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Blaine Higgs, a first-term Tory MLA, is sworn in as New Brunswick's new minister of finance on Tuesday. ((CBC))

New Brunswick Premier David Alward unveiled a new 15-member cabinet on Tuesday that he admits must tackle some very difficult challenges in the next four years.

Alward's Progressive Conservative cabinet is smaller than the 20 Liberal cabinet ministers, plus the premier, that he replaced on Tuesday.

Alward's cabinet includes five women, including Madeleine Dubé, the new health minister, and newcomer Martine Coulombe, the minister of post-secondary education.

N.B. Premier David Alward's cabinet

David Alward: Premier, Intergovernmental Affairs and Aboriginal Affairs

Marie-Claude Blais: Attorney General and Justice

Robert Trevors: Public Safety

Blaine Higgs: Finance and Office of Human Resources

Claude Williams: Transportation and Supply and Services

Bruce Northrup: Natural Resources

Craig Leonard: Energy

Mike Olscamp: Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries

Madeleine Dubé: Health

Trevor Holder: Tourism and Parks and Wellness, Culture and Sport

Susan Stultz: Social Development

Martine Coulombe: Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour

Jody Carr: Education

Margaret-Ann Blaney: Environment

Bruce Fitch: Local Government

Paul Robichaud: Deputy premier, Economic Development, Regional Development Corp., Business New Brunswick and Invest NB

Six MLAs who were elected for the first time on Sept. 27 have earned a spot in the new Alward cabinet.

Alward warned of the looming economic challenges his new government is facing.

"These are difficult times for our province but we must not despair about our current circumstance. We must make our province stronger," Alward said in a speech from the legislature floor after he unveiled his cabinet.

"We must make our people stronger. We must make our economy stronger. And the work begins today."

New Brunswick's 32nd premier used the opportunity to strike a conciliatory tone with the public.

"My heart is filled with gratitude to the people of New Brunswick who have given me the opportunity to serve them for the next four years," Alward said. "I will never forget your support.

"I have been inspired and pledge to do everything in my power to overcome the many challenges that we face to achieve the promise and greatness of who we are as New Brunswickers."

Alward's Tories won 42 seats in the Sept. 27 election compared with 13 seats for the Liberals.

Looming pressures

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Craig Leonard, another first-term Tory MLA, shares a laugh with Premier David Alward as he signs the papers making him New Brunswick's new minister of energy. ((CBC))

The two new MLAs who landed the most high-profile positions are Blaine Higgs, the new finance minister, and Craig Leonard, the energy minister.

Higgs will have to deal with the $749-million deficit left over from the outgoing Liberal government's budget and the impact of Standard & Poor's downgrading last week of its projection for New Brunswick's fiscal outlook, to negative from stable.

Leonard will have to deal with the latest delay in the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station and will have to oversee a new energy commission, to be appointed Oct. 15.

The Tories have promised that the commission will outline a new energy policy for the province.

Deputy premier

Longtime Tory MLA Paul Robichaud has been named deputy premier.

Robichaud will take over a handful of economic development portfolios, including Business New Brunswick, the Regional Development Corp. and the new InvestNB, which will be a Crown corporation set up to create new jobs in the province.

Robichaud, who successfully fought a battle with cancer in recent years, served as a cabinet minister in the Bernard Lord government and was a key member of the Tory opposition in the last four years.

As the province's economic development minister, Robichaud will have to deal with an unemployment rate that increased to 9.8 per cent in September.

Longtime PCs left out

While some first-term MLAs made it into Alward's inner circle, several ministers from the Conservatives' Lord era were left out.

Albert MLA Wayne Steeves, York North MLA Kirk MacDonald, Hampton-Kings MLA Bev Harrison and Carleton MLA Dale Graham were excluded from cabinet.

However, Alward said Graham will let his name stand in the upcoming Speaker's election.