Brian Gallant grilled on jobs, budget cuts in live interview
Premier forced to explain cuts to the Gagetown ferry, arts funding and his Tuition Access Bursary in interview
Premier Brian Gallant was pushed to explain why his government cut back in several sectors and how he plans to jolt the province's flagging economy with new jobs during a special one-hour interview on Tuesday morning.
Gallant appeared for a live interview for nearly an hour on Tuesday and took questions from New Brunswickers on the phone as well as ones from social media.
The premier was pushed to explain the disconnect between his rhetoric of helping the middle class and then bringing in policies, such as the HST increase and the limits to the Tuition Access Bursary program, that may hurt those same families.
Gallant said there will be a rebate offered to help people with the HST increase that is coming in July.
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The premier said the provincial government would like to help more families under the new policy that offers free tuition for college and university students. The policy now limits the support to New Brunswick students from families with an income of less than $60,000.
"We don't want for a second to make it sound like we don't think that some families over $60,000 aren't struggling, we understand that and we will try to do more," he said.
Gagetown ferry cuts
Gallant was also pushed to explain why his government announced the closure of the Gagetown ferry.
The elimination of the ferry across the St. John River at Gagetown was announced in February's budget.
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The premier said it was a tough decision to cut the ferry service and one the cabinet knew would be unpopular.
He said it would be too costly to replace the ferry. Gallant also said residents in the area can use local roads instead of the ferry.
"I know it can add some time and maybe some inconvenience but again we are trying to make decisions on behalf of New Brunswickers to get our finances in order and we are trying to make the tough decisions that have the least impact possible," he said.
Arts funding cuts
The premier was also asked to defend the provincial government's decision to cut funding to the New Brunswick Arts Board and move some employees inside the department.
Gallant said the cut would not reduce funds available to artists in the province but it would cut back on money that goes to administering the programs.
"This decision is ultimately helping us address our fiscal challenges and ensuring we are protecting those who are the most important in this sector, the artists themselves," he said.
Focus on jobs
The province's economic outlook was on the minds of several people, who asked the premier to explain his government's job creation record.
Gallant said economic growth is the priority for his government.
In response to one call asking about technology jobs, Gallant said the provincial government would work with private industry to make sure there was a continued supply of skilled workers and the right infrastructure investments were made.
"Economic growth and job creation has to be the focus of our government and all of our people, because New Brunswick needs to grow and we need to have the opportunities for people to stay here and come back here," he said.
"Gaming and other types of tech sector businesses are very important to our economy."
Jobs versus climate
The tension between creating jobs, particularly in the energy sector, and tackling the issue of climate change also put Gallant on the hot seat on Tuesday morning.
Gallant was specifically asked about his commitment to fighting the impact of climate change and his support for TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Energy East pipeline.
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The premier said he takes climate change very seriously.
But he also said the pipeline project, which would bring oil from western Canada as far as Saint John, could have a positive economic and environmental impact.
"This is something that we think would be very beneficial to the New Brunswick and Canadian economy," he said.
"It is something that when we look at the emissions from rail and from truck and from boat, that would be transporting oil at the moment, pipelines are actually better when it will come to emissions. It also allows us to reduce our dependency on imports."
Family Day questioned
The needs of small businesses looking to create jobs and the request from many citizens for a February holiday also collided.
Kathleen Hughes asked Gallant about his promise of bringing in a Family Day, a statutory holiday in February.
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The provincial government announced in February it was exploring the idea.
Gallant said he met recently with business leaders, who raised concerns about the financial implications they would face if another statutory holiday was added to the calendar.
"We want to make sure that whatever decision we make is going to help us with our priority of economic growth," he said.
"We argue that giving people an extra day to be able to spend with their families, to be able to take some time off, would increase productivity in the long term."