Tag Archives: Brian Gallant

Plotting some common ground for shale gas

Beyond the headland, off to meet the horizon

It is only my uncommon determination to discount the fruits of my fevered and hyperactive imagination that prevents me from earnestly entertaining my latest New Brunswick Economic Development Conspiracy Theory, version 2.0.

But for this mindful discipline, however, my theory might go a little like this:

At some point in the not-too-distant past, Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward sat down with Liberal Opposition Leader Brian Gallant in a dark, windowless room in the basement of one of New Brunswick’s seedier hotels. They had agreed to meet to hatch a plot, the outcome of which, then prayed, would be to their mutual advantage.

Each man knew that the shale gas controversy was not going away any time soon. Too much emotional capital had been spent for either opponents or their opposite numbers in industry to retreat from the front lines of lunacy. Too much empty rhetoric had been spilt for the sake of hearing one’s voice repeated ceaselessly on the nightly newscasts.

Yet, as political leaders, Messrs. Alward and Gallant recognized their respective responsibilities to take firm and preferably opposing positions on the issue.

The problem was that they also recognized, in each other, if not kindred spirits then at least a meeting of minds.

Though Mr. Alward argued publicly that shale gas was New Brunswick’s last, best hope for economic salvation, in his heart he worried about the environmental impact of an industry whose North American track record was, at best, spotty.

Conversely, though Mr. Gallant vigorously called for a moratorium on exploration and development until such time as two new studies shed better light on the subject, in his heart he worried about the province’s long-term economic future without the royalties and taxes a shale gas industry would generate.

The question, they reckoned, was how to have one’s cake and eat it too. Is it possible to satisfy both commercial and community interests without requiring unacceptably high sacrifices?

The related, if more urgent, question was how to take the mickey out of the public debate long enough to peaceably erect an industrial and regulatory apparatus acceptable to all but the most ardent green warriors (certainly all the Tories and Grits from here to the horizon)

And their stratagem?

That’s easy: Bore everyone to death, or at least until most people in the province would rather have their incisors pulled than stand to listen to a) one more meaningless, partisan diatribe about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing; and b) one more corporate shill expounding on the environmentally risk-free bounties from that friendliest of all fossil fuels.

Once the electorate is properly and finally focussed on other, more diverting  affairs like, say, the homophobic Winter Olympics 2014 (and not constantly expected to tender their proudly uniformed opinions, for or against shale gas) then, and only then, can the real, grown-up, bipartisan work of shaping a safe, regulated, productive, job-generating, income-producing, made-in-New Brunswick solution; the envy of the industrialized world.

Yup, it’s a nice theory and it does look good on paper. Too bad it’s bogus.

That constant whining sound emanating from Fredericton’s political class on the subject of shale gas is merely the all-too-familiar politics of disputation for the sake of disputation. No plan; nothing special. It’s politics as usual; that is to say, as usual Premier Alward blasts Mr. Gallant for standing soft on the issue and Mr. Gallant returns the favour by charging Mr. Alward with willful misrepresentation.

In fact, of the two, Mr. Gallant is more consistently correct and thoughtful with his criticism. But, at this point – where we seem to have come to a full stop, crumpled over by the burden of all our words – does it matter?

Where are our deeds? Where is our determination to forge practical alliances that span party and ideological lines to extract and sell our natural resources as safely and sustainably as possible?

While we’re at it, where is our courage to collectively face the essential energy paradox of our times – that we actually need the cleaner-burning fossil fuels to bridge us and our technologies to a greener more renewable future?

In the end, alas, politics upends even our finest conspiracies.

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Toward a living thing in politics

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Across the River Styx, the heroes of the Underworld extend their hands to shake our own as they muse bravely about the future of this perdition that is New Brunswick.

Or, perhaps, “perdition” doesn’t quite capture the esprit de corps in Canada’s lagging indicator of a province. This is, after all, where the unemployment rate moves up or down by mere tenths of a point, and never more, around the 10 per cent mark.

This is the place where the annual rolling deficit assumes a life of its own despite feckless efforts to reign it back below $500 million.

Meanwhile, in this place, where we be, the trail of breadcrumbs leading our wee Hansels and Gretels due west grows ever broader, ever more inviting.

Perhaps, then, New Brunswick is not so much a country for the damned, but rather this nation’s one, true country for old men (and women).

What say you, provincial NDP Leader Dominic Cardy in your official response to the recent Throne Speech of the reigning Tories?

“We have to think of our seniors as an asset, not a burden, and their experience as an economic engine that can strengthen our economy,” he declared in the Telegraph-Journal this past weekend. “Engaging and unleashing the potential of seniors in the education and social services field will have a significant and immediate benefit.”

Well said, oh ye of great faith, if little actual experience governing anything. The same observation, of course, can be made about his opposite number, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, who also has a thing or two to say about New Brunswick’s prospects.

“We have to ensure that we invest on ourselves and that we believe in ourselves,” he opined in Saturday’s T-J. “It is the best way to ensure that New Brunswickers can fill the jobs that are waiting for them and that employers can get the jobs that are waiting to be filled.”

