It is not entirely clear to me what Premier Brian Gallant was thinking as he composed his first State of the Province address and chose, last week, to launch with a quote from the 13th-century Catholic friar, Francis of Assisi (a.k.a., Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone).
But if grabbing attention by conflating the secular woes of the current age in New Brunswick with those of pre-Renaissance Italy was his endgame, the Grit honcho may have been on to something – even if that something amounted to enduring irrelevance amongst the body politic.
“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible,” he began, parroting the buono parola of the late, great saint and animal lover (take care, Mr. Premier; moose fences could, again, become an election issue, fours years hence).
For those who subscribe to the power of magical thinking, it was a truly awesome overture. For the rest of us who don’t, it was a truly brilliant distraction.
After all, in the other words of the original Franciscan monk, “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look,” because, presumably, “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.”
Of course, if He does, then he has never looked better.
Standing before an elbows-to-elbows crowd of maybe 1,000 gawkers (read: citizens), the young premier was GQ-ready in composure and presentation. Reportedly, he even memorized his speech, so as to appear. . .well, authentic.
“Decisions are going to be made to put our finances in order,” he said. “We have tough choices before us. . .It can be made by 13 people in a cabinet room, or they can be made with 750,000 people working together.”
What’s more, he said, “We have to have the resolve to tackle these challenges once and for all, I can tell you that our government has the political will and has the resolve to take these challenges on.”
Yes, he said, “We need to get people out of our hospitals.”
Yes, he affirmed, “The (provincial government) program review is purely pragmatic.” (In other words, civil servants: no hard feelings).
And yes he declared, “We have to get away from the status quo. . .When we have our finances in order, we can focus on the kind of things we need to do to help make our province the best place to raise a family. If we want to achieve these. . .things, the status quo is not an option. . .To move forward, away from the status quo, we need to make some tough decisions.”
As for his reliance on St. Frank (no, not you McKenna), he said, “That quote (by F. Assisi) sums up what New Brunswick has to do, in my opinion. . .Do what’s necessary. Then do what’s possible. Then, suddenly, we are doing and accomplishing things we never thought possible. . .I think New Brunswickers are ready for tough choices.”
Does he now?
Faith, folks, is a many-splendored marvel.
It can move people to extraordinary feats and exemplary behaviour.
Or, it can persuade erstwhile able-minded individuals to abandon their reason to the big-rock candy mountain of redemption through sacrifice.
Even St. Francis might agree: the devil is in the details.
It’s not enough that the premier delivers homilies. That’s what election campaigns are for.
And the time has passed for a 750,000-member consultation team. If anything, we New Brunswickers have proven over the past 18 years that we really don’t play well together in our various sandboxes of privilege and entitlement.
The time now is for a true, bullet-by-bullet strategy to rescue the province from its dangerous fiscal morass, taking careful consideration of the long-term investments that actually contribute to sustained and durable prosperity (early and public-school education comes to mind).
We don’t need a preacher, delivering sermons as a trendy, Sunday-morning vicar might. We need a secular democrat possessed of a clear-eyed vision for the next 25 years of public administration.
In the end, he will not be remembered for his magical oratory. He might even be reviled by many who once believed in him.
As for the rest of us, let us judge him by the actions he took to rebuild this economy – not by his saintly words.