Political Tag - BissettMatheson Communications http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/latest Sun, 19 Nov 2017 14:17:40 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Has Gallant pulled off a coup with his health care deal? http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/has-gallant-pulled-off-a-coup-with-his-health-care-deal http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 22 Dec 2016 20:53:48 +0000
US TV News comes up short in comparison to ours here in Canada http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/us-tv-news-comes-up-short-in-comparison-to-ours-here-in-canada http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/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 - CNN.com  


duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 28 Nov 2016 04:42:23 +0000
Some post-PC leadership convention thoughts, Part 1 http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-post-pc-leadership-convention-thoughts-pt-1 http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-post-pc-leadership-convention-thoughts-pt-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.

Thanks for reading. Please feel encouraged to share in whatever way you usually do. ReTweets are one way – just saying ;-)


duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 23 Oct 2016 22:13:12 +0000
Why no transparency on the government's bill to give it veto power over transferring judges? http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/why-does-the-government-feel-no-need-to-explain-itself-on-this-judges-thing http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/why-does-the-government-feel-no-need-to-explain-itself-on-this-judges-thing


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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 27 Jun 2016 03:22:37 +0000
Is Justice Minister Stephen Horsman guilty of an ethical breach, and did he just dodge a bullet? http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/did-justice-minister-stephen-horsman-just-dodge-a-bullet http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/did-justice-minister-stephen-horsman-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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 26 May 2016 01:57:37 +0000
Might be more than Trudeau losing PR points over elbowgate http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/might-be-more-than-trudeau-losing-pr-points-over-elbowgate http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 23 May 2016 01:15:14 +0000
Trudeau haters off base in criticisms of his Fort McMurray response http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/trudeau-haters-off-base-in-criticisms-of-fort-mcmurray-response http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/trudeau-haters-off-base-in-criticisms-of-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: http://tinyurl.com/ztb2hca You can follow him on social media, and "like" his Facebook page @ https://www.facebook.com/theyegsbreakfast.ca/ 

Thanks for reading. As always, shares including ReTweets are appreciated. 

duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 11 May 2016 04:19:17 +0000
A look at the crisis communications around the Fort McMurray evacuations http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/a-look-at-the-crisis-communications-around-the-fort-mcmurray-evacuations http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 09 May 2016 01:45:56 +0000
Free Tuition for low income students - great idea, poor execution http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/free-tuition-for-low-income-great-idea-poor-execution http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/free-tuition-for-low-income-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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 21 Apr 2016 23:49:29 +0000
WTF Republicans? Why can't you be like Canadian conservatives? http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/wtf-republicans-why-can-t-you-be-like-canadian-conservatives http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 22 Mar 2016 02:19:29 +0000
Gallant gov't chooses PR over courageous, responsible leadership http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/gallant-gov-t-chooses-pr-over-responsible-leadership http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/gallant-gov-t-chooses-pr-over-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@bissettmatheson.com (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 http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-thoughts-on-the-circus-that-is-the-republican-primaries http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-thoughts-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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 01 Mar 2016 03:05:17 +0000
Brian Gallant, Mike Babcock, pain, and true leadership http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/brian-gallant-mike-babcock-pain-and-true-leadership http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/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@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:45:19 +0000
The Gallant government, Atcon, and our tenacious, determined Auditor General http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-gallant-government-atcon-and-our-tenacious-determined-auditor-general http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-gallant-government-atcon-and-our-tenacious-determined-auditor-general

Talk about your showdown at the OK Corral or in this case, at the New Brunswick legislature.  It will be interesting to see how this goes. On the one hand we have Auditor-General Kim MacPherson saying she is giving notice, not asking permission, to do a forensic audit into Atcon. On the other hand there is the government, which has said they aren’t against her investigating Atcon further, except they won’t OK the money necessary to do it. 


The wrinkle though is that the Auditor General technically doesn’t work for the government, she works for the legislature. Which means that the legislature’s Legislative Administration Committee will have to vote on whether to give her the funds. The Liberals control that vote because they have the majority of committee members, but MacPherson says even if they vote no, she will do the audit anyway.

Strategically, this is interesting. Social media has been working overtime with lots of comments on all sides of this, but most giving her virtual high-fives. Many though are speculating that the time may be close when the government finds that MacPherson’s skill set doesn’t meet the government’s needs, an obvious reference to the recent dismissal of Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eilish Cleary.


