Category Archives: Democracy

The less promised, the better

DSC_0033Holding politicians to account for their various pledges, promises and vows is a little like extracting fecal matter from a public swimming hole. It can be done, but not without extraordinary cost, bother and nasal congestion.

Nevertheless, the New Brunswick government has introduced new legislation that would penalize parties running for office when they don’t fully explain and account for their spending platforms. Ironically enough, in doing so, Premier Brian Gallant’s Grits have torn a page from their Progressive Conservative nemeses, which had proposed something quite like this bill when David Alward ran the roost in Fredericton in 2014.

At that time, Blaine Higgs, the current Tory leader in this province, had this to say when he was merely his government’s finance minister: “Elected representatives must be accountable for taxpayers’ dollars, not only when making commitments to voters, but also when making decisions at the cabinet table.”

Even then-NDP Leader Dominic Cardy agreed. He avowed that the PC bill was “a pretty good idea”. Specifically, he said, “I think there is a responsibility for parties that if we are going to be getting access to public money, as all the parties in New Brunswick have, including the government, that we have got to get out in front of the public and present platforms that have some connection to reality. And that has been a problem for all the parties in the past.”

Indeed, it has. But this proposed legislation by the Liberals – much like the one fronted by the Progressive Conservatives three years ago – is a waste of time, energy and ultimately money. After all, what, in this scenario, prevents a triumphant government from dismantling its commitments once it assumes office? What, exactly, assures honesty, transparency and accountability post-election facto?

Thinking about governing even a province as small as New Brunswick is a far different project than actually executing policy. Inevitably, incoming administrations inherit a storm of problems they couldn’t possibly have anticipated when they resided in the political wilderness. There, buried in the bureaucracy of office, are priorities, prejudices, jealousies, and fundamental structural problems in the public accounts.

In New Brunswick, that amounts to this: Health care is underfunded, poorly delivered and, so, broadly ineffective; social services, which still lay a heavy burden on municipalities, are perilously close to local collapse; education. . .well, ditto. Meanwhile, the province’s civil-service workforce (non-education, non-health related) is absurdly inflated, given the shrinking size of the general population and the anemic state of economic growth within the private sector.

Fiscally, our condition could be worse, but not much. With 750,000 individuals in this province, the unemployment rate hovers, at best, around nine per cent – about three per cent above the national average. Our annual deficit is about $260-million. Our long-term debt has now just skyrocketed through the concrete ceiling of $14 billion.

So, then, what does a piece of legislation requiring potential political leaders to account for their pledges actually do? Raise even more expectations within an already distrustful public arena? Pit one party against another for no apparent purpose except to feed red meat to the electorate?

Far more useful and efficacious is something that still remains unthinkable in this province, country and most of the democratic world: Good will, consideration, critical thinking, cooperation, collaboration, and multi-partisan negotiation.

If we really want change in this province, we might consider dismantling the ancient party system that has dominated politics since before Confederation.

If we want to hold politicians to account for their pledges, promises and vows, don’t clean the swimming hole.

Just drain it.

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What’s a Canadian value?


Given that more than two-thirds of residents of the Atlantic Provinces support screening potential immigrants for ‘Canadian values’, we’d do well to unpack that enormously loaded phrase in search of a little more meaning, a wee bit more specificity.

A Corporate Research Associates public opinion survey released last week found that 68 per cent of those asked generally or strongly support some sort of test of the degree to which newcomers are sufficiently. . .well. . .Canadian in their outlook. Said the Halifax-based firm’s chairman and CEO, Don Mills, in an interview with Global News: “It’s probably not surprising that we would ask this kind of question given what’s going on in the Western world. There’s a lot of concerns in western countries about values and protection of values.”

He hastened to add: “I don’t think that that means that Atlantic Canadians are in any way anti-immigrant. I don’t think that. It has nothing to do with that. I think it’s the protection of our core values that make us Canadian that people feel are important to make sure that we are attracting people that agree with those values.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged in a statement, “While the definition of Canadian values is yet to be determined, the need for such a definition is clearly evident by the majority of Atlantic Canadians who support screening potential immigrants for Canadian values before allowing them entry into the country.”

This is, of course, one of the problems with open-ended questions. What, exactly, is a Canadian value? The nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provide some clues. Under the ‘Fundamental Freedoms’ section, “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.”

Then there’s this assurance: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

And this: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada. Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.”

