The importance of priorities

Part of the skill of being human is to figure out what really matters; to choose what priorities you will place at the front of your life. Since it’s impossible to do everything, we need to pick what things we’re going to be truly, deeply committed to fulfil.  I think that’s true in our individual lives, and for me, I carry it into my political work.

Politics is how we make collective decisions, and it touches on every aspect of our shared lives. Part of the art of politics, I believe, is in choosing what priorities get placed at the front of the line. The word priority quite literally means “prior to” – what things need to be done prior to the rest. In that sense you can’t have a whole bunch of priorities, only a few.

In preparing for the most recent sitting of the Legislature, there was a decision in our office, limited as we are in terms of personnel and time to debate our chosen priorities on the floor of the House, to pick three main issues to bring forward: good governance, security and dignity for all Islanders, and climate change action. While we participated in all kinds of debates during the sitting on lots of other topics, those were our priorities.

Good governance took form in bills related to election act reforms and rules for government advertising. Security and dignity for all Islanders was mostly expressed through our concerns about the housing crisis, but also in highlighting how deficient and unnecessarily complex our social safety net currently is. Climate change action was related to the two bills brought forward by government on the issue.

On PEI we face lots of problems ranging from mental health to sustainable agriculture to securing predictable long-term economic prosperity. Governing well means recognising them all and bringing forward a coherent, integrated suite of policies and actions to deal with them in a balanced and cohesive way. But it also means recognising what things must take precedence; what issues must be placed prior to the others. All issues are critical to some people, but some issues are fundamental to everyone’s well-being.

I would place climate change in the column marked “high priority.” We need governments that recognise that to provide a secure, prosperous, healthy future for all citizens, we must tackle climate change effectively - and do it immediately. In every sense it is a priority: THE priority. That doesn’t mean we put everything else aside – not at all – but it does mean that unless we get that right, all those other burning issues will be so much harder to deal with.

Security and dignity for all Islanders is fundamental to our core beliefs as a party, and something that should be a primary concern of government.  So many of the difficult problems government faces in education, health care, and justice spring from inequality, and it is essential to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.  This priority is also a matter of immediate urgency, since many Islanders are finding themselves homeless or living in unsafe circumstances as another winter approaches. We can’t afford to put off bringing all Islanders in out of the cold.

Our third priority was good governance.  This has been a priority for me since I first became elected.  Whether the issue is proportional representation and honouring the plebiscite vote, pushing for election finance reform, updating the Conflict of Interest Act or modernizing our FOIPP legislation, I firmly believe that government should be transparent and accountable to the people and that MLAs should have a greater loyalty to the constituents that elected them than the party they represent. But when it comes to priorities it may not look as urgent as a sustainable environment or safe housing.  Yet, from a broader perspective, good governance is foundational. Without it, every decision made by government could be undermined by partisan interests.

As I look forward to the new year, I know that new issues and priorities will no doubt present themselves, but I feel confident that by examining our core values as a party and focusing on the needs of Islanders, we will continue to make a meaningful contribution to creating a sustainable and prosperous future for all.

Peter Bevan-Baker is the leader of the Green Party of PEI, and the MLA for District 17 Kelly's Cross-Cumberland.