Don’t mess with farmers and seniors

Those of you who have read my blog for awhile will have heard this story before. I was reminded of this theme when chatting with someone recently about biofuels. He told me that New Brunswick was one of the worst places in North America to produce agricultural product-based biofuels. We don’t have the scale, scope or even proper climate. However, he said, we do have a strong and persistent agricultural lobby that wants the NB government to incentivize biofuels development.

I remember an old political strategist telling me his golden rule of politics. Never mess with the seniors or the farmers. Both groups are very strong and go to the deepest parts of society. Seniors are not only a large group but they have kids and grandkids so in a sense, if you piss off the Seniors, you end up pissing off just about everyone.

Way back in the 1990s, Frank McKenna floated the idea of making the snowbirds who spend the bulk of the winter in Florida get health insurance before they go. The reality was (and may still be) that a lot of seniors would go to Florida, get sick and then the costs would get charged back to New Brunswick Medicare. It seemed like a reasonable concept but I remember walking by the legislature when the Seniors – hundreds, probably several thousand, were protesting this with pickets and shouting down with McKenna. That proposal was dropped quick as a flash.

Then there was our old friend Bernie Lord. About three months after his election, I ran into an aquaintance who had gotten a job in the Premier’s Office as some form of advisor. Anyway, this guy knew my interest in economic development and he pulled me aside to talk about Lord’s plan. The first thing he told me was that Lord was going to deeply cut the subsidies to farmers. He asked me “did you know that farmers get a subsidy to transport cows to those islands in the middle of the Saint John River?” I said no but intoned that old saying of never mess with the farmers and the seniors, Lord, I was told, was a ‘different’ kind of politician. Fair enough.

First budget comes out. Lots of proposed cuts to agricultural subsidies. The farmers drive up to Freddy in their tractors, stage a large protest, Lord says he will ‘study the issue’ more and everything gets dropped.

Don’t mess with farmers and seniors.