25 SEPTEMBER 2010
Published Saturday September 25th, 2010
Election | Politicians talk about how their platforms would impact Fredericton, touch on issues such as the deficit, job creation, health care, NB Power and reducing student debt
By SHAWN BERRY
Fredericton candidates got a chance to make a last-minute pitch to the business community Friday as the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce held a local candidate election panel.
Fifteen candidates running for the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, NDP and Green parties participated.
They focused on getting their point across as election day looms.
Greg Byrne, speaking for the Liberals, said his government has been good for the city the past four years.
"A Liberal government has been good for Fredericton and a Liberal government has been good for business."
He said his government built the ramp on the Westmorland Street Bridge, the convention centre, the Grant*Harvey and Willie O'Ree centres, responded to the need for a Route 8 bypass and saved York House and the York Street Train Station.
"We have a plan to create 20,000 jobs ... David Alward doesn't have a target," Byrne said.
Tony Myatt, the NDP candidate for Fredericton-Silverwood, said voters need focus on the province's debt.
"We have to reign in spending and find new sources of revenue," Myatt said.
But he said he's spent much of his time trying to explain the NDP's new focus, and tell voters that they aren't socialists.
"We believe in a vibrant private sector free of government interference, but responding to incentives that are clear, fair and efficient."
The only way to ensure core social programs is by establishing sensible fiscal policies and by having a vibrant private sector, he said.
"A public career is the last thing I want, rather public service interests me."
Green party Leader Jack MacDougall, who's running in Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, urged voters to break with tradition.
"I respect those that have loyalty to their parties and their traditions, but surely there must come a time in our history when our high ideals as citizens must rise above our loyalty to one's party. Surely that time is come," he said.
"Surely there's time for a wake-up call in New Brunswick where we talk about media reform, where we talk about taking controls of our forests and subdividing them into community-development forests and give local communities sub-surface rights so they have a say in what goes on above and below ground."
Craig Leonard, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Fredericton-Lincoln, said his party recognizes the fiscal challenges the province faces.
"We know there must be a balance between moving the province forward and addressing the debt and deficits the previous government has brought about," Leonard said.
"The PC party knows it's not government that creates jobs, it's the people of New Brunswick who create jobs."
The parties were also asked to describe their strategies for economic development and how Fredericton fits in.
Rick Miles, the Liberal incumbent in Fredericton-Silverwood, noted that his party chose to invest money in infrastructure when the global recession hit.
"A Liberal government saw we could no longer count on our traditional industries to survive and grow our economy. That is why we chose to invest for our future and diversify our economy by attracting large industries to our region," Miles said.
"Now is not the time to make devastating cuts to our civil service and hold our government to essential services. Now is the time to attract new and diverse companies to our province, putting our young people to work and growing our population."
Kathleen MacDougall, the Green party candidate in Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak, outlined her party's strategy for economic development and strategy.
From wind farms to software firms, to knowledge-based companies and smart-grid technology, she said the party has heard of a full spectrum of opportunities in recent years.
"Almost every branch of the Green party platform is going to create jobs," she said.
She said reducing student debt would help, as would a refocused, renewable energy
MacDougall said the election of a Green Party would result in a flood of job opportunities.
"Imagine if you will that on Tuesday we wake up to a Green government, the first ever in North America. It will be world news," MacDougall said.
"Green companies from across the globe will sit up and take notice to our fine province and they will come here to Fredericton and to New Brunswick to do business."
Leonard said the PC party's economic development strategy will revolve around innovation. Economic development must encourage the use of technology, foster investment in research and development and reward innovation and productivity, he said.
"The fact of the matter is New Brunswick is currently last in the nation in research and development spending - we're in last place by a lot."
He said the Conservatives' plan is to double research and development spending by government, industry and academia. He said they will also provide an additional $2 million to match funding for research.
"Clearly, we are extremely well positioned in the capital region with both a vibrant IT sector and our post-secondary institutions.
"We feel strongly that by taking advantage of our strengths in the Fredericton area, we will foster a culture of entrepreneurship populated by students and business people alike. New business and industry will provide the area with new, good-paying jobs," Leonard said.
Myatt said the NDP believes all businesses have a role to play in creating jobs in all sectors and all regions.
"The way we do that is by getting the government out of the business of picking winners and losers and letting the private sector run efficiently," he said, describing the 15 per cent rebate the party's suggesting for increases to payroll.
He said the Liberal government spent $60 million to support Atcon for jobs that no longer exist, while the NDP plan only rewards companies after they have created more work.
"If I went into a Grade 5 classroom with a bag of sweets and said I am only going to give sweets to the kid who needs one, every kid would say 'I need one,'" he said.
"That's exactly what's happening here. Every firm is saying 'I need help' and the firm that gets it is the one that is best connected through patronage and nepotism, and the Conservative plan is no better."
Candidates were also asked to write their party's epitaph on the NB Power deal.
"We want to look forward, not look back," Byrne said.
"Many people did not agree with our decision to attempt to sell NB Power. We've learned from that and we've committed NB Power will not be sold under any circumstances.
"We did that because we believed it was the right thing to do for business, the right thing to do for the residents of New Brunswick, to ensure our economic future and electricity costs were secure."
Leonard said it's not just an NB Power issue, but an issue of consultation.
"Our party believes that government's role is to identify problems and come up with solutions. You don't just drop those solutions on an unsuspecting public," he said.
"You engage them, make sure they have feedback. When you do that, everyone moves forward together."
He said a PC government would let people know what they think the problems and the solutions are.
MacDougall said the Green party's focus is on a green energy system to fuel the new economy.
"People were actually engaged in the energy future of the province, where our energy comes from and how much we use."
Myatt said the attempted sale of NB Power has galvanized people.
"The problems of NB Power stem long term from government interference. If we let NB Power run efficiently, we'd be a lot better off."
He said the problem dates back to the "idiotic" decision to switch Coleson Cove to orimulsion, as well as the previous Conservative government's decision to refurbish Point Lepreau, a decision the Liberals later supported.
Candidates were also asked to explain how they would address the 6,000-person waiting list for a family doctor in Fredericton.
Pam Lynch, the party's candidate in Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak, said a PC government would set higher targets for physician recruitment, double the number of seats to train new doctors and consider offering a full grant to qualified medical students who want to remain in the province.
She said the party would also establish two more collaborative health clinics in the Fredericton region.
"We will double funding for wellness efforts," she said.
Dana Brown, the NDP candidate in Fredericton-Nashwaaksis said New Brunswick deserves pharmacare and more long-term care facilities.
"First we must save health care from the cuts Donald Savoie says are inevitable if we do not balance the books," he said, returning to the party's focus on fiscal prudence.
He said they would look at developing more collaborative care clinics.
T.J. Burke, the Liberal incumbent in Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, said health care has been a focus of the Liberal government over the last four years.
He said the province has hired 170 new doctors over the past four years, has agreed to add 55 more doctors, the same number of nurse practitioners and add 15 new collaborative care clinics, including one in Fredericton.
Burke said the Liberal plan to add 20,000 jobs will also help bring doctors.
"Physicians, health-care professionals and their families will only relocate to Fredericton if there are employment opportunities for the family."
Jim Wolstenholme, the Green candidate in Fredericton-Silverwood, said New Brunswick' health-care system could be even better.
"The Green party has a plan for collaborative-care community health centres that will move wellness and health care in this city forward," he said.
He said the party would recruit more doctors "ensuring that none of you will ever experience loss of care when your doctor retires."
Wolstenholme said the Green party's plan would differ from those of other parties, operating longer hours, offering lifestyles counseling and chronic disease management services.