A rush to judgement

The National Post is running an editorial today that is less than enthusiastic about Shawn Graham’s first couple of weeks in office:

A slow start for New Brunswick

Last Tuesday, Liberal Shawn Graham was sworn in as New Brunswick’s 31st premier. He and his Cabinet got off to a running start, making at least six major policy announcements in the first 24 hours after their swearing in. Their new policies are a mixed bag, but they presage one thing: Mr. Graham’s government will be an energetic one, in sharp contrast with Bernard Lord’s indecisive Tory government that the province’s voters removed from office last month.

After he took his oath of office, Mr. Graham made all the right noises. He pledged to “put New Brunswick on the road to self-sufficiency,” through private-sector growth, where possible. He maintained that his would be “a government built on hope and hard work,” instead of economic intervention and handouts from Ottawa. And he promised to make the provincial motto — “Hope restored” — true again. But his first half-dozen initiatives look more like old-style populist demagoguery than a bold new direction. Only one — a drop in the provincial tax on gasoline — offers any hope of spurring private investment. By trimming the provincial excise levy on gas by 3.8¢ a litre (4.3¢ in total, if one counts the corresponding drop in HST that will be generated), the Graham government has given New Brunswick the second-lowest gas tax in the country, after Alberta. Since such declines lower the cost of operating small businesses, it is possible this change will have a marginally stimulating effect on the province’s economy.

Ending years of dithering by the Lord government, Mr. Graham also formally committed the provincial government to pay nearly $27-million toward the $80-million cleanup of Saint John harbour. This is good news for Saint John residents, whose waterfront is currently being befouled by 16 million litres of raw sewage daily, but it is hardly a bold new direction for a politician. Nor is Mr. Graham’s plan to give all New Brunswick freshmen a $2,000 annual break on their college or university tuition. And his promise to exclude a senior’s home value and financial assets from calculations of his or her ability to pay retirement home rents and board could be positively disastrous to the provincial treasury — not to mention unfair to younger taxpayers who will end up subsidizing seniors’ home fees just so residents do not have to liquidate their assets to pay for their own care. Mr. Graham also used lucrative severance packages to shuffle aside five deputy-ministers he considered too cozy with the former administration so he could replace them with his own choices. And he has begun talks on how to regulate auto insurance rates.

Everywhere else regulation has been attempted it has led to unwelcome consequences, either capping payouts to accident victims, reducing benefits paid by insurers to drivers involved in collisions or forcing taxpayers to subsidize insurance companies’ bottom lines. We hold out hope that the vigorous Mr. Graham — once he has fulfilled his handful of high-profile campaign pledges — will get more serious about putting New Brunswick on a solid, self-sustaining footing, which frees it from its chronic dependence on federal transfers from “have” provinces. But so far, he has made a less than heartening start.

I agree with the Post that Graham needs to ‘get serious about putting NB on a solid, self-sustaining footing’ but, cripes, give the guy more than two weeks.

You know my position on auto insurance.

As for turfing Deputy Ministers, I still remember the ‘little brown envelopes’ being passed in 1999 from DMs loyal to their old bosses. The first few months are critical for a new government. If old DMs, loyal to their old bosses, provide the opposition with intelligence on potential moves, it could stifle the government’s ability to develop new policy. I’m surprised more weren’t turfed.

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0 Responses to A rush to judgement

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is a perfect example of the Ontario centric national media. They have no idea what is going on, and I’m assuming that’s an editorial because it is completely lacking in details. In fact, it makes Al Hogan not sound QUITE as radical in his demagoguery.

    Just thought I’d add some perspective:

    1. A drop in the provincial tax on gasoline.

    Yeah, sure. THAT will ‘spur private investment’. Everywhere else companies and governments are looking to alternative sources of power, people are desperately trying to get off the sauce, while in NB they TALK conservation, yet lower the only tool governments have to reduce consumption.

    I’d LOVE to know what private investment will flow from this. Does the NP think that RIM or a call centre, hell, even manufacturing will suddenly think ‘hey, gas is two cents a litre cheaper in NB, let’s got there!’

