Everyone paid attention on Wednesday when Energy Minister Jack Keir accused PC leader David Alward of "instigating" a boycott against Ganong Bros. That's because everyone remembered Alward denouncing the boycott on Tuesday, and everyone recognized the boycott calls, made on Ganong's own promotional Facebook page, felt like a spontaneous social-media phenomenon. (If there's evidence that this started with Alward or his office, someone should hand it over.)
The other reason everyone paid attention is because this wasn't the Jack Keir we've all been getting to know since 2006.
Keir is a serious and capable minister. He came to Fredericton to work hard. In scrums with reporters, he has always engaged his questioners, listening to their queries and actually answering with reliable answers, something you can't always take for granted in a political culture built around message tracks (on both sides of the partisan divide). He knows his files: that's probably why he filled in at Finance, Supply and Services, and Business New Brunswick, all in 2009.
But on the NB Power issue, Keir hasn't been as steady. He clearly believes passionately in the merits of the deal. But he's so determined to win people over that his zeal has got the better of him. Last week, he said ex-NB Power CEO David Hay had supported the agreement; two days later, he had to apologize. (He was badly briefed, yes, but he took full responsibility, the proper thing to do in a cabinet system of government.) Then this week, he accused Alward of instigating the boycott.
The utterly conventional, old-politics nature of the attack was jarring, especially given that Keir often says he "gets" the political motivations of opposition attacks, implying he's not like that.
What a lot of New Brunswickers "get" is that It's a common tactic to farm out the study of a controversy to a respected, independent figure, and then to accuse opponents of smearing that person when the substance of the study is questioned. One suspects David Ganong was chosen because it would be so tricky to attack his panel's findings.
The Liberals have been looking for opportunities to turn the tables on their opponents on the NB Power deal. But the grassroots protestors fighting the deal are a diverse, amorphous group, so they're hard to attack. They also have, to put it politely, varying degrees of credibility. In that sense, it's not surprising that the Liberals would be tempted to take the statements of their most militant elements and try to hang them around Alward's neck. It's just disappointing to see Keir doing it.