In a perfect world, politicians make informed decisions on policy and an impartial public service enacts that policy. In the sometimes murky world of Prince Edward Island politics, it’s rarely that simple.
Especially when it comes to ‘pavement’ politics in rural areas of the province. It’s almost ingrained in the provincial psyche that highway paving is closely aligned with political decisions at the local level.
In rural P.E.I., few things are as important to the local area as a paved road. So it wasn’t really a surprise to see a story last week confirming that politics plays a large role in what roads are designated for paving each year.
Predictable, but still disappointing.
It should not be the role of an MLA to decide what roads are paved. That’s why we have engineers and other department experts to provide information on the condition, safety and use of Island roads.
Politicians shouldn’t remain mum on the issue. They can and should advocate on behalf of residents and their constituents. They can make a powerful case with first-hand, grassroots arguments.
But they should not be making the final decision, although this appears to be just the case. The paving in Transportation Minister Paula Biggar’s Tyne Valley area riding, and now the questionable paving in Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Stanhope area riding — offers added argument.
A Covehead area resident noted there are plenty of roads in the area that need fixing — most in worse shape than the two sections of the MacMillan Point Road recently resurfaced. Premier MacLauchlan lives at the end of MacMillan Point Road. Bad optics is an understatement.
The paving process starts off well enough each year. The department’s management group meets to assess damage from the annual spring breakup of roads and starts planning the year’s priorities for resurfacing and patching.
Then politicians are consulted, who are apparently able to successfully negotiate getting roads on the resurfacing list. The list of projects is broken down by electoral district, making pork-barrel decisions almost a certainty.
How does the involvement of the MLAs not constitute political interference? Department personnel know what roads are in need of repair and don’t need a politician to confirm their decisions.
The Opposition makes a solid suggestion for a long-range road strategy that is published each spring and which can change based on weather and other factors. People would know the criteria being used and it would be a transparent and open process.
The province can take a lesson from the city of Charlottetown, which has developed a street resurfacing rating system to determine what level of repair work is needed each year, and where.
Surely, in a small province with only 4,000 kms of paved roads, this kind of detailed assessment should also be possible.
Meanwhile, do Islanders really care who decides paving priorities? They should.
An online poll in The Guardian saw 71 per cent of respondents say they are happy with the present process. Local politics apparently still wields a powerful influence.