Leaders spar over debt, abortion in 2nd election debate

The second round of televised election debates on Wednesday night provoked a series of tense exchanges between the five party leaders.

Rogers Television debate prompts heated exchanges between party leaders

The second round of televised election debates on Wednesday night provoked a series of tense exchanges between the five party leaders.

Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward faced criticism from all sides at the Rogers Television debate, similar to what he faced on Tuesday evening during the CBC and Radio-Canada debates.

The Tory leader and Liberal Leader Brian Gallant were locked in a series of accusations over the size of the public debt and who was responsible for it getting so large.

“You are going to continue to add debt to the province through an infrastructure program that we cannot afford.” Alward said.

The Liberals are pledging a $900-million infrastructure program over six years that Gallant said would get people back to work by creating 1,700 jobs.

Gallant pushed back on the debt question, accusing Alward of adding more to the public debt than any other premier and saying his government’s inability to create jobs was to blame.

“You keep asking New Brunswickers to say yes, does that mean they have to say yes to continued job losses that they have seen under your government, does that mean they have to say yes to Stephen Harper’s EI changes does that they have to say yes to the worst economic growth year after year that we’ve seen under your government.” Gallant said.

The debt issue has become a reoccurring theme during the election as each of the parties has rolled out a plan to deal with the province’s $11.6 billion debt, which is poised to hit $12.1 billion next year.

A month before the 2010 election, the audited financial statements were released and showed the province’s debt stood at $8.4 billion.

A CBC/Radio-Canada poll indicated that 83 per cent say they are extremely concerned or moderately concerned with the public debt.

The Rogers debate was taped on Wednesday night and it will be aired on Friday at 7 p.m.

Abortion debate

The political leaders also sparred over their positions on abortion, an issue that put the focus on the Liberal leader.

Gallant has declared himself “pro-choice” and has promised, if he forms government, a review that would almost certainly lead to the repeal of what’s known as the province's two-doctor rule.

But he has refused to promise an immediate repeal of regulation 84-20 that requires women seeking a hospital abortion to have two doctors certify it as medically necessary. It also requires the procedure to be done only by a specialist, whereas other provinces allow family doctors to perform it.

The NDP's Cardy took Gallant to task for his position that would not immediately lift restrictions on abortion, which prompted Gallant to question his rival’s motives.

“Why would you not be talking to the current premier who thinks the status quo is OK or [People’s Alliance Leader] Kris Austin who thinks that the status quo is OK. You should not be politicizing this issue.?” Gallant told NDP Leader Dominic Cardy.

Austin used that as an opening to link Gallant to federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his controversial stance on abortion and how MPs are expected to vote.

“Mr. Gallant, are going to follow the federal Liberal mandate and make your candidates be pro-choice?” Austin asked.

Gallant gave a direct no, a position that he’s held throughout the campaign, and then moved back to his debate with Cardy.

The debate's format allowed for 90-second exchanges on the various topics. The strict time limits were enforced after Green Party Leader David Coon and People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin were added to the debate.

All five leaders were included in the CBC English-language debate. Only Alward, Gallant and NDP Leader Dominic Cardy were involved in the Radio-Canada French-language debate on Tuesday.

New Brunswickers head to the polls on Sept. 22.