayed when the province rejected the school board’s preferred sites. The Chignecto-Central board is supposed to make new recommendations early next month.
Baillie said the province knew in the spring that tenders for River Hebert came in much higher than budgeted. He said six months is an unacceptable delay.
“Those schools are where we educate our children for the jobs of tomorrow,” he said. “To take from them to fund the corporate giveaways of the NDP is wrong. They’ll say those projects are all delayed for legitimate reasons, but say what they will, it doesn’t change the fact that students in River Hebert are going to school in a construction zone.”
Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald said it’s wrong for Baillie to put one area of the province against the other. She said changes in the province’s financial update can be partially attributed to school site selection taking longer than initially planned.
“He is totally wrong. His allegation doesn’t have any basis in fact whatsoever,” MacDonald said. “There were tenders called for River Hebert, but they came in 40 per cent over the estimated cost. Subsequently, we’re taking a look at it more closely and that accounts for the delay.
“I totally understand that parents are frustrated with the delay. We are frustrated with the delay, but as a former minister of health who walked into a big mess around the Colchester hospital where none of the due diligence had been done by the previous government with which Jamie Baillie has a close association, I find it a bit hypocritical that he’s questioning why we would do due diligence. It’s important that when we develop our budgets that we stay inside them unless there’s a compelling reason not to do so.”
The minister said money for River Hebert has not been taken away or diverted to the Port Hawkesbury mill.