The resistance by so many Islanders to the proposed 'Plan B' alteration of the highway in Bonshaw/New Haven seems rooted in three main concerns. Some are especially alarmed about what seems to them an entirely unnecessary assault on the landscape. Others believe strongly that this in-the-red province simply cannot afford the millions of dollars required to complete the project. Still others are disturbed by the element of pork-barrel patronage that appears to be part and parcel of the decision to forge ahead despite such widespread opposition.
There is, however, something more, something that has put a sharp edge on this issue for many of us. It is the nature and tone of this government's response to the legitimate and well-articulated opposition to the project. In a word, concerned citizens are being treated as if they were nincompoops, and a mere nuisance.
It began with flimsy and scare-mongering arguments about why the project was absolutely necessary for safety reasons, then continued with a swift shift from Plan A to Plan B, which was made to appear as a concession to public opinion but contained all the same objectionable elements. It seemed, and smelled, like a cynical manipulation of public opinion. Government seemed to think it could treat Islanders as if they were stupid, and, of course, if they get away with it they will assume they were right and bring the same cynicism to other decisions.
Responses from the premier and his ministers since then have been patronizing and dismissive. When citizens are given the clear signal that they might as well shut up and go away because it's not going to make any difference, there is suddenly more at stake than environmental or fiscal concerns; what is at stake is the very nature of responsible government in this province.
David Weale, Charlottetown
"The citizens' plebiscite will have no influence on the government's decision to reroute the Trans-Canada Highway." This comment from Transportation Minister Robert Vessey this week is precisely the reason why I will be going to votepei.ca and casting my vote.
If a large number of Islanders do so, we will be sending out a strong message that will be hard for the government to ignore, however hard it tries to cover its ears.
The government's firm commitment not to listen to its electorate is astonishing and should be something of deep concern to all of us, whatever our views on 'Plan B'. For Islanders who have a growing sense that their elected officials are not in tune with public opinion, the citizen plebiscite offers a great opportunity to speak up in a positive way.
Jonathan Simmonds, Bonshaw
There's been no public process on Plan B, only on A, and the other cost-effective options such as simply reducing the speed limit on that stretch have not been truly considered.
Is a collective court injunction by taxpayers against Plan B the only option left to stop this project until sense prevails? This is a highly sensitive environmental area and it seems that instead of spending the money on securing enough doctors, making sure our social workers can be out there helping people in need, improving education and opportunities for Islanders, the money will be lost on this dubious short-term make-work project benefiting a few, and all to only shorten the trip on that stretch of highway by 300 metres. The people of P.E.I. do not want this, and this government would win more political points by showing Islanders that they can listen. Why haven't Islanders been allowed to officially vote if they really want Plan B or any plan to rip up that area? It just seems like since Harper came to prominence in Canadian politics, in his bullying, secretive way, that style of politics has spilled over and barricades have been erected between Canadians and our democratic institutions.
We are better than that in P.E.I. At the very least, this government can acknowledge that Islanders have spoken and begin a new process to seriously review the alternatives and abolish Plan B. It should not get lured into a short-term project of limited value, but hugely damaging to P.E.I.'s already battered environment.
Much of our key forested and old growth areas in P.E.I. have already disappeared. Bonshaw and the West River area are far too important to bulldoze and environmentally massacre, when good and cost-effective alternatives are available. Our tax dollars would be better off spent on programs that would be truly important to the families and communities of Prince Edward Island. This is the real capital of the Island that needs to be nurtured by the $8-million going to waste on this project. Put that money into people, not mindless asphalt.
John Hopkins, Breadalbane
I've always held the opinion that you can't have too much democracy, even if, as Winston Churchill shrewdly pointed out, "democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried".
Democracy is messy and imperfect, but it's the best we've got. For democracy to work properly, it requires citizens to be engaged in the process; and more engaged than simply marking their choice on a ballot every few years.
The recently announced citizen-initiated plebiscite on Plan B is a rare opportunity for Islanders to exercise their democratic privilege and to register their opinion on an important matter.
It was utterly shocking to hear Minister Vessey say that no matter what the results of the plebiscite, Plan B is going ahead. For a minister to so casually and completely disregard the will of the electorate is one more sign that this Liberal government apparently knows no limits to hubris.
Majority governments sometimes behave as if their mandate is to do whatever they want whenever they want regardless of the quality or quantity of opposition to their plans. We are currently seeing this here in Canada at both the federal and provincial levels as never before. The arrogance, insensitivity and repression that passes as governance these days is enough to make any thinking citizen weep.
Democracy is defined as: government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. Irrespective of the outcome of this exercise in participatory democracy, let's send our government a message - that democracy means government of the people, by the people, for the people, not government of the people by the red team for their friends.
