Thursday, October 15, 2015



LeadNow is that group that has been polling ridings and telling us which non-Conservative candidate they believe has the best chance to win in each riding. My friends, which seem to lean left by nature, have been sharing their posts on social media. 

LeadNow wants to get rid of Stephen Harper. I want to get rid of Stephen Harper.  So why is their whole campaign giving me the creeps?

Just so we are clear (and so my friends don't feel like I'm doubting them), I don't discount the choice of voters to consider electability as ONE factor in their vote. In the end, your vote should reflect the likelihood of getting policies and government you want. If you have one key issue, and two candidates have equally acceptable positions on that issue, then it is only logical to think about which one can win. 

What bothers me about LeadNow is that their campaign denies that anything else matters. It takes all those concerns, passions, preoccupations and hopes that lead people to choose a party, and treats any concern besides the polls as an irrational obsession.  This masquerades as a value-free judgement, but it actually makes a big value judgement -- that all policies must be given equal acceptance as long as they aren't Harper's policies. 

It makes it even creepier when that value -- that polls trump all -- becomes a campaign. It is one thing when a voter, in their personal reflection, decides they can live with the candidate who may be ahead.  It's another thing when a national campaign spends time and money urging a value-free vote. It comes off as a well-funded effort to chase debate out of the public square. Once we decide we aren't blue, LeadNow seems to say, the conversation must end. 

There are five reasons to tune LeadNow out. 

First, elections are meant to be conversations. That is hard to remember when one party seems hellbent upon making us talk about niqabs and barbaric cultural practice hotlines (where I'm from, that's 911).  But the three non-Conservative parties have platforms that differ on some big issues, from civil rights to economic theory to environmental standards to human rights. Even if you may decide that you can live with more than one of those options, that should happen after a full debate on the merits of each. LeadNow is actively trying to short circuit those debates. If we stop having those debates in elections, we start to lose the chance to learn from each other. 

Second, those issues are legitimate reasons for people to choose a party over another. Even more vitally, the right to withhold your vote from the party highest in the polls has democratic meaning.  When I ran as a Liberal, knowing that people could choose to vote NDP was a reason to remember our progressive traditions. If you don't want a pipeline, there is power in telling Mulcair and Trudeau that you will withhold your vote even if they may lose to a Conservative.  Same goes for NDP voters who want Trudeau to know that voting for C-51 or opposing national child care plans will mean he loses their vote. Or Liberals who think Mulcair has made an economic error in rejecting deficits. 

(Me, I worry that Mr. Trudeau's insistence on borrowing to fund massive infrastructure spends while opposing national social programs will lead him to eventually cut social programs to pay for the infrastructure, which will likely be distributed in a very political manner. It's not like we haven't just seen that in New Brunswick, where Liberals build hockey rinks in ministers' ridings and fire teachers in my children's schools.) 

These are legitimate, principled stands. One may decide that they aren't as important as seeing Stephen Harper's ugly campaign beaten. But it is a legitimate balancing of factors, not some irrational fascination to be dismissed.

Third, local candidates matter. In the long term, good government requires smart MPs who can challenge their leaders in caucus and committees and not just recite talking points. (That is actually a good reason to turf the Conservatives in many ridings). Parties need to know that nominating good candidates and not just good soldiers matters. A candidate shouldn't get a free ride from scrutiny just because their party is ahead. 

Fourth, LeadNow ignores the fact that if we always just support the leading non-Conservative candidate, the political center will become more conservative. Let me give you an example -- let's say late in the USA election, there are three candidates for president. Three weeks out, Independent Donald Trump has 38%, Republican Jeb Bush has 34% and Democrat Bernie Sanders trails with 28%. 

Now, I do believe Trump would be a uniquely disastrous president, an authoritarian crackpot who has used ugly wedge issues to get ahead. I would prefer Jeb Bush, and so it would seem rational for me to vote for Jeb Bush to stop Trump.  Except, I don't want to live forever in a world run by Jeb Bush. I really prefer Sanders, and at some point I have to vote for him. Yet LeadNow would have me forever accept Jeb Bush's America.

The result of this is actually counterproductive.  If LeadNow tells us to always stop a Conservative by voting for the closest alternative, Conservatives can actually make us all move to the right. If Conservatives just choose more and more extreme right leaders, then we will start accepting more and more right-wing alternatives to stop them, and soon the whole spectrum moves right. (Case in way in which Rob Ford triumphed is that he made progressives enthusiastically vote for John Tory, whom progressives desperately fought to beat in 2006). 

The bottom line is that at some point, you have to vote for what you want. Which leads me to....

Fifth, citizenship demands more than just voting people out. New Brunswick is paying a high price for just throwing parties out and not looking at the alternative (eventually, parties can just nominate unqualified, scriptable leaders because anyone can beat the last unqualified, scriptable leader). Citizenship demands choosing the best ideas and the best candidates, not just falling in behind someone because they are ahead. (Vanilla Ice was the top-selling artist of 1991. That didn't make it right.)  

