Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Liberal accomplishments

I know that my friend Scott, has been hard on the new government here in New Brunswick and suggests that they haven't done much, but I wanted to summarize the points made by the Premier in his year end op-ed. Obviously the Premier is going to put the most positive possible spin on the work of his government, but let's take a look at the list:

Day One committments

This gimmick, similar to, but more aggressive than, Bernard Lord's 200 days of change in 1999, saw the following items implemented or, where not possible, started - and all since fully implemented - with in 24 hours of the swearing-in.

  • gas tax axed to 1999 levels (-3.8¢/L)

  • $2000 per first-year university student shaved off of tuition

  • potential, but often non-existant, parental and spousal contributions no longer considered for student loans

  • seniors' assets no longer raided when moving into nursing homes

  • formal MOU with Saint John to ensure money will flow for harbour clean up
Other accomplishments

  • more care provided for seniors in nursing homes

  • reduction in nursing home rates

  • more hours available for home care

  • appointment of the first child and youth advocate - something required by law since April 1, 2004 - this post remained vacant for 2.5 years because the Tory government refused to obey the law, which they unanimously supported, without being allowed to amend it and restrict the advocate's powers

  • launched reform of child protection system

  • winter no-disconnect policy for econimcally challegned NB Power customers

  • increase of minimum wage to $7.25 by July 1

  • impressive insurance reforms which will eliminate discrimination against males, reduce territorial differentials and reduce rates by 13.5% by March 1

  • improved relationships and open dialogue with First Nations communities

  • created a Task Force to reach out to the not-for-profit sector, headed by an individual - Claudette Bradshaw - who cares about the issue and won't let the premier ignore its report

  • engaged New Brunswickers on how to best approach the fiscal imbalance debate

  • established a positive working relationship with an opposing party government in Ottawa

  • began McKenna-style recruitment of business to New Brunswick - with the assistance of McKenna
This is a government that has been in office for 11 weeks and 1 day - 2 and a half months + a day - not very long. It is a government headed by a premier that has never served in a cabinet and supported by 14 ministers who haven't either and only 3 who have. They face a steep learning curve and should not be moving too too quickly without first making sure that they know all of the facts and the results of their actions. Despite this, they have done a lot in a short time. I don't want to short change the impressive list above, that I think stands on its own in any circumstances, but if you want to argue that there is a lot left to be accomplished, they have accomplished as great deal already and there is a lot of time left.

I was particularly interested in the Premier's announcement in this piece that early next year he "will be launching a task force on self-sufficiency similar to the Byrne Commission in the 1960s". This is exactly what our province needs. After the Byrne Commission and through the early Hatfield years New Brunswick leaped ahead. Things stalled in the early 80s, but Frank McKenna's "can-do" optomism, aggressive economic development and sound fiscal management pushed New Brunswick ahead again in the 1990s. Unfortunately, under Bernard Lord, New Brunswick stalled once more. Shawn Graham has positioned himself in such a way that things will start moving again, but, if he is serious about pushing the envelope as radically as was done with Equal Opportunity, then New Brunswick could well be self-sufficient by 2025. I am looking forward to it.

UPDATE: As I predicted, and as previous evidence suggested would be the case, the province's books are not in good shape. As a result, it appears the HST heating rebate is dead, but the province is going to replace it with a mini-program to assist those most in need.


scott said...

I'm not as partisan as you claim, nbpolitico. I'm not ashamed to recognize and admit the significant failures [or should I say shortcomings] of all the premiers on the economic development file. The most important file [if not, it definitely should be] when it comes to our region. So I guess until I see something other than more equiization, "guilt" money and call centres for the region, I will continue to attack.

Spinks said...

The Liberals have done a pretty decent job so far. One boo-hiss. They should have honoured the November NB Power rebate. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. It was budgeted for and people had saved their receipts. Ditch it in the future but November's rebate should be honoured.

nbpolitico said...

Sorry, I don't mean to assert that you are partisan, just that you don't seem to be a very big fan of the incumbent administration.

I think that the plan to boost our energy production and sell it at a healthy profit to the U.S. is a good step towards improving our bottom line and weening us off of equalizaition.

If this commission Graham is talking about is half as innovative as the Byrne Commission was then I think you and I will both be quite pleased with the other approaches for economic development.

In terms of economic development being the most important file, I couldn't agree more. Don't you think that a premier who can to office with one of his slogans being "making job creation a priority again", the economy as the first of his three major planks and a pledge to get us off of equalization - something no one has pledged before to my knowledge - is a pretty encouraging first step?

nbpolitico said...

