Saint John bridge tolls debate stalls
Political squabble could delay tolls being lifted by Friday
The bill to remove the 50-cent tolls passed second reading in the legislature Tuesday.
But the Alward government has accused the Liberals of stalling, which could prevent approval before Friday's deadline.
Interim Liberal leader Victor Boudreau defended his party's actions, saying it's because the government has refused to table its agreement with Ottawa regarding the bridge.
Boudreau said he wants the tolls removed, but not if the deal leaves the provincial government stuck with too high a maintenance bill.
"The issue here is that the government is asking the Opposition to vote on a deal that could potentially cost the province of New Brunswick upwards of $200 million and we have not seen the deal, or have not been able to question the specifics of the deal."
Boudreau said that estimate includes the Harbour Bridge Authority's outstanding $22-million federal debt and potential maintenance costs on the aging bridge over the next 25 years.
But that can only happen if legislation to dissolve the Harbour Bridge Authority is passed first.
The authority will refuse to hand the bridge over to the province if the debt is not eliminated. It will not let go of its asset without being rid of the liability. The tolls won't come off until the deal is complete.
"The deal will get through," said Boudreau. "If it takes a few extra days, so be it, but we need to do our job as Opposition."
Transportation Minister Claude Williams said if the Liberals keep dragging out the debates, it will be Saint John motorists who pay the price.
"If the bill doesn't pass by March 31, the consequence is the toll will be there until the bill is passed in the Legislature."
Williams has agreed to table the agreement with Ottawa in the legislature as early as Wednesday.
The bill must pass third reading by midnight Thursday, if the tolls are to end this week.