A root cause of our warped civilization (politics?) is a failure of imagination, an inability to conceive the world (the political world?) as ever having been, or ever capable of being, other than the way it is now.
from William Blake
Integrity and plain-dealing CAN win elections!
I’m supporting Blaine Higgs in his quest for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick. I met Blaine before we were both elected in 2010. He had been the public face of Irving Oil’s plan to build a headquarters on Long Wharf at the same time as I had been serving as a councilor for the city of Saint John. I didn’t get to know him especially well at the time, but even then I was impressed by his professionalism and his direct approach. When the time came to announce Irving’s decision to forego the Long Wharf plan, Blaine delivered the bad news without recrimination in a plain and forthright manner. He had a job to do and he did it well.
Seeing Blaine appointed as Minister of Finance in the Alward government was universally acknowledged, at the time, as one of the very apparent “good moves” of the new Premier. He had a wealth of business experience to bring to the job and a reputation for fair-dealing and evenhandedness that offset any disparaging voices that might have labeled him an “Irving man”. Throughout his four years as Minister, he established a reputation as a man who was able to walk a fine line: he never publicly criticized his own government but his feelings on controversial issues were usually quite apparent, even when they might have wandered from the “party line”.
Over his four years as Minister, his name – both in the political sphere and among the public – became associated with honesty, plain talk and a forthrightness that was viewed as unique among government spokespersons. From my position as a bankbencher, I was able to assess the degree to which individual ministers had command of their files. None could match Blaine in his depth of understanding and the breadth of his grasp of the details. Few of the members on the opposition benches had the stomach for confrontations with Blaine during Question Period, at least when any questions had to do with Blaine’s portfolio.
Within his own caucus, he was someone who defied conventional wisdom and made many uneasy. He could never be accused of defying the united front of the party and the government (as Jim Parrott did, defiance which saw him ejected from caucus for a time), but it was also clear that he was not always in agreement with some of the decisions taken by the party and its leadership. Walking such a fine line isn’t easy but Blaine managed it as well as anyone might, and enhanced his reputation with the public at the same time. I don’t think he was trying to impress anyone or annoy anyone else: he was just being himself.
Being himself: that best encapsulates why I think Blaine deserves to be the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick. Blaine’s “self” is honest, hard-working, smart, straightforward and deeply ethical. As the Minister of Finance, he saw a path that would allow New Brunswick to regain its fiscal health and, through that process, protect and secure its heritage of health care, education, social programs, bilingualism and other elements of which New Brunswickers are rightly proud. I believe he has been moved to offer himself as leader because he realizes that only as leader can he hope to achieve the vision that he had come to believe was within reach until the Gallant government came on the scene and rapidly undertook the dismantling of many of Blaine’s signature innovations.
Those I have spoken with who dismiss Blaine as someone who isn’t bilingual, who is too focused on fiscal issues, who once ran for the COR party, who has no traction beyond his limited constituency, etc., miss the point, as far as I am concerned. As the extremities of the U.S. presidential race illustrate starkly, people are increasingly tired of the “same old, same old” in politics. Blaine represents New Brunswick’s best answer to the tired regime of “promises, promises” and the subsequent disappointment that follows when yet another government shows itself to have done whatever it deemed was necessary to “get elected”.
Blaine can “get elected” and return the PC party to government by doing in reality what the current Premier only pretended when he conducted his last campaign. Brian Gallant is now learning to regret his catchy slogan “we’ll keep our promises by only making promises we can keep”. Blaine Higgs reputation for integrity and plain-dealing can overcome any perceived need to promise the moon in order to gain people’s votes. When Blaine promises thoughtful, responsible and compassionate government, people can be convinced he means it because they have seen him in action. They know he is a man of his word and that he can be trusted. Perhaps alone among current politicians, Blaine has built a reputation for saying only what he means and nothing more.
In today’s cynical environment, trustworthiness and integrity – as realities rather than just slogans – are precious commodities. Blaine Higgs is unique in my experience in politics. While I have seen many disagree with him and question his choices, I have never heard anyone say that he is anything but honest and forthright. With Blaine, what – and who – you see is what you get. An honest man – trustworthy, smart, thoughtful, compassionate, a listener: that’s Blaine Higgs, a man, in my estimation, eminently suited to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick. His greatest strength is his character and “character” is what can lead the PC Party to victory in 2018.