FREDERICTON - Premier David Alward will unveil his first speech from the throne today, but observers say the test of his new government will come in the legislation brought forward in the coming months. Since being elected, the Progressive Conservatives have initiated a plethora of reviews and commissions on high-profile issues, the results of which won't be determined for months.
But today's throne speech will also outline plans for more immediate laws New Brunswickers can expect to see introduced when the government gets down to business. For example, the Tories have indicated they will seek to create a provincial lobbyist registry, a permanent referendum act and allow free votes on amendments to government bills. The promises were part of their platform, in the section addressing government accountability and citizen engagement.
Donald Wright, a political science professor at University of New Brunswick, says all new governments try to address such issues of transparency in their first throne speech.
However, the laws themselves will have to have teeth if they are to be meaningful.
"I think there's a sense out there that politics is a corrupt game and anything politicians can do to change their self-image would be a good move," he says.
While many have their merits in principle, Wright says the specifics of the laws will need to become clear to judge how effective they might be. The Tory platform states referendum legislation would "give citizens and governments the tools they need to address fundamental democratic issues."
But Wright is skeptical of the value of referendums in decision making.
"I don't think this is a solution to the democratic deficit," he says.
"If the government crafts good public policy through the long and laborious process of consulting stakeholders, then it won't need referenda."
He says they tend to oversimplify complex issues into yes-or-no questions, creating division and misinformation in the process.
Bill Fraser, the Opposition house leader, says the bill must have substance, otherwise it will be nothing more than a public relations exercise from the government.
"How is it going to work?" he asks, raising questions about what would require a referendum, how the campaigns would be financed and what level of support would be needed for success.
The Alward government has also promised to ban the use of handheld devices, including cellphones, while driving.
New Brunswick is one of two remaining Canadian provinces yet to ban the use of handheld phones behind the wheel.
Fraser says his party supports cellphone legislation, but wants to see the specifics of the Tory bill.
"Before we can fully support it, we need to get into it and there's probably going to be questions that are going to be needed to be asked," he says.
"It needs to be broader than just a cellphone ban. It's called driver distraction and there's many things that can distract a driver."
The previous Liberal government was often criticized for being slow to produce similar legislation, citing concerns over its enforceability and comprehensiveness.
In January, the government promised to pursue cellphone legislation, but said it would take until after the election to draft such a bill.
Former premier Shawn Graham also championed a regional lobbyist registry, but that idea never got off the ground either. Fraser, the MLA for Miramichi-Bay du Vin, doesn't think it would be a victory if Alward is able to pass into laws measures that the previous government never got around to.
"It's good legislation and it's something that's needed. I don't think at this point it matters how it gets there, as long as it gets there," he says, predicting a more cordial tone to this legislative session.
"The people of New Brunswick want to have a respectful legislative assembly with people respecting one another."