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New Brunswick political parties focus on tourism, wages on Labour Day

SAINT JOHN, N.B. - New Brunswick's Liberal Party is promising to boost the province's minimum wage in hopes of coming out on top in September's election, while the incumbent Progressive Conservatives are announcing a fund that would attract more tourists to the province.

Money generated through the so-called Tourism Marketing Fund would flow back to community initiatives to help grow the province's $1-billion tourism industry, said Premier David Alward.

"Tourism creates jobs," said the Tory leader in a statement released on Monday. "Today, there are about 30,000 people working in our tourism industry. And when we consider the natural beauty, vibrant cultures, warm hospitality and distinct experiences New Brunswick has to offer, we feel that number should be greater."

Paying tribute to Labour Day, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant committed to increasing the minimum hourly pay in the province to $10.30 by year's end, then to $11 by the close of 2017, if he becomes premier next month.

"We've got to make life more affordable for those willing to put in an honest day's work," said Gallant in a release, adding that nearly eight per cent of New Brunswick's work force, or around 28,000 workers, earn minimum wage — the highest proportionally of any province.

Minimum wage in New Brunswick is currently $10, which is tied with Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories for lowest in the country.

Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador will see a 20- and 25-cent increase beginning Oct. 1, respectively.

Starting in 2018, Gallant said his proposed changes would see the pay rate increase annually alongside inflation.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, NDP Leader Dominic Cardy released plans to introduce first-contract legislation that would require the government to sit down and negotiate with workers wanting to unionize.

Enacting first-contract legislation would bring New Brunswick in line with the majority of other provinces, said Cardy.

"Workers have rights in this province to join a trade union," he said in a news release. "The NDP understands this and that's why we would pass first-contract legislation."

The NDP would also introduce laws to regulate the use of replacement workers during labour disputes.

Meanwhile, the People's Alliance Party says it would eliminate the government's mandatory prescription drug plan in favour of a voluntary alternative.

New Brunswick voters head to the polls on Sept. 22.

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