Promises. Many were made during the 2007 election.
The Liberals mounted a massive campaign four years ago and made a long list of election promises to sway voters to their side.
The party used then-Opposition Leader Robert Ghiz’s image and the slogan ‘Islanders First For A Change’ in every Liberal publication, advertisement and election sign.
With their energetic young leader, they wanted to impart the idea that a new Liberal government would change the state of the province into one focused on new initiatives that would benefit all Islanders.
The Liberals swept to power in the fall of 2007 and have spent the past four years in a majority government, able to pass laws and put forward initiatives uncontested.
But with another election now in full throttle, all those promises are now being scrutinized by Islanders and political pundits looking for some measure of how well the Liberals kept their word to voters, and whether Robert Ghiz deserves another term as premier.
A doctor for every Islander
During the last election, Ghiz’s team rolled out a comprehensive platform, broken down into 10 different categories: health care, education, post-secondary education, agriculture, fisheries, communities, environment, water quality, tax fairness and government accountability.
Attached to each of those was dozens of promises. Some were big and expensive, others smaller and more targeted.
There was, however, one that stood out as the biggest and most memorable — a doctor for every Islander.
A huge promise, with no exceptions, provisos or stipulations attached.
“Every Islander deserves access to a family physician, and we will achieve that goal within the time frame of the initial mandate of a new Liberal government,” Ghiz said when he unveiled this promise on May 7, 2007.
“I want you to write this one down, because I expect to be held accountable for that commitment,” he added. “A new Liberal government will ensure that every Islander has access to a family doctor. Period.”
But this promise has proved an elusive goal.
As of Aug. 31, there were 4,480 Islanders still without a family physician, waiting on the province’s patient registry.
That is an improvement from just a month before when almost 6,000 Islanders were listed on the registry, and government did tell The Guardian that two new doctors — Dr. Chris King and Dr. Kiley O’Neill — were scheduled to begin practicing Tuesday at the Boardwalk Professional Center in Charlottetown.
But that still leaves thousands of Islanders waiting on the registry with no doctor.
Another previous election promise that remains unfulfilled is one in which Ghiz pledged to sell the four provincially-owned golf courses.
Under the former administration led by Pat Binns’ Progressive Conservatives, these golf courses were losing $1 million a year in operating costs.
At the time, Ghiz and his fellow four-member Liberal Opposition criticized these losses repeatedly on the floor of the legislature. Then, during the 2007 election campaign, Ghiz pledged to rid taxpayers from this financial liability. He said the private sector should not have to compete with the public sector for golf business.
“Too many Island dollars have been spent on golf,” Ghiz said during in an election speech on May 25, 2007.
“They are wonderful facilities, and we believe it is entirely appropriate to begin a request for proposals process as soon as possible.”
But just one year after taking office, the ‘for sale’ signs were taken off the four provincial courses.
Then-Tourism Minister Valerie Docherty said selling them was a more complicated issue due to multiple contracts and partnerships involved. She also cited the troubled economy at the time as a major factor in taking the courses off the market.
The province still owns and operates the golf courses.
In fact, during the most recent sitting of the legislature, Opposition Leader Olive Crane questioned Tourism Minister Robert Vessey on whether his government’s previous pledge to sell the courses was something it was still planning to pursue.
Vessey responded by saying it “wasn’t a good time.”
“I guess it’s not in the forefront right now, it’d be safe to say,” Vessey said.
Not all of Ghiz’s 2007 election promises went unfulfilled. Many of them were indeed kept in full or in part over the past four years.
One of the first promises kept was one that gave an immediate and tangible benefit to almost all Islanders. Just days after winning the election, Ghiz cut the provincial tax on gasoline by 4.4 cents per litre.
This was one of several promises he made to “improve the tax burden on families and individuals.”
Ghiz also pledged, during a campaign news conference on May 1, 2007, to keep it capped at this new, lower rate “regardless of what happens to the price of fuel elsewhere in the world.”
He delivered this promise immediately after taking office and has not changed the gas tax since, despite four years of volatile oil markets and world price fluctuations.
George Coles Bursary
Another 2007 election promise kept by the Ghiz administration was one made to Island students.
The Liberals promised a one-time $2,000 grant to any full-time P.E.I. student entering the UPEI and a comparable grant for those attending Holland College.
In April 2008, the George Coles Bursary program was unveiled. It offers full-time first-year students from P.E.I. $2,000 toward their tuition at UPEI, and Island students registered in a two-year program at Holland College a bursary of varying amounts depending on the rate of tuition.
According to the Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning, more than $11.3 million has been awarded to P.E.I. students through these programs since 2007.
These are just a few of dozens of promises made to Island voters by Ghiz and his Liberal team during the last election. Some were kept and some were broken. Some were partially acted upon, others ignored or perhaps forgotten.
But UPEI political scientist Peter McKenna doesn’t believe Ghiz’s record on keeping or breaking his promises will have a lasting affect on his results this time around. That’s because voters have become disillusioned by broken promises of elections past, he said.
“I think people have become a little bit cynical about governments and politicians and about the promises they make during the cut and thrust of a campaign,” he said.
“I think they accept that’s going to be part of the game but I don’t think they expect that those are going to be implemented to a tee. “
McKenna said he always believed Ghiz’s big promise — a doctor for every Islander — was “highly unlikely” to materialize and that both Ghiz and PC Leader Oliver Crane should be careful about making those kinds of promises this time around.
“The Liberals haven’t been able to deliver a doctor for every Islander, and I don’t think any government could deliver that without breaking the bank in doing it,” he said.
“I think parties have to be pretty careful about spending the taxpayers’ money and making promises this time around, given the fiscal realities of the situation today.”
In the end, it will be up to Islanders to decide whether the Liberals’ record at keeping — or breaking — promises will be enough to influence their voting decision.