12/29/2013 01:39 EST | Updated 02/28/2014 05:59 EST

Brian Gallant To Question New Brunswick Tories' Ice Storm Response

SAINT JOHN, N.B. - New Brunswick's Liberal Opposition leader said he will be raising questions about the Tory government's response to an ice storm that caused widespread power outages.

Brian Gallant said residents he's spoken to have expressed concerns about how quickly the province's emergency measures organization reacted after the storm hit about a week ago.

He said some people are also raising questions about a lack of regular tree-trimming around power lines that could have prevented outages.

"A lot of people did have questions regarding how proactive the New Brunswick government... has been in ensuring these types of things don't happen," said Gallant, adding that he'll put the questions to Premier David Alward once the legislature resumes in February.

"Whether this is the case or not remains to be seen, but of course, since we have so many people who are going through a difficult time and so many people that do have questions, we owe it to New Brunswickers to find out exactly what happened."

Alward's office did not return a request for comment on Sunday.

NB Power Spokesman Brent Staeben said the utility has actually increased its tree trimming budget over the last few years and will be increasing it again next year. He said work to trim or remove trees has been met with some resistance from customers.

"The issue that we have with tree trimming is always the respect that we have for customers wishes bumping up against our need to protect our infrastructure," said Staeben.

"People want to live very close to nature and at the same time, you need to protect the infrastructure that is providing essential services to everyone in that region."

NB Power said about 250 line and tree trimming crews from the Maritime provinces, Quebec and the United States were working to reconnect about 4,000 customers in southwestern parts of the province Sunday evening — down from 12,000 on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, more than 50,000 customers were in the dark.

The Crown-owned utility said it was hoped most customers would be reconnected by late Tuesday, but that could change depending on how a winter storm forecast to hit Sunday evening affects ice-laden trees.

Environment Canada said up to 20 centimetres of snow was expected in southern New Brunswick before changing to rain and freezing rain overnight.

NB Power says customers who have been without power the longest are the priority.

— By Aly Thomson in Halifax

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