FREDERICTON – In a young New Brunswick election campaign already dominated by health care, a certain aspect of the issue emerges early in the race: providing care to the aging population of the province.
The Liberal Party announced Saturday that it will build three new nursing homes and add 86 memory zones if re-elected, as part of a five-year program to add 1,000 beds and renovate more than $ 100 million in existing nursing homes throughout province.
"These investments … provide seniors with a better quality of life and give their families peace of mind. These projects will also create jobs in construction," said Liberal Leader Brian Gallant in a release.
He said the new beds and houses would be spread over the areas of Saint John, King's County and Charlotte County, as well as the southeast, the Fredericton River Valley and the larger Miramichi areas.
Tory leader Blaine Higgs used a slightly different approach to care for the elderly, saying on Friday that a progressive conservative government would talk with seniors about how they want to live and provide support so that they can stay in their own homes longer.
Higgs also said that he would protect seniors' possessions and pay carers a fair wage, although he did not offer specific information, and criticized the other liberals.
"He just throws things away without really explaining what his plans are," said Lisa Harris, the Liberals Minister of Elderly and Long-Term Care, in a telephone interview on Saturday.
Harris said there are already systems to keep the seniors in New Brunswick in their home for as long as possible, but she said that is not always an option and that the province needs more nursing beds.
She said that Higgs' plan is to reduce investment in education, close hospitals and stop the planned investments of liberals in nursing homes.
"They seem to have problems with these investments in nursing homes, they do not think we should build them," she said.
But a Progressive Conservative candidate worries about her words and says that just because Higgs is less interested in a bricks-and-mortar approach, this does not mean that he is planning to abolish elderly care in the province.
"Very blunt, they lie, and I think they should stop if we start a fair campaign based on ideas and competitive visions for the future of the province," said Dominic Cardy, candidate for Fredericton West-Hanwell.
"If they say that Blaine Higgs says he is going to reduce investment in education and hospital closures, that is simply not true."
He said the Liberals' promise on Saturday recycled a recycled announcement in February when the government first announced its five-year plan.
Also on Saturday, Gallant, along with Green Party Leader David Coon and NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, attended several Pride events in Moncton.
The Democrat's new spokeswoman, Marie-Philippe Gagnon Gauthier, said it is important to support the LGBTQ community, especially as the party has two transgender candidates: Scarlett Tays, rival Fredericton North and Olivier Hebert, on their way to Fredericton West -Hanwell.
"We are very happy to have them in the team and represent the diversity of New Brunswick," said Gagnon Gauthier.
Higgs could not attend Pride events because he was at a funeral, and New Brunswick Alliance, leader Kris Austin, said he was too busy to go because he was getting ready for his campaign, which officially kicked off Saturday night.
In a short telephone interview, Austin said his campaign would have a strong focus on the economy and taxation of the province.
"We want a more reasonable and balanced approach to taxes, and that should be linked to government services that reflect the taxes we pay," he said.
"What happens in New Brunswick is that we have a high amount of taxes, but our government services regularly decline."
He said his campaign will also focus on language neighborliness and more overlap between the French and English speaking inhabitants of the province.
Voters in New Brunswick go to the polls on 24 September.
By Alex Cooke in Halifax