Friday, September 28, 2007

An unscientific survey

There is a rahther raucous debate going over on Spink About It about the move by the Fredericton Peace Coalition to call for the removal of the yellow "Support our Troops" ribbons from store fronts.

I can see both sides of the argument and am a bit skepitcal of the mission in Afghanistan. The position I take is that we have made a commitment to our allies to be there until February 2009 and it would be very dishonest of Canada to leave before that time. At the same time, though the effectiveness of the mission remains to be seen, whether or not it is isn't really relevant at this point. Canada has a small army and our soldiers will have been there for 7.5 years but February 2009, we have done out bit for king and country and unless we start copying the U.S. in Iraq and leave our troops there for longer periods and bring them home for shorter periods, the mission isn't really sustainable, so we should do the responsible thing and advise our allies that we will be withdrawing or at least decreasing our commitment at the end of this tour.

That isn't the point I want to get in to, commenter "mikel" stated over on Spinks' blog the following in response to my view that the ribbons are about supporting our soliders who are in harms way and not the mission they are undertaking:
Not really, that may be your opinion, but as we've seen here, there is tons of support for the mission in Afghanistan. The signs CAN mean support for the specific men and women in the forces, but they often mean support for Afghanistan. In fact I'd bet that if you asked every single person who put up such a sticker or sign that close to a hundred percent would say they support the mission in Afghanistan.

I can't prove that, its just a guess, but the reasons for putting up such a sign will range from one reason to another depending on who put up the sticker. Saying that it only means what YOU think it means is kind of presumptuous.
Well this certainly isn't a scientific proof, but let's see if we can get something of a measure.

An unscientific poll
What does the yellow
Support of the men and women in uniform who have put their lives on line for Canada
Support of the current mission in Afghanistan
Support of the military and conflict in general

I'd value hearing your comments on this subject, the subject being: "what do you think the yellow ribbon means?" I would prefer if people could keep the comments on topic and not delve into a debate on Afghanistan itself, I am sure there are lots of places to have that conversation if we need to.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Funny 'cause it's true

My favourite U.S. presidential candidate has this amusing web short out:

h/t Ben Smith

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Up-and-comers: Mike Olscamp

This post is the third in a multi-part series; please see the earlier entries on Lisa Merrithew and Rick Miles.

In 2006, Mike Olscamp became the first non-incumbent to hold the Tantramar riding for his or her party in the riding's 32 year history. A feat he managed to accomplish by a healthy margin of 20% in a year when his party suffered an overall defeat - though a narrow one.

I didn't really know much about him before the legislature met this February, but have been consistently impressed ever since.

A memorable moment came during estimates for the Department of Environment, he was questioning Minister Roland Haché in English and Haché was responding in French. The answers were not totally forthcoming with the information being sought so Olscamp continued to ask similar questions. Haché switched to English and suggested there must be something wrong with the translation but Olscamp replied in perfect French, indicating he was listening in French, and that the minister should feel free to respond in either language, he could understand both just as well.

I saw him rise to comment during the estimates process for virtually every single department and he was consistently knowledgable on the subject areas and contributed a great deal to the discourse.

The Tories would be very, very well served to move this guy from the back row to the front and give him a portfolio more complex and front of mind than Wellness, Culture and Sport. If there were a few more Mike Olscamps in the Tory caucus, there wouldn't be so many complaints about an ineffective opposition.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thinking outside the caucus

The Telegraph-Journal reports today (in an article I wouldn't dare link to) that Jacques Dubé, former president of Service New Brunswick and current chief of staff to Minister Greg Thompson, was being lobbied to run for Tory leader but has declined.

It refers to two other potential outside candidates: "Robert Hatheway, a Fredericton orthodontist and the chief executive officer of Capital Airways, and Lisa Merrithew, 35, a bilingual Tory campaigner working in Ottawa, who is daughter of the late federal cabinet minister Gerry Merrithew."

Perhaps having about the same feelings in terms of the quality of members of the caucus, the article adds: "Several MLAs are also thought to be mulling a bid," but doesn't bother to mention any of these mopes by name.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Universities, colleges and polytechnics?

I've had a chance to read the whole report, aside from the fact that it needed another proof read (there are lots of typos, especially in the first few chapters), I think it is very good.

UNBSJ and UdeM have been quick to be very critical, they have two primary complaints: Commissioner Rick Miner is biased and the report is therefore worthless; this is not what Louis Robichaud would have wanted.

Criticism of Rick Miner is unfounded. Apparently he is on the board of Polytechnics Canada, and he is therefore biased in favour of them. Those who criticize him fail to mention that he is only one half of the commission and that the report was signed off on by a large advisory council which included such notables as Denis Losier and Elizabeth Weir. However, if that wasn't enough to ensure balance, why is Rick Miner deemed biased in favour of Polytechnics but not of UNB (of which he was vice-president for almost a decade) and colleges (he is currently president of Seneca College in Toronto)? Hooey, I say.

Similarly, I am disgusted by those who are trying to say that this is a betrayal of Louis Robichaud's legacy. It seems to me like the next logical step. Louis acted on the recommendations of a commission that said that small colleges needed to be brought together and resources and compatability between institutions had to improve. That summary applies totally to this report; it is an evolution of Louis Robichaud's vision, not a reversal.

The result for Northern New Brunswick seems to be very, very, very good. Presently, as I understand it, almost all UdeM degree programs at Edmundston and Shippigan only offer the first two years, thereafter you have to go to Moncton. Under the proposal, new Polytechnics in the northeast and northwest would continue to do this but would also offer full training (at the college, undergraduate and graduate levels) for vocations relevant to the region. This is a tremendous leap forward in access to post-secondary education for Francophones. Indeed, in addition to better education in the north, a renewed focus on one campus and more research money could make UdeM competitive with some of its better reputed counterparts in Quebec. Finally, rural Anglophones get a boost with first and second year university courses becoming available in Miramichi and Woodstock.

For UNBSJ, the benefits are not quite as obvious. They already have full college and university programs there, so it is easy to see it as taking three schools (UNBSJ, NBCC Saint John and NBCC St. Andrews) and changing them in to one and a half (Saint John Polytechnic with campuses in Saint John and St. Andrews). But it is much, much more than that. While Fredericton is the government and academic centre of New Brunswick and Moncton is the commercial centre, Saint John has and continues to be the industrial centre. A Polytechnic, while still offering university degrees in selected areas, will provide far better and more comprehensive training in the trades relevenant to working in an oil refinery or a power plant or other relevant fields, including at the unversity level as appropriate. Moreover, it would make Saint John home of - as far as I understand it - the only English Polytechnic east of Toronto, a good feather-in-cap for New Brunswick generally and Saint John specifically.

For students, I can see tremendous benefits. It maintains all that we have, makes it easier for people to study closer to home and offers far, far more choice. I don't know how many people I knew that changed degree programs when I was at UNB a few years back. I was one of them. The Commission proposes something at the front end to help students make better choices and in the middle to allow them to far more easily change programs without losing credit for the work they've already done. Moreover, the polytechnic would be perfect for the many people I know who went to unversity because they thought they had to and took a BA while they were trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

I am not totally sold on their proposal to scrap the tax holiday for university graduates (which I think could, if properly marketed, attract a lot of talented people from coast-to-coast to settle in New Brunswick) but I can appreciate where they are coming from.

This report offers the sort of good, transformational ideas that New Brunswick needs to achieve self-sufficiency, or at least get towards it. I hope that Premier Graham and Minister Doherty will move forward with a full implementation of this plan, with the possible exception of the student loan/grant/aid sections which I think merit a more thorough review; the commission is right to say some of the progams are ineffective, but they are new and not necessarily bad programs, but badly implemented programs.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Predictions are fun

Ontario election: PC 61, Lib 33, NDP 13

Nefoundland & Labrador election: PC 27,486,212; NDP 1; Lib -infinity

Something to make you proud

I wanted to share this very touching piece which I understand appeared in The Sunday Telegraph of London recently back in 2002, thanks to a reader for pointing that out:

Until the deaths of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan , probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops are deployed in the region. And as always, Canada will bury its dead, just as the rest of the world, as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does. It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored.

Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again. That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with the United States, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10% of Canada's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle. Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular Memory as somehow or other the work of the 'British.'

The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone. Canada finished the war with the third largest navy and the fourth largest air force in the world. The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time.

Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign in which the United States had clearly not participated - a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity. So it is a general rule that actors and filmmakers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality - unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Alex Trebek, Art Linkletter and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer, British. It is as if, in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that 1% of the world's population has provided 10% of the world's peacekeeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peacekeepers on Earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peacekeeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia. Yet the only foreign engagement that has entered the popular on-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia , in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace - a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit.

So who today in the United States knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac , Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost. This past year more grieving Canadian families knew that cost all too tragically well.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Graham cabinet to be shuffled?

So I heard a rumour this weekend that there may be a cabinet shuffle as soon as early October.

It would seem a bit odd to shuffle so early in the government mandate unless it is a shuffle required due to some structural changes in government that may be planned?

One presumes that at least one of the three new Moncton area caucus members (Chris Collins. Joan MacAlpine-Stiles and Wally Stiles) would be elevated to cabinet as well to make up for minimal cabinet representation there.

Any thoughts? Anyone hear something similar?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Air Canada

Is it just me or does everyone love our "national airline"?

I thought, despite their regularly awful service, that they'd never beat the time they lost my luggage 5 times out of 6 consecutive flights.

It remains to be seen but they're working hard at it. I'm in Ottawa right now trying to fly home. I get to the airport and found quickly how lucky I am to avoid checked luggage at all cost.

For those not familiar with the Ottawa airport, there are about 20 check in counters that are non-US flights at at the far end of these counters is Air Canada. When I arrived, the check in line went the full length of the counters, beyond them to the end of the airport and around a corner.

Phew, I said, I can go down to security where there is a check-in kiosk for those without checked bags. Upon arriving at said kiosk, I found that it was out of order. So, I went back upstairs and navigated my way through the angry and annoyed to the other kiosks, I waited in line for those because 4 out of 10 were out of order. The machine refused to let me select a seat and wouldn't print me a second boarding pass for my connection to Fredericton but, at least, I had a pass and no checked bags.

After sitting around for a while, and watching in astonishment as the line continued to grow, Air Canada announced over the PA - for the first time in at least the half hour I'd been there - that their computers were on the fritz and causing delays. There was no "sorry" or "thanks for your understanding" included in the announcement.

I wasn't sure if this was the same reason why, despite the fact that less than half of the flights on the board were Air Canada, 7 of 8 delayed flights had "AC" in front of them or not.

Upon going to my gate and seeing the time for my own delayed flight, I saw another flight was delayed so much it was departing for my destination 4 minutes before mine had been scheduled to. I approached the agent, waited in line, and attempted to inquire if I could get on that flight so as to make my connection. Upon reaching her, I was informed that her shift had ended 5 minutes before so she was leaving. How's that for customer service!?

Now, I'm sorry, but I work in the service industry. When my clients need help, through no fault of my company, I stay late to help them. These mopes won't stay more than 5 minutes when it is their system failure!?

I'm now on my flight, whether I'll make my connection or sleep in a terminal remains to be seen. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, share your Air Canada horror stories below.

UPDATE: Saved by dumb luck. My flight is scheduled for 8:30, I land at 8:02. I think it may be close but doable. Pilot announces that there is no gate, there will be a "five minute" wait. Finally get inside terminal at 8:27. I push my way to the Fredericton gate - fortunately the next one over. I ask the agent "have you boarded yet?". She responds "no". I'm confused. She asks "coming from Ottawa?". Me: "yes?". Her: "it is the same crew". So I've waited 8 minutes and they are now calling for boarding. Go figure.

Reinveting post-secondary education

This report is worth a close look. I've only read the news release so far, but the concept seems very interesting, in my view looks like to eliminate some redundancy, close some gaps and not upset the apple cart too much.

UDPATE: See my substantive post on the subject.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Up-and-comers: Lisa Merrithew

Lisa Merrtihew is a largely unknown quantity to New Brunswickers. Those that do know her will primarily know her as either Gerry Merrithew's daughter or Peter MacKay's (ex)girlfriend.

A Google search revealed only 856 results, of the top 10, five were about her relationship with Peter MacKay, three referred to her recent appointment and role as a Senior VP with PR giant Fleishman-Hillard, one was an earlier post I wrote about her potential as a leadership candidate and one was her Wikipedia article.

