It troubles me that public input is so blatantly dismissed by politicians at all levels of government in this province.
Here are recent examples:
Last fall some 200 residents of Three Rivers attended a council meeting in Montague to express concerns about the Buddhist nuns building another large dormitory in Brudenell. Housing prices are through the roof, and Bliss and Wisdom (the monks and nuns) have purchased a tremendous number of farms, building lots, apartment buildings and homes. The council turned down the request for a permit. Residents expected consultation. They expected their concerns to be addressed and a fulsome conversation about the long-term vision for Three Rivers. A couple weeks ago the council approved the permit without giving residents any opportunity to voice their concerns. Personally, I feel having the nuns under one roof makes more sense than scattered around the countryside (and the nuns said they will be putting houses back on the market), but that’s not the point. The council showed no respect for the people it represents. There may be an opportunity here for community members to work directly with the monks and nuns to divest houses and farmland to create public housing and a farmland bank. I’ve had several visits with the monks and nuns and find them very willing to share ideas for developing our community in a sustainable way.
Meanwhile Steven Myers is now in charge of water. A few years back Islanders came out in droves to help create a water act. Four hundred people made submissions and we had 42 public meetings. It was an excellent democratic process. Overwhelmingly Islanders stated they wanted to keep the moratorium on deep water wells. In a tremendous show of disrespect referencing The Simpsons, Myers declared that he is in the driver’s seat and not the all-party committee of MLAs. He swept aside all that public input and said he and ‘his experts’ decided to lift the moratorium and an irrigation strategy will be developed. Bluster is not leadership and it sure as heck is not democracy. I expect a ‘free-for-all’ now that the tap has been turned on. Yes, a well managed irrigation strategy would be great, but successive Liberal and Tory governments have failed to protect our land and water. Our aquifer needs to be guarded like an old growth forest, once it’s gone there is no turning back. Remember when Denis King told Islanders we should boot him out of office if he ever lifted the moratorium?
In Charlottetown there is little vision, rampant development, no regard for heritage, and tone-deaf town councillors. I was shocked at the behaviour of Mike Duffy who chaired the meeting about short-term rentals a few weeks ago at the Confederation Centre. Three hundred people signed up to attend this meeting, most of them well-spoken young people who are being driven out of the city and province by the housing crisis, a crisis created in large part by PNP, Airbnb, greed, and lack of leadership. Duffy demanded people not applaud after each speaker. The council lost a great opportunity to understand if people were supporting the concerns expressed by each presenter. When the audience failed to adhere to his decree after being warned, he shut down the meeting. It was appalling in the extreme, an abuse of power and a strong message to our young people that the council is tone deaf to their situation. This is the first generation that will be forced to leave the Island, not due to lack of work, but because they cannot afford a place to live. We need more housing co-ops and less vacation rentals or we will end up as a city of retirees.
It is abundantly clear that Islanders are being left out of important decisions. Who do these politicians and councillors actually represent? We desperately need diversity, gender parity and new blood at all levels of government to protect our farmland, water, and housing stock. Finally, the government needs to remember they work for us, and public input must be respected.