For some time, it has been apparent to many people from the Island who live elsewhere that P.E.I. needs to change the impressions other Canadians are getting about the Island.
To some, it seems that Islanders spend a disproportionate amount of time simply seeking more money from other Canadians.
Premier Robert Ghiz and Finance Minister Wes Sheridan have for years been seeking additional equalization dollars at a time of global financial crisis and after years of very serious job losses at the heart of Ontario’s manufacturing economy. This search has been constant even though P.E.I. has more accessible and generally better funded provincial programs than Ontario.
We now have the case of Marlene Geirsdorf from Montague. She is among the quarter of the Island’s population that collects EI benefits over the course of a year. These benefits are far richer and easier to get than in Ontario.
Margaret Wente, a Globe and Mail columnist, recently wrote a scathing column describing how inappropriate Geirsdorf’s complaints appear to be to an Ontario population confronting the worst economic crisis in living memory in that province and whose citizens still pay a large share of the EI benefits Islanders receive.
The problem is more than a matter of conveying the wrong impression.
The flow of money from Ottawa hides the reality that P.E.I. is not making the economic contribution to Canada that others could reasonably expect after providing massive subsidies to the province for 50 years.
P.E.I.’s productivity is very low, far below national levels. Its dependence on EI is nearly 10 times than national average. The province is over equalized by about $130 million, according to a recent authorative study. It has had to import workers to work in fish plants because local people would not, even though the reported unemployment rate exceeds 10 per cent. Finally, the provincial government is still running a large deficit.
This list could go on and on and on.
By almost any financial and economic standard, P.E.I. is failing.
It is this combination of failure after decades of assistance and the constant search for more funding from other Canadians that is so troubling to many who care about the Island and its future.
This combination also has immediate economic consequences. For example, tourists are less likely to travel to a province that is propelling itself backwards by endlessly seeking help from others rather than solving its own problems.
In short, P.E.I. needs fundamental change.
There are paths to a brighter future.
The first step is for political leaders to recognize that the decades of surface prosperity based on the generosity of other Canadians are ending. The second step is to recognize that other paths to a better future exist.
The third and most important step is to muster the courage to embark on a different journey. Not soon. Not after the next election. Now.
David MacKinnon, a Charlottetown native, is past chair of the West Park Healthcare Center in Toronto. He has served as CEO of both the Ontario Development Corporation and the Ontario Hospital Association.