Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wacko prediction of the day

Since my track record is already awful in terms of predictions, when I have a whim like this, I don't mind posting it because my reputation can't get any lower!

Jean Charest will win a narrow majority in early elections in July.

UPDATE: Sources tell me that members of the PQ leadership are avid readers of this blog and, having read this prediction and knowing of my impressive track record on political pontification, cut a deal with Charest to avoid seeing him win a majority.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fixed election dates coming to NB

Government House Leader Stuart Jamieson introduced Bill 75 today which will set fixed election dates starting with September 27, 2010 and every fourth Monday of September every four years thereafter.

This date was chosen over October 18, 2010 and every third Monday of October every four years thereafter as was proposed by the Commission on Legislative Democracy and by Bernard Lord. Presumably this is because Bill C-16, a piece of legislation before the federal parliament, would fix federal election dates on the third Monday of October.

The bill contains a provision for the election date to be moved one week earlier or one week later if there is a religious holiday on the date. It also contains an interesting provision moving the election to either the fourth Monday in August or the fourth Monday in October if there is a conflict with a federal election.

If a fixed provincial and federal election fell on the same year, campaigning for the federal election would be well under way by the end of September so would provincial elections in those cases be moved up to August? That would be unfortunate...

Stephen McNeil, premier of Nova Scotia?

It might be a little bizarre for me to be asking such a question considering McNeil is the green, brand new leader of the distant third place Nova Scotia Liberals who hold 9 of 52 seats in the Nova Scotia legislature and last year finished third in the popular vote... and it was a distant third.

McNeil comes neither from Greater Halifax (where almost half of the seats are) nor from Cape Breton (where the Liberals traditional strength has been though it was lost in the 2006 election).

So, what gives?

First, let's look at their opponents.

The PCs, despite gaining 3% in the popular vote in the last election slipped 3 seats in the legislature due to the realignment of politics in the province where the Tories are really the only province-wide party, running in two-way fights against the NDP in Halifax and against the Liberals elsewhere (with a few notable acceptions). As a result of their support being evenly spread while the other two parties have strong concentrated bases, the Tories will need more votes to win less seats going forward. Add to that that their new leader, Rodney MacDonald, won the PC leadership by accident and has proved a weak campaigner and an even weaker governer.

The NDP, despite having an ideal scenario in 2006 (a poor campaign by the governing Tories and a Liberal Party, which for the first time, was not running to win but instead to form the official opposition), failed to make substantial gains over their past showings. The NDP has a glass ceiling of about 20 seats and 35% voter support. Since their big break through in 1998, the NDP results have been 19, 11, 15, 20 in terms of seats and 34.2, 29.9, 31.0, 34.5 in terms of popular vote percentage. Twenty seats is impressive and could conceivably be a plurality of seats in the legislature (a future election could yeild NDP 20, PC 16, Lib 16) but I doubt either of the traditional parties would want to give the NDP the legitimacy of having governed so such a minority legislature would not last long and might even seen one of the traditional parties propped up by the other.

So back to the Liberals. They can do no worse ever than they did in 2006. They had a weak leader who ran a weak campaign. The fact that the Liberals managed 9 seats and almost 24% of the vote speaks volumes about the talent and tenacity of the Liberal workers in that province. So they've got nowhere to go but up - at least in terms of popular vote (in 1999 they got 6.2% more votes but only 2 more seats).

So I've explained that the Liberals will do better, the NDP can't do better and that the Tories are very underwhelming but this is hardly a compelling argument for Premier McNeil.

So, let's take a walk down memory lane...

1933 the Liberals return to power in Nova Scotia, in 1935 the Liberals return in PEI and New Brunswick.

1953 the Tories return to power in New Brunswick, they do the same in Nova Scotia in 1956 and PEI in 1959.

1986 the Liberals return to power in PEI, they do the same in New Brunswick in 1987 and in Nova Scotia in 1993.

1996 the Tories return to power in PEI, in 1999 they do the same in PEI and New Brunswick.

2006 the Liberals return to power in New Brunswick, they do the same in PEI in 2007..........

