FREDERICTON — A Liberal candidate vying for a seat in New Brunswick's upcoming election is ringing alarm bells about the Progressive Conservative leader's ties to Jason Kenney — concerns Blaine Higgs is brushing off as overblown.
Liberal candidate Brent Mazerolle said he wants to know if Higgs supports some of the views expressed by the leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party, who has drawn criticism in the past for some of his socially conservative beliefs.
"We're 29 days out (from the election) and we still, as New Brunswickers, aren't sure where Mr. Higgs stands on a lot of issues," said Mazerolle.
Kenney was to join Higgs at a fundraiser Sunday evening and a campaign announcement Monday morning.
Kenney drew criticism last year for saying he would like to have parents notified if their child joined a gay-straight alliance at school, in cases where joining could put the child in harm's way.
But after party members voted at their founding policy convention in May to essentially out students who join so-called GSAs, Kenney said he wouldn't implement the policy if his party forms government.
Mazerolle, a former schoolteacher, said Kenney's original stance stuck with him. The Liberal candidate for Riverview said LGBTQ youth need to have a safe place outside their homes if their parents don't accept them.
"Potentially outing schoolchildren in their one safe place in their life, that's not a gay issue, that's a safety issue," he said.
"Kids who are struggling with these issues, they're in serious danger a lot of the time in certain communities."
Mazerolle also said he doesn't know where Higgs stands on the issue of abortion, which Kenney is against, although he's said he won't legislate on the issue.
In a phone interview, Higgs chalked his meetings with Kenney up to a matter of business and said the Liberals are "trying to make issues where none exists."
He said he believes it's important to liaise with other political leaders in the country, especially during an election.
"I respect everyone's views, and their own personal beliefs, and I think that's what makes our province and our country strong," said Higgs.
"It isn't for me to get in the middle of those personal discussions, and that isn't the discussion I'm going to have with Jason Kenney. We're going to be talking about issues that affect our country."
Higgs accused the Liberal government of playing politics and said there are bigger issues at play in New Brunswick, including the economy and how the province should address carbon pricing.
"Regardless of one's political views, there's a lot of centric issues here," said Higgs.
Thomas Bateman, a political science professor at Fredericton's St. Thomas University, said the Liberals' criticism of the Tory leader's ties with Kenney could be an attempt to pull centrist voters to their side.
Bateman said he believes the New Brunswick Tories could have Kenney on the election trail to support Higgs's stance on hydraulic fracturing. In the past Higgs has said he would be willing to revisit the province's moratorium on fracking in some regions.
Kenney "undoubtedly would tout the benefits of natural resource exploitation for New Brunswick, because it's worked so very well in Alberta," said Bateman.
"I can't say this for sure, but I suspect the conservatives might want to emphasize the need for natural gas development in the province — which would require fracking — and Mr. Kenney might be witness number one to suggest it is environmentally manageable and economically very promising."
Health care and senior care remain as top issues this election season. Liberal leader Brian Gallant announced Sunday that a re-elected party would recruit more staff and increase hours of care in nursing homes, just a day after he pledged to build three new nursing homes and add 86 memory-care beds throughout the province.
Higgs, meanwhile, took a less bricks-and-mortar approach to senior care, saying a Progressive Conservative government would consult with seniors about how they want to live and provide supports so they can remain in their own homes longer.
The Green party, led by David Coon, will launch its campaign platform Monday morning.
— By Alex Cooke in Halifax
The Canadian Press