Tag Archives: New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant

Following the yellow-brick road


Brian Gallant represents the best qualities a provincial premier as this time in Canada requires – and, also, the worst.

The good news is that New Brunswick’s head honcho is young, energetic, smart, genuinely interested in the welfare of the people he represents and, most importantly, unafraid of pollsters, opposition critics, and various members of the voting public who might shake his hand and spit bitterly on the sidewalk as he moves on to press somebody else’s flesh.

The bad news is that New Brunswick’s head honcho is young, energetic, smart, genuinely interested in the welfare of the people he represents and unafraid of pollsters, opposition critics, and various members of the voting public who might shake his hand and. . .well, you get the point.

Of course, few told Mr. Gallant how to respond to the prevarications and predations of public life as he was growing up in southeastern New Brunswick. (He is the scion of working men and women who sometimes found quotidian existence so difficult, so monetarily unrewarding, that they moved more times than the pre-teen Mr. Gallant had put in years on Planet Earth).

Still, no one had to tell the future premier anything; he figured it out all by himself. The solution, he reckoned through high school, university and law school, was to cut down every extreme and find a safe landing pad in the middle of the road, where traffic passes easily both to the right and the left. As long as you don’t step off the yellow line, you won’t get run over; you will survive.

These qualities of mind and character have served him extraordinarily well as the premiers and territorial leaders of Canada prepare gathered with the feds in Ottawa on Monday to articulate a national position on climate-change policy. This pow-wow on, inarguably, the most global of all global issues, will demonstrate how, for the first time in seven years, regional leaders and national ones come to meet each other’s minds, all at once over coffee and rubber chicken, over. . .well, anything. . .but especially global warming. And Mr. Gallant had an important role to play in the proceedings. Clearly, this 33-year-old premier was animated.

“It’s important for all of us to work together – we’re going to send a strong message to the international community,” he said earlier this week, at the denouement of his appearance in the federal court of public opinion.

That message, we might hope, is about cutting carbon emissions, reducing greenhouse gases, building a self-sufficient energy future, and generally saving the planet from corporatist rapacity.

But, no; for Mr. Gallant, there remains a middle road in all of this. Here, in this place (where we once used to be; and some of us still are), it is entirely possible to imagine a pipeline full of Alberta bitumen sluicing into New Brunswick for refining and processing, even while we reject the clean-energy potentialities of wind, tidal and situated solar.

A pipeline, apparently, will keep our kids at home, educate them and make them remarkable citizens.

A wind turbine, on the other hand, will simply give them headaches and justify their complaints about how tough life is, living in Mum and Dad’s basement, watching Game of Thrones on Netflix.

Playing both sides against the middle is a tough calling. What Mr. Gallant must finally realize is that he, like any decent man or woman in a position of real power, must chart the lonely, hardscrabble course away from the yellow line, and into the brutal, responsible lanes of real leadership.


The crowns of our careers


When I was 33, I was schlepping phone books, on temporary assignment in the back end of Halifax’s Fairview neighbourhood.

When Brian Gallant was 33, he was ending the first year of his inaugural term as premier of New Brunswick.

Who, I wonder, had the better deal?

In my case, all I had to do was forget the fact that the publisher of the magazine that had employed my wife and me as editors and production managers had gone bankrupt, concentrate on the then and now, and pick up enough loose change to fill the gas tank and deliver the yellow pages to gulags of apartment complexes.

In Mr. Gallant’s circumstances, all he had to do was reconcile a provincial budget that ran hundreds-of-millions of dollars into the red with the fulsome expectation of a jurisdiction, hosting 750,000 people, which would clamor, loudly, for its regular, reliable entitlements – including, perhaps, why it was no longer getting free phone books every April 1.

This is one of the reasons why, when I have been asked by various political parties over the years to run as a candidate on their tickets, I have politely, but firmly, stated: “I would rather be road kill on the Trans-Canada, stuck in the grill of a RAM ProMaster van, than live to answer questions from people like me, over and over again.”

