By Bryson Guptill
Now that the environmental review process has been completed, the government seems determined to press forward with its Plan B. At the same time, opponents to the highway alignment are poised to ramp up their protests with blockades and other forms of civil disobedience. Like many Islanders, I'm hoping both sides consider their positions and try to reach a compromise.
We've heard the arguments put forward by the government - there's federal money being offered, and there's a long tradition on the Island of never looking a gift horse in the mouth. The federal government has frequently dangled the carrot of easy money in front of provincial governments in order to bribe them to do things that are perceived to be in the national interest. The most recent example is the offer of millions of dollars in financial incentives to provincial governments who convert to a harmonized sales tax. The P.E.I. government resisted this for many years, but has now decided to cash in on the federal largesse.
The folks who are opposed to Plan B have mounted a fierce and growing resistance to the government plan to straighten the highway in Bonshaw. What started as a small protest to a flawed government plan to push the highway through a provincial park has grown to a large grassroots protest against big government pushing forward with its agenda in the face of legitimate questions about the proposed route and the cost of highway improvements.
As this issue has become more polarized, there seems to be a fair amount of moral indignation on both sides. For those opposed to Plan B, there is an underlying belief that P.E.I. would be better off if it returned to a simpler time. A time when we didn't have big trucks rumbling down our highways, bringing goods and materialistic temptations to big box stores near to you and me. From the government side, we are told that the safety of the motoring public is dependent on a highway realignment that will see big trucks getting to Borden 30 seconds faster than they can today.
The truth likely lies somewhere in between. Cutting down old-growth hemlocks and bringing in mountains of fill doesn't seem necessary when all it will do is move cars and trucks more quickly into downtown Cornwall. A bypass around Cornwall would save more lives and do a lot more to speed traffic to the bridge. At the same time, given the government's earlier plan to bulldoze Strathgartney Park, it's hard to believe that the proposed highway alignment couldn't benefit from more study and consultation with the people who are opposed to the current plan.
Let's all hope that cooler heads prevail and that we see both sides give a little for the benefit of all Islanders.
Bryson Guptill worked for more than 30 years as a senior policy adviser for the federal and provincial governments in Ottawa and in P.E.I.