Paul MacNeill

Politics is the art of misdirection. Announcing an action is almost more important than the action itself. And because spin is of primary importance to governments, regardless of stripe, the same promise can be made over and over again with a straight face. Governments know the public and media are quite easy to dupe.

Premier Dennis King made his way to UPEI last week for a photo of him holding an artist’s rendering of a proposed new 260 room residency. The president of UPEI was exuberant and bragged about the important relationship between the government and school. The president of UPEI student union beamed for the camera.

It was “easy for me to get behind a project like this,” the premier told The Guardian.

There is only one problem. Premier King didn’t need to get behind the project. The Government of Prince Edward Island was already behind the $60 million project.

The announcement was, quite literally, old news.

Like November 2018 old news. That’s when the former Liberal government announced the residency as part of its Housing Action Plan. The residence will also serve as part of the athlete’s village for the 2023 Canada Games.

What the new premier needed was a photo of his government making a Liberal announcement a PC project. In the history of democracies, this is not a first. Nor will it be the last. But it is a perfect example of unnecessary political manipulation that delays a needed project.

At some point government needs to stop yapping and start building. Foot dragging will not solve any issue – especially the housing crisis.

Emma Drake was not quoted by The Guardian in her current capacity as student union president, but when the project was first announced last year, UPEI’s student newspaper, The Cadre, did. And as Vice President, Drake added a pointed and important perspective.

“I think 260 units is great, but at the same time it’s very divisive in the sense that the people who are living there can either afford it as they come from higher income backgrounds, or they are in exceptional amounts of debt,” she told the school publication.

While it does not take the shine off, or minimize necessity of the residence, Drake provides much needed context. Neither Premier King nor UPEI President Alaa Abd-El Aziz referenced the affordability issue. Neither said what impact it will have on record student debt because the reality is staying on campus is significantly more expensive than off.

It’s a fair question and one that deserves a more thoughtful response than a smiling photo op.

Premier King has promised to govern differently. And in many ways, most notably tone, he has. But in many ways this PC government acts just as Liberal and PC governments before it. Spin is a priority; action too often delayed to appease political or bureaucratic considerations.

He promised bold. We have yet to see it. And as the days grow farther from the last provincial election and closer to the next, it becomes less likely PC actions will match their political rhetoric.

Islanders are ready for bold and decisive leadership, but government often runs far behind public sentiment. And if it happens with the King government it will be a squandered opportunity.

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at paul@peicanada.com

Publisher

Winner of more than 50 regional, national, international awards for commentary and investigative journalism. Founder of The Georgetown Conference on building sustainable rural communities. Featured in A Good Day’s Work. Talking head for CBC Radio and TV.

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