BIBLE HILL, N.S. – Separating the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (NSPE) from the Truro Raceway is a necessary move to pull both operations out of their long-standing financial spiral, Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell says.
“There has been not really solid financial management over a long period of time,” Colwell told the Truro Daily News on Friday, with respect to the raceway and NSPE.
“So, we’ve made a clear separation with the two now.”
Seventeen staff members at both the raceway and the NSPE Commission were informed at a special meeting Friday morning that their jobs had been terminated.
The employees were provided with severance pay, told to collect their personal belongings, to turn in their keys and to leave the premises.
“I think it is sort of a hard day for some people but in the long run this is going to be a regeneration and a rejuvenation of the whole race track and, more importantly, the exhibition, to make sure this is a longstanding real asset for agriculture in the province and the communities in Truro and surrounding area,” Colwell said.
The advisory board that Colwell had put in place in recent years has also been relieved of responsibilities.
NSPE general manager Joe Nicholson has been replaced by Darrelyn Hubley, a business manager with more than 30 years experience in event management and promotion, who has been hired to oversee the transition period.
She is responsible solely for the NSPE operations and will report directly to Colwell’s office.
Everything to do with Truro Raceway will be managed by the Truro Harness Horse Owners Association, which is renting the track, stables and related facilities from the NSPE for $200 per month.
Although Colwell credited the advisory board members with doing “a great job,” he said they were faced with an “impossible task” of trying to turn things around, given the dire financial position the facility is in combined with the current state of the harness racing industry.
“We really need a fresh start there,” he said. “Somebody from outside the area to give a fresh approach that’s got a lot of experience in running these kinds of operations, exhibitions and those sorts of things.”
The NSPE Commission has been sitting on a debt of $1 million for the past recent years, of which approximately $500,000 is owed to the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board.
“I don’t know what we are going to do long term with that but at the present time, it will just stay there as an outstanding balance owed to the farm loan board,” Colwell said.
“So, all those issues have to be addressed over time. We need time to do that and the first step is today. It was costing us about $20,000 a week when you look at the overhead for the wages and everything, and the exhibition was broke.”
While the horse owners’ association will be responsible for raceway expenses, Colwell said his department will be funding the NSPE operations for the foreseeable future.
“We want the harness racing to prosper in the province over time and it’s been faltering for a number of years, because of a lack of interest in the sport,” he said.
“And they’ve got some pretty good ideas how they can move it forward and I’m confident they’ll be able to do that.”
Now that the province is going to be picking up the tab for the NSPE expenses, Colwell said all local suppliers who have extended credit to the facility “will be paid.”
The minister said he’s now looking forward to being able to meet with local municipal officials to set out a plan for the NSPE’s long-term future.
“Now we can move ahead,” he said. “We couldn’t do very much until we got all this stuff straightened out.”