Tag Archives: Brian Gallant

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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Cardboard cutouts

IMG_1563If the elements of the human body are worth, conservatively and according to some estimates, about two thousand bucks, what are we to make of the latest order from Global Affairs Canada to remove life-sized cardboard cutouts of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at diplomatic missions in Trumpland?

After all, the placards only cost about $300 and change. That sounds like a good deal, given the treacherous state of public finances across what is becoming the last, truly expensive democracy in the world.

Says a Canadian Press report, published earlier this week: “It’s not clear if the missions ever had departmental permission to use the cardboard cut-outs. According to emails obtained by the Conservatives through the Access to Information Act, the Washington embassy’s interest in using a cardboard likeness was sparked by word that the Atlanta consulate had put one on display at a pre-Canada Day event last year. Asked if Ottawa had given permission, Louise Blais, the Atlanta consul general, advised the embassy that she did ask but ‘never got an answer. . .which I took as no objections. But as added cover, the U.S. embassy in Ottawa has one of the Obamas.’”

The piece continues: “Anna Gibbs, senior events production manager at the Washington embassy, was excited about the prospect of putting Trudeau’s image on display. ‘I think this will be a hoot and extremely popular and go well with our Snapchat filter,’ she wrote in an email. While some of her colleagues felt the magnified photo of Trudeau in a black suit, black shirt and silver tie ‘doesn’t seem very prime ministerial,’ Gibbs gushed: ‘Looks (oh so) fine to me!’”

Uh-huh. Listen people of New Brunswick, it seems we are missing an international opportunity here (big surprise). With no disrespect to the prime minister of this great nation, our very own, GQ-ready premier Brian Gallant is every bit as fetching. Why, exactly, does he not have a cardboard stand-in to call his own? I detect another example of Ottawa bias. Ladies, weigh in on this. As always, we need your vote.

If I were a provincial staffer with money to burn, I would go one step further. I would go deep, baby. Knowing that Mr. Gallant, as respectable and intelligent as he is, is not. . .well. . .an orator of Winston Churchill’s calibre, I would ensure that a ‘talk’ button is installed in every cut-out. Interested citizens of the United States could then press the designated switch and hear something like this (in the voice of Warren Beatty, naturally):

“Hi there. You may not know me to see me, but I am the premier of one of Canada’s smallest, least economically promising provinces of Canada – you know, that great, big country to the north of you. We like to call it, ‘Mexico with snow’. Ha, ha, ha. But seriously folks, we need your American can-do attitude. We need your drive, innovation and incredible ability to create opportunities. Most of all, of course, we need your money. I am Brian Gallant, and I endorse this plea for. . .well, you know. . .your money.”

Given the precarious state of the world these days, it’s possible that cardboard cutouts of our major political figures will become the gold standard of domestic and foreign policy. No more risky plane trips to far-flung nations. No more emotional gaffs by living human beings. No more unfortunate wardrobe decisions before the stern, unforgiving eyes of the world’s internet-juiced cameras.

After all, the elements of the human body are worth far more than the plastic we manufacture to represent them.

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Biting the watchdog


When governments and their duly appointed protectors of public probity begin to feud, the result is always, lamentably predictable: The poison infects the body politic, and no one is safe from the vile cynicism that now, too often, afflicts our democratic institutions.

What, for example, are we to make of the on-again-off-again dispute between the New Brunswick government and its auditor general Kim MacPherson about their proper, respective roles in the province?

The former wants to clarify what she should be able to do, to whom she should be able to talk, and how she should be able to investigate matters that cross her desk as the province’s chief forensic accountant.

The latter wants to clarify what that actual clarification means.

The issue is the new, proposed Inquiries Act, a bill the Gallant government hopes will settle any lingering confusion about the operational independence of its legislative watchdogs (the auditor general, the provincial ombudsman and a handful of others).

But was there any real confusion, until now?

A report in Brunswick News states that the new bill, “introduced by the Liberal government last week includes specific provisions that could restrict reporting on public hearings and even exclude the public from attending. . .Now, the province’s auditor general is questioning the changes.”

In an interview with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Ms. MacPherson declared that she has concerns with one section of the proposed legislation – specifically the one that removes her authority as a provincial “commissioner”, a position which currently endows her with the same powers as a Court of Queen’s Bench judge to launch investigations and inaugurate hearings on her own steam.

As she said, “I have concerns with repealing that section (of the existing Act).” Furthermore, she stated, she worries about the coupling of one line in the legislation that gives the A-G genuine commissioner authority with another that appears to insist that these powers, nevertheless, defer to government direction. In other words, Premier Gallant and his relevant cabinet ministers seem to be saying: Investigate, but only if we initiate and approve the object of your scrutiny. “For independence reasons, I thought that section should be decoupled so that the auditor general, when and if (he/she) thought it was necessary, only in very, very extreme circumstances, would invoke the powers of inquiry,” Ms. MacPherson noted.

