Tag Archives: Cathy Rogers

More pennies from heaven


Federal budgets are primarily for journalists, pundits, lobbyists, think tankers, and other assorted members of the chattering class. I should know. I’ve been covering fiscal updates, in one form or another since my first ‘lock-up’ during the years Brian Mulroney occupied the democratic ‘throne’ of this country.

In those days, back in the 1980s, information from the ‘Centre’ was sparse, though the actual documents released were voluminous. Enlightenment was rare, though analysis (both for and against) was incessant. Alas, nothing has changed, lo these many decades later.

For New Brunswick, depending on who’s talking, the Trudeau government’s second (2017) budget, unveiled last week, is either the best thing on three wheels or an unmitigated car wreck.

“New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers said Wednesday evening she had only had a chance to review highlights of the budget, but was ‘thrilled with what I see so far,’” the CBC reported. “‘I see that the federal government’s priorities line up very well with New Brunswick’s priorities,’ said Rogers. (She) cited federal investments in skills development, innovation, temporary foreign workers, and assistance to families for child care as some of the federal initiatives the Gallant government is also targeting.”

Beausejour MP Dominic LeBlanc, who is also the federal government’s minister of fisheries, went further in an interview with the Telegraph-Journal: “There is very significant money available in this budget for green infrastructure, climate change adaptation, and there’s money to help provinces and electrical utilities get off coal-fired electricity by 2030. So, New Brunswick’s push for clean energy and green technology will find in the budget a very willing partner.”

I think, though I’m not quite sure, the appropriate response is: balderdash! Oh yes, on second thought, that is the word: balderdash! The very notion that Ms. Rogers or Mr. LeBlanc had only light acquaintance with the contents of this underwhelming document before it was announced is absurd.

The federal government deserves plenty of plaudits for its plan to spend more money on early childhood education, adult skills development and, presciently enough, innovation. The budget speech says this about each of those investment areas: “The Innovation and Skills Plan is an ambitious effort to make Canada a world leading centre for innovation, to help create more good, well-paying jobs, and help strengthen and grow the middle class. . .Young Canadians will be the ones who drive the future growth of Canada’s economy – yet too many struggle to complete the education they need to succeed now, and in the future.

Still, the problem, as always, devolves to the provincial response, which invariably involves matching funds for programs. To date, there is no way, anywhere in this country, to control or focus local spending on much-needed social initiatives without throwing entire communities into the spin-washer of deficit and debt. Grand gestures from Ottawa are fine, but they usually fail to account for the on-the-ground, shovel-unready costs of execution. Who ultimately pays? You know the answer. And so do I.

Ideally, a competent, grown-up federal budget would eschew the fine rhetoric of ‘building’ and ‘exploring’ and ‘expanding’ in favour of the harder truth much of the country now faces: We’re dead broke. That means targeting. No more yakking about ‘willing partners’ and “thrilled” to be seeing ya’. Decide, for once, whether an imperfect, but perfectly serviceable, highway needs to be reconstructed from scratch or an urgently required early childhood education program deserves to be redesigned from bottom to top.

Take a page from the past, journalists, pundits, lobbyists, think tankers, and other assorted members of the chattering class, including politicians, and grow up.

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Pension blue skies ahead?


If the measure of a politician’s skill is how well she handles the hot potatoes of public policy, then Cathy Rogers must have acquired a good pair of oven mitts before she stepped into her new job as New Brunswick’s finance minister earlier this month.

Arguably, only a few issues are hotter in this country than pension reform. And she knows it, which is likely why she’s been at great pains to explain the reasoning behind her decision to endorse a scheme that increases premiums into the Canada Pension Plan.

The move, signed off by federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers last week, is already generating the predictable amount of sturm und drang within New Brunswick’s business community. “I’m not very happy about it,” Joel Richardson, vice-president of the New Brunswick branch of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, told the Telegraph-Journal last week, “and neither is anybody else in this province.”

