Tag Archives: political parties

Whose party is this?

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It should surprise exactly no one in New Brunswick that political parties do their level best to differentiate themselves from their opponents by any means necessary. After all, this province, New Brunswick, has been staging periodic vote-fests longer than almost any other jurisdiction in Canada.

Rarely, however, have the substantive policy differences among the three, leading federal camps – Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat – been as vanishingly small as they are today. And this presents New Brunswickers – owners of one of the nation’s least robust regional economies, and one of the most burdened by debt and deficit – with a special chore: Choosing who among these federal courtesans is most likely to doff his cap to the ancient regime of this country; the East Coast.

Shall we all just hold our breath?

New Brunswick’s social and economic challenges are both specific and articulated: High unemployment; low commercial productivity; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; low interest in anything remotely resembling renewable energy technology; high levels of disaffection with public institutions; low tolerance for civil-service cutbacks; high disdain for politicians, in general; low sympathy for elected representatives who purport to get things done by upending the status quo.

Under the circumstances, then, why would any party that seriously seeks power vary in form or substance from any other – except, of course, in what they tell the great unwashed at election time?

What they tell us now could fill a thimble for relevance and actual change.

Here come the Tories, barking at New Brunswickers that their jobs-ready, economic action plan has, over the past eight years, saved this province from perdition. Their implied motto is simply this: It could have been worse.

Here come the Grits, insisting that New Brunswickers will be much better off than they have been if only they will giddily throw themselves into the red tide that will surely swamp the Maritimes. Their message is: It can be better, though exactly how. . .well, we’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, comes the third rail (which, incidentally, looks an awful lot like the first and second), the NDippers. They want us to believe that New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes are overdue for a massive transformation. Let us, then, agree to abolish the Senate and see how well that works out for us.

Oddly enough, that was an essentially Conservative idea not so very long ago, and even a Liberal one for an Ottawa minute when Justin Trudeau kicked out every Grit senator from his sitting caucus, again, not so very long ago.

As for New Brunswick’s particular social and economic woes, no federal party has yet made a convincing case that this province’s hard and trenchant issues matter more to them than found money on a summertime beach along the Bay of Fundy (which, like substance in political rhetoric, is also rare these days).

What actually distinguishes each federal contender from the other is a media play; crafted and acted before cameras, packaged for YouTube, and meant to be taken with a large barrel of salt.

Jobs are good, so say we all. Unemployment is bad, so say we all. Innovation and productivity must be the urgent concern, so say we all.

Crime? Boo!

Victims? We feel their pain.

Health care? Of course, it’s necessary.

Literacy, numeracy, trust in public institutions? Yup, we have our work cut out for us on that, too.

Still, choose me. I wear the red sweater, or the blue one, or the orange one. The difference is immense.

Even if it’s all the same to you.

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Scrubbing the ‘politics’ from politics

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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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Accounting for pricey election promises

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How toothless are New Brunswick’s booked rules to force political parties, in campaign mode, to explain exactly how they will make good on their spending promises? Indeed, how opaque is the Conservative machine’s commitment to transparency?

The provincial Liberals want to know and have been demanding answers since late June when the Tory-inspired Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act came into effect. At that time, the Grits issued a statement, under their leader Brian Gallant’s imprimatur.

“It’s clear that this government is focused solely on spending announcements to help their election campaign, and not on growing our economy or creating jobs,” he said. “It’s ridiculous and unacceptable. This government is burying election promises in government announcements so they can avoid their own transparency legislation that requires all promises to be costed in election platforms,” said Gallant.

Last week, the Liberals were at it again, charging that the Conservatives have made $433 million worth of spending promises without independently costing out those announcements. They even unveiled a spreadsheet that, they say, accurately reflects the dollar value of each Tory vow between June 24 and August 20.

In contrast, insisted Liberal Dieppe candidate Roger Melanson, “We are being transparent and accountable. I think the outgoing premier who set out the rules in this legislation should follow the same rules.”

For their part, the Tories aren’t talking. In June, however, then-Finance Minister Blaine Higgs told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, “If they (Liberals) know something that has been promised or announced that’s not in their budget, well, then they should tell me because I don’t know about it. . .Anything during the election process will then be identified as either new money or budgeted money. It will have to be costed if it is new money.”

To which Mr. Melanson retorted, “If that’s the case, it means they were using taxpayers’ money. . .to try to buy their votes.”

There is, of course, more than a healthy dose of political posturing on both sides of the issue. But the bottom line is that all of this is largely beside the point.

To begin with, the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act is a fundamentally silly piece of legislation. It mandates that political parties assign dollar values to their campaign promises and threatens to strip them of their tax-funded operating allowances if they don’t. But it says nothing about the fact that when the provincial government is flat broke, putting price tags on election promises is utterly meaningless.

The Act also enshrines the following, as yet, unachievable priorities: “Annual balanced budgets on or before the end of the first fiscal period;con or before the end of the first fiscal period, the Province’s net debt for a fiscal year will be less than the net debt for the preceding fiscal year; on or before the end of the first fiscal period, a net debt-to-GDP ratio that is at or below 35 per cent; and after March 31, 2017, quarterly fiscal updates will include a statement of the actual expenses and revenue to the end of the quarter to which the update relates.”

And the penalty for failing to meet these objectives is a walk to the metaphorical woodshed unless, of course, the following contingency applies: “The Minister may recommend to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council that the applicability of sections 6, 9 and 10 be suspended for any fiscal year if the Minister is of the opinion that an economic or financial crisis has occurred that makes it unreasonable for those sections to apply in that fiscal year. . .On the recommendation of the Minister, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may issue an order that sections 6, 9 and 10 do not apply in the fiscal year set out in the order.”

So, then, do we not now endure an “economic or financial crisis” in this province? Or what would we call a $12-billion debt and $500-million annual deficit?

Transparency and accountability are functions of money management. First comes the money. Then comes the management.

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