It is entirely probably – even guaranteed – that Premier David Alward will voice similar sentiments – very nearly identical ones, in fact – in the weeks and months ahead. He seeks another mandate on the strength of his stewardship of the provincial economy and, again, on the supposition that things will get better if only we have faith in the future of the province’s commercially viable natural resources.

But where the Tories and their rivals part company is in the respective locations of their priorities. And this is substantially a matter of emphasis.

The Throne Speech is, in tone, an almost technocratic document. It talks about people, but largely in a perfunctory way; as the recipients of sound government planning and policy. Individuals emerge as passive participants in the political process and in their own lives, even though they are, and will continue to be, the subject of extensive “consultations” on just about every file in the legislative docket.

In contrast Messrs. Cardy and Gallant (the latter, in particular) proceed from an almost humanist perspective and fill in the policy agenda as they go.

“Investing in knowledge and in ourselves is by far the best economic investment, but, at the same time, it is the best social equalizer,” Mr. Gallant stipulated in his weekend commentary.”. . .All the people who lobby me talk about education or training, whether it is to start growing our economy, whether it is to help their specific businesses,  whether it is to help our children, whether it is to combat obesity, whether it is to increase our literacy rates, or whether it is to eliminate poverty. . .How are we going to do this? First off, we have to believe that we are capable of doing this.”

Implicit in all of this is the contention that New Brunswick is not “going to do this” by exploiting natural resources, alone.

The solution, he suggests, is nestled somewhere in a much bigger picture, a larger and more inclusive vision of the province’s future – a vision that posits classically liberal notions of intellectual and manual dexterity, rather than the machinery corporate exploitation, at the centre of a durable economy.

Messrs. Gallant and Cardy still linger, like the rest of us, in the Underworld, but their notions are beginning to resonate among voters, who are, in the end, the only arbiters of the future who matter.

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On crime and political punishment

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For the second time in six months, New Brunswickers appear ready to anoint Liberal Leader Brian Gallant with the premiership of the province. Or is “punish” the more appropriate choice of words?

Two consecutive quarters of public opinion polling reveals that the young lawyer, lately of Dieppe, is mopping the floor of the Legislative Assembly with his Tory opposite number David Alward. The most recent Corporate Research Associates survey has the former holding steady with 30 per cent approval ratings, compared with the latter’s rather negligible 19 per cent (which is just a shade above NDP Leader Dominic Cardy’s 15 per cent – a statistically meaningless distinction).

To put this into perspective, 19 per cent is Richard Nixon territory. (In fact, the old reprobate, long gone, managed 22 per cent just before he high-tailed it out of office in 1974). Michael Ignatieff – another notable, though less villainous, loser – pulled a 21 per cent on the eve of his political destruction in 2011.

It’s not entirely clear which factor, above others, accounts for Mr. Alward’s woebegone stature among voters. Is it the wretched state of the province’s finances? Is it the constant bickering with the New Brunswick Medical Society? Is it cutbacks to the public service. Is it his determination to give shale gas exploration a chance to gain a foothold in the region’s watersheds? Or is it, more likely, a pernicious combination of all of the above?

Far more explicable is Mr. Gallant’s popularity. He’s young, articulate, highly educated, passionate, personable, and telegenic. Most important of all, he hasn’t done anything yet. The moment he does, if given the chance a year from now, the tide will turn against him, as it has against the current premier. This is as certain as the ebb and flow of the Bay of Fundy.

The fact that Mr. Alward has made only mild tweaks, minor course corrections, to the province’s development during his time in Fredericton (he hasn’t threatened to sell of the power utility; he hasn’t touched the HST), and yet still earns a degree of opprobrium once reserved for public tax cheats, is telling.

It tells us that voters, en masse, no longer trust the office holder as much as they mistrust the office, itself. In this, they join the wave of contempt now sweeping across North America for all forms of mainstream politics – indeed, for governments deemed no longer to be for the people, by the people, of the people (an American construct, to be sure, but reasonably applicable to Canuckistan).

In such circumstances, people turn inward when they should gazing outward. And any politician who entreats them to observe the better angels of their democratic nature gets slapped down hard.

Still, if this now goes with the territory of elected representation in this province, in this country, there’s little to be gained by embarking on that journey with half measures. Ironically, the sole justification for a Gallant premiership would be found in the degree to which it continues the work of the Alward one – only faster, more deliberately and, frankly, more outrageously.

A province whose population could fit into a suburb of Toronto with room to spare should not post structural annual deficits of $500 million. It should not carry $11 billion in longterm debt. Doing so compromises every social program, every infrastructure project necessary to support economic progress.

How, finally, would Mr. Gallant’s Grits solve this hoariest of New Brunswick’s problems? Would they trim government spending, incrementally, as Mr. Alward’s team have? Would they bring a meat cleaver to the operating table? Or is there an approach that has, thus far, eluded us, but for which equal quantities of courage and ingenuity are urgently required?

As for tactics, would a new Liberal government embrace the politically expedient concept of public consultation as fulsomely as has the existing Progressive Conservative one? Would it be able to make a distinction between productive brainstorming and wasteful gum-flapping and act in the collective, rather than vested or special, interests of the province?

However a future Gallant government comports itself, it will not be popular. But if you’re destined to be punished for something, you might as well do the crime.

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