A rush to judgement

The National Post is running an editorial today that is less than enthusiastic about Shawn Graham’s first couple of weeks in office:

A slow start for New Brunswick

Last Tuesday, Liberal Shawn Graham was sworn in as New Brunswick’s 31st premier. He and his Cabinet got off to a running start, making at least six major policy announcements in the first 24 hours after their swearing in. Their new policies are a mixed bag, but they presage one thing: Mr. Graham’s government will be an energetic one, in sharp contrast with Bernard Lord’s indecisive Tory government that the province’s voters removed from office last month.

After he took his oath of office, Mr. Graham made all the right noises. He pledged to “put New Brunswick on the road to self-sufficiency,” through private-sector growth, where possible. He maintained that his would be “a government built on hope and hard work,” instead of economic intervention and handouts from Ottawa. And he promised to make the provincial motto — “Hope restored” — true again. But his first half-dozen initiatives look more like old-style populist demagoguery than a bold new direction. Only one — a drop in the provincial tax on gasoline — offers any hope of spurring private investment. By trimming the provincial excise levy on gas by 3.8¢ a litre (4.3¢ in total, if one counts the corresponding drop in HST that will be generated), the Graham government has given New Brunswick the second-lowest gas tax in the country, after Alberta. Since such declines lower the cost of operating small businesses, it is possible this change will have a marginally stimulating effect on the province’s economy.

Ending years of dithering by the Lord government, Mr. Graham also formally committed the provincial government to pay nearly $27-million toward the $80-million cleanup of Saint John harbour. This is good news for Saint John residents, whose waterfront is currently being befouled by 16 million litres of raw sewage daily, but it is hardly a bold new direction for a politician. Nor is Mr. Graham’s plan to give all New Brunswick freshmen a $2,000 annual break on their college or university tuition. And his promise to exclude a senior’s home value and financial assets from calculations of his or her ability to pay retirement home rents and board could be positively disastrous to the provincial treasury — not to mention unfair to younger taxpayers who will end up subsidizing seniors’ home fees just so residents do not have to liquidate their assets to pay for their own care. Mr. Graham also used lucrative severance packages to shuffle aside five deputy-ministers he considered too cozy with the former administration so he could replace them with his own choices. And he has begun talks on how to regulate auto insurance rates.

Everywhere else regulation has been attempted it has led to unwelcome consequences, either capping payouts to accident victims, reducing benefits paid by insurers to drivers involved in collisions or forcing taxpayers to subsidize insurance companies’ bottom lines. We hold out hope that the vigorous Mr. Graham — once he has fulfilled his handful of high-profile campaign pledges — will get more serious about putting New Brunswick on a solid, self-sustaining footing, which frees it from its chronic dependence on federal transfers from “have” provinces. But so far, he has made a less than heartening start.

I agree with the Post that Graham needs to ‘get serious about putting NB on a solid, self-sustaining footing’ but, cripes, give the guy more than two weeks.

You know my position on auto insurance.

As for turfing Deputy Ministers, I still remember the ‘little brown envelopes’ being passed in 1999 from DMs loyal to their old bosses. The first few months are critical for a new government. If old DMs, loyal to their old bosses, provide the opposition with intelligence on potential moves, it could stifle the government’s ability to develop new policy. I’m surprised more weren’t turfed.