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Gallant gov't chooses PR over courageous, responsible leadership

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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