Tag Archives: Justin Trudeau

More pennies from heaven

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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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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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A middle-class pick me up?

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The one political rubric that defies partisan ownership these days is the plight of the so-called middle class.

Everyone from U.S. President Barack Obama to populist rabble-rouser Donald Trump to former Canadian Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper to current Liberal office-holder in Ottawa Justin Trudeau makes hay with this benighted segment of the North American labour market.

The problem is the middle class just isn’t what it used to be, so figuring out ways to solve its many problems is a little like looking for needles in several thousand bales of straw.

What, for example, does it mean to be middle class in New Brunswick? Do the same standards and measures apply in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, or, for that matter, Fort McMurray?

Are you middle class if you earn $60,000 a year pushing paper in at government job in Freddy Beach? Are you a card-carrying member of the bourgeoisie if you pull down $85,000 doing the same thing at Queen’s Park in downtown Hog Town?

In the old days, what signified your status as a middle-class worker was, as often as not, your job security. That depended on the quality of your employment contract and/or the stability and effectiveness of your union’s bargaining unit. Not anymore.

A nicely penned piece by John Allemang in the Globe and Mail a couple of years ago made the salient point: “So it has come to this: Even union leaders are losing faith in the power of their unions. ‘There used to be a time when we had great respect from the public,’ says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. ‘But we’ve lost that. There’s this notion that unions are just out for themselves and not for society. You get that label hung on you, and you have to work to get rid of it.’”

Yeah, good luck with that.

In fact, New Brunswick may be one of the most middle-class provinces in Canada if only because the labour market here has not endured the tumultuous economic reformations of other jurisdictions in the country – at least, not to the same extent.

That should make the recent federal budget good news to the provincial populace. After all, as Globe columnist Rob Carrick wrote last week, “Stagnant wages, rising household debt, income inequality and declining economic prospects for young Canadians are all woven into a budget narrative of a struggling middle class that needs help. The question is, how much support does the budget deliver?”

The other question is, does it really matter?

The budget document, itself, appears a tad unclear.

On the one hand, it states, “With more money in their pockets, middle class families will be able to save more, enhancing their own financial security. They will also have a greater opportunity to invest – in their own future and that of their children. Finally, they will have more money to spend, which will boost economic activity in the short term, and also put Canada on a firmer growth path over the long term.”

On the other hand, in the section expressly concerned with the middle class, it notes, “It is widely recognized that increasing support for low-income families also has a positive and long-term effect. Poverty is not just a problem for individual Canadians all of Canada is affected. Poverty is particularly challenging in the case of children, and its effect can be long term. When children are lifted out of poverty, they are better able to develop to their fullest potential.”

Perhaps, then, we have found our new middle class, after all: poor people.

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Avoiding the ‘T’ word

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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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For the man who has everything

 

It will be Canada’s first shot at the head table in 20 years. In fact, a state dinner with the putative leader of the free world is no small honour for a greenhorn prime minister of the Great White North. So, the order of the day, off the main menu or a la carte, is simply: Don’t blow it Justin.

Specifically, don’t use the salad fork to cut your rubber chicken. Don’t haul out a bottle of Niagara vino and invite your hosts to dump their overpriced French Bordeaux in favour of it. And, for heaven’s sake, scrupulously avoid lecturing anyone about Canada’s superior health care system and gun laws.

Not that any of this is likely when Mr. Trudeau assembles with his wife and entourage behind the Rose Garden this week in Washington. After all, he’s too smart to blow a free lunch, as it were.

He knows that, at the moment, everyone, including U.S. President Barack Obama, positively adores the cut of his jib. (Why, even the Dread Pirate Trump, whose own Republican Party is figuring ways to make the usurper in their midst walk the plank, has issued a few blandly nice comments about this country’s decidedly Liberal, political honcho).

Still, for Mr. Trudeau, none of this settles the question: What do you give a man who has everything?

Indeed, ‘gifting’ between heads of state is a long, honoured tradition in this and other corners of the globe. Late last year, a Bloomberg Politics report had this to say about the practice:

“The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz lavished the president (Obama) and his family with six gifts with more than $1.3 million. They included a men’s watch for the president, which was estimated to cost more than $18,000, and a ‘diamond and emerald jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch’ for Obama’s school-age daughters.’”

