Blogs from Duncan Matheson - BissettMatheson Communications Mon, 18 Dec 2017 18:40:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Has Gallant pulled off a coup with his health care deal?


It would appear Premier Gallant has pulled off quite the coup in landing a new health care funding arrangement with Ottawa, on the heels of a failed conference between the federal government and the provinces to do just that.

That’s not to say it was necessarily that difficult, in that I expect Ottawa was just as anxious to be able to flaunt this, but that aside, Gallant got it done. That’s the important point.

The negatives I have heard about this deal, so far at least, are all pretty lame with a sour grapes tinge.


A specific one that jumped out is that New Brunswick shouldn’t have broken ranks with the other provinces; that it is playing into Ottawa’s divide and conquer strategy. What this argument ignores or fails to appreciate is that the Trudeau Liberals met with the Premiers, something the former government refused to do, so that step was taken, and for various reasons the talks failed.

Sure, it’s possible down the road sometime another attempt could be made, or a province could try to negotiate its own deal, which is what New Brunswick did.

Another argument is that it reduces Ottawa’s commitment to health care overall. That is true, but that’s the direction we as a federation were headed in anyway. Simply walking away from the negotiations wasn’t going to change that.


As a result of the agreement, we have an extra 230 million dollars over the next ten years, with the money specifically targeted at mental health and senior’s health care, including money to help seniors stay in their homes longer. These are two specific areas that need serious attention here in New Brunswick. As a result, the way Premier Gallant puts it, we will be able to make fundamental improvements. And with that much money, why wouldn’t that be the case?

The federal conditions, which really amount to accountability in exactly how the money is spent in these areas seem quite reasonable, so why not get it done.

Other provinces can whine and wail all they want, but that shouldn’t be a concern of our Premier.

The icing on the cake though, is the sweetheart deal that if any other provinces manage to get a better deal, New Brunswick’s would change to reflect that.


All in all, seems like Gallant has scored a win here. If it is because of his friendship with Dominic LeBlanc or Justin Trudeau, well, like they say, it’s always good to have friends in high places.

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Photo credits: Huffington Post, Global News      


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 22 Dec 2016 20:53:48 +0000
US TV News comes up short in comparison to ours here in Canada


I got serious about following American news a few months back, first following the Democrat and Republican primaries and then the election campaign and then the aftermath. It got so bad I was routinely PVRing the three network’s evening newscasts then watching them all on top of a steady dose of CNN panels.

It left me with some definitive thoughts on the quality of their journalism. In some ways it was very good and in others it left a lot to be desired.

Overall, I have always found Canadian media more balanced in political coverage, but of course it’s hard to compare when it’s the US election, but two stories in recent days offer a particular glimpse of the mainstream media in the US, and not in a good way.


The first is the recent developments in North Dakota where an ongoing peaceful protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to a pipeline project has been met with state sanctioned force. The governor called in the National Guard and army and police, and the natives and supporters have been pepper sprayed, tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets and had water cannons turned on them despite the cold temperatures. Some have been arrested while others have required treatment for hypothermia.


Despite who you think is right or wrong, by any journalistic standard this is a major story – five thousand protestors, reportedly 300 injured, more than 500 arrested, and despite an announcement that the army has given a deadline for the protestors to move, and the protestors serving notice they have no intention of going anywhere, coverage has been sparse.

There has been precious little in the American mainstream media about the tactics of the authorities. For example, hardly a word on any of the three major Sunday morning news shows on CNN yesterday.

When the media don’t do their job, the obvious question is why? Could it be because President-elect Trump owns shares in the pipeline company? Hate to think that’s the reason but it has become a valid question.


The other story of questionable journalism was the coverage of the death of Fidel Castro. No doubt he did some bad stuff, but to listen to the U.S. media everything he did was evil. The total focus of the stories and panels I saw was his suppression of detractors, his firing squads and imprisonment of anyone who didn’t support his regime, his alignment with the Soviet Union and the Cold War, especially the Bay of Pigs fiasco. And a healthy dose of Cubans in Miami cdelebrating. Not a mention, from any of the media I saw, of the fact he set up social safety nets so in that country while there is poverty, no one is starving to death, no one is homeless, the literacy levels are much higher than those in the States, health care is better, education is better, there is hardly any gun violence and crime rates are much lower than in the US. No, not a mention.

I don’t know if it is because he was communist that they ignored the other side of the story, but ignore it they did. Those Sunday morning talk shows on CNN I mentioned earlier – they ignored it too.


But know who didn’t? The Canadian media. The CBC National had a very balanced report from Paul Hunter, and Adrienne Arsenault did a special report on the history of Castro’s revolution, from his then mountain hideaway where much of it was planned and carried out. CTV interviewed a professor who is an authority on Cuba, and he offered insight that covered both the good and the bad.

Mind you none of this is in anyway a thorough or definitive assessment of American coverage of either of these stories. For one thing it’s only television coverage. It’s just what I happened to notice from watching a lot of American and Canadian news over the past little while. It’s not the first time Canadian coverage has been better than what is fed to the American public. Coverage of the Iraqi war jumps to mind as a most blatant example, where CBC’s work was in many cases far superior.

Hell knows I am critical of various Canadian media from time to time, including our public broadcaster, but there is no question that on the big stories our broadcast media serves us better than the American broadcast media serves its public. This blog references just two examples. There are many more.

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Photo Credits: Standing Rock - Rolling Stone; Castro - CBC; Miami Cuban celebrator -  


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 28 Nov 2016 04:42:23 +0000
Homelessness Task Force for Fredericton a refreshing announcement  

b2ap3_thumbnail_sotc2016mayormike.jpgThere’s an old adage that goes something like this: “don’t tell me why we can’t do something; show me how we can.”

That sentiment struck me this week as I was reading the Daily Gleaner account of Mayor Mike O’Brien’s State of the City address and particularly his announcement of forming a Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness to see what the city can do to help alleviate the problem.


How refreshing that sounded and what a departure from the past. I remember approaching the city for help as part of the Homeless Shelter’s Board back in 2011. Their response at that time was a bureaucratic one; that homelessness is a housing issue and housing is a provincial responsibility. In other words, “It’s not our problem”. Our counterpoint was that the shelters were also very much a public safety issue and therefore the city does have a responsibility to help. That didn’t fly either. There simply wasn’t a willingness to figure out a way.


Fast forward a few years and it is so sweet to hear Mayor O’Brien vow to work with his fellow councilors to see how the city can overcome the “self-imposed shackles” as he called them, that kept the city from contributing money or land to end chronic homelessness.


A difference between then and now is that back then our focus was the homeless shelters, but now, through the Community Action Group on Homelessness, we know that the homelessness goes beyond the shelters to people who are more under the radar, including people coach surfing, living in places that aren’t safe, or just scraping by on the verge of becoming homeless.


We also know now that while it is a considerable problem, it isn’t an insurmountable one.  Through the Housing First approach, we know homelessness can be eliminated. We know this because other communities have done it.

The philosophy is simple. That people are best able to move ahead with their lives if they are in safe, affordable housing, with supports in place to help move them forward. The examples are piling up from cities that show not only that it is the most humane way to help homeless people; it is also the most economical.


