Letters to the Editor

Saturday, 31 March 2012

The power of Earth Hour in Fredericton

Above, Big Love Drumming provided the entertainment while the lights are out during Earth Hour in Fredericton

Over 200 people of all ages attended the Earth Hour event at the Boyce Farmer's Market this evening in Fredericton, marking a global day of action reminding us to unplug for an hour and reduce energy consumption.

Several booths were set up on the premesis spreading awareness of energy conservation and climate change, including the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and Efficiency NB. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada was also on hand with powerful telescopes, providing attendees with a glimpse of the universe in the night sky. The Bundle Hut provided the vegetarian eats, while Coburn's served up delicious warm apple cider. Big Love Drumming used some energy of it's own to entertain the crowd during the hour the lights were out, joining people around the world who took part in the Earth Hour event today.

The funky beats and vegetarian treats were a draw for the kids, along with Perley the Magician and cool science tricks by Science East. It showed children energy conservation can be fun while teaching them about the importance of the environment.

Present and future politicians were mingling in the crowd at the Earth Hour event, including city councillor and chair of the Public Safety and Environment Committee, Eric Megarity, and mayoral hopeful, Matthew Hayes. The men could be seen chatting with each other at one point during the event.

Speaking to this publication about what Earth Day meant to him, Megarity thought it a way for people to show they care about their planet now and in the future, as well as raise awareness on the issue.

Hayes, for his part, felt it a time to reflect on the state of the Earth's environment, while making suggestions on what more can be done locally to combat climate change.

Members of the general public also voiced what Earth Day means to them, making articulate and well thought out comments on the relationship between human beings and nature.

Energy-saving gadgets were also handed out during the evening, with a particular device seen in the hands of many children at the event. One little girl kindly explained what it was, as seen in the video below, and how it helps the Earth.

The public was still streaming into the building shortly before the lights went out and the drumming began.

No doubt it was an evening of awareness, but for one little girl, it was a great way to stay up past her bed time. 

Hayes campaign launch for Mayor has 'em dancing in the aisles

FREDERICTON - It's official. Matthew Hayes is a candidate for the job as Mayor of Fredericton. He kicked things off to a packed house of close to 250 people last night at the Cedar Tree Cafe in the city's downtown core.

Accompanied by the Alex Bailey Swing Band, who's music had some supporters literally dancing in the aisles, the evening crackled with an exciting energy, giving the feel of a new era being ushered in by Hayes for the city and it's people.

After about an hour of enjoying the music, the crowd settled down as Hayes approached the mic to give his speech.

He began by thanking his supporters and praising the city, going on to give his reasons for the necessity of change at the helm of the city's administration, in a perilous time that requires innovative thinking to prepare for the future.

Expanding on his campaign theme of Great Ideas for a Great City, Hayes outlines what cities for the future should be about, taking advantage of the opportunities with coming changes.

Hayes wound up by talking of how the old style of politics must come to an end for voters to become re-engaged in the political process after years of cronyism ignoring the wishes of the populace.

Getting his speech out of the way, a relieved Hayes circulated among the throng of well-wishers, shaking hands and basking in the glow of a successful launch party.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Higgs refuses to acknowledge rumor

On the night before the New Brunswick budget was brought down this week, the Canadian Press reported the Alward government as planning to cut 4500 jobs; a drastic measure that unsettled many. However, on budget day, the announcement was actually 1500 jobs over three years through attrition, or 500 jobs a year.

Protesters from several different fronts at the Legislature this week said they suspected it was a ruse by the Alward government to leak the high number of 4500 job cuts to make the bitter medicine of the actual 1500 number go down easier. Those spoken to saw it as a tactic straight out of the Harper PMO, and blamed one of Alward's lieutenant's, Darrell Fowlie, who came to NB from Ottawa.

When the question was put to Higgs, he claimed ignorance and didn't comment.