And this, also: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (This) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

All of which sounds fair enough. But even if we can settle on a generally acceptable set of definitions, how do we ascertain the level of a potential immigrant’s commitment to Canadian values? In effect, what would the actual screening process entail?

This question seems to have stumped even federal Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch who first bandied the phrase about several months ago in her bid to appear patriotic and wholesome.

Perhaps the best we can do is follow our instincts and trust that our own grasp of Canadian values unveils the truth about others, but mostly about ourselves as a kind, tolerant, rational people.

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Ode to spring

FullSizeRenderSo, we can’t see it yet. We can’t see the fronds poking through the ‘permafrost’ of a Maritime winter. We can’t see the green, green grass of home hosting dandelions. We can’t see the long, bountiful season of warmth and conviviality stretching for weeks into the near future. No, not yet, but soon.

We can hear the mourning doves calling their mates at dawn. We can hear the long moan of the last train into Moncton, spilling their passengers into the early fog. We can hear the first, low rumbling of a new season. And, oddly, without warning, we are happy.

We can smell the good earth as it slowly rises above the snow – its determination beyond dispute. Here, it says, is where you plant; and here is where you don’t this time. Maybe, next time. We can smell the sounds of the city in the hour of the wolf, when every sane person has gone to bed – all, except for those who worship the noise of permanent silence at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Yes, and we are happy without twitter feeds and LinkedIn pokes and Facebook nonsense.

To start again, you start with spring. You start soon. You grab a coat, ring a scarf around your winter neck and head out. You don’t know where you are going. You are simply walking. You fill your chest with air. You pump your legs with bounty and promise. You begin to run – first slowly, then faster and faster as if the world you’ve left behind has no option but to watch you outpace it. It may even smile.

“Is the spring coming? What is it like? It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.” Or so said Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so.” Or so said Mark Twain.

“I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older.” Or so said Virginia Woolf.

I think I agree with her, though I didn’t always. Fall was the time to put away things, the time to reflect in a comforting reverie of the past. Now, in the time of the world’s life, there’s nothing that nostalgia purchases but vain sentiment. Spring, though we can’t see it yet, promises fronds poking through the ‘permafrost’ of a Maritime winter. No, we can’t see the green, green grass of home hosting dandelions. We can’t see the long, bountiful season of warmth and conviviality stretching for weeks into the near future. Not yet, but soon.

We can imagine real sentiment in the springtime of our spirits if we keep moving down the streets on which we live, helping each other – regardless of religious or ethnic differences. If we keep holding out our hands to the newcomers among us, ensuring that they and their families are safe and secure. If we keep invoking the principles of our national Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly; the right to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government; the freedom to live within Canada, and to leave Canada; legal rights to life, liberty and security.”

If we can’t see it yet, we can still walk into the hard spring of this country.


What’s your preference?

IMG_0261Welcome, dear patron, to the ‘à la carte’ of democracy. In the next New Brunswick election, you may face choices you never thought possible. Imagine the province as a giant Tapas bar.

You’re sitting with 5,000 of your closest friends and you order – oh, let’s say – The Grit candidate’s robust filet mignon off the menu. Your seat neighbor prefers a spicy dish of Tory Italian sausage. Meanwhile, her elbow associate is particularly fond of whoever has emerged to prepare the riding’s patented, NDP seafood chowder.

But let’s say the waiter insists you can’t order your favorite without also choosing your second and third preferences (just in case the kitchen runs out of everything all at once). So you say, ‘Well, I want the steak, but after that I’ll take the sausage and chowder, in that order.’

The waiter bows unctuously, says, ‘very good sir’, and disappears. After a few days, you and your tablemates (now famished), receive equal portions of filet mignon and a small, side order of wiener. As for the chowder? It’s in the bin. Preferential voting is not a perfect solution, but its supporters say it’s better than the status quo, and by supporters I mean the members of the independent commission convened last fall to consider alternatives to the current first-past-the-post system. According to their report, released last week:

“Under the Preferential Ballot, ballots are structured to allow voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. Allowing for preference ranking on the ballot enables voters to express themselves in respect of their first choice candidate and allows them to vote for their second choice (or a number of choices) in the event that the preferred candidate may not be elected. Preferential Ballots in essence give more choices to the voters but do not force them to make a multitude of choices. For those voters who strongly support only one candidate, they would not have to rank any candidate they do not want. Voters are free to back as many or as few candidates as they like, giving them a strategic advantage as voters do not need to choose between voting for the party they like and voting for the party they think can beat the candidate or party that has lost their confidence: they can do both. Affiliation and loyalty to a party would not be affected.”

