RICK MACLEAN: Schools - the most dangerous file

Number, distribution of schools doesn’t match up with student population

Rick MacLean comments@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 7, 2017

In this November 1, 2016 Guardian file photo, Stratford resident Denise Ling speaks at a public meeting reviewing the future of the Charlottetown Rural family of schools

©Teresa Wright/ TC Media

Few things make politicians more unpopular than making decisions.

It’s the great irony of the business they’ve chosen. The more decisive they are, the more likely they’ll be punished - at the earliest opportunity by voters.

I have a rule in my lecture classes, be it an examination of the world of science or manipulation, the law or politics.

“Give me your working definition,” I ask in the opening lecture.

The results are predictable. Science? There’s lots of talk about knowledge and facts. That’s not science, but the mistake is predictable. The law? Students – and the public – often confuse the law with justice. Not the same, at all.

Then there’s politics.

Students talk about elections and question period, and the sniping at each other that is so much a part of partisan politics at its very worse.

“No,” I always respond. “That’s not politics. That’s theatre, and not very good theatre. Politics is the spending of public money.”

And for a politician, that’s the problem. There is only so much money, and there are always – always – far more hands reaching out for it than there is funding to go around.

The result? Politicians must say yes to some and no to many, many others. They must pick the winners and losers.

But you don’t make friends by telling someone their pet project, or organization bent on doing good work in the community, isn’t getting the money it asked for in its grant application.

“Why did I vote for you last time?” is the usual response. Followed quickly by, “I’ll never vote for you again.”

So consider spending a moment or two having sympathy at the opening of this near year for the guy who became premier of this province just by saying, “Yeah, OK. I’ll do it.”

True, Wade MacLauchlan promptly went out and won a provincial election in reasonably short order to cement his claim to the leadership of the province. But when it comes to winning the top job, few have had an easier path to the top.

That was then.

Today, things are different.

MacLauchlan rescued his party from what logically should have been an extended stay in the political woodshed, the home of every party that spends too much time in power.

And he left voters with the impression he was determined to be a transformative leader, while not spelling out exactly what was about to be transformed.

Now the voters who gave him a largely free pass to the premier’s office are getting a better idea of what he might be transforming, and the results are predictable. Those who see themselves on the potential losing side are less than impressed.

The most dangerous file MacLauchlan faces is the schools.

Want to get people fired up and ready to attend meetings where they can hoot and holler? Talk about messing with their schools.

Some people are suspicious there are schools about to close. Chance are, they’re right. The number and distribution of schools doesn’t match up with the student population.

Changes must come. And the losers will be eager to punish MacLauchlan and his government.

Changing the electoral system? Not easy when your own party is skittish, fearing a more representative system will cost some of them their jobs.

Transformative? Yes. Popular. Only with some.

Welcome to 2017, Mr. Premier.



- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown