FREDERICTON—Midway through his mandate, Premier David Alward will return to the New Brunswick legislature this week governing a province awash in red ink, struggling with its highest unemployment rate in almost a decade.
The province’s economic state is expected to dominate the fall legislative session and could dog the Progressive Conservative government if the province’s fiscal course doesn’t change.
The possibility of shale gas development—an issue Alward says his government will address in the coming weeks—brings the promise of jobs and could be an economic boon.
But it has triggered months of protests from people calling on the government to put the brakes on the idea, with another rally planned outside the legislature Tuesday.
“What we will be doing is laying out our next steps and I think that will be something that will give confidence to people so they understand where we are at and what the next steps are,” Alward said. “There aren’t silver bullets that will automatically allow every New Brunswicker to be working. But at the same time we believe that we are putting in place the necessary tools to allow people to be working in New Brunswick.”
Alward has said he supports shale gas development if it can be done in a safe and responsible way, and has promised to enact some of the toughest regulations in North America.
Tom Bateman, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said the shale gas file could be a tricky one to navigate for the government because it pits economic interests against those of the environment.
“The shale gas matter is all about the economy, and it’s all about employment and a stable source of revenues and viable government program spending going forward,” Bateman said. “All eyes are on employment and public finances and turning the ship around.”
The government is projecting a $356 million deficit this year, $173 million larger than its forecast in March, because of dropping tax revenues and rising expenses.
Despite that, Alward is holding firm to his promise not to raise taxes. He said he will cut costs instead, though similar promises in the past have not done enough to improve New Brunswick’s bottom line.
“People are hurting and I don’t believe this is the time we should be taking more of their hard-earned tax dollars,” he said.
©The Canadian Press