David Alward defends PC election promises

Premier David Alward says the finance minister's claim that excessive election campaign promises are the number one cause of the province's debt problem does not apply to his government.

Rejects finance minister's claims excessive pledges main cause of deficit

Premier David Alward speaks during a pre-budget meeting in Woodstock earlier this week. (CBC)

Premier David Alward says the finance minister's claim that excessive election campaign promises are the number one cause of the province's debt problem does not apply to his government.

"The costing that we brought forward as a party for that platform was the first time in recent memory, and certainly in any of our collective memories, that a party attempted to go through the process and put a set of numbers, a set of realistic numbers on the commitments we were bringing forward.  I feel very good about that and I still do," Alward told CBC News.

During a province-wide pre-budget consultation tour that wrapped up in Edmundston on Wednesday night, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has openly questioned the role government departments, public employees, voters and even fellow politicians have played in contributing to the province's deficit, which is expected to hit $547.5 million in 2011-12.

But comments Higgs made about election campaign promises during a meeting in Saint John have garnered much of the attention.

"If I had to say what's the biggest problem with the system and why are we digging deeper and deeper into holes it has to do with the election process," said Higgs. 

"The election process could have teeth if we actually had a situation where promises had to be costed out."

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has openly admitted the Conservatives broke a pledge to seniors on property taxes. (David Smith/Canadian Press)

As an example Higgs told one senior who complained that Progressive Conservatives steered away from an election promise to permanently freeze property assessments for those over 65 that when  department officials investigated the plan its cost was astronomical. 

"In 10 years time if we had tried to do that ... it would have cost the province $173 million.  We could not do that," Higgs said.

During the election, Alward told reporters his entire platform, which included over 80 spending commitments, would cost just over $140 million.

Still he rejects suggestions the complaint from Higgs about uncosted promises is supported by what happened with the assessment freeze.

"I feel very proud of the platform commitments that we made as a party. We certainly are working every day with the commitments that we've started to do and will complete during our mandate," he said.

Property tax plan defended

Alward said a much cheaper property tax deferral plan government eventually adopted for seniors instead of the assessment freeze means the promise was neither extravagant nor broken.

"Absolutely. Have a look and you will feel very good about it as we do," he said.

Seniors who are eligible will be able to defer paying property tax increases for as long as they own their homes, but once the property changes hands, they will have to pay the deferred taxes, with interest.

It's not the first time Higgs has complained about political parties, including his own, promising things with no regard to how the province will pay. 

In a December interview with CBC News, Higgs said irresponsible electioneering was a significant problem.

"It becomes like an auction. You know, what are you going to promise me? What are you going to promise me? And it just ramps up so after it's all over and the dust clears you start to look at what these things really cost," he said.

The Liberals had attacked the plan at the time, saying the freeze would cost upwards of $1 billion in lost tax revenue over a decade, which would transfer a huge burden on young families, small business, tenants and families.

Six of the eight New Brunswick city mayors also criticized the proposed freeze, saying their municipalities could not afford the commitment.

The Alward government announced in the throne speech that more cuts are coming in the upcoming March 27 budget.