Around the House (Exit, Stage Left edition)

  • Nine lucky partisans people are exiting private life to serve in Canada’s Upper Chamber and Stephen Harper may have just overplayed the partisan card. While there were a few pleasant surprises among the appointments (Stanley Cup-winning hockey coach Jacques Demers, former Acadia University president Kelvin Ogilvy), three of the new senators are former Conservative Party staffers and 1 (Claude Carignan) ran and lost for the party in the last election. Especially curious is the new Senator from New Brunswick, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, Harper’s former press secretary. While she was an ER nurse in Moncton, she’s been working for the Reform, Alliance, and Conservative Parties since 1993 and, running with what scant information I can find on her, she has much less recent history with the province than its other 9 senators.  However, given her frosty (to be generous) relationship with the media, she may be in the Red Chamber just to keep Mike Duffy in check.
  • Jack Layton’s not-unjustified posturing aside, the chances of a federal election this fall took a bit of a blow today when the Liberal Party said they were neither going to force an election on the issue of Employment Insurance nor bring down the government at its first chance in October. This is smart for several reasons, chief among them the fact that EI isn’t something people usually talk about at coffee shops. Also, the Liberals still aren’t ready physically or financially for a vote this fall and the party still needs to better define how it would run this country. The Conservatives have handed them tons of ammo this summer (the Suaad Hagi Mohamud case, rising unemployment, continuing debates about health care), but the Official Opposition has been mostly silent this summer.
  • Speaking of Jack Layton, the federal NDP should be doing everything it can to persuade Gary Doer to lead it- even if it has to throw its current leader under the canola-powered bus. The Manitoba premier announced today that he would be stepping down this fall after ten years as premier and 21 as leader of the provincial New Democrats. He is, in my mind, the finest Canadian premier of this generation, not just because he leaves Manitoba in a better state than when he found it (socially and financially), but because he did it by listening to the people, hearing what their priorities were, and putting them into action. He is a left-wing populist whose efforts are reflected in his good work, rather than a left wing ideologue who preaches from a pulpit of self-righteousness. If the NDP is serious, not only about making a run for government, but about living up to the “New” moniker, they should embrace Doer, or at least someone like him. Otherwise, the party risks looking like it’s backward, anachronistic, and stuck in the 1960s.
  • The Political Animal raises a bottle of Sam Adams to honour Ted Kennedy, the legendary Massachusetts senator, who died this week of brain cancer. Ironically, considering his reputation as the “Liberal Lion,” Kennedy’s biggest legacy will his record of bipartisanship, as details in this Time magazine story from May. He would very often compromise with Republicans on his bills before they passed, reasoning that if the bill still made things better, they could always be further improved upon later. “Never let the perfect get in the way of the good,” he said. If only more politicians thought that way.
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The Case Against a New Brunswick Election

Shawn Graham Politicos have tossed around rumours of an early provincial election since at least last fall, when David Alward was voted PC leader, and they picked up even more steam through the winter and spring. Every major political organization in the province, from the Progressive Conservative party to university students’ unions, has spent the spring and summer gearing up their respective machines, preparing for a fall vote.

But it’s not going to happen. Not this fall.

Actually, that line should read “it shouldn’t happen.” While it would make good sense not to call an election this fall, this Liberal government has far too often let sheer bloody-mindedness keep them from making the most sensible or expedient decisions (see French Immersion debacle, Doctors’ contract dispute, Polytechnic debate, etc.).  That said, here are some good, practical reasons why we shouldn’t have a provincial election this fall.

