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EDITORIAL: Coal or toys for Atlantic Canada's premiers?

Dr. Gifford Jones has a few less conventional ideas for Christmas stocking stuffers in 2017.
Have our political leaders been naughty or nice? - 123RF Stock Photo

Santa faces a difficult decision as to which Atlantic premiers deserve a place on the naughty list or elevation to the coveted nice category.

There was a lot of flipping back and forth in 2017 and it could come down to a late-night call Christmas Eve.
Which, if any, of the four stockings will contain a lump of coal?

Each time premiers get together for regional meetings, they stress greater co-operation, yet they can’t seem to overcome some basic barriers or selfish interests. Look at the court case over a New Brunswick man prosecuted for bringing beer across the border from Quebec.

The premiers had opportunities to unite on several key issues facing the region in 2017, and in each case, decided to go their separate ways.

There was regional agreement on marijuana pricing and legal age. But on matters of production and distribution, each province went in different directions — more intent on maximizing taxes than co-operating on a regional policy. On carbon tax, each province is individually trying to meet Ottawa’s deadlines. Even more disappointing was the failure on a national health accord. After initial unity among premiers, Ottawa’s ploy of divide and conquer was successful, and the provinces all made separate deals.

In New Brunswick, Premier Brian Gallant was left fighting solo for the Energy East pipeline and against stiff U.S. lumber tariff increases. He lost on both. The premier’s approval rating dropped 12 points in a recent poll, his government haunted by a disastrous property tax assessment program. The collapse of Energy East will be felt most severely in New Brunswick, especially for the port city of Saint John.

In Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil is brazenly suggesting he wants a third term, even though he just won re-election in May. He is down 10 points this quarter after facing intense pressure from public sector unions, forcing the government to send controversial legislation to the Court of Appeal for constitutional review. The bill seeks to impose wage limits on public-sector employees. He even picked a public fight with the auditor general over doctor shortages.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Dwight Ball has added crime fighting to his resumé, helping police identify his daughter’s ex-boyfriend in a murder case. Ball made the biggest jump in approval ratings among Canadian premiers after ordering an inquiry into the massive Muskrat Falls hydro project. Ball slammed the project, now estimated at $13 billion and well behind schedule, as poorly planned and reckless.

P.E.I. seems to have fared the best in terms of economic success in 2017. Premier Wade MacLauchlan, although his personal popularity remains well below that of his Liberal party, has balanced the budget — thanks to population growth buoyed by increased immigration — and big years in tourism, fisheries and agriculture. He stumbled on education issues and continues to battle skeletons left from the previous Liberal administration.

Santa has a quandary.

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