Premier Graham’s no Robichaud

What does Shawn Graham have in common with Louis J. Robichaud? No, this isn’t the start of a joke.

Both were members of the Liberal Party and have been the Premier of New Brunswick. And Shawn has the desk that Louis used in his office back in the 60’s.

Beyond that, any similarities are difficult to find at this moment. Louis Robichaud succeeded in making revolutionary changes in the administration of New Brunswick. Today, most people see his legacy as positive and progressive. He was involved in the building of schools and universities and the principles of equality of opportunity for all. The creation of a province with two official languages recognized the reality of New Brunswick but was difficult politically and yet very necessary at the same time.

Louis J. Robichaud was a courageous and visionary politician.

Certainly, our latest premier has the best of intentions. He wants to follow in the footsteps of Robichaud and Hatfield in transforming our province. What we may not understand is his vision and how his actions will accomplish the task.

Since being elected, he has announced studies and commissions galore on large sectors of public administration. The public has been invited to respond with their ideas but it has become clear that the course has already been determined. The reports are pre-written and public consultation is only part of change management techniques.

It is also possible that the continual vague announcements of the self-sufficiency task force and the recent speech from the throne are part of a technique to pummel the masses with boredom and remove ammunition from the opposition. When the day of shock and awe arrives, the changes will be legislated quickly. The citizens of the province will be so tired of the empty promises that they will accept any harebrained scheme as an alternative to no government action.

Each year the federal government sends us a big cheque courtesy of the people of Ontario and Alberta, which amounts to 1.5 billion in 2007/08. Thank you very much! The idea of a province of only 750,000 people, operating on an annual deficit of $1.5 billion, spending its way to prosperity by building highways is fairly ridiculous. Adding 100,000 new people with high paying jobs is another dream. Other provinces with greater populations clearly show us that 100,000 is not nearly enough to succeed.

The self-sufficiency agenda presumes that the economy of the world is likely to remain the same till 2026. Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost all oil analysts foresee a peak of oil production by 2020 and most see a peak within five years. Production for the past 18 months has been at a plateau of 85 million barrels per day. In an industrial society like ours, the decline of oil production, at a rate of perhaps 3% per year, will cause a large increase in price eliminating any possibility of economic growth. In fact, we will see hardship in many areas due to our exposure to the cost of oil in transportation, heating, electricity and other products that are based on oil.

The crown jewel in the energy hub concept is a new refinery. However, the new refinery in Saint John may just be a mirage. If world oil production is nearing the peak, perhaps at 87 to 90 million barrels, financing for an unnecessary refinery may be hard to find. Refineries around the world will be shutting down in the next fifty years at the rate of 10 a year, due to lack of crude.

Is the Premier playing ” pin the tail on a donkey?” He knows that he wants a vigorous economy that will support New Brunswick without handouts and that is a good thing. Unfortunately, he had a blindfold on his eyes and can’t see the future of our world. Being very generous, his transformational philosophy might be perceived as adequate according to the economic theories of the last 50 years. However, the game has changed and for New Brunswick to survive and perhaps prosper, we have to change radically our focus and expenditures.

New Brunswick uses 34 million barrels of oil each year, which at $55 a barrel costs roughly $1.8 billion in 2006.  If the price of oil now averages $90, then we will be paying to sources outside of Canada over $3 billion. This is an extra $1.2 billion taken out of our pockets. What is the government’s plan to deal with this? What has Efficiency NB accomplished in the almost two years of its existence. How many barrels of oil has it saved? How many kWh’s are being saved by customers? Where is its annual report?

The Energy Department has moved to Saint John. They have started the Lepreau 2 review and accelerated the windpower program. Has the move to Saint John accomplished anything? Can we expect a revised energy policy? How are we going to reduce our exposure to oil price volatility. Shall we wait until oil is $200 a barrel? Many questions exist but are our eyes wide open?

No one doubted that Louis Robichaud had the interest of the people at heart. His battles with the industrial interests of the province are proof. How will Shawn Graham be remembered?

His handling of the Post Secondary Education review, the self-sufficiency task force, his orientation towards energy exports leave little doubt which group is guiding his agenda.

Captain Graham might think of that when his ship of state gets a little closer to the iceberg.

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