In my column this morning in the TJ I basically conclude that it is unrealistic to expect that politicians (and increasingly bureaucrats) will tell the whole picture when it comes to the economic, social and environmental situation in the province. The tug of those quarterly opinion polls is just too great.
I remember a long time ago a 23 year old data cruncher (i.e. me) getting a call from the Premier’s Office on the second floor of the Centennial Building. The person on the other end of the line was writing the Premier’s state of the province address and had heard that I could provide them with some good data for the speech.
I remember pulling out all the stops on that one. I worked late into the night combing through the data – employment, GDP, income, labour turnover, absenteeism, persons at the minimum wage – etc. and tweaking the data for the best possible outcome. If the two year comparison looked bad, I went back three or four years. If the annual data looked bad, I compared month to month. And a classic for spinners in New Brunswick, I loved to use the ‘per capita’ comparison. It is smart to talk about per capita because it favours provinces with slow or declining population. For example, if your GDP growth (economic growth) was bad but your population actually declined, you can show GDP per capita which will look good – at the expense of population loss.
Then I listened to the speech and sure enough there was Frank McKenna spouting my productiving, income, employment and other statistics – exactly as I had tweaked them.
That’s a long time ago and I am sure that no one but me remembers that little moment (I have a few more of these like the time someone from the new Ralph Klein administration called me to say they wanted Ralph to be like McKenna and to give them advice on that).
Since that day almost 20 years ago, I have revised my position on political spin. I think that governments can use it to justify inaction. If things are so rosy, why do we need to change?
If that long gone person from the Premier’s Office called me now, I would tell them to have the Premier tell it like it is. To clearly articulate the extent of the challenges we face. To avoid the punchy one liners and to engage communities, government departments, private industry and institutions in a grand bargain where we all give a little now – to reposition NB for economic growth. People need to believe that real change is possible in New Brunswick.