For the most part, I try to avoid politics as a topic of discussion on this blog – I figure that there are already a wide variety of political bloggers in New Brunswick and persons of just about any taste can fill their boots. Expect – and that’s a big exception – the intersection of politics and economic development. I still maintain that government has a role to play in supporting an environment that is conducive to economic development and as such blog on related topics on a frequent basis.
But today I am revisiting a familiar political theme for those of you that have read this blog off and on over the past three years.
What is a Tory?
My political roots are Progressive Conservative. My parents and grandparents on both sides of the family were Tory – in fact – some quite active in the party. My grandfather on my mother’s side was one of those guys who got a good government job when the Tories were in and got fired when they were out.
And today, my two brothers are staunch Tories – or let’s say conservatives – in their viewpoint and would never dream of voting any other way. My sister, I assume, is a Republican.
So, I am a natural adherent to ‘conservativism’ whatever that is these days. But since I came back from university in the states I could never figure out what it means to be a Progressive Conservative in New Brunswick. It is true that Frank McKenna was not exactly a stereotypical Liberal leader but for me that just raised the level of confusion.
And, quite frankly, the Lord/Volpe brand of Toryism just confused me even more. Yes, there was some minor emphasis on cutting taxes but beyond that anything to do with economic development was anything but ‘conservative’ – at least in my way of thinking. They ran up public expenditures as fast as any other province in Canada. They become significantly more reliant on Federal transfers such as Equalization. They showed almost no interest in industrial development.
And things are not changing. There’s an article today in the TJ that says this:
Opposition Leader Jeannot Volpé is warning the Liberal government may be designing a new system of power rates that will benefit the province’s largest industrial power users to the detriment of others.
Now, right away, you can see my confusion. First, former PC Premier Hatfield developed the energy sector in New Brunswick specifically to support industrial development with lower power rates. Now, current PCs are complaining about using power rates as an industrial development tool?
They are just sowing more confusion among the electorate and it is just plain sad. The role of the Opposition is to oppose – but not everything – not stuff they supported before.
Once again, Jeannot Volpe is playing on stereotypes and entrenched biases in the media and the public that are the single most important reason for New Brunswick’s economic problems. Our attitude. Those nasty multinational firms – we need to support our own, Volpe says. How dare you provide cheaper power to those big, bad large firms, he says (never mind that without those firms we would be screwed).
I really hope the Tories elect a leader that has a real vision for economic development in this province. A real strategy for reversing the 14 year trend of net out-migration. A real strategy for building new 21st century industries in New Brunswick (unlike the Lord/Volpe strategy of building more government jobs). We need an Opposition party that will bring forward good ideas to move the province forward – not just fearmonger about these age old prejudices.
I, for one, fully agree with subsidized power for large industrial users as long as it is tied to good paying jobs. Cripes, under Lord/Volpe the IT industry in New Brunswick showed virtually no growth at all while growing by hundreds of thousands of jobs in the rest of Canada. Now, Volpe wants to crap on the blue collar jobs that are left?
I have said here that maybe we should offer cheap power to attract large scale data centres (one of the fastest growing industries in North America). These are high paying jobs in the new economy. I have further said I don’t see the logic in exporting $1.9 billion worth of electricity to the US over the past 10 years when it could have been used to support jobs and economic development here in New Brunswick.
But apparently the Tory position is not to use energy as an economic development driver.
Finally, let’s not forget that the only ‘non-market’ reason why power rates are increasing at such a fast pace in New Brunswick is the Orimulsion project that under the stewardship of the Lord/Volpe government wasted well over a billion dollars in taxpayer money. The other reasons for power rate increases (increasing cost of fuel, need to reinvest in infrastructure, etc.) would have occured in any province or any utility. Now, I am not arguing that NB Power is well run – I have no idea. But if the public wants to know the only source of power rate increases that could have been avoided, they should knock on Volpe’s door.