Tag Archives: Bruce Fitch

Whistling a nasty tune

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.

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The name game

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In principle, I do not object to the notion of selling the naming rights to public infrastructure in New Brunswick.

But Tory Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch makes a fair point when he says the scheme, proposed by the Gallant government to raise badly needed cash, risks ignoring citizens who simply don’t possess the wherewithal to ensure that their names live on in splendid glory, affixed to the side of a bridge in the middle of Hicksville, Nowhere County.

“There’s a lot of people that have contributed significantly to the province of New Brunswick,” he told the Telegraph-Journal last week, “yet they maybe aren’t of great means or haven’t been able to donate hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to a capital campaign.”

Hear, hear!

Why, I, myself, have spent an inordinate amount of time pitching and boosting a mixed-used, multi-purpose downtown events center for Moncton. Let’s call that my contribution to the moral and spiritual health of the locality and dub the facility appropriately: “The Brucesplex”.

Of course, there’s also the contiguous system of pot-hole-riddled roads that my wife and I have travelled faithfully from Moncton to the Confederation Bridge, across the Abegweit Passage of the Northumberland Strait, and into Charlottetown, to visit our grand-kids and their parents. Henceforth, let us know these byways and highways collectively as “The Bruceway”.

Still, paupers like myself (even, unlike myself, genuinely influential ones) do nothing for the provincial budget by having their names gratuitously slapped on the odd park bench. As Victor Boudreau, the provincial minister responsible for the government’s strategic program review, told reporters last week, “If we can generate a million or two that doesn’t have to come out of the pockets of New Brunswickers to help us address the fiscal challenge we’re facing in the province, then maybe it’s a option worth considering.”

Clearly, then, this particular name game is reserved for the playgrounds of the rich and influential, where participants don’t mind forking over sizeable sums in return for designated immortality etched into the edifices of the province’s public works. This, naturally, raises other concerns among the hoi polloi; chief among them is the danger of branding New Brunswick according to the increasingly narrow constraints of those in possession of real money.

Last month, Barrie Examiner ran a piece touching on a similar issue in its neck of the woods. “Councillors heard the pitch about a plan to sell naming rights of city facilities and sponsorship of programs, events and other community initiatives,” reporter Bob Bruton wrote. “It could generate a net income of almost $850,000 during its first five years, after staff, marketing and servicing costs are paid. ‘Barrie is like a lot of municipalities. They are looking for new and innovative ways to find revenue,’ said Bernie Colterman, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, who’s been in the business for 20 years. ‘The timing is right for sponsorship. You have to look at this as a positive thing.’”

On the other hand, Councillor Bonnie Ainsworth worried that the community’s Eastview Arena, for example, might suffer from an inappropriate proximity to filthy lucre. “We don’t want someone to look up and have it named Jimmy’s Tow Truck Arena,” she said.

All of this, however, could be moot. As Marvin Ryder, a marketing professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, recently told The National Post, the name game may not be as remunerative as government officials hope.

“The only place where this has worked well is in sports facilities,” he said.

Indeed, in New Brunswick, a highway or a bridge by any other name would still be as harrowing.

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Start singing a happy tune on jobs

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On the hit parade of promises political candidates make, number one with a bullet is always job creation. It’s also the first to fall off the charts once the aspirant to public office becomes the duly elected.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” contenders from all points on the partisan spectrum thunder righteously as if they, alone, know where the keys to the castle are buried. And, yet, when the expected employment fails to bloom, the mantra suddenly turns neo-conservative, like a tract plucked straight from the pages of an Ayn Rand manifesto: “Government doesn’t create jobs; the private sector creates jobs.”

Oh, so that’s how it works. Thanks for sharing. I’ve always wondered.

In fact, generations of politicians have relied on the sturdy “jobs and growth” agenda to get themselves elected for the single reason that it tends to generate happy results. At least, it produces better ones than almost any other platform, apart from the one candidates increasingly use to sling mud and rotten tomatoes at one another.

The irony, of course, is that job claims, vows, pledges or any other projection of the labour market’s condition are probably the least useful measure of a political candidate’s suitability for elected office.

No one individual controls the economic and commercial forces that usher cycles of recession and recovery. And unless a particular government is determined to spend a bunch of tax dollars hiring civil servants to push pencils and pile paper all day, publicly engineered job creation is a game of estimates, not certitudes.

This fact, alone, seems to have escaped the attention of both Liberal Premier Brian Gallant and interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch, who spent an inordinate amount of time last week hammering away at each other over the proper definition of job creation specifically, whether the former has wasted no time breaking his first important campaign promise.

“I was very clear,” the premier told reporters outside the legislature on Thursday. “These are jobs that would be created through the mechanisms and the projects we would support. This isn’t talking about a net gain in jobs. There’s a big difference here.”

He was, of course, referring to the 5,000 jobs he had promised to generate in the first year of his mandate. Technically, he insisted, the province could still lose jobs, overall just not the ones for which he is determined to be responsible.

For his part, Mr. Fitch wasn’t buying the distinction. “Absolutely, it’s a promise broken,” he said. “If it’s not a promise broken, it’s certainly a commitment that was made without the proper details, which is something the public should have been made aware of.”

Fiddle-faddle, Mr. Gallant rejoined: “I am surprised to see the questioning today, because the past government would use this argument all the time. They would say they were creating jobs and stand up in the legislature and say,’50 jobs were created there,’ but yet when it came to the economy, we’d have a net loss of jobs.”

Almost nothing is funnier to a fan of political blood sports than an utterly meaningless debate over an allegedly broken promise that was probably impossible to fulfill anyway.

Still, it’s exchanges like this diversions and distractions that lead people to conclude, not unjustifiably, that politicians actually enjoy wasting their time in public.

At least as important as the quantity of jobs the provincial economy produces is the quality of those positions. Are they full-time or part-time, seasonal? Are they salaried positions with benefits, or casual terms under contract? Do they require a high degree of skill and expertise to perform, or are they low-wage and disposable?

Rather than emphasize job numbers, government and opposition members might spend  their sojourn in Fredericton more productively by working together to build the economic capacity that breeds and keeps promising new start-ups, encourages existing, successful ventures to expand and export, and attracts investment for industrial and community economic development.

Given the apparently unfordable gulf between them on shale gas in this province, it is, perhaps, not too much to ask our elected representatives to, every so often, sing from the same song sheet.

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