Tag Archives: Dominic LeBlanc

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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Opening the spigot


To describe the federal Liberals’ first budget, as “massively” beneficial to New Brunswick is to engage in the sort of hyperbole that typically induces sudden, involuntary eye rolling among the non-politicos in the reading public.

Still, House Leader and Member of Parliament for Beausejour Dominic LeBlanc may have a point. In interviews with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal this week, he said, “There will be greater flexibility in how (infrastructure) funds are allocated. One of the things that we heard is that many of the smaller communities cannot match the one-third model.”

He was referring to the standard agreement that divvies up the cost of any given public works project equally among Ottawa, the provincial government and municipal authorities – a regime that many officials in New Brunswick have repeatedly said they can’t afford.

Added LeBlanc: “It disproportionately disadvantages the smaller municipalities that don’t have the tax base. The provincial government, in the case of New Brunswick, will have difficulty on some of the larger mega projects that we are hoping to do in the next few years.”

So, he declared, “We’ll (Ottawa) pay more and there will be ways for the province to access money that’s more favourable than the current model. The one-third straight jacket will be loosened to reflect the financial need of some municipalities and provinces.”

Boil it all down, and it seems that the New Brunswick government will have access to more than $8 million in public transit infrastructure money (not a lot, but still better than a boot in the pants). That’s to say nothing about its share of the $2 billion Low Energy Carbon Fund, the $125 million Green Municipal Fund, whatever’s left in the former Harper government’s Building Canada Fund, and $52 million earmarked for three ferry services in the Atlantic region, including the perennially imperiled Saint John-Digby service.

Indeed, the munificence of the Trudeau government doesn’t end with bricks and mortar.

There’s the new Canada Child Benefit that will remit more than $8,000 a year to most New Brunswick families with two children under the age of six. Mr. LeBlanc predicts this measure, alone, will pour more than $200 million into the provincial economy over the next 12 months.

There are also changes to the Employment Insurance program – key to the economic well being of seasonally employed regions of the province. The budget effectively reverses the broadly unpopular restrictions imposed by the former Tory government in Ottawa on claims, commute times for work and wait periods for payments.

All of which leaves the strong impression that in the early spring of 2016, munificence is Mr. Trudeau’s middle name.

On the other hand, fellows like Scott Armstrong, the Conservative critic for Atlantic Canada, are not entirely offside when they question the Liberal government’s spending priorities (though sour grapes may be the federal opposition’s choice of liquor these days).

“For all their talk about creating growth,” Mr. Armstrong told the T-J, “there’s no talk about a jobs plan. I think it was recognized by everyone that infrastructure is a way to create jobs, but from looking at what they decided to do, they put their other spending priorities out in front and infrastructure and job creation on the back burner.”

In reality, the larger risk this budget carries is the uncertain effectiveness of its measures to re-energize regional and national economies before the next inevitable recession, when the $30-billion deficit it now engineers balloons to some unspeakable level.

At that point, what’s now described as “massively” beneficial might well be viewed somewhat differently.

The devil, of course, will be in the details.

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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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The palaver over pipelines


In fact, he does looks like the kind of fellow who could tell the nation’s provinces, leading mayors and other assorted high-profile camera moths to, in effect, knock it off – and even get away with it.

On his worst day, New Brunswick MP and Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc presents and comports himself like Hollywood’s latest incarnation of an emerging mafia Don – though, an uncharacteristically friendly version of the cinematic phenotype.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I quite like his latest declaration to the press about the most recent, and utterly mindless, fracas over pipelines in this increasingly God-forsaken land of ours.

In the aftermath of some 80 mayors from Quebec, and that province’s premier, declaring their opposition to the proposed Energy East pipeline traversing their respective territories en route to tidewater facilities in Saint John, Mr. LeBlanc had this to say to local newspaper reporters this week:

“We’re prepared to deal with the tough issues and recognize that the (federal) government has an important responsibility to help get natural resources to market. The whole country has benefitted from the Alberta resource economy, so I think it would be helpful that everybody lower the tone, allow the regulatory and review process to run its course and then the government will have to make a difficult decision.”

He’s not kidding.

Gosh, what shall we do with all that Alberta oil and gas? Truck it just so that poor roads and driver inattention may slam it into a government-built tourism kiosk somewhere outside of Thunder Bay? Rail it just so that poor tracks and conductor inattention conspire to blow up another small town in the middle of Great White North Country?

