The New Brunswick election is 11 months out, and I’m calling the odds.
David Alward’s pseudo-Tory juggernaut – that un-merry band of hometown heroes who thrashed the brash Shawn Graham and his ineffectual Liberals in convincing fashion three years ago – is dead on arrival.
Other metaphors spring to mind.
There’s “toast” and “belly-up.” There’s “froggies on a slow boil.” There’s knocked and knackered and out cold.
But however you term the imminent future of New Brunswick’s sitting government, the conclusion that it has become as useful to this province as a pocket is on the back of a shirt is impossible to escape.
Still, somehow, the shirt continues to fit in the minds of those who craft things like Throne Speeches, the most recent of which – delivered Tuesday – leaves no issue unmentioned, though few merit much more than passing references.
As for the forestry, in the upcoming year, our government promises to implement “a strategy to ensure New Brunswick has a competitive industry for generations to come” – whatever that means.
Meanwhile, “on the innovation front. . .in the coming year” our government’s focus on research and innovation will start “bearing fruit” as “other policies and initiatives are being designed to bolster our knowledge economy and create new, sustainable jobs.” The specifics, apparently, are temporarily unavailable.
There’s neat stuff on culture. “By establishing a Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist, your government will work towards recognizing and supporting the profession of artists in our province.”
There’s a cool measure to protect personal pocketbooks. “Your government plans to introduce amendments to unproclaimed legislation aimed at regulating payday loans to create an effective regulatory regime.”
Where the Alward government appears unequivocal, clear-eyed and firm is on the subject of natural gas – shale gas, in particular. In fact, the “responsible” exploitation of all the province’s commercially viable natural resources has become the Tories’ single loudest rallying cry leading to the next election.
“As you may recall, your government has done a great deal of work towards making sure that our natural resources – and, in particular, our natural gas potential – are identified to determine whether there is potential for economic benefits in the future,” the Throne Speech notes. “Economic benefits that could be derived from our natural resources are what will allow government to help fund and improve education, health care and many other services in the years ahead.
“Backed by the strongest rules for industry, introduced in February, as well as an action-oriented Oil and Natural Gas Blueprint for New Brunswick, introduced in May, your government will continue on the course of responsible exploration and development.
“A key aspect of managing oil and natural gas development is ensuring that the province secures a fair return to New Brunswickers for our resources. Your government recently announced a new natural gas royalty regime that ensures a fair return to New Brunswickers while encouraging investment in this sector.”
To many in the Progressive Conservative camp (and outside of it), this is the economically right thing to do. And Premier Alward and his team deserve praise for sticking to their principles regarding shale gas. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that has not posted job gains in the past year; its $500-million annual deficit is beginning to resemble a permanent feature of the landscape.
But common sense rarely wins elections. Voters in this province are in no mood to award power to anyone. They’re far more apt to deny an incumbent his mandate, especially if that mandate depends on the most incendiary issue to come along in this province for many years.
Shale gas is not about royalty regimes, deficit reduction, and funding increases to social programs. In New Brunswick, it’s about symbols of justice, law and morality. It’s about defending the little guy against the big, bad, rapacious corporate elite. It’s about taking a stand in the absence of a trustworthy, faithful government.
In other words, a lot of it is pure nonsense.
Still, no party – Tory, Grit or otherwise – can win against those odds.