Liberals and Progressive Conservatives targeted in New Brunswick election debate | News1130

MONCTON, N.B. – The three party leaders who want to establish inroads into New Brunswick’s two-party legislature attempted to put their Progressive Conservative and Liberal counterparts on the defensive Tuesday on the economy, a key issue in a province struggling to overcome financial stagnation.

Premier David Alward of the Progressive Conservatives is promising a brighter future based on shale gas development and a reinvigorated forestry sector, while Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is touting a $900 million infrastructure plan as a job creator.

But in a province where the Tories and Liberals have dominated recent election results, the leaders of the NDP, the Greens and the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick took aim at the main parties’ economic records, with the alliance’s Kris Austin promising a referendum on shale gas exploration, one of the most divisive issues of the campaign.

“I believe we have to take a completely different approach to how we look at the culture of government, how we look at the culture of the economy of New Brunswick … without big spending Liberals or no-plan Conservatives,” he said in the English-language debate, a 90-minute discussion that was taped Tuesday afternoon and broadcast later in the evening on CBC-TV.

A similar debate was also held in French and broadcast on Radio-Canada as the leaders of the five political parties clashed face-to-face for the first time in the Sept. 22 election campaign.

Alward dismissed the call for a referendum on shale gas, pointing out that he is running on a mandate that supports that industry.

“What greater referendum is there than an election?” Alward asked.

Green Leader David Coon and the NDP’s Dominic Cardy also used the economy to set themselves apart from the Conservative and Liberal campaigns.

Cardy attacked the plan of Liberal Leader Brian Gallant to spend $900 million on infrastructure as a way to create jobs in the short term.

“The idea that $900 million in a paving contract, the worst of the old sort of economy that put New Brunswick into the position near bankruptcy that we’re in … that money is coming out of health care and education, said Cardy, whose party has never won more than one seat in the house.

The Liberal plan would add more than $1.3 billion to the province’s $12.2 billion debt.

Coon focused his attacks on both the Liberals and the Tories.

“If just the old parties are returned to the legislative assembly, the election won’t be over,” he said. “They’ll continue to campaign for the next four years trying to hold onto power or regain power.”

Following the debate, Coon said he believed voters would elect members of two more parties to the legislature, including his Green party.

Gallant and Alward, whose is seeking a second term as premier, defended their party records and visions on how they would turn around the provincial economy, where the unemployment rate sits at 8.7 per cent and the deficit is projected to top more than $387 million in this fiscal year.

Gallant said Alward’s efforts to cut departmental spending by two per cent actually hurt the economy.

“One of the reasons we have one of the worst performing economies in the country is because of your cuts,” Gallant said. “It is because you cut in an arbitrary way.”

Alward defended his government’s actions, including revisions to provincial pension plans.

“The work that our ministers have been doing to get our fiscal house in order has been tough,” he said.

Alward said he felt fine following the debates but was still feeling the effects of flu-like symptoms that put him in hospital Monday night.

A spokeswoman for the Progressive Conservative party said Alward and his wife Rhonda became ill Sunday while campaigning.

The five leaders will face each other again Wednesday in a pair of English- and French-language debates being taped by Rogers Television for later broadcast on Friday.

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