Opinion: BLAINE HIGGS – A MODEL TO FOLLOW?

By Chad Bowie

Some political leaders rely on focus groups, polls and gauging the mood of the room to develop the key message they take to the voters.

Others follow their gut, staying true to a set of core values and principles that guide them in their lives and their political careers. More often than not, it’s those leaders who find success at the ballot box.

New Brunswick’s new Premier, Blaine Higgs, is one of those leaders.

Blaine Higgs won September’s provincial election because he remained true to himself and true to his party’s conservative principles. With Higgs, what you see is what you get. He’s an unabashed, tax-cutting, budget-balancing, fracking-supporting, right-of-centre conservative.

Higgs refused to compromise on conservative ideology and the voters rewarded him for his authenticity.

On the budget, Higgs pledged to slay New Brunswick’s deficit within two years by phasing out civil service positions and reducing spending.

He routinely told New Brunswickers their government spent too freely and chastised prior administrations for trying to buy their way to power.

On fracking, Higgs set the right pace by promising voters he will lift the current moratorium in parts of the province that want to develop their natural resources. The commitment was well received in communities like Sussex, where residents are already accustomed to resource development.

There are many – including some conservatives who value political expediency over principle – who felt that was an unwise promise to make. Higgs shunned that advice and took a reasonable, responsible, conservative approach.

On the carbon tax, Higgs pulled no punches. He didn’t play footsy with the anti-growth activists who pretend the carbon tax is an environmental policy (it’s not – it’s a revenue policy). Instead, he promised to stand with other Canadian Premiers who oppose Justin Trudeau’s efforts to impose carbon pricing on the provinces.

In the end, the conservative candidate, Blaine Higgs, won New Brunswick’s provincial election by running as a conservative. What a novel concept!

It’s worth noting Higgs’ election victory is not an isolated incident. Rather, it was the latest in a trend.

In Ontario, a plain-speaking, Tim Hortons-drinking, political maverick named Doug Ford stormed to victory with a clearly right-of-centre populist message. Ford promised to cancel the green energy scams that voters blamed for out-of-control energy bills, lower the price of beer for consumers, make big spending cuts, and take the fight to Justin Trudeau over the carbon tax.

In Quebec, Francois Legault’s CAQ (which is, for all intents and purposes, a conservative party), won a massive majority government by committing to reducing the size of Montreal’s city council, raising the legal age for cannabis consumption, cutting taxes and decreasing immigration levels.

Farther West, Jason Kenney is preparing to lead his United Conservative Party to victory in Alberta this spring by doubling down on defending the province’s energy industry and joining the national fight against Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.

Across the country, conservatives who own conservatism – and don’t run from their own party’s long-standing values and principles – are winning elections.

Most importantly, Blaine Higgs’ victory dispelled the myth that unabashed, unfiltered conservatism can’t sell in Atlantic Canada.

Fortunately for New Brunswick, it looks as if Premier Higgs’ victory may have come just in the nick of time.

A few weeks ago, Kenney, who may be the most ideologically pure of all the country’s conservative leaders, warned a Halifax audience that voters in his province were growing increasingly frustrated with sending social welfare transfers to provinces who choose not to develop their own resources. It would be foolish not to take him seriously.

It appears at least Blaine Higgs, given his stance on fracking, is ready to heed Kenney’s words. Whether other leaders in our region are prepared to follow Higgs’ lead on developing their natural resources will be an important test.

Our collective actions will determine how we’re perceived by a country undergoing a seismic shift to the political right – and a shift in favour of reinvigorating Canada’s energy sector through resource development.

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador both have new Tory leaders.

In Nova Scotia, Tim Houston is affable, very connected to the grassroots of his Party, and has keen business sense. If Houston wants to pull his party to the right and align more closely with the conservatism embraced by Blaine Higgs, he has the political capital.

In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for one of Houston’s opponents during the Nova Scotia PC leadership race.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Ches Crosbie is off to a good start after winning the by-election in Windsor Lake and entering the legislature. His focus on the province’s overspending is an encouraging sign for conservatives.

On Prince Edward Island, the Conservative Party is on the hunt for a new chief. Some good names have been bandied about. It will be interesting to watch the race unfold.

Will those who inherit the conservative mantle in our region follow Blaine Higgs and embrace the conservative principles that have won over the electorate in other provinces? Will they also accept that it’s “do or die” for the region and finally unveil a bold plan to develop our natural resources? Or will they fall into the age-old trap of trying to “out-liberal” the Liberals?

Our region’s economic survival could depend on their answer – just ask Premier-in-waiting Jason Kenney.

Chad Bowie is a long-time conservative political strategist. He is also a direct marketing and political consultant. He owns Chad Bowie Consulting. He can be reached at chad@chadbowie.com.