They may know next to nothing about forging policies that actually inspire confidence in the public peanut gallery. But when it comes to mud-slinging and spin-balling, our elected leaders are bonafide artistes, each deserving a standing ovation.
So it was on Wednesday, which marked the end of the current legislative season in New Brunswick. There in Freddy Beach, dutifully providing rounds of enthusiastic applause to themselves, were Tory Premier David Alward and Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, bending all kinds of truth to score political points.
Thundered the latter: “This government was quite busy breaking its promises. They made three key promises to be elected in the last election in 2010. They promised they’d balance the books, without cutting services and without increasing taxes. It’s obvious these three promises were broken. I’m asking the premier to explain to New Brunswickers how they are supposed to believe anything in their platform when they broke the three key promises in order to be elected in 2010.”
Rejoined the premier: “We would have thought with a least the recent policy convention we would have had some clear signs with where the Liberal party stood, but all we have is no vision at all. . .The future of New Brunswick is at stake. There hasn’t been a time in many years where the stark realities, the differences between parties, will be made more clear in the coming months. We know our young people want to have the opportunity to stay here in New Brunswick instead of having no choice but to go elsewhere.”
As for the not-quite-hidden agenda behind the political theatre this week, Mr. Alward confirmed, to the edification of exactly no one, that “elections matter. . .The reality is that this election more than any in the past will make the difference in the future of the province. We have a plan and we are dead-focused on that plan, moving forward with shale gas development, moving forward with mining, our forestry renewal and moving forward with a pipeline.”
But if elections matter, these days they seem to matter matter less to the “future of the province” than they do to the make and model of the rowboat we choose to run aground on some shoal along the not far-off horizon.
Moncton academic Richard Saillant sounds the alarm in his excellent new book, “Over the Cliff?”, regarding the province’s looming and interrelated fiscal, economic and demographic crises: “For several decades, New Brunswick’s economy has surfed on a rising tide of labour force growth, fuelled by the baby boom generation and the steady, largely successful march of women towards equal participation in the workforce. The tide is now receding, dragging down the economy. A new Age of Diminished Expectations is upon us.”
That’s not much of a campaign platform, but it does suggest one for either Mr. Alward or Mr. Gallant, should they actually put their rhetorical cannons away and level with the electorate for a change.
The requisite soliloquy might go a little like this:
“My fellow New Brunswickers, I come not to praise my record, but to bury it. “Clearly, we need to hit the reset button in this province. All of us, Conservatives and Liberals alike, have made costly mistakes.
“We let the size of our public service balloon out of all proportion to its utility. We’ve wasted countless millions of dollars on failed economic development initiatives and corporate welfare. We’ve put too many of our eggs in one basket. We haven’t stuck to our knitting. And, if you will permit me one last cliche, I will make you one, and only one, promise going forward: No more promises!
“Now is not the time for verbal jousting, but for non-partisan collaboration across party lines. Now is the time for dismantling ‘politics as usual‘ and for working together towards hard, but commonsensical, fixes for our problems.
“We must finally recognize that no one – not the federal government, not the money-market lords of Manhattan, not the foreign conglomerates of the world – is coming to our rescue. It’s all on us.
“It’s time we stop huffing and puffing at each other and get on with it.”
Ah, yes, some theatre – though it be pure fiction– can be marvelously inspiring. One might even say, worthy of ovation.