The Employment Development Agency (EDA) sounds like an important program to match Island residents seeking employment with community organizations and government departments offering work, and could be with the assurance of fair and objective hiring practices.
Reports from community residents and now from a concerned Opposition MLA in the provincial legislature expose an avenue for possible ongoing political interference and patronage, staining what should be an important tool, not only for employment provision but also for community development, particularly in rural Prince Edward Island. Policy change must be enacted to make it clear that MLAs are not to be involved in the application of the EDA program.
The specter of a member of the legislature deciding which community organization is granted an EDA worker, and even who that worker may be, leaves dedicated, mostly volunteer community groups in the lurch as they plan, and attempt to direct valuable community development projects, such as stream enhancement, town and village beautification or youth and sports activities.
The most pointed criticism levelled at EDA is the potential undemocratic enticement and intimidation by MLAs on vulnerable constituents seeking basic employment.
This robs residents, particularly in rural areas where work is scarce, of their free expression of political belief and causes them to feel threatened, preventing them from speaking out on issues important to their families or communities.
Some less affected from the direct sting of political interference may dismiss this unethical and undemocratic practice as “an Island way of life.” In truth, political patronage has been more of “an Island politician’s way of life” because that’s whose interest it would most serve, not Island workers and certainly not Island community organizations and taxpayers.
As the party governance tide changed, some in the more politically advantaged position have in the past uttered, “if you live by the sword, you die by the sword” to justify continuing the morally bankrupt practice of denying jobs to seasonal workers of suspected alternate political persuasion.
We must bury the sword. All Islanders need work with a paycheque to provide for their families. We all contribute to the Employment Development Agency through our taxes. Community organizations and Island residents seeking employment deserve assurance of fair access to the EDA resource based on objective criterion, not the whim of an MLA for political advantage.
It is now 2019 and time to reset EDA, and end the tainted practice of earlier eras.
Fair hiring procedure with safeguards from political interference, can be instituted as it is in other jurisdictions to improve democratic discourse and opportunity to Island workers, community organizations and taxpayers.
Dr. Herb Dickieson is the former leader of the Island New Democrats.