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Nova Scotia premier heads to Olympics, but Opposition leader sees hypocrisy in decision

HALIFAX, N.S. - Nova Scotia's NDP premier is going to the Vancouver Olympics and will accept a pass to all locations from organizers, even though his party sharply criticized his Conservative predecessor for his plan to receive VIP passes at the Games.

HALIFAX, N.S. - Nova Scotia's NDP premier is going to the Vancouver Olympics and will accept a pass to all locations from organizers, even though his party sharply criticized his Conservative predecessor for his plan to receive VIP passes at the Games.

Premier Darrell Dexter said Tuesday he's decided to go to the Games for four days to attend a Nova Scotia Day ceremony, and to participate in receptions that will showcase his province.

He said he will have an "access pass" for himself and two officials from his office, but he couldn't explain what the pass entitled him to. No other politicians will go, Dexter said, and he won't sit and watch sports events.

"There are not free tickets available ... what there are, are some venue passes that are available but they aren't tickets," he said.

Dexter said he knows he will attend receptions, but he doesn't know the specifics of his schedule.

"I'm not intending to do anything other than to go to support the event. ... I think it's really important that people understand we're going to support money that we have already spent."

The previous Tory government committed $1.5 million to be part of the Vancouver organizing committee's contributing province and territories program.

Nova Scotia also contributed $500,000 to participate with Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in an Atlantic Pavilion. The province says another $800,000 has been provided to fund the province's participation in the Games, bringing the total to $2.8 million.

The province is projecting a $525-million deficit this year.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he doesn't object to the premier being in Vancouver to represent the province, but he said it's another example of the NDP taking one position in opposition and then reversing course in office.

"Now that he's in government he has a different set of rules for himself," he said. "The rules they had for everyone else need not apply to them."

When it looked in February like Tory premier Rodney MacDonald was going to attend the Games, Graham Steele - who was then the NDP's finance critic - said "the premier has got his priorities upside down." Steele, who is now finance minister, also said MacDonald should pick up the tab for the tickets.

Dexter said he will be busy attending receptions to promote the province and he is not allowing any civil servants to receive free passes.

A group of five executives with Nova Scotia Business Inc., the Crown-owned economic development agency, will send five people to the Games.

The provincial business agency has purchased 20 tickets at a total cost of $13,320, including four tickets for the opening ceremonies, four to men's hockey games, six for the gold medal hockey game and six tickets for the closing ceremonies.

"NSBI staff and clients will host international business prospects," spokeswoman Sarah Levy said in an email.

"The agency will also take advantage of business forums held in conjunction with the Games to highlight leading Nova Scotia companies."

Dexter said he accepted the agency's plans because it comes out of its own budget.

Nova Scotia has several athletes likely to participate in the Vancouver Olympics, including hockey player Sidney Crosby, snowboarder Sarah Conrad and John Mattatall, a pairs figure skater.

New Brunswick declined to participate in the contributing province program last year.

"Because of the recession and the fiscal situation we find ourselves in in New Brunswick, we opted not to pay for this sponsorship, consequently we did not get tickets," said Brendan Langille, a spokesman for Intergovernmental Affairs.

He said Premier Shawn Graham hopes to attend the Games, but it depends on the schedule at the legislature.

Langille said New Brunswick is contributing to the Atlantic pavilion and is also spending $500,000 to set up the Francophone Space, an exhibit that aims to attract francophone immigrants to the province.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has indicated he will attend the Games, along with the province's tourism minister and officials. A spokeswoman for Williams's office said it has purchased 176 tickets to events at a cost of $54,380.

A spokesman for P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz said he will attend, and will have "around five" officials with him during a three-day trip. Information on tickets purchased by P.E.I. was unavailable on Tuesday.

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