Gallant v. Higgs: Political Panel discusses leaders' records in election issue debate
Fringe parties keen to eat into the overwhelming vote share held by the Liberals, PCs in September
The credibility of the leaders for New Brunswick's two most prominent political parties is shaping up to be a key theme ahead of the 2018 provincial election — a familiar tale that continues to vex other parties attempting to frame it as more than a two-party race.
Members from the governing Liberals and Opposition Progressive Conservatives centered early election talk Thursday on comparing the track records of their respective leaders, Brian Gallant and Blaine Higgs, as the CBC New Brunswick Political Panel debated likely election issues.
The provincial election is set for Sept. 24.
Brian v. Blaine
PC MLA Ernie Steeves was quick to criticize Gallant's credibility, saying literacy rates are low, hospital wait times are high, and transparency issues plague the government. Steeves also berated the Liberals for a slew of new taxes, but New Brunswickers aren't seeing an improvement in public services.
"These guys have taken in a ton of money and they just haven't produced with it," Steeves said.
"The families aren't getting the benefit from it. They're paying taxes and not being able to better their lives.
Treasury Board president Roger Melanson, who is the Liberal MLA for Dieppe, said credibility is based on results, and suggested comparing Gallant's resume to Higgs'. The Liberals have been keen to attack the PC leader's private-sector career with Irving Oil, and Melanson said Thursday he failed hit targets and improve province's books while serving as finance minister.
Steeves balked at the idea Gallant has produced positive results.
Melanson focused on the province's finances while making his case for the Liberals. He said the Liberals turned around a shrinking economy inherited from the Alward PCs in 2014.
"We started from a position where we had a fiscal situation that was very difficult," he said.
"Things are trending positively."
Melanson says the economy and provincial GDP is growing and the Liberals created considerable public and private investment in New Brunswick, particularly in health care and education.
Don't forget about us
As Gallant and Higgs were being compared, NDP leader Jennifer McKenzie interjected to say it's more than a two-party race.
Members from the NDP, Green Party and People's Alliance each touched on the notion the status quo isn't working for New Brunswickers. That idea isn't new to the province, yet Grits and Tories continue to take in the vast majority of support.
Asked why that reality persists, People's Alliance leader Kris Austin likened it to the unwavering loyalty his grandfather had for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"In hockey, it's great. In politics, it's terrible," Austin said. "It gives these guys a carte blanche to do what they want when they're elected."
McKenzie echoed Austin's statements in saying the unquestioned loyalty creates a "sense of entitlement" for the two major parties.
Each member of the fringe parties said they feel the tide is turning, however, and predicted a change in the upcoming election.
"More and more people are looking for an alternate solution to what's been posed, and they're tending to look Green," said Green Party member Wayne Dryer.
Other key issues
Dryer said the government needs to transition to a new, greener economy.
He said the province continues to depend on large projects to support the economy and it hasn't paid off. He pitched the idea of investing in sustainable, New Brunswick-grown food as a way to create jobs.
Dryer said the vast majority of food New Brunswickers buy comes from outside the province. Investing in local food production would create a "huge market," he said.
Austin said high unemployment persists and the province's debt — sitting at more than $14 billion — needs to be dealt with.
"Liberal and Conservative governments have ran deficits every year for the last 12, consecutively," Austin said.
"This government is on par to do… I mean, they're giving out programs left and right like it's candy at a parade."
McKenzie said previous governments have not addressed the rate at which youth are leaving the province. She said better social services are needed to retain young people.
"We have a really disparate and scattered approach to social services across the provinces," McKenzie said.
"It really needs strong leadership to get in there and create the types of programs needed for our seniors, for our young people, for people living in poverty."
McKenzie said health care, in particular, is an important issue to New Brunswickers. She noted the "privatization" of some health-care services as a result of the new Medavie Health Services contract to take over management of extra-mural care and Telecare services.
McKenzie said the goals of a business-run service are different than one run by civil servants.
Melanson said the contract does not privatize health care but, instead, enhances the system.