    We’ve already seen exactly what having the lowest corporate tax in the country has done for NB. Nada. Of course it keeps the Irvings happy.

    2. Mr. Graham also formally committed the provincial government to pay nearly $27-million toward the $80-million cleanup of Saint John harbour.

    How ISN”T this ‘bold’? Even the federal government completely ignores the harbour, choosing instead the sports complex in Moncton.

    3. Mr. Graham’s plan to give all New Brunswick freshmen a $2,000 annual break on their college or university tuition.

    It sure is bold compared to Lord. What would have been a nice mention there is the fact that New Brunswick ‘s VERY marginally successful universities have the highest tuition rates in the country. Of course properly funding them and giving a students a voice at them would also be desirable, but this is politics.

    4.His promise to exclude a senior’s home value and financial assets from calculations of his or her ability to pay retirement home rents and board.

    A good mention there would be how New Brunswickers pay the largest out of pocket expenses for medications with one of the most miserly elderly care programs in the country. Interestingly enough, the NP was fanatic in its shrill denunciation of Laytons ‘millionaire inheritance tax’. It’s OK for millionaires to inherit money they didn’t earn, but not OK for impoverished seniors to get a break on care. One of the two above has a MUCH bigger effect on provincial treasuries than the other.

    5. Everywhere else regulation has been attempted it has led to unwelcome consequences, either capping payouts to accident victims, reducing benefits paid by insurers to drivers involved in collisions or forcing taxpayers to subsidize insurance companies’ bottom lines.

    I like that, regulation has only been ‘attempted’ elsewhere. Like Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s completely public system is just an ‘attempt’. Notice how they had to add that ‘subsidize bottom lines’ because otherwise virtually ALL of those effects were far more pronounced in NB than in the prairies.

    Boy, with central canadian commentary like that, Irvings don’t seem quite so one sided.

  2. Cooker Boy says:

    It’s the National Post, nuff said…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Shawn Graham was sworn in as premier last week… not two weeks ago. In fact, today (Tuesday), is the one-week anniversary.

  4. David Campbell says:

    A journalist once told me that Paul Wells pissed off at Paul Martin because he didn’t take him (Wells) to lunch. I find this hard to believe but I do know that journalists and editors (i.e. Hogan) are about the only class of folks with larger egos than politicians. Graham may want to meet with the editor of the Financial Post.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Did the Libs advertise in the Nat Post like they did in the Globe and Mail? That may be another reason for the jab…

  6. scott says:

    What is your position on auto insurance? Are you for a public or private system? And why?

  7. David Campbell says:

    I am not for government running private industry – of any kind – unless there is compelling evidence that a market-based system is leading to collusive behaviour on the part of suppliers resulting in arbitrarily high rates for consumers. Quite frankly, I think that the oil/gas industry exhibits far more oligopolistic tendencies than the insurance sector. Name me one other sector that when the cost of your supplies goes up (raw crude), your profits go through the roof. The oil and gas refining and distribution sector makes record profits when the price of crude goes sky high. Imagine if trucking companies made more profit when gas prices went up. To me that would be the same thing. So, to get back to your question, I think that some regulatory/legislative framework around auto insurance is okay. Public oversight to ensure that rate setting is not gouging the consumer is okay. But setting up a separate crown corporation to run auto insurance? It’s a bad idea.

    Not to draw any parallels to the health care sector but – I will anyway.

    I just visited a private eye clinic in Moncton. This clinic must process several hundred people per day. The secretary knew my name before I said it. I waited less than five minutes. My eyes were tested with the most advanced testing system on the market. The doctor has a detailed electroic system with detailed notes on my eye health history going back five years. I paid my fee and left.

    Now, contrast that to my last visit to my ‘public’ doctor. I won’t actually contrast it because the difference was night and day.

    Now, do I want a fully private health care system? I would like to protect public health care (i.e. everyone should have access regardless of means) but I pay several thousand dollars per year out of my taxes (more than my premiums would be in any US health plan) to get access to long waits, outdated equipment and zero personal attention. I have to believe there must be some way to have the Alliance Vision Clinic model (technology, professionalism, personal touch) grafted onto the public system.

    Wow, wasn’t that a diatribe.

