Grading the government

On a relatively slow Sunday afternoon, I decided to whip up a report card on the government’s activities over the past seven years. Realize that beyond economic development, I have no subject matter expertise and would welcome your own scoring. In addition, I hear the politicians are paying folks to monitor the blogosphere for them during this election. So, highly partisan postings are fine and will undoubtedly be self-evident.

So here goes. The categories are basically random and somewhat arbitrary but at least you will get my position:

Economic development (D)
I would have given an F here but at least they didn’t do anything absolutely stupid like cutting off the call centre industry which has been the only bright light in their economic development activities. The D grade is for:
Inability or unwillingness to attract business investment to the province (except call centre expansions)
Always being in reactive mode (pulp mill bail outs, etc.)
Totally failed small business strategy (7% decline in small businesses since 2000).
Cutting economic development spending
Not being about to negotiate a joint fed/prov funding arrangement for economic development.
Last in Canada for R&D
Etc. etc. etc. – read the blog for more details

Workforce development/training (D)
They made a little attempt to attract people to New Brunswick a few years ago but this petered out after people were interested but couldn’t actually find work here. There has been no plan for immigration, no real plan for repatriation, no plan for workforce training (the NB Biz Council calls this the #1 election issue). Seriously folks, if this continues we will have a serious labour shortage.

Tourism (C-)
Now we are getting outside my comfort zone as I know very little about tourism but the revenue numbers are way down. Tourism development has been limited and marketing dollars are a fraction of what Nova Scotia spends. It doesn’t really seem to be a priority.

Health care (B)
Given that they brag that 76% of all new money since 1999 has gone into health care, this must be their biggest success. They also made some rationalization to the system in their health plan which was most likely needed and they did secure those pseudo/quasi medical school thingys that the public including myself still has no idea what the benefits will be. They have poured billions in but they only get a B grade because they seem to have no interest in either innovation or taking a lead role in reforming the health care system. Telecare, after hours clinics and another of innovative initiatives were pioneered in the 1990s (NB was the first province in Canada to use Telecare which was ridiculed by just about every stakeholder – now every province uses a similar triage system). What has been innovative or reformative in the past seven years? Nationally, other provinces have developed advanced Wellness programs, electronic health records, advanced drug tracking and pharmacy management systems, innovative uses of the Internet and health research. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have been very innovative in the drug tracking, NB – nada. Wellness? Two years ago Elvy Robichaud complained publicly that he had no money for wellness. They have known for seven years that New Brunswick has the worst health in Canada and did zippo. If I had a separate ranking for the promotion of health – they would get an F.

Education (C-)
The aforementioned medical school thing as well as relatively high levels of new funding are the good news. The inability to address the fact that New Brunswick is last or next to last across Canada for k-12 performance brings their grade way down here. They introduced a ‘Spanish e-Learning’ class and are looking at laptops for high school students but there’s no real innovation here either. In addition, at the post-secondary level, it would be nice to have an actual white paper or strategy from the government (the individual schools have been doing stuff). I guess this will be started next year – in Year 8 of their mandate. They say good things come to those that wait – so after 8 years I hope it’s a doozy.

Intergovernmental relations (B-)
Relations with the Paul Martin government were poisoned and deeply partisan/political. Hopefully, they will get better under Harper but there has been no funding for Accelerating Prosperity, no funding for Lepreau, almost no new real NB funding at all from the Feds. However, Lord’s relentless fighting for more Equalization should make him popular with Charest in Quebec and maybe one or two other provinces (though not with me I deeply resent our Premier being the champion of the welfare mentality at least publicly – he shouldn’t be so friggin’ vocal about it). But having said all that, they say Lord is liked in France. He did do some dealings with Manitoba (although we never get any reporting on the results of that stuff do we?) and he has been vocal about interprovincial trade barriers. So B- overall. However, a little word of unsolicited advice. After gas price regulation and demanding more of Alberta’s oil money, Lord would be well advised to skip Alberta if he decides to make a Federal move some day.

Arts, culture and sport (C)
Again, I have no expertise or even knowledge in this area but based on a few factors including a couple of discussions with people who do know, I give them a C. I am getting a little weary of not seeing any New Brunswickers winning music, film, writing or sports awards. It seems after the East Coast Music Awards each year, NB is dead last and some arts group complains but nothing gets done. I have been thinking a lot lately about the correlation between the so-called self-esteem problem that New Brunswick has (according to top government bureaucrats – though not the Premier and his Cabinet). It would be nice to see some winners in New Brunswick for a change. Consider the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra which is a model for youth orchestras across Canada. They have played Carnegie Hall, Europe and I understand they are going to China next year. Maybe it’s time for the government to place a tinny weeny bit of interest in creating a winning atmosphere in New Brunswick among our arts, culture and sports institutions.

Municipal relations (B-)
Not much to say here except the four or five mayors I have talked to are not too happy with the approach the Tories have taken to municipal relations.

Environment (C)
SJ harbour still needs to be cleaned up. The Petitcodiac River is still in limbo. We are among the slowest adopters of wind energy – it’s coming but ever so slowly. I don’t know much about this area but from what I can see – they get a C.

Energy (D+)
Orimulsion. The shameless political move of rebating the HST on electricity to cover up this incompetence. The sham of ‘restructuring’. The regulation of ‘gas prices’ which is nothing more they adjusting prices every two weeks rather than daily –with the same effect or worse. The aforementioned wind energy. The weird Point Lepreau process where NB Power’s board recommended against refurbishment, the Premier said it would add 6% to the cost of electricity for every NBer without Federal support which didn’t come and the resultant approval (of which I agreed but for economic dev. reasons).

Transportation infrastructure (C+)
Taking off the tolls from the Fred/Moncton highway has cost the province several hundred million dollars and we are not through yet. I contend that we could have been building the much needed four-lane highway to Northern NB which will be critical to that region’s long term economic success. In addition, as I have said before th
ere has been no interest in rail, almost none in airports and that poor old Digby ferry. Apparently in New Brunswick the government’s responsibility around transportation infrastructure begins and ends with roads – and that is decidedly shortsighted.

Fiscal management (C+)
This one is the most confusing for me to assess. On the one hand, they have run mostly balanced budgets (with a little slight of hand which was picked up by the Auditor General) but they have done so on with massive increases in Federal transfers and Equalization – leaving the province more vulnerable than ever before to any form of national recession or economic downturn. If you remember the recession of the early 1990s you will know. If that happens again – we are in deep do do. During the longest period of economic growth in Canada’s history (1994 to 2006) all New Brunswick has managed to do is see a drop in its population and a deepening dependence on Federal funding. So the legacy on fiscal management is not as good as we are led to believe.

Government Innovation (D)
Service New Brunswick was an idea of the previous government. I can’t find many examples (actually none) of government using technology since 1999 – except for some additional rolling out of Service NB.