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Seniors 1 Gallant Liberals 0 - But where from here?

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I heard it said once – “Whatever you do, don’t piss off seniors. They have nothing better to do than figure out ways to make your life miserable”.

An over simplification for sure, but I expect there is a gem of wisdom in that, that Premier Gallant may take to heart from here on.

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The Premier and his Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers had been fighting what now appears to have been an unwinnable battle to change the fees charged for nursing homes.  They aren’t conceding it was bad policy, only bad communications.  What they regret, they say, and the reason they have now abandoned the whole thing, is that it caused seniors undue stress.

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It’s safe to assume it caused the Premier and his Minister a lot of stress as well.

But what’s the take away here? That the government is weak for flip-flopping, or strong enough to admit a mistake and fix it? Or, as CBC host Terry Seguin asked Minister Rogers – that if any group gets organized and sustains enough opposition, that the government will back down?  Her response avoided a direct answer.

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I guess one take away is never get between a senior and his or her money. It is true that the Gallant government did a poor job of communicating the proposed nursing home changes, and it didn’t help that the Opposition Tories exaggerated its effects at every opportunity.

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When those same Tories were the government, they brought in the Shared Risk pension plan, and that change was better explained. But still, despite the fact the effect on seniors would be minimal if anything at all, the seniors mobilized and they went to war. To its credit, the Alward Tories didn’t back down and now the province has a pension plan that is sustainable for all civil servants, including those pensioners. But who’s to say that seniors backlash wasn't at least partly responsible for the Conservatives landing on the opposition side of the legislature.

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Seniors making the New Brunswick government back down has somewhat of a tradition in the province. It may not have worked on the pensions issue, but I remember back in the late 80’s or 90’s when the government of the day announced changes to residency rules for New Brunswick snowbirds. Long story short, the seniors would have none of it and fought it until the government caved.

But back to this week’s 180-degree turn on the nursing homes issue. As Premier Gallant so rightly points out, the economic challenges remain.

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So what now?  We know serious cuts are still needed. School closures (assuming the legal niceties are attended to), hospital closures, civil service cuts, program cuts? People will protest. Will they take inspiration from the senior’s victory this week and put up more of a fight than they otherwise might?

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And what about the government? Will this slap down make them gun shy about future restraint announcements? They spent a lot of political capital on this one, and got nothing for it. And no, the announcement of working with seniors to develop a sustainable aging strategy isnothing more than face-saving.

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The Gallant government seems to have this uncanny knack for digging itself into a hole. As Britney Spears so eloquently put it – Oops, they’ve done it again. Well, that’s not exactly what she said, but close, you get the drift.

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