Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rules and replies

In my post yesterday, I indicated that a report of the Procedure Committee had been tabled and adopted. That report essentially implemented the rule changes first proposed by the Conservatives in 2006 and then passed by the Liberals earlier this year with some minor technical changes.

Also, today was opposition leader Jeannot Volpé's official reply to the Throne Speech. Unfortunately, I missed it. It took less than an hour as I tuned in about that long after it was to begin but it was already over. The legislature will post the text of it in the next few days but, in the interim, if any one saw it, I'll declare this an "open thread" for you to make your comments.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A day in the house

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

A bit of a non-routine day in the legislature today. Usually after the Throne Speech, the next day is just a quick run through of routine business followed by question period and an early adjournment. Today was a bit different.

Following condolences and introduction of guests (which I think they usually do on these days), Deputy Government House Leader Kelly Lamrock tabled a report of the House Procedures Committee to amend the standing rules. It was adopted unanimously. The report has not yet been published online but I will take a look when it is.

The Premier also tabled the Action Plan on Self-Sufficiency that was announced last week and gave some lengthy remarks on it, basically summarizing it and I believe also reinforcing some points that were made in the Throne Speeech.

In response, Opposition Leader Jeannot Volpé said he read it twice because on his first run he "couldn't find anything that would grow the province." He then went on to mock the use of non-definitive verbs such as study, examine, colloborate, etc that were used. He said there was nothing in the document to build the economy except the word "hope". He said the premier broke a promise to let students know about the future of "advanced education" in the Throne Speech. He concluded that there were no benchmarks to measure progress so it would be impossible to tell if there was any success.

Environment Minister Roland Haché also made a statement regarding designation of several wildlife protection areas. Trevor Holder made the opposition response.

Human Resources Minister Wally Stiles announced that an agreement was signed with the Community College Teachers Union. Dale Graham made the opposition response.

As usual, there were about 10 members' statements, all very political for both sides.

Question Period was extended from the ordinary 30 minutes to 45 minutes as is standard on the first day the House returns. The questions were:
  • Volpé - how much New Brunswickers will save based on some federal changes

  • Blaney, Dubé, Harrison, C. LeBlanc, Olscamp, Mockler (I may have missed some) - why don't we have an answer on post-secondary education, why aren't student leaders included on working group
The following bills were introduced:
  • Two insurance bills by Justice Minister T.J. Burke, regarding the agreement with insurers to lower rates, in response to the auditor general's report, and to change the licensing process for insurers and clarifying the appeal process to the insurance board

  • A pay day loan bill, also by Burke

  • An agriculture bill, by Ag&Aq Minister Ron Ouellette, giving the Farm Products Commission more power to enforce rules

  • An income tax bill, by Finance Minister Victor Boudreau, renewing the low income heating rebate program

  • An amendment to the motor carrier act, by Transportation Minister Denis Landry, to clarify the responsibilities of the Transport and Public Safety ministers in terms of road safety

  • The whistleblowers bill by Human Resources Minister Wally Stiles

  • A bill amending the off-road vehicle act, by Public Safety Minister John Foran, giving ATV and Snowmobile clubs equal standing and better access to trails

  • A bill changing enforcement of oil burners, also by Foran

  • A bill giving protection to employees who are reservists leaving work to go into service by Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Ed Doherty
The opposition introduced a whole whack of tabling motions (which call for the government to present documents to the House).

And then Government House Leader Mike Murphy advised which bills would be up for debate on Friday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


(crossposted to CanadaEast)

I just noticed the former PC MLA and current Liberal Minister of Human Resources Wally Stiles has hired Terry Keating as his Executive Assistant. Is this the same Terry Keating that was the Liberal that ran against Stiles in last year's election? If so, is he still the mayor of Salisbury while serving as EA to a provinical minister?


The "transformational" Throne Speech

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

As I type this, Lieutenant-Governor Herménégilde Chiasson is reading the Throne Speech to the members of the legislature.

A copy of the Throne speech can be found here while a news release summarizes the highlights is here.

I will post an update shortly with my thoughts.


