Tag Archives: Dominic Cardy

Scrubbing the ‘politics’ from politics


It’s stunning how political even the effort to appear apolitical becomes during an election campaign.

Take all three principal leaders vying for that vaunted (thankless?) job of premier of New Brunswick this month.

In one corner of the province, Progressive Conservative honcho David Alward unveils a plan that promises to excise politics from educational policy making and programming. In fact, he said this week, “this is an approach that transcends politics and includes sound curriculum development policies, engagement from parents, educators, district education councils and researchers.”

Indeed, he insists, “politicians shouldn’t be making day-to-day or year-to-year decisions that affect the classroom.”

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant issues his statement on education, wondering, in effect, if a Tory echo machine is dogging his public appearances.

“We have to have a plan that will be long term, one that’s going to be based on evidence, going to have commitment and engagement of all people involve,” he says.

Not only that, he declares, “we need to take the politics out of this and sit down with educators, parents, students and stakeholders to build an action plan to improve our education system. . .We think having a 10-year plan, where we invite other political parties to play a role in guiding the plan is the right step for our province moving forward. It’s going to be important to put politics aside.”

Then there’s NDP commander Dominic Cardy who also believes, not surprisingly, that vile politics has poisoned the wellspring of educational achievement and opportunity in New Brunswick.

“We need to back away from having the politicians decide the curriculums, and instead talk about the outcomes we want to see,” he opines reasonably.

Here we have that most precious of spectacles, rarely seen in public: complete and utter unanimity among three distinct campaign rivals representing three philosophically divergent political parties on an issue that cuts to the very core of their collective raison d’etre.

And the question quickly becomes existential: When is anything a politician says or does not, by definition, political?

Of course, the “let’s-get-the-politics-out-of-this (insert appropriate issue here)” gambit was bound to emerge. It was just a matter of when.

In recent years, public opinion surveys in jurisdictions from Nunavut to Nantucket to North Yorkshire have confirmed that the politician who successfully convinces the public that he genuinely despises the very craft he plies to win their votes. . .well, in most cases, wins their votes.

Consider the following item in The Guardian newspaper not long ago:

“Nearly half of Britons say they are angry with politics and politicians, according to a Guardian/ICM poll analysing the disconnect between British people and their democracy. The research, which explores the reasons behind the precipitous drop in voter turnout – particularly among under-30s – finds that it is anger with the political class and broken promises made by high-profile figures that most rile voters, rather than boredom with Westminster. Asked for the single word best describing ‘how or what you instinctively feel’ about politics and politicians in general, 47 per cent of respondents answered ‘angry’, against 25 per cent who said they were chiefly ‘bored’.”

The savvy politician knows that this is the general state of affairs everywhere in the democratized world. It’s one of his trade’s occupational hazards.

One solution is to never make promises, even ones that might actually seem plausibly keepable. Then again, that’s how Mitt Romney managed to give Barack Obama a second term of office as leader of the free world. The public needs at least a little red meat to chomp.

The other option, which Messrs. Alward, Gallant and Cardy seem to understand with implicit savviness, is to talk broadly and winningly about issues that are too big and important – too vital to our physical, emotional and spiritual well being – to sully with rank promise-making.

The alternative, don’t you know, would be playing politics. And responsible politicians don’t do that; play politics, that is.

At least, they don’t when they’re trying to win a political election.

Or something like that. It’s complicated.

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Meet the planes, trains and automobile campaigners


Having temporarily exhausted their rhetoric, for and against, shale gas development, New Brunswick’s front-running political pugilists are, by way of a break between rounds, tucking into an issue about which they can both agree. Sort of.

As Conservative Leader David Alward announced his intention to craft a comprehensive port strategy for Saint John and Belledune, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant introduced an ambitious, $900-million, six-year program to refurbish roads, highways and other “strategic infrastructure” across the province.

“One of the best ways to (create jobs). . .is through stimulus in the short term, like making strategic investments in our roads and bridges,” Mr. Gallant said this week. “We have a comprehensive plan to create jobs in the near term, medium term and long term.”

