Deceit, Secrecy, and Division; Blaine Higgs in Power

New Brunswick in a unique province. A single, privately owned company controls much of the economy and all of the print media. It is the only officially bilingual province in Canada. These two factors are the cause of a great deal of tension in the province. On any given day you can hear New Brunswickers debate whether Irving is a savior or a curse, help or hindrance. You will almost certainly hear a debate on language rights.

Language debates are not new in New Brunswick. They go back, at least to the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. New Brunswick, with its considerable Acadien population, cemented language rights in law. As with any civil rights advancement throughout history, there was an immediate backlash. A federal political party emerged; the Confederation of Regions. CoR was a far right, populist, party of the West. As it spread East to New Brunswick, the party also became vehemently opposed to French language rights. While federally the party hoped to restructure the electoral system by forming regions with an equal amount of MPs (making the Western provinces a super-power come election time), the NB CoR sought to eliminate French language rights.

Current PC leader, Blaine Higgs was a part of the CoR. He even ran for leadership but failed in that venture. Since running for the leadership of the PC Party, he has downplayed his involvement with CoR. Higgs has said that the reason for leaving CoR was the rising anti-French sentiment but that’s impossible as it was a key policy from day one. Higgs won the leadership of the PC Party on the third ballot, with considerable dissension from his opponents who gave their support to other candidates as they were eliminated from the ballot.

CoR was once the official opposition in the legislature but has since shuttered its doors after infighting, and failing to elect or reelect MLAs. As Higgs supporters would point out, that was a long time ago. But since the closure of CoR, Higgs is still not bilingual. As Premier Alward’s minister of finance, Higgs practiced CoR fiscal restraint which actually slowed economic growth to half of what Premier Lord enjoyed in the early to mid-2000s.

In 2014, the Conference Board of Canada actually ranked New Brunswick as having one of the worst economies in the world. This came after four years of Higgs’ use of CoR economics; itself a recycled policy of Social Credit economic policy; favoring big business in the hope that trickle down will strengthen lower social classes.

It is possible that Higgs’ support of big business economics stems from his lifetime career at Irving Oil and then Canaport LNG. Higgs’ connection to big oil and position as finance minister also explains why the Alward government put such a strong focus on oil, gas, and mining as opposed to agriculture, retail, tourism, and small business.

Higgs is in a tough position when he goes to the polls next year asking both Acadiens and small business to swing their support his way. His opponent, a fluently bilingual Premier, who also owned and operated small businesses is still riding high in approval ratings.


Looking For A Leader

2016 saw the Progressive Conservatives of New Brunswick scour their ranks for a stand out leader who could combat Premier Brian Gallant in the 2018 provincial election. The October convention was billed to be a highly contested bout; the winner was anybody’s guess. The candidates included Mike Allen, Mel Norton, Blaine Higgs, and Monica Barley to name a few. The convention was every bit as exciting as the hype leading up to it. Security removed a Liberal cabinet member who came to observe the event. Loyalties shifted throughout the event. In the end, it was Blaine Higgs who came out on top.

Higgs represents the swing riding of Quispamsis; a riding he won from incumbent Liberal Mary Schryer in 2010. Schryer attempted to win back the riding in 2014, but Higgs again came out on top. Higgs was minister of finance under Premier Alward and has a strong following.

The New Democrats however find themselves in a more precarious situation. For years, New Democrat leader Dominic Cardy faced split support among New Democrats. He was seen by some as being too close-to-centre for what is (in theory) a socialist party. Among his supporters though was an avid faith and strong support. Yet, strong support from only half of a third party’s membership is not enough. Cardy resigned once in 2014 but the NDP council voted unanimously to reject that resignation. Cardy then overturned his decision to depart and limped forward as leader until December of 2016 when he announced he would again quit; effective January 1st.

In a daring move that shocked no one, Cardy announced his loyalty to newly minted Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs. To say he crossed the floor would imply that he had a seat in the legislature, but after numerous attempts, he never did. So Cardy darted from one end of the political spectrum for the other and left the NDP in the hands of an interim leader.