Here are some interesting points, some that were highlighted and some that were not, which stood out to me:
  • a lobbyist registry

  • regulation of third-party election spending

  • the capital budget will come with a full economic update, it will be on Dec. 11

  • there will be pre-budget consultations this year (something that did not happen last year)

  • beefing up Service New Brunswick by moving all government-to-public services there (an excellent idea), including business services (which should eliminate a lot of "red tape")

  • pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe some drugs

  • midwives will be introduced officially and legally in the province

  • the separation of the role of Attorney General from that of Minister of Justice (begun under Bernard Lord) will be formalized by creating an office and mandate for the Attorney General by legislation

  • property tax relief for those "least equipped to deal with the tax burden"

  • a new academy to teach leadership skills to teachers and principals

  • an implementation plan for post-secondary reform "early next year"

  • improvements to immigratation (by reducing red tape and improving settlement assistance)

  • $250,000 and a renewed focus on Mt. Carleton Park

  • an official policy on tidal power

  • possible allowance of hunting on Sunday


Here is CBC's take and CP's take.


My take

It is a bit vague in key areas, but Throne Speeches tend to be vague. That said, we have now had a full year of studies and stating bold but vague objectives. As Shawn Graham would say, "the time to act is now!"

I hope the government moves quickly in this session to lay out the details of the change. Key to success will be the Population Growth Strategy and the Implementation Plan for Reform of Post-Seconary Education. I hope we get both of these out well before the budget and then put some money behind htem in March to ensure they are implemented quickly and successfully.


I would post the Tory and NDP reactions but they haven't posted a news release to their respective websites since August 7 and June 11 respectively. I've said it before and I'll say it again, is it really that hard to oppose policies? Why can't these parties get their acts together? If the old adage that a government is only as good as the opposition it faces is true, this government is in deep do-do.

I hope Mr. Duguay didn't take my advice to literally

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Six weeks ago Roger Duguay was elected leader of the New Brunswick NDP. I gave him some counsel that suggested he should pick his battles so that he might come to "own" certain issues and build political capital that way to ensure the NDP remained (or re-became depending on your point of view) a player. Since then, I don't think he has been heard from.

The NDP website was only just updated to reflect he is the leader. He has not sent out a news release according to both the NDP site and his personal site. To my knowledge, he has not sat down with the editorial boards of any of the province's papers to get some substantive coverage.

And here is the icing on the cake. He was not mentioned in any of today's newspaper coverage on the Throne Speech. Ordinarily, one would expect the NDP to complain that the print media is biased against them and one might even be compelled to believe that they were overlooked. But, according to the Daily Gleaner, he was not quoted becuase "NDP Leader Roger Duguay couldn't be reached for comment Monday."

I hope that this was not because of my advice. There are four days a year that a politician in Mr. Duguay's position should be waiting by the phone and actively pursuing the press above all else: the day before and the day of the Throne Speech and the day before and the day of the budget.

If the NDP is ever to become viable again, Mr. Duguay must ensure he never misses these sorts of opportunities again.

Roy Boudreau, new speaker

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Elected without opposition.

Monday, November 26, 2007

House sitting preview

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Tomorrow the House will meet to open the second session of the 56th legislature. As a result of Eugene McGinley joining the cabinet, the first order of business will be the election of a new speaker. It is my understanding that Roy Boudreau, currently a deputy speaker, will likely be elected with no opposition from his fellow Liberals, however speakership elections have been unpredictable in New Brunswick since the secret ballot was brought in in 1994 so don't take that to the bank.

The Lieutnenant-Governor will then deliver the Throne Speech outlining the government agenda, there will be some brief debate from the mover and seconder and then the House will adjourn. On Wednesday, the House will meet only for Question Period and then adjourn. On Thursday, the House will meet only for the reply of the official opposition and then adjourn. Routine house business will resume on Friday.

I will keep you updated on the speakership election and the contents of the Throne Speech as they come out.

The 2008 primary season, over really fast or recordly slow

I am truly fascinated by American politics; the slowest day in American politics usually has as much going on as the busiest one in Canadian politics. It is a truly different system, and probably not a better one, but it is an awesome thing to observe if you are a politico like me. And, even if you aren't a political nerd, it is worth paying attention to the U.S. political scene because what happens in Washington can ressonate around the world.

As we move into the actual voting to select the respective party nominees in January (after a year of full out campaigning) the conventional wisdom of the moment seems to be that Mitt Romney is the front runner to win (owing to his strength in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan), but that Rudy Giuliani could win if he is not too badly damaged by Romney's strong early showing. This is certainly a reasonable possibility.