Meanwhile, according to the news item, “Various Chinese officials were also generous: President Xi Jinping gave Obama two computer tablets. Many gifts are traditional offerings – fountain pens, vases, cognac, and the like. Others demonstrate pride, including French wines or traditional garb of a given country. In the past, though, Obama has also received wackier fare, including 20 baseball caps with his face on them, as reported by Yahoo.”

Oddly, there’s very little literature on the subject of official state gifts from Canada’s Prime Minister to America’s Commander in Chief (although the satirical, online magazine The Lapine once had a field day ‘reporting’ Stephen Harper’s bequest of a two-year-old beaver named ‘Slick’).

Certainly, the circumstance demands immediate redress. Mr. Trudeau could choose from a cornucopia of obvious trinkets and delicacies with which to honour Mr. Obama: A plank of pricey salmon from British Columbia; a hockey puck from the 1972 showdown between Team Canada and the former USSR, a cutting of winter ice from the Rideau Canal preserved in a summer cooler.

None of these, though, strike me as novel or even emblematically Canadian in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Might I suggest an alternative?

Somewhere in the back country of New Brunswick, a little distillery with a big international reputation, produces the best gin that has ever passed these (or anyone else’s) lips. As this province helped hand a convincing electoral victory to Mr. Trudeau last fall, it would apropos to ship a case of Distillerie Fils du Roy’s ‘Thuya’ to the White House.

There, behind the Rose Garden, may the two world leaders sip away their worries, plot world peace, and admire the cuts of their respective jibs.

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Becoming a debtor’s paradise

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Suddenly, the Great White North, recently famous for its probity and prudence the world over, appears ready to throw itself off a fiscal cliff.

What was forecast to be a small budget deficit in 2016-17 and 2017-18 now looks very likely to balloon to $25 billion in each of those two reporting years. The causes depend, of course, on whom you consult.

The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau blames its predecessors under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who, they say, underplayed the effect of falling oil prices even as they systematically told Canadians a far rosier tale of the nation’s basic economic strength than was probably justified.

The Opposition Tories, meanwhile, insist that the incoming Grits simply blew the budget by promising to pay for things they could never hope to afford (and, in the process, scrupulously avoided informing Canadians about the fundamental flaws in their accounting logic).

Indeed, there are a few skeletons in the fiscal closet that neither political party is especially keen to reveal.

For starters, the Conservative government never did have a handle on this whole business of running productive surpluses. It had a notion – and not a great one – that it could fool the country into believing that book entries in ledgers and cutbacks to essential programs, like infrastructure, would generate durable black ink in the public accounts for years to come.

Forget about crumbling roads, highways, bridges, canals, and military materiel. That was always someone else’s problem to solve. (It would have been theirs’, but electoral history spared them the humiliation of admitting to their own three-card-monte version of responsible government).

Secondly, the Harperites saw the writing on the oil sands years before they admitted they might be obliged to adjust their deficit and debt projections. In fact, the claim that no one saw cheap oil and gas prices coming down the pike as far back as 2012 is simply incredible.

At that time, the Americans were already moving aggressively towards oil and gas independence precisely because the Saudis and other OPEC nations were goosing their own production schedules and slashing margins at their state-owned facilities to squeeze western producers between a rock and a shale bed.

As for the nascent Trudeau government, it could never achieve its goal of simultaneously holding the line on deficits and opening the spigot. Anyone who thought it might. . .well. . .I own a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in taking off my hands.

In New Brunswick, we might properly wonder why we’re so concerned about our own province’s annual deficit, especially if the feds are so willing to increase the national one.

After all, Ottawa’s yearly shortfall could now increase by a per-capita factor of $1,000 (measured against the country’s population). That’s about 40 per cent less than ours in this East Coast jurisdiction.

But there is a difference, and it’s an important one.

Ottawa enjoys economies of scale that New Brunswick does not. The federal government has 33 million people whose open pockets they can pick. This province, meanwhile, still relies on the legal apparatus of transfers and Equalization from the ‘Centre’ with which to cover its debts.

Now, multiply that by 10 provinces and a territory or two, and you begin to get a sense of why a federal deficit is an entirely different animal than a provincial or territorial one. The former suddenly, if lamentably, becomes necessary.

If we want Ottawa’s books to balance, then we ought to begin in our towns, cities and regions. The fiscal cliffs are, in the end, our own to avoid.

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What’s in a word?

