The mind of a Canadian premier is a terrible thing to waste.
Its life can be as short as four years, but never longer than 12. And during that midge-like span, it must muster all the mental and physical resources – intellectual flexibility, empathy, focus, judgement, courage, energy – necessary to the task of not utterly failing the electorate that enshrined it.
The voters (it goes without saying) expect nothing of their government leaders, if “nothing” means everything.
As balloteers grudgingly mark their election-day cards, they flee back into their workaday lives, sure of the disappointments that are about to mount, insensate to the absurdity of their standards for political representation.
We, the people, demand that our roads be paved, our potholes be filled, our educational facilities be matchless, our health care system be the best in the world. But when a government flies the rare kite, suggesting tentatively that to pay for these things, it might actually have to raise a highway toll, or increase a sales tax, or (gasp!) actually tighten its belt, out come the placards and the picket lines.
It’s worse in the United States, where they, the people, have managed to transform the poor slobs who run for public office into mewling supplicants of populous fashion. That’s the leadership they’ve come to expect; the leadership they ultimately deserve: unfocused, apologetic, tremulous, and, ultimately, ineffective.
Still, there there was a time in this fair land when democratic imperatives intersected neatly with political ambitions. It didn’t last long, but for as long as it did, women got the vote and all Canadians got a minimum standard of universal health care.
Since then, however, women have served in our parliaments and assemblies with decreasing frequency and increasingly shorter duration. Meanwhile, our health care system has devolved into a multi-jurisdictional hodgepodge that serves some people superbly well, but most of us poorly and without even the semblance of discernment.
All of which may only lend credence to the notion that true democracies are extraordinarily fragile, as likely to wither from neglect as crumble from abuse. And those who we authorize to guard them, for however long a period, should be given every opportunity to muster their resources, especially at the beginning of their mandates.
New Brunswick’s incoming Liberal Premier Brian Gallant faces a terrifically challenging four years. And that’s to say nothing of the several hundred wish lists voters and their organizational proxies will dispense with nauseating regularity.
The most monumental of his tasks, however, will not be grappling with one particular issue or another. It will be applying the considerable faculties of his nimble and educated mind to urgent questions of the common good, even as broad swaths of New Brunswickers stubbornly refuse to recognize those matters that constitute their shared cause.
Surely, chief among these must be resuscitating an economy that’s been beached for some time.
Does Mr. Gallant soften his position on hydraulic fracturing in the nascent shale gas industry and clear the way for commercial exploitation of the resource, a move that could one day generate tens-of-millions-of-dollars in taxes and royalties for this fiscally bereft province?
Or does he stick to his guns and slap a moratorium on the controversial practice, as he has vowed to do, until such time as he believes it sufficiently safe and manageable? And then what?
If he is, as he has intimated, the “education premier”, will he make literacy, numeracy and higher learning tools for economic development now and in the future? Does the road to prosperity wind its way through vistas of human capital, as yet unexplored, or the all too familiar terrain of natural resources and the raw labour they require, often only seasonally?
Campaign rhetoric aside, what, in fact, is Mr. Gallant’s endgame for New Brunswick, and will he be permitted to pursue it in relative calm, free of the cacophony the vested, the specially interested, the lightly knowledgeable, and the constitutionally loud-mouthed among us are so good at raising?
Or, perhaps, knowing that there is no time to waste in New Brunswick, he will let none of it stand in his way.
That, in itself, would be an achievement worthy of note.