He’s young in spirit, photogenic, energetic, and the premier of New Brunswick. He’s also old of heart, camera-shy, fundamentally calculating, and the heir to at least 50 years of Liberal Party politics in this province.
Grit Leader Brian Gallant earns his position as provincial newsmaker of the year as much for what he has refused to do over the past 12 months as for what he did.
Faced with a $500-million annual deficit and a $12.5-billion debt, he promised to revamp the public accounts, cutting and slashing, burning and burying, as he went. He did the opposite in 2015 – preferring, instead, to consult and research and “recalibrate” the work his civil servants do in order to “understand”. . .well. . .exactly what his civil servants do on any given day.
Faced with a systemic unemployment rate of between 8.7 and 15 per cent in this province (depending on which region of New Brunswick he was reviewing), Mr. Gallant chose to blame the previous, federal Tory government for local labour-market woes even as he courted the current Liberal administration in Ottawa for financial redress – something he said he would never do should the political winds blow his way.
They did, and now he wants more money from Fat City to help balance the books he once said should be settled through homegrown innovation, competitiveness and entrepreneurship.
At the same time, the youngest premier in Canada (all of 33 years old) has managed to both enrage and engage the oldest voting population in the country. In 2015, he raised taxes on the wealthy and threatened to impose an asset-based means test for seniors care. On the flip side, he asked Ottawa to turn the province into a national “test lab” for geriatric care and conditioning.
As he said the other day, “I have always made it very clear that we need extra support from the federal government because of our aging population. The federal government has an opportunity to test run what programs will work to overcome those challenges.”
Indeed, the subject of dichotomies remained close to Mr. Gallant’s chest in 2015. Somehow, a pipeline, brimming with Alberta oil was an economically and environmentally sound proposition, despite that it would transport some of the dirtiest hydrocarbons in the world into all of our metaphorical backyards. Conversely, New Brunswick’s premier took umbrage at the shale-gas industry’s determination to defend its eminently clean record of development in the province over the past ten years.
On the pipeline, Mr. Gallant had this to say in October: “If we as a country are going to develop our natural resources and energy projects, we need to have a brand and credibility with Canadians and the international community.”
On shale gas development in New Brunswick, the premier had only this to add earlier this week: “I think New Brunswickers on all sides of this issue – people with diverging opinions – would like this subject to be dealt with. Once we see the recommendations (from a three-member, government-appointed panel) we will study and analyze them, take them into consideration and make our decisions.”
Finally, late in 2015, Mr. Gallant sent missionaries to test the waters for a “new approach” to economic development in New Brunswick.
As plans go, theirs’ wasn’t bad – young in spirit, old of heart, camera-shy and fundamentally calculating. The message from the premier was unmistakably familiar: maybe we’ll listen to you, maybe we won’t.
It was just, I dare say, the sort of news making machinery we in New Brunswick appreciate.