The King administration is quickly learning the difference between opposition rhetoric, election promises and the art and reality of governing.
The government does deserve credit. There is no question the tone of the provincial legislature has changed for the better since the April election. Premier Dennis King is saying - and doing some things - virtually unheard of in modern politics, like his promise to give opposition parties a majority on legislative standing committees. It is the type of real action that will enhance accountability and transparency.
But the premier has also been caught over-promising and under-delivering.
He promised weekly meetings among the three party leaders. They are not occurring. Instead party house leaders are doing the heavy lifting of cooperative governance, which is not even close to the same thing.
King bragged about seeking opposition input into the provincial budget, but Liberals quickly pointed out they were not consulted on business tax cuts, a cornerstone PC promise.
Education Minister Brad Trivers is blaming the timing of the provincial election for the Tories failure to implement a school food program. Rubbish. The majority of the PC budget comes from Liberal planning. If the program is delayed it is because the King government has decided not to fund it this year.
This is not to suggest the government lacks sincerity, but it will not take much to dint the public’s trust.
While the tone has changed, it will inevitably become more adversarial as the Tories develop and defend a record of their own making.
Tories quietly admit that running government is more complex than they believed. Proof is seen in the administration’s attempt to make it appear they are keeping campaign promises, when in reality the opposite is true.
In the midst of the provincial election the Liberals announced a $70 million rural high speed internet solution. The federal government committed $33 million, with internet providers Bell Canada and Xplornet contributing $37 million and the provincial government $3.5 million.
When Island internet companies realized they were being shut out, the MacLauchlan government scrambled to throw a proposed five year $10 million fund on the back of the napkin to try to appease Island firms.
Tories decried the deal, which rewards Bell, a company that has sucked millions from Island taxpayers while failing to deliver on a previous promise of Island wide high speed internet. King Tories said they would deliver a ‘made in PEI’ solution.
Nope. Not even close.
The Tory ‘made in PEI’ solution turns out to be the exact same deal announced by the Liberals. Island internet firms are still out in the cold. The $10 million fund is still undefined. And even with $70 million on the table, the MacLauchlan/King solution is unlikely to deliver on the core promise of high speed access to the 30,000 properties currently without.
In the hope of being seen as aggressively dealing with the mental health care crisis, the Tories held an odd election press conference to announce immediate shovels in the ground to begin replacement of Hillsborough Hospital. Only problem is the PCs didn’t know what they were talking about.
Last week Health Minister James Aylward walked back the Tory promise. It will be at least three years before ground is broken. Or the same timeline outlined by the Liberal government. Before you pick up a shovel, you need to do the proper planning.
The Tories know that now.
They also know that the anonymous bureaucracy has immense power over the speed, effectiveness and direction of any program rollout.
Like any government, the King administration will experience highs and lows. It is still enjoying a political honeymoon, in large part because of the premier’s rhetoric, not government’s actions.
It’s likely Islanders will cut Premier King some slack as he becomes comfortable in his new position. But if Islanders get the sense the former political spin doctor is trying to spin them, patience will quickly wear thin.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org