Commentary: We are dissapointed

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Opposition Tory Leader Bruce Fitch 

On Friday, the Legislature concluded its first sitting of 2015.  It lasted only 2 weeks, making it clear Brian Gallant is still not ready for the job.


When the government announced in December it would call MLAs back to Fredericton on February 10, the Official Opposition expected the Liberals would present a budget and that it would have a real legislative agenda to present.  But the Premier then delayed his first budget until after the release of the federal budget, leaving Opposition MLAs guessing at what the Liberals had planned for an early return.


We were disappointed.


The last 2 weeks have seen Brian Gallant and his ministers do little more than damage our economy and make life harder for New Brunswickers.  The mantra of tax-and-spend Liberal administrations of the past will return, leaving New Brunswick a province struggling to find prosperity.  Yet, the financial damage caused by the government is only the beginning.

The Liberals have now introduced legislation to reduce, reverse and eliminate fiscal accountability to the people of New Brunswick.They tabled an omnibus Bill to repeal many of the laws that Progressive Conservative governments have implemented to protect New Brunswickers from reckless spending, and they did it at the last minute, just before the House adjourned, allowing Premier Gallant to avoid questions in the House on the issue.


The government also began this sitting with the elimination of 8 eight non-partisan deputy ministers - career civil servants who were guiding the provincial budget to balance by 2017.  In a tactic the government now uses repeatedly for bad news announcements, these senior managers were fired or forced into retirement in an announcement late on a Friday afternoon - yet another attempt to minimize scrutiny.  And, in a departure from long-standing tradition, some did not even warrant public thanks for their service in the Premier's end-of-the-day announcement.


Gallant has also conducted a civil service-wide search for employees with even the remotest of political connections, firing anybody he can find with any past connection to any other political party - including employees who won their jobs in fair, open and transparent competitions and who have worked to serve the public good for more than a decade without any political involvement.

Meanwhile, the government has hired three new deputy-ministers to run the NB Jobs Board, and a fourth to run Opportunities New Brunswick.  While these individuals may have the necessary qualifications, the process followed, especially for the NB Jobs Board, raises many questions.  Only one position was advertised, but three have been hired with high-paying jobs.  The Premier's words and commitment to eliminate non-competitive hiring may not exactly line up with his words.

The last week has also seen Brian Gallant further exert control and influence to silence those who oppose him.  For the second time since he was sworn in - less than five months ago - he has invoked closure to shut down debate in the Legislature, even while progress was being made on important conversations in the House.  On both occasions, the debates were neither of a monetary nor urgent nature - rather, they were about initiatives designed to impede democracy.

The latest debate closure related to the government's 31 unilateral changes to the Legislative Assembly's rules - changes it devised with no public consultation, no expert interventions and no jurisdictional comparison.  These changes make fundamental alterations to the way our democratic system of government operates and reduce accountability for Brian Gallant and his government.  The exercise is designed purely to benefit the government and to protect its slim majority, not to modernize any rules or processes.

The latest democratic insult occurred on Friday- again, a trend the government has adopted to hide its actions.  Finance Minister Roger Melanson brought forward legislation to eliminate the Taxpayer Protection Act and the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act - both laws by Progressive Conservative governments designed to protect taxpayers from rampant tax increases and to instill accountability in the decisions government makes in how it spends your money.  When Brian Gallant succeeds in repealing these laws, the Liberals will be free to implement fully its tax-and-spend policies.  He will also roll back legislation making it harder for MLAs to cross the floor and change the political party they campaigned for and represent, and other important accountability measures.

Ironically, after a 2-week sitting, the government did not actually pass a single bill or adopt a single motion it introduced.  All of its business remains unfinished on the docket, but Brian Gallant decided he wanted to take a 2-week break.  We can only assume this is to avoid further questions about its actions.

The Legislature will resume on March 10, at which time we expect the government will finally move to fully enact its changes to the Legislature's rules, to ban shale gas, and to bring forward a budget that cuts deeply into the services New Brunswickers need and to raise taxes - all to support its lavish election spending promises.

Premier Gallant will point to his "Blame the People" consultation tour as justification for these actions.  We expect cuts, closures, tolls and taxes to be presented with great fanfare as "the will of the people".

In short, we expect more misdirection and deception by the Premier and his government, but we will do our best to hold them to account and to make their actions public.  We will need your help however, so please stay tuned. 



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