Liberal MLA Dalhousie-Restigouche East Donald Arsenault on Tory broken promises

Broken promises was the theme of the day this afternoon during the budget debate in the Legislature. Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau hammered at the Alward government for over an hour, citing a list of Tory lies comprising four pages.

"They promised the moon while in Opposition," said Boudreau.

While the Conservative MLA's hemmed and hawed at Boudreau's claims, he rhymed off a list that included the failure to cut ambulance fees, the misinformation of the property tax freeze, misuse of the government plane and as yet unfulfilled catastrophic drug coverage, to name a few.

Liberal MLA for Dalhousie-Restigouche East, Donald Arsenault, spoke on behalf of his colleagues after today's session ended.

Rookie PC MLA Ryan Riordan puts foot in it

During the budget debate in the house this afternoon, Liberal Opposition leader Victor Boudreau was detailing the list of broken promises he claims have been wracked up by the Alward government. Boudreau was in the middle of detailing the cuts to education when young MLA for Nepisiguit, Ryan Riordan, blurted, "Good!" in reference to the cuts being a good thing. Boudreau immediately stopped his speech and pounced on Riordan for what he pointed out was an inappropriate comment. Boudreau continued to scold the Honorable Member for Nepisiguit until he felt the young man was sufficiently embarrassed on record then moved. on. What was Riordan thinking?

Press Gallery of New Brunswick President on evening Legislature sessions

Yesterday it was announced by Deputy-Premier Paul Robichaud that the Alward government would be including evening sittings of the Legislature during the spring session to ensure the many bills planned are brought forth, and the taxpaying public gets as much bang for it's buck out of government as possible.

Liberal MLA Bill Fraser claimed in a local paper it was a ruse by the Alward government to slip House business past the public without the media there to report on it.

The President of the Legislative Press Gallery of New Brunswick, Jacques Poitras, weighed in on the matter this morning.

Conservation Council: Forest plan reduces protection of water and wildlife

The provincial government's new public forest management plan further chips away at protection measures for water and wildlife in New Brunswick, to avoid reducing the annual allowable cut of softwood.

"We have said repeatedly that New Brunswickers value the protection of water and wildlife over all else in our forests, but this is not reflected in the new forest plan," said David Coon, Executive Director for CCNB Action.

The new management plan will reduce the area of conservation forest from 30.5% to 28% of the overall forest.This will mean watercourse buffers will be narrowed to their absolute legal minimum of 30 metres, and 100,000 hectares of wildlife habitat (deer wintering areas) will be opened to clearcutting. 

"Minister Northrup's forest plan is far better than the strategy the former government intended to implement this year, which would have severely reduced the area of available wildlife habitat, but there will be a reduction all the same," said David Coon, Executive Director for CCNB Action.  "The status quo is barely acceptable to sustain our wildlife, so any reduction is a step backwards," said Coon.

The annual amount of softwood the industry is permitted to cut from the public forest will be locked-in for the next decade at the same level as it has been for the past 15 years, despite earlier indications by the Department of Natural Resources.that it would have to be reduced.  The annual cut for hardwoods is to be reduced by 21%.

Get to know Ward 6 council candidate Letourneau - releases door to door materials

Fredericton mayoral candidate Matthew Hayes on shale gas - 1:30 mark in video

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A conversation in 4 parts: Matthew Hayes, candidate for Mayor of Fredericton

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Hayes official campaign launch for Mayor on Friday evening in Fredericton

Matthew Hayes, Mayoral Candidate for Fredericton, will officially launch his campaign with an event at the Cedar Tree Café on Friday, March 30. Accompanied by special guests, The Alex Bailey Band, Matthew will outline the main themes of his campaign and introduce his Great Ideas for a Great City platform. The Hayes campaign draws upon the experience, research, energy and diversity of local people engaged in community-oriented work. Mr. Hayes offers responsible and informed leadership for the City of Fredericton.

Matthew is a passionate Frederictonian with a responsible and positive vision for our city. He has a track record of leadership in the public sector and works with grassroots community groups. In the 1990s he worked in Parliament and currently teaches about economics, politics, and how globalization affects local communities. Like many New Brunswickers who have returned to the province, Hayes wants to be part of a community where we want to raise children, where people know and trust their neighbours, and where
healthy lifestyles are part of the very fabric of the city. His Fredericton roots run deep.

Business as usual in Fredericton means municipal leadership has closed down civic engagement. Mayoral candidate, Matthew Hayes will outline his plans for openness and transparency in city government, livable community strategies, solutions to transportation problems, informed environmental policies, and his measures to promote a strong local economy. At this launch you’ll be able to speak with candidate Hayes as well as our experts and local community people who have come together to support Great Ideas for a Great City.

WHEN: Friday, March 30th, 2012, 7 pm. (Remarks by Matthew at 7:45)

WHERE: Cedar Tree Café, 418 Queen Street, Fredericton

For interviews or additional information please contact Brad Cross, (506) 447-1432, brad.cross.mail@gmail.com

*there will be opportunity to photograph Matthew with community supporters, local business, and arts & culture scene.

Liberal Opposition leader Victor Boudreau on tackling shale gas issue in House

Liberal Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau, and several of his colleagues, listened to anti-shale gas protesters on the Legislature lawn during a demonstration in Fredericton today. They heard the concerns of the group and spent several minutes amongst the crowd. The party intends on continuing in its stance for a moratorium on shale gas and wants to see increased support for their position from New Brunswickers to help carry the day. Boudreau and co. plan to hammer the Conservatives on the issue during the spring session of the House.

NBer Gertie Killam to star in play about shale gas

Gertie KillamMrs. Gertie Killem invites you to come and see her shale gas play in Rexton, NB. Opening night is May 3, 2012. The play will run for six nights, May 3, 4, 5 and May 10, 11, 12. Stay tuned for ticket information on her blog http://smalltownplayers.ca/. Follow Gertie on Twitter @mrskillem. You can also find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gertie.killem where she says, "I'm the big boss, cheif cook, cleaner, bottle washer and the list goes on and never ends!! Went to school of hard knox"




Anti-shale gas movement holds first protest this year today in Fredericton

FREDERICTON - An estimated fifty people turned out for the first anti-shale gas protest of 2012 on the grounds of the Legislature in Fredericton today at noon. After about thirty minutes at the House, the group marched downtown to City Hall where it finished up.

Organized in response to statements made by the Alward government on budget day to move forward with shale gas exploration in New Brunswick, the group consisted of core members, plus several new faces. 

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup briefly spoke to protesters after emerging from the Legislature's morning session. However, his presence wasn't appreciated by some.

"I didn't want to talk to him," said Heather Whalen, a strong supporter of the anti-shale gas movement, clearly frustrated by the Alward government continuing with shale gas development despite strong opposition.

Several members of the Opposition Liberals were on the Legislature lawn talking to protesters, including leader Victor Boudreau, (in picture left), former Natural Resources Minister Donald Arsenault, Denis Landry, Roger Melanson, Bertrand LeBlanc, Bill Fraser and Bernard LeBlanc.
It was overheard at the gathering today that Angie Leonard of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group for the shale gas industry in New Brunswick, has been calling some in the Liberal Opposition to influence the party's position on shale gas. However, that has yet to be confirmed.

As the protest wound its way over the downtown sidewalks, several in the public paused to watch and  motorists honked their horns in support. Demonstrators moved along behind a large banner shouting slogans and carrying placards. 

Coming to rest at City Hall, the group continued it's chant of "No shale gas!" but no one from City Hall came out to talk to them or listen to their concerns.

A Fredericton City Police officer, however, seemed sympathetic to the cause and slipped a CD about shale gas into his pocket from a protester.

Many present at the protest and march today wore blue ribbons the movement has come to adopt to symbolize the importance of saving the planet's water from industrial pollution and waste. In the days ahead, the movement will be promoting its campaign.

