With less than two weeks left in the New Brunswick election campaign, there’s no sign yet that Premier David Alward’s Progressive Conservatives are gaining any traction in their efforts to catch the poll-leading Liberals or that, despite that, the Tories intend to change their game plan.
The latest Corporate Research Associates rolling survey puts Liberal Leader Brian Gallant’s party 19 points ahead of the governing Tories, 48 per cent to 29 per cent, but that’s based on poll results only through the end of August.
The Tories are no doubt more focused on the findings of a recent CBC/Radio Canada poll, also done by CRA from Aug. 19 to Aug. 31, that shows voters’ top concerns are jobs and the economy. That survey also found substantial support for shale gas development, although New Brunswickers do hold conflicting views on the controversial issue.
Mr. Alward has made development of New Brunswick’s natural resources, principally shale gas and timber, and the jobs such activity would generate, a centrepiece of his party’s campaign.
The premier, after spending a night in hospital due to flu symptoms, gamely stuck to that theme while under attack from all sides in Tuesday night’s televised leaders’ debate. A second debate was scheduled for Wednesday night.
As CRA head Don Mills has said, the Tories seem to be betting that their best chance for re-election is winning over the estimated 40 per cent of the population that’s pro-shale gas development.
Voter dissatisfaction with the Alward majority government has been high, in large part due to the Tories’ failure to balance the books — the latest deficit was almost half a billion dollars — and continuing outmigration west while the number of jobs in New Brunswick actually shrank during their mandate.
The Liberals have unveiled some big promises of their own, vowing to spend $900 million on infrastructure projects and create 10,000 jobs. The Grits also say they’ll increase taxes on the wealthiest New Brunswickers and cancel property tax breaks for businesses.
The premier and other party leaders, notably the NDP`s Dominic Cardy, hammered Mr. Gallant on the infrastructure promise during Tuesday night`s debate, arguing the province can’t afford such spending.
That’s dangerous ground for the Liberals. Mr. Gallant’s opponents want to link the current frontrunner with former Liberal premier Shawn Graham, whose government introduced stimulus spending and income tax cuts in 2008 and 2009 that plunged New Brunswick into deep deficits. Mr. Graham lost to Mr. Alward in 2010.
Other incumbent premiers — Christy Clark in B.C., Kathleen Wynne in Ontario — have been re-elected despite trailing badly in the polls. Whether Mr. Alward can join them remains to be seen.
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