Before the King government’s Speech from the Throne was even read, the Tory caucus put a dent in its key rhetorical promise of a legislature built on unprecedented non-partisanship.
It seems old habits die hard for a PC caucus that rarely missed an opportunity in opposition to throw political haymakers or poke the former Liberal government with allegations of patronage.
Now patronage is not so vile when Tories are benefitting.
The election of Colin LaVie to the Speaker’s chair surprised many. And no, it’s not because LaVie has a history of disrespecting the authority of the Speaker with his virtually non-stop chirping while in opposition. LaVie will do a fine job.
But in putting his name forward and having the PC caucus support him over Liberal Hal Perry, the Tories are making the job of governing more difficult. The Tory caucus is already small, at just 12 members, nine of whom are in cabinet.
The benefit for government in having an opposition member serve as Speaker is it would allow the PCs to stretch already limited capacity. Three backbench MLAs are better than two. One of the main roles of any MLA is to serve on committees. While the King government has pledged to examine the possibility of offering the opposition equal committee membership, government must still find bodies within its caucus to fill those positions.
Some cabinet ministers have responsibilities far greater than others, as a direct result of the Tories insistence on creating a separate Department of Fisheries, regardless of it being a federally controlled industry. It’s the trickle-down impact of putting optics ahead of substance.
All cabinet ministers will assume some committee responsibility. Premier Dennis King, as is custom, will not. Nor will LaVie now that he is ensconced in his $125,000 per year Speaker’s chair. This narrows the number of bodies available to fill committees, attend meetings and do it all while juggling the schedules of the premier and cabinet ministers to ensure everything keeps working. With one fewer eligible government MLA, it makes the job of governing tougher.
It’s doubtful the Tories thought that far down the road when they supported LaVie over Perry, who used to be a Tory until he jumped ship to the Liberals. Petty politics may work in the short term but it rarely results in long-term success.
That is the domain of good policy, imagination over bureaucratic stagnation, and establishing strong priorities.
The Throne Speech is more a potential vision than a hard road map. Every government promises action that never materializes. Details will come later this week when government presents its first budget. We know it will have a surplus, the premier has already indicated as much. We know there will be tax breaks. And we know there will be a big spend on public kindergarten for 4-year olds.
Given the struggle of front line teachers it is hard to imagine this being the most pressing educational need. But governing is about priorities.
The King government is moving toward a ‘made in PEI’ rural high speed internet solution, as opposed to the $70 million plan announced by the MacLauchlan government. What we do not yet know is if the $30 million committed by the federal Liberals is still on the table. If it’s not, it will make the task of delivering high speed to 30,000 Island locations much more difficult.
Maybe the budget will also give Islanders an idea of how government will deal with the most pressing issue facing rural communities – an aging population. It’s a crisis that received no love in the Throne Speech. Yet it impacts ever facet of society: economic development, job creation and retention, provision of services ranging from health care, education, fire fighting and volunteerism. Everything.
If we do not deal with this issue, all the other promises are just fluff. You can promise to create all the jobs you want, but unless you have bodies to fill the positions, it’s simply rhetoric.
And the same rule applies in the legislature, especially when you promise a non-partisan environment but political payback is the first course served. Action will always speak louder than rhetoric.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org