FREDERICTON – New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant used his annual state-of-the-province speech Thursday to promote education and skills training as the way to address his province’s flagging economy, but opposition leaders said he didn’t offer any immediate hope to people struggling or unemployed.
“It was very underwhelming,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch.
Gallant repeatedly said that in order to address the new economy, the province must invest more in education and training.
“We want to prepare the New Brunswick workforce today for the workforce of tomorrow. Education and training is the best way to do that.”
Gallant used the speech to a business audience in Fredericton, and broadcast across the province, to announce an “education and new economy fund.”
“This is something that is going to allow us to invest record amounts into our education system, into post-secondary education, into skills upgrading, into innovation and into research and development,” he said.
“It is going to allow us to invest in research and development and help individuals like the single mom who wants to further her education and ensure that her kid has adequate day care while getting the best chance in school,” Gallant said.
Exact details of the fund will have to wait for Tuesday’s budget and announcements over the coming weeks.
New Brunswick is facing an aging population, an exodus of young people leaving the province to find work, the loss of 430 jobs with the closure of the potash mine near Sussex and a debt close to $12.5 billion.
Fitch said the new fund does nothing to address those issues.
“You talk about borrowed money in a fund to solve all the problems of the world? Well people need to make mortgage payments this month, they need to have jobs this month, and I think that’s what people were looking for,” Fitch said.
As far as the economy in the short-term, Gallant said the government is supporting the responsible development of natural resources including the proposed Energy East pipeline.
“We need a balanced approach. We need a diversified one as well,” he said.
The government is considering tough measures such as an increase in the HST, raising corporate taxes, and implementing highway tolls for its budget Tuesday as a way to get the government’s finances in check.
“I can tell you that you are going to see within the first two budgets a 50/50 split between expenditure reductions and adding additional revenues,” Gallant told the crowd.
Green Party Leader David Coon said he’s concerned there will also be significant cuts to the civil service.
“We can’t afford any more job losses in New Brunswick,” he said.