The commission makes other recommendations that may also raise eyebrows in the province, including: “The voting age in New Brunswick be lowered to 16. New Brunswickers 16 and older who have completed high school be allowed to seek public office. The requirement of possessing a valid high school diploma would not apply to individuals 18 or older.”

Then there’s the little matter of money in politics. The report advises that “political contributions by individuals, corporations and trade unions be lowered from the current $6,000” and that “political contributions from corporations and trade unions be phased out following the 2018 provincial election.”

If the purpose of the exercise was to determine effective ways to increase interest in politics and public institutions in general, then the commission’s spadework across the province over the past few months was worth the effort. The question is whether there’s enough will to implement the recommended changes. The signs are not especially encouraging. Premier Brian Gallant won’t reform the electoral landscape without a referendum on the subject.

All of this gets the province back to the central problem. We know we want something new off the democratic menu. It’s just that we can’t quite seem to make up our minds.


It could be worse

At this time of year, in this region of the increasingly Great White North, we have a pernicious habit of wearing our worries on our sleeves.

Call it a somber reflection on the year that was or an anxious anticipation of the one that looms before us, but our moods rarely improve with the promise of winter’s darkening skies.

Our kids are still leaving for sunnier economic climes. Good, sustainable jobs continue to evade us. Our public debts and deficits persist in vexing us, though we haven’t the foggiest notion of how to settle them. Meanwhile, the pundits and prognosticators among us sally forth like so many members of a chorus in a Greek tragedy with whispers and whines of imminent doom.

But are our lives in the Atlantic Provinces really as awful as we imagine them to be? Think of those we’ve welcomed from other, sundered parts of the globe. Specifically, think of the Syrian newcomers who have, in recent months, found new reasons to hope along Canada’s East Coast.

Last year, a BuzzFeed News report, relying on data supplied by the United Nations and assorted research groups, concluded that in 2014, “as the war enters its fifth year. . .the most shocking finding is that life expectancy in Syria dropped from 76 years in 2010 to an estimated 56 years in 2014. . .Syria’s population has shrunk from 20.9 million to 17.6 million during that time as people have fled overseas or been killed, the report says. The country is now the world’s biggest source of refugees. Over half of Syria’s pre-war population have fled their homes during the conflict. . . The bulk of that group have remained displaced within Syria. Around 200,000 people have died in the conflict so far.”

A problem that’s far less dramatic than any of these, but nonetheless troubling, is the rise of anti-immigration sentiment everywhere, it seems, except Canada. According to a New York Tomes article late last month, “(Donald Trump’s) promise to deport (2-3 million) immigrants who have committed crimes suggested that he would dramatically step up removals of both people in the United States illegally and those with legal status. If carried out, the plan potentially would require raids by a vastly larger federal immigration force to hunt down these immigrants and send them out of the country.

Added Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, for the Times: “If he wants to deport two to three million people, he’s got to rely on tactics that will divide communities and create fear throughout the country. He would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”

Fear is the operative word these days. It is again becoming a media meme song. Still, here in Atlantic Canada, we may count our blessings – however minor we often perceive them to be – on our sleeves frayed with worry. Even the Conference Board of Canada says we’re doing pretty well, all things considered.

Says Marie-Christine Bernard, Associate Director, Provincial Forecast: “All three Maritime provincial economies are expected to perform better in the new year. This largely boils down to growth in the tourism, forestry, agriculture, and fishing sectors, as well as increasing exports to the U.S. and abroad boosted by a lower Canadian dollar.”

So, buck up my fellow New Brusnwickers. It could be worse. . .much worse.

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Confederacy of conservatives


Give them all an “E” for effort. Despite their varying commands of French, the 14 candidates in the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership debate in Moncton last week performed. . .well. . .let’s just say they performed.

No rhetorical flourishes. No flashes of glittering insight. No big surprises. Still, neither were there major linguistic mistakes from the Anglophones in the cohort, struggling in French. Thank heaven, perhaps, for small mercies.

In fact, Moncton was an odd choice as a host city for the Tories’ finger-waving chinwag. Apart from its almost evenly bilingual population, you would think its determinedly entrepreneurial élan and increasingly multicultural demographic might make certain Conservative leadership hopefuls a tad uncomfortable.

Speaking of Alberta’s Kellie Leitch: She did not disappoint. On the subject of so-called Canadian values, we may recall, the center-right candidate had this to say in September: “Canadians can expect to hear more, not less, from me, on this topic in the coming months. Screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms is a policy proposal that I feel strongly about.”