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It’s awfully nice work, if you can get it, though I suspect a facility with words – specifically, the ability to pull them from thin air – doesn’t hurt.

Meet Sir Michael Barber, once a high-ranking serf in the former British government of Tony Blair and now co-chair of something called the Centre for Public Impact (a creature of the Boston Consulting Group).

He’s been hanging around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s various offices of late, banging on about a little something he likes to call “deliverology”, which is, as near as anyone can tell, the art and science of getting things done in the civil service.

Actually, it’s a tad more complicated than this, as Sir Michael and co-authors Paul Kihn and Andy Moffit explained in their 2011 monograph, Deliverology: From idea to implantation.

“Now more than ever, governments are under pressure to deliver results in public services while ensuring that citizens’ tax dollars are spent wisely and effectively,” they write. “Nearly all governments – and individual public agencies – have set ambitious reform goals and developed strategic plans to achieve those goals. . .The challenge for public-sector organizations is to find ways to define and execute their highest-priority objectives so that they have the greatest possible impact.”

Enter deliverology, an approach the authors say “leverages and extends the key principles of best-in-class performance.” (In fact, they also say the word was originally crafted as “a light-hearted term of abuse” for the process adopted by the Prime Minister Blair’s Delivery Unit, and only later transformed into the expression it is today, replete with positive connotations).

Whatever its derivation, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Privy Council Office appears to be taking deliverology with deadly seriousness. News reports say that Deputy Secretary to Cabinet, Michael Mendelsohn, now runs the new Results and Delivery unit. According to Tony Dean, quoted by the Globe and Mail last week, “I suspect (he) will be talking to the Prime Minister and his senior staff about whether or not there are top-level, five or six, high-level priorities that the delivery unit will be initially rallying the system around.”

And why not? As silly as the word sounds, there’s some evidence that the management approach it represents actually works. Even the venerable, sometimes stodgy, Economist has given Sir Michael’s innovation a mild endorsement. “The lesson is that doggedness and consistency are of more use to the deliverologist than popularity,” a review last year of the former civil servant’s book on the subject reads. “(The) 57 rules for success range from the commonsensical – ‘Review the capacity of your system to deliver agreed goals’ – to the controversial – ‘Successful markets and effective government go together’, which has as many exceptions as proofs around the world. Yet this account of a potentially dry subject has an uplifting brio to it.”

All of which suggests, apart from anything else, that after years wandering the political wilderness in Canada, high-powered consultants have re-entered public life. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was famously intolerant of any advice, save his own, on how to run a government. Mr. Trudeau is a far more consultative sort. And it seems to be going around.

Last week, Brunswick News reported that one of New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s friends and, until recently, a provincial Liberal Party operative, has been recently enlisted by TransCanada to lobby the feds on the Energy East file. According to the story, Justin Robichaud will “seek government support for the proposed project, including updates on. . .development and stakeholder consultation progress.”

Can we then expect a little more pipeline deliverology in the offing?

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St. Andrews by the ‘red sea’

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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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The year of living gob-smacked

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I can think of only one other year when circumstances conspired to render “yours truly” utterly speechless.

1995 saw me accidentally sever all the tendons in my right hand, deliberately dismiss my business partner of four years, and unwittingly lose my wherewithal in a reversal inspired (if not actually engineered) by the Halifax-based cadre of one-per-centers for which I worked.

Still, all things properly considered, 2015 was also a tongue-numbing moment in time for most of us on the East Coast.

To begin with, no one imagined that a Christmas holiday in late December 2014, when the temperatures hovered around the 15-degree Celsius mark, would transform into this:

“If you’re feeling like this winter is one of the worst you can remember, you’re probably right,” a CTV report confirmed last February. “A ‘misery index’ released by U.S. National Weather Service meteorologists shows the winter of 2014-15 is one of the most miserable on record. The Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index puts the ‘badness’ or ‘goodness’ of winter in context by looking at daily temperature, snowfall, snow depth or precipitation records to show the season’s severity compared to other years.”

Then again, no one thought to check the science around climate change and how a new phenomenon, the “polar vortex”, might be related to trending warmer temperatures in the Arctic and lower ones in the south.

Oh well, we believe in our political leaders who seem to know exactly what we’re thinking until, of course, they don’t.

When former Prime Minister Stephen Harper told us all to relax and relish the fact that he would balance the federal budget, we assumed he was as good as his word. We assumed, in other words, that oil prices would persist and that most Canadians would, as a result, return him to his perch at 24 Sussex Drive. Most Canadians didn’t.

