HALIFAX -- For a second consecutive day, Nova Scotia's Liberals were only too happy Friday to take swipes at a Progressive Conservative platform they say is short on costing and poses questions around how the Tories will balance the books.

Answering questions following a labour announcement in Halifax, Premier Stephen McNeil said Tory Leader Jamie Baillie has been critical of his party's budget, which was tabled last month with a $25 million operating surplus.

McNeil said that's an issue because the Tories are now basing their spending commitments off the fiscal document, which was not passed into law before the legislature was dissolved when he called the May 30 election.

"He (Baillie) wouldn't say what parts of that budget he wasn't going to do, and was unable to actually fully cost out his program," he told reporters.

McNeil questioned Baillie's assertion that savings would be found "in the millions" by trimming administrative fat in health care. Baillie also said he would potentially save millions in legal costs by repealing a Liberal bill imposing a wage settlement on teachers.

"We've made the tough decisions that had to be made ... what we are going to continue to do is lay out a thoughtful plan that's moving this province forward," said McNeil.

Earlier, a Liberal news release also highlighted confusion over the Tories' total spending over four years, which was initially pegged at $648.9 million by officials during a platform briefing. The figure was later revised to $168.9 million.

When asked directly about the total cost of the platform promises during an announcement on Friday, Baillie said: "The new investments we're making are around $158 million over a four-year period."

A member of Baillie's campaign staff later clarified the cost was actually $168.9 million over four years.

When asked about Liberal criticisms about the lack of detail, Baillie went on the offensive.

"The Liberals haven't said what's going to happen to pharmacare after the election this spring," he said. "The Liberals haven't said what their carbon tax plan is, they put that off until after the election this spring.

"Stephen McNeil is the one with a whole bunch of unanswered questions about what he's going to do with our pocketbooks once the election's over if he stays in office."

Baillie defended his platform as "fully costed" and characterized Liberal criticisms as "feeble attempts" that prove they haven't actually read it.

Both the Liberals and NDP are expected to unveil their platforms next week.

Meanwhile, McNeil announced Friday the Liberals would spend $8 million to expand his party's apprenticeship program.

He said the fund would increase support for women, aboriginals, African Nova Scotians, people with disabilities and immigrants by increasing incentives from $10,000 to $30,000 for employers who make diversity hires.

In addition, McNeil said a four-year, $5.2 million commitment would help eliminate tuition for apprentices taking technical training, saving individuals up to $900 a year.

Also Friday, the New Democrats highlighted a previous pledge to eliminate tuition fees at Nova Scotia Community College.

Leader Gary Burrill said the plan would eliminate tuition for 11,000 full-time and more than 11,000 part-time students, including international students and students from out of province.

He said the NDP would also work with universities and student organizations to reduce university tuition by 10 per cent over four years.

Party figures show the NSCC pledge would cost about $136 million over the first four years, while the tuition promise would be phased in at a cost of nearly $68 million over four years.

Burrill said the cost is justifiable in a province with some of the country's highest tuitions.

"I think it's probably the single most important investment that the government of Nova Scotia can make," he said. "We can't go on with young people starting out unable to get their sea legs under them in their lives because the first thing they've got is a $50,000 debt coming out of school."

Also Friday, Baillie promised to spend $1.75 million a year on a unique medical centre for veterans that would be led by former military members.

He said the clinic would be set up in the Camp Hill Veterans' Memorial Building in Halifax and provide physical and mental health care on a 24-hour basis.


- With files from Alison Auld in Halifax