Not a perfect record but in the past 80 years there are four examples of the Maritime provinces being all with one party and en masse switching to the other. So far we got two out of three so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself in Nova Scotia.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Family values, Republican style

It is a bit off topic but I found this very ironic and amusing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thinking outside the box in health care

Despite how it sounds, the idea of renting unusable hospital space - particularly ORs - on off hours was a good way to think outside of the box and recoup some health care monies.

Similarly, I applaud the announcement that the province will follow the lead of many other jurisdictions in this country and allow midwives to work in our hospitals.

Midwives can do nothing but free up the resources of doctors and nurses and provide our soon-to-be and just-become mothers with more specialized, focussed and senstive care.

Job well done.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hope restored

The motto of our fine province is "spem reduxit" which is Latin for "hope restored". I've always thought that Frank McKenna's greatest accomplishment was in living up to this motto. Regardless of the results, which I think were great, the strongest legacy of Frank McKenna was that he restored hope to New Brunswickers. While we had Bernard Lord laughing off the concept of New Brunswick becoming a "have" province as some kind of joke last summer, Frank McKenna had the very opposite MO. McKenna believed in the great potential that our province has and he made sure everyone knew it. Boosting the morale of our citizens boosts our productivity and ecomony, it fosters entrepreneurism and it is an all around good thing.

This is why I like Shawn Graham's general approach, he restores hope. On Monday, I was a little disappointed with the report of the Self-Sufficiency Task Force. I did not have a problem with their recommendations, but I was frustrated that they did not have a plan to implement some of the more ambiguous ones.

I said then that the best hope would be for the premier to move fast to appoint a standalone deputy minister for self-sufficiency who could develop a strategy and have broad ranging powers to ensure that all deputy ministers follow that lead and move towards the ambitious goal of being a "have" province by 2026. Today, the premier appointed such a deputy minister.

Additionally, Graham announced the immediate implementation of one of the most important recommendations (one that was also mirrored in the Liberal Charter for Change platform) which creates "start-up capital of up to $100,000 for new businesses, and up to $60,000 for business expansion". This should go a long way to undo the damage to business creation done by the recent small business tax increases and should create jobs.

I also am very pleased with this: changing the NB brand to position "the province as an exciting and dynamic place to be, with a competitive standard of living, affordable housing, and top quality education and health services"... this goes back to what I said about Frank McKenna. I think we've all seen the Saskatchewan commercials which are done in this vein and I think very useful. Many people in Ontario and points west view New Brunswick as a backwater. The Maritimes in general are not looked upon favourably, but everyone has a story and reference about PEI (potatoes and Anne of Green Gables), about Nova Scotia (Bluenose, Alexander Keith's, the Cabot Trail), about Newfoundland & Labrador (screech, cod, iceburgs, George Street). When you ask them about New Brunswick, many draw a blank. That is a shame but at the same time it is an opportunity. New Brunswick's canvass in the national imagination is blank, we can do a lot of good by marketing ourselves well.

Other announcements today in response to the Task Force report:

  • appointing a commissioner to evaluate municipal strucutre

  • Business NB to enter into a deal with ACOA and community development agencies to create one-stop shopping for grants rather than having to file three separate applications

  • review of policies to make sure they are geared towards self-sufficiency

  • a meeting has been requested with the PM to gauge the federal willingness to invest in New Brunswick now to save on equalization in the future

  • arranging a summit with business and labour groups

  • engaging Aboriginal groups as a part of the road to self-sufficiency

With any luck, this new dpeuty minister and the premier will continue to be proactive and some solid plans to implement the lofty ideas of the Task Force will come into being and we may indeed be on the road to prosperity.

My one hesitation is that the guy who wrote the report recommending the appointment of a deputy minister for self-sufficiency is being appointed to that role. This both seems like something of a conflict of interest and makes me wary as he did not have plans in place when he wrote the recommendations, however the recommendations were put together quickly so this man may be best positioned to understand the thinking behind them and develop broader implementation plans. I'll keep an eye on this...

Monday, May 07, 2007


So the report is out. I am not really all that overwhelmed by it.

There is nothing radical in it and I believe a radical change on par with Equal Opportunity is necessary in order to turn things around in this province.

Eugene took a shot at me and suggested I might like the report but not so much the implementation. I am afraid my disappointment is coming a little bit early, I do remain optomistic for the implementation however.