A good citizen may decide, after thoughtful scrutiny, that two candidates will be acceptable and one can win. That should be the result of personal reflection, not national campaigns designed to squeeze out debate and options and choice. LeadNow isn't asking you to lead. It is demanding a follower mentality that isn't healthy in the long term, however alluring their short-term goal. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Know How Trump Can Win? Trump Does.

What Donald Trump Winning Would Look Like

My friends who don't love politics will often ask me questions when something unusual breaks through the political noise and grabs their attention. 

And there may be a Canadian election underway, but the question I'm getting these days is all about The Donald. Well, the question I get most is "Can you pass me a beer?".  I have well-adjusted friends, thankfully. 

But when people notice politics, they are noticing that Donald Trump has led the last eleven national polls of Republicans by a margin ranging from 4 to 18 points, often showing more support than Jeb Bush and Scott Walker combined. The crazier he sounds to my craft beer-swilling Canadian leftie crowd, the better he does. 

The conventional wisdom is that this is a joke. Pundits all theorize that Trump has another agenda, that he's building his brand, that he wants something from the Republican Party. And when asked, I tell my friends that most columnists are saying that. 

Then I tell them that I don't buy it. He did that before, flirting with runs but backing out. I think that, in his late 60's, Donald Trump has decided that he would like to be President of the United States. And if it sounds audacious, remember that this is a man who repeatedly declares bankruptcy and gets smart people to lend him more money. Audacity has not been his enemy. 

I also believe that, while Trump suffers from Rich Man's Syndrome (developed when you've been powerful enough, long enough, that you spout off opinions developed in a world where no one tells you when you're wrong), he is neither dumb or crazy. Quite the opposite, actually.  I think Trump is smart and analyzes deals carefully, and I think he has developed a strategy. 

In no way do I predict a Trump victory. But he sees a path to one, and I too believe it exists in the outer reaches of the plausible. His campaign behaviour may be unorthodox, but it is calculated. The best way to understand just whatever the hell Trump is going to do is to understand what he needs to do in order to win the nomination, and the presidency. 

The surest sign that Trump is sane is that he pledged to appoint Sarah Palin to his cabinet. (Yes, I just typed that).  To be clear, I think most people who pledge to appoint Sarah Palin to anything more advanced than a cable access talk show in Macon, Georgia would be crazy. But Trump's embrace of the Wasilla Dangling Participle is actually sensible from one perspective --one that sees getting Trump elected as the prime objective. 

Allow me to explain. 

Who Is The Republican Party?

Ronald Reagan cemented the coalition that Richard Nixon began assembling in the civil rights era. The traditional Republican was wealthy and wanted low taxes, limited government and a hawkish foreign policy. When the embrace of civil rights broke many working-class, southern whites away from the Democrats, Republicans added a more robust social conservatism to their coalition.  Republican nominees for years had to tick three boxes -- socially conservative, fiscally conservative, and strong on defence. 

In time, organizing among social conservatives and nativist groups became more essential. Groups like the Christian Coalition could provide numbers where the capitalist class provided the money. These groups gained power and soon, their litmus tests became essential for national Republican candidates. (As evidence, one could recall that George H.W. Bush was pro-choice until he rethought his position in order to join Reagan's ticket. Twenty years later, George W. Bush organized anti-gay rights referenda in swing states to drive turnout of socially conservative voters).

Of course, for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Democrats, after getting trounced by the new GOP coalition for 12 years, tried a new formula. Bill Clinton moderated the Democrats' fiscal policies in 1992 and went after working-class voters on a more modest platform aimed at making the middle class more comfortable without promising big economic structural changes that might seem risky. It worked quite well (at least in a year when Democrats were "due"), as the Democrats won two (and really, three) straight presidential elections. As the GOP became more dominated by social issues in order to create a wedge, the coalitions shifted again. Many of the voters who had been "establishment" Republicans --voters whose economic interests were with small government but whose sense of community made them social moderates --became Democrats.  The working class whites who fled the Democrats in the South over social issues then drove out the upper-middle class Republicans in the Northeast.  Those Democrats essentially found that they could stomach Clinton's economics more than they could the republican's culture wars. 

The Obama era completed this transition.  Obama largely accepted Clinton's economic centrism, even touting his support for freer trade and the use of middle-class tax cuts as a legitimate policy goal. He stole the Republican's best trick from them, organizing coalitions of younger, urbane, educated voters and mobilizing diverse communities. If the Republicans had used traditional values to drive voters to the polls, Obama would embrace the diversity of the age and make the wedge work for him.