He keeps saying that and he may even believe it. Still, infrastructure spending is that least sexy of all campaign issues; that it invariably comes with what seems like a staggering price tag usually spells disaster for the candidate who embraces it.

True to form, Mr. Alward and NDP Leader Dominic Cardy were ready at the pounce.

“We don’t have any money,” Mr. Cardy said simply, when asked for his opinion. “You can’t keep talking about spending billions of dollars we don’t have. . .$88,000 is the preliminary costing we got on this particular announcement. This is the worst of old-style politics. They was we create jobs is by educating workers, not hiring people onto the government payroll.”

Not to be outdone for timely displays of righteous indignation, Mr. Alward said, “Every cent that he (Mr. Gallant) is talking about investing going forward and increasing means money is going to have to be borrowed because the revenues are not there. Wheat he is doing is saddling taxpayers today, New Brunswickers today, but very importantly, he’s saddling future generations with huge debt that is not sustainable.”

Should Mr. Gallant prevail next month, and ride gloriously into Fredericton, it will, indeed, be fascinating to watch the young premier make good on his spending promises, given the province’s $500-million annual deficit and $12-billion debt. Maybe he can pull it off without waving any red flags at international bond-rating agencies.

All the same, the voter is always best served when he or she is in possession of real numbers, if only estimates, to consider.

What, in contrast, are we to make of Mr. Alward’s plan to get strategic with the province’s ports? Apparently, the Tory leader insists, it will “help unlock New Brunswick’s export potential and capitalize on our capacity to be able to say yes to natural gas development.”

How much is not important, because, as the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported yesterday, “Alward said there’s no specific cost to developing a strategy.”

That’s convenient considering there’s also no specific reason why the province’s seaports, which fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, would undertake a planning exercise of this complexity without Ottawa’s explicit support, both moral and monetary.

On the other hand, apart from the funding piece (always the Achilles heel in these matters), Mr. Gallant’s scheme, if given a chance, might actually produce tangible benefits. Moncton-based economic development consultant David Campbell has actually costed out the investment and calculated the return.

According to the T-J article, “The Liberals say an analysis conducted for them by Jupia Consultants indicates that spending $150 million per year on infrastructure would create and sustain 1,702 full-time jobs over six years and return $13 million in tax revenue to the province, annually.”

Moreover, “the annual spending is expected to generate $92.6 million worth of direct and indirect GDP through the supply chain in New Brunswick and $113.5 million with induced economic impacts. That would include $69.7 million worth of direct and indirect labour income and $78.5 million worth of labour income, including induced effects.”

In the end, the Liberals’ plan to get people back to work – preparing the province for that fine, sunny day when its booming economy will require superior infrastructure – may be too costly. It may even be unworkable.

But at least here’s a bottom line, instead of the usual empty rhetoric, to scrutinize.

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Politicos in no mood to give straight answers


How sadly predictable are the prescriptions New Brunswick’s political leaders now issue  to treat the provinces’s various and chronic maladies.

Asked repeatedly to speak plainly, boldly and fearlessly about innovative, even radical, remedies for the runaway illnesses of budget-sapping deficits and debt, they pour bromides instead.

Consider their responses to two questions the organization that owns this newspaper posed recently: Would your party consider hospital closures; and does there need to be a change in the size of the public service?

Anyone with even a mote of appreciation for the challenges of health care in a province whose population is simultaneously shrinking and aging recognizes that New Brunswick hosts too many primary care facilities doing too many of the wrong things in  too many of the wrong places.

Of course, we should shutter some hospitals. We should also reconstitute and strengthen geriatric care in community health centres and consolidate emergency medical services wherever such moves do not compromise the quality of, and access to, the services, themselves.

Saskatchewan, a province with population comparable in size to New Brunswick and under similar fiscal circumstances to ours, managed to revamp its health care system in the 1990s.

So, then, gentlemen on the hustings, what say you?

“We’re not in the business of closing hospitals,” declares People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin. And just what business are they in? “What we are in the business of is finding ways to create a better system whereby people can have access.”


But no more so, perhaps, than Green Party Leader David Coon’s response: “In the abstract, there is no reason to rule anything out, but in the concrete does it (closing hospitals) make sense? I have no idea.”

