Monday, April 18, 2011

POLITICS: Algonquin, LNG, Lepreau: Hot topics in N.B. Southwest

Published Monday April 18th, 2011

Debate | Candidates lock horns to win seat formerly held by retiring MP Greg Thompson
The Daily Gleaner

The future of the iconic Algonquin Hotel, liquefied natural gas tankers and cost overruns at the Point Lepreau refurbishment were some of the topics that ignited sparks in a spirited all-candidates debate on Sunday for the federal riding of New Brunswick Southwest.

The Daily Gleaner/James West Photo
Lots to talk about: Above, from left, are the New Brunswick Southwest candidates: Janice Harvey, Green party; John Williamson, Conservative party; Kelly Wilson, Liberal party; Andrew Graham, NDP; and Jason Farris of the Christian Heritage Party.

Five candidates are in the running for the riding, which had been represented for years by Conservative MP Greg Thompson until his retirement from politics last month, when the writ was dropped for the May 2 election.

Conservative candidate John Williamson, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former communications director, appealed to voters "not to change horses in mid-stream," cautioning that the federal Tories still have much to do to secure the nation's economic recovery.

Liberal candidate Kelly Wilson, Green candidate Janice Harvey, NDP candidate Andrew Graham and Christian Heritage candidate Jason Farris urged voters to consider their positions on issues ranging from family values and climate change to the need for a pro-life, Christian point of view in Parliament.

The all-candidates debate held in Fredericton was the third in a series of 10 hosted by the Telegraph-Journal and broadcast by Rogers Television. It will be aired at 9 p.m. on Wednesday on Rogers TV.

A question as to whether Ottawa should help finance the troubled, provincially owned Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews took all of the candidates by surprise.

Williamson said it wouldn't be wise for one level of government to bail out a Crown business owned by another.

"If we go down that path, it would take us back to the 1970s and the days of high taxes and high spending," Williamson said.

Wilson called the hotel "iconic", but warned "there are other companies in dire need" in the riding.

Only Harvey thought there may be a role for Ottawa in the Algonquin, complaining that the federal government has chronically under-invested in heritage in New Brunswick while it has put money in historical institutions in other provinces, including Nova Scotia.

The 122-year-old hotel and golf course is being put up for sale after the Fairmont hotel chain announced it won't renew its management contract at the end of the year. The resort needs between $15 million and $20 million in renovations and repairs, money the province said it can't afford.

There was unanimity from all candidates on the question of whether supertankers carrying liquefied natural gas should be banned from Passamaquoddy Bay - an issue that gained prominence in recent years with several U.S.-based proposals for LNG terminals on the Maine side of the bay.

"It would be too dangerous," Graham said. "And no one in Maine wants it, so why would we?"

Williamson said the LNG concern is another reason voters should support him, pointing out how Thompson was able to make the tanker issue a policy matter for the Harper government.

The federal Tories have said they won't permit tankers to cross the Canadian waters of the bay.

"This is why it's important to elect an MP who can get things done," Williamson said. "Other federal leaders have treated this as a local issue."

But Harvey said the Harper government has failed to pass any regulations that would prohibit the tankers.

"Your party has not put its money where its mouth is," she said to Williamson.

As well, Harvey said the outer Bay of Fundy should be protected from all heavy industrial development, possibly through designation as a marine conservation area.

On the question of whether Ottawa should pick up the tab for cost overruns at the overdue and over-budget Point Lepreau nuclear plant refurbishment, Williamson pointed out that the federal government already is spending a great deal of money supporting Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and the extra costs it has incurred at the Lepreau re-tooling.

He said AECL is a poorly run corporation.

"AECL should be held more accountable for cost overruns," he said. "A reckoning is overdue."

Wilson said it's not right that AECL is refusing to be fully accountable for its delays after using the New Brunswick plant as a training ground for refurbishments in other countries.

"New Brunswickers should not be on the hook for the cost overruns," she said.

Both Harvey and Graham said it's time to pull the plug on Lepreau and begin the decommissioning process.

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