Trials by fire

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Rare is the politician who, recognizing the error of his or her ways, genuinely seeks to make amends.

That’s not to say that elected officials are loath to apologize for their statements or behavior. In fact, a tendency toward issuing unnecessary mea culpa passes in and out of political fashion with reliable frequency.

But an authentic reversal of policy in the wake of public criticism almost never happens unless an election looms. In New Brunswick, at least, another trip to the ballot box is years away.

And so it was, not long ago, that Premier Brian Gallant and Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers abandoned plans to dun relatively wealthy senior citizens in the province to help defray the cost of nursing home care for the rest.

“We will be cancelling the policy, pressing the reset button,” the premier said at a news conference in Moncton.

Added Ms. Rogers in a statement: “While the policy was designed to make care more affordable for the majority of seniors, it is clear that the announcement . . .caused a significant amount of concern for seniors. This was not our intention nor was it consistent with our priority of helping seniors and their families.”

In fact, methinks the not-quite-invisible hand of the minister had more than a little something to do with the premier’s change of heart. Indeed, his capitulation was not without a certain archness. “Taking this policy off the table,” he said, “does not mean our challenges go away.”

Still, Ms. Rogers’ background and sensibilities suggest she is more comfortable working with seniors to achieve at least some degree of consensus than dictating the terms of their surrender to economic realities in the province.

According to her official biography, she’s “a graduate of the University of New Brunswick with a masters and a Ph.D. in Sociology.” She served “14 years as professor at Crandall University and University of New Brunswick.”

What’s more, “With a policy focus on child and youth poverty, she understands the connections with health, education, crime, and the economy. (She) spent 18 years as a federal and provincial civil servant working in social development, industry, public safety, and economic development.

“She has been a lifetime advocate for prevention, support, and early intervention, and is concerned for the quality of life and well-being of vulnerable families. Honoured for her community service work by the YWCA Moncton in 2011 with a Woman of Distinction Award for Education, Training, and Development, she also received Stephen and Ella Steeves Excellence in Service Award from Crandall University in 2012.”

Given the complexion of her personal and professional achievements, inciting revolt among the province’s elderly – the fastest-growing demographic here ­– would not be an especially flattering footnote to her resume.

In truth, though, the whole idea of raising fees for some folks – a measly haul of maybe $1.6 million to government coffers – to help pay the costs of others, based on a largely arbitrary means test of personal wealth, was ludicrously provocative and unworkable from the get-go. Its only productive result has been to arm the opposition Tories with mud to sling, as Progressive Conservative leader amply demonstrated in his reaction to last week’s policy about-face: “The premier and the minister have bungled this from the start. They should have apologized to seniors for putting them through this for the past six months. Minister Rogers needs to take responsibility and resign.”

Of course, Minister Rogers needs to do no such thing. She will be far too busy continuing to make amends among the one voter block whose members still reliably line up on Election Day.

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