Autocracy or Democracy: What’s best for PEI?

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Minister of Communities, Land and Environment, Hon. Richard Brown (sitting); Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Robert Henderson (at podium)

As you may be aware, the leader of the official opposition, Hon. James Aylward, introduced a Motion during the opening session of the Spring sitting of the legislature on April 5 calling on the government to add “consensus government” as a third option on the ballot for the electoral reform referendum to be held during the next P.E.I. election.

It should come as no surprise if Wade MacLauchlan – who has already expressed his preference for the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system – whips his caucus to vote down that motion. Given the premier’s repeated failure to honour the promises he made to the electorate (which got him elected in the first place) anyone could have predicted that he would also show  disdain for a consensus-approach to decision-making. He may believe the “will of the people” is a nice idea in principle, but it’s clear he also believes it takes people like him with superior intelligence and exemplary leadership skills to properly discern when the “will of the people” may not be in their own best interest; e.g., his political philosophy has far more in common with autocracy than democracy. Some call it “benevolent dictatorship” but it’s never kind to deceive the people who entrust you with the privilege and duty to serve them as leader.

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He – like his federal counterpart, Justin Trudeau – apparently admires and aspires to the governmental efficiency of dictatorial regimes  –   and MacLauchlan’s recent mocking of the consensus model of government exposes his deluded belief that only a Liberal leader like himself can give Islanders the strong leadership needed to ensure a stable government capable of charting a reasonable course ahead for Prince Edward Island.

An April 9, 2018 Guardian Article reporting on the Liberal party’s annual general meeting held in Cornwall on Saturday (April 7th) captured a quote from the premier’s address expressing  his disdain for the consensus model of government and, by implication, his exaggerated positive evaluation of his own leadership abilities:

 He [Premier MacLauchlan] also talked about what he said was a need for a strong government and took shots at his political opponents, specifically the recent suggestion of a move to a consensus government system with no political parties. “It takes leadership and strong stable government to set priorities, to stick to them, to invest in the most important areas, to have a plan and to move forward,” he said.

What is both sad and ironic about this attempt to ridicule a time-tested model of governance that better ensures that the democratic will of the people will take precedence over the partisan political interests of a given group or class – a tired system that has plagued and corrupted politics in PEI far too long, especially under Liberal governments – is the fact that his autocratic manner of leading his own Party has all but neutered his own Cabinet ministers, making them either unable or unwilling to recognize good ideas and commit to implementing them.

I believe at least some of those ministers would love to adopt workable solutions to critical problems in support of what ordinary Islanders both need and want, but are forced to bob and weave around questions, knowing deep-down that the Liberal government within which they are ensconced won’t allow them  to challenge the political and economic elite benefitting from the system the way it is – the status quo as they say – and they must therefore pretend that no real solutions are possible, or more study and consultations are needed to perpetually delay action, in order to avoid admitting their impotence to act as ministers in a corrupt system that demands their unquestioned loyalty.

I’ll give you two concrete and recent examples of this kind of behaviour from the recent NFU Annual District Convention held on April  3rd  at the Milton Community Hall; one from each of the two Liberal cabinet ministers who attended the convention and spoke on behalf of the MacLauchlan government: Hon. Robert Henderson, minister of Agriculture and Fisheries; and Hon. Richard Brown, minister of Communities, Land and Environment.  I attended this event, took pictures and recorded both minister’s speeches and question & answer sessions which followed their talks.

Henderson’s commitment to being “reactive” rather than “proactive”

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Hon. Robert Henderson, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries

One of the marks of a good leader is the ability to solicit and hear good ideas, understand how those good ideas can help to solve problems, then use the power at their disposal as a leader to act on those good ideas to solve problems.

When the District Director of the NFU, Douglas Campbell, challenged the Minister of Agriculture to recognize the urgent problem regarding how farmland in PEI is in need of additional government protection in PEI – which requires decisive leadership from the government – Minister Henderson essentially said that although he fully agreed, his government would only exercise that leadership if forced to do so by a large enough outcry from Islanders. In other words, his government was not going to be “proactive” but rather “reactive.”

