A slice o’ NB conversation

I’m sitting here at a provincial chess tourny. The parents are packed in like sardines. I have heard anti-French Immersion, anti-French language accommodation, anti-NB Power sale, anti-Finn report (yes, mentioned by name) and anti education reform – and it’s only 10:30 am. We are here until 3 pm. Oh and the capper is that the two loudest voices are government employees.

I hope my Ipod batteries don’t give out. Maybe I should join the debate. Maybe this is where it must be enjoined.

Not today B. Cockburn on the ipod is all I can muster.



It’s a day later (Sunday) and I just want to add a quick postscript to my Blackberry post above.  It seems to me that (as I have said many times before) we need need to have a conversation with NBers about what kind of province they want to live in.  It seems to me that most folks are perfectly happy with the status quo in New Brunswick.  They view it as a kind of unalterable reality.  NB is what it is – for better or worse.  If you have oil your economy grows, if not you get New Brunswick.

If you could have a conversation – a very wide one- where you were able to convince folks that New Brunswick could be a place where the economy is growing, where all regions of the province are strong, where the population is growing and more folks are moving in than out.  Where incomes are growing above average, where new industries are taking hold, where entrepreneurs are growing exciting new companies and national and multinational firms.

If you could cast that vision and get people to at least believe it is possible (think Moncton circa 1985) then maybe these other broad public policy issues that are so contentious would at least be given some basic goodwill by the public.  Right now just about anything involving change is met with the pitchforks.  The water is poisoned and I think it will take – somehow – this broader conversation to bring back the goodwill.

7 thoughts on “A slice o’ NB conversation

  1. Oh and the capper is that the two loudest voices are government employees.

    Makes sense, since we there is no private sector. 😉

  2. Uh oh..how many mentioned the Finn report?:) First though, you can’t actually complain about the LACK of political discussion. That’s really something that a chess tournament is packed (you couldn’t PAY me to go to one), and that that kind of discussion is going on instead of what happened on last weeks “Lost”.

    One of the reasons I like direct democracy though is because there is an outlet for discussion. You have a policy, you get signatures, you have a referendum. Simple. My point is that EVERYBODY likes ‘griping’, its easy, its an outlet, and it tends to harbour agreement because really, the only way to counter that is by ‘argument’, and who really wants to argue on a saturday? People tend to hold grudges, and can even get violent, and usually its to no point.

    That in part explains whats gone on at CBC and other blogs, they essentially get ‘overrun’ by, shall we say, conservatives. What has happened in our society is people who DON”T agree are largely silent-and THAT is the problem. Again, the best example of that is the abortion debate-when a group shows up at the legislature they get LIBERAL MLA’s out there shouting support, even while the government continues to break federal law. Yet polls show that New Brunswickers are as ‘liberal’ on abortion views as they are in ontario. But the voice is so strident that it drowns out actual debate and people become ‘afraid’ to get involved, and even getting involved doesn’t offer much chance of success.

    Actually, the ONLY reason I’m not more active in direct democracy is that I know the most likely to jump on board ARE the libertarians, maybe even the corporations-particularly the ones that control the media. IF those that are silent, stay silent, well, whats the saying?

    Keep in mind also that the ‘anti french’ thing is in vogue because of two recent policy decisions. We know our anti french poster is FAR from alone, but again, how many show up to an ‘anglo society’ protest in Fredericton? Three old guys? People are dissatisfied with government, and unfortunately the ONLY outlet is the ‘griping’. And since its not ‘safe’ to gripe about Irving, there you go. And having grown up in Fredericton I know that people DO have a point. There is no doubt that certain families have a great deal of clout, that its ‘who you know’, and that french names and people often get priority. That does tend to get overblown though, but there is some validity.

    But again, the anti Finn report isn’t hard to figure. I guarantee you that if I lived in a rural riding I’d be rallying the troops. Until somebody shows a good concrete reason for having a local government, forget it. I read a book about local governance in Canada, this was a TEXTbook, and they stated matter of factly that local government was pretty much run by business organizations. I can’t stress that enough, that it was ‘matter of fact’ and in a textbook. So essentially a rural person would be voting for more taxes, more bureaucracy, and gets nothing out of it. ANY deal requires two sides. I’ve been listening to some Teaching Company lectures I downloaded on the middle ages talking about how clerics tried to get knights to stop running around and hitting people on the head. They set up a ‘code of conduct’, which consisted of “you can’t do this or that…”. Surprise surprise, it never caught on. It wasn’t until writers started writing chivalric narratives that knights suddenly found a REASON to be good-people would like them and compose verses about them. Quid pro quo is old latin for a reason, the art of the deal is VERY old, and if you don’t explain what a person will get out of something, its tough to make a deal. Unless you are Coca Cola, then you can tirelessly market and people will spend money for something that tastes disgusting, rots your teeth and your ulcers-and be happy about it:)

    Sorry thats so long, I figure with a short blog people bored on a sunday morning wouldn’t mind.

