Commentary – Dominic Cardy must parlay all that charisma into tangible policy

The following commentary appeared in the Times & Transcript on August 27, 2014:

NORBERT CUNNINGHAM Times & Transcript

Today, a look at New Brunswick’s ‘third’ party, the NDP.

They matter

Even the governing, hair-splitting Tories take the NDP seriously and didn’t try to get them omitted from the televised election debate on the grounds they’ve never had much success.

It looks like a huge long shot, but it’s not out of the question the NDP could win the election or Official Opposition. If they can win in Nova Scotia, Ontario and become Official Opposition in Ottawa, they can win here too.

NDP leader Dominic Cardy represents the best chance the party has ever had here. Whether it translates to votes, and how many, we’ll see. Yet I think it’d be a mistake for either Tories or Liberals to under-estimate the NDP.

Advantages?

If the two traditional parties continue to largely ignore our most crucial problem, combined with an increasingly jaded electorate, they could themselves become one of the NDP’s advantages.

Voters want something new and fresh and Mr. Cardy fits the bill better than any other leader. Brian Gallant is new, but hardly fresh with the same old politics and policies.

Not even much-admired Elizabeth Weir moved the NDP ahead electorally. Mr. Cardy is our first-ever NDP leader to create a genuine ‘buzz’ among the public.

He’s possibly the best speaker of the lot.

He’s dropped the usual facile NDP rhetoric and focused on practical issues and common sense solutions. That’s irritated some of the party’s old guard, but it’s working. Polls, while still showing low support, are among the highest the party’s seen in New Brunswick. Nor has he dropped the party’s basic social conscience. As he’s said, if you really want change, you must first get elected – ideals are fine; realism essential.

Fiscal reality

Mr. Cardy is the only leader to bluntly state an obvious truth: we must first address our woefully bad fiscal situation before anything else. He notes that if we don’t, little else will be possible. It’s common sense and true. Pretending otherwise is dishonest, delusional or both.

Policies

Less certain is whether NDP policies are capable of addressing the fiscal crisis. Mr. Cardy is sending out mixed signals. He say we must address it but has left the ‘how’ vague. At this writing he hasn’t released the party’s full platform, so that may change.

He was only one of two leaders who told Brunswick News that if some schools no longer make economic sense, it’s only logical they be closed; that’s positive recognition that structural problems are costly. But on neither this nor the question of having too many hospitals did Mr. Cardy make a firm commitment to such necessary change. He hedged.

His promise to trim the cabinet to 10 ministers is a great start, but will he carry through to downsize the entire bloated bureaucracy and government? It’s unclear.

More worrisome to me is Mr. Cardy’s plan to reduce taxes for small businesses. I’d suggest it’s already a failed policy and with our enormous debt, we need more revenue, not less. A percentage point rise in the HST and other taxes would be wiser. And perhaps it’s time to put toll booths at all the highway entry points to the province, ensuring fairness within it. The deal to get rid of a badly structured and unfair toll highway deal has been hugely costly. Let’s stem the future losses fairly.

Mr. Cardy promises to put considerable liquor revenues toward paying down debt, but first he’ll need to eliminate deficits. Privatizing sales would increase liquor revenues. Only then would using some to pay down debt make sense.

Dubious

Perhaps most dubious is Mr. Cardy’s promise to restore the old terms of the public service pension plans. He insists this will only cost a few million dollars a year. I don’t know how that’s calculated but it’s way out of whack with what the government says forced it to act, as well as with the experience in provinces across the nation. The plans are proving ruinously expensive without reasonable reform.

That’s not something New Brunswick can afford. If Mr. Cardy has found a magic solution, he needs to share it and let independent experts confirm it’s realistic.

To date, Mr. Cardy and the NDP are at least realistic in knowing they must deal with our fiscal situation first and they know it’ll take hard decisions. That’s better than the delusions of the other parties, especially the Liberals and Tories. But like the Liberals and Tories, the NDP are still far from having a coherent, effective plan to avoid insolvency.

The last word

Here’s Ralph Nader:

“I once said to my father, when I was a boy, ‘Dad we need a third political party.’ He said to me, ‘I’ll settle for a second’.”