However, the primary calendar this year is much different. In the past, if the results weren't determined after the first 4 to 5 primaries, all but the top 2 or 3 contenders would drop off until "Super Tuesday", when a big batch of big states went in early March. That is not how it will work this year. In fact, over the period of a few weeks, about half of the delegates will be chosen. If there is no clear winner, it will be months before the rest of the delegates are chosen.

Here is the Republican primary calendar and the number of delegates pegged to each state:

Jan 3 - Iowa 40
Jan 5 - WY 27
Jan 8 - NH 12 or 24* (New Hampshire is entitled to 24 delegates but may be penalized half for going early)
Jan 15 - MI 31 or 61* (Michigan is entitled to 61 delegates but may be penalized half for going early)
Jan 19 - NV 32 and SC 46
Jan 29 - FL 57 or 113* (Florida is entitled to 113 delegates but may be penalized half for going early)
Feb 2 - ME 20
Feb 5 - AL 47, AK 28, AZ 52, AR 34, CA 172, CO 46, CT 29, DE 18, GA 71, IL 70, MN 40, MO 58, MT 24, NJ 52, NY 101, ND 26, OK 41, RI 19, TN 54, UT 35, WV 30
Feb 9 - KS 39, LA 46, WA 40
Feb 12 - DC 19, MD 37, VA 63
Feb 19 - WI 40
Mar 2 - HI 19
Mar 4 - MA 43, OH 88, VT 18, TX 138
Mar 11 - MS 35
Apr 22 - PA 74
May 6 - IN 56, NC 69
May 13 - NE 32
May 20 - KY 45, OR 30
May 27 - ID 31
Jun 1 - PR 23
Jun 3 - NM 32, SD 26

Assuming that Romney does not run the table in the first batch of states, let me propose the following to you:

Mike Huckabee, who is running second and has more committed supporters, wins in Iowa. This destabilizes Romney, and Wyoming, where no candidates have campaigned excessively, splits its delegates fairly evenly in several directions. In New Hampshire, John McCain, who won there in 2000, takes the prize. Romney regains some traction by winning in Michigan, a state where he has a strong organization and where his name is not new to the scene - his father was Governor. Going in to South Carolina, Fred Thompson, who is focusing his efforts there and who hasn't slipped in the polls there as he has in many other places, wins.
The same day, Giuliani carries the Nevada caucuses. Giuliani would put himself significantly into play by winning the delegate rich state of Florida.

Not the most likely scenario but possible. It is certainly realistic to see three candidates win in the early contests, and it is not impossible to see all 5 major candidates pull something off.

Now add to the mix the Maine caucus on Feb 2. Let's say that Ron Paul, a Libertarian Republican who has raised nearly $10 million on the internet in the past few weeks, wins in this state which has favoured independents in the past (it has had two independent governors in the past 30 odd years and gave Ross Perot second place in the 1992 presidential election).

Then we head into a massive delegate fest on February 5 - alternately called Tsunami Tuesday or Super Duper Tuesday (a play on the former Super Tuesday in March). One presumes that under these circumstances, the delegates would get split up in many directions. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney could do best in these states, one imagines, due to name recognition and moderate positions for Giuliani, and lots of money for Romney. McCain, who seems to be rebounding from his slippage this summer, could also do well on name recognition. Thompson and Huckabee could carry southern states and Paul could eke out wins in 3, 4, 5 or even 6 way races.

Let's imagine the Feb 5 states split like this:
Giuliani CA 172, CT 29, DE 18, NJ 52, NY 101, RI 19
Romney AK 28, IL 70, MT 24, ND 26, UT 35
Thompson GA 71, TN 54, OK 41, WV 30
McCain AZ 52, CO 46, MN 40, MO 58
Huckabee AL 47, AR 34

So, assuming that all states are winner-take-all (a number of them are, but for our purposes, this would be easier) and that Wyoming splits three ways between Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee, this would be the delegate standings after Feb 5:

Giuliani 489 (or 555)
Romney 223 (or 253)
Thompson 242
McCain 208 (or 220)
Huckabee 130
Paul 20

This is a rough plausible guess at the turnout. However, I could see any of the top three doing worse, and McCain, Huckabee (and maybe Paul in a small
way) doing better. But even this way, with the delegates not spread as evenly as they might be, Giuliani has barely a third of the delegates elected and less than a fifth of the delegates needed to win the nomination. In this scenario, it is hard to see how any of the candidates could become the presumptive nominee before the convention, so we would then see a convention with lots of horse trading and late nights with a "Canadian style" method for choosing the party leader on multiple ballots.

