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School closure recommendations: What is effective Opposition?

Lynne Lund, Green Party representative of Malpeque,checks the poll boards, at her office in Kensington on election day.
Lynne Lund, Green Party representative of Malpeque,checks the poll boards, at her office in Kensington on election day.

Having young boys, I bear witness to a lot of unconventional problem solving. After all, there is often more than one way to solve a problem. A lot of wisdom is to be had in watching young children work through difficulties, as they are without the preconceived biases that adults have on what the solutions should look like.

I am often left thinking that we all could benefit from looking at our problems with fresh eyes.

To close, or not to close. The Official Opposition opposes the recommendation from the Public School Branch on school closures as do a couple of Liberal MLAs. I’m with them on that. There is a 60-day period for input before the government will have a formal position on this. In the meantime, the question I come back to time and again is this: What do we consider effective opposition?

It’s important for MLAs outside of cabinet to hold government to account, and to point out missteps. I’m happy to see stories in the media about MLAs from both traditional parties objecting to the recommendation to close schools. But the truth is, this isn’t enough to influence the outcome. Getting a headline in the local paper saying you oppose something certainly isn’t going to stop it from happening. To properly fulfill their role as leaders and legislators, they have to do more than promise to fight on behalf of their district: they need to lobby their respective parties to come up with solutions.

So far, I’ve yet to hear a suggested alternative from anyone other than Peter Bevan-Baker, who as you probably already know has suggested we reimagine what small schools in rural communities might look like. He is proposing the vacant space in these buildings be seen not as a liability, but as an opportunity. We could be thinking of these spaces as community hubs, allowing fitness programs, day care services and untold other services to be offered in the unused portions of rural schools. Instead of devastating a small community, we could solve the problem and enhance that community at the same time.

If we actually want to affect change and influence the outcome, we need to do more than just oppose. We need to look for viable alternatives and point out when solutions may exist that haven’t yet been considered. It isn’t enough to simply say we dislike a decision. We need to contribute to the solution if we want to change the course.

I’ll ask you to consider for yourself what it looks like when your own MLA stands up for your district. Do they contribute to a new solution, or do they merely point out mistakes? I think it’s time for all of us to rethink what we want from politicians. We can see the school as half empty and close it, or we can see it as half full and think of how to add to it. If we take the time to imagine our options, we may find that politics could be something vastly different than what we are used to seeing.  So often, there are more than just two choices.

- Lynne Lund is deputy Leader of the Green Party of P.E.I.

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