They should have honoured the November NB Power rebate. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. It was budgeted for and people had saved their receipts. Ditch it in the future but November's rebate should be honoured.

Actually it wasn't budgeted for, that's the problem.

JL said...

Actually it wasn't budgeted for, that's the problem.

It was booked!

sorry, couldn't resist.

scott said...

First of all, as Trudeau used to say, a commission is a sure-fire sign that the government has failed to act on a particular issue. Though he struck a few in his day, more often than not he usually parted from their findings.

As for the Byrne commission, being a reformer, I always like it anytime recommendations are designed to reform anything that is not working efficiently, especially when it will ease the burden of taxes on certain municipal regions. As for Louis J. Robichaud himself, I was very impressed with his leadership on the maritime union file. It quite funny as the political union was mentioned in the foreward of the Report of the Royal Commission on Finance and Municipal Taxation in New Brunswick, by the chairman Edward G. Byrne. He argued that dismantling of the four civil services and their reconstitution into a single civil service would give the Atlantic region a advantage economically. I agree as a formulation and execution of a more effective federal-provincial programme of economic development for the region and that, particularly, it would enhance the effectiveness of federal agencies concerned with regional development. Most importantly, as I mentioned in my last comment on my blog, is that maritime union would allow a better and more efficient plan for the drive for secondary manufacturing industry more rationally, in realtion to the regional market. As well, duplication and competition in the present promotional activities could be eliminated and a concerted effort made to attract major industries to those parts of the maritime region best suited for it. In other words, it would eliminate pety regional squabbles over who gets what?

But we all know that provincial traditions and history will speak louder than any form of efficent and effective manner to deal with rgional disparity. So there is a good chance we will never see maritime union some to reality. Hey, but it doesn't hurt to dream. lol

nbpolitico said...

First of all, as Trudeau used to say, a commission is a sure-fire sign that the government has failed to act on a particular issue. Though he struck a few in his day, more often than not he usually parted from their findings.

I think that that is a bit of an apple-orange comparison. You are right that quite often a commission is established to get a hot issue off of the table or to play lip service to something on which or don't want to act. However, this government is in too early of a stage for that sort of a reaction. Perhaps I've had koolaid, or perhaps I am being too optomistic but I think that this is going to be very, very good.

Anonymous said...

Anyone is an improvement on Bernard Lord. His was the failed administration.

Anonymous said...

The $100 rebate for low income households is the type of plan I have advocated all along. It is important to help the needy, but everyone doesn't need the rebate.

I could never imagine civil servants sifting through 6 months worth of power bills (or firewood or oil or whatever) from virtually every household in the Province. Logistically, it would probably double the cost of the rebates and would just not be worth it.

Basing the rebate on income will allow for simply verification of income tax returns.

As far as the other bad news in the report, that shouldn't surprise anyone.


nbpolitico said...

I agree totally Marg.

Spinks said...

Y'know I actually kind of like the provincial Liberals. Many of them are more conservative than the Progressive Conservatives but *sigh*, why must the middle class always get the shaft?

Why do I sense tax hikes are on the way and/or massively increased power bills? If the books are in such bad shape, shouldn't they have looked at them before going on a spending spree the first few weeks in office?

scott said...

Wow Spinks,

Did you used to spin for Dithers? I'm not going to let you off the hook on this one buddy. So just for fun, let's look at your above statement in a little more detail. Just a minute, I have to go to the liquor cabinet to refill the eggnog glass [with rum] in order to get through this one without falling to the floor in obsessive laughter. Alright back to the statement.

First you open up with a tree hugging group statement where you say, "Y'know I actually kind of like the provincial Liberals." Huh?? Or should I say double Huh??

Than you proceed to paint them as fiscally conservative in that you mention, "Many of them are more conservative than the Progressive Conservatives...[...]" Ok, fine.

But the kicker is, after saying you like them [Liberals] and they are more fisaclly conservative than the Progressive Conservatives, you go onto to say they will most likely tax us to death and crush the middle class. Boy, that is one conflicting set of statements you have laid out there my friend. LOL

And if the above statement is true, where does that leave my poor ol' Progressive Conservatives party? Will they be stealing policies from Engels and Marx in the New Year? ;-)

nbpolitico said...

Well Scott, you've got to admit that the power rate freeze, the HST heating rebate and most of the other goodies announced in March were about as far from conservative principle as Marx ever went.

scott said...

You forgot regulating New Brunswick's oil and gas market!! ;-)

However, the New Brunswick PCs [even under Hatfield] were always closer to the socialist notion that freedom reigns supreme when discovered through social planning, not through the market and smaller government.

I'll have to admit, I'm for a bit of both, but after years and years of the former here in New Brunswick, you gotta start to wonder if we may require a bit more of the latter. As Winston Churchill mused on occasion, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

Canuckguy said...

The Liberals did the right thing breaking the rebate promise. I was disappointed that the Conservatives made the promise in the first place and doubly disappointed the Liberals said they would honour it as an election goodie, hence both parties bribing us with our own money.

As Graham said, rebates do not encourage conservation . It is a waste of money the government does not have. Better to funnel some money to help homeowners to insulate their homes better and to invest in alternate energy sources like solar heating. Graham had guts to break that promise. Besides, politicians breaking promises is something we should be use to and let's not get upset about it.

I voted Conservative in the last election, it was a toss up and I am neither a hard line liberal nor conservative on the NB stage. I do currently despise the federal liberals but am worried about the Conservatives being too ideological driven like the Knuckleheaded Bush Republicans.

Spinks said...

Yeah Scott, I tick off everyone don't I? :)

alflucky26 said...

Hi nbpolitico,
You have a great blog!! I have a question for you that I have been meaning to ask for a while. You mentioned in your profile before the election that you were a conservative that switched due to BL. Since he is no longer in the picture, are you going to switch back to being a conservative?
Thanks for a great blog!

Anonymous said...

I believe a party should follow through on their promises. If not, the promise should not be made in the first place just to get votes. The Liberals hired a so-called expert to cost out their platform and clearly said they would honor the rebate program put in place by Lord. The HST rebate was budgetted by LORD with a total $20 Million surplus. Like him or lump him, Lord always did what he said he would. In this day in age, it has to mean something. The Liberals will run the province back into debt just like McKenna did and we'll pay high interest costs again. But does anyone seem to care??

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks the rebate program would have worked, should just stop and really think about it for a moment.

Who was going to process all those applications? Let's suppose I mail off 6 months worth or power bills, plus a couple of receipts for firewood. How long do you estimate it would take someone to open the envelope, put the documents in order, verify name, address, dates, and amounts, and then enter that information into a computer system for payment?

For a top-notch processor who is at least taking enough time to verify the details, I'd estimate 5 minutes. For some much slower. But even at 5 minutes, that person can only process 90 to 100 applications a day.

Therefore, I estimate it would take at least 3,000 person-days to process all the applications for the Province. Then in 6 months, they'd get to do it all over again. Sounds like a make-work project.

Get real. Anyone who was counting on a rebate in time for Christmas has certainly not looked at the handling of these rebates.

It was a very poorly thought-out promise by the Conservatives to start with.


nbpolitico said...

I have a question for you that I have been meaning to ask for a while. You mentioned in your profile before the election that you were a conservative that switched due to BL. Since he is no longer in the picture, are you going to switch back to being a conservative?

No, I don't think so. I have become quite involved with the Liberal Party over the past six years and have found myself more at home among the Grits than I ever was with the Tories. Thanks for your very kind words re: my blog.


Anon at 9:46 - I think Marg answers your concerns/criticms very well, in terms of pointing out that the program was flawed. However you are missing the point that the HST rebate was actually not budgeted and there was still no plan in place as to how to process the rebate. Moreover, the province has found that under Lord, despite his claims of surpluses, we had all kinds of debt racked up which does not a good financial manager make in my books.

scott said...

Hey nbpolitico,

Have a great Christmas!! See you back here in the New Year.

harrap said...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays my friend!

Anonymous said...

"However you are missing the point that the HST rebate was actually not budgeted "

* * * *

The HST tax cut was budgeted for. It was debated and voted on in the Legislature in June 2006. It was not a "promise" by the Tories, but in fact was a budgeted program.

The Shawn Graham "promised" to keep it, as stated to Terry Sequin on CBC TV.

As far as conservation being the reason to cancel it - why did he lower the tax on gas then? Is that not also a contray policy to conservation?

The Liberals have been consistently inconsistent.

Shawn Graham is no new politician. He has been elected for 9 years, he also was an executive assistant to a Minister of the government prior to that. There should be no excuses to broken promises.

As for the accusation that Lord raised the debt, this is completely false. The debt was lowered and NB was one of two provinces (ALBERTA) to lower the debt in the last 7 years. This means less interest costs and more money directed to health and other social programs.