Gilles Arseanult speaks on Sunday against the provincial Liberals’ cuts to education during a rally in Charlottetown. On Monday, Arsenault announced he wants to seek the federal Liberal nomination in Egmont.
©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Gilles Arsenault is making a mistake — professionally and politically — by not stepping aside immediately as president of the Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation. Monday, Arsenault officially confirmed his intention to seek the Egmont Liberal nomination. There was persistent speculation he held a keen interest in being the party’s nominee to face federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, so the announcement came as no surprise.
The PEITF president is apparently anxious to hold on to his current position until the Egmont convention, expected in November. Should he win the nomination, he intends to resign but Mr. Arsenault would be wise to take a leave of absence immediately. Should he fail to win the nomination, he can return to his PEITF role. If he wins, then he can begin the daunting task of trying to unseat Ms. Shea.
Mr. Arsenault is in an untenable position. He will always be second-guessed and his motives questioned — by the public, the Opposition, some teachers and perhaps by his own executive. He will have to seek delegate support across Egmont prior to the convention and that will detract from vitally important duties as teachers’ president. He has a sound argument that education has nothing to do with federal politics; there is no federal minister and no federal negotiations. But on P.E.I. there is almost no distinction between a provincial Liberal and a federal Liberal. The same party card applies equally.
Education is a top priority for many Islanders right now. Teacher and program cuts, fewer resources, low student test scores, reports of additional closures and rezoning require a president with a firm focus and a clarity of vision on the future of education. Unfortunately, Mr. Arsenault will have too many issues to deal with should he try fulfilling his role as PEITF president while seeking the Liberal nomination.
The PEITF president has earned unquestioned popularity among the rank and file. He preferred to work with government as a partner but didn’t hesitate to battle the province and department for the needs of education and his membership. The 41-year-old teacher always had an interest in politics and has been involved with the party since he was a young Liberal. The Abram-Village resident never tried to hide his loyalties, even after becoming PEITF president in 2011.
He was quite open about getting support last fall to amend the bylaws that any PEITF president could seek a political nomination and still retain that position. His intentions were always clear but now that he has actually declared, he would be wise to rethink his position. Other candidates are likely to declare, indicating the party believes it has an excellent chance of unseating Ms. Shea, especially on the issues of EI reform and fisheries turmoil.
It’s now up to Mr. Arsenault to do the difficult but right thing.
$10 million a good start
The $10-million facelift earmarked by Ottawa last week for Province House is a simply a good start on a project that will cost between $40 million to $50 million. The initial $10 million will plug the holes and seal the leaks in the 171-year-old structure, home of the first meetings of the Fathers of Confederation 150 years ago.
Province House has suffered from neglect and now, instead of a regular preventive maintenance program, Parks Canada is facing a huge bill to restore and maintain our national historic treasure.
Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq deserves applause for recognizing Ottawa’s responsibilities to Province House. The time for stopgap measures is over and once our sesquicentennial year ends, work must commence to bring Province House back to its former glory.