The report is largely just common sense recommendations that one would not needed to have spent half a million dollars on a commission to come up with. A lot of their recommendations are common sense. In other cases they say that we need to fix a lot of tough problems, but they do not say how, for instance:

Recommendation 32. Ensure that credential recognition processes for doctors, nurses, engineers and other accredited professions are timely, responsive to labour force requirements, transparent and accountable, with first priority being given to post-secondary institutions in those countries targeted under the Provincial Nominee Program.

That is a great idea, if New Brunswick did not have the problems of credential recognition that other provinces have, then we would certainly dramatically increase the number of skilled immigrants that would move to New Brunswick and therefore have a great competitive edge over the rest of Canada. However, the province has nothing to do with the recognition of these credentials. It is the individual professional organizations for each field that is responsible for certifying people and giving them the right to work in that field. How is the province going to implement this recommendation? This is a good thing, that should be done, but how are we going to do it? I am a regular schmoe and could have told you that we should do this and I might even have a few ideas as to how to do it but isn't that what this Task Force was for?

There are plenty of other lofty ideas which are great but there is no plan to enable them.

I guess we can only hope that this will help:

Recommendation 2. Appoint a deputy minister to be responsible for the self-sufficiency agenda and to oversee its implementation.

If this was done and a stand alone DM was appointed to work out of the Executive Council with broad powers to develop policy and implement this plan, then maybe the agenda would work out. My fear however is that some deputy minister in some department (presumably Business NB) will be annointed as the deputy minsiter responsible for Self-Sufficiency but will continue to be housed in BNB and therefore have no real mandate to execute change in other departments and not have the time to devote exclusively to this agenda due to him or her having to deal with the day-to-day administration of a department.

So in summary, what I read here is a good series of recommendations. However, the best analogy I can come up with would be someone telling you that a pirate left a tremendous treasure in the Bay of Fundy but they failed to give you a treasure map. The Bay isn't that big, but it is big enough that without a guide to find the treasure, you probably never would except for a fluke.

Let's hope that the government takes these recommendations and develops a plan to implement them and does it in short order. That is our only hope.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I have high hopes

On Monday, the Self-Sufficiency Task Force will release its final report. As I have said many times on this blog and in the comments sections of other blogs, I have high hopes for this report.

Say what you will about Shawn Graham, but he has always been a man who has had big dreams, reached high and consistently punched above his weight (he had no chance to win the 2002 Liberal leadership [but won it with 75% of the vote], was sure to lose seats in the 2003 election [but actually quadrupled his total], was never going to survive as leader to the next election [but never faced a serious leadership challenge] and couldn't knock Bernard Lord off in 2006 [but did]).

In appointing this commission he has shown that he stands with leaders like Louis Robichaud, Richard Hatfield and Frank McKenna who are not afraid to think outside of the box and dream big about New Brunswick's future. Bernard Lord was not a member of this group of leaders. It was Lord who compared the idea of self-sufficiency to the liklihood of him becoming a part of the PGA tour. While Louis Robichaud re-invented the province, Richard Hatfield brought together our fractured biculturalism and Frank McKenna made New Brunswick a leader in IT and job growth, Bernard Lord balanced his budgets - from time to time - by living off of a booming Canadian economy and the largest increases in federal transfers to the provinces since the 1950s. In fact, in some years, Lord's "record health care spending increases" were less than the amount of money the feds were giving us earmarked for health. Lord was content to undo the good works of Frank McKenna by moving us more towards reliance on Ottawa and sucking on the federal teet. If Stephen Harper ever listened to Bernard Lord it is no wonder he thought Atlantic Canadians had a defeatist attitude.

When Shawn Graham launched this Self-Sufficiency Task Force he invoked the memories of the Byrne Commission which turned New Brunswick upside down with controversial reforms that today everyone recognizes as good and necessary. This is why I have high hopes.

I hope that I - and you - will be impressed with the recommendations on Monday. And I also hope that we will all be equally impressed with Shawn Graham as I hope he will implement all of the good ideas whether they are popular or not. That is the true sign of a good leader: doing what is right even if it is unpopular.