This is, of course, why Brian Gallant is a better citizen of this province than I. So are David Alward, Shawn Graham, Bernard Lord, Camille Theriault, and even Frank McKenna, who doesn’t even live here anymore.

Each of them chose to run for, and succeed to, public office, knowing the costs to their personal lives and well being, knowing how fully ridiculed and hated they would become. Each of them, in their own ways, made peace with that inevitability.

This is not to say that those who aren’t inclined to throw their hats into the political ring should let those who are off the hook. This is, after all, our remnant of democracy.

So, to Mr. Gallant, on the anniversary of his first year as premier of New Brunswick, I say: Good start.

You’ve managed to get just about every constituency angry: Seniors, public servants, educators, health-care professionals, and ambulance drivers.

In fact, that’s what a first-term premier is supposed to do – level the playing field, shake out the winter carpets, prepare for political springtime. People don’t pay attention to the condition of their own lives until they are well peeved.

The corollary to this is, of course, to generate one, truly magnificent idea around which to rally a disaffected and disengaged public – not three, not two, just one good, durable notion that will catalyze a productive, prosperous society.

You might begin this way:

Talk more, in the next year, about giving back to New Brunswick not the trinkets and baubles the federal government sometimes allows, but the power and capital local communities require to collaborate and thrive together.

Build a true consensus across county and municipal lines for common social and economic needs in our hospitals, clinics and schools.

Ensure that every kid in this province learns to read, write and speak both English and French to an international standard. Deliberately remodel New Brunswick as a center of excellence in math, science and literature.

Finally, lay the foundation for civil discourse in this province; make facts rule the public conversation.

You, Mr. Gallant, are only 33. Your whole life is ahead of you. And, from my perspective, at age 55, you have the better deal.

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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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This bromance might backfire


He’s young, fit, energetic and, more importantly, telegenic. He has a smile that could set 1,000 campaign managers’ hearts a flutter. And that hair – don’t get me started on that hair.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the Grit Premier of New Brunswick, the unstoppable, unflappable Brian Gallant (who considers the environs of Greater Moncton his natural hunting ground for Ottawa-fed Tories) is preparing to wage electoral battle this fall.

In fact he is – just not his own.

It is, of course, customary – nay, expected – for the premier of this province to support in every rhetorical way possible the principals, priorities and plans of his federal counterparts heading, as we presently are, into a general election. After all, what good is the rapport Mr. Gallant evidently enjoys with Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau, if he can’t splash it onto the front pages of local newspapers?

Still, the premier’s buddy routine comes perilously close to crossing the line he, himself, drew a month ago when he insisted he would not campaign (officially, at any rate) for Mr. Trudeau, but would, instead, meet with any federal leader who wanted to discuss issues critical to the province’s future, including the so-called “fiscal imbalance”.

Only last week, however, a far less circumspect-sounding Mr. Gallant delivered a politically charged tirade that could have been ripped from Mr. Trudeau’s own choir book.

“We have a Canadian economy that’s going in the wrong direction,” he thundered. “The current federal government has a bad plan for the Canadian economy, and we’ve seen that not only New Brunswick, but in many provinces across the country and, in fact, I would argue, in all of them. Some of them have had slight growth, but it’s been minimal.”

What’s more, Mr. Gallant continued, “We are in (a) recession and the current federal government refuses to change its strategy and plan. I would imagine it was because there was a 78-day federal election campaign coming.”

If nothing else, the outburst underscores the dangers of a political bromance between Messrs. Gallant and Trudeau that’s grown just a tad too fond for its own good.

Imagine, for a moment, the tone and temper of a conversation about fiscal imbalance today if the federal leader sitting across the table from Mr. Gallant happened to be Prime Minister Stephen Harper who, rumour has it, does plan to pop in to New Brunswick sometime before Election Day.

Naturally, none of this would be problematic if Mr. Trudeau’s fortunes at the ballot box were secure. They’re not.

