If one recent opinion survey is any indication, New Brunswickers believe there’s a big difference between the party-sanctioned storybook of Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward and that of his youthful rival Liberal Leader Brian Gallant.
In fact, if the election were held today, the chances are excellent that the latter would sweep into power with a landslide for his roster of candidates.
Corporate Research Associates of Halifax reports that more than one-half of decided voters in the province support the Liberals (53 per cent), while less than three in ten (28 per cent) back the Tories, who well on their way to completing their first and only term of office.
“Presently, one-third of New Brunswick residents are either completely or mostly satisfied with the provincial government (35 per cent, compared with 33 per cent three months ago), while over one-half (54 per cent, compared with 56 per cent) are dissatisfied,” the pollster reports. “Meanwhile, 11 per cent do not offer an opinion (compared with 10 per cent).”
Also telling are the leaders’ respective personal popularity ratings among prospective voters. “David Alward’s. . .is stable this quarter, with two in ten New Brunswick residents preferring (him) for Premier (20 per cent, compared with 22 per cent in February),” CRA says. “Brian Gallant of the Liberal Party is preferred by one-third of residents (35 per cent, compared with 31 per cent).”
If nothing else, this suggests that New Brunswickers share feelings about the leaders, themselves, that are anywhere from dim to luke-warm, but are markedly more animated when it comes to the official platforms of the parties. And, in this regard, the public is going Grit, at least for now.
But how different are PC priorities from Liberal ones in this province?
The fiscal eco-system is the same wherever you go, regardless of the team jersey you happen to be wearing. The long-term debt is $11 billion and climbing for Grits and Tories, alike (and, as we’re standing up to be counted, for NDPers and Greens). The annual deficit of $500 million doesn’t yield to anyone – not even to those who wear their ideologies on their sleeves.
All this virtually guarantees that if and when Mr. Gallant assumes the reigns from Mr. Alward this fall, he will face the same bruising problems that have coloured life and politics in this province over the past four years. In this instance, Grit and Tory messages will, by necessity, begin to sound eerily similar.
In fact, in many respects, they do already.
When Premier Alward delivered his 2014 State of the Province address in January, he identified natural resources, innovation and job creation as “key components of the province’s plan for the future. . .It is time to bring our greatest resource, our people, home to work. We have a clear plan to create jobs by growing a domestic oil and natural gas industry in New Brunswick, re-establishing our forestry sector as a leader in North America, and planting the seeds for growth in our knowledge sectors that will drive our economy for generations.”
Meanwhile, here’s what Mr. Gallant has been saying about the province’s future, according to the provincial Liberal Party website:
“We need to do a better job training New Brunswickers to fill current and future jobs. By investing in our people, we can match our workforce with the available jobs, get people to work, and power the growth of New Brunswick’s economy. . .We can find more ways to add value to our products. We can help our agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture industries become more efficient, so they can compete in other markets and against businesses around the world. . .Investments in knowledge and updating our school curriculum can help us grow emerging industries, such as the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Sector.”
If one didn’t know better, one might say these two gentlemen were pitching in the same bullpen.
There are differences, of course. The premier likes his natural gas fracked and ready to serve, while Mr. Gallant may or may not be allergic to the stuff (he hasn’t quite decided).
Fundamentally, though, unless the political rhetoric changes and the candidates begin leveling with the public about the enormous, decidedly non-partisan, problems the province faces, the choice voters make in 100 days won’t herald a new beginning as much as it will the same old story.