BY KARISSA DONKIN
SAINT JOHN – A New Democratic government would give more power to municipalities and only involve the province in pursuits that would be in the public interest, Dominic Cardy told Saint John’s business leaders on Thursday.
Speaking to about 50 people at a Board of Trade luncheon, the provincial NDP leader promised to cut seven government departments, including the Department of Economic Development, as part of a plan to save $213 million. The responsibility of developing economic development strategies would fall to municipalities.
“I believe that Mayor (Mel) Norton and Saint John’s Common Council are best placed to make those decisions for the Port City, much better placed than the rather poorly named minister of local government sitting in his office in Fredericton.”
To avoid the political temptation of creating new departments when a party needs a boost in the polls, the NDP would propose a law requiring unanimous approval from the legislature to add a new ministry.
Cardy would also push government away from propping up businesses, arguing the province has a bad track record of identifying the next big thing.
“From the Bricklin to Atcon, the history of our government in picking winners and losers has been dismal,” Cardy said.
Instead, he proposed scrapping the small business tax to make it easier for entrepreneurs, handing over unused government office to startups and creating a universal new jobs tax credit.
The latter would be a fully refundable credit available to businesses of any size, with the goal of getting politicians out of the business of the private sector.
During his speech, Cardy outlined his party’s platform for September’s provincial election. It’s based around two questions: What should government be doing, and what should it stay away from?
“Our answer is going to based on a simple principle, that if it’s in the public interest, it will be done.”
The Saint John Board of Trade has publicly endorsed continued shale gas exploration and the development of a west-east pipeline.
While the NDP supports the pipeline, and Cardy emphasized his support for the project again Thursday, it differs from the board on its stance on shale gas.
Cardy said he doesn’t support shale gas exploration because he doesn’t have faith in the province’s ability to regulate it.
“My concern is that, regardless of the price, New Brunswick has a serious problem with enforcing the rules. Not just around shale gas but with any activity,” he said.
The NDP leader also spent time convincing business minds that his party has been overhauled since he took the reins, starting by paying down its debt and posting financial details online.
“If I can turn the New Brunswick NDP around and make it a viable option as a governing party, then fixing New Brunswick should be no problem at all.”
He admitted some people in his party have criticized him for pushing the party further to the centre to get elected, and abandoning its progressive roots in the process.
But there’s nothing progressive about losing, he told the crowd.
“There’s nothing progressive about good policies staying on the shelf of a dusty office because New Democrats did not have the courage to test our ideas against the sharp edge of reality,” he said.
“I say to them, and to everyone in New Brunswick, that the most progressive thing to do is to govern and govern well.”