Avoid the sensationalism trap

One of the most annoying thing about politics in 21st Century New Brunswick, is that we have substituted sensationalism for good, long term policy and thinking.

This started with the famous and now vanishing Prosperity Plan which made outrageous goals and offered no real plan to get there. I don’t want to rehash all that but one quick example is research & development. The PP said NB would rise to the the Top Three in Canada among the provinces for R&D spending per capita. At the time we were 10th. Coincidentally, we are still 10th. You can say anything you want. And people might believe your sincerity. But ultimately you have to deliver.

Now we have the Five in Five which serves up equally disingenuous claims meant to convince people the government has a plan and is aggressively working towards it.

So, today in the Telegraph Journal, we have a glimpse into Shawn Graham’s soul. The headline doesn’t inspire much confidence: “From Worst to First”. As I have said many times, we need to go from worst to slightly better, and then maybe up to average and then slightly above average and so on.

However, I have to admit the language of Shawn’s plan sounds interesting. Here are some highlights (I can’t provide the link – it’s behind a password):

The fact is, I would love to see our province self-sufficient by 2025, that we’re able to stand on our own two feet.”

The Opposition leader said strength in the three platform areas would enable him to approach the federal government for substantial investment to help the province end the “cycle of dependence” that exists today.

“I don’t want to stand up as the Premier of New Brunswick and ask for a bigger welfare cheque. I want to stand up and say: ‘We want investment today that’s going to position our province toward self-sufficiency and here’s how we’re going to do it. It’s going to tie in to the three pillars.”

A Liberal government would move the province from “worst to first” in education, Graham pledged. At the post-secondary level, he promised significant investment for community college infrastructure and proposed three-year degree programs in the universities. An accelerated degree-granting program would allow students to graduate earlier with less debt load and begin families sooner. The latter would have a positive impact on New Brunswick, helping enhance a declining population base, Graham said.

To spark reform in education, as well as in the other policy areas, Graham resolved to “retool” the civil service. He said if elected, he has an individual whom he would not name waiting on the sidelines whose job it would be to recruit “the best and the brightest minds around the world.”The Liberals will pay “top dollar” to recruit about a dozen leaders who will take key positions in the civil service and guide the agenda. “The fact is, we had the second slowest growth rate last year in gross domestic product. We’re trailing the pack and I think the Research In Motion file showed we’re not in the game,” Graham said, referring to the loss of the RIM call centre to Nova Scotia. “We have to make job creation a priority again. On the economic development side, I want to restore the can-do attitude of our province.”

Investment in the economy will build the case for the province before the federal government to convince it to assist New Brunswick in becoming self-sufficient.”Every New Brunswicker wants to stand on his own two feet. To say that we’re relying on a hand-out from Ontario and Alberta is degrading to our population.”

My two cent’s worth:

I like the language of self-sufficiency. I have to believe that for aware New Brunswickers having the our Premier lead the charge for more Equalization is quite disheartening. Tying federal support to long term economic development goals is something worthy of an Alec Bruce column.

The Liberals will pay “top dollar” to recruit about a dozen leaders who will take key positions in the civil service and guide the agenda. I think this is a great idea and I will argue this point to the bitter end. I recently met the head of the Atl. Health Sciences Centre in Saint John – she is sharp as a tack and a transplant from Montreal. The Liberals should build a top team from within the province and without. In Lord’s first term in office, there was some commentary that he had surrounded himself with cronies in top positions and that was hurting his ability to get things done. I remember a T&T columnist one time asked Lord about it. I stick with the people that got me elected, Lord apparently said. In one of my favourite movies, Broadcast News, there’s a slimy politician that says something to the effect of “If I get elected I’ll put him in charge of parking tickets!”. And I couldn’t agree more. If you have to ‘reward’ your cronies with government jobs – don’t give them senior positions of influence. You’ll end up where we are today. Kudos on this idea.

Create a more positive attitude in New Brunswick – that’s a theme we mostly support in this blog. It’s easier said than done. Mentioning RIM by name is strategic and should resonate with the younger generation.

Worst to first in education. My only caution here is that without a parallel track for economic development, increasing educational outcomes only accelerates out-migration.

As for Lord’s response:

Premier Bernard Lord says there’s something familiar about the major planks in the provincial Liberal party platform. “I think Shawn Graham is only repeating things that I’ve said before,” said Lord Tuesday. “In many ways, as someone said today, it’s Shawny come lately.”