Peter Bevan-Baker, Hampton
In reference to Plan B Macleans Magazine (June 12th) quoted Robert Vessey as characterizing Islanders as, “people who don’t like change.” What the heck is Vessey implying? This coming from an elected representative of the people and someone who is supposed to represent the Island’s best interests?
If you were someone looking for a place to set up a company and invest here and an elected official implied Islanders were a tad slow - would you invest? Good grief ...
Walter Wilkins Stratford
What the ‘heck’ is going on? Where are the Islanders?
Islanders must get angry. Islanders must take a stand.
Where has our democracy gone? What is happening to our Island?
We are being governed by a bunch of ‘schoolyard bullies’ – this Liberal government. One of the best ways to handle a “bully” is to stand your ground. Stand up and do not let this government get away with their deceitful and sneaky tactics. We, the people of PEI are their employers. No employee would remain on the job with behavior such as theirs.
This government seems to feel an ‘entitlement’ to do as it pleases and to ignore the wishes of its ‘employers,’ us, the people of PEI.
These bullies are pushing through the Plan B - Bonshaw Highway, a road Islanders do not want.
These bullies are refusing to build a K-12 school they promised to Souris.
The $8 million plus of our money they plan to spend on the Plan B - Bonshaw Highway could be re-designated to Souris to have a healthy school for the children to attend.
These bullies may feel they can impose the HST on us, a tax that will negatively affect many Islanders who are already struggling. The HST will impact our children who are our future, young families just starting out, seniors and middle and low income earners.
Islanders unite. Get angry now, not in 2015.
The Liberals are laughing at us, as bullies will do.
Brenda Bernard, Charlottetown
Since our government seems hell-bent on getting $8 million of "Ottawa's" money (our taxes) for Trans-Canada Highway improvements in return for spending an equal amount of P.E.I. money (again, our taxes), with the declared intention of making a bypass road around Strathgartney, I have an alternative to suggest.
Why not improve the existing bypass around Charlottetown by replacing every intersection with a roundabout? There's certainly a safety issue - I can clearly recall a horrible accident at the intersection nearest Sears a few years ago, when several people in a car that misjudged a left turn were killed by a large truck that had the right-of-way. Such an accident is virtually impossible at a roundabout as all are forced to reduce speed. I'm sure there have been other bad accidents on the bypass as well.
Here are the advantages of such a move:
1. No more fatal accidents on the bypass.
2. No more traffic lights delaying us.
3. No more cost of traffic lights.
4. Smoother travel on the bypass, and less pollution from idling engines.
5. No spoiling of the countryside.
6. No more protests in front of Province House.
7. No more angry letters to the editor (about the Strathgartney bypass, anyway.)
8. No more government unpopularity - well, not on this subject.
In case anyone thinks you cannot have roundabouts on 70 km/h roads, take a look at British and European roads. They're common as dirt over there. So how about it, Mr. Ghiz?
Mark Robertson, Charlottetown
The Guardian of Monday, May 14 included an essay by Robert Vessey, minister for the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DTIR), in defence of the proposed realignment of the Trans-Canada Highway through the New Haven to Bonshaw segment. The following responses by a group of concerned citizens address the minister's words, and present a broader and more current point of view of Plan B, as it has come to be known.
The value of nature. We don't have large stretches of natural areas in P.E.I. Our landscape is beautiful, but fragmented by many roads. Unlike Strathgartney Park, the proposed TCH alignment site is neither parkland nor a designated protected area. But it is as much an expression of biodiversity on our Island as we possess.
The benefits of biodiversity are being considered within business plans, in green schools, and in urban and rural development plans. Everyone can play a part in this; it is an opportunity to lead by example. Smart leaderswould realize that integrating biodiversity in decision-making can generatesubstantial cost savings.
Minister Vessey states that the environment is protected to the fullest extent possible, which is not true. How can the environment be protected when a highway is constructed through a natural area? Even though recent adjustments have been announced to reduce impact to the old growth stand, the construction of the new road will affect the entire environment and its biodiversity during its construction and after.
The proposed site for the alignment contains a stream, aquatic life, mature trees, plant species of conservation concern, and birds in the vicinity that are ranked Threatened under the Species at Risk Act. We can only hope that the full environmental assessment will conclude that there is too much at stake, and that alternatives to Plan B need to be sought.
Fiep de Bie, Stratford
Lack of public consultation. Mr. Vessey's commentary did not include the one issue that gets most people the most steamed: the lack of consultation combined with the naked pretense that there has indeed been consultation. In the legislature, April 11, and on CBC Radio, April 24, I heard him boast that there have been seven public meetings. He knows very well that six of those meetings were on Plan A with no hint of B at the time, and the seventh was forced on him by an angry public only justbecoming aware of government's intentions. That he speaks this fiction over and over again appalls me.
