Grit hopeful calls for reinstatement of tolls (January 22, 2002)

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GRAND FALLS, N.B. — No one will ever say Jack MacDougall’s campaign to be the next Liberal leader in the province of New Brunswick wasn’t controversial.

Shortly after he officially joined the race to replace former premier Camille Theriault, MacDougall suggested most residents want the Fredericton-to-Moncton Highway to again be a tolled route as originally planned.

MacDougall, a longtime Liberal organizer, says if elected Premier, he’ll push for a provincial referendum to put the tolls back on the highway. Even though he realizes it may not be popular with some New Brunswickers, he believes taking the tolls off the highway was a bad decision and the majority of citizens want them back on.

“It affects my dignity as a New Brunswicker. It affects my dignity as I go to P.E.I. and I pay and I’m glad to pay. I go to Nova Scotia, they got a little basket to put a few bucks, I pay, I’m delighted to drive on the highway. I go to Newfoundland and I get on a boat or the airplane and I pay,” says MacDougall. “And here is the biggest capital project of them all, the biggest one, and we’re saying it’s free.”

The controversial toll highway exploded on the Liberals in the last election, and the Bernard Lord Progressive Conservatives swept to power in a landslide, with the toll removal a key plank in their New Vision-New Brunswick platform. Just more than 200 days after elected, Lord announced the tolls were being removed.

MacDougall said he doesn’t fault Lord for taking them off, he kept his promise to the electorate. But the leadership candidate says New Brunswickers wanted change so badly, he didn’t have to make the claim and would have still been elected.

The two other Liberal leadership candidates are backing away from MacDougall’s idea.

Transportation Minister Percy Mockler insists the toll decision is over but he’d welcome to debate the topic again, considering the favorable results the last time.

“If he eventually ends up being the leader of a fragmented party, there’s no doubt in my mind we will be in a position to discuss his vision or his proposal to the province of New Brunswick,” adds Mockler. “I know he doesn’t have a vision, however, I can tell you the people of New Brunswick did make a choice in 1999, and they have embraced our vision and our platform.”

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