Few issues loom larger in New Brunswick than the condition of the provincial economy. But one that’s gaining traction is the increasingly spiteful tenor of public debate.
I’m not talking about placard-waving protesters or media-savvy talking heads. They’re playing a fair game in front of the cameras, greasing the wheels of democratic action.
I’m talking about actual politicians who would rather shoot from the hip than focus their sights on real targets.
None of this is especially new. Neither is it restricted to one party or another. Our system of government is deliberately adversarial. It should be. That’s one way we hold elected officials to account.
Still, human nature insists that at some point we almost always approach the line that signifies we have gone too far – in this case, the place where vigorous debate becomes needlessly acrimonious and, therefore, utterly useless as an instrument of change.
We’ve not quite reached this particular boundary in New Brunswick. We cannot, for example, hope to compare our political arena with the cage matches now underway in the U.S. election.
Would a New Brunswick politician utter the following Donald Trumpism just to sway a few nutbars? “You talk about George Bush, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time. He was president, the World Trade Center came down during his reign.”
Would a New Brunswick politician talk about immigration in this province the way Mr. Trump “discusses” the issue in his neck of the North American woods? To wit: “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Would a New Brunswick politician get cringingly personal the way Mr. Trump did about his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break during last year’s televised debate? “I know where she went,” the real estate mogul and reality-show star told a crowd of his fans. “It’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting.”
Clearly, we don’t sink to these levels. Yet, we can detect a rising churlishness in New Brunswick’s political discourse. Indeed, it’s been rising for years.
When the Liberals were in opposition, they routinely, even reflexively, hammered away at the Tory government’s dismal track record on job creation, even though most reasonable opinion concluded that playing that particular card was a mug’s game. After all, despite their campaign rhetoric, governments don’t, in fact, create jobs.
Now that the Conservatives are out of office, they’re returning the favour. Said Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch the other day: “There are a number of crises the premier needs to address. (He) disappeared, came back and did his tour delivering a couple of job announcements. They are fine in themselves but there is a bigger question to be answered here. In the last 18 months, there has been a dismal failure in job creation under the Gallant leadership. He promised 5,000 jobs, we are down 6,000 jobs, so that is 11,000 less than promised.”
Mr. Fitch is not wrong about the state of the provincial economy. But the argument about the condition of his rival’s leadership actually goes nowhere if we still expect a government that hasn’t created jobs to suddenly become an employment-generating factory.
Now might be a good time to retire the lashing tongues, and explore ways to target the reasons for New Brunswick’s economic maladies together.