I'm running for the NDP nomination in the riding of Fredericton South. And I'd like to answer the questions I've been asked the most often as I've met with people one on one to let them know I'm thinking of running, and to ask for their support.
Why would you come back? Why now? And why the NDP?
I don't have a glib, sound bite-like answer to those questions. But I have some answers, and I'm going to share them with you.
Why the NDP? That's the most common question, and the easiest. It starts with this -- I believe that Dominic Cardy is the leader most qualified to be Premier of New Brunswick.
It has become trendy since Frank McKenna left for parties to choose leaders who don't have a firm grasp of policy or a clear sense of issues. The common reassurances are that policy "doesn't matter to voters", that the new leader "can learn all that", or "they can hire people to do that". None of those things are true, and you may have noticed that we've been throwing premiers out pretty quickly since Frank was here. Leaders like David Alward aren't breaking promises and changing positions because they're bad people. They break promises because they had no idea what the jobs entailed before they won.
I've been around enough to know that at some points the doors close and the judgement of the guy at the top matters. And I can imagine Dominic behind the desk. He cares enough to talk to people like grownups, speak in specifics, and isn't scripted the way other Opposition leaders have been. That's part of the reason he's been attracting strong people like Brian Duplessis to run, community leaders who have a track record of success, experience and principle.
No leader has all the answers, but Dominic is raising the right questions. He's challenging our old political culture with real reforms that are getting turned into law, rightly noting that provinces with good government attract more investment. He's asking why we spend more time bailing out failing companies than nurturing entrepreneurs. He's talking about municipal reform not from the perspective of merging rural communities, but giving cities like Fredericton the tools they need to develop affordable housing, attract business, and build infrastructure.
He's shown he can take clear stands, like his ability to say clearly from day one that changing pension plans for retirees without negotiation is wrong, and he considers a deal to be a deal. More cynical opposition leaders were going three months dodging the question by calling for a legal opinion which they never got, taking polls to see if they should claw back more retirement benefits, and then failing to learn the Legislature rules in order to oppose the government's bill. The reason Dominic was ready sooner, I suspect, is he was willing to start with doing what he thought was right instead of what would be good politics. And maybe, if we reward Dominic for talking about issues and specifics, politicians will start to see that good policy makes good politics.
So that's why I've decided that the NDP is the home for me, and why I believe this leader deserves full support from me.
Which leaves the question of why go through the trials of running, and why now? It's no secret that I've enjoyed my practice and found other fun ways to contribute to my community, like starting up our community theatre company, coaching basketball, and doing work with some great community groups and boards. Why not enjoy the perks of having had the job without the long hours and (sometimes deserved) criticism.
There are some things I'd like to work on. I love Fredericton, I chose this town as the place to raise a family. I believe in it, and we can make it even better together.
Fredericton has unique economic needs, with more emerging industries, startups, and research-based companies than elsewhere. Yet these sometimes get ignored provincially -- we are behind other jurisdictions in terms of support for early investors, commercializations of R&D and support for founders. I'd like to set up a team of Fredericton Founders, entrepreneurs who can help get the best legislation and ideas for startups and small business to me so I can work across party lines to make it policy.
I'd like to continue the work we started, a whole bunch of us, on fighting poverty. I'm proud of the reforms to social assistance, minimum wage and First Nations education that happened in my time in cabinet. We could do so much more. We have a mayor who's desperate to work on homelessness but no real provincial partners. We have councillours ready with solutions on public transit to connect jobs to affordable housing, but no champions to move it forward. So many jurisdictions are creating community-based microcredit to help families escape poverty, and we have a team at Social innovation who can create and innovate. I'd like to give families in poverty a voice in the Legislature.
We could actually do post-secondary education right as well. The last set of reforms put the focus on administrative issues like shared services. That was fine, but we need to talk about issues like faculty recruitment, affordable tuition and manageable student debt, and supporting research. We should be pushing Ottawa for the ability to have our own immigration policy to keep skilled graduates here so they can create and attract jobs. For Fredericton, this isn't just a social issue, it's an economic one, and the campus needs a representative who knows the campus.
So, yes, there are issues. But there's something bigger creating, as others have said, a fierce urgency to now.
I don't want my generation to be the first one to fail to leave our kids more opportunity than we had ourselves. But I fear we are on the way there, and when I watch the Legislature today I see a politics smaller than our challenges. The opposition reads a grim headline and blames government without offering solutions. Government reads a list of the other party's failings. They prosecute the opposing colour but never discuss ideas. I don't want an election where one party offers the status quo plus fracking and the other offers the status quo. I hope we can have a debate about how we do better together.
No one MLA changes the culture alone. (I'm pretty sure that when I was there the Legislature didn't turn into Masterpiece Theatre). But I've always believed an MLA's job doesn't just mean attending church suppers and reading party talking points. It means trying to raise the level of debate, using the seat to give forgotten people a voice, and earning your salary by trying to propose ideas. And when I see MLAs proudly saying they don't even read the bills they vote on, it doesn't seem we're getting the government we deserve.
Right now, the two old parties are full of guys who want to be Gordon Ramsey but don't want to learn to cook --they seek the rush of the fight without the discomfort of developing good policies. They seem so sure that all they have to do is tear the other guy down and they'll win, so they don't have to be any good. Maybe, just maybe, showing that we are willing to embrace a third party will also make the Liberal and Conservative parties the forces for ideas they once were! too.
I'm under no illusions that my own record was perfect. On some things, the numbers show I had some good ideas. I made mistakes, too, sometimes getting so caught up in developing ideas that I didn't collaborate with others enough. I have, as they say, baggage good and bad. Yet those bruises all represent chances to learn, improve and get better every day. I grew up here, and people here know me best. I wasn't perfect at 33, and I won't be at 43, but i learn a little from every experience and every person.
I hope people know that I've never made the arrogant mistake of playing it safe, putting my political survival ahead of getting the job done. I intend to run a campaign based upon discussing ideas, debating differences but not attacking personalities, and maybe I can earn your trust door by door by door.
I've never stopped believing that Fredericton can be the best place to live. Sometimes, when money runs out and easy solutions are unavailable, we unleash our greatest capacity to create. In the riding that contains our downtown and campus, I'm running offering a chance to show, together, that we are one creative, diverse community with one hell of a future.