Reminder - anti-shale gas protest & march today

12 noon today on the grounds of the Legislature, including a march through downtown to City Hall.

Picaroons putting on Easter keg hunt

The PICAROONS' Easter Bunny is nabbing up a few of our painted kegs, and will be hiding them at a few of our favorite drinking spots in Downtown Fredericton between April 5 & 7. Go on a hunt, take a picture of yourself with a painted keg, (w/ a PICAROONS in hand of course) and post it to our FACEBOOK and/or TWITTER pages. Collect shots of all 4 kegs and you could win a Brewery Tour and Tasting for you and 11 of your friends.

(Regarding these painted kegs: Last summer during our Culture Crawls in Downtown Fredericton, we asked two young artists to graffiti 4 of our old bung kegs. Owen Cornish & Stefan Westner created some awesome work that has been displayed at the Brewtique since. So, we want to extend another thanks to Owen & Stefan.)

Strategy will increase field time for DNR staff and reduce operating costs

FREDERICTON (GNB) – Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup today announced details of a two-year plan to increase the operational efficiency by field staff while reducing administrative costs.

"This plan will see the Department of Natural Resources' conservation and resource staff equipped with mobile technology so they can spend more time patrolling our forests and waterways and less time in their offices,'' said Northrup. "A pilot project already completed with conservation staff found equipping their vehicles with mobile work stations resulted in an 18-per-cent increase in the time they spent in the field.''

Installing vehicle-based laptops allowed the participating staff to perform data entry and other work in the field that previously was done from an office. It also allowed them to better navigate through remote areas with the aid of GPS (global positioning system) and electronic maps, and it improved communication links between field staff and department offices.

Under the plan to increase operational efficiency, the department’s 240 conservation and resource staff will be equipped with mobile devices during the next two years. This move will enable the department to close 11 of its 28 offices during this period as staff carry out more of their duties from their vehicles while in the field.

"Mobile technology enables department staff to increase their presence in the forests and reduces the need for a number of district offices,'' said Northrup. "By implementing this strategy, staff will spend more time in the field, and taxpayers will realize significant savings at a time when it is vitally important that we all do our part to help address the province's budget deficit.''

Five of the offices will close during the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins April 1:

●    Coles Island;
●    Nackawic;
●    Petitcodiac;
●    Saint-Léonard; and
●    Sunny Corner.

The exact date and other information will be communicated to the public well in advance of an office closure. It is expected all five offices will be closed on or before Friday, June 29.

The following offices will close during the 2013-14 fiscal year, which will begin April 1, 2013:

●    Bathurst;
●    Blackville;
●    Edmundston (Boucher);
●    Kedgwick;
●    Miramichi;
●    Hampton; and
●    Welsford.

It is expected the Hampton and Welsford offices will be replaced by a single office to be located in the greater Saint John area. The regional offices in Bathurst, Edmundston and Miramichi will remain open.

The district office closures are designed so that there is about one hour's travel time from one department office to the next closest. The closures will affect the number of administrative support staff in the regions.

Northrup noted that a related initiative is underway to move to an electronic system of issuing hunting and fishing licences. This would reduce the need for the public to visit a department office to buy a licence. The target is to have the electronic licensing system in place is 2013.

OWS - March in support of the NDAA Lawsuit, tomorrow 3 pm Foley Square

ows in grand central

On Jan. 3, Occupy Wall Street took over Grand Central Station with a rush hour flash mob to protest the signing of the NDAA

When: Tomorrow, March 29 @ 3pm
Where: Gather at Foley Square, march to Union Square

March 29th marks the beginning of the anti-NDAA class action lawsuit, launched by several groups and individuals, that seeks to stop the unconstitutional provisions which allow the US military to indefinitely detain any suspected "terrorist" from going into effect (sections 1021 and 1022 specifically). This case, if successful, would force the government to remove those unconstitutional elements, and further, to better define its terms, such as "associated forces" and "belligerents", as well as clearly define who is considered a threat to the United States. For more information on the lawsuit go here.

