True to form, Premier Wade MacLauchlan remained the eternal optimist during his usual round of year-end media interviews. It seemed that trials and tribulations afflicting other jurisdictions in 2017 somehow bypassed our fair, gentle, red shores. Or that they failed to register on the premier’s usually sensitive political radar.
He put a positive spin on, or shrugged off, a byelection defeat, lingering criticisms about mental health issues, damning reports about government leaks, a disastrous school-closure plan, stubborn resistance to municipal amalgamation, a shortage of doctors – especially among psychologists and psychiatrists - and stalling tactics on PNP and egaming issues.
Our premier prefers to put the past behind him and looks forward to 2018 with optimism and a renewed sense of hope and expectations that things will be better than the first three years or so of his administration.
He thinks the worst is over and it might be.
The premier can claim some impressive successes – notably on economic and fiscal issues. Balancing the budget is no mean feat for a small province with limited income sources. Overcoming a regional trend by increasing the population is worthy of note. Our population median is getting younger, also a reversal of a longtime, troubling demographic trend. More Islanders than ever are employed. Exports are surging, primary industries are performing well and housing starts hit astronomical highs in 2017.
Premier MacLauchlan believes that strengthening the province’s economic situation is necessary to afford increased and needed social, welfare, health and education expenditures.
The premier might rightfully assess 2017 as better than expected. It’s doubtful even our optimist-in-chief thought P.E.I. would ever perform as well as it did over the past year or so.
But there are other realities, which should temper his glowing assessments and rosy outlooks.
The Liberal party is slumping in the polls – nothing alarming but lower numbers must be a concern. Losing a byelection in a Liberal stronghold cannot be casually dismissed. There is a new political reality with the strengthening Green party, which poses a challenge for both the Liberals and Progress Conservatives.
The premier refuses to even entertain the notion that voters remain upset over how the plebiscite on electoral reform was mishandled.
Yes, the economy is doing well for some. Housing starts are booming but what about affordable housing for mid-to-low income Islanders? It’s reassuring that the premier has made housing – along with a modern trained workforce – among his priorities for 2018.
But the good times being enjoyed by some must filter down farther and faster for many other Islanders. The Guardian’s Poverty edition last spring showed that needs are great across this province.
The premier is seen as abrupt and aloof, unable to generate much warmth or enthusiasm among Islanders. When he was selected Liberal leader and premier, many expected a new way of doing things in politics, and were disappointed.
If Islanders are enjoying a better standard of living, and see a brighter future ahead, then not having a glad-handing jokester as premier might be something we can manage to do without.