How to seize the big Mo at election time

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With the federal Grit establishment firmly entrenched in this picture-perfect, if not so fiscally beatific, province, you’d be forgiven for imagining that the New Brunswick election amounts to nothing less than a dry run for Justin Trudeau’s 2015 assault on the capital of Canada.

In fact, the nation’s self-styled arbiter of all that is newsworthy says as much.

“Justin Trudeau and his Liberal team are using New Brunswick’s Sept. 22 election to test-drive their organization and potential policies for the federal campaign expected in the fall of 2015,” wrote Jane Taber last week in the Globe and Mail. “‘There are so few election campaigns in this country, you don’t get a chance to try things out,’ said a senior Trudeau strategist.”

Ms. Taber’s effort is a good piece of reporting: heavily sourced, thoughtful and mercifully free of the sort of rash and kited conclusions that all to often accompany press coverage of election campaigns in this, and every other, country that still enjoys a reasonably free press.

But is it, strictly speaking, news?

Federal-provincial linkages, especially during elections, frame a sturdy strand of Canada’s political DNA. Traditionally, that’s how various parties have crystallized the issues common to all voters, regardless of their provinces of origin and residence. It’s how they’ve synchronized their policies and platforms and, crucially, gotten the voters out to the polls on the day that counts.

Until only a few years ago, the Liberals had been past masters of this practice. Now, in New Brunswick, they’re at it again and with gusto.

Here comes former Prime Minister Paul Martin, providing sage advice to New Brunswick Liberal candidate Brian Gallant (for now, the statistical front runner) and promising to provide more from his treasure trove of best fiscal practices for cutting public costs, building economic capacity and managing expectations among taxpayers who, the best money suggests, will take at least some kind of hit should the Grit leader march triumphantly into power later this month.

Indeed, who can’t smile at the widely distributed photo depicting Messrs. Gallant and Trudeau disembarking from the former’s campaign bus somewhere near Fredericton last week? Meet the absurdly attractive and telegenic Liberal dream team, the new Hardy Boys of Canadian politics with broad grins and thumbs-up signals at the ready.

And the pseudo-filial connections don’t stop there. As Ms. Taber reports, “(Paul) Martin’s former top aide, David Herle, is polling for the provincial Liberals as he did for the provincial Liberals in Nova Scotia and Ontario, both of which won majority governments.”

Meanwhile, “Frank McKenna, the well-connected former Liberal premier of New Brunswick, is raising money for Mr. Gallant” (which, if nothing else, surely proves the truth in the adage that politics does, indeed, make strange bedfellows, as Mr. McKenna has been one of the more forceful proponents of shale gas development in the province – a proposition that Mr. Gallant has publicly repudiated as risky, at best).

Again, though, none of this is news. What is is the extraordinary lack of federal engagement on the Tory side of the fence.

When Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was in office, he made a point of embarking on extended whistle tours through any provinces that were readying themselves for local elections, going as far as to the press the flesh in constituencies if he reckoned that this would burnish the electoral fortunes of his fellow, regional travellers.

In this campaign, however, PC Leader David Alward looks, for all the world, like a political orphan rolling up to grocery stores in his big, blue bus that bears wistfully written slogans on its aluminum flanks – slogans that read, “Say Yes” to. . .well, your guess is as good as mine.

What accounts for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s light engagement – conspicuous by its spottiness – in his provincial confederate’s electoral ambitions, one suspects, has less to do with Mr. Alward and his policies and more to do with the democratic culture that informs Ottawa’s ruling class nowadays.

After all, to it, the political fortunes of one or two provinces are far less important than the grand sweep of right-wing reforms that guarantee the approbation of the powerful and entitled.

Of course, as this audience still forms the minority of the Canadian electorate, Mr. Trudeau may have already won his election even as Mr. Gallant seeks his own mandate beyond being a handmaiden to federal power.

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