Many say she’s crazy because she will face this potential fate. But if she’s crazy, she’s crazy like a fox. While there is still no definitive reason why Dr. Cleary was let go, the public perception is that it was politically motivated. That may or may not be true, but the perception is there and for this reason alone, the government would not dare dismiss the Auditor-General. And she knows it.

Whether this firmed her resolve to take this stand, or whether, like she says it’s because she has heard a lot of concern from the public and because the government hasn’t been forthcoming with answers, the thing is she is going to do it, and most New Brunswickers seem to be onside, even though it will cost money, maybe in the neighbourhood of $1 million.

I expect the opposition Tories are giddy about this development. Ever since the Brian Gallant government was elected, the Tories never missed an opportunity to remind the public that six of the MLAs Gallant appointed to his cabinet were also part of the Shawn Graham cabinet that ignored the advice of its bureaucrats and granted Atcon a $70 million loan guarantee, just before the company went bankrupt and the money was lost.  And now, for the Tories, Atcon will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.


For its part, Premier Gallant and in fact the Atcon 6 have steadfastly refused to answer the questions the audit may finally answer. With a combination of frustration and arrogance, when repeatedly asked in Question Period about it, those questions were never afforded real answers. The responses were always along the lines of chastising the Conservatives for dwelling on the past or claiming the questions had already been answered. 


And the government has steadfastly said Atcon has already been investigated and to go further would not be a good use of taxpayer money. In short their message has amounted to “move along now – nothing to see here”.

All of that comes up short, because those responsible have never apologized and never explained, beyond saying they were trying to save jobs in the Miramichi. But related questions, like why the government would surrender security on the money to the bank, especially when they had been told how risky it was, have never been satisfied.


It was a long time ago, and it was a former government, but New Brunswickers deserved a full explanation then and they deserve it now. But it is obvious they were never going to get it from the government. So it is understandable why so many are now applauding Kim MacPherson’s determination.

She says her focus will be on where the money went. To what extent it and other related questions will be satisfied is in itself a good question.

Speaking of good questions, wouldn’t it be good if the government was half as committed to providing answers to New Brunswick taxpayers as the Auditor General is?

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 16 Dec 2015 11:09:52 +0000
The curious case of Dr. Cleary http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-curious-case-of-dr-cleary http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-curious-case-of-dr-cleary


There’s a principle in communications that when there is a void, it will be filled. There is a void as wide as a Mack truck in the curious case of Dr. Eilish Cleary and there has been no shortage of fill.

In the absence of any plausible explanation from the people who know, those who don’t are filling the void with all manner of rumour and speculation. But more than anything else, with outrage.

Social media is all-abuzz and its collective wrath is landing squarely on the shoulders of the Brian Gallant government.


Health Minister Victor Boudreau is hiding behind the usual screen of it being a “personnel matter”, adding later that her firing was not politically motivated.  But many are not buying that.

By keeping the reasons behind the popular and respected former Chief Medical Officer’s dismissal a mystery, the government has not only drawn condemnation on itself, but also on JD Irving. This because much of the speculation is that Dr. Cleary was let go because she was investigating the health risks of the use of glyphosate, a herbicide used by the forestry company, and one that the World Health Organization says is “probably carcinogenic”. People are connecting the dots suggesting, possibly quite falsely, that because of her research into this herbicide, Irving wanted her gone and the government was quick to comply.


The government denies any connection, saying that research will continue, but unless and until it offers up something better, this belief will continue. Dr. Cleary isn’t speculating, at least not publicly, saying only that she’s also in the dark, saying all she has been told is that her particular skillset doesn’t meet the government’s needs.

Social media has been quick to call bullshit on that, and with no shortage of sarcasm, along the lines of the government’s requirements are for someone who will do only what they are told, and never to do anything that might upset Irving.  Other speculation ranges from the environmentalist company she keeps and her apparently related speaking engagements, to the language issue to it being about her stand on fracking. But far and away it’s the alleged Irving connection that is resonating most.

If JDI is completely innocent in this, the government is doing the company a major disservice by allowing this speculation to thrive by not clearing the air with the real reason she was let go.


NDP Leader Dominic Cardy has called for independent investigation, calling it a muzzling of New Brunswick’s most prominent government scientist. Can’t see that happening but he makes a good point when he asks which is it –was she let go because of a personnel matter or because her skillset was lacking, as they have given both as reasons.

The words of Walter Scott come to mind “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 08 Dec 2015 03:55:55 +0000
Gallant government will have to show backbone to realize deficit reduction target http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/gallant-government-will-have-to-show-backbone-to-realize-deficit-reduction-target http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/gallant-government-will-have-to-show-backbone-to-realize-deficit-reduction-target

The government of Brian Gallant will have to muster up more backbone than it has shown so far, if it is to realize the 500-600 million dollars it needs to bring us back from the financial cliff.