That prompted this choice response from Ms. Leitch’s colleague and leadership rival Michael Chong: “(This) does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada. The language and context that Kellie used has led key Conservatives, including prime minister Harper’s former director of policy (Rachel Curran), to criticize this move as the worst of dog-whistle politics.”

In Moncton, the two were at it again. “On one side, we have a candidate who suggests that immigrants are anti-Canadians and who proposed an exam,” Mr. Chong said. “They insist that it is not race-baiting or anti-immigrant, but just yesterday their campaign was endorsed by a white supremacist group called the Council of European Canadians.”

To which Ms. Leitch rejoined, “Every country in the world is having this discussion. And just because the media and other elites don’t want to have this discussion doesn’t mean we should be afraid of it. Many of my colleagues on this stage are intimidated by the media but I am going to continue to talk about this because this is common sense, this what Canadians want to talk about.”

Clearly, the issue of who is a “true” Canadian and who is not has become as much a local and provincial issue as a national one. After all, New Brunswick, which has opened its arms to Syrian refugees, is constantly looking for ways to accommodate more immigrants. But Ms. Leitch’s particular brand of populism appeared calculatingly similar to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s and not especially well-pitched to a Moncton crowd.

More successful, if not particularly illuminating, were the generally congenial observations about Atlantic Canada’s economic and demographic challenges, which are the low-hanging fruit of any debate on the region’s future. According to one CBC report, “While candidates mostly agreed on the need for encouraging immigration and finding new ways to create jobs to encourage young people to stay, (Mr.) Chong also advocated an enhanced working income tax benefit, which he said would provide more incentive for older Canadians to keep working.

“Lisa Raitt said it made sense when Stephen Harper’s previous Conservative government increased the retirement age to 67, although she knows it can be hard. She said it’s important for seniors to stay active and she’d encourage them to remain in the workplace.”

The way things are going, in either official language, do we have much choice?

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New Brunswick in the post-truth era


In an age when opinions, belief and faith trump (pun, fully intended) facts, evidence and even reality, itself, it’s not surprising that the Oxford English Dictionary should induct “post-truth” as its duly designated word of the year.

Other frontrunners in 2016 were, in no particular order: “alt-right”, signifying an ideological predisposition towards right-wing nuttiness; “chatbot”, referring to a computer program with pretentions to humanlike interactions; and “Brexiteer”, indicating an individual who just can’t wait to rip up every trade agreement that tethers the United Kingdom to continental Europe.

Methinks, I discern a developing meme in all of this. As for post-truth, it’s an adjective the OED defines thusly: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

What’s next? “Thinkiness”, defined as the condition in which a person only appears to be weighing “objective facts” on his or her way to ultimately concluding that the world is flat, dinosaurs were God’s little joke 6,000 years ago, and Donald Trump will be an enlightened reformer from his perch in the penthouse of the mid-town Manhattan hotel that bears his name?

In fact, in New Brunswick, we can observe our own versions of post-truthiness rearing their angry, squalling heads.

There is, for example, the persistent supposition that governments (of both political stripes) don’t work, never did and never will. I call this the Kelly Leitch syndrome. You know her. She’s the presumptive candidate for the federal Conservative Party of Canada, who likes to sprinkle phrases like “average guys and gals on the street” into her regular discourses on the despicable “political and media elites”. Funny thing, that. Dr. Leitch earned a MD from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Dalhousie University. She was a fellow of clinical paediatric orthopaedics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in 2002. Today, she’s an orthopaedic paediatric surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. She’s also a member of parliament.

Can you spell E-L-I-T-E? Still, droves of New Brunswickers buy her brand of populism and believe, in their hearts, that, despite her academic pedigree and evidently comfortable affluence, she’s one of them. She “gets” them in the same way a billionaire real estate developer from New York “gets” the poor, benighted, unemployed factory worker in Flint, Michigan. All hail the rhetoric and campaign tactics of the practiced politicos among us. As for the facts. . .well, let us deliver a pox on all the houses where these reside.