Lord is for self-sufficiency? Is there one New Brunswicker that would believe this? How can you be the poster boy for Equalization increases and be for self-sufficiency?

As for Al Hogan’s response?

Tee hee hee.

Al publishes a 50 word clip about the Liberal’s energy plan and saying that “circumstances may force him [Lord] to call a vote this fall”. No commentary. No We Say. No mention of any of the key elements of the Liberal agenda.

I’ll tell you this. Al Hogan has soured me on Premier Lord more than any policy initiative or action by government.

The BS meter goes off everytime I read that rag and anything about provincial politics. If the T&T, unfortunately the paper I read everyday to get caught up on local news, came even slightly close to a) actually reporting the news (as they avoided today) and b) offering any kind of balanced insight, I might actually have a better attitude about things. But, like many folks my generation, I don’t like being snow jobbed. If Al Hogan thinks he is supporting the Premier with this silly reporting style, I think in the long term he will actually kill him. The newspaper should be a place of debate. A place where ideas are debated on the editorial page not blindly validated for political reasons. A place where governments are poked and pushed not summarily supported.

Last point, Al. If Lord calls an election it won’t because of ‘circumstances’. It will be a cold, rational, political decision based on his current status in the polls. Glossing over Lord’s previous stance on ‘fixed election dates’ is wearing thin, at least for me.

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0 Responses to Avoid the sensationalism trap

  1. MonctonLandlord says:

    Red or blue leadership, policy positions I read are not quite different than Third World Countries. Attitudes can change, but we can not be self-sufficient by 2025 unless something drastic happens.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The ‘drastic happens’ is exactly what its all about. The question is…what is ‘drastic’? Unlike Mr. Campbell I don’t think education is the bad investment, even if economic development doesn’t occur-at least at first.

    You can’t sell a province in a knowledge based economy that can barely read. To steal the theme from Charles Leblanc, you can’t sell a province with a educational force that is doped up on ritalin (highest in the country).

    You can’t sell a province where ‘worst’ means packed into a classroom with 30 kids. In a knowledge based economy workers have more say over where they relocate to, and their kids education is usually at the top of the list.

    The question is, how much hock are we willing to go into for this? As far as public schools go, (and I’ve heard no mention of charter schools) Ontario spends like Vermont, $10,000 dollars per year per student. This number has to get out there because its almost double the $6200 New Brunswick spends.

    That’s a LOT more money needed to go ‘from worst to first’. And before people take a hit in their wallets they want to know how that money is to be spent. More teachers? Or more administrators?

    Education is one area that really needs to be opened up. We’re training kids at the universities for industries that aren’t even hiring anymore….journalism? forestry? Get real. Talk about training people to move.

    In science it is very difficult for companies to find people, that’s why biotech companies in ontario are all staffed with post docs from China. Science is the least invested in in our educational system. No medical school, no decent graduate program.

    I took a look at the curriculum and it was quite light in sciences, but heavy in ‘social sciences’. I know of people opting to take spanish. Spanish?? In New Brunswick? There’s a waste of a teachers salary!

    The last census had 50,000 kids below 19, that means $310 million has to get up to $500 million. So where is that $200 million coming from? THATS the question, otherwise its just more political talk.

    As for universities, what the hell is a three year degree going to do? Companies aren’t stupid, they know from shitty schools. That’s hardly being competitive: “Hey, there’s a whole years worth of stuff that our students never learned”

    That’s a real selling point! How about a cap on tuition? How about more money in grants? When I was in school the first term was a loan, the second term was a grant that never had to be repaid.

    While that ‘may’ simply fuel outmigration, at the very least thats fewer people addicted to social services and at least they are paying canadian taxes, which will be essential to getting the province to 2025.

    As for the other points, people may WELL believe what Lord says, since there is only one media. Unless WE make sure they know about it. Anybody doing anything on that front? Or are we once again waiting for government to do it? Where are the posters…where are the brochures? Come on people, there’s not much time.