Now, like the federal NDP and federal Conservatives, the provincial NDP search for a leader. But unlike the highly coveted PCNB leadership, the NBNDP leadership has been slow to draw any contesters. The federal NDP face the same problem as outgoing leader Tom Mulcair appears to have left the party in shambles. Interestingly, Mulcair faced the same allegation as Cardy of being too close-to-centre and allowed the Liberals to absorb the leftist vote. Less interesting is that Cardy was a Mulcair supporter leading up to Mulcair’s victory in 2012. But it wasn’t long before Cardy’s support fell flat; refusing to even attend the convention in 2016 to vote on whether Mulcair should stay on as leader. This despite the support given to Cardy during the 2014 provincial election and the support given to Cardy’s controversial stance on fracking in New Brunswick.

So clearly Higgs shouldn’t expect much from Cardy’s support. But the symbolism of the move gives Higgs some bragging rights at least.

More to come as the dust settles.

Justin’s Broken Promises

He rode in on the coattails of a father he could never live up to. He splashed onto the public scene with great hair, a warm smile, charisma not seen since Brian Mulroney, and a chariot full of sparkling promises meant to titillate and romance us. But like the great illusionists, Justin hid tricks up his sleeve and secrets behind every veil. But more than dashing good looks, warm words, and a coveted surname; Justin had a golden asset- he proceeded Stephen Harper.

Despite his obvious shortcomings as Liberal leader, and then as Prime Minister of Canada, the criticism of Justin hasn’t been all that critical. Most of his criticisms are followed by the snide comeback, “At least he’s better than Harper.” At first, in the early weeks of his term, that was a fair and true response. But as we limp into 2017, the list of broken campaign promises and shortcomings pile higher. Despite this, Justin still has higher approval ratings than Harper did at any point during his term in office.

So what are the broken promises and why should it matter to New Brunswick? Here’s a breakdown of just a few of Justin’s broken covenant:

The Military: According to Statistics Canada, just under 22% of Canada’s forces hail from Atlantic Canada and as such, the military is a major employer in New Brunswick. Given this information, how the military is treated should be of utmost importance in New Brunswick.  Justin promised to maintain military spending and keep in pace with Harper’s planned increases- this was one of the first promises to go. Justin promised to pay veteran’s four year post-secondary tuition costs- that plan was quietly axed. In response to the public backlash that Harper received when he cut life-long disability pensions for veterans, Justin promised to reinstate those pensions if elected; but on this too he reneged. He promised to cancel Stephen Harper’s ill-planned purchase of F-35 fighter jets (the engines fail in cold arctic weather and this is Canada), but Justin stuck to Harper’s plan and is moving forward with the purchase which will put Canada into debt and pilots into jeopardy.

Aboriginal Peoples: New Brunswick has a beautiful community of First Nations people with a lush and rich history. Unfortunately, under 9 years of Harper rule, relations between the federal government and our First Nations have corroded. Justin promised to fix this broken bond and improve life for our first peoples. He guaranteed that First Nations would have a veto over natural resources in their territories, that he would invest an additional $50 million annually in post-secondary education for aboriginal peoples, and that he would immediately adopt the United Nations declaration of rights of Indigenous People. All of these promises too, were broken. Yet, Justin takes every photo opportunity he can with our First Nations. He talks the talk, but when given the chance, he chooses not to walk the walk.

LGBT: New Brunswick has a vibrant queer community. And as he does with First Nations, Justin loves to have photo ops with the LGBT community at parades and social events. Perhaps he taps from his father’s popularity with this segment of society as it was his father who decriminalized homosexuality and via the Charter of Rights and Freedoms paved the way for other gay rights (such as adoption and marriage). But Justin made only one promise to the queer community in his 2015 election campaign; to end the discriminatory practice of banning men who have sex with men from donating blood. This, an easy promise to keep, was also broken. Gay men are still treated as second class citizens. In fact, an article from the CBC revealed that since Justin took office, transgendered people are now also banned from donating; a discriminatory practice that didn’t exist under Harper.

Small Business and Youth Employment: Justin promised a tax break for small businesses from Harper’s 11% to a new Liberal rate of just 9%. As we saw in the 2016 budget, that was lie. But at least small businesses would have all the youth employment investment to rely on; such as the annual $40 million youth co-op plan. Nay, that was also a lie. Justin promised $775 million in investment for job training and skills development- another lie. Now, we find youth and small business hurting just as much (but no worse) than under Harper.