If you are a fan of Malcolm Gladwell check out an essay he wrote called Million Dollar Murray.  His point in telling Murray’s story is that it costs more to allow homelessness to go on than to do something about it, because of the related costs in areas such as medical interventions, police, courts etc. Gladwell’s essay was written a decade ago. A more current illustration of the money than can be saved is right here in Fredericton.

The John Howard Society’s apartment building on Main Street became home to a dozen people who were previously on the streets or living at the homeless shelter. After moving into their own place, their interactions with police and the hospital’s emergency room and courts and the like fell from more than 700 a year to about 100. That’s a lot of money saved.


The point is that Housing First works, it’s proven, and it is the policy the city’s Community Action Group on Homelessness (CAGH) has embraced as the main pillar of its strategy to eradicate homeless over the next few years, as laid out in its report The Road Home.

But it will take the cooperation of all corners to pull it off. The Mayor’s Task Force is a giant step in that direction. So good to see.

Back to 2011. At that time when we went to the city for help and were turned down, we also did some focus groups. What that research revealed were two things – first, that the participants were surprised to hear that the city wasn’t helping with homelessness, and second, that it damn well should. So maybe what we have here is the city council finally catching up to the people it represents. 

If you want to know more about homelessness and what we are doing about it including some options fo rgetting involved, check out the CAGH website.

Disclaimer: In the interests of transparency I do volunteer work with CAGH. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 21 Nov 2016 13:31:09 +0000
Some post-PC leadership convention thoughts, Part 2 Blaine_flag.jpg 

Thoughout this whole campaign right up to the candidate speeches at the convention, civility ruled. No cheap shots, in fact not even mild criticism of each other. At least not in public. Privately, there was buzz of one rival team not being made to feel welcome at another’s hospitality suite the night before but that’s pretty normal stuff.

And also as is normal, emotions surfaced at the end, and just before it.


One thing I and I don’t think anybody saw coming, was Jake Stewart throwing his support behind Monica Barley after he was eliminated. Keep in mind a good number of Jake’s supporters were of the People’s Alliance persuasion, with bilingualism and duality atop their agenda, and they were not about to follow their candidate into the camp of a French woman who came out of the University of Moncton. I overheard a huddle of them after this intriguing development and to say the least they were not happy campers. Jake best clear up some time in his schedule for some fence mending, including in his own riding.

Emotions ran raw when it was down to the final two, Mel Norton and Blaine Higgs, the two camps whom more than any others did not like each other.

As I stood chatting with some folks at the main Aitken Centre doors as those who had hung in until the end were leaving, a friend still wearing a Mel Norton tee shirt said to me as he was going by “Know who is happiest this evening? – Brian Gallant”.

It’s understandable that when you pour your effort, energy and emotion into getting your guy (or gal) elected, and it doesn’t happen, there’s a tremendous letdown, and there’s bitterness. It usually subsides, but that comment, and others like it, speaks to the huge task facing Blaine Higgs.


There are those who feel the party blew it because they don’t believe a unilingual leader can win an election in New Brunswick. Higgs has to try to convince them that his approach focused on returning New Brunswick to economic stability will appeal to the whole province and that they shouldn’t give up on the party’s chances to form government in 2018.

Then there are those fellow PC MLAs who he has alienated. Note that neither of the contenders who are sitting MLAs went to him after they were eliminated. Not saying it is because they felt alienated, but...


Other Tory MLAs I spoke with mentioned how much they felt Higgs bashed them with his comments that he couldn’t do what he wanted to fix our economy when he was Finance Minister because they held him back.


I also couldn’t help but notice there was no outward sign of solidarity after the vote was announced. No Mel Norton or any other candidate on stage to congratulate Higgs and ask that the vote be made unanimous. Maybe because it was late and everyone was anxious to leave, but such a gesture is often an unspoken convention at these things.

So aside from learning how to speak French, he’s got his work cut out for him getting his own caucus on side. Realize he won this thing with grass roots support, not the support of his fellow MLAs. So while the grass roots may share dissatisfaction with the traditional political status quo and share an appetite for a different, less political approach, that’s not to say his fellow Tories who have to get elected share that view.


Higgs, who is quick to identify himself as not being a career politician, needs to convince his caucus, some of whom are just that, to stop thinking only of delivering goodies to their own ridings and think more of what is best for the province. Some though, might see this departure from the status quo as reducing their odds of winning. There are some strong personalities in that caucus, so it could be a tough sell.


This “doing politics differently” is much more than a slogan or cliché for Higgs. If you are interested in knowing what that is all about, I recommend a detailed interview on Dennis Atchison’s The Dennis Report. Be forewarned though that it is an hour long, apparently because Dennis never got the memo that these things have to be short to attract viewers. That’s half in jest, the interview really does offer great insight if you want to take the time. You can find it here.  

But politics is the art of compromise, and so it will be telling to see how much he will have to compromise on doing politics differently in order to build a united team. Oh, what I would give to be a fly on the wall at their next caucus meeting.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:59:00 +0000
Some post-PC leadership convention thoughts, Part 1


First some context. I have been going to political leadership conventions since the 70s, most of those as a journalist but over this past weekend simply as an observer. In fact I was probably the only one in the whole Aitken Centre Saturday who wasn’t either paid to be there or was there to support a candidate. But while I’m not a member of the PC Party and therefore didn’t have a dog in the fight, in the past I did cover and later worked for the Tories, so it was a great and pleasurable opportunity to connect with some old friends. Plus, I’m a political junkie so watching the day unfold without the responsibility to do journalism made it kind of fun – so I tweeted when and what I wanted and simply took it all in.

So some observations. 

First I must say that this was the most disorganized, mess of a convention I have ever seen. I don’t know who was in charge of details but man did they drop the ball. Everything from ridiculously long delays for voting and counting, to no pencils in Saint John to making people wait in Moncton while they figured out how to overcome an issue with the scanners. Also heard of various issues with voter registrations.

Then there was the food issue.


By mid-afternoon the concessions had nothing to offer but nachos and skittles, and then they shut down completely. I understand the company that has the contract to run the concessions at the Aitken Centre, not the party may be responsible, but you’d think between the two of them someone would have thought that with the whole centre full of people, and for all day, it might have been an idea to prepare a little better. Heck, they do it for hockey games. Point is, people left because they got hungry.


Among the tweets: 


I tweeted back that I was wondering the same thing.

It would be pure conjecture to speculate on what difference a smoothly run operation would have meant, but it is undisputable that not just in Fredericton but at the satellite centres at least in Saint John and Moncton, people got fed up and left earlier than they otherwise would have. What candidates lost the most support because of this? Who knows? Maybe it was a wash.  


End of rant about that. In the end the organizers held the voting and a new leader was democratically elected.

I also want to share, for what they are worth, some thoughts on where Blaine Higgs goes from here - the challenges he faces and they are considerable, and the opportunities he represents. But this blog is already long so I’ll hold off on that until tomorrow.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 23 Oct 2016 22:13:12 +0000
Credit where credit is due on Syrian students at FHS story


A couple of weeks ago, Ezra Levant took direct aim at Syrian students attending Fredericton High School. For those who aren’t familiar with Levant, he’s a right wing pseudo-journalist, who until its demise, worked at Sun TV, and now pursues his right wing, anti-immigrant agenda through his social media channel The Rebel. 