  3. David Campbell says:

    Whoa, hoss. I never said I didn’t like investment in education. A skilled, educated workforce will be key to any New Brunswick resurgence. I am simply saying that just spending money on education while your underlying industrial base dries up may not be good policy. These kids need jobs to go to when they graduate. I would really love to know the retention rate (in New Brunswick) of graduates of the animation program at the NBCC Miramichi. I already know from a good source that over 75% of the aircraft mechanics coming out of the NBCC program in that area move out of province for work. Education is not an economic generator – directly – it is a cost (until you can charge cost + profit for education which is hard to do). It is only beneficial to the province when it feeds the needs of the economy.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That depends what you mean. An educated population has tons of benefits. The argument that ‘if you don’t have jobs, don’t invest in education’ creates a catch 22. To give the PC’s some credit they may well be right, RIM would look at this area and at Nova Scotia and the choice is clear. They are a university based company, so they are going to go to an area which has huge investments in Universities, the highest per capita in Canada.

    Nova Scotia didn’t get that waiting for jobs for graduates, because without the graduates, the jobs won’t come. It’s circular.

    You can’t MAKE a company come to an area, you need the infrastructure and in a knowledge based economy the main one is the workforce, if you don’t have that, you’re out of luck.

    The liberals had no problem with ‘work for welfare’ programs. Why not get the feds to invest in educational training and tie EI benefits into either getting educated, or else volunteering to teach others to read.

    An educated workforce opens up tons of possibilites, namely creating export opportunities and opportunities at home. An educated population may well look at imports and say ‘why bring that in when we can make it ourselves?’ An educated workforce would also either benefit the media or create new alternatives to the current monopoly. That is a HUGE issue right there. I can tell you from going through the government website that its not just economic development that people don’t know the facts about, there are entire issues that are never even presented to the population. Most people couldn’t even tell you how many pieces of legislation are awaiting royal assent or even finished first reading.

    Education benefits everybody, even if the jobs aren’t there, they will be if you have the workforce. If you don’t, well, you end up with what the tories currently have to work with where the only companies they can get are ones who fire all their union workers (molson), wreck havoc on the environment (Bennett) or simply tell you to give them money (Irving,UPN)

    That’s not to say that you don’t also look at the economic side. For aircraft mechanics that’s pretty obvious that they are going to leave. For animation, you are right that its an issue, and a big one. That’s why I mention the New Brunswick Television station idea. You need a place for these people to present a product, its not enough to say “well, you can go sell it in Toronto”. Because they WILL sell it in Toronto, and Ontario is not that well off that they don’t want jobs themselves, which means innovation will MOVE to Toronto.

    There are people with money, and a television station is relatively cheap when styled like PBS or TVO. It only takes a little to produce a lot. The alternative is to keep relying on Rogers, and from personal experience I can tell you that their investment in New Brunswick is minimal. They are working towards an ‘all volunteer’ model in order to suck the money to Ontario, and when you train people in an industry and have no place for them to go afterwards, obviously to get a job they have to head for Ontario.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t agree with that. To me it sounds like the liberals are saying that they are so dumb that they need to bring in outside help to figure out what to do. What have they been doing for six years in opposition? Six years is not that long that they would have forgotten what goes on in government.

    The only other alternative is that they know what they will do but don’t want to come out and say it. So the smokescreen is to make it sound like some professional from somewhere else who knows nothing about the province said it.

    Putting a bunch of people from Ontario in charge of everything in Fredericton is a bad idea that I doubt will appeal to many New Brunswickers.

    Saying ‘I know a guy I’m going to pick but I’m not going to tell you unless you elect me’ is equally stupid. Is this a game show?

    Wouldn’t it be interesting though if it were Frank McKenna!

  6. David Campbell says:

    Putting a bunch of people from Ontario in charge of everything in Fredericton is a bad idea that I doubt will appeal to many New Brunswickers.

    Don’t over-extend what I was trying to say. There are a lot of highly qualified people in New Brunswick. I’m just saying that we need to cross-pollinate senior government leadership with some external expertise. When industry searches for senior executive for their organizations, they do a national or even international talent search. When government looks for senior executive talent it looks either interal or worse at political cronies. The government of New Brunswick is a $6 billion dollar entity, folks. It needs serious, professional leadership. I am for Graham on this 100%.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s one thing to do that search, its another thing to make it a part of a campaign which essentially tells New Brunswickers they haven’t the talent or else their government is so inbred that outside help must be brought in. Neither is much of a compliment.

    However, what is a senior bureaucrat going to do with that ‘expertise’? They are going to ignore it if not politically expedient, or else they will claim it as their own. What exactly are we looking for these foreign consultants to do?