He added: “No one has been consulted by either federal or provincial government. This is an absolute failure on behalf of this government and the federal government to work together with the business community to be able to develop and consult on a major, far-reaching policy that will have short and long-term economic impact on the province.”

Business’s basic beef with the CPP hike is that it boosts the payroll taxes that come off their bottom lines. That places undue pressure on their operating margins at a time, they argue, when the nation and few provinces can afford to hobble the private sector’s competitiveness.

Although, dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that the criticism is not merely situational; few businesses like payroll taxes on principle, regardless of how well they and the broader economy happen to be performing. As Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty effused last week, “We strongly support any program that will allow Canadians to save toward their retirement – as long as it is done on their own terms.” (That’s another way of saying, ‘get your hands out of my members’ pockets’).

Still, the hike, itself, is fairly minor, and, as Ms. Rogers pointed out in an interview with the T-J, it could have been much worse. “To be honest with you, when I first looked at the options on the table, I was very discouraged in the beginning,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘No, in New Brunswick, we’re not going to handle this.’ But we came a long way from some of the initial proposals. I wanted to make sure we could mitigate any negative impact on the economy, on business and on individuals.”

That suggests the New Brunswick’s new finance minister may have played a central role in delaying the CPP hike rollout till 2019 and its subsequent phase-in over seven years. What’s more, under the new framework, employer and employee contributions rise by one per cent. Said Ms. Rogers: “I never want to have this presented as an aggressive enhancement. It’s very modest.”

Modest or not, it won’t stop the complaints from pouring in. Neither will it address the fundamental, structural inequities in income and wealth distribution in Canada and much of the developed world. That statistics are as clear as they are compelling: The rich really are getting richer; the poor really are getting poorer. It’s doubtful that any enhancement to the CPP would effectively address that modern conundrum.

Still, on one of Ms. Rogers’ first times at bat since becoming this province’s finance minister, she’s proving that she can handle the fastballs and even the odd hot potato of public policy.

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Trials by fire


Rare is the politician who, recognizing the error of his or her ways, genuinely seeks to make amends.

That’s not to say that elected officials are loath to apologize for their statements or behavior. In fact, a tendency toward issuing unnecessary mea culpa passes in and out of political fashion with reliable frequency.

But an authentic reversal of policy in the wake of public criticism almost never happens unless an election looms. In New Brunswick, at least, another trip to the ballot box is years away.

And so it was, not long ago, that Premier Brian Gallant and Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers abandoned plans to dun relatively wealthy senior citizens in the province to help defray the cost of nursing home care for the rest.

“We will be cancelling the policy, pressing the reset button,” the premier said at a news conference in Moncton.

Added Ms. Rogers in a statement: “While the policy was designed to make care more affordable for the majority of seniors, it is clear that the announcement . . .caused a significant amount of concern for seniors. This was not our intention nor was it consistent with our priority of helping seniors and their families.”

In fact, methinks the not-quite-invisible hand of the minister had more than a little something to do with the premier’s change of heart. Indeed, his capitulation was not without a certain archness. “Taking this policy off the table,” he said, “does not mean our challenges go away.”

Still, Ms. Rogers’ background and sensibilities suggest she is more comfortable working with seniors to achieve at least some degree of consensus than dictating the terms of their surrender to economic realities in the province.

According to her official biography, she’s “a graduate of the University of New Brunswick with a masters and a Ph.D. in Sociology.” She served “14 years as professor at Crandall University and University of New Brunswick.”

What’s more, “With a policy focus on child and youth poverty, she understands the connections with health, education, crime, and the economy. (She) spent 18 years as a federal and provincial civil servant working in social development, industry, public safety, and economic development.

“She has been a lifetime advocate for prevention, support, and early intervention, and is concerned for the quality of life and well-being of vulnerable families. Honoured for her community service work by the YWCA Moncton in 2011 with a Woman of Distinction Award for Education, Training, and Development, she also received Stephen and Ella Steeves Excellence in Service Award from Crandall University in 2012.”