While what he produces has the appearance of real journalism, it isn’t. You see, Levant isn't one to feel burdened by any need for balance, accuracy or fairness. Mark Twain once said, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Levant seems to have taken that literally.


The reports on his site paint a picture of Syrian students turning Fredericton High School into a terrible place by intimidating, harassing and bullying fellow students, refusing to attempt to learn English, and generally being a disruptive force.

The problem is that while most fair-minded people will see through his hate-fuelled rhetoric, those who are predisposed to be anti-Muslim will embrace his grossly exaggerated reports as justification for their prejudices. Not unlike what Donald Trump is doing. 

Part of Levant’s narrative is that his site reports things that the mainstream media is afraid to touch. And when his series of reports were published, he played that to the hilt, his reporter feigning outrage that the mainstream media was scared to report this story.

The truth of course is that responsible journalism takes more time. Levant’s reports were based on cherry picking through 2700 documents, mostly teacher emails which he received through a Right to Information request, then sensationalizing the content out of all proportion. Real journalism on the other hand, demands that facts have to be checked, people have to be interviewed, context has to be given and balance needs to achieved.


And while mainstream media doesn’t always hit that standard, it is the guiding principle under which responsible journalists work. And credit where credit is due, Brunswick News deserves credit for its fair and measured story on this issue.

It gave the story of the Syrian students context, quoting education officials about the challenges they faced, what worked, what didn’t, and what they plan to do in the fall to make the transition go even better. No question some teachers felt overwhelmed, but by all indications, the school administration dealt with whatever came up quickly and effectively. Levant never mentioned that part. 


To be clear, of course there were going to be challenges when 160 Syrian students enrolled in the district (29 at FHS). How could there not be? These folks have baggage some of which we can't even imagine. These are students who have been through considerable hardship escaping war that forced them to flee their homes, many spending years out of school in refugee camps, arriving in a country where they don’t understand the language and where the culture, local customs and social mores are all foreign to them. Their lives have been turned upside down.

So there are issues. For example theirs is a culture where females are not treated as equals, so taking direction from a female teacher for example where all your life you have been told you don't do that, takes some adjustment for the male students. Or they feel protective of their sisters and misinterpret any overtures from any males toward them, so they intervene. So this new world takes some adjustment, and it takes some time, but they will get there. They are already getting there. 


I am one of the volunteers who help out with the Syrian refugees when I can, nothing much, driving mainly, and while our communications is often reduced to an awkward and sometimes humourous combination of charades and hit-and-miss gestures, there is no mistaking the gratitude these folks feel toward this country and their desire to fit in. Of course there will be bumps, but goodwill on both sides will see us through them.

Anyway, kudos to the School District for its efforts, and to the local media for forgoing the Levant style sensationalism on this story, and doing it right. Both have provided a true service to the community.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 10 Jul 2016 23:21:30 +0000
Why no transparency on the government's bill to give it veto power over transferring judges?


Many of the problems and criticism of the Brian Gallant government seem to be rooted in two shortcomings. First, policy decisions that don’t seem to have been well thought out, and second, poor communications.  And often, the two are linked, wrapped up in a lack of transparency.


With the session of the legislature due to resume tomorrow, there are a couple of issues to watch that illustrate this. One of them is Bill 21.  That’s the amendment to the Judicature Act, the one that will give the Justice Minister veto power over where the Chief Justice can transfer judges.


The legal community, from the Law Society of New Brunswick to the New Brunswick Branch of the Canadian Bar Association are opposed, the latter calling the bill  "constitutionally questionable and a troubling intrusion into the independence of the judiciary."  As well, legal experts say what the government is intend on doing is probably unconstitutional.

That’s something the courts will decide if it comes to that. But it matters regardless because whether this or any subsequent government abuses it or not, the amendment has the potential for government interference. If the possibility of fear or favour exists, it could affect the impartiality and credibility of the courts, something that in a democracy should be jealously protected. It’s rather mind boggling that the government either doesn’t understand this, or prefers not to understand it.  

Because it seems pretty clear the government is intent on ramming this legislation through, and probably this week.

It will be interesting to see whether the government finally brings some clarification to this issue, something that so far has been as rare as a Donald Trump apology.

One can hope though, because there are some troubling questions that deserve answers.


First, the total lack of transparency. In fact the Chief Justice David Smith is taking his own government to court to get documents on this that the government is refusing to hand over. A red flag there, as one has to wonder why.

Second, the government’s refusal to say why it needs such a veto. Before he was bumped as Justice Minister, Stephen Horsman stumbled badly when questioned on it, completely at a loss to give even one example why such a change was necessary. It became quite obvious it wasn’t his idea, but one pushed on him from above. More red flags.


But Premier Gallant as well, has failed to show any transparency as to why they are doing this.

Third, what’s the rush? There was no consultation with the Chief Justice before this legislation was introduced. In fact he says he didn’t even know it was coming.


The new Justice Minister, Denis Landry will likely be pushed on it this week, but there is nothing to indicate any enlightenment from him will be forthcoming. The Chief Justice requested a meeting with him, but the response was that he could have one “in a few weeks”. That’s pretty insulting, given that the legislation will likely be passed into law by then.

It’s pretty ham-fisted governing, and it is lending itself to all manner of speculation, as is always the case in the absence of information. It’s not my intent to delve into the rumours, but they are rampant and sooner or later the government will have to deal with them.

Or not. They could be banking on the assumption that judicial independence isn’t something most New Brunswickers care about...that it is just so much inside baseball, and simply doesn’t matter when compared to issues like jobs, fracking, and French and English students travelling on the same school bus.  

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 27 Jun 2016 03:22:37 +0000
Imagine Fredericton - in 25 years


This blog is strictly meant for people in Fredericton. If you aren’t from Fredericton or you don’t live in Fredericton, then just move along – nothing to see here.









Are they gone yet? Good. Not that they aren’t nice people. Everyone who follows my blog is nice, it goes without saying. But this is about Imagine Fredericton, and as you know we’ve got it pretty good here, and it can be a little embarrassing talking about our future when the discussion always starts with something like – “We’ve got a beautiful city, with a wonderful river, great walking trails, and lots of recreation options and a vibrant arts and culture scene, and and and.” We can be like that obnoxious relative with the perfect kids - a touch nauseating, if you know what I mean.


OK, enough of that, but here’s what got me going.  Tuesday evening, a lot of people turned out at the Convention Centre for the official launch of Imagine Fredericton.


Organizers describe it a massive, yearlong conversation about how we would like to see our city develop over the next 25 years. And it covers pretty much everything from what the downtown should evolve into – will there be cars downtown? How much green space? What do we do with the river? (I think we should keep it) And how should the north side develop, and where should new development be concentrated, and what about public transit, and affordable housing, and what should be do to make sure we are ready for the effects of climate change? And recreation, and arts and culture, and of course the economic engines, how should those develop, and where?

And lots more but you get the idea. We’re talking thorough here. A yearlong conversation about how Fredericton should look, feel and function like 25 years from now. This will go on for the next 12 to 18 months. Then, the urban planner hired guns that have been brought in will work with city staff to take everything they heard, mix it in with their collective expertise and mould that into a Growth Strategy and Municipal Plan, a blueprint to get us from here to there.


