Tag Archives: Robert Ghiz

Walking the low wire in fine and familiar balance

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A first-term premier in this corner of Canada can sometimes thrill the thralls, who newly elected him, by successfully negotiating the tightrope of regional politics, with or without a net.

To this end, New Brunswick’s young and inarguably energetic Brian Gallant practiced his equipoise in St. John’s earlier this week, alongside his counterparts at the annual Council of Atlantic “elected-men-in-suits”.

Did our fearless leader make it to the end of the line – strung merely inches above the ground, and, therefore, posing little risk to future career opportunities – or did he fall awkwardly to his knees?

As usual, this yearly gabfest among East Coast premiers promised more photo opportunity than perspicacity.

Still, it was incumbent on this bunch to, at least, appear effective. Hence, we are obliged to observe the Council’s official policy statement, issued Monday (helpfully provided by the Prince Edward Island government’s official website, among others):

“Atlantic Premiers are working together to improve the competitiveness of the region’s economy through actions to strengthen our workforce, harmonize and streamline regulations, ensure open transmission and transportation of energy, and provide more efficient and cost-effective services to Atlantic Canadians.

“The private sector is a key driver of job creation and economic growth across the region. Premiers announced today the Atlantic Red Tape Reduction Partnership. This partnership will identify business regulations and administrative processes that can be harmonized and streamlined to create a more competitive economic environment across Atlantic Canada.

“A competitive Atlantic economy depends on people having the right skills for the right job. Premiers extended the successful Atlantic Workforce Partnership for a further three years to continue harmonizing apprenticeship certification in 10 trades, and strengthen immigrant recruitment and retention in Atlantic Canada. This focus on demographic growth and skills enhancement builds on Atlantic Premiers’ commitment to increase the competitiveness of the region.

“Atlantic Premiers confirmed common priorities, including stable, adequate and predictable fiscal arrangements, Labour Market Development Agreements, immigration and energy.”

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s not as if any of this is invigorating or even novel.

For at least a generation, Atlantic Canada’s premiers have barked madly about “closer cooperation” on what should be shared initiatives in the region – immigration, trade and labour mobility, procurement, social transfers from Ottawa, and federal-provincial protocols governing natural resources development.

And, this year they came together long enough to, as the St. John’s Telegram reported, “support the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in pursuing a resolution to the ongoing dispute with the federal government over a proposed. . .package of fisheries-sector funding, tied to the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).”

Still, as the newspaper noted, “taking questions on the heels of the latest meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers, Stephen McNeil (N.S.) Robert Ghiz (P.E.I.) and Brian Gallant – with Newfoundland and Labrador premier Paul Davis beside them – stopped short. . .of offering full and unfettered support for the province’s position in the dispute.

The premiers generally restricted themselves to expressing support for the province’s ability to seek a correction to perceived wrongs.”

But, of course, what would we expect them to say?

Historically, as group, the Atlantic premiers’ collective interest in forging closer economic ties among them, as a bulwark against Ottawa’s policy of regional divide-and-conquer since Confederation, has evolved only glacially.

Each province has nourished its own, private interests with the feds even as each has nurtured its own, private grievances.

That’s how our rooked system has worked and continues to work in the second decade of the 21st Century. This is our fine and familiar balance – one to which all parts of the country have become inured.

And yet, at least, Mr. Gallant – who apparently enjoys being quoted – told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, prior to the Council’s assembly, “It is a very good time to focus on our priorities vis a vis the federal government. Certainly, we hope that not only the federal government will take note but all of the political parties that will be vying for the support of Canadians during the next few months will listen as well.”

All of which is to say that New Brunswick’s premier can properly step off that tightrope without fear of bruising his knees – for now.

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Are we becoming a nation of political quitters?

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It is entirely possible, if stunningly depressing, that mainstream politicians in Canada are finally listening to those they purport to represent: the disenfranchised us.

For years, the disenfranchised us have spoken from all points on the political spectrum about the fundamental corruption of ideas sacrificed at the altar of partisanship; about the seedy incompetence that infects all levels of elective office; about the unseemly horse-trading of democratic principles between ancient interests that masquerades as fair, just and equal representation.

For years, the disenfranchised us have voted with our voices and our feet: Loudly decrying the steady perversion of a system that no longer appears to be built for us and steadfastly withholding our mandates at the ballot boxes by refusing to participate in a process we consider rooked and ruined.

Now, many who have thrown their hats into the political arena in recent years are scooping up their dusty, battered head-toppers and loping home in rueful agreement with the great unwashed they all-too-often ignored.

Some quietly.

Some, not so much.

“Looking back, I, like so many people, got into politics thinking I knew a lot,” Graham Steele, Nova Scotia’s former NDP finance minister in the defeated Darrell Dexter government, told the Globe and Mail’s Jane Taber last fall.

“What I knew a fair bit about was public policy – and what it takes you a long time to learn is how public policy gets twisted and distorted and eventually you get taken over by the desire to win, to be re-elected.”

Taber’s interview coincided with the release of Steele’s memoir, What I Learned about Politics, and her excerpts from that work were as equally revealing as was her intrepid report of the man’s late-season remorse and regret:

“There was hardly any point to who sat in my chair or who was on which side of the House. None of us was dealing with the real issues. There was no fundamental difference between us. . .Like the sex drive among primates, the drive to be re-elected drives everything a politician does. . .Spend as little time as possible at the legislature. There are no voters there, so any time spent is wasted.”

What’s more, he writes, “Keep it simple. Policy debates are for losers. Focus on what is most likely to sink in with a distracted electorate: slogans, scandals, personalities, pictures, image. Find whatever works, then repeat it relentlessly. . .Fight hard to take credit, fight harder to avoid blame.”

Finally, “Deny that these are the Rules of the Game.”

The irony, of course, is that none of these tactics actually calibrate to enhance voter confidence in the political process or in public institutions. And, so, they amount to an elaborate shell game elected representatives kid themselves into believing is winnable. The electorate knows better, but without a valid alternative, it, too, plays along; the losing streak broadens and becomes structural.

After all, if everyone’s a sucker, isn’t everyone a winner?

Today, the political horizon is brimming not with losers or winners or even suckers; but with quitters.

A recent report from the Conference Board of Canada observes that “Canada scores a ‘C’ and ranks 14th out of 17 peer countries (in terms of voter turnout). Only 53.8 per cent of adult Canadians voted in the 2011 federal election – the second-lowest (showing) in history. The decline in voter turnout in Canada may be due to lower participation of young people.”

No kidding, Sherlock.

Meanwhile, the Board perseveres: “A. . .study for Elections Canada noted the decline in voter turnout in recent elections is mainly due to lower participation of young people, and that ‘it is part of a demographic trend that shows every sign of continuing well into the future.’ In 2011, only 38.8 per cent of the population aged 18 to 24 voted.”

Under these circumstances, should there be any great wonder that the negative feedback loop between electoral confidence and elected representation continues to spiral downwards?

There goes Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale. Farewell Wildrose Danielle Smith in Alberta. Who takes over from Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz? No one in his caucus; that’s for certain.

We, the disenfranchised us, finally salute you – for you have finally become us.

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