Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Incompetence of the Lord Government

Responding to Jacques Poitras:

If the Conservative policies have favoured universal programs recently, that's only an accident. Certainly, it would be odd to paint them with the 'universalist' lable. And in this case, it would probably be incorrect. Better to paint them with a lable that is probably more accurate (at least in intent): populist.

What Bernard Lord is trying to do is to read the mood of New Brunswick voters and then to deliver what they want. Or, more accurately, to look like he's delivering what they want, so long as it doesn't offend his well heeled patrons.

Auto insurance, for example, was the big issue in the last election. Insurance companies were gouging the public. Lord promised to regulate the companies. After being elected, he first ignored that promise, and then when the noise became loud enough, he brought in a watered-down version. This, in combination with voluntary premiums reductions, was enough to abate the criticism (New Brunswickers, it appears, are not able en masse to look at insurance rates in, say, Manitoba).

This year, oil companies (and especially Irving) are gouging New Brunswick drivers. Despite paying the same world price as other jurisdictions, and despite similar taxation rates, New Brunswick oil companies have charged much more than their counterparts in Ontario (and consistently more than their counterparts in regulated PEI). Lord brought in regulation, but in such a way that his patrons would not be impacted. Hence, while small wholesalers are squeezed out, Irving chugs along, untouched.

If we look at what Lord promises and what he does, it's a similar pattern. He wants to appear to be a populist. For example, after hearing requests for years, he has finally promised $250 million to refurbish schools. Critics will point out (correctly) that he has ignored this infrastructure for seven years. The $250 million will disappear after the election, just as his promised health care expenses disappeared after the last election. Why? His patrons disapprove of expenditures on health and education - they would much rather see these systems privatized. Well, Lord can't do that - but he can run them into the ground in the interim, in the hopes that enough New Brunswickers will plead for private services, anything, to replace the mess they must endure.

The real issue in this election - or, what would be the real issue, were the media not almost completely controlled by Lord's patrons - is the general incompetence of the Lord administration, its inability to do anything in the way of proactive governance of the province. This is why Lord attacks Graham on his qualifications. because, were the spotlight pointed the other way, Lord would be seen as incompetent.

Both the insurance and the gas price regulations were fiascos, for example. Not simply did they favour Lord's patrons, they were launched in a confused and unclear fashion, with changes and announcements being made at the last minute.

Even the current election was launched in this ad hoc style, with Lord being unable to pick a day and organize an election-launch rally on time.

Lord's planning process produced a document, the 'five in five' plan, giving his government the distinction of taking seven years to produce a five year plan.

The orimulsion fiasco has received only limited coverage in the press. For those who have forgotten, Lord's government committed $800 million to build an orimulsion plant without first having signed a contract for delivery with the only orimulsion producers in the world, the Venezuelans.

The Conservatives do not, in fact, have a long term plan for energy sustainability. So far as any observer can judge, the plan is to essentially have Irving import oil and gas from the world market.

Lord did attempt to obtain funding for a nuclear plant. However, he was unable to reach a deal with the federal government, and then blamed the federal government for the failure, despite the fact that no similar deal exists with any other province.

Lord, meanwhile, was a strong supporter of Harper's pre-election plan to address 'fiscal imbalance'. He should have checked the plan, however, since he apparently failed to realize that the plan would mean less money for New Breunswick, not more. It turns out that Ontario and New Brunswick have very different views on what constitutes fiscal imbalance.

Lord claims to have accomplished a lot. He boasted in a recent speech, for example, to have spent more money on roads than ever before. New Brunswickers would be wondering where this money went - he appears to have paved only a few kilometers of highway. Fredericton residents are familiar with the never-ending construction of the link to highway two. Moncton residents are still waiting for their new bridge to be connected to a major road. Dieppe residents are still waiting for a bridge. In seven years, Lord has not managed to connect the highway system with either Maine or Quebec.

Residents of New Brunswick are also wondering about Lord's health care management plan. Not simply the $25 million announced this month for a health care records system, again missing for the preceeding seven years. But also the closure of hospitals and the plan to develop 'regional specializations', busing patients from (say) Moncton to Saint John (or to Halifax) for treatment.

Lord doesn't understand privacy and accountability. He has had two ministers resign because of breaches of privacy. OK, this happens. But then he swiftly hires them back. It's this sort of recycling of people who are demonstrated to be incompetent that leaves a sour taste in people's mouths.

Let's also not forget that Bernard Lord's salary is topped up by $70,000 every year by the Conservative Party. For any other public official this would be a gross conflict of interest. For Lord, it's business as usual.

Speaking of resignations, how about Tanker Malley. Here is an MP who resigned because the Lord government was wrecking his riding's health care system and generally ignoring its development and tourism needs. Lord's first reaction was to fabricate a threat made by Malley in an attempt to promote a judge. What? Nobody believed this, of course, and Malley (another retread Tory) is now in good standing in the house.

Speaking of economic development and tourism, Lord has done nothing. There have been several cases where development has gone elsewhere - such as the hundreds of jobs Research in Motion decided to send to Nova Scotia - where the NB government was not in the game. Lord's government appears to respond when companies come calling, but do not proactively seek out the valuable and worthwhile development.

Another example of the populist do-nothing approach is the Petitcodiac River. Lord is quite comfortable making promises to let the river flow again, but his well-heeled supporters by 'Lake Petitcodiac' have managed to stall the breaching of the causeway for Lord's entire term of office. Lord's latest is that it's a federal responsibility.

This is a very common characteristic of the Lord government. It is passive. The feds have to come to him. It's not up to the government to initiate funding programs, or tourist programs, or development programs. Which means that the worthwhile programs - the ones that take some effort - escape, while the New Brunswick government ends up funding things that would be done anyways.

I could continue with this comment - there's no shoratge of examples, but you get the point. There is no need to fish for an issue in this election. The issue should, very clearly, be a question of competence. But no media outlet in this province is going to touch this. Because, on this issue, Lord is swept out of office.