Suppose you are at a pancake breakfast and are asked if you want ketchup. You say no, and then the server returns to squirt your pancakes all over with mustard. This is the equivalent of Mr. Vessey's handling of his highway plans for the province.
Terry Pratt, Elmwood
The economics of Plan B. On the question of waste, the issue is not whether the project has some value and is something we have on our 'to do list' as the minister suggests; the issue is what are we giving up to do so? What, as economists say, is the opportunitycost? In better times that other opportunity might not be worth much more than a passing thought, but these clearly are not better times. The province faces a persistent structural deficit and a growing debt profile that has clearly gotten to the point where burdens have to be shouldered and sacrifices made. Given the nature of some of the budgetary announcements that we've seen, I'd suggest the government start reconsidering whether the worth of this project at this time compares to the value of some of the programs and services being cut.
Jim Sentance, Springvale
Highway safety. In his letter, Minister Vessey writes: "When it comes to public safety, the statistics speak for themselves." And yet anyone following the Plan B story will be aware of how many times the DTIR-supplied data has changed over thepast few months.
But if we work with this week's data (http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/tir_tchcollrate.pdf), then the following conclusions are evident: 1) The average rate of collisions on the Trans-Canada Highway between Borden and Cornwall is 0.49 per million kilometres traveled. 2) The rate of collisions for 13 segments of this same stretch of highway varies from 0.23 to 0.71. These 13 segments vary in length from as little as one kilometre to as long as nine kilometres. This very wide range of rates is the first indication that there is a problem with the way data is being grouped: a spread this wide is not seen in other rural highways in Canada when appropriate comparisons are made. In this case, the selective segment lengths are probably at fault, and until we see actual accident locations we will never know where hazards exist and where they don't. 3) Data for the segments between Cornwall and Stratford continues to be withheld, which is where most of the fatal accidents on the TCH on P.E.I. have occurred.
And nothing more can be concluded from the selective DTIR data because valid comparison of number sets is only possible when you follow basic rules of statistical analysis, which has not yet been done. It is well-known that comparisons of highway statistics can only be based on sets of numbers which are matched for features of season, time of day, driver condition, and vehicle factors (source: Transport Canada: Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic CollisionStatistics, 2009). It is also known that road design is responsible for a very small percentage of accidents – usually around three per cent. This is because people do slow down when sight lines shorten or the weather is bad. The inescapable conclusion is that the current safety argument is not supported by the DTIR's own data. It will be most unfortunate for provincial finances if government spends $20 million of taxpayers' money for a project based on error and ignorance.
Art Ortenburger, Bonshaw
Plan B is less a problem of public misunderstanding, as Minister Vessey persists in believing, than of a public fully informed and well aware of the actual costs and highly negative effects of this plan. We urge government to become better acquainted with the desires of the electorate, and to ensure that more substantial justifications exist before embarking on projects which do permanent environmental damage even as they put Islanders deeper into large-scale debt.
The spring session of the provincial legislature wrapped up last week after what was clearly one of the longest and toughest ones for the Ghiz government. And no wonder. After bringing down a budget that slashed jobs and government programs and services, and announced plans for a harmonized sales tax, government had to expect some resistance from the Opposition and others who object to these measures.
They can't help but have an impact. The HST, for instance, will mean Islanders will pay provincial tax on items now exempt, something critics insist can't be offset by government rebates. As well, the decision to centralize dialysis services and the reneging on promises for a new school in Souris and renovations to a Montague school have enraged those affected by these decisions, especially in light of government's odd determination to spend money on Trans-Canada Highway work for which there is no big clamour.
Now that MLAs have headed back to their districts, will all these issues subside into the background? Who knows? Governments have a remarkable ability to ride out controversy. Politicians and voters tend to become preoccupied with other issues, and even rage isn't sustainable forever.
Nevertheless, some of the initiatives brought in by government this time could potentially disrupt people's lives in such a dramatic way that people won't let government off the hook. Dialysis patients, for example, who already devote enormous hours to treatment each week in Souris and Alberton, face additional time commitments and travel costs that could wreck havoc on their lives and families. Those affected by cuts to other government programs or services might also feel their resentment grow.
In the final days of the legislative session, Premier Ghiz remained firm in his resolve to proceed with his agenda even if there's a political cost. That's a courageous statement. Whether he'll end up paying that cost remains to be seen. What we do know is that between now and the next election, many Islanders will be affected by this government's decisions, and are likely to be vocal about their opposition to them. The legislature is closed, and the politicians have gone home. But that doesn't mean the voice of Islanders will be silenced. They no doubt will be using every avenue possible - public protest, social networking sites and other forums of public expression - to make their feelings known. If members of the legislature are prudent, they'll keep alert to the tide of public opinion.