Ottawa pollsters reckon the campaign is a virtual dead heat, with the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair slightly ahead of Mr. Harper in popularity. The young Liberal leader’s outlook is decidedly downcast and has been for weeks. Where once he enjoyed a 42 per cent approval rating, he now endures one in the range of 24 per cent.

Even here in the Maritimes, where the federal Liberals could once count on a majority of support, the NDP have gained ground. The two parties are virtually tied for public approval in New Brunswick.

Beyond any of this, though, the window dressings and pomp of campaigns only emphasize the real challenges Mr. Gallant doesn’t appear to be tackling in New Brunswick, the ones that are far closer to home and heart than a red tide in Ottawa: rising unemployment, deepening public debt and no convincing plan to stimulate economic revival and diversification.

The premier would do best to apply his inestimable energy to the issues that outlast even this, the longest of election campaigns

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Facing the angry voter


At this rate, the Hollywood-handsome premier of New Brunswick will need a political facelift before he again addresses his increasingly grumpy public on camera.

Canada’s paparazzo of pollsters – which evidently doesn’t take summer holidays, even as the objects of its scrutiny gently wend their way through the barbecue circuit – reports that Brian Gallant now enjoys a mere 27 per cent approval rating, down from 40 per cent only three months ago.

According to a news release from the Angus Reid Institute, posted to its website, the once-telegenic politician “ends his first session in government bruised by the implementation of his campaign promises and blemished in the eyes of his electorate. An. . .analysis of quarterly online survey results from more than six thousand Canadian adults shows Gallant, first sworn in last October, has seen his approval rating from respondents in his province plummet 13 points in the last three months.”

Only Manitoba’s Greg Selinger is more politically odious among Canadian premiers: Twenty-three per cent of his fellow citizens in that province give him a qualified thumbs-up.

As for Mr. Gallant, Angus Reid vice-president Shachi Kurl seemed almost gob-smacked, telling the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, “At some point the honeymoon always ends, but this is a dramatic drop. To dive 13 points is not something we tend to see over one quarter.”

In fact, though, if you are a resident of New Brunswick you might understand the Liberal premier’s precipitous fall from grace over such a short period. As is typical in this province, the reasons have both everything and nothing to do with the man, himself.

Had former Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward survived the most recent election, the odds are strong that he would be facing a fate similar to Mr. Gallant’s. His polling numbers stuck in the cellar, his political life would be dominated by a series of excessively long and tedious defences of his decisions.

That’s because, for some time now, voters have been nursing sore grudges not so much against the men and women who occupy elected office, but with the standard operating procedures of the political process, itself, which they fundamentally believe has perverted and corrupted every good intention. In this circumstance, no public figure has managed to hold the popular imagination for long.

Neither does party affiliation seem to matter. The public shuffles them them like so many deck chairs on a sinking cruise ship – a habit which goes a long way towards explaining why the policy differences between (if not major announcements of) the Bernard Lord Tories and the Shawn Graham Grits were vanishingly small and why you need an expert on constitutional law to explain the few ways in which the major party leaders today significantly part company.

Beyond this, though, the public has come to expect, with some justification, that most, if not all, political promises are either banal or unrealistic, or both.

Year after year, we witness fiscal posturing from MLAs from the left, the right and the swollen middle. We are told we must get our “financial house in order”, lest the robber-barons of the Wall Street’s bond markets make off with our chickens and the pots that contain them. And, yet, what actually changes? Where is the descriptive vision of a future that never seems to come, as one day dawns pretty much as every other.

Indeed, Mr. Gallant may well need more than a political facelift when he returns from a summer of pressing the flesh.

Whatever that is, one thing’s guaranteed: It won’t be popular.

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A centre will build growth


Was it only just the other day when New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant appeared less than convinced by the multiplier effect in economic planning – specifically, by the wisdom in pouring public money into a new downtown events centre for Moncton?

My, what a difference a day makes – even though that day has taken three months to properly arrive. With his government now willing to invest $21 million in the form of a forgivable loan toward the estimated $107-million construction cost, Mr. Gallant is leaving himself precious little room for political wiggle, as the momentum for the project clearly swings forward.

