When does an exciting $1.2 million federal funding announcement become a vague, politically expedient promise? Apparently, when it’s made on the eve of a federal election campaign. Then it quietly disappears when the government that made the promise is defeated.
The news this week that the Stompin’ Tom Connors commemoration project in Skinners Pond is on hold is shockingly disappointing. The original announcement, made July 31, 2015 - just in time to beat the Sunday, Aug. 2 federal election call - was apparently premature.
A large component of the federal funding block was not secure and was subsequently determined ineligible. Other dollars hinged on that core funding and now the whole the project is under review.
Heritage Canada, which was expected to provide $350,000 of that federal share, says the project failed to meet its guidelines. Someone didn’t do his or her homework before the July media conference. Obviously the announcement was rushed to get in ahead of the election call.
There are several plausible possibilities – someone forgot to check with Heritage Canada, the public conference was misled, or the decision was made to proceed and deal with the fallout later.
If the government won re-election, then pressure could be applied to Heritage Canada or find another source of money. If the government was defeated, then others could deal with the mess.
It would be interesting to hear what Skinners Pond native Gail Shea has to say. She is the one who pledged the federal funds. As a former member of the federal cabinet, she carried a lot of political weight and had the resources and authority to confirm funding arrangements before going public.
What is her interpretation of Heritage Canada’s ruling first made last November and only revealed publicly this week?
There is no justification for such loose ends. The idea was unveiled in P.E.I.’s speech from the throne in the fall of 2013 by then-premier Robert Ghiz, nine months after Connors had died. Mr. Ghiz said he hoped to work with the federal government to establish a ‘lasting and living memorial’ to Connors and to respect the family, respect the history of Stompin’ Tom, but also to build on tourism in the West Prince area.
Now there is talk of downsizing and trying to salvage some remnants. This project – with a total value of almost $2 million - is too important for the region and for Stompin’ Tom’s legacy to wither on the vine.
It should be done right. Pledges made should be pledges kept. Obligations must be fulfilled. Proceeding in some watered-down form is unacceptable.
Stompin’ Tom Connors Day?
One wonders what might be the funding criteria for Heritage Canada when such an important cultural and heritage project like the Stompin’ Tom museum doesn’t qualify?
Former Egmont Gail Shea stressed the heritage component of this announcement last year, “on a project that strategically links together tourism, culture, heritage and economic development, and promotes the legacy of a true Canadian icon, Stompin' Tom Connors."
What will it take - have our February provincial holiday on Monday changed to Stompin’ Tom Connors Day? Would that get the attention of Heritage Canada?
Come to think of it, the idea does have merit. The winter holiday in Manitoba is called Louis Riel Day, in neighbouring N.S. its called Nova Scotia Heritage Day.
Our winter holiday started in 2009 as Islander Day and is known as Family Day in other provinces – fairly generic terms. Would anybody object to see it clearly defined as Stompin’ Tom Day?
If Ottawa and Heritage Canada won’t fulfill their obligations to our musical troubadour, then it’s up to the province to go the extra mile here.
The new name would convey an important message to Islanders – it’s a time to sing, to party, to celebrate Prince Edward Island, to enjoy this winter season.
Monday marks the start of Heritage Week. It’s also Flag Day. The Jack Frost Children’s Festival is next week. Throwing Stompin’ Tom Day into the mix is ideal. He was a true, proud Canadian.
A promise was made to Lena Connors to come back July 1 for the official opening of the Stompin’ Tom Connors commemoration project and see her husband’s 30-year dream realized.
It’s time for everyone to step forward here.