By Peter Bevan-Baker, MLA
Leader of the Official Opposition
Change is inevitable
Change is everywhere you look and most of the time it happens slowly and goes unnoticed. I’m deep into my fifties, and while I might feel like I am largely the same person I was in my twenties, my knees, hips, and hair tell me differently. The world has also changed during the last six decades, and like my body, the changes around me have happened gradually and, in many cases, imperceptibly.
When I think back to my childhood, I remember a simpler world where things seemed less hurried, and people had more time to stop and talk, and connect with each other. I also remember fields full of bird’s nests, butterflies, and wild flowers. In many respects, we had far less than most people have now, but somehow it seems to me there was a deeper sense of contentment and balance.
Schools were places with access to everything each child needed, where teachers seemed to have ample time to meet the needs of each and every student in their class. I don’t remember fundraising for basic supplies, or some kids having less than others, or where stress leave was a thing. I remember the community doctor being available to absolutely everyone, and the local police were considered everybody’s friend, even to those they routinely picked up.
My childhood wasn’t here on the Island, but when I read what life was like on PEI at the same time that I was growing up in the Highlands of Scotland, it’s clear there were lots of similarities. Dramatic modernization and economic growth have deeply altered life on both sides of the Atlantic, and I now find myself in a job that requires me to assess whether changes we’ve made – and equally importantly, if changes we are deciding to make now as we emerge from the pandemic – are creating a better place for everyone in our community.
Maximizing the common good
Politics is about creating the best circumstances possible for the most people: for maximizing the common good. This means striving for improved equity in all corners of our community. COVID has exposed many vulnerabilities in our current systems, but amongst all the difficulties and crises it has created, it has also given us an opportunity to look at the way our province and world operates and, if we wish, choose to make changes that will bring about a fairer, more prosperous and healthier society.
Very early on in the pandemic I talked about how we need to avoid unthinkingly “easing back” to what existed pre-COVID. Rather, we need to dream forward and think about creating the kind of world we want for ourselves – keeping what is working well and reimagining those things that are not meeting our collective needs. This is work that is both exciting and challenging. It calls on us all to engage this process with open minds and kind hearts.
A vision for our children and our future
I think this is a perfect time to express what kind of an Island we want for our children. If we start with that goal in mind, we can make the decisions and develop the policies to nudge us towards that vision.
Central to the vision of the Island I want for my children is equity. I want an Island that more closely resembles the time when schools were places that allowed all children equal opportunities to reach their full potential and where everyone had access to health care in their communities, and where financial inequality was far less obvious than it is now.
Our economy has grown enormously since the 1960s that I referred to earlier. Yet, the inequities in our society have grown in ways that are excluding too many Islanders and creating hardships for those at the lower end of the economic ladder. I think we can do better. We can shape the future we prefer to a far greater extent than most other places, but it will require boldness and a willingness to challenge conventions and to think outside the box.
Questions we must answer
How can we create an Island economy that builds on our natural strengths, remains integrated to the global marketplace yet is able to avoid the undesirable consequences of competing in an arena that is so often a race to the bottom?
How do we continue to provide essential services that are the bedrock of a caring and sustainable society? How do we build strong rural communities in a world where the relentless economic forces of centralization are pulling everything in the opposite direction? What does a “strong community” look like?
What does success look like and how do we measure it? How do we make sure that the wealth created by the rapidly changing economy provides enough to the growing number of Islanders being squeezed by stagnant wages and higher costs?
Let’s Dream Big!
These are all enormously complex questions without easy or clear answers, but we have been handed a unique opportunity to have a full discussion on where we want to be heading as we pause and consider the world around us and the dreams inside us. Let us be intentional, thoughtful, and clear about the path we create forward. I invite you to connect with me. Let’s you and I work towards a brighter, healthier, and more equitable future we can be proud of.