He’s young, fit, energetic and, more importantly, telegenic. He has a smile that could set 1,000 campaign managers’ hearts a flutter. And that hair – don’t get me started on that hair.
If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the Grit Premier of New Brunswick, the unstoppable, unflappable Brian Gallant (who considers the environs of Greater Moncton his natural hunting ground for Ottawa-fed Tories) is preparing to wage electoral battle this fall.
In fact he is – just not his own.
It is, of course, customary – nay, expected – for the premier of this province to support in every rhetorical way possible the principals, priorities and plans of his federal counterparts heading, as we presently are, into a general election. After all, what good is the rapport Mr. Gallant evidently enjoys with Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau, if he can’t splash it onto the front pages of local newspapers?
Still, the premier’s buddy routine comes perilously close to crossing the line he, himself, drew a month ago when he insisted he would not campaign (officially, at any rate) for Mr. Trudeau, but would, instead, meet with any federal leader who wanted to discuss issues critical to the province’s future, including the so-called “fiscal imbalance”.
Only last week, however, a far less circumspect-sounding Mr. Gallant delivered a politically charged tirade that could have been ripped from Mr. Trudeau’s own choir book.
“We have a Canadian economy that’s going in the wrong direction,” he thundered. “The current federal government has a bad plan for the Canadian economy, and we’ve seen that not only New Brunswick, but in many provinces across the country and, in fact, I would argue, in all of them. Some of them have had slight growth, but it’s been minimal.”
What’s more, Mr. Gallant continued, “We are in (a) recession and the current federal government refuses to change its strategy and plan. I would imagine it was because there was a 78-day federal election campaign coming.”
If nothing else, the outburst underscores the dangers of a political bromance between Messrs. Gallant and Trudeau that’s grown just a tad too fond for its own good.
Imagine, for a moment, the tone and temper of a conversation about fiscal imbalance today if the federal leader sitting across the table from Mr. Gallant happened to be Prime Minister Stephen Harper who, rumour has it, does plan to pop in to New Brunswick sometime before Election Day.
Naturally, none of this would be problematic if Mr. Trudeau’s fortunes at the ballot box were secure. They’re not.
Ottawa pollsters reckon the campaign is a virtual dead heat, with the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair slightly ahead of Mr. Harper in popularity. The young Liberal leader’s outlook is decidedly downcast and has been for weeks. Where once he enjoyed a 42 per cent approval rating, he now endures one in the range of 24 per cent.
Even here in the Maritimes, where the federal Liberals could once count on a majority of support, the NDP have gained ground. The two parties are virtually tied for public approval in New Brunswick.
Beyond any of this, though, the window dressings and pomp of campaigns only emphasize the real challenges Mr. Gallant doesn’t appear to be tackling in New Brunswick, the ones that are far closer to home and heart than a red tide in Ottawa: rising unemployment, deepening public debt and no convincing plan to stimulate economic revival and diversification.
The premier would do best to apply his inestimable energy to the issues that outlast even this, the longest of election campaigns