Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I hear Frank McKenna

Shawn Graham told the Telegraph-Journal editorial board yesterday:

I don't want to shock you with what I'm about to say. The fact is, I would love to see our province self-sufficient by 2025, that we're able to stand on our own two feet.

I don't want to stand up as the Premier of New Brunswick and ask for a bigger welfare cheque. I want to stand up and say: 'We want investment today that's going to position our province toward self-sufficiency and here's how we're going to do it.' It's going to tie in to the three pillars.
I am by no means suggesting that Graham is McKenna, but he has clearly borrowed McKenna's pen for that line. That sort of enthusiastic optomism can really strike a chord and I think it is a good strategy.

It looks like Graham is moving with the same strategy as in 2003 - heavy on policy but through a clear focus on three key issues. In 2003 it was public healthcare, public insurance and public power. This time it looks to be the "three Es" (I am surprised no one called it this in any of the coverage): energy, the economy and education.

Although Graham had a major announcement yesterday outlining his energy platform (which I'll summarize below), he gave the TJ a taste of his plans for education:

  • invest in new community college infrastructure

  • create three-year university degree programs to get more students educated faster with lower debt loads

  • reintroduce standardized testing in elementary and secondary schools

  • reduce class sizes

  • do pre-school screening to catch learning disabilities early

  • give students a pedometer to track their daily exercise in an effort to reduce child obesity
To give New Brunswick new direction, he also said he has someone in mind to bring on board to be charged with hiring the best and brightest in the world for the civil service. According to the TJ, "The Liberals will pay 'top dollar' to recruit about a dozen leaders who will take key positions in the civil service and guide the agenda."

Here's a run down on the Liberal energy policy announcement:

  • give New Brunswickers $250 towards energy audits for their homes

  • give homeowners up to $2000 for home retrofits

  • provide lower energy rates for power used during off peak houses

  • boost funding to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency (Weir's Efficiency NB) to allow them an expanded role in promoting conservation and to administer the above programs

  • provide a tax rebate of $1500 for people buying or leasing hybrid vehicles

  • move the department of energy (20 employees) to Saint John and increase its size to work towards making Saint John the energy hub of the northeast

  • give rebates directly to consumers, via the suppliers, for the home heating rebate, without the consumers having to go through an application process

  • mandate NB Power to provide rate increases over a multi-year scale to prevent rate shock

  • expand energy production to become a larger supplier of power to the New England states and other maritime provinces

  • examine the business case for building a natural gas pipeline to northern NB

  • adopt Public Utilities Board recommendations to eliminate the ability to penalize businesses who covert from electric to gas heating

  • pursue a "Maritime Energy Accord" to create a common plan for generation and transmission with NS and PEI

  • re-jig the royalties structure to encourge natural gas exploration in Southeast NB

  • maintain NB Power as a crown corportion with a stronger reporting structure to its shareholders (the voters) through the minister of energy

  • retain the Public Utilities Board or its successor organization as a watchdog
The Liberals say this is fully costed at a whopping $77.1 million PER YEAR! That is pretty hefty considering that this year's projected surplus was only $22 million.

In terms of reaction:

  • the Liberals got a VERY positive editorial from the TJ which bordered on an endorsement

  • Fredericton Mayor (and 1999 Liberal candidate) Brad Woodside blasted Graham for proposing the removal of jobs from Fredericton to Saint John. Graham said there would be no net loss of jobs in Fredericton and he had given Woodside a head's up a few months ago, Woodside said I had no recollection of that

  • Bernard Lord called Graham a "Shawny come lately" saying he has been promoting energy, economy and education and attacked Graham for talking about going from "worst to first" in test results because the Liberals cut education (in the late 1980s... but anyway)

  • Finance Minister Volpe said it was bad policy to move jobs from one city to another
Surprisingly, no one has criticized the cost. Does this mean Lord is planning way-to-big ticket items too?

On the Tory front, Lord was ironically quoted saying he would have a "far broader" platform than Graham criticizing his focus on "three pillars". I find this a bit weak considering that 8 months ago, Lord was running around lauding Harper's five priorities and Harper's priorities were five planks, while Graham's three pillars are three sets of a lot of planks. But I digress. In Moncton, perhaps sensing he is losing ground in his base, Lord "implied" that they would get a heart lab, something he refused to do last year under calls from the hospital and the Liberals. He also announced $29 million for expansion of the Moncton Hospital and $250,000 for infrastructure in Bouctouche. He also unveiled a cultural DVD, funded to the tune of $200,000 by the province and said the province would also buy a copy of the DVD for every French school in the province.

