Tag Archives: Throne Speech

Toward a living thing in politics

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Across the River Styx, the heroes of the Underworld extend their hands to shake our own as they muse bravely about the future of this perdition that is New Brunswick.

Or, perhaps, “perdition” doesn’t quite capture the esprit de corps in Canada’s lagging indicator of a province. This is, after all, where the unemployment rate moves up or down by mere tenths of a point, and never more, around the 10 per cent mark.

This is the place where the annual rolling deficit assumes a life of its own despite feckless efforts to reign it back below $500 million.

Meanwhile, in this place, where we be, the trail of breadcrumbs leading our wee Hansels and Gretels due west grows ever broader, ever more inviting.

Perhaps, then, New Brunswick is not so much a country for the damned, but rather this nation’s one, true country for old men (and women).

What say you, provincial NDP Leader Dominic Cardy in your official response to the recent Throne Speech of the reigning Tories?

“We have to think of our seniors as an asset, not a burden, and their experience as an economic engine that can strengthen our economy,” he declared in the Telegraph-Journal this past weekend. “Engaging and unleashing the potential of seniors in the education and social services field will have a significant and immediate benefit.”

Well said, oh ye of great faith, if little actual experience governing anything. The same observation, of course, can be made about his opposite number, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, who also has a thing or two to say about New Brunswick’s prospects.

“We have to ensure that we invest on ourselves and that we believe in ourselves,” he opined in Saturday’s T-J. “It is the best way to ensure that New Brunswickers can fill the jobs that are waiting for them and that employers can get the jobs that are waiting to be filled.”

It is entirely probably – even guaranteed – that Premier David Alward will voice similar sentiments – very nearly identical ones, in fact – in the weeks and months ahead. He seeks another mandate on the strength of his stewardship of the provincial economy and, again, on the supposition that things will get better if only we have faith in the future of the province’s commercially viable natural resources.

But where the Tories and their rivals part company is in the respective locations of their priorities. And this is substantially a matter of emphasis.

The Throne Speech is, in tone, an almost technocratic document. It talks about people, but largely in a perfunctory way; as the recipients of sound government planning and policy. Individuals emerge as passive participants in the political process and in their own lives, even though they are, and will continue to be, the subject of extensive “consultations” on just about every file in the legislative docket.

In contrast Messrs. Cardy and Gallant (the latter, in particular) proceed from an almost humanist perspective and fill in the policy agenda as they go.

“Investing in knowledge and in ourselves is by far the best economic investment, but, at the same time, it is the best social equalizer,” Mr. Gallant stipulated in his weekend commentary.”. . .All the people who lobby me talk about education or training, whether it is to start growing our economy, whether it is to help their specific businesses,  whether it is to help our children, whether it is to combat obesity, whether it is to increase our literacy rates, or whether it is to eliminate poverty. . .How are we going to do this? First off, we have to believe that we are capable of doing this.”

Implicit in all of this is the contention that New Brunswick is not “going to do this” by exploiting natural resources, alone.

The solution, he suggests, is nestled somewhere in a much bigger picture, a larger and more inclusive vision of the province’s future – a vision that posits classically liberal notions of intellectual and manual dexterity, rather than the machinery corporate exploitation, at the centre of a durable economy.

Messrs. Gallant and Cardy still linger, like the rest of us, in the Underworld, but their notions are beginning to resonate among voters, who are, in the end, the only arbiters of the future who matter.

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A good try, but say good-bye PCs

Fame is so fleeting, so cold in its remembrance

Fame is so fleeting, so cold in its remembrance

The New Brunswick election is 11 months out, and I’m calling the odds.

David Alward’s pseudo-Tory juggernaut – that un-merry band of hometown heroes who thrashed the brash Shawn Graham and his ineffectual Liberals in convincing fashion three years ago – is dead on arrival.

Other metaphors spring to mind.

There’s “toast” and “belly-up.” There’s “froggies on a slow boil.” There’s knocked and knackered and out cold.

But however you term the imminent future of New Brunswick’s sitting government, the conclusion that it has become as useful to this province as a pocket is on the back of a shirt is impossible to escape.

Still, somehow, the shirt continues to fit in the minds of those who craft things like Throne Speeches, the most recent of which – delivered Tuesday – leaves no issue unmentioned, though few merit much more than passing references.

As for the forestry, in the upcoming year, our government promises to implement “a strategy to ensure New Brunswick has a competitive industry for generations to come” – whatever that means.

Meanwhile, “on the innovation front. . .in the coming year” our government’s focus on research and innovation will start “bearing fruit” as “other policies and initiatives are being designed to bolster our knowledge economy and create new, sustainable jobs.” The specifics, apparently, are temporarily unavailable.

There’s neat stuff on culture. “By establishing a Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist, your government will work towards recognizing and supporting the profession of artists in our province.”

There’s a cool measure to protect personal pocketbooks. “Your government plans to introduce amendments to unproclaimed legislation aimed at regulating payday loans to create an effective regulatory regime.”

Where the Alward government appears unequivocal, clear-eyed and firm is on the subject of natural gas – shale gas, in particular. In fact, the “responsible” exploitation of all the province’s commercially viable natural resources has become the Tories’ single loudest rallying cry leading to the next election.

“As you may recall, your government has done a great deal of work towards making sure that our natural resources – and, in particular, our natural gas potential – are identified to determine whether there is potential for economic benefits in the future,” the Throne Speech notes. “Economic benefits that could be derived from our natural resources are what will allow government to help fund and improve education, health care and many other services in the years ahead.

“Backed by the strongest rules for industry, introduced in February, as well as an action-oriented Oil and Natural Gas Blueprint for New Brunswick, introduced in May, your government will continue on the course of responsible exploration and development.

“A key aspect of managing oil and natural gas development is ensuring that the province secures a fair return to New Brunswickers for our resources. Your government recently announced a new natural gas royalty regime that ensures a fair return to New Brunswickers while encouraging investment in this sector.”

To many in the Progressive Conservative camp (and outside of it), this is the economically right thing to do. And Premier Alward and his team deserve praise for sticking to their principles regarding shale gas. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that has not posted job gains in the past year; its $500-million annual deficit is beginning to resemble a permanent feature of the landscape.

But common sense rarely wins elections. Voters in this province are in no mood to award power to anyone. They’re far more apt to deny an incumbent his mandate, especially if that mandate depends on the most incendiary issue to come along in this province for many years.

Shale gas is not about royalty regimes, deficit reduction, and funding increases to social programs. In New Brunswick, it’s about symbols of justice, law and morality. It’s about defending the little guy against the big, bad, rapacious corporate elite. It’s about taking a stand in the absence of a trustworthy, faithful government.

In other words, a lot of it is pure nonsense.

Still, no party – Tory, Grit or otherwise – can win against those odds.

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