Though 856 results may seem low, her likely leadership opponents do about the same, though with more relevant hits (I doubt the facination with her relationship with Peter MacKay is something she would want to consume 50% of the ink used to write about her).

Here are the results of some of her possible competition: Trevor Holder (865), Margaret-Ann Blaney (795), Brad Green (761), Jody Carr (654), Madeliene Dubé (280).

However, many Tories I have spoken too are blown away with excitement when they hear of her as a possible leadership candidate, especially when compared to the other candidates.

Of those I mention above, she is the only one who is fluently bilingual. She also has a background in public relations, giving her lots of training to be effective in developing a message that ressonates with people.

In early 2006, she joined Bernard Lord's office to take over the messaging and strategy of his premiership. Though she didn't manage to prevent Lord from losing, she allowed him to carry the day in the messaging surrounding the procedural battle in the legislature, despite the fact that procedural experts like Robert Marleau and C.E.S. Franks will tell you that the Liberals were in the right. At the same time, for the first time in three years, the Tories took the lead in opinion polls and went on to win the popular vote on election day.

This cannot all be attributed to Merrithew, obviously, but there was a marked change in attitude from the premier and his government that coincided with her arrival and led to an improved public standing.

Whether or not she would be a candidate however is no sure thing. In March, she accepted a job in Toronto that I expect pays very, very well. Would an uncertain leadership race that, if successful, would be followed by an uncertain future as party leader attract her?

If she were to win, how would she enter the legislature? The only remaining Saint John area seats are those of Trevor Holder (who I doubt would want to step aside) and Margaret-Ann Blaney. Neither seat would be a sure bet to win and the occupant would have to be willing to step aside permanently as her father's old domain of Saint John East has become a left wing bastion which the Tories have only won once in the past 25 years and then with only 36% of the vote in a three-way race in the huge sweep of 1999. The Tories placed third in their attempt to retain it in 2003.

The Tories better start lobbying hard; as I look at the possibilities she seems to be the only one that could even make the 2010 election a competion, otherwise it would be a Liberal recoronation. Quite a rise from being mostly notable until 2006, and still today according to Google, as MacKay's pre-Belinda belle.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I don't believe it...

After one year since winning the popular vote but losing the election and nine months after the departure of Bernard Lord and after having seen their numbers in polls drop from 48% on election day, to 30% in August and seeing their caucus shrink by 12%... the New Brunswick Tories will be thinking about setting a date for their next leadership convention.

I am glad to see they were spurred into action by my demand that they do so last week.

I found the following a bit disturbing however. Though the provincial executive will have the formal power to set the date, Jeannot Volpe, interim leader of the biting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face party said: "As caucus, we will send a letter to the provincial executive to advise them of what we would like." I am not sure that sounds entirely fair, especially if there are candidates from outside of caucus running. One presumes those who are in caucus -- who have the luxury of being better known, having established relationships with the press and a wider audience of party members and having the ability to campaign fulltime without risk of loss of pay or jobs -- would favour a different date and campaign structure than those out of caucus.

One of those out of caucus who may wish to run will actually be the subject of my next up-and-comer piece.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A new prediction

Notwithstanding my earlier musings, I predict that John McCain will win the Republican nomination. That is pretty bold when one considers that the current market value for McCain is 4.70 compared to 37.40 for Rudy, 24 for Romney and 23 for Thompson. In fact, McCain is barely ahead of Libertarian and anti-war candidate Ron Paul who is sitting at 3.90.

However, it looks as though there is going to be all out warfare between Romney and Guiliani setting them both up for a lot of damage heading into an Iowa caucus which McCain has been working very long and hard in preparation for this season. I suspect a surprise finish of either first or second for McCain in Iowa (depending on how Thompson does) followed by a win or close second in New Hampsire (in competition with Romney). After that McCain wins South Carolina and the rest is history.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Obama for New Hampshire, South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico... YEEEARRRRGH?

While parousing Ben Smith's blog and watching Barack Obama's most recent ad, I was reminded of something I've noticed before: the similarity between Obama's branding, stategy and messaging and that of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign.

First, it is interesting to note that back in 2003 prospective Senate candidate Barack Obama was an early backer of Dean and the favour was retuned in Obama being one of the first "Dean Dozen" in 2004 where the former Vermont governor directed his supporters to contribute to the campaigns of like minded Democrats around the country.

