Jobs for students important to Nova Scotia’s growth: Premier

Province promotes private-public partnership for economic development

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil gave his state of the province speech at a Halifax Chamber of Commerce luncheon today. Photo: Andrea Gunn
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil gave his state of the province speech at a Halifax Chamber of Commerce luncheon today. Photo: Andrea Gunn

Though students were not the target audience at Premier Stephen McNeil’s state of the province address, delivered today to some 750 members of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, they didn’t go completely ignored.

The speech was given at a luncheon for the chamber’s members which took place at the World Trade and Convention Centre this afternoon.

On Monday, a column in the Chronicle Herald written by chamber CEO Valerie Payn criticized the province’s lack of action in dealing effectively with its fiscal problems.

The premier spent much of his hour-long speech talking about Nova Scotia’s economy with rose-coloured glasses, focusing on positive action the government is hoping to take to create jobs and deal with the province’s $14-billion debt.

One of the main points McNeil hammered home as a way to stimulate economic development was the importance of public-private partnerships.

“We should be working with the private sector to ensure that venture capital is here in our region so that those young bright minds who want to control their own future see that happening here,” he told the audience.

In lamenting the government’s approach to economic development in the past – throwing money on program after program in hopes of stimulating the economy and creating jobs, he touched on one of the Liberal government’s most controversial moves for the student demographic, the axing of the graduate retention rebate program last April.

“Every stat proved it was worthless, $50 million we were giving to university grads who already have a job in this province,” McNeil said. “I don’t want to dismiss the fact that it was a benefit for them because it was, but it wasn’t what the program was built for. The program was built to retain university graduates, not to reward the ones that got jobs.”

Keeping with the private-public partnership theme, McNeil said initiatives like the Graduate to Opportunities program — which was announced last week — are the way of the future. The program is an arrangement between the government and small businesses; the province will pay up to 25 per cent of the salary of any new graduate hired for one year, and up to 12.5 per cent in the second.

“We must take those precious public dollars that we have to help support a new opportunity for a new university grad or new college grad after their first year of graduation,” said McNeil.

The premier also gave a pat on the back to Saint Mary’s University for their partnership with the Halifax Port Authority to help international students get internships in Halifax.

“Providing new opportunities for international students to get their first work term here in our province — that’s great private sector leadership.”

McNeil meets with some Halifax Chamber of Commerce members after a photo op at today's luncheon. Photo: Andrea Gunn
McNeil meets with some Halifax Chamber of Commerce members after a photo op at today’s luncheon. Photo: Andrea Gunn

Though McNeil talked plenty about the importance of job opportunities for students in Nova Scotia, he failed to address what had hundreds of students calling his name outside Province House exactly one week ago at the All Out Feb. 4 day of Action – the high cost of attending post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia.

In a scrum after his speech, UNews asked the premier what his government is doing to help curb the crippling debt many students face upon gradation.

McNeil said the Department of Labour and Advanced Education has been meeting with student groups, something they will continue to do.

As for tuition freezes, or grants in lieu of loans, McNeil didn’t comment.

“One of the things we are focused on is providing job opportunities for young people in this province who are getting an education here, our focus is on ensuring there are job opportunities for them so that they’re not leaving this province.”

 

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