In April, Mr. Gallant stated a commentary carried by this newspaper, “Much has been said about the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .To create jobs and have strong social programs we must invest our money strategically. . .This principle is an important one that requires us as a government to do our due diligence when making decisions. This includes the decision on whether or not to financially support the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .It isn’t responsible to rush into a $107-million project.”

Last week, his chief cabinet lieutenant Victor Boudreau was whistling a  somewhat different, and happier, ditty. “I am here to say the City of Moncton’s application has not only been reviewed, but approved. To date, discussions on this project have been a bit of a moving target. It is our hope our commitment to invest in this project will allow the City of Moncton to leverage funding from other partners.”

From the beginning (at least since 2010, when the City commissioned its first, full economic impact study), the issue was always whether or not a new multi-purpose event centre would become a catalyst for economic and commercial growth and diversification throughout the urban area and even beyond.

Two years ago, New Brunswick’s senior economist David Campbell – who was an independent economic development consultant at the time – told Moncton City Council that a new centre will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, he declared, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

In fact, the urban core “generates nearly 11.5 times as much property tax revenue, compared to the rest of Moncton, on a per hectare basis.”  

Still, not everyone was encouraged by last week’s funding announcement. Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told this newspaper the province’s poor finances clearly argue against these sorts of discretionary infrastructure builds. “The government has hiked taxes, cut teachers and hospitals are in troubl., And the government is spending money on a hockey rink today?”

It’s a nice line, sure to generate buzz in all the right constituencies. But it’s not especially accurate.

There’s very little doubt in the calculating mind that a mix-use sports and entertainment facility (if it is large enough, designed well enough and comes deliberately equipped with cultural spaces) will, as Ben Champoux, CEO of Metro Moncton’s 3+ economic development agency, persuasively points out, take “the game” to a “much higher level. . .An announcement like this gives us the tools to turn around and (show) the can-do attitude that we have. . .As a result of this project, other projects going on in Greater Moncton that are tied to this one, there is more than a quarter of a billion dollars  right now in the pipeline of projects.”

Indeed, those are economic multipliers that any smart politician must be only too happy to endorse.

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Might there be a future after oil


As the Gallant government in New Brunswick laudably attempts to enshrine renewable energy as a way of policy, if not exactly life, in the province, a new study illustrates just how economically efficacious planetary survival is becoming in jurisdictions around the world.

Forget, for the moment, the nauseating push-me-pull-you debate over petroleum resources. Consider, instead, a report (brought to my attention by my good friend Yves Gagnon, P.Eng., D.Sc., and professor of engineering at Université de Moncton) from the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Its annual number concludes that this segment of the sector “employed 7.7 million people, directly or indirectly, around the world in 2014 (excluding large hydropower). This is an 18 per cent increase from the number reported the previous year. In addition, IRENA conducted the first-ever global estimate of large hydropower employment, showing approximately 1.5 million direct jobs in the sector.”

What’s more, “The 10 countries with the largest renewable energy employment were China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Colombia. . .The solar PV industry is the largest renewable energy employer worldwide with 2.5 million jobs, followed by liquid biofuels with 1.8 million jobs, and wind power, which surpassed 1 million jobs for the first time. The employment increase extends across the renewable energy spectrum with solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, biogas and small hydropower all seeing increases in employment.”

What this should tell us is that there is a good, clean, profitable life beyond fossil fuel; and that only a pervasive failure of public imagination keeps us tethered to a petro-past (of course, it is entirely possible and probably necessary to stand before history as reluctant hypocrites, paradoxically deploying oil and gas resources, inasmuch as they are used to build and sustain renewable energy technologies and infrastructure).

In any case, perhaps New Brunswick’s first-term Liberal government has received the global meta-message loud and clear. According to Energy Minister Donald Arseneault last week, new legislation tabled last week “gives NB Power the authority to deal with local entities on a smaller scale so that the economic benefit, the job creation and any money made from these investments will stay here in the province.”