On Thursday the 29th, the first round of plaintiffs, dubbed the Freedom Seven, will testify in front of a federal judge. We must show solidarity, and we must show our discontent with an authoritarian piece of legislation that destroys our civil liberties. JOIN THE PEOPLE AND MARCH FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE FROM FOLEY SQUARE TO UNION SQUARE!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

War of words continues between Mayor and citizen over zoning meeting secrecy

Yesterday a war of words broke out on this blog between Fredericton mayor Brad Woodside, and local citizen Mark D'Arcy.

Originally this publication posted a missive from D'Arcy, saying it had come to his attention a zoning issue scheduled for discussion Monday evening at a Council-in-Committee meeting was closed to the public and press. There was some suspicion that the City had made it so to avoid publicity about a presentation to the committee by local Greta Wells. She planned to request a strawberry u-pick field be declared a green space by the city in perpetuity to avoid development.  

Mayor Woodside then called this publication to correct D'Arcy, saying the meeting was indeed open to the public and press, some of whom were present. A few local candidates vying for a spot on council in May elections were also in attendance.

Now D'Arcy has responded to Woodside, sending the following to this blog for publication:

"I was at a meeting Sunday night with __________ and he showed me an e-mail that confirmed Greta would be speaking to a private Council-in-Committee meeting.  On Monday morning I called one of the persons active in collecting the petition signatures for the Strawberry Field city-owned land, and that person confirmed that only Greta and not the residents would be allowed at the presentation.  Obviously something changed between Monday morning and Monday @ 5pm...just  got an e-mail from a resident in Ward 1. It was one of the councillors who communicated that the Monday meeting would be closed during the presentation.  On Monday, some residents got a last-minute message that the meeting might be open so they decided to attend."

A contentious relationship exists between the mayor and D'Arcy over environmental issues concerning the city, with their most recent dustup occurring last fall when D'Arcy tried to make a presentation to city council on shale gas after trying unsuccessfully to get on the evening's agenda. He was summarily bawled out by Woodside and asked to leave.

D'Arcy is currently making application to be heard on other issues regarding local habitat at council.

NB Common Front for Social Justice says Higgs budget makes life harder for poor

One out of seven New Brunswickers invisible in Minister Higgs’ Budget

MONCTON - "In Minister Blaine Higgs’ budget speech – Rebuilding New Brunswick Together, people living in poverty don’t seem to exist since no consideration is given to their needs. The word poverty is totally absent. The Minister chose to exclude over 100,000 citizens living in poverty as potential builders of this province” says Jean-Claude Basque, Provincial Coordinator of the NB Common Front for Social Justice.

“When we analysed the 2012-2013 Social Development estimated expenditures, not only did we not find additional money to offset inflation but instead, we noted that there will be a decrease of $7.5 million, compared to the amount spent by that Department in 2011-2012. This unreasonable cut is made in spite of the fact that since the economic crisis of 2008, there has been an increase in the yearly average number of NB social welfare recipients. In fact, in 2009-2010, the yearly average number of individuals forced to rely on social assistance was 39,058. In 2011-2012, the number rose to 40,747, an increase of 1,689 claims.” says Basque.

Minister Higgs did not include money to adjust the basic social assistance rates to keep up with the cost of living. Rates have been frozen since October 2008 for the vast majority of the recipients. Throughout Canada, our province has earned the reputation of caring the least for its most needy citizens.

“Our Finance Minister’s budget has completely cut out the $4.7 million dollars allocated last year for the Public Housing Program, money which served to carry out capital renovations and repairs. He has also reduced by $700,000 the provisions for basic health services, including dental services, vision services, and medical equipment and supplies. He reduced by $1 million the money allocated to the Adult Learning Program. His budget does not include additional money for many programs and services that alleviate poverty.”continues Basque.