That’s where the rubber hits the road, but before then, all residents and businesses owners will be given many opportunities to weigh in. In fact it began last evening with people invited to have their say on video, put stickers on a big map of the city to give an opinion on what areas of the city are great and what areas could use work, or write their thoughts on sticky notes under such headings as “What are your aspirations for Fredericton’s future?”


No one is going to hold a gun to anyone’s head to participate, but this is a rare opportunity to get involved so the final plan truly will reflect the values and aspirations of the community.  

It really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take something that’s by all accounts pretty damn good, and be part of making it pretty damn better. Here’s the site for more information.  

The first two photos in this blog are from which by the way is a great site for New Brunswick photography. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 15 Jun 2016 03:13:36 +0000
Is Justice Minister Stephen Horsman guilty of an ethical breach, and did he just dodge a bullet?


Back when the intended sale of NB Power to Hydro Quebec was the sole focus of discussion at the legislature, the government could easily sense it was losing ground.


It was at the height of this debate that then Premier Shawn Graham stood in the legislature and told the House that the day before a woman had approached him on the street and said “Shawn, don’t you dare back down from this sale. We need this for the sake of our province’s future.” That’s not the exact quote, I’m paraphrasing from memory, but that was the gist of it.

I don’t know of anybody who thought for a minute that there was any such woman, but it’s a common ploy by politicians to try to buttress their side of the debate. It’s no coincidence these people are always anonymous.  There’s no way to prove no such encounter happened, and in fact maybe sometimes they do, but either way, it’s hard to challenge and so the Minister or whoever has to be taken at their word.


Which is probably why Justice Minister Stephen Horsman didn’t think twice before he stood in the legislature during Question Period to defend a government bill that would give the government veto power over the Chief Justice’s decisions on what jurisdictions judges are assigned to. The Minster’s mistake is that he said several judges called him to say they favoured the government having a veto.

The problem with that, is that it would be very improper for such a discussion to take place. It all has to do with judicial independence. While the Minister probably didn’t realize such a claim could come back to bite him, judges do know better and it is highly unlikely any judge would ever call to enter into any such discussion.

Later, realizing this, Minister Horsman offered a clarification. He refused media interviews, but provided a statement that said, “I may have left the impression… that I received personal phone calls from members of the judiciary calling to commend the government”. Well, yes, you can see where when he said he received calls, that that would leave the impression that he received calls. His clarification is that he didn’t really get calls from judges, but he talked to some when he ran into them in social situations. Still a problem though, because it is the discussion that would be improper, not the fact it was or wasn’t on a telephone.

As politicians go, by pretty much any standard Stephen Horsman is one of the good ones. He’s a caring individual who, from everything I can gather entered politics for all the right reasons. He truly wants to help people.

But he wouldn’t be the first one to get swept up in the politics of being a politician, where winning the debate is seen as most important, and now; as a result, he’s got himself in a jam. 


As expected, the Opposition Conservatives are calling for his resignation.  They do have a point when they suggest it has to be one or the other – he either had improper conversations with judges or he mislead the house. Both are serious ethical breaches.


So far, Premier Gallant has dismissed the call to remove him. In fact his comment is that Minister Horsman is doing a great job. This doesn’t reflect well on the Premier, because it suggests he doesn’t consider either the conversations if they took place, or misleading the House and by extension the people of New Brunswick to be a lapse that matters to him.

But, now with the legislature in recess until the end of June, the Opposition is limited in its ability to keep the heat on anyway. So Minister Horsman and the Premier may have dodged a bullet.


But the issue of Horsman’s improper discussions if they took place, or his misleading the House if they didn’t, is only part of the problem on this issue. As the Minister in charge of the file, he has done a terrible job of making the case why this legislation is necessary or even desirable, while Chief Justice David Smith has effectively made the point that it would amount to unacceptable government interference.

Like the changes to tuition relief and the closing down of the Gagetown ferry, this appears to be one more government decision that was not carefully thought out. And I expect that’s not on Horsman.

CORRECTION: I stated above Minister Horsman refused media interviews, but have now learned that he did provide at least one, to the CBC. I regret the error. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 26 May 2016 01:57:37 +0000
Might be more than Trudeau losing PR points over elbowgate


It was around 1979 or early 80’s perhaps. Early June I think. The New Brunswick legislature was in session with added evening sittings, trying to work through a number of bills before breaking for the summer. There’s no air conditioning in the legislature and it was hot, and nerves were frayed. Nobody wanted to be there but the Opposition Liberals were dragging out the debates.


Rodman Logan was one of the frontbenchers in the Richard Hatfield government. I was in the Press Gallery and unlike these days, reporters actually sat on the floor of the legislature, so we had a ringside seat for what was about to unfold.

As the debate dragged on, Logan took strong exception to some comment from somebody on the Opposition side. As I remember it he felt somebody said something disparaging about his war record.


The next thing he’s across the floor and up into the face of Liberal MLA Leroy Washburn. So Washburn is on his feet and the next thing Washburn’s glasses go flying to the floor. It was never definitively established whether Washburn dropped them himself as he was taking them off in the heat of the moment or whether Logan had knocked them off. Then fellow Tories grabbed Logan and escorted him back across to the government side.

It was reported as a heated incident or some such thing but otherwise nobody made a big deal about it.  Within a day or two it was forgotten. Mind you this was pre-video and pre-social media and it was a different time. People weren’t so damned sensitive.


I mention this story because of the great contrast with the fallout from Prime Minister Trudeau’s stupid stunt last week.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that physical contact shouldn’t be condemned, and of course it is, and the procedure and House affairs committee will now review the whole thing and there will probably be some kind of sanction.

But perhaps some perspective would be nice. The PM lost his cool at the delay tactics by MPs on the other side and in a moment he would undoubtedly like to take back he physically led the Opposition whip through the crowd, accidently bumping NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the process. Then he apologized. Three times, and not those wimpy half-baked apologies politicians often offer, but totally unreserved apologies. It had to have been a humbling experience, and deservedly so. No question it was behaviour unbecoming any politician, let alone the Prime Minister.


But what came next, and continues, was the over-the-top reaction by the NDP and the Conservatives. It started with Ms. Brosseau saying she was so shaken at being elbowed in the chest that she had to go into the corridor to collect herself. Imagine if every woman who has ever been on a crowded subway or was in a crowded bar or busy line up responded like that every time they were accidently bumped.

But it is politics and she’s milking it, as are the others. Comments range from Trudeau being compared to a drunken driver and even worse, a molester. Others dug deep to find comparisons to domestic violence.

It’s too early to determine what the public relations fallout will be. Trudeau showed a side of him that flies in the face of his carefully crafted “sunny ways” persona. So no question he has taken a hit.

But Canadians are by and large a forgiving and fair-minded lot, and I sense just as much backlash against the exaggerated response of the opposing politicians.  If there is a consensus it seems to be – OK, he messed up, but he apologized, so could we just move on.

If the Conservatives and NDP don’t take that to heart, it won’t be just Trudeau that takes a PR beating over this.