Here is a verbatim transcript of an exchange between Doug Campbell and Robert Henderson on this issue:

Campbell:  “If the land issue is becoming a focal point of what’s going on in the Island, and we know there’s a movement afoot, would your guy’s government  be willing in the next election – because we hear, from the talk here today about how rural communities depend on the land for survival – everything else comes of the land, health care and schools and all that – so, would you guys as a government be willing to make the land use policy a platform or an issue in your next provincial election? If you’re looking to improve rural communities in PEI it starts with the land.  Are you willing to bring land into the discussion?

[MINISTER BROWN OFFERS SOME COMMENTS THAT DIDN’T SAY MUCH, BUT THEN MINISTER HENDERSON JUMPED IN WITH HIS ATTEMPT TO ANSWER THE QUESTION]

Henderson:  I’ll explain that a little bit. I think that as far as platforms that’s done by political parties….parties go through the process and develop whatever the platform is…ah…I would look at, a little bit of the role of this organization, the NFU, or other organizations out there, to make it an issue in the election…that’s up to the public to determine and then parties will then respond accordingly to those types of actions that these groups and the public are making forward…

Campbell:  There’s 50 or 60 people from the community here today asking for you guys to take it up as an election issue…. [Henderson jumps in and cuts off Campbell]

Henderson: As the Minister of Agriculture I sit around Cabinet table, I sit around Caucus table, and I’m always trying to say, uh, making sure  that, you know, ah, we’re looking at agriculture in a positive light….we also have a Minister of Communities, Land and Environment, we also have a Minister of Rural and Regional Development, those, those Ministers also have a responsibility to advocate for rural communities, or for whatever; we’re always doing that, so it’s really up to the public to determine what the issues generally become and then its up to political parties to respond to those particular issues. So I do my part around the tables and the places I can do that…I represent the, ya know, a fairly large agricultural sector in this province and all those individuals they know how to get a hold of me and they’re always raising awareness of issues and I’m bringing that forward so…..[laughs] I personally just can’t say whether that’s the issue in the next election, I just don’t have that capability.

Brown’s Request for “solutions” from the public – and his inability to recall them

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Hon. Richard Brown, Minister of Communities, Land and Environment

Another key mark of good leadership is the ability to recognize a solution to a problem and implement it. Ideally, a good leader takes the initiative, does the research and hard thinking about a problem, comes up with a possible solution, then presents that solution to the people for consideration and approval (to respect the democratic process and honour the fact that he or she is “serving” the people; the people are not serving the leader).  A slightly lower calibre of leadership – although still good – is a leader who can’t come up with the solution  him or herself, but is nonetheless able to listen and understand others who do come up with a solution, and they then present that solution to colleagues in government for consideration and approval, then ensures that the power and processes available to him or her are utilized to implement that solution.

On several occasions during the NFU convention, Richard Brown expressed which I believe was sincere solidarity and support for the concerns about the way the Lands Protection Act was being circumvented, but would then argue that he didn’t know what the solution was. On several occasions, he called upon the NFU to tell him what that solution was….he would solve the land problem if he knew how, but he didn’t.

He mentioned, for example, how farmers have a right to sell their land, especially those wanting to retire, and that he couldn’t see how government could (or should) prevent them from doing that.  One of the times he threw the obligation to come up with a solution to the way the spirit and intent of the  Lands Protection Act is being abused  back at the people in the room was when the NFU Regional Coordinator, Reg Phelan,  asked him a question.  What follows is a verbatim recounting of the exchange between Phelan and Brown:

Phelan:  What’s happening in terms of price…younger farmers and others who are trying to buy other land,  it’s getting pretty difficult to compete with the money that’s coming from other places. We’ve had calls from, not far from home, from our young farmers who want to get use of rented land [which is] all of a sudden bought out or rented or leased by Vanco Farms, and it’s an incredible amount of money they’re putting into it, 6 and 10 million dollars. we’re finding they’re paying for some of these farms; and all of these farms have over 3 thousand acres – one that’s close to me has over that – 3 or 4 others they’ve bought that have close to that; so in reality they probably…in the last few years they’ve bought probably over 20,000 acres; but they’re putting their names on the buildings and all the machinery has got their name on it, and even on the little signs on the farm places where they want the machinery to go has their names on it, but they have the land in some other name, but it  very obvious to most people in the country what’s going on. And so it’s making it pretty difficult for younger farmers and growers that are existing to compete with those types of dollars and this type of inflation, it’s making a mockery of the whole Lands Protection Act.