This worked well on two fronts. It got Obama elected, twice. His nomination win over the heavily-favoured Hilary Clinton was proof of this. Traditionally, Democrat insurgents (often brainy, quirky lefties such as Hart, Bradley, Kennedy and Dean) had fallen short when challenging the establishment candidate, in no small part because working-class minority voters tended to stick with the establishment candidate, the Gores, the Mondales, the Dukakii. Obama became the first insurgent candidate to flip both blacks and Hispanics into the insurgent column.    He got upper-income liberal whites and working-class blacks and Hispanics to agree based upon diversity, and they turned out in the election.

That was the first benefit. The second was that his success drove a huge chunk of the Republican base absolutely batshit insane. 

John McCain must, in his heart, wish he had just let Tim Pawlenty be his running mate. Because Sarah Palin gave voice to the nativist, less educated, Christian conservative base of the Republican Party, and they have been increasingly unwilling to give it back. And the crazier they get, the more the upper-income, educated, moderates flee to the Democratic Party, where they can now get reasonably low taxes without the crazy. 

The result is a Republican Party that nominates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and drives out Charlie Christ and Lincoln Chafee. At the state level, they've handed Senate seats away by nominating Christine "Not A Witch" O'Donnell, Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, Richard Mourdock and a cast of characters brought to you by the insurgent wing of the Republican Party. Their voters rarely care about appeals to choose an electable candidate. They'd rather win 40% of the time with purity than 80% of the time with moderates. 

Trump has noticed three things, I expect. First, the craziest candidate (from a socially liberal perspective like mine) wins a nomination now more often than not at the state level. Two, there are signs that the deference to the moderate, electable candidate at the presidential level may fall next. 

And third, not every crazy who wins the nomination loses the general. You sometimes win if you get the nomination. You never win if you don't. And so, a smart man would say, the first thing to do is win the nomination.

The National GOP Nomination May Fall To An Insurgent

The pundit knows his history. When the presidency is on the line, Republicans flirt with an insurgent who gives voice to the angry, nativist side of conservatism, but then cooler heads prevail, moderate voters rally around one front runner and the moderate wins. Dole wears down Buchanan.  McCain takes out Huckabee. Romney wins. 

The investor knows that history holds, until it doesn't. And you want to be the first one in line when it doesn't. 

And Trump likely noticed something.  If you read back a few lines, you'll notice I didn't pair Romney with an ideological insurgent. Because there wasn't just one. Romney at various points trailed a variety of strange and surprising front runners, including Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and (God help us) Herman Cain. In fact, one month the front runner was Trump himself, when he showed up yelling about birth certificates and then went away. 

Really, the Republican base tried everything to avoid nominating Mitt Romney. In the past, the safe establishment choice won because that's what most of the party wanted. But what if, last time, the majority of today's Republican Party actually wanted the bombthrowers. What if the numbers were there to elect the angry, white rage-fired, stick-it-to-book-learnin' alternative but just got stuck with such clear duds that they couldn't pull the trigger? (Remember, they tried to make Rick Santorum, a punchline who lost his own Senate seat by 18 points, into their standard-bearer -- and it probably went downhill from him).  Perry couldn't remember his own talking points. Gingrich had more baggage than Samsonite. Cain actually couldn't talk. And they were all broke, compared to the Romney campaign. 

Maybe the votes were there for someone who wasn't broke, wasn't indicted and wasn't completely tongue-tied. And Donald Trump is NOT those things. He's the opposite of those three things.  Not tongue-tied, thanks to natural talent. Not broke thanks to birthright. And not indicted by the grace of God. 

I think Trump sees a stock about to rise. He sees a Republican Party that wants, deep in its soul, to reject an establishment candidate. And if he can be the alternative to the guy the establishment wants, he might just get to 51%. 

So, if he's smart, he asks --how do I assemble a coalition just a bit bigger than the Anyone-But-Romney coalition. 

How Trump Wins --and Why Palin Matters

Step by step, here is what Trump would have to do to win the nomination.  Essentially, he has to win the hidden primary --the contest to emerge as the leading anti-establishment option.  The contest can be seen as a race among two groups, each wanting to be the last option standing for either the establishment or the insurgents. 

The establishment primary involves Bush and Walker, with Christie, Kasich, Fiorina, Pataki and Graham trying to get an opening. 

The clear insurgents are Trump along with Cruz, Rand Paul, Carson, Jindal, Santorum and Huckabee.

Two contestants stand out for their potential to appeal to both camps. Rubio was a Tea Party insurgent when he won the primary for his Florida Senate seat, but has shown some ability to appeal to moderates in his rhetoric and in substance on immigration.  Rick Perry, if he can regain the form that briefly made him formidable in 2012, can play both sides. 

First, Trump has to use his talent at attracting media to take the oxygen away from other potential insurgents. Candidates like Cruz, Carson and Paul have counted on the ability to exploit hot button issues to get attention in a crowded field. Trump's bluster and willingness to speak bluntly (some say crudely) on immigration has, for now, taken this from them.  They cannot get free media, and there is no room to be any more outrageous on immigration than Trump has been. Cruz and Paul especially have avoided taking shots at Trump, hoping to be able to appeal to his voters if he eventually blows himself up with intemperate comments, or survives long enough to be mangled by the formidable Bush team's attack ads. But if Trump can avoid a collapse, he may leave the other insurgents with low numbers and limited ability to raise funds, meaning they will start to drop out after Iowa or South Carolina's primaries. 

Second, if Trump can starve the other insurgent campaigns, he can begin to assemble the anti-establishment vote.  This is easiest if Bush is the establishment candidate, as fairly or not, his name is synonymous with the ruling class of the GOP.  If Walker (or with some breaks, Christie or Perry) emerge as the establishment choice, they may be able to satisfy some voters that they are new enough to offer a safer rebellion than Trump. (The first part of the strategy helps achieve the second, by the way. Trump's monopoly on media is also helping Bush avoid the emergence of a challenger for the establishment nod). 

To beat Bush, Trump needs to assemble every possible insurgent vote. Social conservatives and evangelicals will be key to this. Trump can likely get the Cruz/Paul voters with bluster and style. There is potential for him to reach evangelicals (some polls show he is leading among these voters now). Polling research shows that evangelical voters like strong, blunt, authoritarian leaders -- something Trump can deliver in spades. For voters first drawn to Huckabee, Carson or Santorum, Trump may offer a style that is appealing. And many social conservatives feel neglected by the establishment, sensing that their issues get lip service in primaries but little attention in government. 

Even Trump's support for some government role in helping people get health care is strategic.  Pundits instantly jumped on this as a sign that Trump was shooting from the hip, and that he would pay for this break from conservative orthodoxy. I suspect he knows his potential market. Socially conservative Republicans tend to have lower income and education levels than establishment supporters. Their economic interests don't always align with the Romney wing of the party, but they tend to put up with that because of social wedge issues that make Obama Democrats suspect. This group is socially conservative, racially homogenous, structurally populist -- and open to government handouts if they are proposed by angry, white social conservatives. 

If Trump were planning this all out, and thinking down the road, he would know that his style will get him a hearing among this sector of voters, but there is a risk of him losing them on substance. Bush and Walker surely already have war rooms with thick folders on Trump's lavish lifestyle, his three marriages, his past support for abortion rights.  Bush is acceptable, if not exciting, to social conservatives, and he will surely see this as an opportunity to get enough insurgent voters away from Trump to deny him a winning coalition. 

So Trump needs to keep his support among white, lower-income social conservatives.  And he knows he will be attacked on those grounds. He will need some endorsements from opinion leaders with credibility among those voters. 

As chance would have it, there is one cohort of voters that still adores Sarah Palin. And they are exactly the group Trump will need in later contests to have any chance of winning. 

Plenty of peril

Of course, much can go wrong for Trump.  The debates are a risk. I tend to think that eventually someone needing a boost is going to go at him, and there are some candidates built to bring out the worst in Trump. (Chris Christie strikes me as having the right mix of prosecutorial skill, fearlessness, and improvisation abilities, and his centrist pitch will only benefit from being seen as having skewered Trump in a Jersey to Jersey shoutout). The media may move on, or issues where Trump will be weak could come to the forefront (a foreign policy crisis would be bad for him). I still believe that, as the field windows to two or three candidates, he will have a hard time getting a majority. 

And of course, many of the things he is doing to win the nomination may hurt him in the general election.  He may need to hope a scandal leads to the defenestration of Hillary Clinton.  But he surely knows that winning the general first requires winning the nomination, and then you have one of two tickets in the ultimate political lottery (even if it is the one with lesser odds)

But we should move beyond the early analysis that said Trump knew he couldn't win and was running to cut a deal, build a brand, or feed his ego. Trump's moves have, in fact, been exactly the moves of a man who knows where his potential market is. He has grabbed an issue (immigration) others can't or won't address as bluntly, and attacks Obama in coded racial terms. He has picked fights with establishment figures like John McCain and used inflammatory words to make sure disgruntled voters notice. He has built an authoritarian brand in a party that loves them. And he has begun reaching out to the key market sectors which can build a winning coalition. 

The odds are still against Trump winning. But his moves suggest that he is playing to win, and with more discipline and calculation than it first appears. Trump is ignorant on many issues, but he is not stupid. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014


So, the Liberals' plan to borrow $900million plus interest, for unnamed "infrastructure" projects, isn't going over well among concerned citizens and, really, anyone.  Two days after the growing chorus of worry about the fitness for office of the Liberal team, one worthy foot soldier, the bright and loyal John Case, has stepped up to try to defend the Gallant borrowing plan.

Let's take these two points that the Liberals now say were tragically "left out" of my original blog post.


