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Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston speaks in Halifax, on March 21.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia’s premier has chosen two “personal friends” to help with the transition of five economic agencies with annual budgets totalling $100 million into two new Crown corporations.

Tim Houston told reporters Tuesday that the move, which follows a government review, is about streamlining operations and making his government more accountable for economic development decisions.

Houston dismissed the notion that the government was getting back into picking winners and losers when it comes to economic support for businesses instead of leaving the job to arm’s-length agencies.

“Of course not,” he said. “Government has to be accountable for the decisions it makes. I’m not interested in pointing the finger at somebody else or in saying that board made that decision.”

Under the changes, Nova Scotia Lands, Harbourside Commercial Park Inc. and Develop Nova Scotia will be absorbed by a new Crown corporation to be known as Build Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Business Inc. and Innovacorp will become part of another new Crown corporation known as Invest Nova Scotia.

The government confirmed the CEOs of Innovacorp, Nova Scotia Business Inc. and Develop Nova Scotia will be let go with severance packages, although there’s no word at this point on whether there will be any other job losses.

Houston said he had picked veteran businessmen Wayne Crowley and Tom Hickey from a short list of candidates to oversee the transition at Build Nova Scotia and at Invest Nova Scotia respectively until new CEOs can be recruited.

“They’re personal friends of mine,” he said. “I’ve known them for a long time. They’re very, very competent people, and I have tremendous faith in their abilities.”

The government confirmed Crowley and Hickey will each be paid $1,500 a day to a maximum of $18,000 a month for their work.

Both the opposition Liberals and New Democrats took issue with the premier hiring friends to help with the transition.

“It inspires no confidence,” said NDP Leader Claudia Chender, who added that the timing of the announcement was strange given the legislature was called back for an emergency session to rescind a recommended MLA salary increase.

Liberal economic development critic Fred Tilley said his party will be closely watching what happens with the two new transitional executives.

“We need to make sure the transparency that Nova Scotians are looking for is there,” Tilley said.

Most notably under the change, Build Nova Scotia will assume responsibility for the estimated $2-billion redevelopment of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

Another change will see the staff and operations of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corp. integrated with the Department of Finance and Treasury Board, while Houston confirmed that work is continuing on improving the governance structure at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Houston said legislation will be introduced this fall to reflect the changes to the boards and agencies.

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