Meanwhile Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is in a decidedly conditional mood: “If we can grow our economy, if we can create jobs, if we listen to people on the front lines about how we can be more efficient, more productive, if we ensure that we are more proactive about our health care system. . .we will be able to keep and maintain the infrastructure that we have.”

Sure, and if my grandmother wore a mustache, she’d be my grandfather. Sorry, Mr. Gallant, but wishing for a fundamental change in the fabric of reality does not a health care policy make.

Still, yours is a better answer than this from our current fearless leader, Premier David Alward: “We are focused to be able to build a foundation for an economy based on natural resource development, based on innovation, based on investing in our people so they have the right skills and that will allow us to be able to continue and invest smarter in health care, in hospitals, as we go forward.”

So, is that ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Would your party consider hospital closures?

Never mind. Let’s move on. What about the size of the public service? Whaddya think, men? Too big? Too small? Or just perfect?

You first, Mr. Coon: “Let’s just be practical. .and say, ‘OK, do we need these people to do this work to deliver a good public service and are they in the right places?’”

Yeah, but didn’t we just ask you that?

You next, Mr. Cardy: “It’s not a question of adding or subtracting people. . . It’s a question of what do we need to deliver the public services people want.”

Actually, the question that’s currently on the table is whether we can afford to pay for a civil service that numbers 50,000 in a province whose total population tops out at 750,000 on a good day. That’s among the highest per capita concentration of public workers in Canada.

Yes, Mr. Gallant; I see you have your hand up: “We are going to do a program review and that means we are going to look at every program, every department and every ministry to fully understand where every dollar is going.”

Fair enough, then. You’ll get back to us.

Finally, you Mr. Alward: “We’ve been clear from square one going back to our previous platform in 2010 – we believe that we need to continue to lean the size of the public service. We’ve done that in a very responsible way through attrition.”

Forget it, Mr. Premier. You had me at “lean the size of. . .”

Alas, it seems, a politician’s determination to turn a noun into a verb to express the virtue in maintaining the status quo is about as innovative and radical as it gets in this pretty little tableau of a province.

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On culture, New Brunswick is getting it right



When the leaders of New Brunswick’s major political parties agree, it’s either cause for celebration or reason to head for the hills. After all, what are the odds that three public office holders of markedly dissimilar ideological pedigrees could be thoroughly right about a single issue on which they concur?

Generally, at least some degree of politically calculated equivocation imbues opposition response to an official announcement. But when it comes to developing the cultural sector in this province, Messrs. David Alward, Brian Gallant and Dominic Cardy truly are three musketeers in silk ties and summer suits.

For the sake one of the few sectors in this benighted neck of the woods that actually generates more insight than acrimony, let’s hope they stay that way.

Conservative Premier David Award is correct when he says – as he did last week – that “creativity is at the root of our growth as province and a people.” Would that more of this particular commodity sloshed around in the local economy. 

Still, it’s heartening to hear that his new and improved cultural policy, which updates an earlier iteration from 2002, reflects his government’s commitment to “provide the support to allow our creators to flourish.”

Given that the premier’s triumphant return to power in the fall is far from assured, it’s equally encouraging to hear Liberal tourism, heritage and culture critic Brian Kenny – presumably channelling his boss Mr. Gallant – state that “any time that we can give them (cultural entrepreneurs and workers) a helping hand and help them move forward is positive.” 

Indeed, enthused NDP Leader Dominic Cardy, “We’re happy to give this plan our support. Let’s make sure that the follow-through is there. . .Keep. . .supporting the arts and culture community.”  

For now, the plan is to pour an “additional $3 million” into this segment of the economy to, among other things, “increase operational funding for professional arts organizations; operating grants to New Brunswick’s key cultural institutions; funding for. . .professional artists, through the New Brunswick Arts Board; (and) funding for enhanced First Nations engagement processes as (these) relate to archaeological resources.”

The policy would also establish a Community Cultural Places program. . .“for organized and arms-length built heritage advocacy and. . .community museums.” It would “provide funding for activities related to community commemorations of historic events.” And it would reinstate and expand the “touring and presenting program for New Brunswick arts organizations and presenters.” 

