FREDERICTON – Jobs and the economy will be the top issues of New Brunswick’s election, Premier David Alward said Monday after the province’s lieutenant-governor agreed to dissolve the legislative assembly Thursday ahead of next month’s vote.
The Progressive Conservative leader said his focus during the campaign will be trained on how to reduce New Brunswick’s unemployment rate, which in July sat at 10 per cent, the second highest jobless rate in the country.
“We are at a turning point in New Brunswick’s history,” Alward said after meeting with Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas.
“We look at some of the challenges we face as a province, whether they be fiscal, demographic and economic . … New Brunswickers have a chance to say ‘Yes’ to the future of our province.”
Alward’s government was elected in September 2010 on promises that it would balance the books and rejuvenate the economy. But the Tories have tabled budget after budget dripping in red ink as the exodus of workers heading west continues.
“We look at so many of our people have no choice but to work outside of our province, but we know that there’s tremendous opportunity to bring thousands of them home and to give thousands of New Brunswickers an opportunity to be able to stay here,” he said.
Pillars of Alward’s plan to strengthen the economy include the proposed Energy East Pipeline, which would see oil shipped from Alberta to the port city of Saint John if the project proceeds, and the development of a shale gas sector.
Liberal Opposition Leader Brian Gallant agreed that the main issue of the campaign will be jobs, but he said Alward has been too fixated on developing a shale gas industry and should instead be creating a more diversified economy.
“We need to fill the skills gap,” Gallant said. “That’s one of the biggest complaints of businesses in the province, so we need to invest strategically in education, training and literacy.”
Gallant said the province also needs a new tourism strategy, a plan to develop natural resources and incentives for small businesses.
New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy said the government needs to get its books in order by eliminating the deficit, forecast to be $387.3 million this fiscal year, and reducing a net debt that’s expected to hit $12.2 billion by March 2015.
Cardy said Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments have talked about creating jobs, when the role of government should be to help create a more job-friendly climate.
“Job creation has to come from the private sector that’s given its freedom to do its job, which is to create and sell products and services who want to buy them,” he said, promising to eliminate the small business tax.
Alward’s Progressive Conservatives have 41 members in the legislature, the Liberals have 13 seats and there is one Independent member.
Under the province’s fixed date legislation, the election is set for Sept. 22.
There are currently 55 seats in the legislature, but that number is being reduced to 49 with this election.