New Brunswick·Opinion

Michael Camp: Liberals, PC stick to script in 'strange election'

In his opinion piece this week journalism professor Michael Camp says the leaders with the with the least chance of winning the election had the best week.

Leaders with the least chance of winning the election had the best week

David Coon, Kris Austin, Dominic Cardy, David Alward, Brian Gallant (CBC)

The least you can say about the Andy Harvey affair is that it’s fishy.

Why, on the eve of the election campaign, was the Liberal candidate for Carleton-Victoria charged with fraud?

Why were the charges laid a full three years after the allegedly criminal transaction took place?

The timing is certainly suspicious. And on Friday we learned that an independent review found no grounds for the charges in the first place.

What are we to make of that? Was politics mixed up in it?

Even as he was suspending Harvey from the Liberal team, Brian Gallant was raising questions, or at least hinting about the strange timing of the case.

Now that the charges have been dropped, there’s nothing to stop the Liberal leader from demanding answers.

Gallant has stuck to the script so far in this election campaign. Maybe we’ll see another side of him in the next few days.

Or then again, maybe the Liberals will simply stay the course and not get mixed up in messy questions about politics and justice.

I suspect that would be just fine with David Alward and the Progressive Conservatives.

Tory campaign struggling

They, too, are sticking to the script, though there’s little to suggest that the "Say Yes" campaign is having the desired effect on voters.  

That, to me, is something of a mystery, given the fact that the province is almost evenly split on what many believed would be the hot-button issue of the campaign.

According to one poll, most New Brunswickers also feel fracking would give the province and economic boost.

But the same poll suggests that a significant number of pro-frackers are willing to support parties that are currently opposed to it.

Those voters may have other issues on their mind. It’s possible they feel more strongly about dumping the Tories than they do about fracking.

I’d be more inclined to think another possibility is in the mix.

The Liberal stand on fracking is that it be curtailed until the environmental risks are “fully understood.”

I’m not sure the risks of any kind of resource extraction are fully understood.

'Flimsy' wording on shale gas

That aside, the wording of the Liberal policy has always sounded a bit flimsy to me.

I’d be willing to bet that the Liberals will flip on the fracking issue within 12 months, or less, if they win the election, and after watching the CBC debate this week, it seemed even more apparent that the Liberal leader was being especially careful not to close the door too tightly. Or at all.  

Let’s suppose legitimate studies of the industry continue to say that the environmental risks are still beyond our understanding, that we still don’t know what the consequences will be.

If that were the case, would Gallant continue his plans for a moratorium?

Voters may have other issues on their mind. It’s possible they feel more strongly about dumping the Tories than they do about fracking.- Michael Camp

Or consider another possibility. Let’s say New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Health Officer continues to believe that the potential impact of fracking outweighs the possible benefits and that too many questions still remain unanswered, would Gallant continue his opposition to development?

How, exactly, will he make the calculation that the risks are “sufficiently understood?”

Well, if he has an answer to that question, he kept it to himself during the CBC debate this week.

While Alward pounded away on the "Say Yes" platform, Gallant has kept his fracking message just a little bit murky.

Murky enough, at any rate, for many voters to assume that he’ll change his mind about natural gas development if the economic benefits turn out to be as promising as the Tories say they are.  

Gallant knows how to be clear if he wants to be. But on this issue, he doesn’t.

Whenever it came up during the debate, Gallant was very careful not to put too much emphasis on his concern about environmental consequences.

Let’s face it,  advocating a moratorium on the industry "until the risks are understood” is anything but a strong position – and deliberately so.  

He’s leaving his options as open as he can. I suspect pro-fracking Liberals, however many there may be, understand this with perfect clarity.

Coon's missed opportunity

Certainly that awareness extends to the David Coon of the Green Party.

Andrew Harvey, the Liberal candidate in Carleton-Victoria, was suspended on Wednesday after it was learned he was charged with two counts of fraud in July. He said the fraud charges laid against him are “baseless.”. (CBC)

If the Greens are to make any headway in this campaign, their leader will have to convince those who are unalterably opposed to fracking to vote for a party that will not alter its position a few months from now.  

He had his chance to make his case during the debate, but strangely enough, it wasn’t his focus.  

I think I was one of many people who found the Green leader more eloquent on this issue of child poverty and the need to create opportunities through a better education system.

I guess Coon was demonstrating the fact that that the Greens are more than a one-issue party.  

That may be true. But how many people will be voting Green for the party’s anti-poverty and education platform?   

To wrap up the week – after watching the debate, it occurred to me again what a strange election campaign this is.

I didn’t take a poll, but there was no consensus among the people I talked to about a winner or the loser.

David Alward and Brian Gallant performed as I expected they would, with lots of message track quotes and predictable answers.  

The only ones who seemed to be thinking and talking and expressing new ideas were the leaders with the least chance of forming the next government.

My opinion: The NDP’s Dominic Cardy won the debate. David Coon was good. Even Kris Austin of the People’s Alliance scored a point or two.   

And all three would be lucky just to win their own ridings. Isn’t that odd?  

About the Author

Michael Camp

Journalism professor

Michael Camp is an associate professor and acting chair of the Department of Journalism and Communications and Public Policy at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. Camp is a former reporter with CBC News and is a regular contributor to the political panel on CBC Radio’s Shift.

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