  1. The Polls. In March, 2008, a Corporate Research Associates poll showed the Liberals at 63 per cent of voter support, the PCs at 26 per cent, and the NDP at 8. But support for New Brunswick’s governing party has dipped significantly since then. The Liberals have run headlong into controversy at nearly any opportunity, from French Second Language education and uranium exploration to school support worker cuts and the continuing dispute with the province’s doctors. Compounding those unpopular decisions was (and still is) public perception about both how government came to those decisions – with limited, if any consultation – and how fair (or, for the most part, unfair) those decisions were. Further complicating things with the Liberals was the change in PC Leadership: where interim leader Jeannot Volpe looked stubborn, obstructionist, vicious, and temporary, current leader David Alward looks gentle, conciliatory, sensible, and decent. Hence the June, 2009, CRA poll: the Liberals at 41 per cent (down 22 points over 15 months), the PCs at 40 per cent (their best numbers since the 2006 election), and the NDP, remarkably, at 16 per cent. Nothing the government has done this summer has given anyone good reason to think those numbers will rise by September or October and, since an election call is solely in Shawn Graham’s hands, it would be foolish of him to call an early election he has a good chance of losing.david alward
  2. The Liberals will lose two seats no matter what. The Liberals currently have 33 of the 55 seats in the Legislature. One of those seats Petitcodiac, is held by Wally Stiles, a former PC MLA who, with wife Joan McAlpine-Stiles, crossed the floor in 2007. Petitcodiac is as good as Tory strongholds get – they’ve won the riding 6 of 8 times since 1974 and Stiles won for the PCs in ’06 by over 2,500 votes. There’s still also plenty of resentment in the area over the highway tolls implemented my the last Liberal government – tolls removed by the last PC government. The smart betting money is that Stiles doesn’t get re-elected. Another likely loss for the Liberals is Grand Lake-Gagetown, represented by former cabinet minister Eugene McGinley. He only got reelected by 217 votes in 2006 and rather poor way his party has handled the ferry issue may spell his political doom.
  3. The still-unresolved doctors dispute. The court challenge against the province’s monumentally stupid wage freeze law will be heard in September, but that decision may not be the end of the story, considering each side has the option to appeal. But, depending on how things go, the provincial medical society still hasn’t ruled out any sort of job action. While a doctors’ strike, like we had in 2001, is extremely unlikely, even a simple work-to-rule action would leave New Brunswick’s health care system in anarchy. Not to mention that the Opposition will use stories like this against the government any chance it gets, or how other unionized provincial employees will react to this issue, or whether doctors will advise their patients against voting Liberal.roger duguay
  4. Why are we voting again? With a fixed election law on the books in New Brunswick, voters need a compelling reason to go to the polls early. One of the big criticisms of the last election was that there was no good reason for it, even if there was a highly practical one (since otherwise, the government may have changed after a by-election). Only in 1963, when the election  essentially became a referendum on controversial changes to post-secondary education and the tax code, have New Brunswickers had a meaty reason for an early election – but even then, they re-elected Louis Robichaud’s liberal Government with only one additional seat. If Graham sends us to the polls this fall without a really good reason, he risks serious voter backlash.
  5. The potential Federal Election. In New Brunswick, there’s a lot of organizational overlap between federal and provincial parties. That’s a fancy way of saying that the same people work for the same parties in any campaign. If we have federal and provincial campaigns back-to-back, most of the campaign teams will be exhausted by the end of it. And there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to be having a Federal Election in the fall, since nobody in Ottawa really likes how Parliament is working. Back-to-back elections can also feed into voter fatigue and possible voter backlash, not to mention the fact that the provincial campaign will likely still get lower billing.

Will we have a provincial election before the mandated date of September 27, 2010? Possibly. But barring a major scandal in the Progressive Conservative party or a bit of political stupidity on the Liberals’ part, we won’t be having a provincial election this fall.

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Around The House (Missing the Point edition)

  • Saw this article in the Globe and Mail today. The Conservatives (read: Stephen Harper) are now asking Canadians to give them a majority in the next election, because otherwise Canada will have to endure a Liberal minority or – horrors! – a Liberal-NDP coalition! Good on the Tories for being up front with their desires (and I’m not the only one to think so), but these scare tactics alone will not win them any more support. Many Canadians, especially in Ontario’s Rust Belt, think the government has too rosy a view of the economy, and there’s still the sense (especially with urban and suburban voters) that the Tories are still too socially conservative to be trusted with the power of a majority. Never mind that voters, I think, aren’t tired of minorities per se, but of the brinksmanship and petty power struggles we’ve seen in the last two or three Parliaments.
  • Speaking of Harper needing to think things through better, here’s an interesting Toronto Star column about his famous mistrust of the press. Even many fellow conservatives (big C and little c) disagree with the Prime Minister’s virtual embargo of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Reporters (as opposed to editors or, ahem, publishers) try to report on people and events as fairly and accurately as possible because if they don’t they’re looking for a new career. Besides, if you hide from reporters, they may think it’s because you have something to hide.
  • It seems Health Minister Mary Schryer spent her summer vacation studying flightless birds, because she’s doing a very good job of acting like an ostrich. Schryer’s article doesn’t address the biggest reason why the provincial medical society has declared the province physician unfriendly – the doctors’ total lack of trust in the government, as symbolised by the pound-foolish (and court challenged) wage freeze former Health Minister Mike Murphy pushed through in June. Unless Schryer extends a real olive branch towards doctors, they’ll continue to see this government as an obstruction rather than a partner.
  • And finally, the non-sequitor:

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Around the House (Return of the blog edition)

A few choice bits that caught my eye over the last little while:

  • Those of you who paid attention to New Brunswick politics last summer no doubt remember the debate/debacle over the government’s changes to French Immersion. If you didn’t, the only things you need to know are that the Liberal government introduced an new intensive French program for fifth graders (+10 for good thinking, considering the old Core French model was a total waste of time and the intensive French pilots were successes) and pushed the starting date for early immersion back to third grade (-1,000,000 for bad thinking, since kids learn languages best at an earlier age, not to mention the points lost for the issue’s bad political style). Last week, the government released test scores they said proved that their new program was a success. Unfortunately for the government, these results mean zip-on-a-stick. While nearly every fifth grader in the province took intensive French this year, none of them took the full program the province is rolling out (practically no French language exposure until fifth grade) and the province won’t be testing those students for another four years.  What these results prove is that students who take four years of Core French followed by a year of intensive French are 29 times more likely to reach the province’s French comprehension benchmark than students who take five years of Core French alone. Whether results will continue to improve over the next many years remains to be seen and, to be honest, I still expect this issue to come up in the next provincial election.
  • The New Democratic Party is still New, after all. Now, this is probably just the process wonk in me, but I’m slightly shaken about how it all fell out. The issue never officially came up for discussion because one-hour time frame for discussing such resolutions expired. This is mainly because much of the hour was used, not discussing the merits of the five resolutions scheduled before the name change, but arguing over piddlely points of order. This raises several important questions about the NDP, including these: why wasn’t more time set aside to discuss such resolutions (a solitary hour over a whole weekend seems rather pointless), was a small, vocal minority of the party really responsible for filibustering away any chance to discuss the issue, and why was the party spending so much time focusing on the style of the resolutions rather than the substance? With the exception of the Bloc, all the major federal parties (even the Greens) need to take some time to evaluate their identities, what they stand for, what’s important to them. The NDP just missed a golden chance for some very healthy and necessary self-evaluation.
  • This story from Nova Scotia is why I bang my head against the wall when I hear people say (Progressive) Conservative governments are good fiscal managers. With possibly the exception of Bernard Lord’s New Brunswick government, I can’t think of a single Conservative government in my lifetime that has left the government’s books better than when they found it. There is a place for Conservatives in the running of a province or country, but let’s not colour them as economic messiahs when the evidence (Mulroney, Harris, and now Hamm and MacDonald) clearly suggests otherwise.
  • Later this week, assuming other circumstances don’t get in the way, I’m going to be writing about why we won’t be having a provincial election in New Brunswick this fall. Later on, I’ll talk about federal election rumours. Also, sometime soon I’ll be moving my blog over to the Aquinian website at http://www.theaq.net. The site looks fantastic, and I’m proud to be part of the paper again this year. Till then, have a moment of Zen.

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Happy New Brunswick Day

Last weekend, I took a trip to St. Martins for its annual book fair. With my luck, i got caught in the kind of traffic jam that would inevitably follow a parade down the town’s Main Street. Traffic crawled along past the flea market at the community hall and the small, temporarily empty school, past the Lions’ Manor, the expanding community library, and the country inn, and eventually past the wharf and across the covered bridge towards the caves and Fundy Trail. Yet the day was so fine and the sights so beautiful, I didn’t really mind. In fact, I decided to take the long way back home to Quispamsis, up Highway 121 to Sussex through rural Saint John and Kings Counties.

The trip reminded me of why New Brunswick is such a great place. The people of St. Martins were friendly and helpful, the backdrop couldn’t have been more attractive if it tried, and the bridges- the small, covered bridges- were charming,  rustic.

New Brunswick is a province of bridges. Anywhere you go in the province, you can find an attractive bridge nearby. Think the Harbour Bridge against the Saint John skyline, The Centennial Bridge spanning the wide Miramichi, or the twin majesties of the Hugh John Flemming and Hartland Covered Bridges. But more than mere architectural adornments, these bridges serve an important role – they connect people. They connect Riverview to Moncton, Northside to South, Perth to Andover. At Tide Head and Cape Jourmain, they connect provinces; at St. Stephen and Edmundston, they connect nations. Even cable ferries are a form of moving bridge – from just down the street at Gondola Point to the infamously imperiled boat at Gagetown.

