With 11 months to go before the next provincial election, David Alward's government will lay out its plans for the final year of its current mandate in its fourth throne speech today.
The opening of the legislature session comes on the heels of loud protests against shale gas development in the province. New Democratic Party Leader Dominic Cardy expects that to continue and predicts more protests by members of Elsipogtog First Nation in the Kent County area where SWN Resources Canada plans to resume exploring this week.
"That is going to dominate the next few weeks of the session, especially if SWN is restarting seismic testing in Kent County, and there's got to be a mature, considered response from the government," said Cardy.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is expecting a last-minute rush by the Progressive Conservative government to fulfill promises.
"To come in the last, fourth year to try to say things are going well and this is why we had a tough time and now we're going to give you all these things is incredibly unproductive and incredibly unfortunate," said Gallant.
Cardy said the Tories have a lot of ground to cover.
"They're now hedging on the pension reforms that they were touting last spring," he said. "They haven't delivered on the drug care plan yet. P.E.I. announced their drug plan after ours and they're going to have their plan up and running before ours even becomes law.
"It's disgraceful," said Cardy. "They've wasted time."
When the Alward government was elected in 2010, the premier said he wanted to be judged on his record in job creation and reducing the deficit. Three years on, New Brunswick is the only province in the country to have fewer jobs than it did three years ago and the deficit is in the $500-million range.
Meanwhile, polling published by Corporate Research Associates in September shows dissatisfaction with the Alward government at 54 per cent.
"Over the last 25 years of doing this work, we’ve never seen a government re-elected with less than 50 per cent satisfaction,” says Mills. “So the Conservatives have a lot of ground to make up in a fairly short period of time."
Mills said the situation Alward is in mirrors that of Shawn Graham, whose government fell out of public favour over its attempt to sell NB Power to Hydro Quebec.
"They’re really in a tough spot," said Mills. "I don’t know if there's any silver bullets there because it’s certainly unlikely that we’re going to see a big change in the economic condition in the Maritimes in the next 12 months.”
However, J. P. Lewis, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, says all is not necessarily lost for Alward's Conservatives with almost a full year to go before the election. Lewis points to "incredible comebacks" in recent provincial elections
"Alison Redford in Alberta and Christy Clark in B.C. were both written off to some extent and down in the polls," said Lewis. "There's also been concern about polling numbers, how accurate they are in recent elections.
"So there is I still think a year of chance for them to come back even just based on those," said Lewis. "And the throne speech can be the start of that comeback if it gets picked up."
Lewis expects today's throne speech to be targeted at those who haven't been paying much attention to the province's political scene in recent months.
"This is a chance for the Progressive Conservative government to kind of reset the agenda and say, `This is what we're doing moving forward.'"