We can, of course, argue whether three million bucks is enough to reach these goals. We can even debate whether the province can afford this comparatively modest sum, given the horrendous short- and long-term fiscal challenges it faces. 

What should be irrefutable, however, is the remarkable contribution that cultural industries make to the national and regional economies of this country.

Study after study – notably those by Statistics Canada and the Conference Board of Canada – have settled the case: The arts sector is the little engine the could, would and does, year after year, decade after decade.

“Our results demonstrate that culture is an indispensable part of the Canadian economy, permeating and adding value across the entire (spectrum). GDP from the culture sector amounted to more than $33 billion, on average, between 1996 and 2001. Similarly, the culture sector employed more than half-a-million workers, on average, over the same period. (Moreover) employment in the culture sector grew faster than that of the overall economy during this period.”

That’s an excerpt from a seminal 2004 study by StatsCan researcher Vik Singh. Four years later, the Conference Board added its own authoritative voice to the discussion: “Increasingly, countries around the world, as well as cities and regions, are recognizing the pervasive role that a dynamic culture sector plays as a magnet for talent, an enhancer of economic performance, and a catalyst for prosperity.”

The reason is simple: Talented, innovative, entrepreneurial people abhor a vacuum. If a community’s public spaces have nothing to offer beyond cinder blocks, parking lots, big-box stores and off-ramps, then business leaders won’t come. And, more importantly, if some do, they won’t stay. 

That’s something on which we can all agree and, now, our ritualistically fractious and partisan political leaders apparently do.


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Training the literate mind: the younger the better


As two New Brunswick political leaders duke it out over the wisdom of a school policy that neither seems to fully comprehend, at least one educator is fixing her gaze on the only issue that truly matters in the pedagogical careers of this province’s young and malleable: Literacy or, more precisely, the lack of it.

NDP Leader Dominic Cardy threw down the gauntlet last week when he blamed low proficiency rates of reading and writing in New Brunswick on the provincial system of fast-forwarding effectively failed students through high school graduation and into colleges and universities.

Vowing to change this perfidious policy in the unlikely event that he should one day form a government, he declared at an editorial board meeting of Brunswick News, “If you’re a good teacher you’re going to do everything you can to make sure that your kids are doing well and you are going to pass them on to the next level.

“But if you’re not as good or the kid is that much more difficult, it takes a lot of the incentives out of the system if there is no social consequence for the child not doing well and there is no professional reason for the teacher to work harder,” adding, “You can’t fail right now.”

To which the Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward predictably harumphed in disdain to reporters: “There is no ‘no-failure policy’ in New Brunswick,’ . . .there are children who do, for various reasons, spend more than one year in a grade level  – that is done in a collaborative process in co-operation with parents, with a teacher, to identify what’s best for the child.”

Indeed, he boasted, “We have an inclusive education system in our province, which we are leaders globally in helping ensure that every child is able to meet their fullest potential.”

That, of course, is solely a matter of opinion as there is nothing empirically testable about the claim.

On the other hand, Mr. Cardy’s approach – holding kids back a grade or two until they learn how to read in a system that couldn’t manage to teach them the first time around – seems almost mad.

Meanwhile, Marilyn Luscombe, president of New Brunswick Community College wisely avoids the blame-game altogether and suggests that low literacy is a far more complex problem than the province’s politicos – who adore their policy footballs – care to concede. “We have to come together in New Brunswick in partnership with the secondary system and with community literacy organizations,” she told the Telegraph-Journal recently.

“(We have to) figure out more clearly who does what and how we can ensure that more people enter the post-secondary education system and have the skills to be successful. It’s much more than the no-fail policy. It’s a lot of elements.”

In fact, teaching kids how to read is not essentially the function of primary – certainly not secondary – school educators. Expecting them to take the lead misses the point of graduated learning and baldly ignores every gradient in human development.

