This is it, your last chance Greg Thompson and John Ames


A provincial election is slated for September 24 here in New Brunswick. Already there’s a grassroots movement to push for a minority government—by convincing voters to vote for any other party than Liberal or Conservative. The movement even has its own “Minority Power” T-shirt sporting the party colours of the NDP, PANB and Greens.

Good luck with that. Given how small “c” conservative this province can be, it’s unlikely to happen. The usual provincial reflex is to toggle back to the other side. Liberal now, PC next time, which is likely to happen again, though the voters are definitely showing signs of a deeper-seated disenchantment with both big tent parties.

Which makes Greg Thompson’s announcement to run more interesting. Greg is a brand name politician, having served in Ottawa from 1988 to 1993 and again from 1997 to 2011, spending four of those years as Minister of Veterans Affairs. Several months after his retirement as Minister, it was disclosed there were privacy abuses in his department that led directly to him, according to the information on his Wikipedia page. At any rate, Greg knows the big game. Interestingly, he also endorsed his potential opponent, the youngish John Ames in the last provincial election.

Coincidentally, both Thompson and Ames are former high school teachers. One could not be faulted for thinking that’s where the similarity ends. They certainly don’t share the same stature physically or politically. But they may be more similar when it comes to policy. Both are party men. Greg is true blue, and John is red through and through.

If the Minority Power people had their way, neither would be elected. In the real world I expect Thompson has the advantage this time around. But in all fairness, it doesn’t matter who gets elected. It matters what needs to be done—and who has the spine to do it.

Compared to most other Canadian provinces New Brunswick is not exactly the blueprint for successful governance. Our province ranks near the bottom of most measures, from debt to employment to health. And it’s been that way for decades. In 2014, for example, New Brunswick’s economy ranked last among the 10 Canadian provinces—and 16 other countries—and had the lowest per capita income. And the Conference Board of Canada gave the province a ‘D’ rating. There are reasons for the poor performance.

New Brunswick is a captured state. Much of its legislation is written to benefit large corporations in the province, most notably the Irving empire. While that certainly benefits the Irvings, it does little to benefit ordinary New Brunswickers. With one bright exception: Moncton. When that city hit the financial skids in 1988 when CN closed its rail shops there, the city began a process of diversification that eventually led to a much healthier local economy—while nearby Saint John, home of the Irving empire headquarters, languishes.

Moncton points the way for the province. So, if you’re reading Greg, or John, here’s where this needs to go. First, the Irving media stronghold has to end. No one company that depends so much on provincially-owned natural resources should completely dominate the province’s mainstream media.

Second, the government needs to stop favouring macro-projects for the promise of “jobs”. That means ending monocultural forest “management” policies, including glyphosate spraying, and instead supporting and developing the economic value of natural mixed forests. It also means, as a government, getting out of resource extraction businesses like open pit mining and fracking, and researching better alternatives to food production and energy generation (read: land-based aquaculture, and wind and solar power).

Third, the province needs to start taxing its massive corporate wealth, which has been generated for the most part from the province’s rich natural resources. Not only by raising taxes on these corporations, but also working aggressively with the federal government to repatriate wealth sheltered in off-shore tax havens.

Finally, the province needs to learn to turn its liabilities into assets. Call it the “microbrewery effect”. By relocalizing, retooling, and reskilling, the province can create hundreds, if not thousands, of new opportunities for new businesses. But only if it begins to think small. Last thing the province needs is to chase another failing company (Sears) with $4.3 million in government loans, only to watch the company lay off 350 workers a few months later.

That’s assuming Greg and John have the guts to stand up and do something different. But it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s what you think come voting time in September.

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