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Liberal finance critic Heath MacDonald, a former Liberal finance minster, understated the public sentiment when he said the provincial budget was a disappointment. It would be more accurate to say the public is disappointed and bewildered. Bewildered to witness a political party that campaigned with the slogan "It's about people" then promote and increase the financial commitment to an infrastructure plan which was clearly designed to make Liberal party supporters richer, at the expense of our offspring. Most Conservative voters felt the infrastructure plan was too ambitious.
A Conservative government was elected in 2019 based on the understanding new members of the legislative assembly would investigate the sale of prime historical and publicly owned properties, to non-resident real estate investment trusts (REIT). Voters expected the new government would re-evaluate the projects and curtail the massive land grab underway in the province. Many transactions smacked of partisanship and were conducted in privacy, thanks to the understated provisions of the Municipal Government Act (MGA). By the time the public realized what was happening, investors had laid claim to many of the cherished historic and publicly owned properties in the region. The public’s confidence in the democratic process was shaken again.
The present “housing boom”, an initiative being driven by the federal and provincial governments, as they usually are, is an age-old attempt to stimulate the economy and enrich the fat cats of entitlement before the Liberal party folds. Governments have a greater influence on the housing market than any natural phenomenon. They create the demand and supply the resources by making money available to industry and financial markets. The incentive is good for the economy, when properly planned and always good for the ruling party and its supporters.
In the present circumstance here on Prince Edward Island (the same thing is happening across the nation) there seems to be confusion between between affordable housing and housing for the poor.
Affordable housing is built by and for real estate trusts, with borrowed federal funding and easy, if not questionable access to prime properties. The MGA , enacted without a public “vote” here on the Island, clears the way for that by authorizing city council to conduct their business without public input. It also allows council to override the recommendations of the city planning board and strangely the voting process allows for a voting “abstention” to be considered as a “Yes” vote.
If city council can act on behalf of the people without public input and override the planning board, then they are not acting in the interest of the greater public good. Somehow, our elected officials have allowed due process to be hijacked by partisan politics and corporate pressures. They are acting on behalf of vested interests, not the people.
REITs do not cater to housing crises. They are an investment trust for wealthy people. Those who have money and want to invest funds to shelter from tax and earn a return on their money.
Most people who invest in REITs know little of what is happening here on P.E.I. Contractors have access to hordes of federal infrastructure money (public debt). Creating low-profit public housing would not be priority when there is so much more profitable infrastructure funding available. Sadly, housing funds for the poor can sit in the provincial budget fund until the affordable housing funds have been depleted. In the vernacular, they have bigger fish to fry. Small wonder the provincial government is still sitting on the low-rental housing allotment.
The federal Infrastructure Canada Program is the lifeline of our current economic growth with the promises of grand things to come. Grow our economy, affordable housing, better roads, long-promised internet upgrades that might improve our .05 upload speed. Grandiose ideas leading to an uncertain future. Clearly a partisan federal government work plan designed to benefit the party stalwart. It also created the ability for the MGA to facilitate the transfer of resources to the province by approving projects under consideration. In this case, it allows the federal Liberal government to earmark every borrowed infrastructure dollar allocated, while in power.
Spending of this nature cannot afford to be interrupted by due process.
The decision by the provincial Conservative government to enhance infrastructure spending for more roads and paving will not go down as one of the finer moments in our province's history.
The inability of our ministers to explain clearly the goals and objectives of strategic policies suggests they had little input during the planning process. At a time when most people would expect fiscal restraint, we are charging head on into significantly more public debt. It appears the former provincial Liberal government and Ottawa have tied up all regional development for the near future. That implies the ground is shifting in our so called democracy. It begs the question, how far into the future can a sitting government make financial commitments on behalf of the electorate? All to satisfy the greed for money, the need for power and the possibility of future electoral successes.
What started out as a world vision with a global economy and economic growth for the nation has ended up as sheer bedlam. But we still have choices.
Reform our destructive partisan political process or put the country up for a closing-out sale. We don’t have the luxury of time. If you look closely, interested parties are already at the door.
They are our creditors, for the most part, our philosophical opposites. Others, international investors interested in their financial welfare. If we do nothing, the choice will not be ours to make.
Wayne Carver is a member of Vision P.E.I. who lives in Longcreek.