Editor's note: The sale of NB Power has been called off since Premier Shawn Graham's visit to Sackville last week.
A provincial election may be nearing but Premier Shawn Graham said his government will continue to make tough choices for New Brunswick, even if some of those decisions result in lost votes come September.
"This is a party that's never been shy about making changes," Graham said during a visit to Sackville on Saturday afternoon, where he addressed the annual general meeting of the New Brunswick Young Liberals Association.
From education reform to the battle against poverty and the controversial NB Power deal, Graham told the young, up-and-coming Liberals that "we're making these difficult decisions for you people in this room today."
Graham said his government has tackled a number of tough issues since being elected in 2006 and they don't plan to stop now.
"Most governments come in, get comfortable in their role and make a few policy changes here and there," he said.
But Graham said he wanted the Liberals to do much more than that. With a province that was falling behind in education, employment growth and population numbers, Graham said greater steps needed to be taken to steer New Brunswick in the right direction.
"As a party, we knew we needed to tackle these challenges immediately."
Since that time, he said, New Brunswick has seen some major turnarounds. Literacy test results are showing the biggest gains in a decade; the province has seen steady employment growth over the past year-and-a-half, even in the midst of a recession; and the population numbers are no longer declining, he boasted.
Even with a track record such as this, Graham said he isn't prepared to slow down just because an election is approaching.
"We could have coasted in the last year of our mandate . . . but that would have been doing a great disservice to every one of you in this room," he said.
And that brings him back to the proposed NB Power sale, a deal that has prompted a number of protests and petitions from angry New Brunswickers over the past few months.
But the premier insisted in a follow-up interview that the deal is a great opportunity for the province, offering New Brunswick a chance to pay down the utility's debt load while also allowing both New Brunswick and Quebec to maximize their assets for cheaper, cleaner power production.
Graham also pointed out that the deal will provide New Brunswick with the opportunity to lessen its dependence on expensive fossil fuels.
And while he said he understands the passion surrounding this debate, he said there has been a "great amount of misinformation" circulating about the deal, making it even more difficult to let people know about the challenges NB Power is facing if it continues on the same path it has been.
"Change is always difficult to implement," he said. "And it's taken some political courage, there's no doubt about it."
Graham acknowledged, however, that his government should have taken the time to consult with New Brunswickers before making such a monumental decision.
"We could have used a different process in bringing this forward to New Brunswickers," he said.
The Liberals may be sinking in the polls but Graham is confident that his party has more to offer in the upcoming election than the opposition.
"We are a government that has undertaken some very big reforms," he said.
In particular, Graham said he hopes to paint the Tantramar region red come this fall.
With investments in Burnbrae Farms, Cape Jourimain Nature Centre and Murray Beach provincial park, as well as infrastructure funds doled out for Mount Allison University, local highways, educational and health care services, Graham said the Tantramar region has benefited from a Liberal-led government.
"This is a riding we want to win and we have a great track record to win on," he said.