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GUEST OPINION: Which new normal?

P.E.I. Environment Minister Natalie Jameson makes an announcement concerning the Royalty Oaks designated area in this July 2020 photo.
P.E.I. Environment Minister Natalie Jameson makes an announcement concerning the Royalty Oaks designated area in this July 2020 photo. - Stu Neatby

Doug Millington

Guest opinion

The post-Covid journey to a "new normal" is being pulled in opposite directions in a tug-of-war between those who crave a return to a former status quo and those who favour mining our recent experience for new ideas and strategies. This contest is being played out in a chaotic “red-light/green-light” re-opening scenario featuring a haphazard succession of strategies defending against the siege of a new germ. We need to try to see beyond the fog of our current struggle and imagine how we want things to be when the germ is under control.

In many jurisdictions (notably the U.S.), in spite of dramatically increased infection rates, there are major projects plowing ahead on an "emergency" basis amid blunders like U.S. President Donald Trump’s order for federal agencies to bypass environmental laws to fast-track infrastructure projects.

Here on P.E.I., at the height of our shutdown, we have seen projects of varying sizes fast-tracked with little or no public oversight, some of which will leave a significant environmental and/or social footprint. These projects range from multi-million dollar waterfront condo complexes to the recently announced “de-designation” of the Royalty Oaks protected area.

On the other hand, creative thinkers aiming in the opposite direction have succeeded in redesigning many aspects of society, including the de-facto implementation of limited versions of a basic income guarantee (BIG) policy, so often dismissed as no more than a utopian fantasy. But moving forward, such innovations are at risk.

Big Oil will seek to renew and ensure the tyranny of the automobile. Big Data (and Big Security) will grasp at the virtual threads now linking classrooms with students, patients with doctors, and above all, consumers with retailers. Big Finance, registering healthy profits in spite of (thanks to?) massive layoffs, will kick back and light a Cohiba in celebration of the trillions in debt which will inevitably come due with interest. It will be quite the game of whack-a-mole to counter these hydra-headed, status-quo interests.

The Principles For A Just Transition, as outlined by 350.org presents the "big picture", global strategy for moving forward creatively. Locally, on P.E.I., we need to close loopholes in environmental laws (e.g. holding ponds substituting for high-capacity wells) and rules for heritage/designated properties (Royalty Oaks “de-designation”). We need to insist on greater transparency in approval and tendering of capital projects.

We need to document such Covid-era benefits as: cleaner air, increased use of renewable energy, less traffic (and fewer traffic deaths), increased emphasis on local food production and success in totally redesigning major social and economic networks and procedures. Finally, we need to bolster these Covid-era gains with supporting laws and policies, because there is no vaccine for the profit motive pulling on the other end of the rope.

Doug Millington is a member of the Citizens' Alliance of P.E.I. who lives in Charlottetown.

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