The crowns of our careers

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When I was 33, I was schlepping phone books, on temporary assignment in the back end of Halifax’s Fairview neighbourhood.

When Brian Gallant was 33, he was ending the first year of his inaugural term as premier of New Brunswick.

Who, I wonder, had the better deal?

In my case, all I had to do was forget the fact that the publisher of the magazine that had employed my wife and me as editors and production managers had gone bankrupt, concentrate on the then and now, and pick up enough loose change to fill the gas tank and deliver the yellow pages to gulags of apartment complexes.

In Mr. Gallant’s circumstances, all he had to do was reconcile a provincial budget that ran hundreds-of-millions of dollars into the red with the fulsome expectation of a jurisdiction, hosting 750,000 people, which would clamor, loudly, for its regular, reliable entitlements – including, perhaps, why it was no longer getting free phone books every April 1.

This is one of the reasons why, when I have been asked by various political parties over the years to run as a candidate on their tickets, I have politely, but firmly, stated: “I would rather be road kill on the Trans-Canada, stuck in the grill of a RAM ProMaster van, than live to answer questions from people like me, over and over again.”

This is, of course, why Brian Gallant is a better citizen of this province than I. So are David Alward, Shawn Graham, Bernard Lord, Camille Theriault, and even Frank McKenna, who doesn’t even live here anymore.

Each of them chose to run for, and succeed to, public office, knowing the costs to their personal lives and well being, knowing how fully ridiculed and hated they would become. Each of them, in their own ways, made peace with that inevitability.

This is not to say that those who aren’t inclined to throw their hats into the political ring should let those who are off the hook. This is, after all, our remnant of democracy.

So, to Mr. Gallant, on the anniversary of his first year as premier of New Brunswick, I say: Good start.

You’ve managed to get just about every constituency angry: Seniors, public servants, educators, health-care professionals, and ambulance drivers.

In fact, that’s what a first-term premier is supposed to do – level the playing field, shake out the winter carpets, prepare for political springtime. People don’t pay attention to the condition of their own lives until they are well peeved.

The corollary to this is, of course, to generate one, truly magnificent idea around which to rally a disaffected and disengaged public – not three, not two, just one good, durable notion that will catalyze a productive, prosperous society.

You might begin this way:

Talk more, in the next year, about giving back to New Brunswick not the trinkets and baubles the federal government sometimes allows, but the power and capital local communities require to collaborate and thrive together.

Build a true consensus across county and municipal lines for common social and economic needs in our hospitals, clinics and schools.

Ensure that every kid in this province learns to read, write and speak both English and French to an international standard. Deliberately remodel New Brunswick as a center of excellence in math, science and literature.

Finally, lay the foundation for civil discourse in this province; make facts rule the public conversation.

You, Mr. Gallant, are only 33. Your whole life is ahead of you. And, from my perspective, at age 55, you have the better deal.

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