What I loved about 2016

The following text was written following my participation in the CBC NB year-end political panel on Shift radio program, December 30, 2016.

I don’t submit well to all exercises. Year-end reviews for example. Year-end reviews are influenced by news headlines which necessarily focus on recent political or legal events and often, also necessarily, negative events like terrorism attacks and natural disasters. It doesn’t seem the right moment to raise long-term trends for how things are going, but that’s what I’m wanting to do.  What made the year tolerable was the knowledge that the bigger picture shows a somewhat different reality than recent events.

The trials and madness of the daily news – especially the tragedy that is becoming the United States – are easier to take knowing that some things have been going in the right direction. There are fewer wars in the world than most other times in history. More than 90% of children in the world are learning to read and write. One out of two humans in the world lives in a democracy. Women have more power, education and rights than ever. World population growth has slowed to a fraction of 1% annually. Extreme poverty in the world has now fallen below 10%. Those are firsts. For as long as such progress continues, and there is no guarantee it will, we improve chances of dealing with the difficulties, such as wars, looting leaders, climate change, fanatic religions. It’s what I loved about 2016.

Having said that, here are some of the trials and madness of 2016 in New Brunswick:

The issue that was there every time I looked up, especially if I was walking around Fredericton, was bilingualism, most often the anti-bilingualism forces. The world is blaming Mr. Trump for his use of fake news, online funny stuff, made-up statistics, but I think New Brunswick haters should get some credit for doing it first. The made-up stories were everywhere about who did or said what, about the percentage of civil service jobs that require bilingualism, about the dollars potentially saved from combining school buses or doing away with duality, or was that doing away with Acadians.  The federal minister for Official Languages just did a cross-Canada consultation on official languages and she said that it was the consultation in Moncton that attracted the most anti-bilingualism forces. Through most of the year the provincial government avoided playing its role on the issue – not defending its policies, not calming the rhetoric and the hate, attacking the Official Languages Commissioner, openly disrespecting her report before and after it was released, telling her that her role is to be a cheerleader not an auditor. Then in September, there was Brian Gallant’s coming out, his saying he is an Acadian, and that New Brunswick’s experience with French-English cohabitation is reasonable. That week, the government spoke and acted responsibly. We shall see if they are consistent on this issue.

The court decision last April that it is unconstitutional to forbid bringing in liquor from other provinces was an important one that will make news again next year. The court decision was the result of the happy circumstance of a determined client, a bright lawyer and a lower court judge who delivered a thesis of a decision – it takes three hours to read. Next year hopefully the Supreme Court will speak on the case, but expect repercussions on similar cases and on other interprovincial trade.

Blaine Higgs’s election to lead the “Progressive” Conservative Party was a surprise of the “all that for that?” sort. Blast from the past. The party doesn’t look like a 21st century party. It actually doesn’t feel like a provincial party.

No, Mr. Gallant, your problem is not that your government has not communicated well about your effort to change the Judicature Act. The problem is that you have not communicated. What is the problem that this is a solution to? Of all the issues in the province that need attention, why is this one getting attention?  If we were handing out stupidity awards, this would get it along with the provincial government’s seemingly natural revulsion for all its independent agencies like the Auditor General, Ombudsman, Official Languages Commissioner etc. You do know, I hope, that these agencies and their commissioners (and judges, by the way) are held in higher esteem by New Brunswickers than are politicians. Oh and give one of those awards to Liquor NB for wanting to sue the Right to Information Commissioner because she wanted information.

If you want to know what will happen in 2017, I will tell you.

Opposition leaders will not like one idea in any Speech from the throne anywhere, and that will still make headlines.

Around the world, people will do terrible things out of love for their god, not caring that that love is not reciprocated.

Women will break some glass ceilings, climb through and someone will raise the ladder behind them.

Many will worry and bemoan NB’s weak performance in various things but no one will worry about the historic hold and ongoing influence of large corporations and fortunes on our economy, politics, and public debates.

Our apathy will prove to be our enemy, once again.

The winners in 2017 will be the ones among us who can find a way to handle news from the United States without giving up on humanity, democracy, or worse, giving up our responsibilities as citizens to keep informed and think critically.

Santé.

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