Even though the Liberal release notes that not a single actual infrastructure project will be specified now, they now tell us "Bridges! We meant bridges! Won't somebody think of the bridges?!".  And they urge us to read the 2013 Auditor General's Report, where her warnings state that 293 bridges are in poor condition.

That is, of course, an important issue of public policy. Is that the $900million problem?

You see a bridge. Liberals see a $900million problem.

You know me....I'd like to do the math.

If you read the same report, the Auditor-general tells you the size of our overall bridge fleet.  We have 2,608 bridges worth a total of $895million.  She also notes at area graph 3.4 that the 293 bridges the Liberals now cite are "not unsafe, but will require maintenance in the near future". 

So, fair enough, we have bridge maintenance to do. But is that $900million of borrowing accounted for?  Well, no.  

If you have 293 bridges that need work, and you have 2,608 bridges, or 11.2% of your bridges. If the TOTAL VALUE of your bridges is $895million, the total value of those bridges is just over $100millilon.  

(And that would be assuming the bridges are all near the average of value of the fleet, which is likely generous to the Liberals.  After all, the biggest, most expensive bridges get the most regular maintenance, and there have been major projects on bridges such as the Harbour or Princess Margaret bridges. The bridges in question would be smaller and cheaper and used less often.)

So if we spent 25% of the value of those bridges on maintenance, that's a $25million problem even under the most generous assumptions.  And it is worth remembering that that the existing annual capital budget is $555million.  Even if the Liberals just use existing budget plans, they would have $3billion of repair budget in which to find room for $25million worth of bridge repair if that's a priority.

So, why would they need to borrow ANOTHER $900million? Well, maybe the Auditor-General tells us when she suggests at the end of the section in bridges that someone should borrow $900million and fix this problem.  Except that she doesn't suggest anything like this.  She suggests a non-political monitoring and reporting problem.  Because if anyone had read the prologue to her report, with the warnings about critical debt and falling credit ratings, they'd know that's crazy.


Well, of course it does.  If you borrow money and spend it, the GDP goes up.  And their consultant's report tells them that if they spend $150 million more per year, you get $113 more in GDP. Of course, the report doesn't say that's a good idea, because the Liberals didn't ask him that question.

But we can do the math.

Generally, stimulus spending is designed to attract more private money into the economy to get things working. This is common sense.  If the only people spending money are the government, and they're borrowing that, an economy will crater.  So a good stimulus program will spur enough private investment that the GDP goes up even more than what government spends.

You already see the problem, right?  If you're spending $150million and the GDP only goes up by $113million, you're actually getting less than you paid for. 

To compare normal interaction between government spending and GDP, look at the status quo. New Brunswick's GDP is now about $32billion, or about four times higher than what government spends each year on programs and capital.  And our economy, as Liberals correctly note, is one of the more fragile ones.

So if we have a GDP at 400% of government spending now, and that's not good, what serious party would borrow millions to get a 75% return on GDP?  Only a party that sees the patronage and short-term political benefits of roadwork as more urgent than health or education spending.

As for the claim that "New Brunswickers will have $80million more to spend"?  Let's all use our brains on this, folks. Here's a benchmark. If you borrowed $150million and threw it off one of those $900million Liberal bridges to be caught by passersby, then New Brunswickers would have $150million more to spend. Except they wouldn't, because it eventually has to be paid back.  If it spurs private investment, then maybe that helps --but again, their own numbers show that doesn't happen.

Put another way, you could increase labour market income by $150million if you said "we are going to borrow $150million and hire 3000 teachers. As great as that would be, no one would seriously think you could justify that borrowing. So why borrow it for road work that you can't even specify now?

In the end, if the only money in your economy is borrowed government money, you'll eventually go broke. The scary part isn't just how weak these two arguments are, or that they still rent doing the math now --it's that the Liberals clearly released this plan without having done the math at all. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


OK, I feel partly responsible.  I've been saying for over a year that Brian Gallant won't tell us what he will do if he wins.  So now that he has brought forward an idea, I have to admit that I pushed him.

But, oh, the humanity.

Here's the announcement. I know, I'm not supposed to link to another party's announcement. But by the time we are done here, you won't believe me if you don't see it yourself. So here it is. Brace yourself.

As you can see, the basic numbers are these: the Liberals will create a $900MILLION infrastructure fund and will, over six years, spend that $900MILLION to create jobs. How many jobs, you may ask?

1,700 jobs.

Here's the math.  It basically speaks for itself. 

If you spend $900,000,000 to create 1,700 jobs, that means you are spending $ 529,411.76 per job. Or, if you like, $ 88,235.29 per year, per job.

So yes, if you give Brian Gallant a little more than half a million bucks, he can create a job. You could also put that money in a bucket, blindfold my 4 year old nephew and have him stumble through town, and he might well be able to employ at least two people, but let's move on.  Math is inconvenient.

