Second Opinion by Paul MacNeill, publisher

When evidence can’t be found, use rhetoric

Rhetoric should never be confused with leadership, a fact that routinely escapes Premier Robert Ghiz.

Seven years into his administration and Ghiz is still feeding Islanders catch phrases he hopes will be confused for competency.

When first elected it was ‘One Island’, government’s attempt to convince us centralizing services and growing the bureaucracy in Charlottetown equates to better delivery of services.

It doesn’t.

Earlier this year Ghiz trotted out a new phrase ‘evidence based research.’ He leans on it to support decisions on everything from education to addiction treatment. The problem is the rhetoric doesn’t match reality.

PEI must focus on real priorities

The following is text of a speech made last week by Graphic Publisher Paul MacNeill to the Kensington and Area Chamber of Commerce that outlines four major issues dramatically impacting PEI’s long-term sustainability.

It is a pleasure to be with you tonight. I very much appreciate the opportunity and I thank you for changing your evening to accommodate my schedule.

I must admit I was a bit surprised when Glenna first broached this idea with me. I don’t really consider myself Chamber of Commerce material. The majority of my public speaking is done in front of an audience of one or two, or in complete isolation when I produce one of my rants from my Ivory Tower in downtown Montague.

But I do relish this opportunity because there are messages that need to start winning a broader audience if our Island, and in particular our rural communities, are to thrive into the future.

Politicians love when we play dumb

WARNING: This column contains opinions about boring financial information that politicians expect you to ignore. Please prove them wrong.

So here is an opening question for all Islanders: How dumb are we?

Now you may think that is a little rude? Perhaps. But stupidity and ignorance is the only explanation for allowing PEI politicians to run roughshod over us and govern in a manner that will – not may
– decimate our standing as an economically viable province.

The Auditor General report is an annual counter-balance to the puff and spin that passes as governance in PEI. Once a year, the auditor shines a bright light into the dark workings of government.

How does government spend taxpayers’ money? Are rules followed? Is there adequate transparency? Are we dealing with issues now or simply passing them on to future generations?

There are answers to all of these questions in the 2014 report.

A community rallies in face of unthinkable tragedy

It is the news no parent or community want to hear. But inevitably with every generation there are moments when our lives merge in shared grief for the loss of a child.

Accepting death is never easy. It is magnified when children are involved.

A fire of unknown cause ripped through a vacant building in Charlottetown in the early morning hours of last Saturday. Trapped inside were three Montague area youth. All perished. The youngest was barely 15. A fourth victim managed to escape the flames and is now in intensive care in a Halifax hospital.

Common sense lost on education honchos

What is the bigger surprise: that the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 makes only a passing appearance in our provincial curriculum or that the Minister of Education would brag about this oversight in announcing he intends to do something about it – for one year?

Both are unacceptable.

But if you are Alan McIsaac the unacceptable is routine in the rarified air of PEI’s education bureaucracy.

Thanks to sponsorship from Royal Bank and PEI 2014 Fund, the conference will earn a modest one-year spike in promotion that includes creation of specialized curriculum and field trips to Charlottetown.

Government dependence can’t last forever

The Ghiz government fancies itself a competent manager of our money – at least that is what the Premier and Finance Minister keep telling us. They tell us how they’ve made tough decisions to make government more efficient.

But have they? Does the rhetoric stand up to scrutiny?

Not by a long shot.

Our dependence on government is as acute as ever. Since the Binns administration made it legally impossible to find out whom works for government and what their job is, we have guessed at the number of Islanders who draw a salary from the public purse. This is not a statistic any administration routinely floats in the public domain. Most educated guesses put the number at roughly 2,000 federal employees and 12,000-14,000 provincial employees, which equates into a pretty sizable chunk of the total PEI workforce of 75,000.

Campbell and Ghiz share style not substance

Alex Campbell was just 33 and less than a year into his new role as Premier of Prince Edward Island when he delivered a speech to the Maritime Provinces Board of Trade in 1967 that resonates to this day.

“The whole process of collaboration between the provinces could be strengthened immeasurably by simply making it the continuing and precise responsibility of some part of the structure of government in each province. Otherwise, it will remain a part-time affair, and will be only as effective as the inclinations of the moment or as a response to a particular short-term problem.”

The charismatic Campbell, who went on to become PEI’s longest serving premier, envisioned cooperation across all areas of government. Why should each province build and maintain an expensive bureaucracy, he argued, when it could be shared among three?

Lobster fishermen must cooperate to succeed

Is 2014 the year PEI’s lobster industry finally rebounds?

Well, that depends who you listen to. On one hand there are a growing number of fishermen who realize they must take a leadership role starting with a mandatory one cent per pound marketing levy. On the other hand the old boys’ club - championed by the likes of Fishermen’s Association President Mike McGeoghegan and Liberal MLA Charlie McGeoghegan - who see the price of a lobster dinner and think all the ills of the industry can be solved if fishermen just get a bigger cut.

The white tablecloth argument bears no correlation to the price fishermen are paid. Restaurateurs charge what their customers will pay. It is a recipe that has little to do with fishermen.

Liberal EI hypocrisy on full display

As if to prove all politics is an exercise in selective memory, you could almost see crocodile tears swell in the eyes of federal Liberals feigning outrage over positive change finally being made to employment insurance.

For almost 20 years, seasonal workers have been under attack by Ottawa, which doesn’t contribute one cent to employment insurance but dictates the rules. Jean Chretien crafted artificial budget surpluses thanks to a $20 billion surplus in the EI fund. It was the federal Liberals that changed the rules in the late 1990s from qualifying weeks to qualifying hours. It is a decision that reverberates to this day.

The Liberals established Prince Edward Island as a single economic zone and the number of hours required to obtain EI became linked to the provincial unemployment rate.

Will Ghiz remove the noose from communities?

After a decade or more of slow economic growth, and with an aging and shrinking population, Nova Scotia is on the verge of a significant and prolonged decline in our standard of living, in the quality of our public services and amenities, and in our population base, most seriously in the rural regions of the province where more than two-fifths of our population now make their livings.

The Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy

The report tabled last week by Commission Chairman Ray Ivany pulls no punches in laying out the issues and potential solutions for our Maritime neighbour. Indeed the title page is anything but the staid bureaucratic prose most often associated with government appointed reports - Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotia

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