FREDERICTON – Voters in New Brunswick go to the polls today after a 32-day election campaign that has been fought on job creation and economic development.
The Liberal party led by Brian Gallant is promising to spend $900 million over six years on the province’s infrastructure, which they say would create more than 1,700 jobs a year.
Premier David Alward of the Progressive Conservatives wants to push ahead with the development of the province’s natural resources, including drilling for shale gas.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for shale gas has been a divisive issue that led to a violent protest last year in Rexton.
Alward believes the province is on the verge of $10 billion in private investment flowing from the shale gas sector and the proposed Energy East Pipeline, which would see oil shipped from Alberta to Saint John.
Gallant is taking a more cautious approach on shale gas, promising a moratorium on fracking, until more study is done on the risks.
The final full day of the campaign on Sunday saw Gallant and Alward pump up the party faithful at a series of rallies and barbecues.
Gallant, 32, predicted a tight outcome as he campaigned in Saint-Antoine in front of a memorial to legendary Liberal premier Louis Robichaud, the first Acadian to be elected premier of New Brunswick in 1960.
“Louis Robichaud would be one of my political idols,” said Gallant, a lawyer who grew up in the Acadian community of Grande-Digue, just northeast of Moncton.
Alward campaigned on the party’s main slogan on Sunday, which has featured ads where the Tories encourage voters to “Say Yes” to different pieces of their platform.
“It’s about saying ‘Yes’ to our province, it’s about saying ‘Yes’ to our people and about saying ‘Yes’ to providing opportunities to our people to have great jobs here and set strong roots for their families,” Alward, who operates a small family farm near Woodstock, told a rally in Moncton.
Alward, 54, continued to push for people to back the development of shale gas, playing down concerns about the environment as he argued it will stop the flow of workers to other parts of the country where the job prospects are better.
“The reality is it is being done safely,” Alward said. “I have the obligation to build a strong province, to give opportunities for our people to be able to have great jobs here and set strong roots here instead of being separated by thousands of miles.”
NDP leader Dominic Cardy, 44, is pinning his hopes of a breakthrough on voters’ dissatisfaction with the grip the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives have had on the province, arguing that a fresh voice is needed in the legislature. The NDP has never won more than one seat in New Brunswick and was shut out of the legislature in the last election.
Green leader David Coon, 57, spent the last day of the campaign pushing for action on climate change, saying practical solutions to reduce New Brunswick’s carbon footprint would lead to new jobs.
At dissolution, the Progressive Conservatives had 41 seats, the Liberals 13 and there was one Independent. Redistribution will see the number of seats in the house cut to 49 from 55 in this election.