You can't make this stuff up.

You may be saying,  "Well, fine, Kelly, but that will put a huge dent in that unemployment rate, won't it?"  If you're saying that, it's a good question and I'm happy to answer it.

No. It won't. 

The workforce, according to Statscan, is 349,000 people.  So adding 1,700 people to that workforce will move the employment rate by 0.49%.  This means that, using Mr. Gallant's approach as a means of employing all able bodied New Brunswickers would take $18BILLION in expenses, or a little more than the entire provincial budget for two years. 

Now, the Liberals do mention that if government spends $88,000 to give you a job, you pay more taxes back, which is true. And they helpfully point out that $13Million more will come back In revenue to the provincial government. 

What they did not think of (and really, should have) is that even at very generous borrowing rates, the interest on $900 million would also have to come out of the yearly budget, to be taken from health and education. If interest were 3% a year, that's actually $27million per year, for a net loss of $14million every year that has to be cut or borrowed. 
                              NO, he didn't borrow that much, Brian.

Further, the Liberals' own commissioned economic analysis suggest that this will only increase the GDP by 0.3%, a highly inefficient return on stimulus packages (by contrast, the Obama stimulus package was held by economists to have had a GDP impact of between 2.5% and 4.5% with its emphasis on getting money in the hands of working families and more defined infrastructure. And even with that much better return on investment, no one ever suggested that the borrowing could be responsibly sustained for six years).  In fact, the Liberals' own analysis states that their expenditure will increase GDP by less than the actual expenditure. 

Not sure we were supposed to actually read that.  Perhaps they figured that we would nod reverentially and move on.

It's also important to note that when government borrows money, they increase demand for capital and drive up interest rates. So if you run a small business (the sector that actually creates jobs that last), then that's a lot of the oxygen the Liberals are taking up.  This could actually hurt access to capital for local businesses.

So, what does this mean for you personally? Well, right now there are 349,000 workers in the provincial economy. That means that, before interest charges, the Gallant Liberals will borrow $2,578.80 that each one of the has to pay back personally, with interest. They will then pool this money and give it to 1,700 lucky people who work on infrastructure projects. 

Um, how are people hired by Liberals to work on construction projects?  . 

Now, you might think that with all that infrastructure money, at least there will be a project that you'll like there, right?

Actually, um, no. They won't release the list until after the election. These are needs so pressing that they can't name any right now. 

So, to sum up.  We will borrow an amount equal to nearly the entire Department of Education, but none of it will go to education.  We will add $2,500 per worker to the debt, add $14Million in cuts to health and education, add $900Million to the debt to move the employment rate less than half a percentage point and build some things no one can name right now.

I challenged Brian Gallant to stop being silent. Shakespeare said something about silence and fools. The question is, will we be fooled?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Having been through Albuquerque and Seattle now, I can say that the Americans have embraced microcredit in a more full way than we have. And the impact has been huge upon some personal stories. 

It has been said that if you owe the bank a thousand dollars, you have a problem. And if you owe the bank fifty million dollars, then the bank has a problem. It is true that for many working families, access to credit became a significant problem after the economic slowdown. For many people, that means that the small business that gave them an alternative to a dead-end job or a vulnerable industry was out of reach. 

In town after town, we've seen community groups who have stepped up to fill this void. They don't just rally the community to loan money -- microcredit agencies are building grassroots organizations that can offer mentorship and social capital to potential entrepreneurs. Often the loan is accompanied by initial workshops, reviews of business plans and a relationship that can last several months. Frequently the loan is delivered in instruments designed to accelerate one's credit score so that the business can grow. 

The results are impressive. In bad economic climates, there is still a 50% success rate for many lenders! and over half of the successful businesses have employees two years out. The community-based nature of the sector allows for organizations tailored to unique needs of some underrepresented groups -- we met organization leaders with expertise in serving immigrant families in Seattle, working out of what was once known as "the Coloured Y" in Charleston building businesses for African-American women, and a group in Albuquerque with a real success story among Hispanics. 

What they have in common is a determination to help clients succeed in a way that goes beyond traditional lending instruments. Cynics could reasonably note that the growth of microcredit and small entrepreneurial venture is a growth market because more secure traditional employment in industrial sectors is declining. They would be right, but it is still inspiring to see community leaders step up when the macroeconomic problem doesn't have easy solutions.

There would have to be an attitude shift in government to make it work here -- trusting local NGOs, accepting some risk, and a move away from bailing out failing businesses. One policy shift would seem eminently sensible. Most US states now allow unemployment or social assistance benefits to continue if the recipient is starting a businesses through an approved microlender. Even this change might move us even further in the right direction of making social assistance a hand up, instead of a trap with few ways out. 