    If you actually wanted to ‘shake things up’, all you’d have to do is hire an average New Brunswicker who would look at what they’re doing and tell them to smarten the hell up.

    I am of the mind that these decision should be made by VOTERS, not bureaucrats. If it affects New Brunswickers, they should be the ones calling the shots, not some overpaid bureaucrat-isn’t that what democracy is about?

  8. Cooker Boy says:

    As far as education goes I think a 3 year diploma could have merit. However, what I really want to see is Universities going out and finding what businesses need for skillset and teach these students the knowledge they need to be employed in NB.

    The biggest problem we have for post-secondary studies is the complete disconnect between the university and employers. Ask any employer and they will tell you they have tons of students applying, they just do not have the experience employers need.

    I would like to see paid internships for NB graduates for their last year of school. This would serve 3 purposes:

    a)Give the student the work experience she/he needs to pursue a career. Notice I said career, not job.

    b)Give the student a social/work networking base which will influence their decision to stay in NB.

    c)Give the student money to pay off their student tuitions.

    I’m not talking about a flimsy Co-op program that requires the student to get the boss coffee every morning and provides zilch for work experience, unless they want to work at Tim’s. This would be a paid year by the gov’t that would be a benifit to the student and the employer.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Think about it. What curricula are they going to teach in three years? Business? Computer Science? You’d still need the same number of courses, which means you’d have to go year round, you wouldn’t even be able to work through the summer.

    I’d really like to see that list of companies who can’t find people. In most cases they are trades jobs or low paying jobs. Most programs have co op jobs, at least when they can find partners.

  10. MonctonLandlord says:

    A close source of mine tells me that summer 2006 saw the most students leave Atlantic Canada for a co-op work term than ever before, folks we are talking about 33% of students boarding the plane for a Work Term in their field of study, do not worry, they will be back in September, in time to vote, and to finish their degrees.

    I can assure you Cooker, a mechanical engineer in Fort McMurray does way more than serve coffee to his 26 year old boss. Or the third year biochemistry student on a work term researching HIV in Africa, she certainly did not get flown there to serve coffee either.

  11. Cooker Boy says:

    It’s true that you can find good examples, like the mentioned below, of good co-op opportunities. But I’m talking about the sciences, buss admin and yes comp sci as examples of students having difficulty finding a meaningfull co-op.

    I did co-op twice and both times the supervisor I had didn’t know what to do with me since I had no practical IT experience and they didn’t have time to hold my hand because it cost them $$$.

    My current employer is having trouble hiring experienced comp sci people so they are hiring remote people from outside the province.

    I’m just asking, why are we sending students to Fort McMurray and Africa when we have the means to offer a similar experience through R&D grants or subsidzing a year of university? Just thought you would seize the opportunity to debate an innovative idea instead of shooting something down. Didn’t say it was perfect…

    Also, to speak to anon’s point of year round school..I say, why not? I’m currently studying in University at night to improve my “papers”. I am going 2 years straight to complete the degree. Maybe NB universities should offer the option to students so they can enter the workforce earlier? I would also look at offering the same to HS students who want to student in the summer to advance their learning.

  12. Anonymous says:

    There’s no real point debating it TOO much, because seriously, what’s going to come of it? That students have to go elsewhere for a work co op says it all right there. As for year round school, that option is already available, but a three year degree will make it necessary, and many students need the summer to earn some cash. You can already do three years, you can take courses at intersession as well as summer session. So the idea is really a non starter. CALLING it a ‘three year degree’ simply devalues it to employers.

    Every company in the hemisphere knows what university papers are worth. In science, you won’t even get a university job if you’ve done both your graduate and doctoral studies at the same university.

    So this just dumbs down the product. In three years your done, but are less educated than any other university. I’m not positive, but I don’t even think the province can ‘make’ a university change their curricula.

    As for the other post, most studies show that people end up living where they get their work experience, mainly because it is familiar and they know they can get a job. There are damn few opportunities for biochemists in New Brunswick, I can tell you that as somebody married to a biochemist (genetic engineer but her degree was in biochem).

    Ditto for mechanical engineering. Take a look at Sudbury though, they’ve become an international marketer for the mining industry. Laurentian University and Cambrian College work in tandem to educate miners from all over the world-but they don’t work in Sudbury.