Alward's innovation plan lacks specifics, Gallant says

The province's Liberal leader says he's "disappointed" that Premier David Alward didn't use his annual state of the province speech Thursday to offer a specific plan on New Brunswick's financial woes.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said in a news release Friday that he was hoping Alward would take the opportunity to offer specific details on his plan to get the province back on track.

"Our economy must be our top priority. Premier Alward campaigned on a comprehensive plan to balance the province’s books without increasing taxes or cutting services," said Gallant.

"Creating more committees, studies and reports is not a plan.”

Alward used his annual state of the province speech to map out his government’s agenda for research and development, including a five-year $80-million commitment to fund innovation.

He promised in his throne speech last fall that rebuilding the province’s struggling economy would be his main focus in the next year.

On Thursday, he offered a clear indication of what that direction will be, as he announced a significant infusion of public money into future innovation.

The $80-million earmarked for innovation came with a second announcement.

Alward said Geoff Flood, the president of T4G, will be a co-chair the premier’s Research and Innovation Council.

“We have created a Research and Innovation Council to provide guidance and governance on public policy and oversee the largest investment in innovation that New Brunswick has ever seen,” Alward said.

The promise comes as Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has been touring New Brunswick talking about ways to reduce the province's growing deficit.

Gallant said that innovation is not just a "buzzword" and requires a solid plan.

“The premier speaks of innovation, yet his government cuts the education budget and makes post-secondary education less affordable,” Gallant stated.

“If we want to excel in the knowledge economy, we need to invest in education and training.”

The deficit is now estimated to be $356-million, which is nearly double the amount forecasted in last March's budget.

The province's unemployment rate in December was 10.8 per cent.

Alward also spoke about the need for greater development of the resource sector in his state of the province address.

The premier announced that Louis Lapierre, a University of Moncton biologist, will lead the new Energy Institute, which will study emerging issues in the energy sector. Lapierre recommended such an institute be created in his report on the shale gas industry last year.

“At the heart of our plan to move forward with the development of our natural gas resources is the need for factual information upon which prudent decisions can be made,” Alward said in his speech.

“This need is why the government has accepted Dr. LaPierre’s recommendation to establish an Energy Institute that will call on academia to ensure our province leads the way in building a knowledge base for energy development.”

Alward again promised that new rules on shale gas development will come out in the next few weeks.

The premier also spoke passionately about the need for a pipeline from western Canada to Saint John.

“I envision a west-east pipeline that can make New Brunswick Canada’s next energy power house,” Alward said.

“Because of Saint John’s deep-water port and Irving Oil’s world-class refining experience and capacity, New Brunswick can play a central role in connecting Canadian resources with growing world markets.”

Gallant said he supported the idea of a pipeline connection with western Canada.

"A West-East pipeline extending to New Brunswick would create high-paying skilled jobs and provide many other tangible benefits for New Brunswickers and all Canadians," he stated in a news release.

Alward will be travelling to Alberta this weekend to tour the oilsands and meet with Premier Alison Redford.

The idea has won support from many business leaders and politicians.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in December a pipeline that could ship western crude oil to Eastern Canada would be in the national interest.

Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna has publicly endorsed the idea as well. McKenna will be speaking at the Saint John Board of Trade on Feb. 11 about energy issues.

Alward said on Thursday night McKenna will address the need for an west-east pipeline again.

“I am looking forward to hearing Frank connect the dots between shale gas, pipelines, and refining capacity leading to a thriving energy sector and a more prosperous New Brunswick, when he speaks to the Saint John Board of Trade,” he said.

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