Low income workers and social assistance recipients are faced with the same rising costs of basic necessities as everyone else. A New Brunswick survey on food prices conducted by the Common Front for Social Justice showed that between 2006 and 2011, the cost of food has gone up by 26.5%. The financial situation of these people is worsened by the increases in electricity, gasoline and furnace oil.

In the Minister of Finance’s budget, no mention is made of two promises included in the 2011 Throne Speech, namely a new vision and dental care program for children from low income families (supposed to be implemented in April 2011) as well as a prescription drug program for uninsured people in the province. Both of these programs were part of the Poverty Reduction Plan.
We noted an increase of close to $1 million for the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation. This money will probably go to cover administrative expenses. It will certainly not put food on the table of people living in poverty.

The NB Common Front for Social Justice has repeatedly said that part of the province’s fiscal problems stem from the 2008 tax reductions implemented by the Liberal government and partly continued by the Conservatives. We had proposed that the province return to the 2009 taxation system, with four income tax brackets, plus a fifth one for those earning $150,000 annually.

“Our proposal, if implemented in the 2012-2013 budget, would have brought in $260 million dollars in new revenue each year, enough to start reducing the deficit and to preserve or enhance social programs.” says Basque.

Minister Higgs has not seen fit to implement this much needed change. Instead, his upcoming budget estimates that revenue from corporate income tax will go down by $2 million.  Moreover, he plans to implement a gradual reduction in provincial residential property tax rate on apartments, on secondary homes and on cottages. Provincial business property taxes are projected to go down. As a result of these decisions, inequality between the poor and the rich will rise.

“Clearly, instead of making it easier for people living in poverty, the 2012-2013 budget is going to make it much harder.” concludes Basque.

MLA Fundy-River Valley Dr. Jim Parrott confident 3T MRI for Saint John

Quiet and nondescript, Conservative MLA for Fundy-River Valley, Dr. Jim Parrott, normally slips in and out of the House quite easily past the media. However, his stance as of late on his region's desire for a 3T MRI scanner at the Saint John Regional Hospital has brought him into the light, pitting him against his other Tory colleagues, specifically, Minister of Health Madeline Dube. 

Dube caused a firestorm of protest from the southern city a few months ago after she ordered Saint John would receive a new 1.5T MRI machine instead of the more advanced 3T MRI it's been requesting for several years. The city and the Minister battled back and forth in the press, especially after the hospital foundation offered to help defray the costs of the machine and was refused. 

Dr. Parrott broke ranks with the government last month and joined with Saint John hospital officials calling for the 3T MRI. This no doubt helped with the ensuing meetings that have been going on quietly behind closed doors between the government and hospital officials. Although the 3T MRI purchase wasn't specifically mentioned in the budget yesterday, with the government spending $1.5 billion on procurement of various goods and services, perhaps it's why Parrott is optimistic in the video above that Saint John will get the 3T MRI machine it wants.

A former heart surgeon, Parrott moved to Saint John in 1990 to start the New Brunswick Heart Centre at the Saint John Regional Hospital. He served as the head of the centre until his retirement in 2007. He was elected to represent Fundy-River Valley in the September 27, 2010 provincial election.

Conservation Council's David Coon reacts to yesterday's provincial budget

Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, David Coon, wasn't impressed with some of the items brought down in the provincial budget yesterday. Specifically, Coon is frustrated with the government's lack of attention to strategic environmental investments. He voices that frustration in the video above.

NB NDP leader Dominic Cardy responds to yesterday's provincial budget


FREDERICTON – New Brunswick New Democrat Leader Dominic Cardy responded to the 2012 budget with concern over the Conservatives’ lack of vision, but praised some of Finance Minister Blaine Higg’s initiatives.

“Our debt-to-GDP ratio keeps going up,” said Cardy. “The government predicts New Brunswick will have the slowest economic growth in the entire country.”

