Ouch. Tough times to be a PC.

It seems like a lifetime, but just over one year ago, the New Brunswick PCs were riding high in the polls (someone told me their internal polls gave them a 12 point lead on the Liberals) and hoping to cruise to an electoral victory.

The media was very supportive of Premier Lord and his government – yes, even the Telegraph-Journal was mostly kind (not compared to the gushing and swooning of the T&T but from an objective sense).

That was then. This is now. From an editorial in the TJ entitled “Where are N.B.’s Conservatives?”:

At the provincial level in New Brunswick however; it [the Conservative party] is faltering – not for lack of potential public support, but due to the paucity of its ideas and weak leadership. Rather than championing a bold, alternative vision for New Brunswick, the party’s interim leadership continues to lick its wounds in public, bitterly lamenting an electoral defeat that should not have been a surprise.

It’s the time-worn tactic of blaming the media. Where are New Brunswick’s Conservatives? Where is the party’s intellectual strength, its dignity and courage, its sense of urgency and purpose? Is this really all that’s left? If Conservatives are serious about wanting to be heard, they should take the initiative and speak.

Now, the truth is that the Telegraph-Journal has been quite harsh towards the Tories and mostly supportive of the Liberals since their election. But to have the media – and, I might add, the credible English language daily in this province – come down this harshly is, I would think, a major problem.

However, 12 months as we have seen is a lifetime in New Brunswick politics. If the Tories elect a strong leader that casts a bold vision for the province – and if the Liberals stumble – all will be forgiven so to speak – by the voter and the media. I, for one, hope the Tories elect a good leader. A good opposition with ideas of their own is a vital part of democracy – in my opinion.

As for Graham’s Liberals, it is fascinating to watch the tide of support going up. From the same editorial:

New Brunswick is entering a period of industrial growth, economic revival and demographic change.

I would slightly modify that to read:

New Brunswick has entered a period of unprecedented expectations but no real concrete action. The refinery expansion and LNG plant in Saint John so gushed over by the Tele-Irving Journal were announced under the previous government. The Lepreau refurbishment as well. Everything else, in almost a year of being in office, is just talk.

We had another mill (Fraser) close this week. The example of Moncton in the the 1990s should be ample proof that the success of one city in New Brunswick will not be enough to drive economic growth at a provincial level. Saint John is heading into a period of strong growth – no doubt – but much of the rest of New Brunswick is a question mark.

Can Fredericton continue to see the growth of the public sector – with the government’s desire to be self-sufficient? Much of Fredericton’s growth in public sector jobs has been fuelled by increases in Equalization and now we are expecting to decrease Equalization.

Can Moncton continue to grow? The two sectors that drove the growth of Moncton over the past 15 years were call centres and manufacturing. Call centres are peaking and manufacturing jobs are stagnant. What’s next?

What about Miramichi? There has been a build out of retail which has offset some of the mill losses but that is not sustainable. Swapping mill jobs for retail jobs is a deadend strategy.

What about the north? The opening of a mine is good news but the collapse of the Envirotech Park in Belledune is a sad outcome. Bennet Environmental aside, the general concept was good and the horsepower behind that park should have led to better things.

No, in my opinion based on 17 years of studying this stuff, I think the little retail and services bubble we are in right now will stabilize over the next 12-18 months. Saint John’s growth should continue for 7-10 years. Moncton has a few more years of economic gas in the tank but past 2010 – particularly if the federal Conservatives move to that “per capita” funding formula for Transfer Payments – I am not optimistic at all.

My overall prediction for New Brunswick for the next ten years – barring a significant change in direction – is continued population stagnation leading to outright decline by 2010. Rural New Brunswick will decline even further. The cities will still consolidate some rural activity but will start to peeter off by 2012 or so.

I wouldn’t bet on this because there are too many unknowns.