A slightly different version of this commentary was published by the Telegraph Journal on October 18, 2014.
What will four years bring for that nice young man we just elected?
Brian Gallant can succeed, but only to the extent that he breaks with recent traditions of New Brunswick governments. If he does that, he’ll likely increase his chances of being re-elected, thereby breaking the electorate’s new tradition of one-term governments.
He will have to pay as much attention to process as to content. He will have to resist micro-managing and instead respect and use the civil service properly. He will have to retool the civil service so they can once again give evidence-based policy advice, so that there is once again a difference between them and executive assistants – in their advice and in their hiring process.
He will have to resist those who have much wanting more.
He will have to stop demonizing taxes and use them smartly.
He will have to resist wanting to do a grand gesture solely to leave his stamp.
He will have to communicate with us. We have to have the sense that he has heard us, that he is being straight. He will have to tell us stuff, including about errors by him and his, before they become mistakes, and including when public opinion is wrong. We can think these things through. We’re not stupid. We’re just treated that way.
And for sake, he should deliver the State of the Province address to people, not the Chamber of Commerce.
He will have to reinvent “public consultations” – to make us forget the egregious use made of that term by previous governments, which have mainly consisted of anonymous, internet, choreographed or by-invitation-only consultations and ‘summits’.
He will have to show confidence in us. He will have to value what we have, what we already do, put priority on what is New Brunswick – environment and small communities.
This new government must swiftly deliver on those promises that depend on its action. It should swiftly address the abortion access issue – end the guardianship system over pregnant women and grant them full adult status in decisions regarding their body!
It should quickly set the moratorium on fracking, which should only be ended when fracking can be proven to be as safe as … drinking water.
Then it should – and here are my personal requests – revisit the forestry agreement, renege on reneging on its contract with retired civil servants, begin work on installing an adequate, fair and progressive taxation policy, and create an independent advisory body on women’s equality.
Apart from all that, it should govern. I believe we elect a government to use its judgment, not simply to fulfill a checklist. Include people, talk people through it and you get better decisions – and can get tough decisions accepted.
Given our highly rural and thinly populated province, he could encourage more cooperatives, social enterprises, development that is really, actually, community-based. Those are solutions made to succeed here. Successive governments have wanted to play with the big boys, to make a big play. And in their mind, we aren’t players. We are hopeless. We don’t even want to frack!
One of the worst things someone in a position of authority can do is to show a lack of confidence in those people for whom they’re responsible. Parents, teachers, bosses – and politicians who don’t believe in the citizens they represent.
The first time I thought that was the morning we learnt that Shawn Graham wanted to sell NB Power to another province. That noise we heard was people hissing back at the insult, that our government thought we could neither manage nor afford our own resources and our own institutions, that it was best not to consult us before carving up the province, and that we wouldn’t react when such tricks were played on us.
Brian Gallant’s challenge is to tap into the new New Brunswick. The one that is breaking traditions. There is an untapped will, a frustrated desire to make it all work, in new ways, in this province. Those who have governed in the last decades have somewhat worn down that emerging spirit, but a real leader could have it coming out of the woodwork in no time.