What kind of Island do we want?
MLA New Haven-Rocky Point
Politicians are faced with difficult issues and complex decisions every day. I believe that in thinking about each of those situations, we must be constantly asking ourselves, what kind of Island do we want? That is true whether we are talking about how we manage schools, forests, the tax system, Island beaches, or housing.
For two elections in a row, Islanders were promised by Dennis King that a government headed by him would manage our Island with ordinary folks in mind. Their campaign slogans say it all – “It’s about people”, and “with you, for you”.
The reality is far, far away from that cozy, reassuring promise.
There are perhaps no areas where decisions are made that impact the future of our Island more profoundly than the development patterns we choose. There is general agreement that PEI has done an awful job of managing expansion, which has resulted in ribbon development and sprawl, incoherent land use planning, loss of farmland, incompatible zoning, and a growing strain on services.
After 5 decades of studies, reports and commissions, which all recommend comprehensive Island-wide land use planning, we still have a patchwork of inadequate rules being inconsistently applied. No government – including the current one – has had the vision or courage to do what we all know needs to be done, and so we live in a province where we are losing an average 39 acres of farmland a day, where governments facilitate construction that blocks access to public beaches, and where developers are emboldened to the point of threatening to build without a permit, and taunting governments to “try and issue a stop-work order.”
Underlying this mess, is a decision-making structure that is secretive and unnecessarily complex. When development permits are issued by the provincial government, two departments are involved – the department responsible for housing and planning, and the department of environment. That makes sense, but the lack of openness, clarity, and alignment of their rules is where the problems lie.
It allows both government and developers an opportunity to create the impression that the rules are being followed, where in reality, nobody really knows what the rules are, which ones are being applied, and how and by whom decisions are being made. We are told there are “working policies” and “grandfathering” being applied, but exactly what that means, and where you can be find it remains a mystery.
Tim Banks wants to build a high-end rental development in a sensitive area in Greenwich National Park, where applications have been consistently denied for decades. It appears that the King government has denied, then approved, then denied the property in question, which is a real head scratcher. It begs many questions, and no doubt a couple of Freedom of Information requests to figure out how that could possibly happen. It is just the latest example of yet another government that doesn’t have a handle on the haphazard development that has been allowed to happen on our Island for decades.
Dennis King and his Ministers must ask themselves what kind of an Island they want. Because currently we live in a place where swanky developments that serve visitors and part-time residents are being constructed hand-over-fist, while many Islanders quite literally can’t afford to live here, and more and more find themselves with nowhere to live.
There are too many examples of places where this sort of pattern has been allowed to happen, and “residents” end up squeezed out of their communities as the powerful and super-rich move in and take over. There are at least two actors in this familiar play – those with money and influence, and a government willing to go along with them.
Exactly who is Dennis King talking about when he claims to be “with you, for you”? If “it’s about people”, which people is it really about? As the years go by, I pay less and less attention to the words politicians say: I am far more interested in what they do.
Premier, it’s time for you to stop with the storytelling, and show us with some decisive action what kind of Island you want.