The reaction to what it is calling its options list – a list of trial balloons it unleashed Friday in the form of a variety of cuts and revenue generation measures, has been as expected.


The trucking industry won the race to be first to come out in criticism. In their case it was to say the government should not impose highway tolls. Right after that the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce weighed in to say the government shouldn’t raise corporate taxes. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the government shouldn’t increase the HST. CUPE says the government shouldn’t eliminate any public sector jobs. The New Brunswick Business Council though, suggests that would be fine.

And that is the pattern. All of these groups and others, every one of them, agrees we have a serious financial situation here, and they all want the government to address it – but apparently only with measures that affect other people.  

And therein lies the challenge.

Taken in isolation, in each case of an organization telling the government to back off, a solid argument can be made.


Increasing corporate taxes may indeed stifle economic growth. Highway tolls probably would increase the costs of anything that is transported by trucks. Increasing the HST will hurt the business community and especially poor people. Increasing class sizes may be detrimental to the efforts to get math and literacy scores up. Reducing the number of visitor information centres may hurt tourism.  And on and on.

So what to do. Back off on all those suggestions? Then we’re back to the status quo, and that is a recipe for financial disaster.

The official opposition condemned pretty much all of these suggested measures, and while it doesn’t seem to have much of substance to add, it as well knows the deficit has to be tamed. It will be interesting to see whether the Tories will just continue to simply criticize or come up with its own ideas. After all, when they were government they were into restraint too, and would have accomplished more on that front had then Finance Minister Blaine Higgs not run into so much opposition from within his own cabinet. But so far as the official opposition, the only fix they seem to ever mention is shale gas development.


The more relevant opposition is actually coming from David Coon and Dominic Cardy, both of whom note that the government which said everything is on the table, failed to include in its suggestions ending corporate handouts or increasing natural resources royalties. Good points both, and the Liberal government should be pushed to explain why.

The way it is shaping up, the government will have to be a lot tougher than it has been to date to get this done. These are tough decisions and the government needs to be able to communicate that they are the right and necessary ones, and that they are fair. With the nursing homes fiasco, the government sent the signal that if the opposition is persistent, the government will back down. That, I expect, will give critics encouragement not to let up.

Cue the fireworks. 


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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 30 Nov 2015 04:44:39 +0000
Communications around Syrian refugee crisis shows our character for what it is http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-syrian-refugees-issue-has-our-character-showing http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-syrian-refugees-issue-has-our-character-showing


As could be expected, the Paris attacks have heightened the public debate over the Syrian refugees. That debate has been burning up social media as it puts on display both the best and worst of our collective character. It is centered of course on the fact the refugees are mainly Muslim, just like the terrorists.

For some, that’s license to parade their racism and for others to share their exaggerated but honest fears. For some politicians, it’s a chance to grandstand and score some points with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Stephen Harper tried that in the recent election, but to Canadians’ credit, it didn’t work. But in the United States, on the heels of what happened in Paris, at least 31 Governors are declaring that they don’t want any Syrian refugees in their states. They don’t have the legal authority to enforce any such thing, but that’s another matter – this is about catering to the majority of voters.

It’s good to see that in Canada we are doing things a little differently. We’re displaying a more generous spirit. But a quick scan of social media shows we don’t have room to be smug, as there is no shortage of naysayers, but for all the mean-spirited and nasty content, there are many times more generous and compassionate comments.

The good thing about this volume and diversity of opinion is that it forces the debate, and it puts our own beliefs, prejudices and hypocrisy to the test, and a little soul searching never hurt anybody. Often it is the memes that do this most effectively. Some through humour, like this:


Others are more poignant.


Or this:


While a lot of criticism is aimed at Christians for being hypocritical – it is mainly the southern states in the US where the Christian Right holds great sway that are the most vocally opposed to allowing any Syrian refugees in. But on the other side of the coin, and jumping back to New Brunswick now, it is the churches that are among the first to step up as sponsors, just as they have in the past.

What all this discussion also does is crank up all that old BS about refugees and immigrants taking our jobs and being a drain on our economy, and about how we should be looking after our own first. On that, gotta share one more:


Participating in the political panel on CBC Shift last Friday, I made the point that governments and multicultural organizations have failed in their communications in not doing enough to counter these myths. It turns out I just wasn’t patient enough.

