RIVERVIEW, N.B. — New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative Leader dropped a bombshell during the first televised leaders debate of the provincial election campaign, claiming Liberal Premier Brian Gallant offered to hire him as finance minister after the Liberals won the 2014 election.
For much of the debate, Gallant and Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs clashed over each other’s records, largely ignoring the other three leaders on the stage. Higgs then pulled a piece of paper from his pocket.
“Brian Gallant rails on about my time as finance minister,” Higgs said. “I find it very ironic that Brian Gallant offered me a position as minister of finance or as deputy minister, and I have a sworn affidavit that says this.”
Gallant laughed, but Higgs persisted, saying he chose not to take the job because he felt the Liberal the government was “irresponsible.”
The young Liberal premier quickly denied any job offer was made.
“Blaine Higgs was not invited to be the finance minister of our government,” Gallant said. “We have no interest in you being the finance minister of this government.”
“You’ll swear an oath on that?” Higgs replied.
“I will swear an oath on that, absolutely,” Gallant said.
An affidavit, later produced by Higgs, states that Gallant made the offer in a series of text messages exchanged after the election in October 2014.
It was easily the most surprising part of the 90-minute debate, but there were more sparks when the leaders sparred over language, climate change and the economy.
Members of the public and party staff were barred from attending the debate inside the Riverview Arts Centre, but that didn’t help with the decorum.
Despite tight controls, it was often a free-for-all, with the leaders talking over each other in an effort to get their points across.
On language, People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he’d get rid of language duality in the health and education systems and use the savings to improve service.
“It’s only when governments implement ridiculous policies that causes the tensions among us,” he said. “That’s why we are committed to ending duality. With a $14-billion debt … we would do well to afford one system. Let alone two. These parties will not talk about it … but we cannot take a politically correct, sanitized approach.”
But NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie said duality needs to be embraced.
“To open the language debate at this time is counterproductive,” she said. “We need to unite the province, not divide the province.”
Gallant said his party’s platform includes providing free second-language training for adults in Canada’s only officially bilingual province.
Higgs said it’s unfortunate that language is still a source of debate in New Brunswick. He said poor second-language scores in the schools is the result of politicians constantly changing the curriculum.
Green Leader David Coon said both the Liberals and Tories have divided people.
“We can’t play favourites,” he said.
On the issue of climate change, the federal carbon tax became the target, with Higgs saying the Tories would fight it in court. He said large emitters need tougher regulations.
“New taxes aren’t going to fix it,” Higgs said.
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