Some extra variables to consider though are that in the U.S. conventions have no rules forcing the bottom finisher off of the ballot, and if the convention is inconclusive, they can draft a compromise candidate. So, rather than choose any of the above, after a few ballots of going nowhere a Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, Condi Rice or even Dick Cheney could present themselves as a candidate to bring the delegates together and walk away with the prize.

Crazy, eh? The Democratic race doesn't have as much potential to go crazy but if John Edwards were to win Iowa and Barack Obama New Hampshire, both possibilities, an equally strange scenario could play out.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Self-Sufficiency "Action"

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Premier Shawn Graham released today the government "action plan" on making New Brunswick self-sufficient. The report is 35 pages long. There is also a summary of 15 pages, but if you are going to read that much, I'd suggest going for the real thing.

The issues that I think are key to attaining this goal - population growth, education and infrastructure - were well addressed, and while lacking specifics in some areas, I think we have a good plan.

I particularly like this line: "linking job opportunities here with the skills of those who are looking to move home". With very few exceptions, every New Brunswicker I know who lives away wants to come home. Many of them don't however; either because they don't think it is realistic to find work in NB, or because they are a couple, and finding work for two people at the same time is nearly impossible, thus making the move impossible by extension.

If I take that quote to mean what I think it does, then ex-NBers who want to come home will simply have to send in a resume and the province will do the heavy lifting to match them (and, as required, their partner) with jobs in New Brunswick. This is ingenious because I think that there are thousands of New Brunswickers - and probably other Maritimers - who would jump all over opportunities here if they knew they could find them easily.

With regard to education, there is a focus on some kind of pre-kindergarten learning (it is unclear whether or not this would be institutional), flowing into a stronger focus on "the three Rs" leading into grade 5, and a career-minded focus through high school, with the aim of enabling students to identify a career in which they will excel and enjoy by the time they graduate. In terms of post-secondary education, the language is quite vague. It's the same line we've heard since the L'Ecuyer-Miner report came out, so I guess we'll have to wait a while longer to see whether or not it will be implemented.

There is a lot of talk in the plan of "strategic" infrastructure. I was particularly interested in the reference to rail, something that has declined in the past 20 years in our province - and totally disappeared in Western NB. In France, they have had dramatic success in connecting cities and rural areas using high-speed rail lines. I think this is something NB should investigate as it could really make the province a lot more attractive for investments and company relocation.

I also really like the focus on the film industry, to which I think the geographic features of New Brunswick are ideally suited. Nova Scotia has done really well in this area and, I think, New Brunswick should learn from their example considering we have just as much to offer this industry. Saint John in an architectural sense works as well as (or perhaps better than) Halifax as a stand in for Boston or New York, and we have comparable coastal vistas. Add to that more geographic diversity and sheer number of forests, mountains, rivers and cliffs, offering a multitude of potential shooting locations, and I think New Brunswick could easily grow and sustain a booming film industry.

We still have to wait for quite a few specifics, some of which I assume will be in next week's throne speech, but it is great to see that this file is continuing to be pushed.

Monday, November 19, 2007


A bit off topic, though my interest in U.S. politics does end up here from time to time.

Mike Huckabee is one of the Republican contenders for president in next year's election. He is probably best known by Canadians for being one of two governors that were fooled in editions of Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans. Governor Huckabee wished Canadians luck in saving our national igloo which is, of course, a scale replica of the Arkansas Capitol building made of ice and serves as our parliament building.

Other than political junkies, most would not know that this guy has any chance at winning the presidency. In fact, he is running a strong second, in polls in Iowa and history tells us that unknowns can win the presidency thanks to a surprise win in Iowa (just ask Jimmy Carter).

Anyway, that is not why I am writing this post. It is because he is running the best political advertisement in the history of mankind. I can't decide if it will actually be helpful or not, but it is certainly unique and will attract a lot of attention. I thought it a bit silly, though very amusing, but non-political types in rural Iowa may be moved by it. What do you think?

(h/t Jonathan Martin)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Minimum wage hike

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

I wanted to take a moment to applaud the announcement today that the minimum wage will go up another 50¢ to $7.75. This is a significant move and it is the third hike since the Liberals took office. The minimum wage has increased $1.05 since the 2006 election.

