© JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN
Prince Edward Island Progressive Conservative Party Leader Jamie Fox, standing on th steps of the Coles Building in Charlottetown, says membership in his party continues to grow and that he is looking forward to more good things for the Island in 2016.
P.E.I. Senator Percy Downe is finding a warmer reception from Opposition Leader Jamie Fox than from the provincial Liberal government for his campaign to get equal treatment for Islanders regarding tolls on the Confederation Bridge. Sen. Downe has long questioned high tolls being paid to cross the fixed link and his campaign intensified late last year with news the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal would be toll-free. The Quebec bridge is being paid for with public dollars and the no-tolls decision is a reversal in federal policy.
Since Ottawa changed the rules, the federal government has an obligation to re-examine the situation on the Confederation Bridge. In addition to massive subsidies — estimated now at $42 million a year indexed to inflation — the bridge keeps all tolls collected.
The 12.9-kilometre bridge, completed in 1997 for an estimated $1 billion, charges a minimum $46 for a passenger vehicle. The new four-kilometre Champlain Bridge, being built for $5 billion, was going to charge $4 to $5 per vehicle until it became politically expedient to drop the tolls.
Islanders are now helping to pay for that Quebec bridge and bear a large financial burden for the Confederation Bridge.
Islanders probably wouldn’t mind paying a reasonable toll for the Confederation Bridge but few think that $46 is reasonable to drive to New Brunswick. Nor is $70 a reasonable fee for a 75-minute ferry ride to Nova Scotia.
Sen. Downe and many others have made compelling arguments that Islanders face discrimination because of high tolls.
Last week, in a commentary published in The Guardian, Sen. Downe rejected suggestions the contract can’t be changed between the bridge company and the federal government. European bondholders might prefer to bail out now because of the low Canadian dollar which limits return on investment. He suggested that Islanders could save bridge receipts and submit them with tax returns to the Canada Revenue Agency for rebates.
Sen. Downe reiterated the first step is for the P.E.I. Legislature to pass a resolution requesting that Islanders receive treatment equal to the citizens of Quebec. Then Ottawa will have something to consider. It seems like a reasonable suggestion.
It’s an option that Mr. Fox eagerly endorses, while the premier and his government remain cool to the idea and suggest it isn’t a priority at this time.
For the bridge tolls issue to remain in play, politicians like Mr. Fox have to keep the topic in the forefront.
Mr. Fox is considering bringing forward a resolution in the P.E.I. legislature calling for Ottawa to make the Confederation Bridge free for Islanders.
He has met with Sen. Downe but wants to proceed cautiously to ensure any changes to the agreement for the bridge do not negatively impact the Wood Islands ferry service.
Mr. Fox is especially concerned about the burden the bridge tolls have on low-income Islanders forced to travel out-of-province for medical procedures. These should be concerns for the government as well.
Christmas forced out?
A growing trend during the recent Christmas holiday frenzy of gift-giving, dinners, visiting family and church services is an effort to try and keep the focus off religion.
Media releases that come into this newsroom contain warnings on holiday ‘hazards’ to avoid. Thrown in with harassment and inappropriate conduct is how to avoid religious discrimination. The releases stress that as winter approaches, it‘s the time for holiday parties and year-end celebrations. Such festivities are a way to encourage team camaraderie and thank employees for their hard work — and little else.
Tips for keeping the focus off religion include not dedicating functions for Christmas, don’t play religious Christmas carols or music and avoid traditional Christmas decorations such as a manger, Christmas tree, nativity scene or mistletoe.
Instead the focus should be on celebrating the winter season and the coming new year.
Efforts to rewrite religious history apparently include the complete commercialization of the season.
Where is Charlie Brown when you need him?