With all of the broken promises on spending (on the military, veterans, youth, Aboriginals, and small business) you would juxtapose that the Liberal government of Justin is in the black. We couldn’t possibly running deficits with the government clutching the purse strings so tightly. Wrong. Justin has sent Canada, and New Brunswick along with it, cascading into debt levels never before seen North of the border. This means less money for healthcare, national defense, tax breaks for families, and the arts.

That’s just a brief overview of some broken promises and betrayals by Prime Minister Justin. This doesn’t even touch on his policy to go forward with Harper’s secret police bill (Bill C-51), his inaction on the much criticised Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), his total about face on electoral reform, his adoption of Harper’s environmental targets, his sloth-like slowness on legalization of marijuana, or his legalization of cash-for-access.

So can we really say that we are any better off than we were with Stephen Harper? When Justin adopts policies and targets set by his predecessor, while abandoning many of the principles which got him elected? We’ve all been duped by a very talented public relations man. But we can’t allow selfies to take precedence over safety or imagery to outweigh investment in our future. We are better off with Justin in only one regard; right now, everyone likes him. But when that luster starts to dim, and fuzzy speeches about equality start demanding action; we are going to find ourselves in a very bad place. New Brunswick can not afford Justin.

The Red Wave

As we watched the returns on October 19th, just days before Halloween, the only image that came to mind was the elevator doors opening in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Tories and New Democrats were washed away in a flood of crimson red ballots. Even in Acadie-Bathurst, widely believed to stand behind the NDP, was a landslide victory for the Liberals.

What happened? Did New Brunswick get caught up in Trudeaumania II? Or was our province quietly enraged with Stephen Harper more than the polls suggested? And what happened to Tom Mulcair who was riding so high in the polls when the election was called?

Acadie-Bathurst was supposed to be won by a bright, young, and attractive New Democrat by the name of Jason Godin. He was personable, friendly, and had the full backing of former NDP MP Yvon Godin. He is also the youngest mayor (Maisonnette) in the history of New Brunswick at 22 years old. Despite all this, Godin lost his election to Serge Cormier by nearly 5,800 votes!

In Beausejour, Dominic Leblanc won with 69%. The runner up was the NDP with 15%.

Fredericton was supposed to be a close race. It wasn’t. Liberal Matt DeCourcey slayed incumbent Keith Ashfield by nearly 10,000 votes. A bloodbath by any account.

Even Tory stronghold Fundy Royal went red. Alaina Lockhart narrowly ousted Rob Moore. One commentator joked, “In Fundy Royal, the Tories will rob no more”, a reference to the series of spending scandals which plagued the Conservatives over the past few years in office.

Madawaska-Restigouche saw Rene Arseneault (L) defeat second place contender Rosaire L’Italien (NDP) by 11,108 ballots. The Tory here came in third place.

Pat Finnigan (L) handily deafeated Tilly O’Neill-Gordon (C) in Miramichi-Grand Lake.

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe cast 30,054 ballots for Liberal Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Conservative Robert Goguen barely won more than 11,000. A crippling blow to the Tories.

New Brunswick Southwest was a closer battle. But it was supposed to be an untouchable Tory stronghold as well. However, Liberal Karen Ludwig managed to beat John Williamson by 2,026 votes.

Wayne Long coasted to an easy victory over Rodney Weston in Saint John-Rothesay.

TJ Harvey won Tobique-Mactaquac for the Liberal Party.

What does this red wave say about New Brunswick? Certainly it proves that we are not the little conservative province that some would paint us to be. What does this mean for our Liberal Premier? Does this overwhelming show of support for the federal Liberals mean that some of the discontent for our provincial Liberals has been forgot? More analysis to come.

New Brunswick: Leftist Country

Most people tend to think of New Brunswick as a right leaning province. Most people would be wrong. The problem plaguing New Brunswick (and most of Canada) is that there is only one real option for right wing voters whereas the left have two to three equally viable options. So where the left, who make up more than half the electorate, have a splintered vote; the right usually take the lead with only 30%-45% of the voteshare.