Now, a scion of political history, Justin Trudeau, is charged with restoring the nation’s international reputation for fairness, environmental responsibility, justice, law, and the rest well in time for his state visit to the White House on March 10, before the cherry blossoms open; before the price of a barrel of oil drops down below thirty bucks.

So, then, what do we do with this economic calculus in New Brunswick? 2015 showed us that a very young premier, only 33 years old, can move in the polls from 45 per cent approval, to 24, and back to 45 within the span of 15 months. He showed us that youth does not beggar age or wisdom.

But where now is that wisdom in a place that needs to reinvent itself in the Canadian context on its own terms?

New Brunswick’s past year has been nothing short of miraculous, if miracles are built on faith, alone. Life, unfortunately, is built on hard, cold reality. And this province has become a place where too many believe in the big, rock candy mountains of government and not enough in the granite and grit that originally made this province and this nation from coast to coast.

What was 2015?

It was the year of living astonished by the climate of our attitudes in New Brunswick; by the weather report that our economy would never improve; by the signs of storm clouds, blizzards and downpours that just never seem to disappear.

A $500-million annual deficit should curb our fat tongues; a $12-billion debt should render us utterly speechless.

Unless, of course, we decide to speak, and do, and make, and build, and create, and turn to conspire to succeed together.

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A hand-out by any other name

Who says I'm not happy?

Premier Brian Gallant’s decision to ask the newly elected Liberal government of Justin Trudeau to pony up new money for seniors’ care in this province is a bold move. But it could also be a very bad one.

In his end-of-the-year interview with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Mr. Gallant welcomed an $80-million-plus increase to New Brunswick in federal transfers next year. “I am very happy to hear that we are going to have the transfer conversation,” he said, sounding almost dismissive.

Still, he continued, “I have always made it very clear that we need extra support from the federal government because of our aging population. . .New Brunswick is facing an aging population that is more significant than almost any other province in the country. Therefore, the federal government has an opportunity to test run what programs will work to overcome those challenges.”

This is the tried-and-true “canary in the coalmine” argument that one level of government, fiscally subservient to another, routinely makes when it can’t quite figure out how to address the economic and demographic realities it faces.

Newfoundland and Labrador now faces an annual deficit of $2-billion, which dwarfs New Brunswick’s by a factor of four. Canada’s western provinces, reeling under a spot price for oil that barely nudges the $36-per-barrel mark, are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Do these jurisdictions – whose populations are, by the way, also aging – deserve any less consideration from Ottawa than does New Brunswick?

Yet, Mr. Gallant, all of 33 years old, persists. This province, he says, could and should become a test lab for federal programs (read: handouts) over and above the Canada Health Transfer that will putatively teach legislators at all levels of government across this great, aging nation how to properly care for old folks in their senescence, in the sunset of their years.

It sounds great, but it feels wrong and for a variety of reasons.

Presently, even the smartest, most perspicacious New Brunswick bureaucrats can’t tell you exactly when, how or why the province’s aging population will compromise the ship of state in these harbours we call home. Some say, doom has already descended. Others insist we have several years before we notice a deleterious difference in our standards of living. Still others declare, optimistically, that septuagenarian baby boomers represent an untapped resource – a resource whose potential is yet to be fully plumbed.

What’s missing in all of this is real, credible research that would justify a broad, multi-million-dollar ask from the feds to address a problem New Brunswick hasn’t actually parsed with any degree of social-policy, let alone scientific, rigour. It feels panicky, precipitous and, in the end, disastrously misaligned.

There’s also something distressingly infantilizing about all of this.

Shall the rest of Canada care for the elderly in New Brunswick over and above the degree they already do simply because an actuarial table over at Statistics Canada shows that the population here is getting older?

Again, how many of these people live below the poverty line? How many live well above it? Answer these questions, and then, perhaps, have a useful, evidence-based chat with Ottawa.

Fundamentally, no government anywhere in this nation has money to burn. Our grown kids can’t find the sort of work we once hoped they would. They can’t locate affordable, high-quality childcare. They can no longer expect to be better off, more prosperous or happier than their parents.

Building the base for their futures seems, to me, a better use of public money than securing the dwindling years of people like me.

Trust me, I ain’t near rich enough to afford a government-backed handout to myself.

 

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