FREDERICTON — Economic development was front and centre on New Brunswick's election campaign trail Wednesday, with the Liberals pushing for nuclear energy and the Progressive Conservatives promising more help for the province's businesses.
During a campaign stop in Saint John, Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said if he's elected premier, he'll partner with the federal government on the production of small modular nuclear reactors.
The project could create thousands of highly skilled and high-paying jobs in the province, said Vickers, adding he believes he has a better chance of reaching a funding deal with Ottawa than Tory leader Blaine Higgs.
"It seems every time Premier Higgs goes to Ottawa it ends up in a fight," the Liberal leader said. "I don't recall a positive conversation coming from a meeting between Premier Higgs and Prime Minister Trudeau."
Vickers told reporters he has been working collaboratively "behind the scenes" with New Brunswick federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc on the issue.
During a campaign stop in Moncton, Higgs said his cabinet was already on the nuclear file. His government, he added, has attracted interest in the development of the nuclear reactors from a number of other provinces.
"We signed (memorandum of understandings) about a year and a half ago with Ontario, Saskatchewan and now we have Alberta coming on board too," Higgs said. "The federal government agrees this is the path to the future."
Colleen d'Entremont, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy, says the small modular reactors are next generation technology that will take about 10 years to develop.
She says the proposed units could be installed throughout Canada and around the world, using spent fuel from reactors such as the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in New Brunswick.
"These could be developed here in New Brunswick, constructed here, and then because Lepreau is on tidewater, you can ship it all over the world," d'Entremont said in an interview Wednesday. She's hoping Natural Resources Canada will announce an action plan for SMRs in the next few months.
During his stop in Saint John, Vickers was asked about calls by municipal politicians in the city for heavy industry tax reform.
"I am always open for a (tax) review, it has to be objective and analytically correct and it has to be strategic," he said.
Higgs told reporters if his government is re-elected, he'll continue to implement his plan to help businesses compete in a post-COVID world.
He said his government has improved the province's credit rating, implemented changes to protect New Brunswick's financial security, increased wages for home support workers and presented a balanced budget.
The Tory leader said stability provided by his government during the COVID-19 pandemic has produced some of the best economic recovery statistics in the country.
"We are among the top nationwide in job recovery," he said. "We had record-breaking home sales. These statistics are not coincidence. We have managed the uncertainty extremely well."
Higgs said if re-elected, Opportunities New Brunswick will help businesses transition to a digital economy and improve productivity, adding his government will modify procurement policies to give more support to the province's suppliers.
Meanwhile, Green Leader David Coon used a bus stop in Fredericton Wednesday as the backdrop for an announcement on transit. Coon said a Green government would have a plan to save public transit in New Brunswick cities.
He said he would dedicate revenue from the carbon tax to cover the $2 million public transit companies have lost as a result of COVID-19. The mayors of six cities wrote to the premier last month, Coon said, asking that he not leave federal dollars on the table for public transit.
People's Alliance leader Kris Austin called on Wednesday for three-year motor vehicle registrations in the province. Currently, drivers have to reapply every year. He said the move would help New Brunswickers keep more of their hard-earned money.
The provincial election is set for Sept. 14.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2020.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press