Back on that hot evening all those years ago in the New Brunswick legislature, I recall a bit of what was said, but I don’t remember any apology being a part of it. And I sure didn’t see Leroy Washburn retiring to the back room to collect himself. Although he probably did pick up his glasses. Times have changed. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 23 May 2016 01:15:14 +0000
Trudeau haters off base in criticisms of his Fort McMurray response

It is a reality of the Internet that there’s no filter. People are free to display their ignorance and hate to their heart’s content, never having to fuss about accuracy or fairness.

The wildfires that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray has brought the armchair critics and the Trudeau haters out in force, with criticisms ranging from his failure to immediately go to the centre of the action, to refusing offers from Russia and other foreign countries to send help.

Some of this criticism on social media may be genuine, coming from people who simply don’t understand firefighting and assume the more water bombers in the air and firefighters on the ground the better. That’s fair, but much of it is coming from people who are trying to eploit the Fort Mac tragedy to take an unfair shot at Trudeau.

I realize that haters have to hate, and heaven knows I have no problem criticizing politicians, including Trudeau when warranted, but these cheap shots should be called out. And frankly, my hope with this blog is to embarrass those who are taking these unfair shots to think a little bit, maybe read some arguments of why Trudeau didn’t fly out to Fort Mac immediately or accept the help of other countries. Here’s a radical idea - maybe listen to the experts. I appreciate that is, in many cases, asking a lot of these people, but hope springs eternal.

All of which is an introduction to this blog I discovered by Alberta blogger Robbie Kreger-Smith entitled Trudeau Doesn’t Know What he’s Doing.

It's intelligent and well written, with some interesting insight into the nature of wildfires and how to battle them. And it deserves a read, so here it is:

I'm just going to come right out and say it. Justin Trudeau isn't a nano-computing specialist and he most certainly isn't a firefighter or wildfire specialist. When it comes to a major disaster like the wildfire facing Fort McMurray, he just doesn't have a clue what he's doing. 


And yet, in this, he is showing his ability to provide leadership. 

There is a process that is entrenched in our society when it comes to disaster management. In times of crisis, good well practiced processes lead to successful outcomes. So far in Fort McMurray, in a fire significantly larger than the 2011 Slave Lake fire where 30% of the town was destroyed, only 10% of the structures were lost in the city.

An unprecedented evacuation was carried out with as many as 90,000 evacuees fleeing the town with 2 casualties so far, in an MVA. While that loss of life is tragic, the scale of the evacuation is a raging success. 

I looked at the Public Safety Canada website and found this regarding disaster management;

Emergencies are managed first at the local level – for example, by first responders such as medical professionals and hospitals, fire departments, the police and municipalities. Local authorities who need assistance request it from provincial or territorial governments. If an emergency escalates beyond their capabilities, the province or territory may seek assistance from the federal government. Public Safety Canada led the development of the National Emergency Response System (NERS) with provincial and territorial officials, which was approved by Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers in January 2011. The NERS enables coordinated efforts in responding to emergencies. 

The Government Operations Centre (GOC) is the principal means by which the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness' leadership role in establishing an integrated approach to emergency response is exercised.  Housed at Public Safety Canada, the GOC, on behalf of the Government of Canada, supports response coordination of events affecting the national interest. It brings all partners into a common environment to harmonize and synchronize collective actions of those partners. The GOC operates 24/7 to provide watch, warning, analysis, planning, logistics support and coordination across the federal government and with its partners, including provincial and territorial governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and international partners.

Sounds like a pretty well thought out process. Every level of government signed onto it. And this is how the Fort McMurray fires have been managed, with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo taking lead until the fire had expanded beyond their capabilities.

So now today, my social media is flooded with complaints about Justin Trudeau not accepting help from Australia, Thailand and Russia to help extinguish the fire. What an incompetent fool. All of these countries lining up to help with the biggest fire in our nation's history basically and he's turning it away. Clearly he's demonstrating that he is not fit to lead. 

The thing about this fire is that it is so big and so hot that it is unique, almost unheard of in Canadian history. And as a result of that it is difficult to fight. In fact, nearly impossible. And as it has grown to cover more than 2000 sq. km, the approach to fighting this fire has evolved from one of fighting the fire, to containing and directing it away from critical infrastructure and populated areas. The Alberta Wildfire department has said that this is too big to be extinguished by humans, and the only way it's going to be put out is burning itself out, or significant periods of heavy rain. When bombers are attempting to drop water on the burning areas, it is evaporating before hitting the fires. Reports have said the fire is burning between 700 and 1000 degrees. 

And so in a situation where Trudeau isn't qualified or trained to make decisions, he is listening to the guidance of the people who are educated and do this for a living. The experts. He's in his offices, working on the logistics of what they need, not out getting in the way in Fort McMurray, or pulling resources away from where they're needed for the sake of a photo op. And he's letting the heroes that have prevented a devastating situation from becoming the end of Fort McMurray do their jobs. 


Stephen Harper was mocked in 2015 for taking

firefighters from an active firefight for a staged

photo op in Kelowna, BC 

The Alberta department has stated that the airspace cannot safely support more air traffic than it already has. Bringing in more would create a risk, with potential for collisions.

Additionally, I don't think there's a person in their right mind that wants to open the door for Russian planes to be flying in our airspace, no matter the reason. 

So yes, Trudeau has no clue what he's doing. But he's relying on the advice and guidance of the people who do to make sure he makes good, informed decisions, doesn't overstep his bounds and Alberta gets what it needs in it's time of need. 

I've attached below some interesting reads on the firefight strategy, the lead up to the fire, and some quotables from the fire updates;

$1·       How Firefighters Are Trying To Tame The Blaze (The Globe & Mail)

$1·       Alberta Blaze Could Take Months To Extinguish (The Star)

$1·       Fort McMurray wildfire response now in ‘Phase 2’ (Global News)

If you've enjoyed Robbie's blog, here's a link to his site: You can follow him on social media, and "like" his Facebook page @ 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 11 May 2016 04:19:17 +0000
A look at the crisis communications around the Fort McMurray evacuations

Like so many Canadians, I have been following closely the news around the Fort McMurray evacuation. It goes without saying that one can’t help but be moved by the dramatic video, the tragic losses, the personal stories of adversity, the related triumph of the human spirit, the generosity of a country coming together, the enormity of the whole thing.

As a student of crisis communications, I have also been following this story through that lens. And I must say the response of the politicians has, so far, been impressive.


Premier Notley has presented herself as calm and reassuring, exactly what is needed in this situation. When she said to her displaced constituents “Trust us that we have your back, that we will be there for you”, it was exactly what these people, who have had their world turned upside down, needed to hear.


Equally, Prime Minister Trudeau has done all the right things starting with staying away.  Heaven knows he seldom misses an opportunity for a photo-op, but good on him for realizing this wasn’t the time. There is nothing the officials and emergency responders around Fort Mac would need less in the circumstances than the Prime Minister and his entourage showing up and getting in the way.


His comment that it would not be a “particularly helpful thing” is a victory of common sense over opportunism, and stands in stark contrast to Stephen Harper at the forest fire in Kelowna last year. When he and his group showed up, firefighters were told to stop what they were doing, which was fighting the fire, and stand around while his people arranged a photo-op. It was obvious they did not appreciate being used as props. So good on Trudeau for not doing that.