What about refugees and immigrants in post-truth New Brunswick? Recent public opinion surveys suggest that this province’s long-standing willingness to accept and welcome newcomers into its mix is corroding. Only two years ago, Atlantic Canada led the rest of the country in tolerance and acceptance. According to a CBC report at that time, “In the Atlantic provinces, 86 per cent said they would be comfortable if someone of a different ethnic background married their best friend, while in the prairies that dropped to 71 per cent. In B.C., 72 per cent of respondents ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they are proud of Canada’s cultural mosaic. In another illustration of regional variation, 86 per cent of respondents in the Maritimes said they would feel ‘comfortable’ or ‘very comfortable’ if ‘someone with a different ethnic background moved next door to me.’”

Now, in the post-Brexit, pre-Trump world, these numbers are deflating in this region, in this province, thanks almost entirely to fake news – engineered by the gut – published on social media.

Thinkiness? No, just think.

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The fake, fake news


In the fleeting moments you take to read this humble column, I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. More’s the pity.

Atlantic Canada was once the country’s acknowledged center of all things satirical. No surprise there. Between the weather and waiting for the pogey cheque, I can think of two things worth spending any time doing in this benighted neck of the woods. Only one involves laughing your head off.

Time was when you couldn’t count the number of well-known and revered funny men and women in this region on both hands. Now, they’re a vanishing breed. As with most things in life, I blame Donald Trump. Who needs satire, when the genuine object of derision and ridicule provides his own material on an hourly basis?

Writes Nicky Woolf in a recent edition of The Guardian, “Barack Obama, facing the imminent handover to his bombastic successor (that would be Trump), has plenty to be concerned about this week. But he took the time to express his concern about the impact of fake news online when he spoke to reporters on Thursday. Obama, who was described in a detailed New Yorker interview as being ‘obsessed’ with the problem since the election, described the new ecosystem of news online in which ‘everything is true and nothing is true’.”

The outgoing U.S. president continued in a meeting with reporters last week: “In an age where there’s so much active misinformation, and it’s packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television, where some overzealousness on the part of a U.S. official is equated with constant and severe repression elsewhere, if everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

He has a point. So addled are certain media mouths over the proliferance of fake news, they’re calling for an outright dressing-down of legitimately satirical websites. They, too, have a point. It’s just on the top of their heads.

Consider New Brunswick’s very own The Manatee. Its disclaimer now reads as follows: “All content (including, without limitation, likenesses, quotes, figures, facts, etc., collectively, ‘Content’) hosted on The Manatee websites and associated social media accounts (‘The Manatee Sources’) is fictitious and satirical and should not be taken seriously. The Manatee Sources and Content are provided as is. By accessing any of The Manatee Sources you acknowledge and agree that such access, any use of Content, and/or linking to other websites or accounts from The Manatee Sources are entirely at your own risk.”

Now consider one recent Manatee story headlined, “Country ranked ‘C’ in literacy goes out of its way to correct CBC on spelling of ‘grey jay’”. It reported, “A country with one of the lowest literacy rates of the developed world, Canada, is apparently filled with linguists when it comes to the names of animals. When the Royal Canadian Geographical Society chose the ‘grey jay,’ sometimes called the ‘whisky jack,’ as the national bird and CBC reported on it, letters and emails poured in with irritated Canadians correcting the national broadcasting corporation. ‘I don’t know nothing about literacy or whatchamacallit, but I know my birds and that there’s a G-R-A-Y Jay,’ proclaimed New Brunswick man Arnold Ferguson, pointing at one of the feathered friends perched near his birdfeeder.”

True or false? It’s a no brainer. I happen to know Arnold doesn’t own a birdfeeder.

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Open season on public servants


As you scroll through certain toxic sectors of the Internet, the narrative is both acidic and familiar. Watch for them, you are told. You will know them to see them: lazy, wasteful, incompetent and, most importantly, egregiously acquisitive.

They are, of course, civil servants, public-sector employees, blithely leaching the economy of its essence, its ineffable grace. As the argument goes, never have so many done so little for so much moola.

But, wait, what about a fellow like Michael Ott? He’s a federal government scientist currently on leave from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. According to news reports, his bosses have erroneously paid him something like $30,000. What does he do? Pocket the cash with a wink and a nudge? In fact, a CBC item reports, “Ott has been putting aside every penny the federal government is mistakenly paying him.” His reasoning: “I’m more worried about the fact that in six weeks, if I haven’t paid it back, it’s going to be mess on my tax return.”

In other words, Mr. Ott is chiefly interested in doing his job and the right thing at the same time, which is the default position of virtually every civil servant in this country, in this region of Canada, I have ever known. And I have known more than a few.

