FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's premier concedes he hasn't achieved all of his goals since he was elected four years ago, but David Alward believes his Progressive Conservatives deserve a second chance from the province's voters on Monday.
In his final face-to-face meeting of the campaign against his two main opponents, Alward said Thursday night that the Tories have done a good job under difficult economic conditions.
"There have been difficult times and we haven't been able to do everything that we committed to do, and I'm disappointed at that," he said in a roundtable debate televised on CTV. "But what I feel very good about is we provided responsible government through very difficult times."
Alward's party failed to keep a promise from the 2010 election to balance the budget in a first mandate.
Four years ago, the former Liberal government of Shawn Graham became the first one-term government in the province's history when it went down in defeat to Alward's Tories.
The economy and the state of the province's finances as it stares at a $387.3-million deficit for the 2014-15 fiscal year were main subjects during the debate between Alward, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant and the NDP's Dominic Cardy.
Alward's campaign has centred on developing the province's natural resources to generate jobs, including allowing hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, an industry that has been met with sometimes violent opposition.
Pressed to clarify his position on shale gas, Gallant refused to rule out the possibility of allowing the practice during the first term of a Liberal government and stuck to his promise to place a moratorium on fracking until more study is done on the risks.
The NDP say companies wanting to develop shale gas would have to wait for two years, then pass tests ensuring environmental and health concerns are satisfied, followed by the establishment of a royalty rate and a free vote in the legislature.
Cardy addressed Alward directly and chided him for his economic policies and unwavering belief in the future benefits of fracking.
"We are essentially in the same position now that we were four years ago with jobs and you are going into a re-election campaign asking us to just trust you that an industry that so far has not generated jobs and prosperity for the province is somehow going to appear and turn us from a have-not province into a have province," he said.
Like Thursday's debate, the 32-day campaign has largely focused on the economy with Gallant promising to boost economic growth by spending $900 million over six years on infrastructure.
Gallant's opponents called the Liberal infrastructure program irresponsible.
"The Liberals are talking about blowing the lid off our debt completely," said Cardy.
Alward expressed a similar criticism of Gallant's infrastructure promise, saying: "It will not create real jobs ... and all you are taking is money from taxpayers on their credit cards."
Gallant defended his plan, which means the budget would not be balanced for six years, as "a strategic approach."
"We understand that we have to stimulate the economy in the short term. We have to create jobs and that is the best way to increase revenue so we can balance our books."
The debate turned testy when Cardy was asked if he would apologize to Gallant for a video tweeted by two NDP candidates.
The tweet linked to a video parody from a film about the final days of the Nazis. It shows senior members of Adolf Hitler's inner circle discussing their fate as the Allies are close to winning the Second World War.
The parody depicts the actors as senior Liberals through subtitles on the screen, a depiction that Gallant described as offensive because his grandfather was sent to a concentration camp.
Cardy said while he was disappointed in his candidates' behaviour and asked them to remove the video, he was also disappointed at Gallant's reaction, calling it a campaign stunt.
"Why do you not apologize on behalf of your party?" Gallant asked Cardy.
When the moderator asked if both party leaders would apologize, Cardy offered to if Gallant followed suit.
"A mutual apology for your stunt and my candidates actions? Absolutely," Cardy said.
"There was absolutely no stunt on our behalf, Mr. Cardy," Gallant replied.
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