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How the Beaverbrook gallery dispute shifts votes in Fredericton

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851). The Fountain of Indolence, 1834 oil on canvas 105.7 x 166.4 cm. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery/The Beaverbrook Foundation (in dispute, 2004).Fredericton, NB, Canada.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery/The Beaverbrook Foundation/The Beaverbrook Art Gallery/The Beaverbrook Foundation

The arts haven't been an issue in the federal election, except perhaps in Fredericton, where Conservative incumbent Keith Ashfield is up for re-election. It's also home to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

When the gallery embarked on the first phase of a renovation and expansion campaign, Mr. Ashfield, the Minister of National Revenue, provided assistance from Ottawa in the form of a $3.4-million cheque.

As a result, though, Mr. Ashfield has come under attack from a member of his own party, Bernard Valcourt, a candidate in Madawaska-Restigouche. Expectations are high that Mr. Valcourt, a Mulroney loyalist and former MP will prevail on May 2. If so, some observers think he might strive to be as big a player as Mr. Ashfield.

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A press report last weekend says that at his nomination meeting, Mr. Valcourt complained about "'millions of dollars" being funnelled to art galleries while parts of the province suffer from economic woes.

Mr. Valcourt's stand is echoed by Liberal candidate and Ashfield rival Randy McKeen who claims that "millions and millions" of public money, much of it from the provincial government, has been spent on the Beaverbrook Art Gallery's various disputes. Adding that sum to the $3.4-million in federal funds for the renovation, Mr. McKeen suggested New Brunswick taxpayers have benefited the gallery too much.

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