In Fredericton South, Let's Get Creative Together

I'm running for the NDP nomination in the riding of Fredericton South.  And I'd like to answer the questions I've been asked the most often as I've met with people one on one to let them know I'm thinking of running, and to ask for their support.

Why would you come back? Why now? And why the NDP?

I don't have a glib, sound bite-like answer to those questions. But I have some answers, and I'm going to share them with you.

Why the NDP? That's the most common question, and the easiest. It starts with this -- I believe that Dominic Cardy is the leader most qualified to be Premier of New Brunswick.

It has become trendy since Frank McKenna left for parties to choose leaders who don't have a firm grasp of policy or a clear sense of issues. The common reassurances are that policy "doesn't matter to voters", that the new leader "can learn all that", or "they can hire people to do that". None of those things are true, and you may have noticed that we've been throwing premiers out pretty quickly since Frank was here. Leaders like David Alward aren't breaking promises and changing positions because they're bad people. They break promises because they had no idea what the jobs entailed before they won.

I've been around enough to know that at some points the doors close and the judgement of the guy at the top matters. And I can imagine Dominic behind the desk. He cares enough to talk to people like grownups, speak in specifics, and isn't scripted the way other Opposition leaders have been.  That's part of the reason he's been attracting strong people like Brian Duplessis to run, community leaders who have a track record of success, experience and principle.

No leader has all the answers, but Dominic is raising the right questions. He's challenging our old political culture with real reforms that are getting turned into law, rightly noting that provinces with good government attract more investment. He's asking why we spend more time bailing out failing companies than nurturing entrepreneurs. He's talking about municipal reform not from the perspective of merging rural communities, but giving cities like Fredericton the tools they need to develop affordable housing, attract business, and build infrastructure.

He's shown he can take clear stands, like his ability to say clearly from day one that changing pension plans for retirees without negotiation is wrong, and he considers a deal to be a deal.  More cynical opposition leaders were going three months dodging the question by calling for a legal opinion which they never got, taking polls to see if they should claw back more retirement benefits, and then failing to learn the Legislature rules in order to oppose the government's bill.  The reason Dominic was ready sooner, I suspect, is he was willing to start with doing what he thought was right instead of what would be good politics. And maybe, if we reward Dominic for talking about issues and specifics, politicians will start to see that good policy makes good politics. 

So that's why I've decided that the NDP is the home for me, and why I believe this leader deserves full support from me. 

Which leaves the question of why go through the trials of running, and why now?  It's no secret that I've enjoyed my practice and found other fun ways to contribute to my community, like starting up our community theatre company, coaching basketball, and doing work with some great community groups and boards. Why not enjoy the perks of having had the job without the long hours and (sometimes deserved) criticism. 

There are some things I'd like to work on. I love Fredericton, I chose this town as the place to raise a family.  I believe in it, and we can make it even better together.

Fredericton has unique economic needs, with more emerging industries, startups, and research-based companies than elsewhere. Yet these sometimes get ignored provincially -- we are behind other jurisdictions in terms of support for early investors, commercializations of R&D and support for founders. I'd like to set up a team of Fredericton Founders, entrepreneurs who can help get the best legislation and ideas for startups and small business to me so I can work across party lines to make it policy. 

I'd like to continue the work we started, a whole bunch of us, on fighting poverty. I'm proud of the reforms to social assistance, minimum wage and First Nations education that happened in my time in cabinet. We could do so much more. We have a mayor who's desperate to work on homelessness but no real provincial partners. We have councillours ready with solutions on public transit to connect jobs to affordable housing, but no champions to move it forward. So many jurisdictions are creating community-based microcredit to help families escape poverty, and we have a team at Social innovation who can create and innovate. I'd like to give families in poverty a voice in the Legislature.

We could actually do post-secondary education right as well.  The last set of reforms put the focus on administrative issues like shared services. That was fine, but we need to talk about issues like faculty recruitment, affordable tuition and manageable student debt, and supporting research.  We should be pushing Ottawa for the ability to have our own immigration policy to keep skilled graduates here so they can create and attract jobs. For Fredericton, this isn't just a social issue, it's an economic one, and the campus needs a representative who knows the campus. 

So, yes, there are issues. But there's something bigger creating, as others have said, a fierce urgency to now. 

I don't want my generation to be the first one to fail to leave our kids more opportunity than we had ourselves. But I fear we are on the way there, and when I watch the Legislature today I see a politics smaller than our challenges.  The opposition reads a grim headline and blames government without offering solutions. Government reads a list of the other party's failings. They prosecute the opposing colour but never discuss ideas. I don't want an election where one party offers the status quo plus fracking and the other offers the status quo. I hope we can have a debate about how we do better together.

