Existential change

A journalist covering the last Tory leadership process in New Brunswick told me that he sensed the party was not going through an existential review process.  The closeness and the way the last election was lost the Tory braintrust did not think they had to make any significant changes.  They thought 1999 to 2006 were a time of propserity and good government – the only problem was they were not able to communicate properly all that success to the people of New Brunswick.

I think that is clear from this interview with David Alward.   It’s chalk full of references to the good old days such as :

I was part of a government that had to make difficult choices. We made a difficult choice in health care, and in my own riding, to close hospitals and build a new facility. That was not an easy process to go through but there was a process. And people were engaged in it. And there is a new facility there today with more doctors and nurses and more specialties being provided than existed before.

The new definition of a hard decision is one that leads to a brand new hospital and more doctors and nurses and more specialties being provided than existed before?  I remember that debate and I realize that people were angry that a few small hospitals were being closed but that seems to be the new normal – spending a lot more money is considered to be a tough decision.

I was part of a government that, over seven years, paid down $500 million on the debt of the province. That was not easy.

That seven years represented one of the fastest (if not the fastest) period of increase in federal transfers to New Brunswick in the province’s history – at a time when the national economy was in the midst of the longest period of sustained economic growth in history.  

This government has not had a revenue problem; the revenues, if we look at where they were in 2006 to today, have continued to grow. They have had an expenditure problem.

Expenditure growth under the Tories – per capita, % of GDP, straight up – was virtually the same as under the current Liberals. 

I like David Alward.   I only met him a couple of times but he seems like an affable bloke and I have met a few of his advisors and they seem to be smart guys/gals.  But one of the problems with recycling the Lord team is they were (and it seems are) convinced 1999-2006 was some kind of golden era in New Brunswick.    But it wasn’t.

1999-2006 highlights: 

Toll highway deal torn up – costing the province at least $200-$300 million to date in debt service costs and lost toll revenues. 

Orimulsion – well over $1 billion impact and counting.

The natural gas deal that, well, have led to what we have today.

The NB Power reforms that, well, have led to what we have today.

The first population decline since the Great Depression – there were more people living in New Brunswick in 1998 than in 2007.  To me it is absolutely staggering that Canada as a whole added 2.7 million people to the population from 1998 to 2007 and New Brunswick saw a decline of over 5,000.  

Canada witnessed unprecedented tax revenue growth from 1998 to 2007.  If there was ever a time to start putting a chink in fiscal dependency of NB to the federal government – it was 1998 to 2007.  Yet, we went over $400 million year further into dependency on the equalization program.

Of course, I could go on and on.  We had that eNB initiative that was supposed to transform New Brunswick into some type of ICT hub and it didn’t.  We were going to rocket to the top four in Canada among the provinces for R&D spending per capita.  We didn’t.   

This is not a political blog – it does look at the intersection of politics and economic development.

There is a very good chance that David Alward will be the Premier in the fall.  I have been wrong in just about every political prediction I have made since the late 1990s so I don’t want to make any now (to jinx either side).  

But if he gets in I hope he has the wisdom to understand that the Tories of 1999-2006 governed during a period of unprecedented prosperity in Canada and if they are in power from 2010 on – they will be governing in a period of significant austerity and a period where we will need tremendous public policy wisdom – on energy, on economic development, on fiscal restraint, on regional governance, on the labour market, etc.

2010-2020 will be fundamentally different than 1998-2006.  I hope they get it.

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2 Responses to Existential change

  1. Well put.
    Whoever gets elected will have to make tough choices. Hopefully it is clear to everyone that increasing the deficit and debt is not an option.

  2. Mike says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the Liberals in NB seem more towards the middle right than the actual Conservatives. Look at who is running for most of the MLA’s for each party. I’m here to say that the Liberals have been know for fiscal restraint but they seemed to have addressed many of the major fiscal issue’s facing NB in an intelligent mannor but have failed to effectively communicate their intentions to the general public i.e. the NB Power deal. The conservatives worry me for there lack of a true vision.

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