PEI politics is a mess. With our small population and relatively large number of politicians almost everyone knows or is related to someone who is currently, was, or wants to be, a Member of the Legislative Assembly. Ridings are small and since most voter preferences are inherited it only takes a few swing votes to decide an election. The group of power brokers is also quite small and the two conditions lead to a situation that is ripe for corruption.
A look to the past would quickly show that both major parties have played the same crooked games over the past 150 years since Canada joined PEI. Right now the focus is on the Liberal party that has been in power since 2007 and has used the past 8 years to skirt laws and ethics to enrich their cronies and families. Contracts awarded to political allies are not even considered news and never mentioned in the media, but there have been a couple of major scandals that have hit the national news.
The first of these is the Provincial Nominee Program which was an program that was intended to bring immigrant investors to Canada as partners in functioning businesses. Although a Federal program, it was largely administered by the provinces as a means to encourage local businesses. The government of PEI stretched the legalities on this program and ignored attempts by the Feds to get them to clean up their act. Ultimately, the Feds had to totally change the rules to prevent further abuses. It is a long and sordid story, and was thoroughly investigated by journalism students at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Two things are most telling about the situation here on PEI. Firstly, the group that benefited the most from the PNP was the accounting firm led by the premier’s father-in-law. Secondly, the local media largely ignored the entire mess.
The most recent incident to come to life, was a major boondoggle in which the province tried to circumvent a number of laws and bring internet gambling to PEI. The salient points are described in an article in the Globe and Mail. Another look showed that PEI is the only province without comprehensive ethics guidelines. Finally, it was determined that the conflict-of-interest commissioner had invested in the gambling scheme and has since resigned.
We have a provincial election scheduled for later this year, and the real problem here is that, with what is essentially a two party system, we have the option of the status quo, or the other bunch of crooks.
These problems are certainly not unique to PEI. Our Canadian government, with less than 40% of the popular vote has, since 2011, run up the largest deficits in Canadian history while limiting debate on issues that have fundamentally our society.
It’s definitely time to make changes to our current system. Do we need stronger laws, regulations, and enforcement to limit conflicts and illegal activities by governments and politicians? Do we need to change the ‘first past the post’ system? Do we need to more towards some method of proportional representation? I don’t have any answers, but I believe that it is past time to seriously debate the current situation in PEI and across the country.