Whenever the stars align to produce a conjunction of leadership at both the federal and provincial levels, those in opposition invariably fuel suspicions that latter is merely a handmaiden to the former.
It is a time-honored political strategy, designed to undermine public confidence in the proper separation of powers in this country.
So it was some months ago when highly placed Tories in Fredericton solemnly informed me that the Liberal government of Brian Gallant is more than happy to do the bidding of the Grit forces of Justin Trudeau. So it was just last week when federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose urged the premier of New Brunswick to get tough with Ottawa over the Energy East pipeline proposal, the implication being that he his loath to challenge his so-called patrons in the centre of the nation’s political universe.
Ms. Ambrose’s comments immediately drew fire from New Brunswick MP and federal government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc.
“Rona Ambrose is party of a Conservative record of complete failure in respect to pipelines,” he declared. “Every time somebody who served in (former Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s cabinet talks about the importance of getting natural resources to tidewater, it reminds us of how they failed for nine years.”
What’s more, he pointedly noted, “The idea that she would reproach the premier (Mr. Gallant) for not advancing his own viewpoint on this issue is rich. He (went) tow-to-toe with the mayor of Montreal on French television to state his case for the pipeline, speaking forcefully for the interests of this province.”
Now, some may say that Mr. LeBlanc, by speaking out in this way, is doing no favours for Mr. Gallant; that his defence of the premier’s comportment on this issue actually reinforces the argument that Ottawa exerts too much influence over affairs in Fredericton.
Still, it’s hard to credit this viewpoint with any degree of verisimilitude, even as, for some, it’s easy to interpret what amounts to a productive, mutually supportive relationship between two levels of government with playing footsy.
The irony, of course, is that the former Progressive Conservative government of David Alward in New Brunswick would have given its eyeteeth to build a happy alliance with Stephen Harper’s hardline Cabinet. That it could not was no comment on its skill or effort; the former prime minister wasn’t much of a fan of any provincial government.
Beyond this, it should be clear that Mr. Gallant is quite eminently his own man with his own agenda.
Some weeks ago, before handing down his second budget, the premier told me, “To me, our focus in the province has to be about growing the economy and creating jobs. And we also want to ensure that New Brunswick is a great place to live, work and play. Obviously you need many efforts and investments to make that a reality, but I think it’s pretty clear that education is the one area that gives you those things. I am a huge proponent of the role that education can play in developing our economy, and, of course, what it does for every individual in giving them opportunities in our province. So I am very happy, despite the fact that we face many challenges both fiscally and economically, that as a government we were able to prioritize education to the extent that we did, increasing the budget by $33 million, which represents an increase of over 3.1 per cent.”
We may not agree with any or even all of this, but there should be no doubt about who’s in charge in this province.