A caring government

About 20 years ago, before my family moved to PEI, I remember meeting a man at a strawberry social, and we got talking about politics. He was the first person to tell me that there wasn’t much difference between the Liberals and Conservatives on the Island, and that all governments on PEI tended to be more left-leaning than in other jurisdictions because we care about the well-being of our neighbour, and we like to take care of each other. I found out many years later, that this gentleman was Wes MacAleer, though I had no idea who he was the first time we met.

The Island is a special place, for lots of reasons. One of them is that to a greater extent than most other places, we take care of each other. Whether it be a call to repair a neighbour’s roof, or at a time of tragedy, or medical crisis, Islanders are legendary for stepping forward and helping out. I suspect that this urge to assist runs deep, and goes back many generations to an age when neighbours instinctively came together in communal efforts. It’s almost as if in those days when crops were reaped and soil turned over communally, it wasn’t just the land which was being tended co-operatively, but that Islanders were ploughing back into the community, the spirit of shared love and care which sustains close-knit rural places.

We still get dewy-eyed over stories of selfless acts, and the willingness to come together to contribute to the common good. Of all the definitions of government, I prefer the one that says that governance is the process of optimizing the common good: of using our collective resources to take the best care that we can of everyone in the wider community.

But there is a disconnect here. When did any of us get teary at something government did? Mostly we are disillusioned, angry or worse: certainly not filled with nostalgia and warmth. Yet, our government, when working as I (and many others) believe it can, should provoke the same emotions we feel when we read about neighbours helping neighbours. Instead most often we equate government with corruption, lies, manipulation and deceit. It doesn’t have to be that way. And this Holiday Season, as a wave of new immigrants arrive in our community, let’s use their advent as a stimulus to reinvent government, to demand better, and to come together through politics as a sharing, caring community. So Merry Christmas, or whatever celebration your traditions prefer.