On Big Issues, Graham’s Government has earned a ‘D’

Does it bother you trying to compare the real price of an airline ticket or vacation? Taxes or fees can more than double the first price you see.

One of the best I’ve seen recently was a car dealer who sent a card to my residence and thousands of others. It appeared that I had won $1000. I turfed the card as being a gimmick, but a friend took the bait and his “win” was a fishing rod which, bought in bulk from China, probably cost $5. The fine print showed 56,000 fishing rods and one $1000 prize. It seemed to be working for them based on the volume of people at the dealership. You can’t sell to a customer until they show interest or step through the door.

Governments do marketing (sometimes called spin) over a long period, which culminates on Election Day. They’re selling a brand, a dream for a better tomorrow because there is little they can do to change today. They have to convince you that they care for you, that they are good stewards of your money and that you are better off if you vote for them again.

Given the short memory of most people, politicians only give you a break in the last 12-18 months before an election. In the first two or three years of a mandate, you often get to feel the cattle prod. Usually, there is a time lag between a change in policy and when the public perceives an actual change. Has there been too much haste to achieve concrete results before the next campaign starts, probably in 2009. Has the thought process on policy been overlooked?

If Shawn and the Grahamites were a band trying to make a name for themselves, some of their tunes would be the “self-sufficiency reel”, the “UNBSJ breakdown” or a recent cut called “French Immersion –the late waltz”. Is this the best that we can get?

Changes to public policy should start from a clearly defined problem and evaluate a series of solutions, which are weighed from many different angles – in other words, a serious business case. What was the clearly defined problem that required the removal of UNBSJ and the solution of a polytechnic?

What is the definition of self-sufficiency for tomorrow’s world of global warming and energy scarcity? What are the concrete steps that will start the process and how will it work. We were invited to participate in a dream of self-sufficiency that we might all have contributed to and believed in. But it collapsed due to a lack of intellectual clarity at the start and poor execution.

The Early French Immersion review identified a real problem but picked an inferior solution. Was there no time for negotiation and finding a middle ground? To achieve a September 2008 implementation takes time to organize apparently.

There are some bright spots. The government has accelerated the creation of wind power facilities and this should reduce our dependence on oil fired generation to some degree. They are investigating a second Lepreau, which has some positives and of course negative aspects.

As much as I disagree on some of the approaches of this administration, what this government seems to lack is the ability to listen and it is failing to act on the incredible danger to us all from peak oil. Listening to Jack Keir recently, he appears to understand some of the dimensions of the problem. He has unfortunately failed to produce an energy policy and specific approaches that could ease our way into the post-carbon era.

The era of continual growth fuelled by oil is coming to an end. Should Shawn Graham be asking Stephen Harper for $137 million to twin 55 km of Route 1? Let’s evaluate two different ways this money could be invested.

1) Spend on twinning Route 1 – No additional revenue is evident once the road is built but some additional maintenance costs are required for snowplowing and expensive repaving at 10-15 year intervals. No payback from this project. In fact, it is a drain on resources.

2) Provide a $2,500 subsidy for any New Brunswicker’s who upgrades to a fuel-efficient car – Let’s say over 40 mile per gallon. The $137 million would fund 55,000 cars spread over a number of years. Each vehicle would burn 1300 liters less fuel a year than the previously owned gas-guzzler. At $1.50 a liter, which it may be quite soon, it would save $1,950 per car per year. At its maximum impact, the money back into the pockets of our citizens would be $107 million per year. This money is no longer going offshore to Saudi Arabia but staying in our pockets to spend locally. The payback could be as little as 1.5 years.

I won’t go into program details because there are many ways that this program could be designed. Is 40 miles per gallon an aggressive enough target? Would Buzz Hargrove of the Canadian AutoWorkers approve of this idea? Of course not. GM mostly sells gas guzzlers. What the example shows is there are ways to slow down the effect of high oil prices and produce less CO2.

The Liberal government has shown some courage in addressing certain issues and for that reason, I would give them a D on overall performance instead of an F.

Could the government be more creative and effective? Yes, very easily.


One comment

  1. richard · June 17, 2008

    “What was the clearly defined problem that required the removal of UNBSJ and the solution of a polytechnic?”

    I am not sure how and why the Grahamites thought this through, but, in my opinion, there is an obvious problem with the UNB system. Compared to most other provinces, NB lacks a university with a strong science research focus. Our universities pursue mainly an undergraduate enrolment model, an approach that is failing and sending the universities into debt. UNBSJ is a prime example of this; research-wise, it is terrible. I would either close it or take advantage of the energy developments and demand it become a major player in energy-related research.

    I assume the polytechnic idea is to provide applied training for those destined to work in energy trades; that’s fine but does not nearly far enough. Research investments can create inovative technologies that produce large number of high-paying jobs. We are not getting those investments here in NB to any great extent.

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