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When a political promise is not a real promise

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The battle in the legislature’s Question Period over the New Brunswick government’s decision to eliminate the cap on nursing home fees has taken an unfortunate turn that will do nothing to enhance the credibility of politicians and will give citizens one more reason to tune out.

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It started with the Opposition Progressive Conservatives accusing the government of declaring war on seniors.

The Liberal government’s response has been to accuse the Opposition of fear mongering, and point out out that all they are going to do is require seniors who can afford it, to pay a little more.

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The problem is that the government has not clarified what “who can afford it” or “a little more” means. So in the absence of that kind of detail, seniors are worried that it may mean them, and they wonder if landing in a nursing home will eventually drain them of all their savings.

The Opposition keeps demanding answers with all the indignant rhetoric it can muster. The government, which says those details aren’t determined yet, keeps reiterating that this is only going to affect 13 per cent of nursing home residents, a suggestion that, if it is meant to reassure, is falling short.

This week, the Opposition changed its attack a bit, focusing more on comments Premier Gallant made during the election campaign to the annual meeting of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Homes Residents’ Rights. They say he promised them that he wouldn’t touch senior’s assets. He says he doesn’t recall saying that and challenged the Opposition to prove it. There apparently wasn’t any recording of the speech made, but after a day the Opposition produced the minutes from the meeting, which apparently does say he made that promise.  

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And this is where it goes downhill, with Energy Minister Don Arsenault saying, in essence, that it doesn’t matter whether Premier Gallant promised not to touch senior’s assets because even if he did say that, it wasn’t in writing in the election platform, so it doesn’t count. The Opposition is trying to embarass the government on this and rightly so as they should be embarrassed for trotting out such a lame excuse. But you know that old adage about how people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones - thanks to former Health Minister Ted Flemming the Opposition is in a glass house.

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When the Liberal Opposition went after then Conservative Premier David Alward over breaking a verbal promise on a perscription drug plan, Flemming's defence was something along the line of it not being a serious promise and the proof of that was that it wasn't included in the party's election platform.  

This is what political discourse in New Brunswick has been reduced to; the ability to squirm out of a verbal commitment on a technicality. No wonder people have become jaded, and why more and more citizens have given up on and have completely tuned out the political process. 

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Here’s a suggestion that could serve as a start of addressing this public disillusionment. Maybe from here on, in election campaigns, politicians should be required to read a disclaimer before every speech. Something that says: “Be advised that anything I might promise in my upcoming remarks should not be taken seriously unless it is repeated in our platform.” 

At least then New Brunswickers would have fair warning and would have one less reason to be disappointed later. 

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