So credit where credit is due, it is great to see that the New Brunswick Multicultural Council has now taken the initiative with #RestoreHope, a campaign aimed at giving New Brunswickers an opportunity to sign a petition of support for bringing Syrian refugees to the province. But more than that, the site lists eight specific reasons why we should support the refugee effort, including tackling some of the persistent misinformation. It’s a start.  

So if you are so inclined, go check it out, and if you sign you can also mention why you have signed it. I can think of a lot of reasons, but they are all variations of simply because it is the right thing to do.

And if you want to help with this refugee settlement initiative, the Multicultural Council has started weekly lunch and learn sessions, at least here in Fredericton, where you can find out how.

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 20 Nov 2015 00:18:17 +0000
Some post-election thoughts http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-post-election-thoughts http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-post-election-thoughts

Now that the dust is starting to settle on the election, a few thoughts.

First and foremost, while not everyone will agree, it was a good day for the country. Stephen Harper, with his dictatorial leadership style and unethical tactics, had turned the election into a referendum on him and on Canadian values. We passed that test by showing him the door.

Now we’ll see how the new guy does. He’s off to a good start. As Prime Minister Elect, Justin Trudeau is already sending signals of a new, open approach, and that is certainly refreshing. But Liberals should make no mistake. There is no question that this election was mainly about seeing Harper go. Who his replacement would be was a secondary priority. It just happened that because of a near flawless campaign on Trudeau’s part combined with a failed strategy and stumbling on Thomas Mulcair’s part, Justin got the nod.

So it is now on to the job of repairing the harm done by Harper over the past 10 years, and moving the country forward.


Some of that should be fairly easy. Start treating the environment like it matters, unmuzzle our scientists and bring back the long form censuses so we can get back to fact-based decision making. These kinds of things should be a no brainer.

Much tougher, and perhaps a real test of Trudeau’s character may be what he does with the PMO. Under Harper, power was concentrated within the Prime Minister's Office to the detriment of Parliament, which was regularly circumvented. It was also to the detriment of democracy, but human nature suggests it is often hard to relinquish clout once you have it. So we’ll see.

We’ll also see if he keeps his promise to review our deeply flawed first-past-the-post electoral system. I checked to see if he actually promised to change it. He didn’t, just to review it. But hopefully enough pressure can be brought to bear that it does get changed.


While most of us are looking at Monday’s election as a massive win for the Liberals, and it was, the accompanying fact is that just like Harper four years before, we have a majority government even though only a minority of Canadians voted for it. In fact the Liberals got less than 40 percent of the popular vote, the same as Harper got in 2011.

It’s not that big a deal this time because 70 percent of the country wanted a progressive party to win. But if it wasn’t for the NDP collapse, it is quite possible that we would have ended up with a re-elected right wing party most Canadians didn’t want, just like last time.

First-past-the-post (or winner take all) overly rewards the winners, and overly punishes the losers. And it often results in strategic voting, which while understandable, nevertheless sucks. It’s pretty simple. A party that gets 40% support should not get 100% of the power. It is simply not fair, and certainly not representative of the country's citizens.

But perhaps like the power concentration within the PMO, it may be hard for someone who is benefiting from a system to find motivation to change it. But since we are now into change big time in this country, maybe the time is right to put Proportional Representation on the table.

Trudeau did promise to look into it. That’s a start.

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 21 Oct 2015 03:13:32 +0000
Some election day thoughts http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-election-day-thoughts http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-election-day-thoughts

I can’t say I am disappointed to see that the longest election campaign in Canadian history has morphed into the Stephen Harper farewell tour. Even in the unlikely scenario that he wins, it would be a minority, and he would be gone. I have made no secret of my distain for the man. I think he has been bad for the country, bad for democracy and bad for the Conservative party.

That said, while there will be relief when his demise becomes official sometime this evening, there will be no gloating on my part. I hate the fact that the primary purpose of this election for the vast majority of Canadians was to get rid of someone rather than elect someone. I totally get it; I just don’t like it. It says something about Harper of course, but it also says something about the lack of any great vision for the country that Canadians could get excited about, from either of his main opponents.


The long campaign though, did reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly about our politics and political leaders. Kudos to Tom Mulcair for sticking to his principles over the niqab issue even though it cost him a lot of votes in Quebec. And for the ugly, there was Harper making the niqab an issue in the first place, and then doubling down by instituting that tip line for what he called “barbaric cultural practices”. In short, inflaming racial prejudices against Muslims for the sake of votes. It brought Canadian election campaigning to a new low. Hopefully, we won’t see the likes of that again in this country, ever. I like to think we are better than that. 

