Who's got the answers?

Published Saturday September 18th, 2010

Politics: Party leaders respond to key questions in a transcript of the televised English-language leadership debate

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the televised English-language leadership debate hosted by the Telegraph-Journal and Rogers TV on Sept. 15. The debates were moderated by Phil Vincent; the questions were asked by Telegraph-Journal reporters Brett Bundale and Adam Huras. For space reasons, the leaders' opening and closing statements have been omitted, along with brief, open-round arguments in which no one speaker could be heard clearly.

What follows are the party leaders' individual answers to the questions posed by our panel of journalists. Where the speakers paused or their remarks were inaudible, ellipses [...] have been added to indicated the break in conversation. The few words that appear in parentheses [ ] have been added to preserve continuity.

The order in which leaders responded to our questions was determined by a random draw. The first to speak was Kris Austin of the People's Alliance Party, followed by Jack MacDougall for the Green Party, Roger Duguay of the New Democratic Party, David Alward of the Progressive Conservative Party and Shawn Graham for the Liberal Party. Each leader was given one minute to respond to each question.

Here are their responses.

Moderator Phil Vincent: Let's get to the questions and there are several in this campaign. We'll start with Brett Bundale and address your first question to Kris Austin please.

Brett Bundale: Mr. Austin, health-care costs in New Brunswick are unsustainable. What is your plan to bring them under control?

Kris Austin: Health care is a big issue in New Brunswick and I think what needs to happen is a complete review of the health-care system. I think it's important that the Auditor General gives a full review of health care in New Brunswick. I think it's also important that we look at the billing numbers of doctors to make sure that system is working, that if doctors decide to practice in certain regions and areas of New Brunswick that they have the freedom to do so, as opposed to doctors then going to other provinces to practice. I think the system has to be readjusted; I think that we have to stop the foolish spending of government, like $50 million to ATCON and to the friends of politicians and, instead, take that money, put it back into basic services such as health care.

Jack MacDougall: Thank you. Well one of the main planks of our reform package is health care and we see (1) if we don't do something soon, it's going to overtake our fiscal ability to pay for it. But (2) we have to get prepared for the baby boomers, who are about to be senior homers whom we know are going to use a lot of health care. So we're going to go to community health centres all over the province, which will be staffed by doctors, nurse practitioners, mid-wives, therapists, counsellors and that will be the access for everyone into the health-care system. Currently 40,000 people right now cannot see their doctor. That means they do not have access to the health-care system, but we have to change the infrastructure of the health-care system to make it accessible to all and to make it complete and we'll also be investing in healthy lifestyles.

Roger Duguay: Tommy Douglas, Saskatchewan NDP Premier, introduced Medicare, but first he eliminated the deficit created by the Conservatives and the Liberals. New Brunswick needs New Democrats to clean up another Conservative and Liberal mess. The Conservatives cut hospital beds in Caraquet. The Liberals made big promises but forgot them after the election, like the long-term care facility in Tracadie-Sheila. After this election, without a strong NDP voice to stop them, they will cut our health care to pay for their bad decisions. New Brunswick deserve pharmacare and more community health-care centres, but first we must save health care from the cuts Donald Savoie says are inevitable if we do not balance the books.

David Alward: It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, live in rural or urban New Brunswick, young or old - for many New Brunswickers having access to good health care is the most important issues that they face. Even though we will be tackling the massive debt and deficit left behind by Shawn Graham, we need to continue to invest in health care. Our party's plan will guarantee [the] health-care budget continues to [meet] demands. We will eliminate the $130 ambulance fee; help families cover the cost of catastrophic drugs; and double the number of doctors being trained right here in New Brunswick so that we can help ensure that New Brunswickers do have access to a family doctor. Under my leadership, no hospitals will be downgraded or closed over the next four years. It is time to put health care first for a change.

Shawn Graham: I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish together improving health care in the province, and we recognize today that more needs to be done. By making the difficult choice of moving from eight regional health authorities to two we've been able to find over $55 million in savings every year. We put that back into frontline services: 171 more doctors working in the province today; over 500 more nurses.