"Minister Higgs has told the people of New Brunswick we need to ‘want less’. What the people of New Brunswick want is a government with a long term vision. They deserve better education, and less money wasted on corporate handouts. Minister Higgs committed $10 million for Invest NB, a government agency that hasn’t created a single job, but only committed $2.5 million for Elementary Literacy programs.”

Cardy expressed concern over the state of front-line services in the province. He said, “Minister Higgs estimates that through attrition the government can cut 4,500 government employee jobs, but he has not been clear on how this will affect the front-line services the people of New Brunswick need.”

“As a constructive opposition, New Democrats give the Conservatives credit for balancing the books, but we have to be clear that the savings and efficiencies estimated in the budget at $226 million are based on hopes, not facts,” said Cardy.

Cardy said, “I am concerned over the absence of a real plan for public-sector pension reform. The New Democrats call on the government to discuss the New Brunswick Union’s proposals on this file,” said Cardy.

Cardy did have praise for Minister Higgs. “I am encouraged about the possible sale of the government plane, increasing the Financial Corporation Capital Tax, and the $6.4 million committed for pay equity, among other positive measures.”

“A New Democrat government would go further. We would eliminate inefficiencies in government bureaucracy, end corporate welfare, and protect front-line services like education and healthcare,” said Cardy.

The People's Alliance Party leader Kris Austin reacts to yesterday's provincial budget

With the Alward government's second budget under its belt, the People's Alliance of New Brunswick has a difficult time picturing how the provincial PC's will balance the books by 2014.

With almost half their mandate over and the net debt continuing to grow higher, it appears almost miraculous the province's finances will turn into a surplus in time for an election year.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin says if the government has a plan in mind to achieve these goals, it's time to share it with the public.

“It seems to me like they're just picking a number out of the air with no substance to back it up,” Austin said.

Overall, Austin said he expected the budget to be stricter than what was tabled by the Finance Minister.

“This government is continuing to add to the provincial net debt and it's not fair to the taxpayers for the PC's to hide behind the formal Liberal government's agreement on the Route 1 Gateway Project as an excuse,” Austin said. “This is exactly why the People's Alliance continues to call for a full audit of the province's books and all P3 agreements.”

In order for New Brunswick to move forward, the People's Alliance believes the government should focus on common sense spending cuts and increasing revenues through raising natural resource revenues and implementing a fairer taxation system.

Some of these issues include a proposal to raise income taxes to 2010 levels for the two highest income brackets and streamlining civil service positions through attrition but with a focus on upper and middle management positions first with a partial re-investment in front line services.

Austin added there is also a need for greater public awareness on the regional amalgamation model the government is looking at.

“What concerns me is where this will lead taxation levels for rural residents, service costs for municipalities and the fact this will be adding another level of government bureaucracy of which some positions won't even be elected and therefore not responsible to the public,” Austin said.

People's Alliance party president Jason Inness said some of the items he sees coming out of today's budget seem to not only be lacking details, but in some cases don't seem to make a lot of sense.

“I like the idea that the government is looking into the sale of the government plane, but it shouldn't be that difficult of a decision,” Inness said. “We can't afford it. So sell it; don't wait for an election year just because it makes the PC party look better.”

Another issue Inness took issue with is increasing the increase to the Financial Corporation Capital Tax.

“Not too many people are going to have sympathy for the banks and insurance companies that this increase will affect, however, any increases to the bottom line for corporations such as these will just be immediately put onto the backs of the consumer, so in essence it's everyday New Brunswickers that will be paying this in the end,” he said.

Looking at the entire budget picture, the People's Alliance believes it's going to get more difficult before the government can return to surplus budgets and what is more important than anything is for the party in power to be upfront in what they're going to take away from New Brunswickers in order to achieve these financial numbers. They shouldn't have to worry for weeks on end to know the details of the government's plans.

NB shale gas action plan update

As stated on this publication yesterday, the province's action plan on shale gas regulations, intended by government to be completed no later than March 2012, has yet to be released. With two working days left in the month, nothing has appeared on the Natural Resources website, the Department of Environment website, nor that of the Premier's where many announcements for all departments are often made.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup gave an update yesterday in the video above, and Natural Gas Group spokesperson, Marc Belliveau, also responded via e-mail, saying the reason for the delay was due to the process taking longer than expected.

