Someone asked me what I thought about the federal election speculation and its potential impact on New Brunswick.
Who knows? I guess if I was a betting man, I might put the odds of a federal election in 2011 at better than 1:1 but I don’t think it is a sure thing. The challenge for the opposition is that they would have to form a coalition government – there is virtually no way the Liberals could win a majority – and that is not something with much recent history in Canada. However, it seems to be working in the U.K. so it is possible.
Conversely, my Conservative friends are optimistic the Tories could win a majority. They cite the targeting of Liberal ridings in Quebec, the ability to take more seats in Atlantic Canada (particularly NL after the rapprochement b/w Danny and Stephen), and what they see as softness in Ontario liberal and NDP ridings. I believe the number is 58 seats they think are up for grabs.
I haven’t been much good at picking winners and losers in elections so I won’t even try to speculate who would win although it would seem to me that for the Conservatives to win a majority they would have to almost run the table outside Quebec because they don’t have much room to move there.
As for impact – Atlantic Canada is relatively low on the totem pole of federal interests these days. When the Conservatives first got in they had to placate Daulton and his ‘fair deal for Ontario’ – which they did and Quebec – where they thought there was real opportunity for more seats. The west was on autopilot economically – at least SK west due to oil, gas, potash, etc. The feds made strategic investments in BC’s ports, pine beetles and forestry, Olympics, etc. which weren’t that costly but added good will.
The last time there was some kind of ‘plan’ for this region coming out of Ottawa what that Liberal caucus thing – I can’t even remember the name but that wasn’t much and really fizzled except for the innovation component – the AIF, etc. The Conservatives haven’t been hostile to Atlantic Canada at all – just not that interested. ACOA has not been axed – the great fear of some – but it is being slowly squeezed and evolved into the regional arm for many activities of the federal government (such as infrastructure funding) that aren’t directly economic development. It would seem ACOA is moving in that direction.
My view is that the Conservatives are taking a minimalist view of Atlantic Canada. Don’t dramatically cut it but don’t do a whole lot either. Quite frankly, the focus has been on Ontario – with the auto bail out, the new ACOA in southern Ontario, etc.
As for the Liberals, who knows? Iggy lost a pile of points with me when he said what was happening in New Brunswick was exactly the same as Northern Ontario or the Gaspe. While right on some technical level, at a federal-provincial relationship level he is just wrong. The feds have a joint relationship with provinces to provide services to Canadians. They do not have this relationship with sub-regions within provinces. Provincial governments have that relationship – not the feds.
This is important to me because I would like to see a bilateral arrangement between the feds and the NB government on a long term economic development focused agenda. This could easily be done (think Atlantic Accord) b/w the feds and a province but not between the Feds and Timmons or Kenora.
I have said before and I will say again that it would be hard for NB to really have a substantial economic renewal without a new partnership with the feds. I won’t get into the mechanics of this – as I have before – but I think it quite critical.
The problem is that any ‘side deal’ with a place like New Brunswick – as Harper calls it – would likely be viewed with suspicion west of Ontario (and maybe in Ontario as well). I would like to think it could be propery positioned as in the best interests of Confederation as a whole but who knows.
Back to the election speculation. I can’t see either a Conservative government or a Liberal/NDP/Bloc coalition as significantly changing the economic development prospects of New Brunswick. If one or the other made overtures about a new bilateral arrangement (these have been done before), then I might change my mind but the business of elections is about votes and beyond rhetoric, there ain’t much votes to be had in a place like NB.