Politicos in no mood to give straight answers

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How sadly predictable are the prescriptions New Brunswick’s political leaders now issue  to treat the provinces’s various and chronic maladies.

Asked repeatedly to speak plainly, boldly and fearlessly about innovative, even radical, remedies for the runaway illnesses of budget-sapping deficits and debt, they pour bromides instead.

Consider their responses to two questions the organization that owns this newspaper posed recently: Would your party consider hospital closures; and does there need to be a change in the size of the public service?

Anyone with even a mote of appreciation for the challenges of health care in a province whose population is simultaneously shrinking and aging recognizes that New Brunswick hosts too many primary care facilities doing too many of the wrong things in  too many of the wrong places.

Of course, we should shutter some hospitals. We should also reconstitute and strengthen geriatric care in community health centres and consolidate emergency medical services wherever such moves do not compromise the quality of, and access to, the services, themselves.

Saskatchewan, a province with population comparable in size to New Brunswick and under similar fiscal circumstances to ours, managed to revamp its health care system in the 1990s.

So, then, gentlemen on the hustings, what say you?

“We’re not in the business of closing hospitals,” declares People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin. And just what business are they in? “What we are in the business of is finding ways to create a better system whereby people can have access.”

Brilliant.

But no more so, perhaps, than Green Party Leader David Coon’s response: “In the abstract, there is no reason to rule anything out, but in the concrete does it (closing hospitals) make sense? I have no idea.”

Meanwhile Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is in a decidedly conditional mood: “If we can grow our economy, if we can create jobs, if we listen to people on the front lines about how we can be more efficient, more productive, if we ensure that we are more proactive about our health care system. . .we will be able to keep and maintain the infrastructure that we have.”

Sure, and if my grandmother wore a mustache, she’d be my grandfather. Sorry, Mr. Gallant, but wishing for a fundamental change in the fabric of reality does not a health care policy make.

Still, yours is a better answer than this from our current fearless leader, Premier David Alward: “We are focused to be able to build a foundation for an economy based on natural resource development, based on innovation, based on investing in our people so they have the right skills and that will allow us to be able to continue and invest smarter in health care, in hospitals, as we go forward.”

So, is that ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Would your party consider hospital closures?

Never mind. Let’s move on. What about the size of the public service? Whaddya think, men? Too big? Too small? Or just perfect?

You first, Mr. Coon: “Let’s just be practical. .and say, ‘OK, do we need these people to do this work to deliver a good public service and are they in the right places?’”

Yeah, but didn’t we just ask you that?

You next, Mr. Cardy: “It’s not a question of adding or subtracting people. . . It’s a question of what do we need to deliver the public services people want.”

Actually, the question that’s currently on the table is whether we can afford to pay for a civil service that numbers 50,000 in a province whose total population tops out at 750,000 on a good day. That’s among the highest per capita concentration of public workers in Canada.

Yes, Mr. Gallant; I see you have your hand up: “We are going to do a program review and that means we are going to look at every program, every department and every ministry to fully understand where every dollar is going.”

Fair enough, then. You’ll get back to us.

Finally, you Mr. Alward: “We’ve been clear from square one going back to our previous platform in 2010 – we believe that we need to continue to lean the size of the public service. We’ve done that in a very responsible way through attrition.”

Forget it, Mr. Premier. You had me at “lean the size of. . .”

Alas, it seems, a politician’s determination to turn a noun into a verb to express the virtue in maintaining the status quo is about as innovative and radical as it gets in this pretty little tableau of a province.

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