Still, public-sector employees are the easiest targets in society for governments seeking to shift the blame for their own shortcomings and cowardice. They use words like “efficiency” and ugly tropes like “right-sizing” to justify their measures to voters who have been led to believe, staggeringly, that cutting jobs in one sector will help generate new ones in another.

“The Gallant Liberals will forge ahead with planned cuts to the number of people working for the New Brunswick government, believing there is still work to be done to ‘right-size’ the public service,” a Brunswick News item reported last week. “That’s despite a report that has found recent efforts have been successful in slimming numbers below the national average, defying a regional trend of a ballooning public service, and saving the province roughly $100 million in the process. . .The current Liberal government has already announced a plan to cut roughly another 1,300 positions from the civil service over the next five years.”

Why? Because it’s easier to pander to the popular and politically productive myth of the overfed public employee than it is to grapple with the inconvenient truth of a private sector that is no longer producing the good, sustainable jobs it once did.

Is this what’s behind the Nova Scotia government’s bizarre treatment of its teachers of late? The CBC reports: “All public schools will be closed Monday (yesterday) as the Liberal government throws a wrench into teacher plans to take job action over recently failed contract negotiations. Education Minister Karen Casey has decided to close schools province-wide but teachers are still expected to report to work. The Liberal government says it intends to try to impose a contract on the union.”

Added Casey with what must be the most disingenuous rationale by an elected official in recent memory: “Job actions could put students in unsafe environment. That’s unacceptable.”

Rejoined the province’s teachers union president Liette Doucet: “I would characterize (the move as) a means to create some division with the public. . .to make it seem like teachers were not going to ensure student safety. We’ve made it pretty clear that our first priority was student safety.”

And so it goes in this winter of our discontent: open season on public servants.

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Oh, we lucky few

Certainly, we in New Brunswick face some tough problems, some hoary challenges. Even a casual review the public accounts will tell you that. So will the unemployment rate, systemic poverty in certain parts of the province and persistent illiteracy and innumeracy.

But, in our quieter moments, even the most disenfranchised or cynical among us must admit, all things considered, we have it pretty good. After all, consider the alternatives.

The other day, CNN reported: “Donald Trump – struggling to move past a week of one controversy after another – is making clear that he’s willing to go it alone in the final weeks of the campaign. As the Republican nominee tries to recover from one of his toughest stretches, few prominent GOP leaders – other than those who advise him or are on his payroll – seem willing to launch a full-throated rescue effort. So Trump sought to do the heavy lifting himself, delivering a feisty speech that attempted to reframe the campaign and extract him from the quagmire of the past week, which included a disappointing debate performance, a roiling controversy over whether he paid taxes, and ill-advised attacks on a Latina beauty queen – a feud he couldn’t seem to let go.”

Yet, the man is polling at 41 per cent public approval. His rival, Hillary Clinton, is barely squeaking ahead at 45 per cent exactly one month before the U.S. federal election. Oh, brother!

Still, our American cousins might take some solace from the fact that their institutions of justice, law and morality have not entirely crumbled. Can we say the same about Syria, from which refugees arrive in Canada every day? Can we say the same about Zimbabwe? Ask Mark McKinnon. He’ll give you an earful.

He and his wife owned a farm in that southeast African country until last month when government operatives summarily expropriated his land, animals and chattels. Forced to flee the land his family had worked for generations, he and his spouse, children an relatives are now ensconced in Canada.

“We had to get out,” he told The Zimbabwean the other day. “I was going to just send the family out and fight it myself but they’re following me and would have locked me up. . .I was in hiding. . . The Canadians have been amazing. I’ve never been here before but we’re going to build a new life until we can come home. We’re on one side of Canada staying with an aunt, and my parents are on the other side staying with my sister.”

According to the story, posted online, “Mark is one of the latest victims of Zimbabwe’s state of lawlessness. The well-ordered farm that his grandfather carved out of virgin bush when he arrived from Canada and bought the land in the late 1960s, is already descending into chaos. . . It was a familiar scenario. Government ‘lists’ the farm and issues an ‘offer letter’ to a few connected people. They simply chase the owner off – with the help of the police – under the guise of the ‘Land Reform’ programme. . .If the land falls within the peri-urban area around towns, they change the land usage status, subdivide and sell off hundreds of small plots to make themselves millions.”

We walk down the streets of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John and never fear that bombs will fall on our heads. We stroll through the back-40s of our farms in rural New Brunswick and never worry about government thugs evicting us from our lawful livelihoods.

We have, in short, much to be thankful for – we lucky few

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