Tag Archives: Richard Saillant

Verbal jousting won’t cure what ails New Brunswick



They may know next to nothing about forging policies that actually inspire confidence in the public peanut gallery. But when it comes to mud-slinging and spin-balling, our elected leaders are bonafide artistes, each deserving a standing ovation.

So it was on Wednesday, which marked the end of the current legislative season in New Brunswick. There in Freddy Beach, dutifully providing rounds of enthusiastic applause to themselves, were Tory Premier David Alward and Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, bending all kinds of truth to score political points.

Thundered the latter: “This government was quite busy breaking its promises. They made three key promises to be elected in the last election in 2010. They promised they’d balance the books, without cutting services and without increasing taxes. It’s obvious these three promises were broken. I’m asking the premier to explain to New Brunswickers how they are supposed to believe anything in their platform when they broke the three key promises in order to be elected in 2010.”

Rejoined the premier: “We would have thought with a least the recent policy convention we would have had some clear signs with where the Liberal party stood, but all we have is no vision at all. . .The future of New Brunswick is at stake. There hasn’t been a time in many years where the stark realities, the differences between parties, will be made more clear in the coming months. We know our young people want to have the opportunity to stay here in New Brunswick instead of having no choice but to go elsewhere.”

As for the not-quite-hidden agenda behind the political theatre this week, Mr. Alward confirmed, to the edification of exactly no one, that “elections matter. . .The reality is that this election more than any in the past will make the difference in the future of the province. We have a plan and we are dead-focused on that plan, moving forward with shale gas development, moving forward with mining, our forestry renewal and moving forward with a pipeline.” 

But if elections matter, these days they seem to matter matter less to the “future of the province” than they do to the make and model of the rowboat we choose to run aground on some shoal along the not far-off horizon. 

Moncton academic Richard Saillant sounds the alarm in his excellent new book, “Over the Cliff?”, regarding the province’s looming and interrelated fiscal, economic and demographic crises: “For several decades, New Brunswick’s economy has surfed on a rising tide of labour force growth, fuelled by the baby boom generation and the steady, largely successful march of women towards equal participation in the workforce. The tide is now receding, dragging down the economy. A new Age of Diminished Expectations is upon us.”

That’s not much of a campaign platform, but it does suggest one for either Mr. Alward or Mr. Gallant, should they actually put their rhetorical cannons away and level with the electorate for a change.

The requisite soliloquy might go a little like this:

“My fellow New Brunswickers, I come not to praise my record, but to bury it. “Clearly, we need to hit the reset button in this province. All of us, Conservatives and Liberals alike, have made costly mistakes. 

“We let the size of our public service balloon out of all proportion to its utility. We’ve wasted countless millions of dollars on failed economic development initiatives and corporate welfare. We’ve put too many of our eggs in one basket. We haven’t stuck to our knitting. And, if you will permit me one last cliche, I will make you one, and only one, promise going forward: No more promises!

“Now is not the time for verbal jousting, but for non-partisan collaboration across party lines. Now is the time for dismantling ‘politics as usual‘ and for working together towards hard, but commonsensical, fixes for our problems. 

“We must finally recognize that no one – not the federal government, not the money-market lords of Manhattan, not the foreign conglomerates of the world – is coming to our rescue. It’s all on us.

“It’s time we stop huffing and puffing at each other and get on with it.”

Ah, yes, some theatre – though it be pure fiction– can be marvelously inspiring. One might even say, worthy of ovation. 


Tagged , , ,

Pulling New Brunswick back from the brink



Conspicuous by its almost complete absence from the agonizing ruminations over New Brunswick’s perilous fiscal situation has been any suggestion of a real solution. 

No one in government, it seems, has wanted to poke the 800-pound gorilla that is the electorate for fear of getting squashed en route to the ballot box.

That is, of course, a politician’s prerogative: to hand-ring with the best of them, pledge to swallow the bitter pills and persevere for the sake of all our children, only to turn around and waste millions of dollars on doomed schemes in the name of economic development, if not calculated self-aggrandizement.  

Economists and academics are at somewhat greater liberty to tell it like it is without concern for public reprisals.

Indeed, Donald Savoie, the Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Universite de Moncton has made the province’s $12-billion debt, $500-million deficit and public-spending crisis key features of his public commentary, almost delighting (if that is the word) in jabbing voters for their refusal (or unwillingness) to reconcile their expectations of government programs with the reality of their province’s circumstances.   

Now, his colleague, Richard Saillant, the Director General of the Canadian Institute for Research on Public Policy and Public Administration at UdeM, has produced a tight book of 150 pages, or so, provocatively entitled, Over the Cliff? Acting Now to Avoid New Brunswick’s Bankruptcy.

Dr. Savoie is right when he enthuses in the preface that the author, who is also a former federal public servant, “has done New Brunswickers a great service.” In fact, what his dissertation contains is precisely that which has been missing since the discussion began: a solution, or, at least a credible stab at one with enough detail to both warrant and fuel serious debate. 

Be warned, however; Mr. Saillant’s fixes are far from easy, and he pulls no punches in describing them or the conditions that make them necessary.

“For several decades, New Brunswick’s economy has surfed on a rising tide of labour force growth, fueled by the baby boom generation and the steady, largely successful march of women towards equal participation in the workforce,” he writes. “The tide is now receding, dragging down the economy with it. A new Age of Diminished Expectations is upon us.”