Take Fredericton for example. In 2011 Keith Ashfield had his best returns with ALMOST half the vote. In 2008 he won only 42% support of the riding. In 2006 only 34.66% of the college town voted right wing. In fact, the last time Fredericton actually voted more than 48% in favour of the right was in the year 2000 (15 years ago) and they didn’t win because back then there were two right wing parties to vote for. In 2000 30% of the vote went to the Progressive Conservative Party and 21% went to the ultra conservative Reform Party.

Saint John-Rothesay is another prime example.Rodney Weston has never had 50% of the vote. In fact, Weston first won power with only 39% support. 61% of the riding found Weston unsupportable. The last time more than half the riding found a right wing candidate palatable was again in 2000. The riding was also overwhelmingly leftist throughtout the conservative 1980’s but sent Tories to Ottawa because the left split the vote over a whole myriad of leftist options.

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe also suffered the vote split curse. One of the most leftist ridings in the province sent Conservative Robert Goguen to Ottawa with only 35% support. This is such a leftist riding that it has often sent Liberals to Ottawa with more than 50% of the vote and still giving considerable support to other leftist parties. It is a travesty that such a haven of progressive thinkers and voters would be represented by a radical right wing representative in the capitol.

Madawaska-Restigouche, also a left leaning riding, has been represented in Ottawa by a right winger since 2011 with less than half support. The riding was Liberal for ten years prior.

The former riding of Miramichi was Liberal for the majority of its history. Through mulitple redistrubutions and redrawings of the electoral map; Miramichi was Liberal from 1945 to 1984 and after a brief flirtation with Mulroney’s PCs turned red again from 1988 to 2008.

Beausejour was also a long time leftist riding. From original Trudeaumania in 1968, the riding was Liberal until 1997 when it decided to give the New Democrats a try. The New Democrat they elected, Angela Vautour crossed the floor and became a Progressive Conservative. Beasejour was incensed and at first chance elected a Liberal again. It has been Liberal ever since.

Acadie-Bathurst might be the most left leaning riding in the country. Since 1900, Acadie-Bathurst has only elected liberals and social demcrats with only two exceptions. Those exceptions proved short lived and easily forgotten.

It stands to reason that if New Brunswick used a preferential ballot or single transferable vote, it would no longer elect more than one conservative per election. A system where a candidate must have at least half the vote allows voters to select a first, second, third, fourth choice, etc. The electorate would not be guaranteed its first choice, but would not necessarily be stuck with its last choice either. For example, Green Voters could give their first choice to Elizabeth May. But should Greens have the fewest numbers in their riding, could then select a New Democrat, Liberal, independent, or whoever most reflects the policies of their first choice. Another benefit is that voters would never again have to vote “strategically”, always giving their top spot to the party that truly represents them.

Crunch Time

Only days seperate us from election day. Advance polls were a huge success with 3.6 million Canadians turning out to vote. British Columbia and Ontario led the pack for advance polls; interesting because many have speculated that it is those two provinces which will decide the winner on October 19th. Another general understanding is that the majority of advance voters come out early to vote against incumbent governments. That does not bode well for Mister Harper.

New Brunswick is split down the middle according to the latest polls. Five seats will go to Justin Trudeau, four to Stephen Harper, and Tom Mulcair will win one. Unlike the rest of the country, New Brunswick’s polls have remained fairly consistant. Still, New Brunswick has a few close races.

Fredericton is a much tighter race than some of the national broadcasters and pollsters are projecting. One poll conducting at ground level by a local candidate suggests the Conservative and Liberal parties in a dead heat. The New Democrats are in a distant third but the Green Party nipping very closely at the orange heels. If that internal poll is accurate, a handfull of NDP or Green faithful could give the election to either incumbent Keith Ashfield or Liberal challenger Matt DeCourcey. That is unless they decide to stick to their first pick and battle for third place.

Despite early success in the polls, the New Democrats have fallen apart in Saint John-Rothesay. Rodney Weston has made the come back of a lifetime and passed Wayne Long for first place. The margin of error puts Conservative Weston and Liberal Long in a close race. AJ Griffin of the NDP s still fighting to stay in the race but trails at a distant third. The Greens failed to garner even enough support to open a campaign office in Saint John-Rothesay.

