Paul MacNeill

There is a fine line between bold and bull in a china shop leadership. Steven Myers didn’t just cross that line last week, he straight-arm tackled his own government with an announcement the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy will create a registry for students whose health was potentially compromised by construction of the renovated Three Oakes High School in Summerside.

In the process Myers has made Premier Dennis King look weak, left tire tracks on the back of Education Minister Brad Trivers who he publicly bulldozed, and reminded Islanders of the petulant member of the opposition rather than the man who has become a strong performer for the new government.

During the TOSH renovation air quality did not always meet recommended guidelines. On one day asbestos levels, a known carcinogen, spiked. Parents have long complained that their children were put at unnecessary risk, although PEI’s Chief Public Health Officer reviewed the data and concluded students were not exposed to significant health risk.

In June Health Minister James Aylward announced creation of a registry to track potentially related health issues if they materialize.

Thursday the opposition quizzed Myers and Trivers over the registry, with Myers taking the opportunity to pat himself on the back: “There was an accelerated construction. It was acknowledged, the fact that something did happen there. As I mentioned, I was the one that uncovered it.”

Myers believed education was creating the registry. Outside the legislature Trivers backtracked. He said the needed information already exists within government as the Public Schools Branch collects enrolment data, Health PEI tracks health issues and if something is found in the future the Chief Public Health Officer can investigate.

This is clearly not what Aylward promised, and Trivers looked less than comfortable in explaining it away. But as a process of government, what Trivers proposed is a plausible path forward.

Friday morning Myers stood in the legislature and proclaimed his department will create a registry based upon the suspect jurisdictional logic that his department controlled the renovation.

Wrong. The transportation minister does not have the right to jump over the Ministers of Health and Education while squeezing the premier into an uncomfortable corner just to deliver what he perceives to be a priority.

If the government believes an independent registry is needed then it should have been Trivers, Aylward or the premier to clarify government’s position.

The Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy has zero oversight of students while in school, let alone their health. It is none of the department’s business, regardless of what issues the minister championed in opposition. It is a plan that sets a dangerous precedent for the transfer of personal information between government departments.

Premier King has carefully cultivated a persona of a government that is inclusive, respectful and collaborative. With a single action, Myers blew a hole in the image of a cohesive team. The optics are terrible and at least partially undo the admirable job he has done resetting public perceptions. Taking one step forward and two steps back is unfortunate because the minister is charged with pushing potentially transformative files, such as following the model of the Danish island of Samos toward energy self-sufficiency, forward.

It will require deft political skill to win the support of fellow cabinet ministers, opposition MLAs, bureaucracy, private sector and ordinary Islanders. In short, it will require a lot of political capital, some of which Myers unnecessarily burned last week. To succeed on big issues, the minister must err on the side of thoughtful, rather than reactionary, decision making.

Steven Myers can be a prominent leader in the King government. But he must recognize that while political free styling may have worked in opposition, in government it only raises questions about the ability of the Tories to govern effectively.

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

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(4) comments

Leviticus

I disagree completely. Both in Canada and in the US we see what the results of party members and ministers whose partisan loyalty to their leader are unswerving have produced. Here, we have a prime minister who fires the Attorney General as he would his gardener or pool boy for not doing exactly what he expects. Whose caucus sees nothing wrong with him wearing black face in public as an adult. In the US Republican officials and senators staunchly supporting a lying, criminal thug. If our premier's promise of an inclusive government cannot accommodate a 'free wheeling' voice, and one that isn't exactly spouting sedition - then we had best go back to the colluding nepotism of the Ghiz or MacLauchlan governments. Or, perhaps that's the desire your article is secretly hinting at?

Noregistrynopcvote

Is his article eluding to the fact that the students are not entitled to a Registry? There were other avenues explored, all of which they didn't qualify because they do not fall under WCB, Maybe they need to look under government insurance. Regardless of anyones opinion these students should never have had to suffer. Mr. Myers is honoring what others fell short on.

Noregistrynopcvote

TIRE TRACK??? Seems to me Mr MacNeill a few months back, someone was put in touch with you to give you the opportunity to review all of the TOSH Data up to that point, and potentially do a story. Did you in fact review that data? I think you might not have since you refused to cover a story, by not responding. So you want to talk about tire tracks, these parents have been under the government bus, for two years looking for what occurred in a building their children were present in. This bus has gone forward and backward for two years, then finally Mr. Aylward comes forward in the spring with a commitment of a registry. In the same year, Mr. Trivers back paddled this commitment, not even in question period but on COMPASS. So you want to talk about tire tracks on his back? I believe the parents and students have been run over again. It wasn't till the next morning when Mr. Myers stood in legislature and committed his department who was in charge of the construction that happened around these children. I feel Mr Myers had the courage and character to stand up and do what his counterparts failed to do. Also, when our government breaks their promises that are hollow and their words no longer have meaning, it is time to take the next step and make those words they gave take action.

Mr. Alwyard Met with a group of 20 or more parents in a hall in wilmot in 2018 to discuss what occured at the school. Each of those parents had children with health concerns that they expressed in this meeting. Mr Alyward, Mr. Fox and Mr. MacKay hammered the previous government on this matter on a few occassions in legislature. So do these leaders that vigorously fights for you one year, become the government that falls deathly silent the next? You want to talk about tire tracks.

After all wasn't this governments whole motto "It's about people" These Children are people, people of PEI, People who have their vote just like the rest of us. And Mr. Myers stood up and held true to the commitment by his government in June, that to me is governing by the commitment they promised in the beginning "ABOUT THE PEOPLE". In my opinion he is the only one to date that has the character to stand up and hold true the PC Motto. Where are the rest of the caucus that fall under the same motto????

TiretrackSurvivor

I agree the parent and student have tire tracks over them as well. But...Who threw who under the bus??? What make the Premier look weak is when he took a stand while running for the leadership and made comments and promises to parents concerning this exact issue and giving great support along with many others from the caucus. So parents want to know what changed from before the election to after. As the silence and no response to parents is chilling. This serious event that occurred and has had National coverage and international support, should have easily received support of all members of our own province. So when you have Ministers who supported the issue and supported it up until they became government. And this support leads to a registry being announce in legislature in June. Then back peddling in Nov, but not even during question period. This would have taken courage. Sometimes your word is all anyone has of you. Every time you give your word you're putting your honor on the line. Now you have a Minister who is willing to take over from where his other Ministers left him. In my opinion, he didn't run over them... They jumped off the buss and he had to take over the wheel, and on the way he reached out to the people under the bus. You can't just govern in the good times, there will be bad times as well, and that is when your strength and character is truly shown is by how you treat people during these difficult times.

We will wait to see if there will be unity or division, or another empty promise.

Will history repeat itself.

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