What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with an independent officer of the government – mandated to keep a watchful eye on all things the public is owed a right and a need to know about the fiscal apparatus of its society – asking important questions, and getting answers?

Conversely, what’s right about an elected political regime curtailing the scope and effectiveness of these duties simply because these duties remain, without partisan or bureaucratic meddling, independent?

Now, as if to add further mud to the spring run-off around Freddy Beach, the Gallant government has decided, in estimable wisdom, not to decide. It’s sent the whole issue off to the law amendments committee where bills of this sort go to be remodeled, or, as often as not, to die.

Says Attorney General Serge Rousselle: “This is not a priority for our government. . .That said, in the spirit of collaboration and to listen to what everyone wants to say, I will propose an amendment to refer the Inquiries Act to the standing committee on law amendments.”

Not a priority for this government?

Who, then, wins under these circumstances? Ms. MacPherson? The provincial government?

Certainly, it can’t be the voters who, witnessing these shenanigans, might be forgiven for the cynicism they feel rising daily and all around them.

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Chickens in every pot?


New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant seems to have no problem functioning as the province’s “Minister of Everything”.

After all, he’s not only the youngest provincial leader in the country (at age 33), he’s President of the Executive Council, Chair of the New Brunswick Jobs Board, Minister responsible for Innovation, Minister responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs, Minister responsible for Women’s Equality, Minister Responsible for Rural Affairs, and Minister responsible for the Premier’s Council on the Status of Disabled Persons.

Now, he purports to become the go-to guy for a new and vast job creation and economic growth fund in a province that can barely find clean socks to darn before it dons decades-old Birkenstocks with which to impress international bondholders.

No matter. Though he remains the second-handsomest man in New Brunswick (the first honour apparently belongs to one Jason Betts, 39, of Moncton, who has advanced to the final round of First Choice Hair Cutters’ campaign to locate the nation’s one and only Adonis), he persists as its most ambitious and implacable.

Indeed, he’s committing one billion bucks over the next few years on an “education and the new economy” fund.

Sheesh, boy, where have you been hiding all these years? Or, perhaps, the better question is: Where has the money to pay for all of this in a province that lurches from a $13-billion long-term debt to roughly $500-million in annual deficit financing been, well, hiding?

Mr. Gallant now takes a page from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s policy playbook. As federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau described his recent budget for the country, “Our plan will recapture the hope and optimism for the future that existed in previous generations, and put it to work for the next. Real change is about revitalizing the economy in the years and decades to come.”

What, then, does Mr. Gallant offer? At a press conference in Fredericton last week he said, “I will be working with ministers in the departments responsible for the different programs and initiatives of the fund to ensure that the parts are co-ordinated, complementary and realize maximum benefits.”

Furthermore, he stated, “This fund will support and coordinate new and existing programs in areas of jobs and education. . .For the 2016-17 fiscal year, our government will invest at least $261 million to support students, entrepreneurs, businesses, scientists, and New Brunswickers as they look to build an innovative economy here in New Brunswick.”

The question, though, is: How?

How will this new fund offer any more opportunities to the people of this province than any other promised and variously delivered by previous governments? How will it depart from its predecessors? How will it improve on, say, the “opportunity” agendas of the old Lord and Graham governments? How, specifically, will it build the “new economy” it promises? No news on this, yet.

The problem with a provincial premier who has his finger in every pot of his administration is that the details of his overarching agenda conveniently get forgotten, shelved or otherwise ignored by those who must, ostensibly, execute them. After all, why take the risk of running afoul of the king, even though you might hold the keys to the castle?

Mr. Gallant is evidently smart, educated, ambitious, and implacable. He’s young, energetic and well intentioned. He’s also an acolyte of the current federal program to breath new life into the national economy by spending liberally.

Fair enough. But to be successful, he must delegate his responsibilities to those under his command – those whom he has appointed to decide which chickens are delivered to which pots.


Towards a “carbon-lite” future?


As the government of New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant earnestly attempts to deliver the spirit, if not yet the reality, of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate-sensitive, clean-technology economy, the obvious question is: How will the former make nice with the latter without dismantling what remains of the provincial economy?

Certainly, the speculation mills now grind. According to a Brunswick News Inc. report earlier this week, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters is now questioning the motives of the provincial government concerning gas taxes. “I think a lot of people were wondering,” said the organization’s New Brunswick vice-president Joel Richardson.

“A gas tax wasn’t even part of the (provincial budget) conversation. . .I think it was off the table because the provincial government was in collusion with the federal government to wait until (the) Paris (climate) talks happened and Vancouver happened and then gas taxes are going up.”

All of which points to a public policy framework that is likely to become every bit as fraught with controversy as was the recent tussle over hydraulic fracturing. Then again, how could it be otherwise?

Transitioning traditional economies to a “carbon-lite” future is extraordinarily tricky business. On the other hand, it can be done. Consider, for example, Finland, which the CleanTech Finland website states, “tops the  that ranks the greenest countries in the world. Finland is followed by Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Slovenia.

“EPI ranks the performance of 180 countries on high-priority environmental issues in two areas: protection of human health and protection of ecosystems. The index is created by Yale and Columbia universities along with the World Economic Forum. EPI is constructed through the calculation and aggregation of nine categories that include more than 20 indicators: agriculture, air quality, biodiversity and habitat, climate and energy, fisheries, forests, health impacts, water and sanitation, and water resources.”

The 2016 report says that “Finland’s top ranking is mostly based on country’s societal commitment to achieve carbon-neutral society that does not exceed nature’s carrying capacity by 2050. The report indicates that Finland has actionable goals and measurable indicators of sustainable development. Finland performed well especially in the areas of health, water categories, air quality, and climate and energy. In the forests category, measuring tree cover loss, Finland has its lowest ranking.”

Finland’s experience suggests that only a concerted effort to coordinate and impose specific measures on the New Brunswick economy will effectively align the province with Ottawa’s climate-change targets and policies. Is one of these measures a gas tax or some other clutch of responses?

Mr. Richardson has a point when he notes that the best way to change people’s behaviour is offer them incentives for doing so.

Still, whatever approach eventually surfaces, a new type of logic must begin to take root here. If we can’t quit fossil fuels altogether, and we soon won’t be able to live with them as we do today we should stop thinking about them as commodities to burn and begin to appreciate them as strategic assets to employ in the effort to build a largely clean, broadly renewable future?

In other words, if we train ourselves to use them as inputs for new manufacturing technologies that more effectively capture and distribute in-situ wind, solar and tidal sources of energy, we might just start the long, arduous process of diversifying the economy.

Use them to power research into cleaner forms of short- and long-range transportation systems. Use them to, in effect, evolve away from them as anything but the necessary evils they are for advanced research and development and clean-technology commercialization.

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Juggling the balls of climate change



New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s determination to be on the right side of history may be one of the signature features of his term in office.

And, why not?

Political leaders far older than he struggle daily to balance the competing and often conflicting demands and expectations of the people they represent. It is only the hubris of youth that convinces such jugglers that they, above all others, can keep all the balls in the air and, so, astonish and mollify a disparate and peevish crowd of voters.

Sometimes, it works just fine.

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (elected at age 44) had his Camelot and moonshots, his Peace Corps.

Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (elected at age 44) has his clean-technology agenda and climate-change avowals, which he hopes will bring this nation closer to its true identity as an advocate for green sensibilities the world over.

Again, why not?

The problem, of course, is reality. It pulls and pushes, warps and wrinkles even the noblest aspirations. In the public sphere, fear and alarm masquerade as legitimate, dissenting voices. Paid lobbyists practice their smooth alchemy; industry associations exert their influence; and poorly educated citizen groups caterwaul from the sidelines of relevance.

The result is almost always inevitable: The political juggler drops the balls; bold, youthful aspirations fall to the ground; and the status quo remains intact.

I can’t confirm that this is happening in New Brunswick, but I will say that we’re getting there.

Fresh off the plane from Vancouver, where he met with his provincial counterparts and the prime minister, Mr. Gallant now vows he will “consider” pricing carbon in the province. As the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported recently, the premier is “now listing a hike in the gas tax among an ‘array’ of carbon-pricing mechanisms the province could choose in efforts to strengthen its role in a pan-Canadian climate change plan.”

But, if Mr. Gallant was ever serious about ameliorating the effects of global warming in New Brunswick – and aligning himself to federal priorities on this issue – why was his campaign for office scrupulously devoid of such considerations? Why was his most recent provincial budget largely silent on these matters?

The province’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 offers little explanation.

“In New Brunswick, the impacts of climate change have already begun to appear,” it reminds us. “Temperatures are rising, high-intensity precipitation events are becoming more common, sea levels are rising and inland and coastal areas are experiencing greater rates of erosion and more frequent flooding. In other words, New Brunswick’s ‘normal’ weather is no longer what it used to be, and more change is anticipated in the future.”

As for “visions, principles and goals”, the report has this to say: “The actions put forward in New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 recognize that: Decisions must be based on reliable and accurate information; decisions must consider the implications of long-term climate predictions and their anticipated impacts on future generations; and that all New Brunswickers share the responsibility of responding to climate change and should therefore be informed and engaged.”

No kidding Sherlock. We know this. The only reason why this province has not embraced a truly effective policy to battle climate change has to do with competing interests that constantly agitate for keeping the province’s economy tethered to the past.

If Mr. Gallant and his crew are serious about transforming this small corner of the world, he and they will have to cross over the line into the right side of history, where no political jugglers need apply.

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Avoiding the ‘T’ word


To the best of my knowledge, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant has been silent on the guy, whom some oddsmakers now insist, could become the next president of the United States.

On the other hand, the Dread Pirate Donald has had plenty of things to say about Canada – mostly benign, if not exactly kind.

For one thing, he insists, he will not “build a wall” on our shared border to prevent legions of illegal Canadian immigrants from flooding into the Red, White and Blue (as if, pal!). For another, he says he “loves” us (if only on camera).

Of course, what he actually knows about the sparsely populated, monstrously sized geography just north of him could fill a plug in one of his artfully coiffed toupees. But let’s give him the benefit of our doubt.

Better yet, let’s imagine that once he assumes residency in the Oval Office, he will reach out his manicured hand and seek to shake that of Mr. Gallant’s. How would that conversation transpire?

President Trump: “Brian? It is Brian isn’t it? You know I really like that name. . .Reminds me of ‘Life of Brian’. . .You know. . .the Monty Python movie. . .though I gotta say, I preferred John Cleese doing silly walks. . .Hey, did you ever see the one about grandmas beating up thugs on the streets of London?. . .You know, they really had something there. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with America. . .So, Brian, what did you want to talk to me about?”

Premier Gallant: “Uh. . .you phoned me. . .”

Trump: “So I did, so I did. Well, now, Brian. . .I’ve met your President Jason Treacle. . .”

Gallant: “I think you mean Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. . .”

Trump: “Trudeau. . .huh. . .Listen, is he any relation to that Doonesbury comic guy Gary Trudeau?”

Gallant: “Not that I’m aware of.”

Trump: “That’s good. . .good. . .good. I don’t care for that Gary character. . .Kind of a pinko, if you get my drift. . .Now listen Bri-Bri – by the way, you can call me the Trumpenator – what do you think about getting some good, patriotic Americans up to that Cape Breton of yours? I think it could be a win-win for both of us. . .I hear you have some great golf courses there and, as it happens, I build golf courses. . .So, you can see the. . .what’s that darn word?. . .Synergies?. . .You can see the synergies going forward, right?”

Gallant: “Sure, I guess. . .Except that Cape Breton doesn’t belong to New Brunswick. It’s a part of Nova Scotia. . .so. . .”

Trump: “Details, details Bri-Bri. . .Listen, I didn’t get to be president of the United States by sweating the small stuff. You gotta start thinking extra-box-like. . .I just made that up. Start being a boxless person, and you, too, could become president of the United States someday.”
Gallant: “I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed.”

Trump: “Don’t worry, I’m working on an app for that. . .By the way, can I land one my helicopters on this Cape whatchamacallit? I only ask ‘cause I got a lot of helicopters.”

Gallant: “Sure, I suppose.”

Trump: “Good. Oh, by the way, you’re fired! Ha, ha, ha. . .See what I did there? Geeze, I kill myself sometimes.”

News headlines from Canadian Press confirmed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “intends to steer clear of contentious topic during” his U.S. visit this week: Donald Trump.

Indeed, in this circumstance, perhaps silence is golden.

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Smart money from slow learners



New Brunswickers should harbor no doubt that Premier Brian Gallant, with the best of intentions, wants to transform the province into an oasis of educational innovation and attainment. But where’s his plan?

Some intrepid reporting by Brunswick News reveals that there isn’t one – or, at least, not much of one. A big chunk of the $261-million ‘smart-province’ initiative has yet to be assigned.

In fact, so little is known about the government’s priorities on this file that a legislative committee convened to review spending plans at the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour has been adjourned until more information becomes available.

Predictably, this has aroused the ire of the official Progressive-Conservative opposition. “The education minister (Serge Rousselle) could not answer the simplest questions about the premier’s new education and economy fund,” Tory Leader Bruce Fitch thundered.