As well, it's important to note that we've also opened the hospitals and the hospital beds that Mr. Alward closed when he was at the cabinet table. And because of that wait times for surgeries have now decreased by 37 per cent. And we brought forward in this campaign a new plan to deal with the chronic management of diseases to help those patients up front before it becomes more costly over the long term of the disease. Our plan, as well, shows there's 1,250 more senior care beds in the province.

Now it's important to note in the debate last night, Mr. Alward here criticized me for closing government garages. Well sure, we closed a few DOT garages, but we didn't close six hospitals like he did.

Moderator: Let's get to our second question, which will be coming from Adam Huras, and Adam will be directing that to Jack MacDougall of the Green Party.

Adam Huras: Mr. MacDougall, unemployment in this province is high. Our creation of new jobs has slowed. Is it better to spend government money keeping the jobs we have or spend it on creating new ones?

MacDougall: Well I'm not sure that the choices you have given me are the only ones available. It depends. And the question is: Which direction are you going in? So for example, with our new green energy system that we're talking about bringing in with the Green government, there will be a lot of job creation through investments in reducing the need for power cogeneration.

Our private woodlot owners, under our plan if we open up the Crown Lands and Forests Act and create community developed forests and drive up the price of stumpage fees in New Brunswick, our private woodlot owners are going to be able to make a living again. We're also going to give [primary sourcing] for mills. So this is very, very important to our rural workers. And I think with the new green economy... Just anybody go on Goggle, press green jobs and there'll be a million pages, believe me.

Duguay: Thank you. The NDP knows government cannot pick economic winners and loser. The Conservatives and Liberals use Business New Brunswick to give cash handouts to their friends. Millions to ATCON... to businesses that take our money and leave.

It is time for new ideas. The NDP's new jobs tax credit will give a 15-per-cent tax credit to businesses that create new jobs. It will create 17,000 jobs over four years and cost 13 times less for each one. It will help all business, big and small, businesses that are committed to New Brunswick, not to the Conservative and to the Liberal parties. The NDP has a real solution to grow the economy and create jobs for New Brunswick.

Alward: I recognize that job creation and growing our economy is one of our top priorities in New Brunswick. The last four years our economy has been under attack by a reckless government that raised business taxes, wasted time on risky schemes, like trying to sell New Brunswick Power and bailing out ATCON. Our party has a plan to get the economy working again. We're going to lower small business taxes, freeze power rates, increase the budgets for tree-planting and woodworkers, and put more decision-making power into the hands of local economic development agencies. And I'll tell you also, one other thing that we will do is we will make sure that no government ever again is able to give a contract work $112 million to a company from outside New Brunswick without a New Brunswick company even being able to compete for it. That is just plain wrong.

Graham: We've just come through the worst recession that many New Brunswickers have... will ever witness. You know, we didn't lose jobs in New Brunswick like Ontario or Alberta. In fact, we gained over 13,700 new jobs while other provinces lost thousands of jobs. And that is verified by Statistics Canada. Today we have the lowest unemployment rate in Atlantic Canada and our plan today is the only plan, of all the plans here amongst my colleagues, that focuses on job creation. You know, we want to create 20,000 new jobs. I firmly believe we can do that as a province because it happened between 1991 and 1995. We're going to do that by lowering taxes; we're going to do that by investing in people. And a prime example today is the new potash mine that's being developed in Sussex - the largest construction currently underway in the Maritime Province.

And David Alward, he wants to make your taxes higher. He doesn't believe that New Brunswickers can create those 20,000 jobs. Well, that's the difference between his party and our party because we believe in the future of our province.

Austin: We believe in a common-sense approach to our problems. We believe that it's important that businesses thrive and grow in New Brunswick. We also believe that it's deeply important that people outside of the province have the opportunity to look right here at the potential that we have with all of our great resources to be able to build and expand their business and their vision. Therefore, the People's Alliance, as a party platform, we will commit to a three-year tax exemption for any new business start-up in the province of New Brunswick. This allows, for that business, three years to establish itself; to hire employees; to continue manufacturing and in the long run, it costs the taxpayers of New Brunswick nothing, because they work here in the first place. It's a common-sense idea that we believe will help to stimulate this economy.