This is a fairly substantial demand to make on small business owners. In fact, $1.05 in extra wages costs a small business owner with 5 FTEs $11,000 per year. Certainly not chump change. However, an increase in the minimum wage inevitably drives up other wages via a domino effect. That is good for all New Brunswickers and for New Brunswick, given the aim to retain and return people to our work force.

I remember in 2002 Paul Duffie was running for leader of the Liberals, and proposed the minimum wage be raised to $8 by the end of 2007. There were cries from within the party that this would destroy small businesses, a concern which was echoed by the media and the business sector itself. Regardless, it seems that this lofty goal is about to be met, and that is a great thing for our province. As of June 2006, New Brunswick had the lowest minimum wage in Canada. A year and a half later we've moved from 13th to 10th and are on the cusp of surpassing the 6 provinces that have minimum wages at $7.95 or $8.00.

I hope the government continues to move forward with this aggressive trend and pushes the minimum wage past $8 in the not too distant future.

Finally, on an unrelated matter, when I logged in to post this, I discovered that this will be my 300th post. A bit of a milestone and a good reason for me to thank all of you for reading and commenting and making this such a fun and rewarding exercise.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Netroots" making an appearance in New Brunswick

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

I've been blogging about New Brunswick politics for 15 months and some odd weeks and have had a relatively stable following for the past while.  Here on my primary blog, I consider a post a success if I get 10 comments, I don't believe I have ever had much beyond 20.

A post I wrote earlier this week about the Fredericton Conservative nomination race did above average at 15 comments.  The post I wrote on the results however has attracted 38 comments (and counting).

Canada has tended to be a few years behind the U.S. in political innovations.  In the U.S. we have seen the rising of the "netroots" - a term that plays on "grassroots" - as a force in politics, this group has been largely untapped and unreported in Canada.

Keith Ashfield was not the netroots candidate in Fredericton and that is abundantly clear.  In response to my first post, one person was annoyed that Ashfield was the only candidate in the race that didn't have a website.  In response to my second post, and to a lesser extent the first, there has been near unanimous criticism of Ashfield from all commenters, yet he won the nomination meeting.

Certainly there is a great potential to harness those interested in politics through the internet.  The fact that at least 10 (it is hard to figure out which anonymous posters are distinct from each other) Tories, most of whom seem to have attended the meeting, have come to a relatively obscure Liberal blog that gets between 100 and 200 page views per day is evidence of that.

Ten people may not sound like a lot, but the margin of victory on Wednesday night was 8 and at the last Tory nomination it was 3.  Wednesday's nomination meeting had just under 1000 delegates and it was considered "huge"; 10 people represents 1% of the attendees of a "huge" meeting, a relatively significant sample.

Canadian political parties have done very little - when compared to their American counterparts - to reach out to the netroots constituency.  As far as I know, New Brunswick parties have done nothing at all.  I think the reaction that has been shown on my blog shows that there is great potential to engage some very enthusiastic and well informed voters and would-be political activists here.

I wonder if any party will take on the challenge and whether or not the netroots will make a difference here like they have south of the border?

FOOTNOTE: I do have to tap myself on the back about my pre-nomination analysis.  I said, Ashfield "can only win if a second ballot is required and Forestall supporters move to him en masse" but that many Forestall supporters would skip the second vote.  The results were as follows: Ballot #1 - Macdonald 428, Ashfield 397, Forrestall 134; Ballot #2 - Ashfield 440 (+43); Macdonald 432 (+4); missing from voting 87.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ashfield wins

According to commenter "fredericton tory", New Maryland-Sunbury West MLA Keith Ashfield has won the Conservative Party of Canada nomination for the riding of Fredericton.

It was a narrow victory on the second ballot.

Ashfield can retain his provincial seat until a federal election is called, so there won't be a by-election anytime soon. However, the Liberals would be heavily favoured to pick up Ashfield's provincial seat.

Federally this victory moves Fredericton from my "too close to call" column and into the "leans Tory" one. The longer we wait for a federal election, I think the better the chances are for Ashfield who can campaign full time and use his one-on-one charm to win over those parts of the riding he hasn't already represented.

Fredericton Tory update

First ballot completed, Forrestal eliminated. Ashfield and Macdonald face off for round two now.

Richard for leader? A desperate move that could pay off... or not

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

The New Brunswick Tories have been a lackluster opposition and if they don't do something bold and dramatic soon, they could hand the Liberals a blank cheque for the 2010 election. Now they are proposing to do something very bold, which could save them. However, if it fails, they could be giving the Grits a blank cheque tied to an even bigger bank account.

There was a lengthy report in yesterday's Telegraph-Journal that outlines the Tory plan to hand Bernard Richard an ideal run up to the leadership of their party. It would be quite ironic because Richard served as a Liberal MLA from 1991 to 2003 and many would argue was the most effective critic of the Lord government for their first four and a half years in office. He led a six day filibuster against the 2003 Lord budget in December 2002. Electing Bernard Richard would require Tory members to, in effect, repudiate the Bernard Lord record as it would be impossible for Richard to embrace it.

However, if Tories could swallow their pride and if Richard were to run and win the leadership, he would throw the Liberals completely off of their game. He was Shawn Graham's mentor for his first year as leader and the Premier still considers him a close friend, at least on the record. It would be a tremendous embarrassment and rejection of the Liberal government for Richard to choose the Tories and become the leader of the opposition to a Liberal caucus he helped lead only 4 years ago, including 24 of the current caucus members. There would be some obvious problems, as I mentioned above, Richard was one of the most partisan Liberals in the legislature and never had a good thing to say about the Tories, however that would be all cancelled out if he became leader. The fact that he was rejecting his Liberal heritage, and Shawn Graham personally, would be a far greater plus for his new party than it would be a negative.

The potential for a huge blow is even worse, however. The Tories have already become the laughingstock of the chattering classes with their choice of Jeannot Volpé as interim leader, ineffective opposition to easily opposable Liberal policies and waiting two years to choose a leader when the party risks semi-permanent oblivion by not having one.

Now, couple all of that with what happens if Richard declines: the next leader would be the butt of endless Liberal jokes as being the second choice, after a heavily anti-Tory retired Liberal. The party that won the popular vote in 2006 and started out with a caucus full of veterans (the vast majority of which had severed at least two-terms and were returning for a third) and 20 former cabinet ministers, had to not only look outside of its caucus for a leader, but to its greatest critic. And then that critic laughed them off. Can you imagine? Indeed, in today's Telegraph, Richard's successor and former chief aide, now Finance Minister Victor Boudreau, plays these lines.

If Richard is genuinely willing to consider this then the Tories are probably wise to approach him. But to speak to the papers and give them quotes about all of the wonderful red carpets they would be prepared to laid out for Richard makes them look like damn fools if he does anything other than say yes.

BY THE WAY: Spinks and I seem to be operating in reverse order. Yesterday he posted a bit about Bernard Richard while I talked about the federal Tory nomination in Fredericton. Today, we're doing the reverse. You can find Spinks' piece about the Fredericton Tories here.

UPDATE: Less than 48 hours after this was first reported, the play is over. Bernard Richard will not seek the leadership of the Tories and they look even more foolish than ever.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fredericton Tories to pick banner carrier

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Federal Conservatives in Fredericton will meet tomorrow night to chose their nominee to stand against Liberal candidate David Innes in the next federal election. The seat has been held since 1993 by Liberal Andy Scott. However, prior to that it was held by the blues, since the 1957 Diefenbaker win, and was considered to be a Conservative stronghold.

Since 1997, Fredericton has been a prime pickup target for the Tories. In that year and in 2000, the Reform and Alliance parties split the vote significantly, taking 22% and 24% respectively. In 2004, with the new Conservative Party on the scene, it was thought to be a sure bet for the Tories. In 1997 the combined PC and Reform vote was 52% to Scott's 34%; in 2000 it was 54% for the right to 39% for the incumbent Grit.

However, in 2004 and 2006, as was the case in the rest of Canada, the merger didn't result in 1 + 1 equaling 2, let alone the 3 that many proponents of the merger hoped. In 2004, Andy Scott was up 5000 votes and the combined forces of the right were down 4000. In 2006, Andy held steady and the Tories picked up 2000. So, with a popular incumbent out of the picture, and an incumbent Conservative government looking a lot better than the lackluster Liberal opposition, this seat should definitely be up for grabs.

So, as I was saying, the Tories choose a candidate tomorrow night. Here are the options:

Keith Ashfield, MLA for New Maryland-Sunbury West. Former Lincoln-area businessman, first elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 and 2006. Served during his first term as deputy speaker. He was well regarded by the opposition and observers as being fair and impartial while sitting in the chair, a view not accorded to the speaker or the other deputy speaker during that period. After 2003, he was named to the cabinet as Minister of Natural Resources and got a passing grade from most folks. A likable guy who plays fair and is not too partisan; he is well liked by politicos of all stripes, including yours truly.

Will Forestall, 2006 provincial candidate for Fredericton-Lincoln. A well known artist and activist, this Red Tory would likely fit the mold of Mark Warner, so it is unclear whether or not he would remain the candidate if nominated. He ran between two big names, Greg Byrne, then-former and now-current cabinet minister, and Allison Brewer, then-NDP leader. He placed second, ahead of Brewer, and ran a good campign.

Brian Macdonald, a former military officer and newcomer to politics. I don't know much about this fellow, but have heard from the buzz around both Liberal and Tory organizers that he is putting together an impressive nomination campaign.

Intuitively, one would presume Ashfield would be a shoe-in and Forestall would run second. However, this is the game of nomination meetings and resume, profile, charisma, experience and anything else you would normally draw to mind are irrelevant. All that matters in a nomination contest is warm bodies in a room. The winner will be the candidate who can convince enough existing Tories, and sign up new ones, to support him and show up for a lengthy nomination meeting.

Macdonald is apparently the heavy favourite, which suits the Liberals just fine. This would make the fourth time in a row when the Tories had a far more electable candidate at the ready and chose someone else. In 2006, 2004 and 2000, there were candidates that were widely agreed to be formidable but they were not nominated and Andy Scott was re-elected. History is looking to repeat itself.

Ashfield, as it is told to me, can only win if a second ballot is required and Forestall supporters move to him en masse. In this sort of meeting that is unlikely though because, if Forestall's people know he is going to place third, they will go home rather than wait for the ballots to be counted and the second round of voting to begin.

However, Tories would be well served to vote for Ashfield, who Liberals feel they cannot defeat on a personal level. The Liberal strategy with Macdonald as the nominee will be the same one that has seen them win the last five elections. If Ashfield is the winner, their campaign will focus on an attack on Harper; the resulting contrast between the PM and Dion would likely push the Tories over the top.

Let's see how she goes...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pick a lane

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

Whenever I am driving in Montreal or Toronto, I often find myself yelling "pick a lane" at some of my more aggressive and less logical fellow drivers.

My advice to Jeannot Volpé is similar.

Much as he did this spring during the legislative sitting, rather than picking one or two or three major issues and focussing on them and making an effective critique of the government, his reaction to the recent cabinet shuffle was unfocussed and made him look bitter and overly negative when he could have used the opportunity to make some political hay.

The cabinet shuffle had a number of areas that could have been seen as flaws. No one likes to see more politicians at the top, and the cabinet has two extra members. Women are way under represented and that didn't improve with this shuffle. Volpé ignored those points. Volpé criticized one area that makes sense - a floor crosser being included in the cabinet - but then couldn't resist himself and threw his credibility out the window in going way off track.

Rather than make an arguments about democracy, he went on a rant about how Tories were mad, Liberal backbenchers would revolt and how the dirty rat would never be re-elected. How about: "Crossing the floor is an affront to democracy and an insult to voters. Shawn Graham should never have justified this action by admitting these people into his caucus and certainly shouldn't have rewarded it by putting one of them into his cabinet"? That is a reasonable criticism that would resonate with people, but with Volpé, it has to become petty and personal.

Then he makes up some nonsense about how this cabinet shuffle is an insult to Francophone New Brunswickers because Hédard Albert and Carmel Robichaud were "demoted". Huh? All cabinet ministers are equal at the cabinet table and even if they weren't, the argument doesn't make sense.

Albert moves from a department focussed on the machinations of government whose primary role is to negotiate labour agreements with the civil service under the close watch and direction of the premier and finance minister to a ministry which has been touted by the premier as a top priority.

Robichaud moves to an admittedly smaller department in terms of budget but one which requires close relationships with the province's 103 municipalities during a period when the province is talking about substantial change to municipal governance. These don't sound like demotions to me. In Albert's case, it would seem a promotion and in Robichaud's case it is, at least, a lateral move if not actually a promotion as well.

Why the Tories are waiting until next fall to pick a leader I will never figure out. Jeannot Volpé is the best thing that has happened to the Liberal Party of New Brunswick in a generation!