Not to get too partisan but Graham is out announcing ideas and Lord is spreading pork. If this is how the campaign plays out, then it is a good omen for Liberals.

In even more news, the TJ confirms what we've all known with the headline: "If Mesheau steps down, we head to polls: Lord" on the front page in slightly small fon than "FROM WORST TO FIRST" over a large picture of Graham.

The sub-headline of the story shows that we are going to see some mud: "Premier says Graham is weak, Liberal leader retorts Lord has lost control of his caucus" Lord goes on to admit, to a degree, he is calling the election for opportunistic reasons (emphasis added by me):

Lord said confidence about his government's record and a lingering sense Mr. Graham's leadership is being questioned, is influencing his decision to call an election sooner rather than later.

While noting the Liberal party is strong, Lord questioned the strength of its leader.

"I think we have to differentiate the weakness in leadership on the other side with the weakness of the Liberal party," the premier said.
In turn, Graham did respond that it was not he that was weak, "What's clear now is Bernard Lord is running scared. If anyone's having leadership problems within his own caucus it's the premier because he can't keep his caucus intact. That's why there's a speculation of a snap election one year earlier than Bernard Lord wanted, because Peter Mesheau is looking to quit."

Also worth note, keeping to its partisan nature, while the TJ and the Gleaner ran huge spreads on the energy announcement, the Times & Transcript focussed on Lord's hospital and ran a three line CP piece on Graham's energy announcement.


Anonymous said...

Nice blog! Partisan to be sure, but still a nice sum up. It's sure to be an interesting campaign, there's lots there to chew on over the next few weeks.

Is it legal to gamble on elections?

Spinks said...

The same strategy the Liberals seem to be employing worked for Harper. I'm surprised Lord wouldn't try something similar. Still, when you have access to the public purse, it's pretty tempting to use it regardless of the party in power.

nbpolitico said...

I don't think so

Section 204(1)(b) of the Criminal Code says "a private bet between individuals not engaged in any way in the business of betting" are exempt from the law and it also seems to say that only organizing betting is illegal, making bets is not.

I think we are in the clear to bet BUT I am no lawyer ;)

nbpolitico said...

spinks - Lord spent his way to re-election last time too so I can't be surprised and got himself elected in 1999 with big spending promises.

In fairness though, I don't think the Liberals are using the same strategy as Harper. Harper had 5 succinct promises, the NB Liberals ran on a campaign like that in 2003 (public health, insurance and power) while this time they have three themes encompassing a lot of promises. Their energy announcement outlines 15 promises and there is an alternative energy addendum to come today.

I think the Liberals are borrowing a bit from Harper's strategy (and their 2003 campaign -- which are remarkably similar "Standing up for People" with 3 priorities and "Stand up for Canada" with 5 priorities) but are mixing it with a traditional platform to get the best of both worlds. There is a focus to ressonate with people but there is also substance.

Anonymous said...

So Bernie had a heart change on heart lab. Anything to win an election. Experts are saying we have enough labs in Saint John and merits for new one in Moncton is not what doctor prescribed. It is strictly Lord prescription for political gain. Have we not suffered enough already on his last fiasco on Highway tolls.

I will bet $5 that Lordship is a sinking ship. If he wins I will give my $5 to a charity of the choosing of Spinks as he is the strong supporter here. If he loses then Spinks give five dollars to one of the disease prevention charities whether it is heart, lung or cancer. Is that a deal, SPINKS?

Spinks said...

Interesting deal but who am I a supporter of?

Jim said...

Whats good about Lord is he can spend lots, and still balance the books, something the libs always had trouble with...

Anonymous said...

Jim, he lied about balancing the books, I believe it was in 2003. He said it was a surplus when auditor general said, not so fast it is a deficit. Even national media picked up that news. Well Bernie did not renew auditor general's term.