By making the niqab an issue though, Harper forced us to think about what sort of Canada we want. In a way it makes today’s election somewhat of a referendum on Canadian values, and that’s not a bad thing.


Harper has become such a polarizing force in this country, that for the vast majority of voters, the first priority is seeing him defeated. I can’t think of another election where the defeat of an incumbent was this predominant; considerably more important than who his replacement would be.

For this reason strategic voting became more of a thing this time. I expect I am far from alone in being torn on this myself, in deciding whether I could risk voting for the candidate I would really like to see win, or give my vote to a different candidate because that one was perceived to have the better chance of defeating the Conservative. I hope never to be in this position again, so I sincerely hope that sufficient pressure is placed on the new government to fulfill their campaign commitment to scrap the broken first-past-the-post system for some type of proportional representation, given that every party except the Conservatives made this promise. Never again should we end up with a majority government that doesn’t represent the majority of voters.


One final though, and it is aimed at those who aren’t yet sure if they are going to bother voting. The point so many others have made about voting being a privilege and how lucky we are in this great country to be able to do it without fear is valid in every respect. But for the point I want to make, I will quote American writer David Foster Wallace, when he said “By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote.” Something to think about.

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 18 Oct 2015 22:11:55 +0000
With 3 days to go, a look at the strategies http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/with-3-days-to-go-a-look-at-the-strategies http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/with-3-days-to-go-a-look-at-the-strategies


With the election campaign finally into its last few days, it’s interesting to look at what strategies worked, what ones failed, and what ones failed so badly they actually backfired.

We won’t know for sure of course until we see what happens, but rather than wait, a few observations, strictly for what they are worth. Opinions may vary. 


The biggest strategy failure may be Thomas Mulcair playing it too safe, moving to the centre and in the process alienating some of the NDPs traditional base, and by promising a balanced budget as a way to show Canadians the party can be fiscally responsible. This let the Liberals appear as the real alternative to Harper. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, he was leading the polls, if we can remember that far back.


Harper's first strategy was to base his reelection bid on the economy and security. But when that wasn't resonating, he needed a Plan B. Enter Australian strategist Lynton Crosby and wedge politics, and consequently the niqab became an issue. Then he doubled down with his tip line that encourages neighbours to watch for “barbaric cultural practices”, a measure aimed at tapping into a perceived fear of Muslims. His politics of division may have worked at first, especially in Quebec and to the detriment of Mulcair but curiously not of Trudeau. It is yet to be determined whether Harper took it too far, to his own detriment.


As an aside, Crosby has now quit. According to one Tory insider it was because he didn’t like Harper tapping into the Ford family to boost his campaign. Others suggest he left to protect his brand, not wanting it to get out that his dirty tricks perhaps don’t always work.  

But maybe the greatest strategic failure has been the Tories “he’s just not ready” campaign aimed at Trudeau. As we all well know, those “nice hair though” ads started airing in what advertisers call saturation rotation long before the formal campaign began. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, given that a similar tactic doomed both Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff before they even got started.


These ads lowered our expectations of Trudeau. This combined with another strategic mistake – the ridiculously long campaign, allowed people to get to know him a bit more, and see that in debates and elsewhere, he wasn’t the disaster the Conservative campaign had told us he would be.  As Tory strategist Kory Teneycke said about Trudeau prior to the first debate "I think that if he comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations." Strategically, that was a dumb comment to make. Not entirely inaccurate, because the Conservative campaign did lower those expectations. But that was a very stupid thing to do because when Trudeau did show up not only with pants, but with a performance that was at least on par with his opponents, it came as more of an eye-opener than would otherwise have been the case. It prompted voters to take notice.



The best strategy has been the Liberals'. There were some hiccups at first, in fact even before the campaign started, in Trudeau’s support for Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation. This put him at an immediate disadvantage, compared to Mulcair’s forceful opposition to it. It showed Trudeau as putting politics ahead of principle, based on polls at the time that showed widespread support for the measures, and a fear that if he didn't support it Harper would make him look like he was soft on security. But as the campaign went on, Trudeau’s stock rose. This because he didn't slip as the Conservatives told us he would.

Mainly though, he managed to differentiate himself from both the Conservatives and NDP with his position to run three years of deficits to finance a stimulus program to provide jobs. With that strategy, he emerged as more of an alternative to Harper than Mulcair is.

And that is exactly where you want to be when polling tells you that the vast majority of Canadians want change.

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 15 Oct 2015 20:41:02 +0000