Our Premier Blaine Higgs is tilting at windmills, and it is hurting New Brunswickers.
The phrase “tilting at windmills” comes from a scene in the novel Don Quixote, in which the main character believes he is fighting giants that are actually windmills.
In New Brunswick, our Premier has been attacking imaginary enemies for years. He is a fighter of old wars that mostly matter in his own mind. In this case, his are old-fashioned ideologies about pensions recycled from the late twentieth century.
The ideas were wrong then, and they are wrong now.
Rather than dealing with actual problems facing the province, (e.g. the tidal wave of evictions, poverty, and climate change), Higgs spends his time hunting public sector pensions.
Public sector workers in this province are some of the worst paid in the country, but rather than address wages, Higgs keeps bringing pensions to the table. It’s not only bad public policy, it’s worse. Higgs is holding the province hostage by pushing forward an ideological position that is as outdated and old-fashioned as it is pleasing to his conservative friends.
Conservative parties in Canada are full of windmills. Think supply management in the dairy sector, which Maxime Bernier trots out regularly. Higgs has chosen public sector pensions as his bogeyman.
Ideological obsession can’t lead to good public policy, good governance, or good management. Instead, obsessions lead to a strike that didn’t need to happen, which has extended into its second week, and which has given us the farcical image of Higgs attempting to mansplain to CUPE members their own position using their own microphone.
At issue is not actually logic or rational debate. Rather, it is an ideological position.
Higgs says we can’t afford pensions. We can.
The pandemic has shown us we can and must afford front-line workers. It has also shown us we need to pay and respect them. Part of that is retirement with dignity.
The issue is always one of choices, and in a recent excellent article by Robert Jones on CBC, we learn that the provincial government is behind the shortfall in the pension plan for school custodians, maintenance workers and school bus drivers, according to a labour arbitration case.
The shortfall is the fault of the government in the first place. In fact, it is the fault of Higgs himself, when he was Minister of Finance in 2013 and decided to stop properly funding the pensions.
The problem of underfunding, is one of Higgs’ own creation. The reason?
Not actual logic or rational debate, but an ideological position wrapped up in the language of fiscal prudence in which Higgs is cast as a general fighting last century’s class war against public sector pensions.
The playbook for these ideologues is first don’t fund them, then claim the pensions are unaffordable. He did the first as finance minister in 2013; now he’s doing the latter as Premier.
Next time Higgs attempts to gaslight the province with stories of unaffordable pensions, imagine him for what he is: An ideologue stuck in the past fighting the wrong war based not on good policy but on an ideological position he staked out a decade ago. Rather than a leader focused on what matters, we have a man obsessed with windmills, convinced of his own righteousness, fighting a war against public sector unions that is an ideological obsession of him and his conservative buddies.
Tilting at windmills that he imagines are giants, that’s our Premier during this strike.
To mix metaphors in a deliciously atrocious way, maybe it is time for Higgs to hang up his lance, ride off into the sunset, and let someone less blinded by ideological blinkers fix the mess Higgs himself made for New Brunswickers.
Daniel Tubb is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of New Brunswick and an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.
Access all of NB Media Co-op’s coverage of the CUPE strike here.
Read all about the the events leading up to the strike here.