Is the Island too tiny to embrace change?

Published on June 21, 2014

If Prince Edward Island were a Canadian city, rather than a province, it would be about the 22nd or 23rd largest by population; approximately the same size as Kelowna, B.C. or Sherbrooke, Que..  In other words, not very big.

But, The Island is not a city, and as a province we have powers that are not possessed by Toronto, Montreal or any of the large metropolises of the country. The Island has the jurisdiction to make its own laws and set its own standards, and as a province we can influence, and in some instances even veto constitutional change in the country.

Except in the area of land ownership The Island hasn’t really exercised its jurisdictional rights, it has rarely flexed its jurisdictional muscle.

Quebec recently used its jurisdictional prerogative and brought in a law that allows physicians to assist terminally ill patients who are suffering, allowing them to die with dignity. Another example of progressive programs that make Quebec unique. In the United States, Oregon, Washington and Vermont also have similar laws, but with different criteria. And, of course, Colorado, recently used its jurisdictional rights to allow for the legal consumption and sale of marijuana.

Some might suggest that P.E.I. has used its jurisdiction to ban abortions in the province, but, it hasn’t passed any laws making abortions illegal. It has just made them very difficult and unnecessarily expensive to obtain.

When statistics show that there are 22 people in the job market for every job that is available on The Island, one wonders why someone hasn’t come up with a way to use its jurisdiction to encourage economic development.  

Collectively, Islanders tend to be very conservative. As a people, Islanders are very resistant to change. With the possible exception of consumer goods, Islanders are not generally open to new ideas or concepts.

The government, all Island governments regardless of their political persuasion, find they have to walk a fine line between this resistance to change and the demands for economic development and the jobs that often ensue.

This week the Ghiz government chose to bring in new legislation governing the province’s water resources. As an exercise this is expected to take a number of weeks. It is an exercise that will further delay a decision on a request to lift the moratorium on pumping water from deep wells to irrigate potatoes being grown for Cavendish Farms. For the proponents of deep water wells, the issue is not about job creation, it about job preservation.

Robert Irving makes money by providing his customers with products they want. Recently he pointed out that irrigation is needed to produce potatoes of the size and quality required to create the french fries his customers demand. And, he added, if he can’t provide the french fries from The Island, he’ll produce them somewhere else. For his honesty he’s been labeled a bully.

Based on the reportage of the issue, letters to the editor and anecdotal stories, the opposition to the lifting of the moratorium seems to be based on a fear of the unknown, coupled with a inherent distrust and dislike of both big corporations and government.

This inherent fear and distrust also extends to the issue of the fracking process being used in the recovery of oil and gas. Islanders have already held demonstrations and protests against fracking even though there hasn’t been a proposal to use fracking on the Island, or in the waters around the province. But,

Islanders, by the thousands, go to the west to reap the economic rewards that come from oil and gas development.

Opposition to progress is part of our history. A hundred and fifty years ago, when the idea of forming a new country by uniting the colonies of British North America was being discussed it was deemed too radical a concept for Islanders. We took a pass.

At the turn of the century the introduction of the automobile was strongly resisted. For years there were a lot of silly regulations before the motor car was fully accepted. More recently during the 1990s there was a lot of wild and ridiculous rhetoric heard before the Confederation Bridge was finally built. Since its completion the hordes of evil have, generally, remained on the mainland.    

Perhaps students of political science or psychology at UPEI could conduct some research to see if it’s because The Island is geographically small and demographically insignificant that this somehow leads Islanders to be afraid of progress and averse to risk.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: