Rothesay reminds all parties they’ve work to do

After nearly a month’s campaign, the by-election train pulled out of Rothesay Monday night, delivering Progressive Conservative candidate Hugh John (Ted) Flemming III to Fredericton smiling and waving from the caboose. Or it would if trains actually ran to Fredericton anymore. And they let you stand outside the caboose.

Rothesay Train Station. Caboose not included.

Underthought metaphors aside, Flemming goes to the legislature after beating Liberal John Wilcox by 298 votes, with NDP leader Dominic Cardy a not-too distant third. For more on the totals, read this CBC story. The results, however, send a number of positive and negative messages to New Brunswick’s political parties.

The PCs have the most obvious positive of night, holding Rothesay with a candidate tabbed as a potential cabinet minister. A closer look at the numbers, however, seems more troubling.

Flemming took 38.3% of the vote Monday night, the lowest share for a PC candidate in Rothesay ( Saint John-Kings) since 1995 and nearly ten points worse that former MLA (and new Efficiency NB President and CEO) Margaret-Ann Blaney’s worst result. That indicates Blaney’s success owed much to her personal popularity, popularity Flemming could find elusive in two years.

It must also serve as a warning to Premier David Alward about pulling this kind of patronage stunt again, what with few other seats likely to remain blue with a similar 18 per cent drain. It will also reinforce how much of our politics is shaped by party leaders – Flemming took fewer than two in five votes despite taking pains to associate himself with Finance Minister (and Quispamsis MLA) Blaine Higgs, arguably the most respected politician in the province. In 2014, the buck will stop with Alward and Monday’s result should remind him of how much he must work to retain the trust of New Brunswickers.

The Liberals, oddly, can take much positive from the night despite finishing because they finished second. Wilcox ran a very low-profile campaign, with visits from Liberal MLAs receiving considerably less press than visits from PC and NDP politicians, but still grew the Liberal share by three points. It indicates the party’s much-ballyhooed renewal is perhaps being accepted by disillusioned former Liberal voters, both party members and independents.

Clearly, though, the Liberals need to cleanse themselves deeper (or Alward’s PCs need a mistake of NB Power Sale-proportions) to have a shot at returning to government in 2014. That means the new leader has to continue the renewal process and, perhaps just as importantly, stay humble – arrogance across government was the sin that did in the last two Liberal governments and replacing the flash and dash of the Graham Grits with a more low-key, hardworking, gritty (pardon the pun) approach will help the party long-term.

The New Democrats have the most to stew over. Leader Cardy more than tripled the NDP’s vote share in Rothesay, a remarkable result for the party in an affluent suburban riding attributable to his hard work and reputation. The result, however was the same – third place.

Patronage clearly wasn’t the biggest issue in town – otherwise the pork-friendly Liberals wouldn’t have taken second place and there will have to be some evaluation of what – if anything – the party could have done better. The third place result has already brought out the boo birds on Twitter and could encourage opposition to Cardy from within the NDP. Many in the party still resent the way he ascended to the leadership, some on the party’s left feel it’s moving too far to the right, and Cardy isn’t exactly the Sainted Jack Layton. Again, hard work is the order of the day for New Brunswick’s New Democrats.

Later in the week, I’ll have reviews of the term, nationally and provincially. I hope to post in this space a couple of times a week. Feel free to share and talk about what I write, whether you agree with it or not.

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The Return of the Blog

Three years ago, I began the “Notes of a Political Animal” blog as a summer project. It was fun, brief, and, well, irregular. And, once the summer ended, quickly mothballed for my work in both the Aquinian and class. With both those commitments winding down (if you’re reading this, odds are you’ve been directed by my final Aquinian column), now seemed as good a time as ever to exhume resurrect this blog and turn it into the new home for my writing. Well, until someone’s willing to make a better offer (read – employing me to write).

Nominally, this blog is about politics. It won’t be the only topic covered, but it will be the site’s raison d’etre. I’ve followed politics for a long time and, somehow, earned a reputation for concise political insight. It is only fitting I continue in that vein.

This being a blog, however, it’ll be about other stuff too. Sports is my other great passion in life and, as passions are wont to do, they bring pleasure and pain. Cheering for teams like the New York Jets, Aston Villa FC, and of course by beloved St. Thomas Tommies, both are inevitable. I’ll also do  the occasional blog about competitions I help out with, such as the New Brunswick Reach for the Top Championship at month’s end.

Personal life frequently gets thrown onto blogs and, if I feel it’s worth writing about, we be splattered here and there over this one, too. Don’t be surprised to see the occasional book review about, either.

My goal is to have two or three posts a week in this space, though this may vary as my commitments warrant. I’ll always have at least one post a week, however, and odds are I’ll be sticking to that minimum for the next couple of weeks due to papers and exams. The length of my posts will vary from two hundred word quips to 1,500 word essays, where relevant. For special events like elections, I’ll even have live blogs to give immediate opinion and analysis of important events (note: my definition of “important” may be different then yours).

If, for whatever reason, you can’t get enough of me in your digital life, follow me on Twitter @SeanDThompson.

Thanks for reading.

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Testing

Just making sure this rusty thing still works.

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For now, at least

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Well, we aren’t going to see an election call (this week, at least). The Bloc Quebecois announced Tuesday that it would support the government on Friday’s budget vote, and Wednesday the NDP said that it would support the Conservatives’ changes to EI. And this probably serves everyone well- the Tories, the Liberals, NDPs, and Bloquistes, and, most of all, the voters.

For Stephen Harper, this is good news. As much as he talks about wanting a majority government, the odds of his winning one are slim, if the latest polls are to be believed. The biggest problem the Conservatives have is that everyone knows Stephen Harper and many people have decided they don’t like him. The party’s ability to grow its support in a federal election, which is a must if the party is going to form a majority, is severely limited. In fact, if these poll results hold true in a federal election, likely the Conservatives would have a weakened minority. Making the current situation work – even if they have to soften their policies for the benefit of “the separatists and the socialists-” is not only the best way for the Conservatives to stay in power, but is also the best way to prove that they can be trusted with power – which may, conversely, help them inch towards majority territory.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have finally figured out the “opposition” part of this Official Opposition business. While blindly opposing any future confidence motion isn’t the most responsible thing to do in a minority situation, it beats the hell out officially opposing such motions, but mostly abstaining from the vote, which was the Liberal strategy under Stephane Dion. Michael Ignatieff is trying to walk a delicate tightrope: his party needs him to take a firm stand against the government (see the Bloc Quebecois ad below), but his party is in no shape, politically or financially, to fight an election right now – much less an election the party would probably get blamed for. The NDP and Bloc have, in a way, let Iggy off the hook.

The Bloc's strategy: Harper and Iggy are the same person. From the Bloc Quebecois website.

The Bloc's strategy: Harper and Iggy are the same person. From the Bloc Quebecois website.

The Bloc Quebecois is the party that would be harmed the least by an election. On the other hand, Quebecers really like the home renovation tax credit, which is the crux of the budget bill the party will support on Friday. Many Quebecers (like many Canadians) have undertaken home renovations this summer and would be rather irked if this thing wasn’t passed. Consequentially, the Bloc likes the home renovation tax credit and will vote for it. This is not a case of the Tories tailoring a bill to the Bloc’s taste, but of the Tories creating a bill the Bloc just happens to like. Besides, do you think the Bloc really wants to fight the Conservatives for voters in Quebec City on this issue?

Meanwhile, the NDP is using its position in Parliament to extract some concessions out of the Conservatives. Really, do you think the Conservatives would offer Jack Layton’s party that billion dollar Employment Insurance plan if it didn’t need the NDP’s support this fall? The unstated goal of any third party is to have leverage, to be in a position to use its standing in the house to influence government policy. It is not to mindlessly oppose the government because of ideology. Critics on the left can say the NDP’s sold out, that it could have done more, but I have to believe that 1-5 months more EI for 190,000 workers, in this economic climate, is a decent deal and probably the best the NDP is going to get out of the Tories right now. Considering the alternative is $300-million election campaign nobody wants, a possibly serious case of voter backlash, and that extra unemployment relief not being there, Jack Layton would have to be a fool not to make the deal.

Which brings us, finally, to us, the voters. We get to see how minority government is supposed to work – for now, at least. We get to see our men and women in Ottawa do their jobs instead of bickering over an election campaign – for now, at least. And we are spared the charade of an election campaign nobody really wants – for now, at least. Actually, that’s a bit harsh. If our friends on Parliament Hill continue to work together, though, this government can survive until at least winter – which can only be a good thing.

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Poll Position, Part I

Since this poll was published last week, most interested parties probably already know about it. But there’s still a few of pertinent points to be gleaned out.

  1. Getting Kelly Lamrock out of the education portfolio, replacing him with a far less stubborn minister, Roland Hache,  and reversing (for the most part) cuts to school support staff seems to have pulled Graham’s Liberals out of an almost-certain death spiral. The premier’s chair has to be a little more comfortable considering this is the first quarterly poll since March 2008 which has not seen a drop in Liberal support. The party, though, needs, not only to better define its vision and its path to self-sufficiency, it also needs no make itself likable again – Graham’s government has alienated quite a few voters over the last three years, and will need to expand its base over the next 9 months to feel comfortable during the election campaign.
  2. David Alward and the PCs can oppose all they want, and good on them for doing so. Their health critic, Margaret Ann Blaney, has been far more visible on the doctors’ wage freeze controversy than Health Minister Mary Schryer, and the party as a whole has vehemently fought most of the changes and cuts carried out by the government. The problem they have – and that many New  Brunswickers have with the Progressive Conservative Party – is that they don’t seem to have any answers, they don’t seem to have a plan. Nobody really expects that cutting taxes deeper and not cutting services at all (it’s an oversimplification, but not by much) will help New Brunswick get through the recession any better.  The PCs have been spending the summer going across the province, supposedly finding out from New Brunswickers hat their priorities are. It remains to be seen if these priorities will be well reflected when the party releases its policy this fall.
  3. Good golly, are things looking up for the NDP. While I’ll explain in a minute why their 22% support isn’t really 22% support, and also while the NDP reached these lofty heights between elections under Elizabeth Weir’s leadership, this poll marks a full recovery for a party which achieved barely 5% of the vote in the last election. If these numbers hold until the election campaign, the NDP has a very good chance of returning to the legislature with one or two seats. And if the new NDP government in Nova Scotia runs a tight (and popular) ship for the next 12 months, things should only continue to look up for the NDP in this province.
  4. For me, though, the most important number in these polls is the percentage of undecided voters: 43%. That number is not reflected in the much-publicized percentages, mainly because undecided votes usually split close enough to the figures for decided voters that it hardly makes much of a difference. Then, however, you get elections like this province had in 1999. At the election call, Camille Theriault’s Liberals had a huge lead over the Bernard Lord’s reeling PC’s, but there were still a large number of undecided voters. Lord thoroughly dominated the stagnant Liberals, the undecided vote practically all broke in the PCs’ favour, and the Tories romped to their greatest electoral success ever. With that in mind, here’s my breakdown of the poll, with the undecided voters factored in. All possible errors in math are my own, but the numbers should work out.

Party……………………………..% of decided vote………………………% of all polled

Liberals……………………………………41………………………………………23.37

PCs………………………………………….35………………………………………19.95

NDP…………………………………………22………………………………………12.54

Undecided…………………………………0………………………………………..43

These numbers really speak to bedrock support, the kind of political support that likely won’t wane before the next election. Any party that wants to win the next election will have to take at least half of that undecided number. It’ll be a treat to see how these numbers move in three months.

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Mary Schryer has no sweet clue.

I just listened to Hance Colburne’s interview with Health Minister Mary Schryer and was  utterly appalled by her total ignorance of the underlying issue is the doctor’s dispute. It’s not state-of-the-art equipment, medical schools, or the tax rate. Those are all good things for doctor recruitment and retention and government should continue to invest in those areas. No, the real issue, the sticking point in this whole disagreement, is trust.

Schryer’s government came to a tentative agreement with the Medical Society in December and, after the doctors ratified it, it then unilaterally threw it in the trash can. It passed a law that took away the doctors’ right (under the Canada Health Act) to arbitration, declared any previous tentative agreements null and void, and took away the doctors’ right to challenge any of this law in court (though this hasn’t kept them from trying and, if precedent can be believed, won’t keep them from succeeding). It has wage freeze regulations sitting on the Lieutenant-Governor’s desk waiting to be ratified. And Minister Schyrer honestly believes that doctors will take her invitation to renegotiate their deal  seriously, with that Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads?

If you didn’t trust your boss, you’d want to get a new job as soon as you bloody well could, and there’s no reason to think doctors are any different from you and me in that regard. If Mary Schryer is serious about renegotiating with the doctors, and if she wants to continue to recruit a good number of physicians to this province, she needs to give her head a shake and scrap this utterly inane law, at least. If she can’t or won’t, she should get out of the way and let somebody competent run the department. Otherwise, patients and taxpayers will be the big losers.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to this morning’s interview, as aired on CBC Fredericton’s Information Morning program, so you can judge whether the health minister has a point or is just spinning her wheels. I also added the paragraph breaks to make the post more readable.

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Around the House (Cleaning House edition)

  • This isn’t front page or exciting news, but Moody’s, a major international investment house, recently downgraded New Brunswick’s credit rating from AA3 to AA2 (thanks to David Cameron for the link). Now, while this in no way means that New Brunswick is near the infamous “junk” rating (that’s a B or lower), and while another investment firm, Standard and Poor’s, recently held their credit rating of the province firm at AA-, Moody’s move will mean the province will have to pay more interest on its debt (currently $8.2 billion, including this year’s deficity of around $700-million). That means less money for government services at a time when most departments are getting cut to the bone. The lower rating also means, so far as I can divine from the Forbes’ Investopedia website, is that firms may look at New Brunswick as a less attractive place to do business (PEI and Nova Scotia also have credit ratings of AA2, the latter earning that rating earlier this year), which could affect the Self-Sufficiency Agenda, this government’s raison d’être. Adding to the embarrassment is that New Brunswick is the first province in 12 years to have its credit rating fall, according to this Financial Post article. Incidentally, New Brunswick earned its AA3 credit rating in November 2006, two months after Shawn Graham took office.
  • The province’s ongoing dispute with its doctors long ago turned into another national embarrassment, but this Globe and Mail column by Andre Picard is the most concise and damning summary of the situation I’ve come across yet. Worth noting is the fact that Picard never once names current Health Minister Mary Schryer, whose only statement on the issue since taking over the portfolio was a rather flimsy newspaper column published on August 18th. The Medical Society’s court date, incidentally, is September 16.
  • UNB’s Saint John campus is getting it’s first CIS team – a track team. Those of you wondering why I’m writing this news on a political blog would be interested in knowing that the team would run out of its on-campus Canada Games Stadium and that the university, federal, and municipal governments have committed to funding desperately-needed renovations on the 24 year old facility. The provincial government, um, has not. Could this announcement be the university’s attempt to shame the government into ponying up the cash? Possibly. Don’t expect the issue of provincial university funding to go away soon, though – especially if contract negotiations with the university’s faculty turn sour.
  • And Mr. Doer goes, not into federal politics, but to Washington. Considering his past experience negotiating with the Philippines government and his reputation as a genuinely freindly guy, he’s an extremely inspired choice by Stephen Harper, although opponents of the PM and the soon-to-be-ex-Manitoba premier will be sure to question the timing of this appointment and Doer’s departure from elected office.

  • As a site news item, The Political Animal is moving back up to Fredericton Sunday afternoon and will be helping Holy Cross House welcome its first year students in style. Blog postings will likely drop off during that time, especially if the Cross has Internet problems. Again. Also, expect the move towards the Aquinian website sooner, rather than later. Now, you made it through the post, so have a good laugh.

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