Now he got rid of PUB because chair differed with him. Hail Bernie.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, maybe but over all he brought down the debt wich droped the interest payements wich ables him to put i believe is like 40 million back in the economy yearly, i dont like going to the past but the libs still doubled the debt in the McKenna years... wich i really dont want to go back to... and as for the PUB would you want a crew there that when nbpower says 13% increase is fair everytime? and not care about the average consumer?? that pub was wayyyy out of date...


Jim said...

oops that was me jim the last comment

Spinks said...

Jim's right. We do have the lowest debt of any of the 4 Atlantic Provinces and the lowest taxes (still too high though in my opinion).

My biggest beef with Lord is the time it takes for him to make a decision. I'm all for consulting with the people but at some point you have to make a decision. That's why we elect leaders. Those decisions aren't always easy or even popular but they have to made. I'd like to see a little more decisiveness. Lord's awful at it but I'm not convinced that Graham would be any better.

Anonymous said...

New Brunswick isn't an island. Every government in the world was running deficits in the McKenna years, not because of spending but because of interest rates. Three quarters of our National Debt is interest, not spending.

Lord likewise gutted spending, as did the liberals just previous to him, because federal payments to the provinces dropped. Once again, that has nothing do with spending. Its not like Lord is a financial wizard and McKenna flunked accounting.

Lord is already pushing spending back up, and like other provinces that gutted social spending, it has caught up with them. This year the government is in a deficit position, the only thing letting them claim a surplus is using Net Interest payments instead of Debt Interest payments (this is according to the Dominion Bond Rating Service).

Ontario is likewise is deficit spending because a lack of spending on infrastructure has crippled them. There is nothing wrong with deficits of course, Nova Scotia has always had a deficit and every economic indicator has them way ahead of NB.

As for debt payments, its like making 70 grand and paying 20 to debt, versus making 50 grand and paying 15 to debt.

As for comparisons to federal politics, just because somebody got elected, doesn't mean their 'strategy' worked. As for Harper, they had a twelve year majority to unseat, massive corruption, a deeply divisive opponent, and one whose only real support was in one province.

To get elected with the slimmest minority in canadian history is hardly a testament to electoral strategy.

People seem to forget that human beings are not computers who are reacting to a program. What 'works' cannot be defined until afterwards, and then there is no objective way to prove that unless you ask every person.

There is 'some' substance to the party platform, you can't get away without it. However, a relevant question is how many people even believe them. When government says "study" you can insert "will do nothing". Substitute "enact a committee" to mean "we'll do nothing unless we have to". Substitute "we will do X" to mean, "we'll see which way the wind blows".

The reality that the political class (those who write to papers, for papers, and now blogs) often forgets is that much of the electorate has zero interest in politics and doesn't think any politician will actually look out for anybodys interest but their own.

Anonymous said...

Spinks, there you go. I agree Bernie cannot make decisions and I will add he made some very wrong decisions when he ultimately did.

Even his own newsletter, Times and Transcript, called him Mr. Dither. Before Martin, Lord was champion Mr. Dither. However, Martin kind of took over the title.

Anonymous said...

I'd take a 'dithers' over somebody who makes quick bad decisions any day. Keep in mind that different provinces have different priorities. NB may have a little lower tax, but it also has far more extensive social problems than Nova Scotia does.

As we saw with the Tenants Act, poor people didn't even have basic rights, let alone decent housing. Nova Scotia and PEI actually have the most egalitarian tenants acts in the country-something quite remarkable for 'have not' provinces.

Likewise poverty is far more devastating in NB than NS. Welfare rates are lower, and illiteracy is 20% higher.

Services for the poor are virtually non existent in New Brunswick. So if you compare cash for value, Nova Scotia comes out way ahead. Of course if you don't give a rats ass about the poor or anybody else, then all taxes are a bad thing. When a society comes down to 'me me me' then its pretty much hit rock bottom.

scott said...

2025? I know that it is a feasible plan to many staunch economist pushing papers at a desk, but people on the street want action from their leaders now, not when they're dead and buried.

This is almost as ludicrous as when Stockwell Day suggested that the government should shorten the parliamentary week to four days. It made sense to me because I, like him, witnessed firsthand how many members were absent after the thursday flights went out of Ottawa. Why have taxpayers waste their hard earned dollars on an ineffective and non-business day like the friday sitting. Makes sense, right??