Brown:   I agree with you. IRAC has done a substantial amount of analysis on the pricing of farm property on Prince Edward Island. And you’re right….it’s going up. There’s a tremendous demand for this property. And that’s why I referenced BC’s study into farmland…into the price of farmland, and how things that can be done to protect that model. And it’s hard, because I’m told all the time that the agricultural land is the farmer’s retirement package, and if I’m going to interfere with his retirement package when he wants to sell his farm…well, there’s issues with that. But you know what, I look for recommendations from you…you come back with some recommendations on how we can solve some of this stuff and ya know, we’ll take a look at it, because you’re the people that are closest to the agricultural industry.  I’m committed, I know my colleagues are committed, you want to keep the small farms on Prince Edward Island and to keep our communities together, and if you guys can come up with some ideas and suggestions for us to take a look at, we’d be glad to take a look at it, but one of the things you have to answer for me is when a farmer works all his life, young, hard, hard all his life, and he’s ready to retire and he wants to sell his farm, ya know, should I interfere with the price, and if you guys can answer that for me, make a recommendation, we’ll take a look at it.

Phelan:  We have in fact made recommendations many times – the Land Banking concept….[Brown jumps in and cuts Phelan off]

Brown:  Going back to the old  Land Development Corporation which I think was a tremendous  idea on Prince Edward Island. It was in one of our Throne Speeches I think, and an Election commitment, and I think we should go one step further – and maybe I’m stepping on the feet of  the Minister of Agriculture – but I’d like to have a big land bank, and not sell it; lease it back to the farmers on the Island – it stays in the public interest, and that agricultural land would be farmed by farmers though a lease program and not purchased.

So consider for a moment what happened with this exchange: After Phelan had reminded Brown that his call for recommendations was entirely misplaced because the NFU has been repeatedly calling for a Land Banking System that would protect agricultural land in perpetuity in PEI –  Brown’s memory was “jogged” and he wanted people to know he really did know what the solution was, in fact bragged a bit about how his liberal government had actually made a commitment to reinstate the Land Development Corporation to achieve a similar result as the NFU’s Land Banking system idea – perhaps not fully realizing that he was really only highlighting how his government had broken another promise.  But the really surprising thing was that just a little while later, Brown returned to his apparent state of amnesia about solutions and once again called for “recommendations” from the group so he and his very-concerned government could take them really seriously and solve the problem!

Let’s consider once more MacLauchlan’s condemnation of a consensus-style governance model: “It takes leadership and strong stable government to set priorities, to stick to them, to invest in the most important areas, to have a plan and to move forward,”  Tragically, Wade and his government are clearly unwilling and therefore incapable of delivering any of what he says, in principle, is required.

I think the reasons are clear to anyone properly informed about the critical issues relating to land and farming in PEI:  in a nutshell, the Liberal government is ideologically-committed to an industrial model of chemical-intensive monoculture where food is regarded as a commodity for sale in the global market. To foster that model which brings increased GDP (which unethically fails to measure what is of real value) in the agricultural sector, the Liberal government continues to offer support to large corporations like K.C. Irving (Cavendish Farms) believing those are the business entities PEI needs for agriculture to be competitive in the global market.

In other words, MacLauchlan’s fancy words about good governance used in his dismissal of “consensus government”  only serve to mask the anti-democratic policies that continue to support programs, policies and projects that subvert the will of the people to bring about solutions to the very agricultural and environmental problems his Ministers claim to care about, as they struggle to convince us that they would indeed address those identified problems if only they had solutions. This approach is old and tired and not only disingenuous, but absolutely not true. There are solutions; what is missing is a commitment by the Liberal government to pursue an appropriate Vision and muster up the political will to implement the policies, programs and projects which those solutions require.

 

 

 

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