Sen. Downe, an un­likely pop­ulist

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Alan Hol­man Alan Hol­man is a free­lance jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Char­lot­te­town. He can be reached at: achol­man@pei.east­ The Meddler

Sen. Percy Downe is usu­ally very con­scious of the tax pay­ers’ dol­lar. He is not one who would charge the pub­lic for eat­ing break­fast in his own home. And, if he had one, he’d know the dif­fer­ence be­tween his cot­tage and his pri­mary res­i­dence.

As a se­na­tor, he has pushed the Cana­dian Rev­enue Agency to go af­ter Cana­di­ans who use off-shore banks to avoid pay­ing taxes. Be­fore be­com­ing a se­na­tor, Percy Downe was chief of staff to Prime Min­is­ter Jean Chre­tien. A gov­ern­ment that made se­ri­ous cuts to fed­eral spend­ing and pro­duced a se­ries of bal­anced bud­gets.

For all of th­ese rea­sons, plus the fact that Sen. Downe is one of those politi­cians who does not have to curry the pub­lic’s favour to re­main is of­fice, it is sur­pris­ing to see him prey­ing on some Is­lan­ders’ sense of en­ti­tle­ment by adopt­ing the pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal pos­ture of offering them a freebie.

The good se­na­tor is the lead­ing ad­vo­cate of aban­don­ing the user pay con­cept that built the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge.

Be­fore go­ing to the cor­ri­dors of power in Ot­tawa, Se­na­tor Downe was in the em­ploy of Premier Joe Ghiz when the con­tract for the con­struc­tion of the ‘fixed link’ was signed. He would be aware that no one con­tem­plated op­er­at­ing the bridge with­out cost to the users. In fact, most Is­lan­ders were happy that fare hikes were tied to the in­fla­tion rate and not left to the whim of the com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors.

The con­tract was signed and Is­lan­ders shouldn’t be too quick to ad­vo­cate it be bro­ken. Few Is­lan­ders would agree if the feds, or the pri­vate in­ter­ests, wanted to in­crease the tolls be­yond the agreed limit. By de­mand­ing the con­tract be bro­ken the Is­land runs the risk of sound­ing like New­found­lan­ders who are for­ever moan­ing about the con­tract signed with Hy­dro Que­bec for the trans­mis­sion of elec­tric­ity from Churchill Falls.

Then, there’s the Wood Is­land ferry. If, the feds pay the tolls on the bridge, would they con­tinue the sub­sidy to the ferry? And if the bridge was ‘free’ shouldn't the ferry also be ‘free’?

Sen. Downe claims pres­sure from the Que­bec premier forced the lifting of tolls on the Cham­plain Bridge when ac­tu­ally crass par­ti­san pol­i­tics by Trudeau­the-Younger is the real rea­son. ‘Sunny Ways’ promised, if elected, he’d build the new Cham­plain Bridge with­out im­pos­ing tolls, to­tally aban­don­ing the con­cept of ‘user pay’.

The present Cham­plain Bridge was built at a cost of just over $50 mil­lion, or a half a bil­lion in to­day’s dol­lars. The good cit­i­zens of Mon­treal paid tolls to cross that bridge from 1962 un­til 1990, so they are aware of ‘user pay’.

The new Cham­plain bridge is ex­pected to cost some $5 bil­lion. It won’t be a project sub­si­dized by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge was. The Cham­plain Bridge will be an out­right gift by Trudeau-theY­ounger to his home town. ‘$unny Ways’ in­deed.

As a se­na­tor from P.E.I. Sen. Downe is man­dated to make the gov­ern­ment aware of the in­ter­ests of the prov­ince. But, are the in­ter­ests of the Is­land best served by break­ing a le­gal con­tract. He should ask him­self, would any fed­eral politi­cian spend $1 bil­lion for the four Is­land seats? In­stead of ad­vo­cat­ing ‘what’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gan­der’, per­haps he could ad­vo­cate that nei­ther get any sauce. Per­haps, Sen. Downe could re­vert to his nor­mal self and ex­press con­cern for the tax dol­lars be­ing spent. As a fed­eral of­fice holder, per­haps, he could be less parochial and show some con­cern for all tax­pay­ers.

In­stead of writ­ing let­ters to the Is­land’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, urg­ing them to get on his ‘toll-free’ band­wagon, he should lobby the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to hon­our the ‘user pay’ con­cept that has worked so well.

He should urge his fel­low sen­a­tors to uti­lize their newly found free­dom from po­lit­i­cal con­straint and halt to this un­nec­es­sary waste of fed­eral funds. Let Mon­treal­ers pay some of the cost of their trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture just as Is­lan­ders, New­found­lan­ders, the peo­ple of the Mag­dalens, and other Cana­di­ans do.


P.E.I. Se­na­tor Percy Downe, left, with Sen. Romeo Dal­laire out­side Veter­ans Af­fairs Canada head­quar­ters in Char­lot­te­town.

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