Learning first words, and learning them well, happens in early childhood education programs, pre-school and, ultimately, the home, where mum and dad and older brother and sister help junior practice until perfect. That’s because nature has programmed our species to learn best before age five. These are the optimal years for acquiring languages, developing math skills and recognizing spatial relationships.

It stands to reason that if we want literate, critical, thinkers populating our universities and trade schools, we should spend most of our energies and resources on the early years.

Of course, one point on which all – feuding politicians and bemused educators, alike – can agree: Low literacy costs society in material and tangible ways. It taps the social welfare system, and drives up poverty and homelessness rates. Some studies have even suggested that it increases the incidence of crime, mental illness and drug addiction.

Is there, then, much sense in jawboning about rickety middle and high school matriculation policies – which don’t make an iota of difference to the structurally illiterate and innumerate – that distract us from the issue that truly matters?

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Toward a living thing in politics


Across the River Styx, the heroes of the Underworld extend their hands to shake our own as they muse bravely about the future of this perdition that is New Brunswick.

Or, perhaps, “perdition” doesn’t quite capture the esprit de corps in Canada’s lagging indicator of a province. This is, after all, where the unemployment rate moves up or down by mere tenths of a point, and never more, around the 10 per cent mark.

This is the place where the annual rolling deficit assumes a life of its own despite feckless efforts to reign it back below $500 million.

Meanwhile, in this place, where we be, the trail of breadcrumbs leading our wee Hansels and Gretels due west grows ever broader, ever more inviting.

Perhaps, then, New Brunswick is not so much a country for the damned, but rather this nation’s one, true country for old men (and women).

What say you, provincial NDP Leader Dominic Cardy in your official response to the recent Throne Speech of the reigning Tories?

“We have to think of our seniors as an asset, not a burden, and their experience as an economic engine that can strengthen our economy,” he declared in the Telegraph-Journal this past weekend. “Engaging and unleashing the potential of seniors in the education and social services field will have a significant and immediate benefit.”

Well said, oh ye of great faith, if little actual experience governing anything. The same observation, of course, can be made about his opposite number, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, who also has a thing or two to say about New Brunswick’s prospects.

“We have to ensure that we invest on ourselves and that we believe in ourselves,” he opined in Saturday’s T-J. “It is the best way to ensure that New Brunswickers can fill the jobs that are waiting for them and that employers can get the jobs that are waiting to be filled.”

It is entirely probably – even guaranteed – that Premier David Alward will voice similar sentiments – very nearly identical ones, in fact – in the weeks and months ahead. He seeks another mandate on the strength of his stewardship of the provincial economy and, again, on the supposition that things will get better if only we have faith in the future of the province’s commercially viable natural resources.

But where the Tories and their rivals part company is in the respective locations of their priorities. And this is substantially a matter of emphasis.

The Throne Speech is, in tone, an almost technocratic document. It talks about people, but largely in a perfunctory way; as the recipients of sound government planning and policy. Individuals emerge as passive participants in the political process and in their own lives, even though they are, and will continue to be, the subject of extensive “consultations” on just about every file in the legislative docket.

In contrast Messrs. Cardy and Gallant (the latter, in particular) proceed from an almost humanist perspective and fill in the policy agenda as they go.

“Investing in knowledge and in ourselves is by far the best economic investment, but, at the same time, it is the best social equalizer,” Mr. Gallant stipulated in his weekend commentary.”. . .All the people who lobby me talk about education or training, whether it is to start growing our economy, whether it is to help their specific businesses,  whether it is to help our children, whether it is to combat obesity, whether it is to increase our literacy rates, or whether it is to eliminate poverty. . .How are we going to do this? First off, we have to believe that we are capable of doing this.”

Implicit in all of this is the contention that New Brunswick is not “going to do this” by exploiting natural resources, alone.

The solution, he suggests, is nestled somewhere in a much bigger picture, a larger and more inclusive vision of the province’s future – a vision that posits classically liberal notions of intellectual and manual dexterity, rather than the machinery corporate exploitation, at the centre of a durable economy.

Messrs. Gallant and Cardy still linger, like the rest of us, in the Underworld, but their notions are beginning to resonate among voters, who are, in the end, the only arbiters of the future who matter.

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