The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, Sep. 07 2014, 9:50 PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Sep. 07 2014, 10:14 PM EDT
The dominant issue in the New Brunswick election campaign, which wraps up in just over two weeks, is jobs and whether the shale gas industry can provide a solution.
The province’s economic growth rate was the worst in the country last year, which the Conference Board of Canada said was the result of austerity measures aimed at bringing its public debt levels under control.
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The two main parties have come up with vastly different plans on how to tackle the problem and win over anxious voters and the province’s relatively new but contentious shale gas industry is at the centre of the debate.
The governing Progressive Conservatives, under Premier David Alward, are telling voters the key to spurring the economy and creating jobs is supporting the province’s relatively new but contentious shale gas industry.
On the campaign trail, Alward recently posed beside a large banner that read: “Say Yes to Natural Gas/Get ’Er Done.” And on the side of his campaign bus is the message: “Let’s bring our people home,” a reference to the many young New Brunswickers who have left the province in search of work in the West.
“New Brunswickers are facing a clear choice between becoming a ‘have province’ or watching our people continue to leave home for the very same industries we can say yes to here,” Mr. Alward says.
The Opposition Liberals, led by Brian Gallant, have called for a moratorium on the shale gas industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing, the high-pressure process used to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations.
Mr. Gallant says the province needs to “press pause while we get more information” about an industry that has sparked public protests, including a violent confrontation last October in Rexton, N.B., where police arrested 40 people as six police vehicles were gutted by flames.
While the province’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.7 per cent last month – slightly lower than its three Atlantic neighbours – that snapshot figure masks an annual trend that has seen steady increases since 2007.
Two weeks ago, the Liberals delivered their own jobs plan, which includes a commitment to spend $900-million over six years on building and repairing roads, bridges and other infrastructure, which the party says would create more than 10,000 jobs.
Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, said the job-creation promises from both parties have not inspired the electorate.
“There’s not a lot of confidence in the Liberals or the Conservatives in their ability to actually fix any of the problems that they’ve identified,” says Dr. Desserud.