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VISON P.E.I.: A potato image problem

Potato harvesting equipment is shown at work near Bloomfield Corner in this file photo.
 (Journal Pioneer)
Potato harvesting equipment is shown at work near Bloomfield Corner in this file photo. (Journal Pioneer) - THE GUARDIAN/Bill McGuire

Feel-good commercials are merely a feeble attempt to avoid responsibility and concrete actions.

BY DALE SMALL

and JOHN E. CLOW

GUEST OPINION

Let’s start with some givens.

1. Generally, the P.E.I. potato industry has a bad reputation with Islanders.

2. The majority of farmers on P.E.I. are fine, upstanding citizens of our province. They are our families, friends, neighbors; salt of the earth people. They have made significant improvements to their farming practices.

3. A small number of potato farmers are not responsible citizens. They demonstrate disrespect for the land, the environment, the law and fellow Islanders. If the P.E.I. Potato Board has an image problem, it is due to the minority who tarnish the rest.

Potato Board and the provincial government recently announced commercials aimed at improving their image with the public. There is something inherently wrong-headed with this initiative. Until the industry and government can acknowledge the past and ongoing damage to P.E.I. and demonstrate a sincere intent to clean up their act, feel-good commercials are merely a feeble attempt to avoid responsibility and concrete actions.

It appears that this government’s approach to bad practices and behaviours is centered on communication, consultation and co-operation; gentle pressure on the wrongdoers. All fine words, but meaningless without a transparent strategy and objectives shared with Islanders.

Also, meaningless if dialogue supersedes prosecution of serious violations. There must be consequences commensurate with the impacts of environmental destruction. Although not a perfect analogy, it is akin to pleading with habitual drunk drivers to behave themselves.

We would respectfully propose that the Potato Board consider the following questions:

Are you willing to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of watershed destruction over the past 60 years on P.E.I. was caused by industrial potato farming practices?

Are you willing to sincerely collaborate with citizen interest groups, government and others to help draft and enact common sense laws and regulations (rigorously enforced) to ensure, once and for all, that fish kills, red dust storms, drifting clouds of chemicals and siltation of watersheds become no more than a bad memory?

We ask you to please consider the impact a PR campaign based on affirmative answers to the above would have on your image. We know it’s a hard ask, but take a clear, objective look at yourselves.

Do you really believe that feel good commercials will be effective in burnishing your reputation? Do you want this image problem to continue for the next 60 years? Do you want Islanders to be faced with a binary choice: a potato industry or a healthy environment?

Or do you want to be a willing, valued and respected part of both? Can you collectively convince the Irvings to join in your effort? Who knows you might even be appreciated for your candor and forward thinking.

- Dale Small and John E. Clow are members of Vision P.E.I. The authors have decades of experience exploring P.E.I. watersheds.

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