Moderator: The next question is yours but addressed to Roger Duguay.

Bundale: Most New Brunswickers split contributions to their pensions with their employer 50-50. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says taxpayers here in New Brunswick are paying $16 into MLA pension plans for every dollar MLAs contribute. Is this fair?

Duguay: Leadership means making tough choices. Leadership is not about yelling in a debate like what we experience tonight, or making empty promises just to win votes. Mr. Alward has failed to offer an alternative to Mr. Graham. He voted with the Liberals to increase his own pension by 85 per cent, and he wants to continue bad Liberal ideas, like cash handouts to businesses through Business New Brunswick. There is no difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals - old parties, old policies.

Real leadership means presenting solutions like our new jobs credit tax. And it means leading by example. NDP will lead by example, donating 20 per cent of our salaries.

Alward: Leadership, to me, is about respect. It is about listening to the people, getting the best advice that's available and then making the right decision. The right decision is that there is an independent panel that is doing its work and is bringing forward recommendations to fix MLA pensions. They are doing the work right now. As premier, I will accept the work that they do. This is our position and this is a position of leadership. I will also ensure, as premier, going forward New Brunswick never again will MLAs be able to vote on their own pay packages. That is not acceptable. As leadership, it's also important that we bring back honesty, integrity, common sense and hard work to government for the people of New Brunswick.

Graham: Well an independent officer in the legislature is currently reviewing this and we will be awaiting that outcome. But on the issue of leadership, as my colleagues here are discussing tonight, you know, to hear these four political parties say that they don't believe that New Brunswick businesses can create those 20,000 jobs needed to keep our kids here at home. Well that's shocking because it's not the race to the bottom today, it's the race to the top and, as premier, our team will create that environment. We firmly believe today in those New Brunswick companies. And yes, we'll provide the leadership; the leadership that is required to continue to create the environment where we invest in our communities colleges and our universities to give the best training to our students. We're seeing record results today in our literacy scores.

And at the same time businesses are looking to invest in New Brunswick versus looking past us. A prime example is Ocean Spray. This international company looked at 16 different sites around the word and they chose to invest close to $900 million in New Brunswick in Rogersville and today they're employing people because of our environment for low taxes and that's the kind of leadership that we'll continue to provide to create more jobs...

Austin: Here's what we've got. We've got several groups out there that are fighting with the government for what is a fair pension, not exorbitant, not elaborate, just fair. And what we've got, two MLAs, one the premier here today, two years ago, while the Legislature was down, the cameras were down in what was supposed to be a public building while the flood waters were overflowing its banks, while people were on their knees in Maugerville and all along the St. John River, they increased their pensions, severance pay and salaries. It is fair? Not a bit. What is fair is rolling them back to where they should be.

And I find it interesting how every time a politician makes a wrong move... every time they do something they know is wrong, they then resort to reviews. People do not want reviews. You do not want reviews, you want honesty, you want integrity, you want politicians to do the right thing. We will do the right thing when we are elected.

MacDougall: Sure, Thank you. You know for over a year the Green Party has been passionately fighting to eliminate an insidious tax, a very unique tax, the only one in Canada. There's no other province in New Brunswick who charges twice as much property tax on an apartment building as they do a private home. You think about that and ask yourself who lives there: single mothers, the working poor, senior citizens, students. You ask yourself, is it fair? And these people and the Green Party have been fighting fiercely for this issue for months. We begged the other parties to come on side. Instead they gave themselves this pension increase and it was worse... It was worse than the amount of money and it cost, what it did to New Brunswick.

Huras: Mr. Alward, the province has a debt of more than $8.3 billion. The average New Brunswick family then is burdened with more than $26,000 of that debt. Now those families have to balance their books. Some of you have suggested it will take four years to balance the government's books. How can you keep all the promises in a time of fiscal restraint?

Alward: Absolutely and you know something, like each of you watching at home, I understand the importance of living within our means, that's why we're a party that came forth on the second day of our election with a five-point plan to get government spending under control. We have a premier that has increased the debt of the province by $3 billion in four short years. Over the last two years we've seen deficits running a minimum of $750 million a year. We have to do better.

At the same time we have to provide for the care and support for our most vulnerable New Brunswickers, so we come forward with a realistic plan. A plan that will see us cut a minimum of $150 million year after year from government waste, a plan that will start to see us reduce the size of government in a responsible way; a plan that will see us stop the tax reduction for largest corporations and the wealthiest New Brunswickers. 

Graham: ...we just came through the worst recession over the last two years that many of us will ever see, and our government made a conscious decision, [like] other governments across Canada and across the world, to invest in infrastructure to create those immediate jobs to keep New Brunswickers working. You know, we invested in our roads, in our hospitals and our community colleges, in our nursing homes for our seniors and that created thousands of jobs. And yet, it meant a short-term deficit.

And now we have a plan to return to balanced budgets by the year 2014, the same plan today that the federal government - the Conservative Party of Canada - is following to return to balanced budgets. And we firmly believe that by investing in people and growing our economy and at the same time constraining government growth to 1 per cent per year, we will return to balanced budgets by 2014, and any new oil and gas royalties will be applied directly towards the debt of New Brunswick. So we have a plan that will work. What's interesting, though, when Mr. Alward criticizes our plan, he hasn't told us which hospitals he won't build, which nursing homes he won't build and which schools he won't upgrade. That's the difference between our...

Austin: Well I think that the reality is in order to find a solution to the problems you have to get to the heart of what the real problems are. And in the government that we currently have, the reality is there is a shroud of secrecy over finances, over decisions or just about everything that relates to you and I. Therefore, the People's Alliance mandates that the Auditor General get absolute, full review of the books within every government department so we know exactly what is being spent and how it's being spent, so that when an elected official purchases so much as a donut that that expenditure is made public in full disclosure so we know exactly where our tax dollars are going. That is what is needed in government. We have to change the system, not just the politician. The People's Alliance will do just that. 

MacDougall: Well thank you very much. We have a whole section on it in our Green Plan on fiscal responsibility. 1) We're going to cancel the tax deductions that were announced. It was done in a time... it was an inappropriate time to do it and it's going to bring us about $400 million back into the coffers. We're going to create a economic transition fund by putting a $10 carbon tax on carbon fossil fuels refined here in New Brunswick. We see that about $500 million. We're going to raise stumpage rates in our forests and regain money that is costing us to cut our trees down. And basically, we're going to look at how we spend money. One of the reasons for a public enquiry into ACTON was to explore how we spend money, and it's also to exonerate the civil service of that decision. But how do we spend money? Where do we invest it? We're not going with the multinationals, we're going with the small local communities.

Duguay: The Conservatives and the Liberals created a $9 billion debt and they have created an $800,000,089 deficit, a terrible burden on our children, and now their irresponsible election promises will make things even more... even worse. The Conservative platform will add $375 million to the deficit, according to their own figures. They will add $1 billion to our debt every year, and the Liberals tax cuts will cost $236 million per year by 2013. This is madness. The NDP has [a] solution. We will save $210 million by ending March madness. We will save $75 million with our efficiency officer.

Bundale: Mr. Graham, early in the campaign polls showed the Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck for voter support. The most recent polls suggest that New Brunswick is considering a change in government. How do you interpret this change?

Graham: Well, the Liberal party has always been the party of change. We've attempted to do our best over the last four years and we've learned as we've governed. In tackling some of difficult issues and figuring out ways to bring our kids back home and improving our test scores and growing the economy, you know, it hasn't been easy and you know, I've got the battle scars to show that all the changes we've attempted to implement have not been easy. But I'm confident today that New Brunswickers believe in a strong future, the same future that we all want: to provide a better education system for our young people; provide better health and senior care. And to do that, today, we're the only political party that has a plan to grow the economy. You know, while we hear a lot of the attacks and criticisms from these parties on what occurred in the past. I'm ready to defend that record, but I'm also focused on the future.

As premier, I can say emphatically tonight that our team, the Liberal Party, and the Liberal plan will grow the economy and New Brunswickers will have a clear choice on election day to choose a party that is committed to keeping their kids here at home.

Austin: Well, I guess concerning the polls with Mr. Graham and Mr. Alward in the Liberal and Conservative parties think the reality is because polls are all over the place, people are looking for alternatives. It's very clear that these two main parties just aren't cutting it. People have lost complete faith and trust and rightfully so.

But you know, genuine leadership, it attracts people; it doesn't repel them. And you know, I want to personally thank Mr. Graham and Mr. Alward for helping build the People's Alliance through your leadership. Your conduct through this campaign has helped lead the continued growth of our party. We thank both of you for that.

But the people of New Brunswick, they do understand that leaders do have to make tough decision but they will only follow these leaders down a lighted path, not when the path is shrouded in secrecy and darkness. We believe the people deserve to know all the facts before the decisions are made and blatant truth, regardless of how it may affect the party...

MacDougall: Yes. Well again, I'm not worried about the poll numbers. It doesn't matter to me whether it's up or it's down. I do think that the majority of people do want change in New Brunswick. They desperately want change and really right now you're looking around to see which party may have the best plan for New Brunswick, for the future of New Brunswick.

I understand if they think that's the Conservative Party. I haven't heard a plan from them. I heard of consultations and commissions, but that's like going to an architect and asking them 'how much does a building cost'. If you don't have a vision about what kind of building you want, he can't tell you how much it's going to cost.

The premier's plan says he's going to create jobs to balance the budget. We'd need 80,000 jobs... $60,000-a-year jobs, just to balance the budget. It won't work. We need a different way. The Green Party has, again, a very, very comprehensive plan. Take the time. Go to GoGreenNB.ca and read the plan.

Duguay: Yuh, I think polls are like a tide, it's going up and it's going down, and we think that the good poll is on the election night, on the election day.

But on issue I want to raise here tonight is about the north. We live in a province as a whole. For too long, our leaders have failed to address the challenges facing northern New Brunswick. Worse, they fail ideas, create false division between north and south. Shawn Graham's [development plan] was created without open consultation, and David Alward continues to the same tired, old idea that you can create jobs by handing out cash.

It has not worked. In 2009, zero net new jobs were created in the north. Middle class family are still struggling to make ends meet.

Alward: Look, over the last two years, as leader of the PC Party, it's been an incredible experience. And people have often asked, why aren't you higher in the polls after what Premier Graham has done and his party has done to New Brunswickers? The reality, people are disconnected from politics for a lot of reasons. Time and time again, politicians have let them down and, you know, we have a premier who said he was going to bring forward transformational change, make New Brunswick self-sufficient. What did he do? He went behind the people's backs trying to make changes with post-secondary education, trying to make changes with early French immersion, trying to... granddaddy of them all, tried to sell New Brunswick Power behind the backs of people and not allow the people to have a voice. That is wrong. It is time that we bring back people into the government's process. It's time for real leadership, which includes people and the decisions that affect them. It's time for a Progressive Conservative government...

Huras: Mr. Austin, approximately half of New Brunswickers are illiterate. How would you improve the education system?

Austin: That's a very good question. I think what needs to happen is we have to invest more money into teachers and TAs - the frontline people - that are working in our schools. It... It... It blows my mind that we have TAs that are protesting repeatedly, again, for just a fair and just treatment. They work 36-plus hours; they get paid for 28. They deserve more. And yet, at the same time that they are protesting, just what is fair and right for them, Mr. Graham comes out and promises laptops to all the kids.

Listen, I've got a five-year-old son. He plays on the computer quite a bit and enjoys it. I've got to peel him off it. When he goes to school, I want him interacting with the teachers. I want him interacting with other students. I want him to developing social skills. I want things that will help him to read, write and do math, practical things, one-on-one human contact. Real approaches will solve the problems.

McDougall: Yuh, I'm going to say Kris is 100-per-cent right on that call on the laptop computers. It was a trite promise to education. One of the things we have to do about education is to be very careful, as politicians, that we don't have the super solution and then impose it on educators, perhaps against their will.

One of the things about education for us is empowering at the local level. You are empowered to change and you are empowered to stay the same. You... It's about the decisions at the local level. We have some of the most educated teachers in the country with master's degrees and several degrees. The teaching is competent, and I believe the system structure is competent, but I think that we need more say at the... at the teacher and at the local level as to how and what we're going to teach our kids. And I don't think laptops is the best way. There is room for computers as a teaching tool, but not universal. It's a bad plan. Nothing should be universal in education.

Duguay: For the NDP, education is very, very important. That's why we propose to hold the line on the tax reform Mr. Graham and Mr. Alward supported two years ago. To hold the line, because somebody will have to pay for our education system and also for our health care. It's so important, but the NDP is proposing solutions. When we talk about March madness, you know the NDP government [of Nova Scotia] saved $253 million and we... if we adopt... if we apply that solution for New Brunswick, we can save over $210 million. We propose solutions because education, health care, seniors is so important for the NDP and also for New Brunswick middle class in our province.

We won't make promises we cannot keep, like the traditional parties in this campaign.

Alward: Education is the foundation for [the] economy, for our society today, certainly for our future as well. And you know, as a party, each party makes decisions as to how they're going to invest. And I'm going to agree today with Kris and with Jack.

The Liberal Party has made a decision that they're going to invest in computers for every child. That's a nice thing. I wish I could afford it, but you know something more important is to invest in our children and the people that work every day with them. Our teachers... we will ensure that we maintain the level of teachers within our schools. We'll ensure that the support that they need to work with our children who need help, whether it's literacy skills, whether it's math skills, whether it's children with special needs, [that they] have the supports that they need. We will ensure that our families have the support and can't afford school supplies to get it into the hands of families who need help so we have an education system for the next century.

Graham: By working with our teachers and our education leaders over the past four years, we've been able to reverse the downward trend in the education system, and now we're seeing record results in literacy, numeracy and other studies. And I'm proud to hear that's a Liberal government that's brought back art, music and physical education into the school system.

And we also brought back our trades. You know, recently I was in St. Stephen at the school there and seeing the individuals taking the trades there. You know what? When we talk about the 21st century learning agenda, today, if you want to become a car mechanic, when you go into a garage, you're going to be required to utilize a computer to do a diagnostic of that car. That's why we want to give our students the best technology to succeed.

You know recently, we just opened just this week actually a new school in New Bandon on the upper Miramichi, which has the best technology available. If you go into that school the teachers will tell you those kids will have the best chance to succeed, and that's why we stand by this decision because it was through a process of engagement with the teachers over the past year who developed this. When you're saying you're against this technology, you're saying you're against the teachers of New Brunswick.


From moderator Phil Vincent's opening statement:

"The order of the candidates has been determined by draw prior to coming to the stage so joining me now are the candidates in that order. For the People's Alliance Party, Kris Austin; for the Green Party, Jack MacDougall; for the New Democratic Party, Roger Duguay; for the Progressive Conservative Party in New Brunswick, David Alward; and for the Liberal Party and current Premier of New Brunswick, Shawn Graham.

The rules of the debate are as follows.

Each candidate will begin with a two-minute opening statement. The first candidate will then be posed a question from one of our panellists and the candidate will have 60 seconds or 1 minute to respond.

Candidates keep in mind that at the end of your minute your microphones will be muted as we go onto the next candidate.

Each of the remaining candidates will also have 60 seconds to provide rebuttal response to the question.

After all candidates have commented, there will be a 90-second open-floor discussion on that same question. All candidates are encouraged to participate in that discussion for 90 seconds, then I will cut it off.