Miramichi-Grand Lake is too close to call. Conservative incumbent Tilly O’Neill Gordon leads by a fraction of a percentage point over Liberal Pat Finnigan. Fewer than a hundred voters may seperate the two on October 19th. Both candidates should reach out to extended family and make sure everyone at the family bbq comes out to vote. It may actually be that close!

Interestingly, there is one riding where the Conservative’s strongest opposition is not Trudeau’s Liberals. Strategic voters in Fundy Royal should look to Jennifer McKenzie of the New Democrats if they are unhappy with incumbent Rob Moore. The NDP are ahead of the Liberals by just more than the margin of error. The NDP platform does, at least in theory, better fit the make up of the Fundy Royal riding. Also, Jennifer McKenzie is arguably a stronger contender than Liberal Alaina Lockhart. It would take nearly the entire combined force of Liberal and NDP voters to send either of their candidates to Ottawa from Fundy Royal. The Green Party voters in Fundy Royal would also be wise to lend their support to McKenzie as they are so far behind in the polls that voting Green isn’t even making a statement. Also, the NDP are offering up its most green-friendly platform to date.

New Brunswick is poised to send more Conservatives to Ottawa than any other province on the East Coast.

Courting Carleton, Part Deux

David Alward left New Brunswick for Boston. The Federal Conservatives named Alward the Consul General back in April after his failed attempt to hold onto the reins of power in last year’s provincial election. Rather than staying on and serving his term as an MLA, Alward accepted the opportunity to flee Canada and return to his birthplace; Massachusettes. As such, the people of Carleton, who vested their trust in Alward, have been left without a representative in the legislature for months. Some of the blame for the empty seat falls on Premier Gallant who could have called the by-election earlier, but feared overlapping the by-election with the federal election.

Attempting to take over for the wayward Alward is Progressive Conservative Stewart Fairgrieve. Fairgrieve has a facebook page to campaign on but as yet is not being touted on the PCNB webpage. In fact, the PCNB webpage does not even make mention of the pending by-election or even have it listed on it’s calendar. Fairgrieve is a former news man who has worked on several newspapers across the province. Since leaving the news business, he has worked for the PCs in a series of administrative roles. Carleton is PC country, if they are not too jaded by Alward’s abandon. Fairgrieve will have to prove that, unlike his predecessor, he is there for the people of Carleton first.

Courtney Keenan is fighting a tough battle as the Liberal candidate at a time when the province is at odds with the Liberal government. Premier Gallant is every bit as unpopular as Alward was before him. Gallant is so unpopular that despite being a Liberal Premier, has not been asked to campaign on behalf of federal hopeful Justin Trudeau. As it is, Keenan will have to show support for Gallant’s flailing plans for the economy and job creation without being brought down for it. Carleton may elect Keenan to be part of the governing body again, or choose to remain in opposition.

The Greens offer Andrew Clark, again. He did not fare well last year, winning only 750 votes (10.5%). What Clark does have working in his favor is the immense popularity of his party leader. David Coon. If elected, Clark would become the second Green MLA in New Brunswick; building on the overall momentum of the Green movement. Prince Edward Island elected a Green MLA this year as well. With the slow rise in popularity of the Green movement coupled with the anger towards the provincial Liberals and Progressive Conservatives; Clark may stand a real chance. Carleton wouldn’t have to join the unpopular Liberal caucus, but would also have the benefit of not directly opposing the government either.

In 2014, the New Democrats’ returns in Carleton were lower than that of the Greens. Greg Crouse hopes to change that. He is Vice President of Unifor Local 2001. A real union man, Crouse represents NDP values to the core. In 2014 the NDP reached a higher level of support in the province than the Green Party but failed to elect a single New Democrat (an inherent fault within our electoral system). Crouse could be the NDP voice within the legislature that New Brunswick asked for but did not receive.

People’s Alliance Deputy Leader Randall Leavitt is also vying for the seat left vaccant by Alward’s departure. Leavitt has a background in the school system working with special needs students, before leaving education for business management and sales. In 2014 the PANB came in last place in Carleton with less than 3% of the vote.