A Glenfiddich scotch evening at the Lunar Rogue pub

Anti-shale gas protesters cranking it back up as spring comes on

Tomorrow at noon on the grounds of the Legislature, a shale gas protest will take place to remind the public of the issue after a long winter break. Anyone attending is asked to bring signs, banners and blue ribbons, etc. to help bring notice to the cause. After the Legislature protest, a walk through the downtown core to City Hall is also planned to bring the group's opposition to shale gas into the view of the public.

Unions protest on lawn of Legislature as provincial budget delivered today

FREDERICTON - Hundreds of the province's unionized workers protested on the lawn of the Legislature in Fredericton today while Finance Minister Blaine Higgs brought down the budget inside. Bussed in from around New Brunswick, they wanted to air their concerns about the poor bargaining climate in the province. Many unions are at loggerheads with managements over outstanding contracts. Some of the disputes have dragged on for months. 

The protesters also wanted to make it known to government on budget day they're worried about future cuts to the civil service around the province. Although this latest round of job cuts by government are through attrition over the next few years, that doesn't eliminate the possibility down the road, making it difficult for families to plan for the future.

The raucous union crowd makes noise in front of the Legislature today while Finance Minister Blaine Higgs delivers the budget inside.

Before delivering his budget, Minister Higgs, (centre grey hair in photo right), appeared on the podium with CUPE NB President Danny Legere, shaking hands and exchanging a few words, but making no statement to the crowd. He was accompanied by Transportation Minister Claude Williams and various handlers, while the media swarmed to capture their presence at the protest.

Legere later divulged the details of his exchange with Higgs on the podium, and detailed what protesters hope the demonstration today will accomplish, as seen in the video below:

But according to Higgs later in the day after delivering the budget, he didn't understand why the protesters were rallying. Due to audio issues in the video below, it can't be heard, but towards the end, Higgs states, "I'm not sure what they were protesting about." See for yourself:

Numerous union organizations were represented on the Legislature lawn, ranging from big hitters like CUPE and PSAC, to the smaller provincial Federation of Labour and ATU.  


Some protesters took a break from the demonstration to get warm at the Crowne Plaza hotel across the street from the Legislature. Just inside was Odette Robichaud, president of CUPE local 1840, representing court stenographers around the province. In the video below, she weighed in with her concerns about the upcoming budget and what she hopes the protest will highlight:

The various protesters on hand represented unionized employees around the province who provide government services, including school custodians, bus drivers, teaching assistants, licensed practical nurses, nursing home staff, fire fighters and NB Liquor employees. 




Michel Boudreau, President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour rallied the protesters today at the Legislature. He outlined his frustration with the Alward government's taxation scheme in the video below:

The New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice was also present at the Legislature today, making its feelings known on the issues affecting the province's poor impacted by the budget. The group is pressuring the Alward government to carry out it's poverty reduction strategies outlined in the 2011 budget, helping seniors and others on fixed incomes, as well as providing affordable dental care for children living in poverty.

From providing for people in the days of the bread lines, to feeding them today on the hot dog line, union members and the less fortunate in the public were given a meal today to help get them through the protest, while a biting cold wind whipped across the Legislature lawn. Donations to local food banks were also collected to help the working poor and the unemployed.



And while the unions provided plenty of signage for members to wave during the protest, many had their own  message.

Like the shale gas issue, the elimination of jobs cuts across all linguistic lines in New Brunswick, uniting people rather than dividing communities. Both official languages could be heard around the Legislature today as unionized workers rallied to make the government hear their concerns about the budget, managements bargaining in bad faith and potential job losses in the years to come.

At the end of the day after the budget was tabled, Premier Alward was walking back to his office. He gets the last word on the protest today: