Pricey legacy project gets mixed reception on Island
CHARLOTTETOWN — Is a new office building for politicians a fitting way to mark the anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference?
That is a question that is beginning to dominate discussions for Islanders in the dog days of August.
Planning is now underway for a celebration in 2014 to mark the 150th anniversary of that historic meeting.
Despite the fact the meeting was largely ignored when it took place (people went to the circus instead) Islanders take the mantle of Birthplace of Confederation pretty seriously. Each summer, actors bring visitors up to date on how the talks are going twice a day in front of Province House.
To mark the 100th anniversary back in 1864, Ottawa and several other provinces helped foot the bill for Confederation Centre of the Arts.
The Robert Ghiz government took some political heat earlier this year when a leaked document from the committee planning the 2014 party showed they had a budget of $75 million.
The opposition Conservatives charged the amount, to be split between the federal, provincial and municipal governments, was extravagant in a time of fiscal restraint. Premier Ghiz said at the time there would be no lasting legacy like the Confederation Centre.
But a “legacy project” has now surfaced. It involves relocating the Supreme Court to the Coles Building — a historic structure next to Province House named after George Coles (the Island’s first premier under responsible government and a Father of Confederation). When the 1864 meeting was held, the building was home to the Supreme Court.
Currently, the building houses the legislative library, meeting rooms and offices for both government and opposition MLAs. Under the plan, they would be moved to a new building just up the street in what is now a parking lot.
The plan is now being studied by a legislature committee. If it wins approval, the plan is to submit a funding proposal to the 2014 committee. Premier Ghiz is giving little hint whether he supports the idea, telling reporters when the plan was unveiled it was worthy of further discussion.
But Opposition Leader Olive Crane is leaving little doubt where her party stands. She told reporters the project has merit but is too expensive for the current fiscal climate. The premier has promised there will be public consultations before the project goes ahead.
Ghiz said if plans for construction go ahead, there would be a public engagement process to get community input on the proposed new building and changes to the Coles and J. Angus MacLean buildings.
If the comments on Island media websites are any indication, the idea could be in for a rough ride. Louise Morris writes on the website of The Guardian newspaper “We can’t afford this — we are 140,000 people trying to survive in this economy and our debt just keeps on growing.”
Another writer, who goes by the name of Nicky, was equally blunt saying “Give your head a shake, give the money to the schools. That’s the real future.”
Another comment from “Whatever” suggested: “May as well build them a huge castle with a moat —it could double as a tourist attraction when they aren’t in session.”
Several comments linked the plan with the introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax next April.
Jacinta wrote: “they plan to bully us into the HST to pay for this; they really are out to lunch.” A posting on the CBC PEI website from “Gotta Say” added “the HST is on the horizon because the province is in debt. A year of festivals and parties that would cost much money is not worth the money when a province can’t afford it.”
The closest any comment came to endorsing the idea was a posting under the name “Goldhope” who added, “This is a great reason to celebrate, 150 years. We are in one of the great countries of the world and I for one will celebrate with great pleasure and pride.”
P.E.I. Diary appears every third week in The NovaScotian.