Vandals at the garden's gates? Political reaction to the Maritime union proposal on Prince Edward Island
Srebrnik, Henry F.
American Review of Canadian Studies
Islanders may have come to accept the reality of closer economic ties with the other provinces in the region, but they still balk at any suggestion of political union; the most recent wave of pro-union sentiment elsewhere in Canada has met a frosty reception on PEI. The Guardian, the island's most influential newspaper, responded that union would be a hard sell in a region where political patronage 'greases the wheels of public life,' though it did acknowledge that 'dire necessity' was 'slowly Show moreIslanders may have come to accept the reality of closer economic ties with the other provinces in the region, but they still balk at any suggestion of political union; the most recent wave of pro-union sentiment elsewhere in Canada has met a frosty reception on PEI. The Guardian, the island's most influential newspaper, responded that union would be a hard sell in a region where political patronage 'greases the wheels of public life,' though it did acknowledge that 'dire necessity' was 'slowly making Atlantic Canada ripe for it.'(f.25) In any case, since 'Prince Edward Island's provincial status is often questioned in the nation's heavily populated areas,' it 'has a clear stake in how the debate over Maritime union progresses.'(f.26) After further consideration, the Guardian decided that Maritime union would prove 'no real blessing' for PEI. For all its imperfections, editorialized the newspaper, having provincial status allows PEI to have a seat at federal-provincial conferences, pass its own laws, and assert its autonomy. It is 'the ace up its sleeve' and should not be allowed to slip away.(f.27) The Guardian also reminded its readers that neither area nor population was a criterion for provincial status. 'Prince Edward Island--by virtue of the agreement by which it entered Confederation in 1873--is an honest-to-goodness province with all the accorded status.' To imply otherwise, it editorialized, would create 'a hierarchy of provinces across the country.'(f.28) The Eastern Graphic, a weekly published in Montague, was even more angry. Its publisher, Jim MacNeill, listed '101 Ways Islanders Have Lost Control of PEI,' and contrasted PEI's state of dependency with the 'can do' attitudes of small island jurisdictions such as Iceland, Malta, and the Isle of Man, 'who determine what is best for them and don't have to deal with factors or regulations imposed on them from some distant capital like Ottawa.'(f.29) How have the island's four federal M.P.'s, all of them Liberals, reacted to the calls for Maritime union? George Proud, M.P. for Hillsborough, the Charlottetown area constituency, did not think Maritime union would serve the interests of Islanders. 'We benefit in so many ways from having provincial sovereignty,' he stated. He was concerned that PEI would become little more than an afterthought in a larger entity, and that Charlottetown, in particular, would lose much of its economic viability. Proud saw little popular sentiment for union but conceded that it was worthy of serious discussion. It might also, he added, become more pertinent should Quebec secede: 'See me 10 years from now and it might be a different situation here.'(f.30) Joe McGuire, M.P. for Egmont-Summerside, also warned that in the event of union PEI would lose its distinctive personality and that Charlottetown, no longer a provincial capital, would be reduced to a ghost town. He too rejected the view that Maritime union enjoyed grassroots support, and suggested that it was the brainchild of 'the usual navel gazers,' especially academics.(f.31) Lawrence MacAulay, M.P. for Cardigan-Montague and now solicitor general, also opposed union. 'He feels the people of Prince Edward Island some time ago were able to win provincial status,' said his executive assistant Don Wilson, 'and it's not up to the present generation to lose that.'(f.32) Wayne Easter, the M.P. for Malpeque, responded to a disparaging remark about PEI's size made by Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe by informing him that 'We have every right and privilege of provincehood awarded to any other province. I'm not going to sit back and have someone who wants to divide the country say we aren't entitled to the same rights as other provinces.'(f.33) Easter elaborated on his statement: Show less