He added: “There are all sorts of projects. There’s a biomass project and we have one in Dalhousie where they are interested in putting a turbine in the Charlo dam for one megawatt. And there are a lot of community wind projects. This is a way to create economic activity.”

It is, but as the IRENA report points out, none of it is easy: “In the coming years, renewable energy employment growth will depend on the return to a strong investment trajectory, as well as on continued technological development and cost reductions. Stable and predictable policies will be essential to support job creation. Finally, in a year when negotiators in Paris aim to carve out a global climate agreement, the broader policy framework for energy investments will also move to the forefront.”

And this is, of course, where the wheels have always fallen off the renewable energy cart: sustainability costs money; and the return on investment is more often a long-term proposition for governments and industry.

When was the last time anybody in the public or private sector openly mused about the value of durable benefits paid at some point in a fluid future?

When was the last time anyone dared utter the words, “social dividend”, as justification for sensible economic development?

Still, New Brunswick’s government appears to be heading down the only track that does, in fact, promise long-term rewards in the energy sector.

And that’s laudable, indeed.

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The origin of facies


Shall we see a reason to dither, to fuss or bother about shale gas development any longer? Or shall we move on and direct our righteous anger to more eminent calamities in this province – the hopeless young, the fatalistic elderly, the imperilled poor, the overtaxed, the house-proud, the land-poor, stray dogs and cute cats without homes to wreck?

Let’s face it, fracking as a nexus of public opinion in New Brunswick is as dead as a dry well. We don’t want it; we never will.

Sure, we will always want cheap oil and gas; we will just want it shipped in pristine containers that never leak, never smell, never foul the big, rock candy mountain that is this superbly self-aware part of the world.

And sure, we will always want what big-box stores offer: plastic, vinyl, more plastic, more vinyl. Never mind that 88 per cent of everything you can spend a dollar-and-a-half to buy is composed of petroleum derivatives – from shampoo to cigarettes, from sundresses to sandals.

Nope, folks, we are fated to play out the roles our human natures dictate. We want what we want, and the cheaper the better. That’s called evolution. Look it up. It’s the one principle that tethers all ideological tribes together, forever.

“My position is well known and I respect (New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s) approach, because I do think it’s thoughtful and considerate,” former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal recently. “What I like now is that there is a specific process in place (for shale gas development). It would be my hope, whatever the conclusions would be, that we would arrive at it expeditiously. I wouldn’t want to see (this issue) hanging around us for many years. I’d like to see us deal with it as quickly as possible.”

He is absolutely right, of course. Still, to say that Mr. McKenna’s views on this subject have ‘evolved’ in recent times is to say that Mr. Gallant won the past provincial election thanks, in part, to the federal Grit, anti-fracking machine operating just barely behind the veil that young Justin Trudeau wears to hide his pretty face from the voting public.

Once upon a time, Mr. McKenna had this to say to me about shale gas in New Brunswick: “We have in situ now, calculated by Corridor Resources Inc., 67 trillion cubic feet of gas. That’s bigger than western Canada. It’s a huge deposit. If 10 per cent is exploitable, that’s enough to create a revenue source for New Brunswick for decades to come.

“All in, it would result in about $15-20 billion in investment and 150,000 person years of work. And for governments, it would result in between $7-9 billion worth of royalties and taxes. The way I look at it, the real win comes when we take our indigenous shale gas in the province and hook it into the Canaport liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in Saint John.”

In other words, New Brunswick’s shale reserves could change the conversation about the province’s anaemic economy forever. They could transform the region into a jurisdiction whose wealth rivals that of a Saudi Arabian principality.

So, shall sleeping wells lie?

This province is justly famous for its ability to come a short way in a long time. Shale gas once represented an even chance to transpose this historically proven equation. No more. We must look to other, more socially acceptable ways to keep ourselves from starving and freezing in our own homes.

As Mr. McKenna might advise, we must adapt, if not exactly evolve.

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