Tag Archives: 2015 election campaign

Whose party is this?


It should surprise exactly no one in New Brunswick that political parties do their level best to differentiate themselves from their opponents by any means necessary. After all, this province, New Brunswick, has been staging periodic vote-fests longer than almost any other jurisdiction in Canada.

Rarely, however, have the substantive policy differences among the three, leading federal camps – Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat – been as vanishingly small as they are today. And this presents New Brunswickers – owners of one of the nation’s least robust regional economies, and one of the most burdened by debt and deficit – with a special chore: Choosing who among these federal courtesans is most likely to doff his cap to the ancient regime of this country; the East Coast.

Shall we all just hold our breath?

New Brunswick’s social and economic challenges are both specific and articulated: High unemployment; low commercial productivity; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; low interest in anything remotely resembling renewable energy technology; high levels of disaffection with public institutions; low tolerance for civil-service cutbacks; high disdain for politicians, in general; low sympathy for elected representatives who purport to get things done by upending the status quo.

Under the circumstances, then, why would any party that seriously seeks power vary in form or substance from any other – except, of course, in what they tell the great unwashed at election time?

What they tell us now could fill a thimble for relevance and actual change.

Here come the Tories, barking at New Brunswickers that their jobs-ready, economic action plan has, over the past eight years, saved this province from perdition. Their implied motto is simply this: It could have been worse.

Here come the Grits, insisting that New Brunswickers will be much better off than they have been if only they will giddily throw themselves into the red tide that will surely swamp the Maritimes. Their message is: It can be better, though exactly how. . .well, we’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, comes the third rail (which, incidentally, looks an awful lot like the first and second), the NDippers. They want us to believe that New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes are overdue for a massive transformation. Let us, then, agree to abolish the Senate and see how well that works out for us.

Oddly enough, that was an essentially Conservative idea not so very long ago, and even a Liberal one for an Ottawa minute when Justin Trudeau kicked out every Grit senator from his sitting caucus, again, not so very long ago.

As for New Brunswick’s particular social and economic woes, no federal party has yet made a convincing case that this province’s hard and trenchant issues matter more to them than found money on a summertime beach along the Bay of Fundy (which, like substance in political rhetoric, is also rare these days).

What actually distinguishes each federal contender from the other is a media play; crafted and acted before cameras, packaged for YouTube, and meant to be taken with a large barrel of salt.

Jobs are good, so say we all. Unemployment is bad, so say we all. Innovation and productivity must be the urgent concern, so say we all.

Crime? Boo!

Victims? We feel their pain.

Health care? Of course, it’s necessary.

Literacy, numeracy, trust in public institutions? Yup, we have our work cut out for us on that, too.

Still, choose me. I wear the red sweater, or the blue one, or the orange one. The difference is immense.

Even if it’s all the same to you.

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The true grit of political battle


To appreciate just how rattled federal Conservatives are about the prospect of facing an invigorated Justin Trudeau clad in the full metal jacket of his pre-election campaign armour, consider the strange plight of retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-general Andrew Brooke Leslie.

He’s the army officer who led the country’s mission in Afghanistan in 2006. Earlier in his career, he served as Winnipeg Area Chief of Staff during that city’s spring floods in 1997. Later that year, he commanded the 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, providing disaster relief in the storm-lashed south shore of Montreal.

More recently, General Leslie hitched his political star to Mr. Trudeau and company, becoming the co-chair of the Liberal International Affairs Council of Advisors as well as a possible candidate for office.

And for that, apparently, the military leader, patriot and, some might even say, hero cannot be forgiven – at least not within the ranks of his former Tory bosses.

Earlier this week, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson described a recent moving bill, for $72,000, the general charged the taxpayers thusly: “grossly excessive”. Specifically, he questioned “how an in-city move could possibly total over $72,000. In the meantime, it is important for Andrew Leslie to explain why he believes this is a reasonable expense for hard working Canadians to absorb. This is a matter of judgment and the responsible use of taxpayers dollars.”

Sure, it is, except for one thing: It’s all perfectly legal.

The amount might seem extraordinary, especially in light of the ongoing toothache that is the Senate expense scandal. But, in fact, the payout is standard operating procedure for senior military personnel; they get one final move, on the public dime, to anywhere they’d like in Canada.

Besides, as General Leslie explained in his own statement on Facebook, “Each step of the process is overseen by a third-party supplier, and independent approvals for every expenditure are required, as directed by the Treasury Board of Canada. Costs are paid directly to the suppliers (real estate agents, movers etc.) by the Department of National Defence.”

If we’re apt to blame anyone for such largess, then blame the rules-makers and keepers in Ottawa who are master adepts in the fine art of separating the taxpayer from his wallet, for all manner of “legitimate” exercises. After all, what’s a few million bucks for a water park, replete with gazebo, en route to a billion-dollar economic summit in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?

In fact, it is General Leslie’s outspoken support for “a change in how politics is conducted” in this country that has unnerved the Tories and inspired their partisan barbs.

A former top-ranked military officer with a distinguished service record, a chest full of medals and a vocally Liberal perspective on current affairs is the sort of nightmarish figure that keeps Conservative strategists up into the wee hours, popping handfuls of no-doze.

Combine that with a charismatic, telegenic and increasingly shrewd Grit leader, and the Tory Party’s road ahead to 2015 does seem suddenly long, winding and rough. At the very least, it’s clear that Mr. Trudeau is no longer the lightweight (if he ever was) his detractors have portrayed. Indeed, coming into Thursday’s Liberal policy convention, even his vaguer pronouncements sound formidable.

“The challenge and the responsibility for this year and over the next year and a half is to pick the team and build the plan,” he told the Globe and Mail last week. “And always get the big things right.”

The big things like, presumably, education, infrastructure, and the economy. To date, Mr Trudeau has avoided cornering himself with specific policy objectives and procedures. He is wisely keeping his powder dry. After all, a lot can happen in 15 months. Why make promises which might well prove untenable to keep?

In the meantime, the signs and portents in the body politic suggest that the tide of opinion in the country is shifting ever so slightly to the left. When establishmentarians such as Andrew Leslie publicly declare their allegiance to the Liberals, every true, blue Tory knows what that means.

It means war.

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