Owning a Tim Hortons is sometimes described as having a licence to print money, which is why some people are shaking their heads over the fact that four locations in the Halifax area are losing money.

Perhaps even more surprising is that taxpayers are making up the losses.

All four outlets are located at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre and money that is supposed to pay for health care is instead being used to keep them afloat.

“Tim Hortons is part of our overall retail food services and they’re not profitable for us,” says spokesman John Gillis. “This year we are predicting a loss of $1.4 million.”

“One wonders, how do you lose money on a Tim Hortons? But anything I suppose is possible,” says Premier Darrell Dexter.

Gillis says labour and production costs exceed revenues and that money to cover the losses is coming out of health care, but Premier Darrell Dexter says it’s not coming out of health-care services.

As a result, Gillis says the hospital is looking to get out of the retail food business.

“We’re looking to get out of that business, but to do so we require the approval of government to do that, and we don’t have it so far,” says Gillis.

“No request actually came forward from the District Health Authority,” says Dexter. “I checked to see if that happened, and they say they have not received anything, although they want to get out of the cafeteria service.”

But Dexter says that can’t happen as the health authority has a responsibility to provide cafeteria food services for people at the hospital.

The employees are unionized workers who earn close to $20 an hour with benefits. Gillis says labour accounts for 65 per cent of costs, but he doesn’t blame workers for the losses.

The $1.4 million loss is enough to keep the entire Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre operating for 18 hours, or to pay the water bill for nine months.

Dexter and union leaders say some of the problems began when the hospital changed the menu at Tim Hortons, but Dexter also says the health authority has to get its act together on the issue.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Rick Grant