But more than physical bridges, New Brunswick depends on more intangible connections, but ones that are just as vital. Rural and urban (and now suburban), town to city, community to community, government to the people. Perhaps the most famous bridge of this sort is the one spanning the widening gulf between English and French. For New Brunswick to succeed and, indeed, to survive, it must maintain these bridges as best as possible, even building new ones where necessary. It’s those bridges, those connections that will survive longer than any tax cut or generic slogan. We must not let these bridges fall into disrepair or victim to vandals who wish to do it harm. Otherwise, we will pay a hefty cost to repair or rebuild those bridges or, if we do neither, forsake the connections and become a number of disparate,  insular, and mortally wounded islands.

As New Brunswick Day Monday turns into Start-of-the-Work-Week Tuesday, I’m going to take to bed a glass of chocolate milk (Baxters, straight from Sussex) and a cupcake made by a very dear friend of mine. I’m going to tuck into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, one of the books I bought in St. Martins. And tomorrow, I’m going to drive to work in one of the Saint John fog. And I’m going to feel pride in being a New Brunswicker as I do so.

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Around the House (Long Weekend edition)

  • Three, likely final, links about the T-J apology, all of more interest to media wonks than anyone else. Tim Currie, a Journalism prof at the University of King’s College, writes about how media deals with inaccurate information published online; Craig Silverman writes a column in the Columbia Journalism Review about editors adding items to their reporters’ stories; and St. Thomas Journalism chair Phillip Lee points out some minor media hypocrisy. If the paper has any more to say on the story, I’d wager it’d do so Saturday. The paper typically publishes stories defending itself on Saturdays (see the Carleton Free Pressand Matt McCann). Otherwise, short of the reporters, Jamie Irving, or Shawna Richer saying anything, this story will die a natural death.
  • Victor Boudreau, Minister for Business New Brunswick and Communications New Brunswick, unveiled new license plates today with the province’s slogan on it in two languages: “Be… in this place” and “Être… ici on le peut” (or “Be… here you can”). The Political Animal has a quick not for the minister: a slogan should be self-explanatory. “The quicker picker-upper” and “Guinness is good for you” are  two of the best slogans of all time and they’re self-explanatory. The worst advertising slogans, like “The choice of a new generation” and “I’m lovin’ it,” are vague, undescriptive, and don’t sell the product. If you have to take the time in your press conference to explain “Be… in this place,” you’re doing it wrong.
  • Finally, the latest political non-scandal comes from Britain, where Conservative Party leader (and presumed future Prime Minister) David Campbell is in trouble for making remarks about Twitter which weren’t appropriate for a morning radio show – and certainly not for a family website. Since this is the Political Animal, here’s Cameron’s quote anyway.

             “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat”

             A video clip of the quote is below. I’m still jealous I didn’t think of it first.

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Follow-Up on yesterday

At least one party doesn’t seem to be accepting Tuesday’s apology from the Telegraph-Journal: the Liberal Party. Former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella thinks the paper made a “big, big mistake” by apologizingand blog BigCityLib Strikes Back reports a rumour that Heritage Canada had prepared talking points about the wafer affair before the T-J published its story. The video of the incident was and is inconclusive about what Harper did with the wafer, apart from the fact that he didn’t eat it right away.

I could argue that, if the rumour is true, it was perceptive of Heritage Canada to realise Harper’s very minor gaffe. I could also argue that the video did not conclusively show Harper pocketing the host and, as such, the paper should not have turned it into a national incident. Also, the journalists Kinsella cynically depicts on his blog expect their bosses to treat, if not their job, at least their name and their writing with respect. The Telegraph-Journal, by its own admission, did neither. An apology to them was the very least they could offer.

Rob Linke, one of the reporters the story was credited to, has had only one story published in the Telegraph-Journal since Wafer-Gate hit the newsstands: this story of an Englishwoman finding the debris of a World War II airplane crash. While it’s very possible Linke is on summer vacation, it does lead credence to the rumour that one of the reporters was considering a lawsuit. I wonder if Linke is still with the paper.

Rumours continue to abound about the Liberal Party’s involvement in story in online comment forums, the blogosphere, and the “National” Post. There are also rumours circulating that the timing of this apology (nearly three weeks after the story broke) had to do with the awarding of a shipbuilding contract (the T-J and several Nova Scotia shipyards are owned by J. K. Irving). I don’t put much faith in either rumour (especially the latter) and they probably won’t cause any new damage to the paper. If either turns out to be true, of course, the paper’s reputation will cease to exist. The Telegraph-Journal refuses to comment.

And now, for something less surreal, a cartoon.

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