No one MLA changes the culture alone. (I'm pretty sure that when I was there the Legislature didn't turn into Masterpiece Theatre). But I've always believed an MLA's job doesn't just mean attending church suppers and reading party talking points. It means trying to raise the level of debate, using the seat to give forgotten people a voice, and earning your salary by trying to propose ideas. And when I see MLAs proudly saying they don't even read the bills they vote on, it doesn't seem we're getting the government we deserve. 

Right now, the two old parties are full of guys who want to be Gordon Ramsey but don't want to learn to cook --they seek the rush of the fight without the discomfort of developing good policies. They seem so sure that all they have to do is tear the other guy down and they'll win, so they don't have to be any good. Maybe, just maybe, showing that we are willing to embrace a third party will also make the Liberal and Conservative parties the forces for ideas they once were! too.

I'm under no illusions that my own record was perfect. On some things, the numbers show I had some good ideas. I made mistakes, too, sometimes getting so caught up in developing ideas that I didn't collaborate with others enough. I have, as they say, baggage good and bad. Yet those bruises all represent chances to learn, improve and get better every day.  I grew up here, and people here know me best. I wasn't perfect at 33, and I won't be at 43, but i learn a little from every experience and every person.  

I hope people know that I've never made the arrogant mistake of playing it safe, putting my political survival ahead of getting the job done. I intend to run a campaign based upon discussing ideas, debating differences but not attacking personalities, and maybe I can earn your trust door by door by door. 

I've never stopped believing that Fredericton can be the best place to live. Sometimes, when money runs out and easy solutions are unavailable, we unleash our greatest capacity to create. In the riding that contains our downtown and campus, I'm running offering a chance to show, together, that we are one creative, diverse community with one hell of a future.


Saturday, December 14, 2013


One of the most indelible images of my time in Senegal was found on Ile GorĂ©e, the UNESCO heritage site which captures the origins of the slave trade. 

In the midst of the beautiful, Oceanside island lies a rectangular cinder block building whose nondescript appearance as architectural proof of the banality of evil. For it was in this building where slave traders and their damnable local enablers held the men and women who had been kidnapped to be sold into slavery. As you walk past the shackles on the wall you will walk down a narrow corridor which opens right into the ocean. It was at this door where slave ships docked and their human cargo was loaded. The terrifying part of that passage, even to those visiting today in complete safety, would be the last thing the captives would have seen --the ocean carrying on infinitely, yielding no destination, no landmark, no certainty but a voyage into the unimaginable. 

To the credit of the people of Charleston, South Carolina, the end of that voyage can also be seen today. There are good people who preserve the darkest parts of history so that we can be reminded today of how fragile democracy and human rights can be, and so perpetrators must live with the mark of history's judgement upon them.  

Yet the most powerful part of this chapter was not the cobblestone streets or preserved slave markets which reflect the sad stories. It was the hopeful story that is told inside a plain office in a former bank on Charleston's King Street. It is a story that is still unfolding today. It is the story of the Gullah Geechee Nation, shared with us by one of its most determined authors.  

The Gullah Geechee Nation runs up and down the coast of four southern states, from South Carolina to the northern part of Florida. It links the communities where the diaspora of African-Americans taken from West Africa took root after emancipation, recognizing the unique culture and traditions that grew among these families.

Over time, this story went from a quiet existence, felt but unrecognized, to full recognition in an Act of Congress which recognized the Gullah Geechee nation and established a corporation with a board dedicated to curating the history and culture of its people.

Now, there are some economic benefits to this idea of creating a symbolic territory of shared history. The businesses up and down the corridor benefit from the context, as businesses offering traditional Gullah food and crafts can find tines who want to consciously immerse themselves in the culture. The linked signage allows for promotion of a unique drive and small communities which benefit from providing a reason for the cars to stop. (Let me tell you now that Miss Charlotte's Gullah Rice and Fried Chicken is worth a trip).

There are bureaucratic advantages as well.  The creation of a standing corporation provides a space where academics, businesses, artists and citizens can meet to share, tell and promote stories. Creating the space within the administrative world matters as well. When state highway departments began adding lanes they were able to work with the GGN to avoid ending the many traditional sweet grass basket sellers along the highway. And the GGN provides a portal for state governments to co-ordinate approaches. 

Beyond policy ramifications though, there was a simple eloquence to the determined people who had begun tracing their stories and wound up inspiring an Act of Congress. Testimony from Gullah descendants who began to understand their history beyond the tale of slavery but as the story of a culture able to survive, the words of people who understood their grandparents speech pattern as historical rather than deficient, these matter as well.

It would not be hard for a New Brunswick government to adopt enabling legislation to give groups a path to non-profit corporations who could promote areas of cultural and historical importance. Given our academic and cultural sectors, there is potential here (this could have been a direction for the Capital Commission has government cuts not ended the experiment). It would not be much harder to place the issue on the agenda of Atlantic premiers' meetings to co-ordinate approaches. Is there potential here for New Brunswick?  I'd love to hear others' thoughts.