Second, we see Obama use the line "take our country back", a Howard Dean special, run as a strong outsider, fund his campaign with a large number of individual donations, and his campaign committee is even named the same was ("Obama for America" vs. "Dean for America"; as was his 2004 Senate campaign dubbed "Obama for Illinois").

One wonders if his campaign will face a fate similar to Dean? Clinton has the establishment support, Edwards and Dodd the union support and my guy Biden (with Edwards and Clinton) bests him in endorsements all putting them in better positions to mobilize the troops in Iowa. Will Obama's greener troops similarly have a hard time getting the vote out as Dean's did before him? And will a third or worse showing in Iowa derail him in the states that follow as happened Dean?

Food for thought.

Grits lead Tories 2 to 1

After a slip after the 2007 budget, which raised taxes, the Liberals have returned to the astronomical polling numbers they enjoyed shortly after taking office. The Liberals currently stand at 60% in the quarterly CRA poll, compared to 30% for the Tories.

The Telegraph-Journal has extensive reporting on the poll, which has not yet been posted on CRA's website.

The trend looks pretty good for the Grits... Maybe the Tories should think about picking a leader sometime soon?

UPDATE: The Gleaner article has more detail.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


As the dog days of summer wind up but before the political chitter chatter in New Brunswick picks up volume, I thought I would try to do something interesting. The talk of Dennis Atchison running for leader of the NDP reminded me of one up-and-comer in particular.

Last year, I first wrote about Rick Miles, the 37-year-old MLA from Fredericton-Silverwood and chair of the Government Caucus, in describing him as an "early 20s student" who had no chance against NDP star Atchison and Tory health minister Brad Green. Whoops. I mean it was close wasn't it? You say he won by 7 points and in 24 of 32 polls and tied in a 25th? Ahem.

So I have already made an earlier mea culpa on this one. I am able to restore a bit of my ego by noting that everyone else was of pretty much the same view. As I have before, I tip my hat to Mr. Miles for a tremendous victory.

Since then he re-surprised me in winning the chairmanship of the Liberal Government Caucus; an equally impressive feat for a first-time MLA. I understand he played a significant role in the defection of Mr. & Mrs. Stiles from the PCs and he has been one of the strongest backbench defenders of the government on the floor of the legislature.

If he didn't have the misfortune of sharing a city with T. J. Burke, Greg Byrne and Kelly Lamrock, I would say he was a sure bet to be in the cabinet whenever Mr. Graham decides to do a shuffle. With that sort of competition, it seems unlikely, but Mr. Miles has surprised us before. Keep an eye on this guy.

This will be the first in a series of profiles on rising stars inside and outside of the legislture in New Brunswick politics. Drop me a line or leave a comment if you would like to suggest someone.

No, I am not dead

Thanks to those readers who've dropped me a few emails (they like me, they really like me!). I am still alive and kicking, still reading blogs and commenting occassionally. I spent a good part of the latter half of August on holiday and really haven't seen anything too exciting to post about that isn't covered elsewhere.

A few random thoughts:

Ontario I'm not too keen on Dalton McGuinty or the proportional representation proposal being voted on there.

United States I've really been enjoying reading Ben Smith's Democratic blog and Jonathan Martin's Republican blog on the the presidential election at If you are a nerd, have lots of free time and are interested in Amercian politics, check them out. They both post at least a half dozen times a day, often much more, on the happenings. The presidential election is heating up as people supposedly start paying attention after Labour Day. Fred Thompson is set to announce officially on Leno tomorrow night. My choice, Joe Biden, has been running ads in Iowa and I am curious to see if that will allow him to at least get in to the double digits.

Spinks Congrats on finishing the 101 countdown and kudos to you for appending the more optimistic 10 who aren't.

New Brusnwick I say again HELLO OPPOSITION PARTIES??? The NDP convention is only 5 weeks away and I don't think there are any declared candidates; please correct me if I am wrong. The election was over 11 months ago, there seems to be no hint of a date for a Tory leadership race either, though they are holding an AGM the weekend after the NDP is supposedly voting in a leader.

UPDATE: According to that wonderful resource that is Wikipedia; I now learn that their are two candidates for the NDP leadership: Dennis Atchison and Roger Duguay, both fairly strong candidates. Should be interesting.