By Peter Lindfield, published in the Telegraph-Journal 14th September 2012
Since my first weekly Telegraph-Journal column in July 2009 – twice-weekly since January 2012 – I’ve penned more than 100 commentaries on topics as varied as New Brunswick’s fiscal crisis, New York taxis, the role of universities in the economy and the status of liberal arts education. One of the pleasures of writing these columns has been reading emails and text messages – the new letter writing model – responding to the column of the day.
At different times, these responses have come in the form of a nod of support or vigorous criticism. Often, letters contain observations from readers about what they think is the real scope and scale of a problem and what might be done about it. Sometimes, letters have contained suggestions about precisely what I can do with my opinion.
Occasionally, I will be buttonholed by a reader in a coffee shop, restaurant, government building or on university campus and given the latest scoop on what’s wrong, what’s right and what we need to, right now. I am grateful for all of it.
A good friend suggested that readers of this column might be interested in some of what I have read and heard from some of you in recent months so here are two, in random order.
Over the last six months, an increasing number of my readers have suggested that the New Brunswick Liberal and New Democratic parties, and presumably the electorate, would benefit from the formation of one party that would combine their respective members.
The logic of this stems from observations that both parties possess a similar values perspective, ideologically range from centre to left and that the party leaders of both parties have greater similarities than differences.
Liberal leadership candidate Mike Murphy has said that “I believe anything from the centre to the left is our territory,” and NDP leader Dominic Cardy would claim the same terrain. It’s admittedly more complicated than simple arithmetic but the combined votes of Liberal and NDP candidates significantly exceeded the number of votes for Conservative Ted Flemming in the recent Rothesay byelection.
Supporters of a merger point to how the amalgamation of these parties “would restore the two-party system that historically has served the province well.” We all know with the benefit of hindsight that a political party merger didn’t work out so well for either the Liberals or NDP at a national level. Is there an opportunity for a merger to succeed in New Brunswick?
Since the Liberals are otherwise engaged in the run-up to their leadership convention, there have been no signs from that party that a merger is even being considered. Although Cardy came in third in the Rothesay election, his performance was surprisingly strong considering that Rothesay may not have been the ideal riding for him. Would the NDP consider a merger with the Liberals? Would this merger present a greater challenge to the Conservatives in the next election? Time will tell.
On another front, New Brunswick’s fiscal debt represents either a ticking time bomb or a complete fabrication, according to some of my readers. Fiscal hawks state in no uncertain terms that government cost-cutting is critically necessary if we are to survive as a society while the opposing view holds that “we will simply grow out of our debt problems over time.”
This opposition of views is a pretty big deal if you are Finance Minister Blaine Higgs who is trying to define debt and deficit reduction as priority one for his government. Has he convinced New Brunswickers that we are living beyond our means? Conservatives are accusing Liberals such as Mike Murphy of being of the “tax and spend” political variety. How the Liberals and NDP position themselves on fiscal issues may be a defining element of the next election.
Even well in advance of the next provincial election, political discussion and debate is alive and well in New Brunswick. As always, your comments are invited but remember that in the case of this column, I am only the messenger.