FREDERICTON — New Brunswick political party leaders fanned out across the province Saturday, as they made their pitches to voters during the first weekend of the provincial election campaign.
Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers opened his campaign headquarters Saturday morning in Miramichi, in the northeast, while Tory Leader Blaine Higgs was in St. Andrews, a coastal community in the southwestern corner of the province, near the U.S. border.
Earlier this week, Vickers promised that if elected he would spend millions of dollars more on agriculture, fisheries and tourism. Higgs pledged little new money, telling voters he would stick to projects outlined in his government’s March budget.
In a statement Saturday, Higgs promised that a re-elected Progressive Conservative government would extend until the end of March 2021 a rebate for New Brunswick residents who vacation in the province.
The 20 per cent rebate, Higgs said, aims to help support New Brunswick’s tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It can be used to pay for accommodation, food and drinks, entry to museums and other attractions, as well as car rentals or other transportation costs.
“Earlier this summer, our government introduced an incentive that has encouraged ‘staycations.’ It’s part of our economic recovery plan to help local businesses get back on their feet, and we know it’s working,” Higgs said in the statement.
Vickers has accused Higgs of slashing the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture’s budget by 40 per cent and leaving operators without help to survive the pandemic.
In an interview Saturday he welcomed Higgs’ plan to extend the tourism rebate, but called it “far too little, far too late.”
“I am committed to restoring that funding to tourism. This is a tremendous opportunity for our province and our economic development plan,” he said, adding that the Liberals would take a fiscally responsible approach to government spending.
Meanwhile, People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin was in Fredericton Saturday.
In a statement, his party called for more services to respond to mental health crises, which Austin said had increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as additional training for social workers.
“There was a long wait time for mental health services prior to the pandemic. The problem has been exacerbated because of COVID-19 and the effect it’s had on people’s lives,” he said.
Green Party leader David Coon was also in Fredericton Saturday, where he toured the North Side Creators Market and Hayes Farm with the party’s Fredericton North candidate, Luke Randall.
“I’m encouraged so many young people are keen to learn more about agriculture and build stronger connections with food. It’s crucial these skills are passed down to our next generation,” Coon tweeted about the visit to the farm.
The Liberal, Tory and Green leaders have said they expect to field candidates in all 49 ridings.
On Friday, the People’s Alliance had 21 nominated candidates but said they hoped to have at least 30 in place by the Aug. 28 nomination deadline.
Vickers said Saturday that the Liberals had chosen 47 candidates so far, and the party intends to fill the remaining two slots before the deadline.
The New Democrats wouldn’t say how many candidates they plan on fielding ahead of the Sept. 14 vote.