When it brought down a massive capital budget Friday, the province proudly proclaimed that it is “investing in infrastructure to support Islanders.” The Opposition was quick to suggest the document heading could more accurately have stated “the government is investing heavily in the byelection in Charlottetown-Parkdale.”
Progressive Conservative education critic Steven Myers charged that replacing Sherwood Elementary School is a glaring example of government trying to buy votes in the byelection. It’s a time-honoured tradition that governments avail themselves of any reasonable opportunity to enhance their chances in elections. The simplest way is to announce timely projects to sway taxpayers with their own money.
The capital budget revealed the government would invest a staggering $134 million over the coming year in priority areas such as education, health, transportation and communications. It’s $37.8 million higher than last year, which government said allows it to fast-track important school renewal.
Conspiracy theorists and opposition smell a foul odour.
The capital budget makes major new investments in infrastructure that do matter to Islanders – such as the schools announcement and a $60 million modern mental health facility to replace the archaic Hillsborough Hospital.
But MLA Myers wasted no time in tying Sherwood school to the byelection. “They’re kicking it into high gear, they’re trying to buy the election.” While Sherwood school is located outside the Charlottetown-Parkdale boundary, a number of students in District 11 live close to the Maple Avenue school and attend that facility.
The $19.2 school also won't break ground until 2019 so the timing is certainly suspect. Government could also have waited 10 days - until after the Nov. 27 byelection - to bring down the capital budget and avoid charges of currying favour for their candidate. There were also suggestions that replacing Sherwood was just one of the recommendations of the Public Schools Branch (PSB), and that the need is greater in other areas.
All those observations have merit. Except that Premier Wade MacLauchlan is correct when he says the school is being replaced, based on recommendations from the PSB. Back in mid-September, the PSB recommended that Sherwood elementary be replaced and new classrooms built onto Stratford Elementary, L.M. Montgomery and West Royalty schools.
The news was warmly greeted by the Sherwood Home and School Association, which has been fighting for a new school for a couple years because of safety issues within the building. The same positive reaction was heard in Stratford, where the additional rooms would have an immediate impact because of overcrowding issues.
In September, the PSB said it would take those recommendations to the province while the government said it would respond to the request through its capital budget in late November. The PSB followed through on its agenda and government accepted those recommendations. That’s how the process is supposed to work.
Critics have a legitimate complaint about the timing, while government innocently asks, “why wait?” It’s evident that some Islanders and opposition MLAs don't like good news, especially around election time.