POLITICS

New Brunswick premier expected to once again lay out plan to boost flat economy

01/29/2014 05:01 EST | Updated 03/31/2014 05:59 EDT
FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward is expected to once again lay out his plans to improve the province's flat economy as he delivers his final state of the province address on Thursday months before he heads to the polls.

In his previous speeches, Alward has announced the creation of a new Crown business development agency, extolled the virtues of innovation and promoted a west-to-east pipeline in an effort to convince the public the province was on its way to creating jobs and revenue.

But the stakes are higher this time as he prepares the groundwork for what could shape up to be a tight race before September's vote.

"I think he has to have a real announcement for people to take what he has to say seriously," said Don Mills, CEO of polling firm Corporate Research Associates.

"Selling hope is difficult without examples of success."

Mills said he expects Alward to avoid mentioning short-term goals and instead focus on the hope of a jobs boom next year and beyond with the Energy East Pipeline and a shale gas industry, though both prospects are far from certain.

"The best that he can do is start talking about 2015 and 2016 and the fact that things are looking bright on the horizon because there is nothing short term that is positive news," Mills said.

A spokesman for Alward said he was sick Wednesday and unavailable for interview. Instead, Energy Minister Craig Leonard spoke on his behalf.

Leonard said Alward's speech will stick to the same themes the Progressive Conservative government has been pushing since winning power in September 2010 — natural resource development and innovation.

"The opportunity that we have for developing the oil and gas industry, the mining industry or the forestry industry, all will play a key role over the next number of years in driving the province forward," Leonard said.

"The spending is under control, so we need to develop the revenues and that's what these types of industries can do for us."

In its last fiscal update in December, the provincial government said expenditures were forecast to drop by $113 million. But that did not make up for the anticipated revenue shortfall of $172.9 million, pushing the projected deficit for this fiscal year to $538.2 million.

Leonard said Alward is expected to touch on a new long-term forestry plan, which has been expected for some time.

"We are already starting to see sawmills starting to reopen, others are adding shifts, and when you start seeing that happening in New Brunswick ... it certainly sets the stage for some good numbers down the road for sure," he said.

Liberal Opposition Leader Brian Gallant said he expects more of the "same old, same old" from Alward's speech.

"Even if he were to announce something that's going to try to create jobs in the near future, I think New Brunswickers have lost all faith in the premier and his plans for economic development, and rightfully so when we look at the economic indicators over the last three years," Gallant said.

Alward will deliver the speech to a business audience hosted by the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. It will be broadcast on community cable television across the province.