For their part, Liberal spokespeople are buttressing the ramparts. Says one Molly Cormier, a mouthpiece for the province’s rather attenuated departments devoted to education (there appear to be many): “Senior officials as well as the minister are meeting with stakeholders in the post-secondary sector. . .The (new education and economy) fund was created to ensure government makes strategic investments into New Brunswick’s priorities of jobs and education.”

Fair enough. But Mr. Fitch and his colleagues across the aisle also make a decent point: If education is so important to the Gallant government – if, indeed, it is the architecture necessary for creating a brand, new, economically productive society in this part of the country – then why doesn’t it know what it’s doing, down to the penny, with $261-million in scarce, publicly raised capital? Why can’t it answer the questions its laudable ambitions have raised?

Some months ago, Premier Gallant told me: “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.”

Still, specificity is the jewel in the crown of democratic leadership.

What value does the Gallant government assign to publicly accessible early childhood education?

How much money is it willing to designate to the training and support of early childhood educators?

As it cuts primary and secondary-level teaching positions, how much material value is it investing in literacy, numeracy and critical thinking to benefit the flower of New Brunswick’s youth?

Should all of this cost $100 million, $200 million, $300 million? Shouldn’t we know that $261 million in a government spending priority is properly appropriated before it’s charged against the taxpayer’s ledger?

Or, if this government doesn’t have a smart-money fund to build an innovative, creative province, then say so. And say it now.

I have heard this sort of tripe from our provincial leaders almost daily and for years: “Fellow citizens, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. We must embrace the better angels of our own nature. . .blah. . .blah”.

I would rather hear honesty, however brutal, from Freddy Beach.

“Fellow New Brunswickers,” Mr. Gallant might say. “I made a mistake. I should have done my homework before I decided that $261 million was sufficient to meet my ambitions for a smart province. I should have figured out what that sum was supposed to do. I didn’t. Now, though, I will.”

Then, perhaps, we’ll have a plan we can trust.

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Polling for the truth


If you are New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, reading in a provincial newspaper that a recent poll indicates he’s no longer the flavor of the month among voters, you might be tempted to issue your own press release sardonically headlined, “alert the media”.

Except, oh yeah, they already know.

The relationship between the public, per se, and public opinion surveyors (and purveyors) is both close and ancient. It started sometime back in the 18th Century when a guy with a quill and piece of parchment stopped a passerby on a fetid London street and queried, “What ho, young man; what say you about the Jacobites? Aye or nay?”

Naturally, the results of such straw polls quickly traveled far beyond the coffee houses and gin dens and eventually made their way into the hands of the era’s pamphleteers who dutifully reported that, according to popular opinion, the king was a fool, the queen was a harlot and that even the most educated man couldn’t spell the word ‘Jacobite’, let alone venture an opinion on what it signified.

Thusly, dear reader, was born what we affectionately, if somewhat ruefully, refer to as popular democracy. As a member of the modern Fourth Estate who spends altogether too much time parsing opinion polls in the interest of hearing himself talk, I have. . .ahem. . .only one thing to say, a rare example of concision, if you will, amongst my ilk: You’re welcome.

Specifically, you are welcome to my conviction that public opinion polls are, for the most part, blunt instruments (with a margin error of plus or minus 100 per cent, 20 times out of 20) for digging at the truth about the electorate.

You are also welcome to my belief that the recent craze in this industry for providing online surveys to all and sundry (except, naturally, to those without high-speed Internet connections) only further blunts these instruments.

Still, let none of this dissuade the Angus Reid Institute from pursuing its appointed rounds. Its new survey indicates that 33 per cent of New Brunswickers approve of Brian Gallant’s performance in office. That’s a point lower than he scored in December, but a convincing improvement from his 25 per-cent showing in September. (Las Vegas odds makers must be salivating over their potential windfalls in April, when the latest provincial budget fully influences opinion).

According to a piece in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, the premier’s performance numbers put him right in the middle of the pack of his provincial peers across Canada, which is a sort of glass-half-empty-glass-half-full result. After all, if a third of New Brunswickers like the man, then as much as two-thirds do not.

What, exactly, does that mean?

Former premier David Alward held onto power within the first few months of his mandate with less than 30 per cent of the popular vote; his approval ratings actually rose in the weeks before the provincial election that ended him.

Again, what does that mean?

In the Telegraph-Journal piece, reporter John Chilibeck issued the following caveat: “While Angus Reid says its results are based on a sample size that carries a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20, the sample size in New Brunswick was the smallest, with only 301 people polled. . .The margin of error (here) would be plus or minus 5.6 per cent.”

Statistically, then, that would mean Mr. Gallant is either enjoying the best ride of any sophomore premier in the history of the province or the worst.

In either case, alert the media.

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Who’s on first?

The gorilla in the room

The gorilla in the room

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.

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