By Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Official Opposition
On Friday, the King government announced the appointment of a new board for the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC). This announcement has been long overdue; more than a year ago Premier King promised to reinstate the board. So with this week’s announcement I was looking forward to seeing a reinvigorated independent board. I was both shocked and disappointed that Premier King and his cabinet instead decided to use this as an opportunity to practice old-fashioned patronage politics.
Of the seven positions that the provincial government appointed, two were filled by former PC candidates and a third was filled by the spouse of a former PC party leader. I want to be perfectly clear that all three are engaged members of the Charlottetown community and can bring valuable experience to any table, but I am also very concerned about how Executive Council evaluated the candidates. I find it simply astounding that 42% of the most qualified people to serve should have such deep roots in the governing party. What are the odds of that? The whole thing reeks of offering rewards to partisan loyalists.
But there is much more at stake than whether patronage is in play. The purpose of agencies, boards and commissions is to provide independent advice and oversight to government. They need to be able to step back and if necessary stand up against the will of Executive Council. By appointing members who are so deeply entrenched in the governing party, the Premier creates the impression that the board is merely an echo chamber for his own ideas and agenda. This not only undermines public confidence in the board, but it places those appointed members in the impossible position of defending the legitimacy of their roles.
Priority must be solving serious issues, not rewarding friends
Charlottetown has many serious issues that need to be resolved: a housing crisis, escalating commercial property rents, the long-term impact of COVID-19 on business, and the proliferation of short-term rentals. The CADC holds one of the largest property portfolios in the city. It should be an essential leader and partner in finding solutions to these problems. But if the board is seen as putting the wishes of Dennis King and the PC party ahead of the needs of residents and businesses in the city, Charlottetown will pay a very steep price for the Premier’s short-sightedness.
Is the King government unaware or uninterested?
The King government has yet to show any meaningful commitment to the province’s capital city. Aside from making unfunded promises for improved school infrastructure in the midst of a by-election, it has been strangely silent on the needs of the city.
One of the most telling exchanges on this issue occurred last spring in the legislature on July 2nd and 3rd, when Hannah Bell, MLA for Charlottetown-Belvedere, tried to ask Natalie Jameson, the Minister Responsible for Charlottetown, to comment on the issue of Short-Term Rentals in the city. Minister Jameson was preempted by Minister Hudson and not permitted to speak on the issue, and the Premier chastised Ms. Bell for even suggesting that the Minister Responsible for Charlottetown should be expected to respond to a question related to the most pressing issue facing the city.
In spite of all the talk we hear about it being about people, this government has shown little understanding of or respect for the over 36,000 people who live in the provincial capital. What appears to be a blatant attempt to stack the board of CADC only deepens my misgiving of Premier King’s intentions.