  3. You’re essentially right, David, but we have to figure out how to have these conversations about change in a way that engages people, and not enrages them. The government introduced the original MOU and the public didn’t even know negotiations were taking place. It said the proposed deal was open to debate, but we all knew it would go through with a majority of votes in the legislature. It didn’t feel like there was room for a real, measured conversation, one where people would be heard and have the opportunity to influence the conversation. They felt they needed to rant and rave and lean heavily on their local MLAs (Liberal and Conservative). The same thing happened down here in Saint John when the PSE report came out. The “pitchforks” came out because the government remained silent, and didn’t engage the public in debate. Everyone got freaked out and assumed (perhaps rightly) the Liberals supported the report’s recommendation to strip UNBSJ of its university status. Thousands angrily gathered outside Ed Doherty’s office one day and the government eventually backed away from the report. I say all this and I supported the original NB Power, though not the closure of UNBSJ. I’m just terribly disappointed that we can’t find a way to have civilized, meaningful discussions about these issues. But it’s not fair to say NBers aren’t open to change when they don’t feel part of the debate.

  4. I’ve been part of the “angry mob” marching on Fredericton. We chose that tactic because there really was no other way to advance our particular point of view. The media parroted the government’s talking points, Government MLAs ignored us, while Opposition MLAs had no power to really accomplish anything either. In fact, no vote needed to be held in the Legislature, as the Minister of Education has the ability to cut programs at his/her discretion. In this case, one man made a decision, his cabinet colleagues backed him up, and that was the end of that. Thoughtful essays on the error of government policy don’t make the front page, but a couple hundred angry protesters do.

    Our political system was drawn up in a time where it took a full day to travel from Saint John to Fredericton. The Parlimentary system gave people a way to participate in political affairs even though they lived far from the capital. Common folk rarely saw the inside of the legislature. Today, I can watch proceedings on TV or through the Internet. I can tweet or email my thoughts on any given item instantaneously to my MLA. However, my official involvement remains a quadrennial checking of a box.

    I attended the Fredericton Social Innovation forum a month or so ago, and I was amazed at the number of people who are motivated and willing to do something to improve the community. One session was on political involvement in the community. The group came up with the idea of holding regular town hall sessions where citizens could discuss issues and solutions. It would be led and moderated by local citizens, not by elected officials. I don’t know if this idea would help people feel more involved in the political process, but it could help foster discussion of important files.

    People want to be involved. After years of top-down management, I think New Brunswickers are suspicious of any “great new idea” that comes out of Fredericton. We’re all members of the political class now, but only a few can really participate. That’s a perfect recipe for public disengagement.

  5. The water is poisoned and I think it will take – somehow – this broader conversation to bring back the goodwill.

    I keep coming back to this point over and over again. But if there is no “real” conversation (or democracy) that engages NBers to issues before they are presented to them, then they will feel left out of the process.

    It quite evident that democracy is weak when NBers view loud organized protests as their only way to get their voices heard. To me, this is a sign. A sign that politicians are sidestepping the real issues and ignoring the constituents that those issues effect.

    Engagement and conversation is not a policy, cooked up in secret, and then presented to the public without debate or an unaccountable government task force handpicked to look into a particular problem, it is elected officials engaging those they represent in the process first. If that trust can be established than the sky is the limit when it comes to policy.

  6. There have been several threads where posters have asked for more engagement in the process. Rob presents one possibility via town hall meetings. I think that is fine except that 1) these should be a mandate of local elected officials; i.e. these should be a legal requirement, and 2) many NBers live in areas where there are no town halls (there are no municipalities), and I believe there should be a mechanism that provides munis in those areas. Then you could have town hall meetings, referenda, whatever.

    In addition to that, there are some legislative actions needed that 1) provide for transparency at all levels of govt (no more behind-closed door budget meetings) 2) mandates the unis to provide data analyses on public policy issues, and 3) deliver rules that toughen anti-competitive actions within media (to avoid a repeat of what happened to the independent newspaper in Woodstock).

  7. “It seems to me that most folks are perfectly happy with the status quo in New Brunswick.”

    I think we’re more ‘resigned’ than ‘perfectly happy’. Maybe that’s why the Liberals were blindsided by the outrage last fall. They thought it was a slam dunk and that people would just accept it as an ‘unalterable reality’.

    As for an the ‘real’ unalterable reality – this is a Province where the government of the day bends to the will of the private company that carries a big stick and can make them look good (or bad) in every newspaper in the Province. The politicians have set the stage for this and it’s been that way for decades. Is this the status quo or unalterable reality?

    This comment I saw recently on NB political choices – “Liberal -Tory. Same old story” pretty much sums it up.

    I must say the Graham government has inspired change though- http://leaderdemocraticrevolution.blogspot.com/

    I think the fall election will be interesting.

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