Or shall we finally recognize that as long as we need fossil fuels to power our domestic and export economies, the safest, cleanest delivery system is still the lowly pipeline – properly built, scrupulously regulated and strenuously monitored by officials of the Departments of Natural Resources and those of Environment Canada?

Still, even the logical choice is fraught with political peril. And Mr. LeBlanc knows this perhaps better than anyone outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

Any delay in the construction and activation of eastern and western pipelines automatically aggravates the Conservative west, whose political agents in Ottawa are prepared to make hay with their talking points about the hegemony of the Liberal east.

Conversely, anything other than rigorous, proof-providing research showing that pipelines are, indeed, the safest technologies currently available for transporting evidently toxic materials over long distances is sure to inflame the environmental lobby and their confederates at the municipal level of government.

Tough issues, indeed, with which the federal government seems determined to deal. Ultimately, Mr. LeBlanc says, it’s Ottawa’s choice to make. And that choice, he insists, “will be based on the information that comes from the robust independent review (underway). It won’t be based on someone’s news conference. I’ve always thought that the government decision should be based on evidence, on science, on environmental analysis, on expert opinion.”

Of course, I take one issue with this declaration: It already is.

According to a recent piece in the Financial Times, “Moving oil and gas by pipeline was 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume the same distance by rail in the decade ended in 2013 in Canada, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute public policy think-tank.”

By all means, Mr. LeBlanc, complete your analysis, ensure that it is correct and then let’s get this oil flowing in the safest, most economically expedient means possible.


St. Andrews by the ‘red sea’


There is nothing quite like an ancient hotel, full of political ghosts, creaking timbers and medieval-sized crackling fireplaces at which to stage a retreat for the reigning government of Canada in the middle of a Maritime winter.

Justin Trudeau’s cabinet may mouth “sunny ways” on cue.

I, on the other hand, prefer to invoke “The Shining”, if only as a mischievous branding exercise for those who would never consider themselves to be axe men and women, let alone psycho-killers, but who would, nonetheless, chop their courtiers in backs, fronts and necks if it suited their practical purposes.

After all, whose ideas will best suit the new “Emperor of Canada”? Whose will be dismissed and who will be admonished and vilified by the evolving sun king? Who will be pitched (at least, metaphorically) into the frigid Fundy?

The gabfest convened quickly earlier this this month, and ended just as precipitously, for Mr. Trudeau and his chief lieutenants at the only hotel worth mentioning in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Apart from their good company, the place was empty (golf season being months away).

I imagine each and all of them having slunk down the cavernous halls of that haunted establishment, preoccupied by the various obsessions of their own minds, muttering “red-rum” and “all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.”

Honey, they’re home. Watch them now wield their rhetorical hatchets.

The venue may change from year to year, from ruling party to party, but the objective remains the same from generation to generation: political retreats are places where the weak are culled from the herd just in time for the next big policy commitment – in this case, that would be the federal budget next month, where cuts and spending will either broadly expand or savagely curtail the territories of individual, elected nobles in this country.

Did I say that this exercise resembled “The Shining”? Allow me to switch up my metaphors: Henceforth, think fulsomely about “Game of Thrones.”

Already, and somewhat unexpectedly, our Maritime knights in armor appear ahead of the pack. Having delivered to Mr. Trudeau in the past federal election the best margins in at least three ridings of any in the entire nation, the boons for this performance appear ready to flow.

As Adam Huras wrote in a report for the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, “The Federal Liberals may pay a larger chunk of new infrastructure pending projects in efforts to get shovels in the ground more quickly, the government realizing provinces may not have matching funds at the ready.” Said Mr. Trudeau: “A certain degree of flexibility (is) in order to make these things happen.”

Added Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, “We want to have consultations with the provinces and territories and municipalities to see where there are capacity gaps, where are areas that we can improve – whether we continue to be one-third partners (with the provinces and municipalities) or whether we come up with increasing that (federal) support.”

Unsurprisingly, any change to national infrastructure share-funding agreements will benefit the Maritimes disproportionately, if only because this region has almost no money left to invest in its own roads, sewers, bridges, and waste disposal facilities (having spent the last largess-leveraged-Ottawa-vote-getting program on hockey rinks and home improvement grab-bags under the previous Stephen Harper administration).

Well done, Dominic LeBlanc, Government House Leader and New Brunswick’s man on Ottawa’s ground. You are certainly worth every vote your constituents gave you.

There is, indeed, nothing quite like an ancient hotel in the middle of winter to stage a true game of thrones.

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