Given the complexion of her personal and professional achievements, inciting revolt among the province’s elderly – the fastest-growing demographic here ­– would not be an especially flattering footnote to her resume.

In truth, though, the whole idea of raising fees for some folks – a measly haul of maybe $1.6 million to government coffers – to help pay the costs of others, based on a largely arbitrary means test of personal wealth, was ludicrously provocative and unworkable from the get-go. Its only productive result has been to arm the opposition Tories with mud to sling, as Progressive Conservative leader amply demonstrated in his reaction to last week’s policy about-face: “The premier and the minister have bungled this from the start. They should have apologized to seniors for putting them through this for the past six months. Minister Rogers needs to take responsibility and resign.”

Of course, Minister Rogers needs to do no such thing. She will be far too busy continuing to make amends among the one voter block whose members still reliably line up on Election Day.

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In praise of laziness


Cathy Rogers, MLA for Moncton and the province’s social development minister, is exactly right when she says, in so many words, that hiking the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) is the easy way out of New Brunswick’s fiscal fiasco and economic swamp.

So what’s wrong with that?

Why must we endlessly review our options through the nearly Calvinist lens of public sacrifice (do better, be better, go forth and die in penury and virtue), rather than embrace the rather obvious, less dramatic proposition that a two-percentage point hike in the HST – boring though it may be – would, in four years, help balance the budget and send our international creditors into a well-deserved, deep and abiding slumber.

Ms. Rogers, by contrast, would rather we first figure out how to run ourselves as a proper citizenry than pay the bills. As for the HST, she says, “it’s like asking for a bigger allowance without first learning how to manage our allowance better.” Calling it a “quick fix” and a “lazy way to find a solution”, the minister would rather we put our shoulders to the wheel just as the wheels fall off the semi-tractor trailer that is the rusting, heaving, wheezing truck of state.

Of course, she’s not the only one in this Liberal cabinet who’s willing to stand in the middle of the road, proclaiming loudly, only then to skirt to the curb, squeaking quietly.

There’s also Donald Arseneault, Minister of Energy and Mines, who thinks that a year-long examination into things we already know about shale-gas development in the province is a profoundly responsible use of public money and time, (though he has allowed in his quieter moments that just such an exercise might actually hurt New Brunswick’s economic prospects).

Ms. Rogers’ conundrum is, however, particularly perplexing. On the one hand, she declares that she is opposed to raising the HST today, but is willing to consider the prospect a year from now. Meanwhile, so-called “wealthy seniors” should be prepared to pay more for their nursing home costs to. . .you know. . .help balance the books before the government musters the political courage to do the smart thing: boost consumption taxes for everyone on discretionary items (not food, not fuel oil, not shelter, not kids’ clothing or daycare).

Still, who are these “wealthy seniors” of whom she speaks?

“We know that based on income 87 per cent of seniors cannot afford the daily cap (of $113 a day),” the Saint John Telegraph-Journal quoted her saying last week. “We can take something from this, but not everything. It is an indicator. We have to wait until we get more data to get more details on liquid assets.”

And while we wait for “more data”, New Brunswick’s new, wholly invented, politically contrived demographic – the wealthy senior – lives in fear of a government that has not yet determined who or how best to bilk him.

Nice work, if you can get it.

Always trust Government of every ideological stripe to render the straightforward, complicated; the clear, obfuscated; the fair, inequitable.

It’s called spin and it stinks.

More than this, it depends, for its effectiveness, on enormous amounts of energy, busy work and low cunning. In other words, it’s the opposite of “lazy”.

Somehow, in this universe, the sin of lassitude means telling the evident truth, doing the obviously right thing without breaking a sweat, and smiling easily without ever worrying about night terrors.

If these are my choices, I’ll take lazy man’s way out every day of the political week.

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