In other ways as well, the political response has been solid. The quick mobilization of resources, the regular media briefings, the immediate cash for those who had to flee, the fast-tracking of EI for those who have lost their jobs. In fact, I can’t think of one area where either the provincial or federal government can be criticized.


Even the federal announcement of matching all private donations dollar for dollar has worked as a catalyst to encourage the generosity of Canadians from one end of the country to the other. The last count more than $50 million had been donated.

This story will evolve over the coming months and years, and no doubt there will be political stumbles and controversies along the way. But looking at it from a crisis communications point of view, the way both Premier Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau are handling it so far, is textbook.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 09 May 2016 01:45:56 +0000
Free Tuition for low income students - great idea, poor execution


My initial reaction to the Gallant government’s announcement of free tuition for low-income students was extremely positive. I saw it not only as an excellent investment in our future but even more than that, a giant step toward breaking the welfare cycle, and for the working poor, a step toward leveling the playing field.

And I was a little put off by all the negative response on social media, which stuck me as overly critical, people finding fault because it wasn’t fair to the middle class or because it wasn’t universal, or because it would be unaffordable and a further drain on taxpayers. That last one really got me because I saw people who were saying that as not being smart enough to understand that getting people off social assistance and educated and into employment is a plus for taxpayers in the long run. Admittedly a bit of arrogance there.

Yeah, I was pretty onside with the government on this, but then the devil really is in the details isn’t it? And as I looked at it closer it became obvious this is far from the historic step the government has labeled it.


When I look at it my sneaking suspicion is that this is aimed not so much at helping students as it is at propping up our universities which are dealing with dropping enrollments and perhaps as well, it’s an attempted make-good for recently backing off measures to deal with the labour arbitration issue, something that universities are particularly concerned about.


Others have made the unfairness point but I’ll repeat it here because it really is relevant. Under this free tuition program, if you make just under $60,000, and have one child, he gets free tuition. If you make just over $60,000 and have three children, you pay the shot for every damn one of them. In what world is this fair?

I get it that in programs such as this, you have to have a cut-off, but it needn’t be this cut and dry.

I’m on the Board of our Progressive Credit Union and on the panel that each year evaluates applications for bursaries. I’d be screaming bloody murder if we deemed the family with an income under $60,000 and one kid more deserving than a family making a bit over $60,000 with several kids. But it wouldn’t happen because we see the unfairness in it, so if we can see it, why can’t the government? The idea of a sliding scale is not that difficult a concept, and it would add that element of fairness.


But that would take more planning. The fact it wasn’t done, just as adding a condition that students benefitting from this program should have an obligation to stay in New Brunswick and contribute to our economy after graduation wasn’t included, further suggests this was put together in a hurry mainly to help the universities. 


As is the case with many government programs, there are winners and losers. The winners in this case – the families of students who are eligible for the free tuition and the universities who will host them. The losers will be all those other families and students who will no longer benefit from the tuition tax rebate and tuition tax credits. Also a potential loser is the New Brunswick economy because with the tuition rebate program gone, gone with it is the incentive New Brunswick graduates had to stay and work in the province, and pay taxes here.

Such a disappointment from the announcement this could and should have been. 


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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 21 Apr 2016 23:49:29 +0000
Killarney Lake's Huggable Dog Leashes

I don’t know how many people who read this blog listen to Fredericton CBC’s Information Morning program and the CBC newscasts, so if you are not among that subset, you may not be aware of the controversy that erupted this week, as I don’t think it has been reported anywhere else, not that I caught anyway.

It revolves around free dog leashes of all things.

Here it is in a nutshell. Jim Gilbert of “Canada’s Huggable Car Dealer” fame, saw a marketing opportunity at Killarney Lake when he noticed a warning that people face a fine of $80 dollars if they are caught allowing their pooch to run off leash. Dog leashes with his logo are among his marketing items, so he had the idea of putting up a sign with some leashes, free for the taking.


Enter Donald Wright. Mr. Wright was strolling around the park one day, when he spotted the free leashes, and saw red.  As quoted in the CBC story –

"I think a public park has to be an ad free space. A place just to take a break, where people can be people, not consumers. I get fresh air, I get birds, I get wildlife, I get relaxation; a chance to recharge my batteries. I should not have to endure a private advertisement in a public park. He should not be filling my space as a citizen in a public park with his logo."

I think it sad that someone would allow a logo and a few free dog leashes to infringe on one’s enjoyment of the trails, but he has the right to be upset if he wants to be.  It’s a choice. But that’s neither here nor there.


The more interesting point is the marketing. Jim Gilbert should be taking Mr. Wright out to dinner as a thank you for the free publicity.  Terry Seguin has been having a field day reading all the social media response, most of which re-enforced Gilbert’s message that he was simply being a good corporate citizen – “giving back” as he put it.

Of course it has more to do with promoting his company than giving back to the community or saving someone from a fine, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

To finish the story, Mr. Wright complained to city hall, and the council came up with a compromise. The free leashes with the car dealership’s logo could stay, but his logo on the sign had to go. So now it has a picture of his dog instead.


And as often happens in these cases, it will likely result in new regulations about advertising in city parks. It is inevitable.

I get Mr. Wright’s point that we are besieged with advertising. But I don’t think it’s all bad. I golf at Gilridge, and I appreciate that there are benches to sit on at various holes. I appreciate them – can’t imagine getting upset at whoever provided them because they attached their logo.

Not that I want to see a McDonald’s logo when canoeing down the St. Croix River out in the middle of nowhere, but let’s be real here – Killarney Lake isn’t exactly the wilderness, and the sign with the leashes are just outside the lodge. To suggest there should be no corporate logos in a park is rather ridiculous. Should people out canoeing on the lake be required to cover up the Old Town logo on their canoes?


What if a company was to offer to prepare and maintain expanded hiking or skiing trails around Killarney, something beyond the city’s financial capacity. Should we say “no” because they would want to put up a sign saying “This trail provided by XX Company?  Think Irving Nature Park?

No company, whether it is McDonalds, or Irving, or Canada’s Huggable Car Dealer or anyone else, does anything in any community unless there is Public Relations benefit attached. That’s a given. It’s never just for the public good.

Jim Gilbert wasn’t being altruistic, he was being opportunistic.  But not in a bad way. The PR benefit he realized because someone raised a stink is simply a bonus.  

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 31 Mar 2016 01:05:04 +0000
WTF Republicans? Why can't you be like Canadian conservatives?


WTF Republicans? Why can’t you be like our Conservatives?

Watching the presidential race unfold in the United States I get the distinct impression I am a witness to history.  But not in a good way because it definitely could end badly, either at the Republican convention or later. 

We have all seen where the Trump campaign is going so no need to go into all that. Suffice to say neither he and nor his campaign are good for the country. So with that as a given, the way it is playing out among other leading Republicans is very telling, in that it shows how broken their system is, and how, by comparison, we’re doing OK here in Canada.


The other candidates including those who have dropped out and those who are still in, have called Trump out for his racism, dishonesty, being a misogynist, inciting violence, and the list goes on, and of course many others are saying the same thing. In short, that he is unfit to govern. However I want to stick with the former and current candidates who are not named Trump, because they carry weight within the party and their comments speak volumes to how absolutely polarized the political dynamic is in that country.