But let me tell you, it didn't make sense to Joe Q Public. When going door to door a few months later with an Alliance candidate in Nepean-Carleton, the people were enraged that a politician [Day]wanted to work less than they already do now. Most of the families and people we spoke to were putiing in 50-70 hours a week so they were not sympathetic to the policy change/suggestion. Not only that, the issue ended up being a complete turnoff to the electorate and members where it started an ugly snowball effect which Day and his operatives could not stop.

Even though Graham is suggesting a logical solution to this problem, I honestly believe that the manner he is going about will be up for very much scrutiny by opposing parties and people on the street. In other words, he has set himself up for public humiliation. Something Day learned hurts your credibility and ability to form government.

I mean it's 2006 for god sakes. I barely get his logis. lol

nbpolitico said...

scott - the concept of NB no longer being on equilization is as foreign a concept to people as something being accomplished by 2025. I don't think it is that unreasonable to propose and I don't think it will be the centrepiece of the campaign

scott said...

If Lord et al. were smart, they would jump all over this one line:

I don't want to shock you with what I'm about to say. The fact is, I would love to see our province self-sufficient by 2025, that we're able to stand on our own two feet.

He [Graham] has opened a huge can of worms for himself, especially since we all know that many people, even Liberals, question his competency as a leader.

Remember, in politics, it's not what you say but how you say it. In this case, I think he has worded an important issue very poorly.

Anonymous said...

jim, please do not expect us to believe that PUB was dismantled because it approved 13% increase. It was dismantled because the chair wanted information on the inner workings and going ons of NB Power. That was too much for Bernie who likes things shrouded in secrecy, his concept of transparency. May be Bernie was petrified that PUB will find out the truth about Orimulsion fiasco. Those are the reasons that the chair and PUB got the boot. Hail Bernie.

Anonymous said...

That really has no meaning-questioning 'leadership'. This is New Brunswick for petes sake, they all get their orders from the Irvings anyway.

Do people think we're going into battle or something? Anybody voting on the basis of 'leadership' needs a swift kick in the butt.

But as other bloggers have said, why make ludicrous statements like 'worst to first'. Does anybody actually believe that? Come on, how about 'worst to middle of the pack', or 'worst to not worst' or even 'better than now anyway'.

That kind of hyperbole is bound to send people into shrill laughter. The 2025 thing is a non starter-how long does he think he'll be in office anyway? It's that kind of talk that turns people off politics altogether. With outragious claims like that, its hard to believe they aren't lying through their teeth or completely delusional.

nbpolitico said...

scott - not to sound stupid but I am not sure I see how this opens a hole regardless of whether or not Graham is viewed as weak.

Could you elaborate?

Anonymous said...

Interesting picture about Bernard Lord at the following site:

Fun site.

scott said...

But as other bloggers have said, why make ludicrous statements like 'worst to first'. Does anybody actually believe that? Come on, how about 'worst to middle of the pack', or 'worst to not worst' or even 'better than now anyway'.


No need to go any further with this.

As anonymous [5:42] has pointed out above, not only are the many statements on policy by Graham not framed properly, they are also not believable. I agree with him that it is unrealistic to set those unattainable and unexplainable policy goals (worst to first). Again, as I said before, he can not afford to lose the little credibility he has left.

For the record: Bill Clinton, who had an impeccable record with regards to the economy, would agree that overselling can be a very dangerous game to play. Listen to the middle of his '98 State of the Union adddress for yourself. Not once did he mention that he was #1 as Arkansas governor in any economic or social category. On the contrary, he was pleased to reveal that they had gone from the bottom, in some cases, to the middle or near the top. That's the kind of truthful leadership we need, not more pointless, unattainable rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

I found out epithet is different every time you go there:

Click Here

Anonymous said...

The biggest danger of those outragious claims is that they simply make Graham look like Bernard's twin. They kind of look alike anyway, but this makes it look like voting for Graham is like voting for 'Bernie 2'.

It's never a good idea to make people think you are like your opponent. The polls I've seen have been pretty spurious. As somebody else said, the Moncton newspaper reads so much like a propaganda piece that I doubt even there people think everything is wonderful.

Lord barely squeeked through last time, and even many that he won saw seriously smaller leads. At one time I counted them and there were something like 6 that won by the margin of discounted votes (maybe that means something)

So there is simply no need to make such outragious comments. The facts pretty much speak for themselves.