Fredericton-Nashwaaksis voters talking about highway tolls, French immersion and NB Power

Published Thursday September 23rd, 2010

By STEPHEN LLEWELLYN
llewellyn.stephen@dailygleaner.com

Editor's note: This is the sixth of 10 riding profiles The Daily Gleaner is publishing this week.

No matter how long you look at a map of the riding of Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, you won't see any sign of the four-lane highway built in the 1990s between the capital and Moncton.

But that doesn't mean people in the riding aren't talking about highway tolls.

"We have been getting a lot of people say that they'd like to see the tolls put back on the highways," said Danny Melanson, owner of Danny's Barber Shop on Main Street.

 

"They're looking at the revenues it costs to keep the highways up and what the other provinces are making with tolls in their areas."

Talking about politics while getting your hair cut is a part of life in New Brunswick.

But talking about tolls makes it seem like 1999 all over again.

That's when the Tories under then premier Bernard Lord promised to take the Liberal tolls off the new four-lane highway between Fredericton and Moncton.

Many political observers think the toll issue cost the front-running Liberals the election that year.

But the province still has to pay the toll revenue to the highway consortium that built the highway. That costs New Brunswick taxpayers about $30 million a year in so-called "shadow tolls."

"Why shouldn't New Brunswick benefit from people travelling through our province?" asked Melanson. "It is something to explore, anyway."

Melanson said another subject people talk about in the riding include the changes to French immersion in schools.

"That is a big issue for a lot of people that have children," he said.

Another issue is the attempted sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec, said Melanson.

"Those are some of the things we've been hearing from people," he said. "We get a lot of senior customers in here."

The riding of Fredericton-Nashwaaksis has 14,304 people and hugs the north bank of the St. John River.

In 2006, T.J. Burke won for the Liberals with 3,855 votes, or 49.06 per cent of the ballots cast.

Progressive Conservative candidate Mike Smith received 3,698 votes, or 47 per cent of the ballots cast.

Aaron Doucette of the NDP got 304 votes, or 3.87 per cent of the ballots.

The Liberals won the riding in 2003, 1995 and 1987, but it went Tory in 1999. The Confederation of Regions party won the seat in 1991.

Trina MacDonald, general manager of Business Fredericton North, said from her organization's perspective the most important issue in the riding is economic development in the central business district.

"We are in a very precarious position," she said.

"We have a few properties that are sitting vacant, and without care and without attention to continued economic development within the business improvement area, it could not be pretty."

MacDonald said she believes the issue is getting proper attention in this election.

"We've met with actually both leaders prior to the election call and we've met with both representatives for the Fredericton-Nashwaaksis riding from the PCs and the Liberals," she said.

She said the solution is working together with the business improvement area and the provincial and federal governments to make sure major properties, such as the Canadian Tire property on Main Street, are properly used.

Jack MacDougall, leader of the Green party and his party's candidate for Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, said he doesn't think this election is about the performance of local MLAs.

"I think T.J. Burke is a fine MLA," he said in an interview.

MacDougall said he has never known a politician that didn't work hard for his riding.

He said the Greens are talking about the direction New Brunswick is going and giving people another option.

"One of the issues I am most concerned with (in Fredericton-Nashwaaksis) first of all is to get the civil service exonerated from the Atcon deal," said MacDougall.

"I believe that because there has been no information made available about that arrangement, and I honestly believe that whole thing was done at the political level, they have left a cloud over the civil servants."

He said civil servants aren't allowed to defend themselves in public.

"Ultimately, civil servants, at the end of the day, no matter how brilliant they are, they are advisers and not deciders," said MacDougall.

He said another important issue for the riding is the double tax on tenants.

MacDougall said about 10,000 people rent in his riding.

The Green party would immediately eliminate the double taxation and ensure the savings are passed along to renters and restrict future increases, said MacDougall.

"This could directly affect their rent in a positive way," he said.

Liberal candidate T.J. Burke said the biggest issue in his riding is the economy.

"What I'm hearing at the door is a variation of things - from infrastructure projects that we have been able to deliver on, jobs that people so desperately need and growing the economy," he said.

"People are looking at the candidates more than the parties these days."

Burke said the north side of Fredericton always needs more in terms of road improvements, and there is a long stretch of Route 105 that needs to be completed. Carlisle Road is being reconstructed for the first time since it was built, he said.

Burke said the Atlantic Institute for Aging at York Manor is a big improvement for the riding.

Education is also a big priority for people, he said.

"This is probably one of the tougher elections in terms of putting a pulse on what the constituents of my riding truly want from government," he said.

NDP candidate Dana Brown said the No. 1 one issue in the riding is the state of the province's finances.

"They are upset about all of the (spending) promises that Shawn Graham and David Alward are making," he said.

"They are worried about how they are going to pay for it."

Brown said people are alarmed about the size of the province's debt and deficit.

He said people aren't really getting into details about how the province should solve its fiscal woes and no one is demanding a tax increase.

"When they see me as an NDP candidate, they look at me as someone who can hold the Liberals and Tories to account and actually be that watchdog in the legislature," he said.

Brown said he has been involved in the NDP for more than four years and has worked as a party organizer.

Progressive Conservative candidate Troy Lifford said trust is the biggest issue in his riding.

"People don't feel they can trust this current Liberal government any more," he said. "They can't trust the (Liberal) leader and the other folks that are the members of that party."

Lifford said that stems from bad decisions by the Liberals and decisions on which they have had to backtrack, and the way they have left people out of the decision-making process.

"NB Power is still a very hot topic here," he said. "They want a government that is going to listen."

People also want the government to get back on track financially, he said.

Lifford said he got involved in politics because he worked as an advocate for woodlot owners in the province. That is similar to the job of a MLA, he said

----

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE IN YOUR RIDING, AND HOW DO YOU PROPOSE TO TACKLE IT IF ELECTED?

Jack MacDougall - Green party

"One of the issues I am most concerned with (in Fredericton-Nashwaaksis) first of all is to get the civil service exonerated from the Atcon deal.
"I believe that because there has been no information made available about that arrangement, and I honestly believe that whole thing was done at the political level, they have left a cloud over the civil servants.
"Ultimately, civil servants, at the end of the day, no matter how brilliant they are, they are advisers and not deciders."

T.J. Burke - Liberal party

"What I'm hearing at the door is a variation of things - from infrastructure projects that we have been able to deliver on, jobs that people so desperately need and growing the economy.
"People are looking at the candidates more than the parties these days.
"This is probably one of the tougher elections in terms of putting a pulse on what the constituents of my riding truly want from government."

Dana Brown - NDP

"They (voters) are upset about all of the (spending) promises that Shawn Graham and David Alward are making. 
"They are worried about how they are going to pay for it.
"When they see me as an NDP candidate, they look at me as someone who can hold the Liberals and Tories to account and actually be that watchdog in the legislature."


Troy Lifford - Progressive Conservatives

"People don't feel they can trust this current Liberal government any more. 
"They can't trust the (Liberal) leader and the other folks that are the members of that party.
"NB Power is still a very hot topic here. 
"They want a government that is going to listen."

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