Consider that while they all fully realize what an absolute disaster a Trump presidency would be, not one of them is willing to say they won’t vote for him if he is running against Hillary Clinton. They are so blinded by hate for the other party, that they are willing to allow Trump to take the country to hell in a hand basket rather than stand up and say “No, for the sake of the country I would rather my party be out of power than see what it might become under Trump.”

That’s a damning indictment on their character, their judgment, and their patriotism.


Meantime, here in Canada, we have the results of a fresh public opinion poll on how Justin Trudeau is doing so far. Mind you this could change with today’s budget, but as of yesterday, it is interesting to note that while his approval numbers continue to be high, it is telling that even among Conservatives, he scored very well in several categories.


These two positions underline a key difference between American Republicans and our home grown Conservatives, and it says something good about our politics that even after a hard fought election, all but the most partisan Tories can admit that it looks like Trudeau was indeed ready.

So take a bow Conservatives. It’s good on ya to be able to admit that at least so far, Trudeau hasn’t been all that bad, whether with a progressive agenda that serves the country well or with how he is representing Canada abroad.


Of course Trudeau’s current popularity can’t last. He can’t help but lose support no matter which way he jumps on issues like the pipeline, and budgets can be troublesome, in a “you can’t please everybody” kind of way.


And of course there are differing opinions on how much he should allow the deficit to grow.  

But for now, at this particular point in time, why don’t we look at it as an opportunity to give ourselves a bit of a pat on the back, and to be grateful that despite whatever our respective political stripe is, it’s a good thing that the majority of us can be open minded enough to realize the other side isn’t always wrong.  Or evil.

Americans could learn a lot by looking north.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 22 Mar 2016 02:19:29 +0000
Gallant gov't chooses PR over courageous, responsible leadership


When it was elected, the Gallant government went to great pains to say it would make the tough choices necessary to right our seriously sinking financial ship. Many of us applauded that, knowing it is most definitely necessary.

Then we had their first budget and it was nothing to write home about. But then we were told it would be the second budget that would turn the tide. The message was look out – though choices are coming – brace yourself.


Then, supposedly to show it is serious, it launched this massive Strategic Program Review public consultation exercise, to hear from New Brunswickers on what they feel the government should do. We were told nothing is off the table.

Then Premier Gallant announces that rather than the aforementioned everything being on the table, that the two biggest expenses, health and education, were now off the table. We were served the outrageous rationale that hospitals and schools were off the table because New Brunwickers didn’t want them touched. The result was a budget that raised the HST, and promised some cuts to the civil service, but nothing that would do much to address our serious financial situation.


That certainly showed a disappointing lack of political courage, which was bad enough, but now thanks to some digging by the Telegraph Journal, we find it is even worse than that. Now we find out, that that whole public consultation exercise was more or less a farce. We find out that it cost north of half a million dollars, the lion’s share of which went to a public relations effort to basically sell the public on the HST hike. This was being prepared at the same time the government was still telling people that no decisions had been made.


The Right to Information documents also show that the government paid up to $20 thousand for four focus groups where seven cost cutting initiatives were tested. It would be interesting to know what those seven options were but they were blacked out in the documents delivered to the TJ so that remains a government secret. So much for transparency.

The purpose of the focus groups was to measure how the public would respond to various cuts. So decisions weren’t based on making cuts that made the most sense in getting where we need to go, but rather finding out which ones would be the least unpopular, and going with those. 

This is further proof that this government is more interested in the public relations around governing than it is in actually governing.


As New Brunswickers, we sure aren’t being served well. The former government dropped the ball on taking the measures necessary to keep us from going over what University of Moncton economist Richard Saillant called a financial cliff, but at least they had a plan. The current government doesn’t even have that, and sadly, doesn’t seem to have the political will to develop one.

It’s hard to be optimistic for our future. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 14 Mar 2016 02:29:34 +0000
Some thoughts from a smug Canadian on the circus that is the Republican primaries


I don’t know if it is just that the times have changed, or that Americans are that different than we Canadians, but I am watching the political battles playing out south of the border with a disbelief, a sadness, and, admittedly, also with a bit of smugness.

I know the American political system is terribly broken, perhaps beyond repair, with the game so rigged in favour of the rich and powerful. And while that may have made the ground fertile for such opposites as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the only thing in common is that they are both anti-establishment, it’s the level of the discourse on the Republican side that should be worrying to all of us.


How low and juvenile the party of Abraham Lincoln has come. No point going chapter and verse on Trump, but isn’t it a damning indictment that those trying to defeat him for the nomination have resorted to the same type of schoolyard taunts?

And let’s compare with our country. Warning – smug alert.


In Canada, in the 1993 election campaign, the Conservatives ran a TV ad that focused on Chretien’s facial paralysis, thinking, I guess that they could score some votes with the suggestion it would be an embarrassment to have someone who looked like that as Prime Minister. In fact a line in the spot had a supposed average Canadian saying "I would be very embarrassed if he became Prime Minister of Canada."

To our credit the Canadians were outraged. Some argue it was that attack ad that sealed the Tories’ fate. If it wasn’t the spot, it may have been Chretien’s perfect response, saying, “God gave me this physical defect, but I have accepted it” Ouch.


Twenty-three years and a country away, Trump challenger Mario Rubio suggests Trump should sue whoever gave him that face. If Trump was sharper, he would have invoked a Chretien-like response. Imagine how well that would have played with the powerful religious Right. Rubio would be toast. But that’s not Trump. Instead, he insults Rubio saying he sweats too much and how disgusting it is. And so it goes. The level of discourse is what you would find in a grade school playground. Oh yeah – well your grandmother wears army boots!


But as low as it has gotten, with the quality of candidates the worst in the history of the country – every one of those Republican hopefuls is a climate change denier for god’s sakes, and one of them, Trump, at first refused to disavow former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s endorsement, but still, or maybe because of it, I find it impossible to turn away. And I wonder where’s the outrage from the average American amid all of this? The partisans aside, they must just be beside themselves? Or is the spectacle just so unbelievable, they have given up. Can’t say I’d blame them.

There is much to be said as well for the way the American media is covering this circus, compared to how the Canadian media covered our recent election, but that’s a different blog for another day. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 01 Mar 2016 03:05:17 +0000
Brian Gallant, Mike Babcock, pain, and true leadership

For weeks, even months, the Gallant government has been floating trial balloons, conditioning us for some tough measures in tomorrow’s budget. 

Like Mike Babcock said when he took over as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, determined to bring them back to respectability – this is a process and there will be pain.

Gallant has promised pain as well, but I have more faith in Babcock than I do in the Premier that the pain that is administered will get the job done.


In Babcock’s case – the plan is unfolding and while there is more pain to come there is a real vision and the team is heading in the right direction. With Gallant’s plan – his recent comments that education and health care are off the table when it comes to cuts, suggests he lacks both the vision and the courage to institute the pain needed to get us out from under the crippling debt that is keeping us down.

The Premier said there would be no cuts to either of those big budget departments because New Brunswickers made it clear they don’t want those departments touched.

That’s not leadership, that’s an absence of leadership.


