Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Who You Know, Not What You Know, Was Once a Factor in P.E.I. Politics

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Who You Know, Not What You Know, Was Once a Factor in P.E.I. Politics

Article excerpt

Who you know was a factor in P.E.I. politics


The days when getting your road paved in P.E.I. meant voting for the right politician might be gone, but Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says political connections still pose an obstacle for third parties trying to make a breakthrough in Monday's election.

Though some historians say voting based on political rewards has waned, Bevan-Baker believes the effects of patronage remain.

"I think you still see fear in some individuals whose jobs are dependent on the public purse. And there are many of them," says the 52-year-old dentist who is running in Kellys Cross-Cumberland, a rural riding southwest of Charlottetown.

"Patronage plays an enormous role, sometimes very overtly and sometimes quite subtly."

Bevan-Baker was also a Green party candidate in Ontario before moving to Prince Edward Island 13 years ago.

Historian Ed MacDonald, who teaches at the University of Prince Edward Island, says the old days of families passing on political affiliation like treasured heirlooms are largely gone.

In the years after Confederation there was widespread use of patronage in Canadian politics as a way of maintaining support, and P.E.I. was little different, he says.

However, the Island's small scale magnified the impact of close personal ties.

"You were expected to look after everybody in your riding. ... And people looked to you to get their road paved, looked to you to ensure their child got a job for the summer, looked to you to ensure electricity was extended to your area," MacDonald said.

But former Liberal premier Robert Ghiz signalled a shift in the 2007 election when he shunned a party candidate who suggested Progressive Conservatives would be out of government positions if the Liberals won.

After winning a majority government, the Liberals didn't repeat the prior practice of replacing seasonal workers based on party loyalty. …

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