Someone asked for my thoughts on the departing Shawn Graham. I have mixed views on the Graham government. On the one hand, I thought a number of their initiatives would have been important contributions to renovating New Brunswick. But they had challenges communicating their vision to the public – starting with the “Be… in this place” and moving onward. In addition, they (as all governments in this province) had trouble going through with their proposed initiatives. The only one they really got through in the way they wanted was the tax cut program – although they didn’t riase the HST as was recommended by Jack Mintz – the guru they brought into advise them on tax policy.
I liked the focus on immigration – they started to see immigration as more than just a patch for holes in the labour market. I have always said we need a more strategic view of immigration and its potential role in New Brunswick.
I thought the plan to sell NB Power was a good faith attempt to address the energy situation in this province. Conditions on the ground have changed a lot since then and the case for such a sale would be harder to make now.
I liked the ‘self-sufficiency’ concept although it seemed to be clunkily communicated as only about reducing reliance on federal government transfers (stated goal – eliminate the need for equalization payments). McKenna’s pull ourselves up by the bootstraps maybe was a little more to the point.
I was a bit baffled by the lack of focus on economic development. They didn’t change anything in the economic development system. There wasn’t the kind of full court press that McKenna put on economic growth.
But the biggest influence on the Graham government was the great recession. It hit right as they were trying to implement the agenda. That completely diverted attention and they spent the last 18-24 months on stimulus and other issues related to recession busting.
Atcon? Sure, there has to be learnings from that. No question. But every government made big bets over the years (think AV Nackawic and $70 million under the Lord government). If they pay off (i.e. AV Nackawic) no one notices. If they tank (i.e. Bricklin and Atcon) it becomes a debacle and casts a shadow over other economic development efforts.
I have a hard time believing anyone involved in the decision making made any personal profit off Atcon. I think they were legitimately scared about the prospect of losing 1,500 jobs in the Miramichi – an area that continues to struggle.
In the end, Graham – like Lord – will be more of a footnote in New Brunswick’s history rather than a prominent player such as LJR or McKenna. It could have turned out different but things always seem to get in the way.