  8. scott says:

    Oligopolistic tendencies? Now I know why I love your blog, David. LOL

  9. Anonymous says:

    That’s why there really isn’t a point to arguing ideology. First, to say that there is some generic monster out there called ‘private industry’ and some generic monster called ‘public service’ doesn’t hold up to five seconds of scrutiny. The devil is in the details.

    You may have gotten lucky with an eye doctor, but my experience is virtually the opposite of that. I’ve known my family doctor all my life. I go to the office, there is generally only three people in front of me-if that, and I can watch TV, read any number of magazines, or simply listen to my CD til the friendly receptionist comes to get me.

    My eye doctor is adequate, of course I hardly ever go because that’s another hundred bucks out of my wallet every time I get an appointment. Many provinces of course cover eye exams, ontario did until Harris’ final years. It’s good preventative medicine because of course we know what an ounce of prevention is worth. Back when governments actually funded services to people and not just corporations, eye doctors would even travel to schools so that parents didn’t have to worry.

    Of course we can go to the even further example which is dental. We’ve got a country full of millionaire dentists and you still wait months for an appointment. A crown costs $1000 and thats with an excellent plan. The result, of course, is a population which never sees dentists or eye doctors. Then people are surprised that so many people are on drugs, even prescription drugs. Having had some experience here, I know of cases where addicts got hooked just because they coulnd’t afford a root canal. If you have ever had a tooth ache, you know what I mean.

    Interestingly enough, in the soviet union virtually nobody needed glasses because that’s where laser eye surgery was invented, and everybody recieved the procedure if they desired it (and if it were possible)

    But for oligopolistic practices I’d like to see an industry that DOESN”T fall into that. Insurance companies of course rank up there. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t need insurance at all-we’d let lawsuits settle things.

    In NB, we can look at virtually EVERY industry in existence. For forestry, almost never mentioned is that UPN was investigated and fined in the US for collusion, and five companies together in NB form the very definition of oligopoly.

    NB is very lucky to have a fairly strong Co op movement, but again, it isn’t very strong at the retail level, even in Fredericton they don’t operate much differently than a big box store.

    Studies have shown canadians overpay close to 40% on food items because of the oligopoly known as food distribution. George Weston is now the richest man in Canada thanks to that. If that’s where your priorities are, that’s fine, but whether thats the majority vote is the question.

    But again, IF you have a strong regulatory system you can MAKE corporations operate in a civil manner. That’s very plain in Adam Smith, that great capitalist that virtually no capitalist has ever read. In fact he was all for capital punishment in the cases of collusion-which would nicely do away with the problems created by the Irvings and McCains.

    But of course its far easier to argue ideologies, because it doesn’t require work, just the accumulated data from newspapers and television and a willingness to speak. If you’ve had a bad example of a public service, thats hardly indicative, likewise in private.

  10. Spinks says:

    I want your family doctor anon. You are the exception not the rule.

  11. Anonymous says:

    You can’t actually prove that. And of course we all know that the problem with that is not privatization but the lack of doctors. That’s a problem that cuts in education and the college of physicians can deal with -if anybody would talk about them. Privatizing family physicians won’t make more doctors magically appear, just like it hasn’t done for dentists, where you will often wait longer for services.

    You can also look to Ontario where public run clinics are very effective for those without family doctors. In such cases if you go during ‘peak hours’ then you will wait a long time, however, going to off hours gives better results. And of course if we actually had a government not run by industry then would be far more focus on preventative care. For example, in Denmark you can televideo with a family physician and don’t have to leave your home. You can buy kits with thermometers etc., where you diagnose yourself.

    Consider how many hours are wasted by the misleading media and lack of information in something as obvious and people demanding anti biotics for colds and flu. People get such ideas from somewhere, and there is no attempt to show them just how stupid it is, and you even had doctors giving anti biotics for them.

    These are just a few of the cases, now multiply all those people with a contagious disease who are coming into contact with others at the doctors office. So now wonder there is such stress on physician services-because government has completely gotten out of the preventative business just as other countries are getting more into it. The reasons are clear, there is money in treatment, but you don’t treat until you have a disease.