While it is questionable that he ever actually said it, a quote attributed to Henry Ford comes to mind – “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The parallel is that while the feedback was not to cut in these areas, that’s not to say cutting in those areas isn’t the right thing to do.  There’s a difference between consulting with the electorate, and having the electorate dictate policy.

We have too many schools and too many hospitals for our population, and too much duplication.  Accepting this as unchangeable because people don’t want to lose anything is a far cry from the leadership our situation demands.


Rather than simply saying we won’t touch it because people don’t want us to, true leadership would include a clear vision of how our health care can be transformed to better meet our needs. First develop that vision, then share it and inspire New Brunswickers to buy into it, and then make it happen. That’s leadership. Saying we won’t touch it because people don’t want us to, not so much.

I may be surprised. According to many who have expertise in this area, better health delivery can be accomplished within the current budget, but it would require cuts in one place to free up money for enhancements in another.  Tomorrow’s budget may lay out a blueprint for such reforms but since there has been no such vision shared, it’s unlikely.

So instead there will be an HST hike, hopefully with provisions that mitigate the affect on low-income folks because it will hurt them most. There will also probably be road tolls, and certainly cuts to the civil service.  And who knows what else?

But that will not get us to where we need to be.

We’ll see tomorrow and again, I may be proved wrong, but my hunch is that Premier Gallant will prove he’s no Mike Babcock.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:45:19 +0000
Covered Bridge Chips, who's the bad guy?


Reading many of the comments on social media in reaction to the strike at Covered Bridge Chips, I can’t help but wonder why organized labour has fallen so out of favour with the public.

I’m not overly surprised as unions have grown more and more out of favour over recent years all over North America, and while there are also lots of comments in support of the workers at the potato chip plant, those are definitely in the minority. Which begs the question why?


Here we have a company, that is into its third expansion so it is safe to assume is doing well. And it is paying its employees minimum wages. Just how many are being paid the minimum is in dispute, but obviously some are. No one will disagree that it’s hard to make a living on minimum wage. Most I would hope would also agree that if you are working full time you deserve to make a living wage.  So why is it that when they organize and fight for just that, they become the bad guys?

When you pay minimum wage, what you are really saying to your employee is – “I would pay you less if there was any legal way I could, but I can’t, so here’s what I have to give you”.  That seems to be the mindset of many employers, but in the minds of many it is the people on the line who are the unreasonable ones.

The point is that organized labour has become the whipping boy for what ails us. When a company sends its manufacturing to China or wherever so it can get its widgets made by slave labour for the cheapest price possible, nobody blames the greed of the company for the subsequent unemployment, but rather it is because of the inflexibility of the union.

The problem is that organized labour has not done an effective enough job with its communication. That’s unfortunate because study after study, including by conservative organizations such as the World Bank, concludes that higher rates of unionization lead to lower inequality, lower unemployment, higher productivity, better social justice, healthier environments and a quicker recovery from economic downturns.


To see the flip side of this you need look no further than the United States. Nearly half the American states over the past few years adopted what is called Right to Work legislation. It sounds good but in reality it is designed to weaken unions. Twenty-one of the twenty-three states that adopted Right to Work now have per capita incomes below the US average, and increased poverty levels. It’s a race to the bottom and a race we as a society should avoid.

I appreciate this is big picture stuff and may be far removed from the labour dispute at Covered Bridge Chips, but the comments that strike has prompted does speak to the overall anti-union attitude that prevails.  And yes, I know there are examples of unreasonable unions, but for every old school union that hasn’t yet realized that management and employees are in this together, there is an unenlightened management that doesn’t get it either.


But back to Hartland, I don’t know who is being reasonable and who is not in the Covered Bridge situation. What I do know is that unions don’t get their foot in the door at any place where the workforce is satisfied that they are being treated fairly. And I also know it is quite a leap to be labeling people greedy because they can’t make do on minimum wage and want to be able to provide for their families. Seems fair for eight hours work, or is that just me? 

Thanks for reading. You can "like" this blog above, and if you feel so inclined please share it as well. ReTweets always appreciated. 



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:59:21 +0000
Writing Faces - the long, but mainly short of it.


I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at a house concert this past fall featuring the great singer songwriter Ron Hynes.  In fact it would have been one of Ron’s final shows. Conversing with his audience between songs, he talked about how he gets asked where he finds the inspiration for his songs. His response was among the most honest I have ever heard from a songwriter or for that matter any writer. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that there is no inspiration, just hard work. He talked about getting up in the morning and putting in the time, every day. Sitting with his guitar and working for hours – trying line after line, changing them, trying again, further tweaks, and then eventually, hours later, sometimes days or even months later, there’s a finished product.

Ernest Hemmingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” He also said....


I’m embarrassed to call myself a writer in the same essay in which these guys are mentioned, but while of comparatively marginal talent, it is much of what I do, and I can certainly attest that it is, for me as well, as the saying goes, 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

But in some weird sense I do enjoy writing. I think it is the challenge of it, and the satisfaction of producing something, whether it’s a speech, a magazine article or op-ed, or for that matter these blogs.  It’s work but also enjoyable.


Last winter, I had the good fortune to participate in a rather unique writing project. I was asked to be part of the small team of writers composing profiles to complement the photography in what would become Keith Minchin’s Faces of New Brunswick coffee table book.


The fun of doing this was in the challenge. No profile could exceed 130 words. I remember when I was drafting the first one I contacted editorial director Lane MacIntosh to ask how much leeway I could have on the word restriction. He said I could go to 132 words if I had to. I waited for his laugh and reassurance he was just kidding. He wasn’t. Bastard.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote this note to accompany a story he sent to a friend “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”


And that, keeping the writing short, became the discipline and the challenge. Our approach was not to write biographies, but to avoid them. Rather our objective was to search out that gem of information, that unique life turning point, or inspiration, or motivation, or tragedy, or turn of fate, or whatever it was that more than anything else, make these people tick; the passion that makes them who they are.

And then, capture that in 130 words, so a reader will learn something interesting about the person that they may not have known, and that they would probably not find anywhere else.


I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I also liked the fact that the people Keith choose for the book were a true cross-section of New Brunswick, and included the famous as well as the little known from all walks of life, but all with a story worth telling and all of whom in their way contribute to making New Brunswick what it is.

There was also the great satisfaction of being part of something bigger. Working as part of a team of very talented people including editorial director and writer Lane MacIntosh, fellow writer Sharon Pond, a dynamite editor in Armand Paul, which was a treat because I hadn’t worked with him since my days at CBC many years ago, one of the most creative graphic designers I have ever worked with in Pierre Allain, who made every page pop, and of course as the anchor Keith’s wonderful photography.

The end result is something I am extremely proud to have been a part of.


It truly is a celebration of New Brunswick and is in itself a work of art. So if you are like me, and find yourself every year at about this time stressing over that perfect present, this may be what you have been looking for -  if the gift is for someone with a connection to the province. It’s a thought. If you are interested, here’s how to get it.

I’m not sure if this will be my last blog before Christmas, but it might be, so just in case, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah as the case may be, and to thank you for taking the time to read my blogs.

As always thanks for reading. You can "like" this blog above, and if the spirit moves you to share this, please do. Retweets always appreciated. 


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 20 Dec 2015 21:18:54 +0000