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Border town business breathing sigh of relief

AMHERST – Elizabeth Smith McCrossin feels Cumberland County has dodged a bullet with New Brunswick’s decision not to toll its highways, at least not yet.

Business and political leaders are breathing a sigh of relief after the New Brunswick government opted against implementing highway tolls as part of its budget.

The owner of Manasseh Market and Damaris Spa and Wellness Centre in downtown Amherst says many businesspeople are breathing a sigh of relief they won’t see tolls at both ends of Cumberland County. She hopes the decision leads to more co-operation between the two provinces.

“It’s good news there won’t be tolls at the border, I think it would have been disastrous for us,” Smith-McCrossin said. “It is unfortunate that the government there chose to further tax the people of New Brunswick with an increase in the HST. They are also seeing an increase in corporate tax.

“The solution for balancing the government’s books cannot always be increasing taxes. People are paying enough.”

While it floated the possibility of implementing highway tolls, New Brunswick chose instead to increase the HST by two per cent when it brought its provincial budget down Tuesday afternoon.

The province was looking at three models for highway tolls – one of which was at the four-lane highway entrances to New Brunswick, including at Aulac.

Smith-McCrossin sees New Brunswick’s decision as an opening for the three Maritime provinces to work together to promote business growth.

“A strong economy will generate a healthy tax base and we can afford the social programs we have come to expect as Canadians,” Smith-McCrossin said.

PC leader and Cumberland South MLA Jamie Baillie said he’s relieved, but stressed the fight isn’t over.

“What we’ve learned is our premier won’t stick up for us when these things come up and that impression is going to take a long time to go away,” Baillie said. “We know the New Brunswick government is going to continue considering it so it’s important that we continue our vigilance.”

Baillie said the Maritime provinces need to work together to find ways to lower the cost of living. Instead of tolls and higher taxes, Baillie said the three premiers should begin a dialog that would lower cost for business.

Cumberland North Liberal MLA Terry Farrell, who took heat from Baillie for not being more outspoken against the toll, said he had frequent talks with his New Brunswick counterpart, Tantramar-Memramcook MLA Bernard LeBlanc. He’d like to think those conversations helped.

“I was happy how the community came together, but I was also happy to see how we talked to people across the border and reinforced the common interests between both of us,” Farrell said. “We rely on each other quite a bit and I’d like to think that’s something that helped our case.”

Amherst and Sackville representatives were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to discussion their joint opposition to the highway toll. While the meeting has been cancelled, Mayor Robert Small hopes it leads to closer ties between the two communities.

Small was concerned with how a toll would have impacted Amherst, adding some companies suggested to him that they could lose up to 30 per cent of their business.

He was also concerned with how the area would be squeezed considering the Cobequid Pass has existed since 1997 between Thomson Station in Cumberland County and Masstown in Colchester.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

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