Most sobering, perhaps, is his message about public priorities. While he congratulates the Alward government’s success, since 2010, in holding program spending growth to less than one per cent, he insists that the austerity can’t last “while maintaining today’s levels of public services, particularly in the health care sector.”

Indeed, “if the government does not raise taxes further and if it maintains the same public spending patterns as it did on average over the past quarter century,” by 2035-36 New Brunswick can expect to run an annual deficit of $5.5 billion on a long-term debt of $62.3 billion and a whopping debt-to-GDP ratio of 172 per cent. Not that things would likely get that far: “Credit-rating agencies would most likely pull the plug long before this happens.”

As for the solution, Mr. Saillant’s cold-eyed approach involves cutting down “baseline program spending growth every year by at least one-third of the previous year’s deficit from 2014-15 to 2029-30. Starting in 2030-31, this proportion is reduced to one-sixth.”

At the same time, he writes, “The government increases taxes and other revenues above their baseline growth by at least one-third of the previous year’s deficit from 2014-15 to 2029-30.” Again, “starting in 2030-31, this proportion is reduced to one-sixth.”

In the end, this strategy would effectively stabilize the province’s accounts. The annual deficit would fluctuate between $100-500 million. The net debt would peak in 2035-36 at about $17 billion.” 

It’s not, perhaps, the most favorable scenario (we weren’t smart enough, early enough in our collective unravelling to now expect a better result), but it’s the best we can do given our current demographic and economic challenges. And, realistically, even this approach is fraught with all the usual political perils.

But, as Mr. Saillant correctly observes, we voters “need to stop rewarding politicians who make lofty promises without explaining where the money will come from.”


Tagged , ,

The institutional non-credibility problem

For and against shale gas in New Brunswick: The immoveable object meets the implacable foe

For and against shale gas in New Brunswick: The immoveable object meets the implacable foe


New Brunswick Premier David Alward’s concern that his provincial Energy Institute is losing credibility owing to the long shadow its not-so-dearly departed founding chairman, Louis LaPierre, has cast raises a certain question: What credibility?

Are not reputations, good or otherwise, built on track records?

The Conservation Council of New Brusnwick’s Stephanie Merrill comes as close as anybody to putting a finger on the matter when she tells the Telegraph-Journal, “We’re concerned about this institute. Its mandate and what it’s going to do have been very unclear.”

Though she allows that the province could use an organization that soberly deliberates the future of energy in this neck of the woods, she perceives a “serious flaw in continuing the discussions around shale gas, pipelines, the same old story and not a new vision.”

It is, of course, in her job description to question the merit of pursuing a fossil-fuel -based economy, but I wonder if she prematurely gives the Institute too much credit. In the several months since its formal founding, it hasn’t done much for or against “shale gas” and “pipelines” and what might be termed an “old vision” of industrial development.

That’s not to say it isn’t packed with expertise (a fact which critics, who are out to skin Dr. Lapierre for misrepresenting his academic credentials even as he, himself, conceived of the Institute, conveniently neglect to mention).

Its scientific advisory council includes Adrian Park,Tom Al, Maurice Dusseault, Karen Kidd, Richard Saillant, David Besner, and Fred Metallic. All but one hold PhDs in relevant disciplines, such as geology, earth sciences, civil engineering, environmental biology, chemical engineering.

Dr. Besner, who replaces Dr. Lapierre, will function as the Institute’s interim chairman, a job for which he is eminently qualified, at least according to N.B. Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard. “He is very familiar with the framework that has been established for the institute,” the minister declared in a statement last week. “I am pleased that he accepted to lead (it). . .as it prepares to launch the water monitoring program along with several other key initiatives.”

So, what are these “key initiatives?” A more intriguing question, perhaps, is how they’ll be prosecuted, given this tasty revelation, reported in the Telegraph-Journal on Friday: “Besner’s hgonorarium does not increase in his new position. All members (of the Institute) are entitled to $450 for a full day’s work. Previous to taking the new position, Besner said the job typically involved a day and a half of work a month. He expects he’ll be be busier as chairman.”

Still, “he’s not quitting his regular job as a consultant and will not work at the institute full time.”

All of which sounds like extraordinarily light duty for a deliberative body in which the premier and his lieutenants have invested both money and confidence.

Certainly, the organization’s website doesn’t offer much in the way of enlightenment. “The New Brunswick Energy Institute is an independent body separate from government that was created to examine the science surrounding energy possibilities in our province,” the home page states. “Made up of experts in different areas of science, the Institute will examine the science pertaining to oil and gas development in the province.”

The “Research” section lists two publications: Dr. Lapierre’s initial report, which called for the Institute’s establishment (hardly, we now know, a rigorous piece of science); and a Deloitte study on shale gas supply chain opportunities in the province.

Click on the “Ongoing Research” button, and up pops a promise: “Coming Soon.”

To be fair, the Institute is still young. It hasn’t had time to find its walking shoes, let alone hit the ground running. But the political spin surrounding its eminent authority and now endangered credibility, which, we are assured, must be urgently restored is both irksome and counterproductive.

The perceived misdeeds of one man have far less to do with the Institute’s reputation than does its own lack of deeds to date.

Let it actually do something before we assign any degree of importance to its role – good or bad – in framing energy policy in New Brunswick.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: