By David Bulger
I will be voting Tory for the first time in my life in the next P.E.I. general election - unless there is an attitude change.
I withheld my vote during the last one, because I disagreed with the decisions of my MLA as minister of transportation, but this time I must positively vote against the government.
Why? Because the current Liberal government requires punishment for gross stupidity which has become coupled with incredible arrogance. Not enough to simply withhold a vote. I have to actively say ‘no'.
The provincial treasurer plans to change the nature of the sales tax collected in the province. Why? Presumably because he doesn't have enough money. If there are problems with cash flow, either there has been a shortfall in received revenue (alleged) or there have been expenditures that have eaten up fiscal resources, in either case necessitating cost-saving measures like closing local dialysis units, as one example.
Expenditures can be ‘necessary' or ‘discretionary' or ‘downright frivolous' and when an individual has managed to get himself or herself into a ‘needy' bind through expenditures that are not only far from necessary but border on the frivolous, we would not ordinarily be anxious to bail that person out. And what can be said of persons can also be said of governments.
Artificial hills, roundabouts and the proposed ‘plan B' are all located toward the frivolous end of the spectrum. Take roundabouts. There is nothing a roundabout can do that a properly engineered traffic signal system can't. (And there are some things that signals do better). The difference between the two is cost. One estimate puts the cost of setting up and maintaining a set of traffic signals at $150,000 for a 10-year period. The cost of a roundabout can be as much as $3 million. For that money, we could maintain a set of signals for something approaching 200 years. The roundabouts might be nice, but they are "champagne" on a budget which is definitely "beer." But what is more, the expensive roundabout would benefit certain contractors where traffic signals won't - contractors possibly connected to the Liberals.
When money is spent in this way, and the government decides to use its coercive power to cover the losses occasioned, the people (vox populi, vox dei) are going to be unhappy, not because they will have to pay more, but because they will be paying more for imbecilic, partisan decision-making.
Now it is bad enough that more money should be sought from taxpayers to cover past mistakes, but in tight money times, it is absolutely offensive to be asking for money with one hand and proposing another idiocy with the other. And that is what makes the so-called ‘Plan B' unacceptable.
Even if what the government says about the current roadway is true - and no one except the government appears to believe that - we can't afford the $12 million (read, in actuality, $14 or maybe $16 million) Plan B will cost. Let me repeat that: if we are looking for ways to raise more money generally (HST), then we have a cash flow problem and spending money frivolously is not responsible or publicly acceptable, when a government is trying to justify higher taxes.
As to Plan B? I travel by car quite a bit (unlike politicians who tend to hop on airplanes). I've been on a lot of roads and, frankly, when the roadway itself is considered, there just doesn't appear to be very much wrong with the TCH between Bonshaw and New Haven. On the contrary, there are very "easy" curves, which, because of passing lanes, are wide and open. The visibility at the "top" of the climb is no worse than on any number of highways (e.g. U.S. Route 2 beyond Bethel, Maine) rated for commercial traffic.
As I listen to the so-called experts, it seems to me that the problem lies in the fact that the highway has too many points of access. Now, if that's the real problem, then deal with that problem. Upon returning to the Island recently, I was greeted by screaming headlines threatening Plan B landowners with expropriation if they do not accept the government's offers. If those properties can be expropriated, why, pray tell, can't purchase offers - backed up by threats of expropriation - be applied to properties adjoining the current roadway? That would clearly resolve the access problem. And at a cost far below the cost of Plan B.
But - and this is where public suspicion blossoms - what it will not do is put money in the pockets of roadbuilders, particularly Liberal road builders.
Two final points. Advice from ‘experts'. I went to law school. The top people in my class headed for Bay Street and Calgary. My guess is that a similar pattern of behaviour can be found among other professionals. The fact that a professional is tendering advice does not, by that fact alone, make it good advice. Further, bureaucrats may tailor advice to what they think their ‘masters' want to hear. And once committed to a piece of advice, there is no group that can become more intransigent than public servants.
Lastly, the HST. No matter what Mr. Sheridan says, everyone knows that we're going to be worse off with the HST. The proof of that particular pudding lies in the rationale behind its implementation: increasing the cash flow. If you're increasing the cash flow through taxation, you're increasing the taxes people will pay, QED. Common sense tells you that and most people do have some common sense. Even if there will be tax breaks for certain groups, those breaks can come and go, whereas, a particular form of taxation (e.g. the GST) lasts forever.
So, for all of these reasons, I plan to use my one small vote to protest in the next general election. Mind you, if I saw the glimmer of intelligence appear on the part of the government, I could be persuaded to rethink.
Still, I expect that's about as likely as the proverbial "frosty Friday..."
David Bulger is an adjunct professor in the political science department at the University of Prince Edward Island.