December 4th, 2010

[BRIEF NOTE] More on hate as an Island value

It's not something reserved for "from away"; it works for locals, too.

Back when everyone was starting to react to the firebombing of that gay couples' house on Prince Edward Island, a commenter at one of the CBC articles made a good point about the xenophobia that's even now fairly important on Prince Edward Island.

When we moved here there were all those jokes about "you know you're an Islander when you spend your mornings in Tim's making up gossip about your neighbours" and everyone thought that was funny.

A newspaper headline referred to a woman's death with "Boston native dies at age 98" and what it turns out is that this woman had moved to PEI at age 4, lived here all the time, and raised lots of kids. And no one thought there was anything odd about the headline.

The lens ought not to be the people whose house was burned down. The focus ought to be on the community - on why so much of Island communties are closed, narrow, malicious and self-righteous in gossip, and free to vandalize, bully and so on. PEI has maybe the highest per capita rate of that sort of stuff.... THIS is what needs to be looked at and responded to.

Hate is an Island value as I noted; people from away can find it difficult to join in with the local communities if they won't fit in. Or they can't. Even now quite homogeneous, recent immigrant settlement besides from the points of language and ethnicity and religion and nationality; the largest immigrant groups are American and British. It's changing, but the sort of in-group soliutary that was normative has remained. Mind, that's only solidarity of Islanders against the world; free from the world, other divisions are possible. Taking religion, say, so salient that until 1997 the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island drew its membership on confessional lines, as Agar Adamson, wrote in 1983.

The electoral system, until recently, encouraged voters to maintain a rather cynical attitude to elections. The province originally had a bicameral Legislature, but in 1893 the two Houses were combined into one so that each of the fifteen constituencies would have double representation of a Councilman and an Assemblyman. If a person owned $325.00 worth of property in a constituency, he could vote for a Councillor and Assemblyman in that constituency. even though he did not reside there. Therefore, any voter could have up to thirty votes on election day. This system was finally changed in 1963; now persons may only vote in the constituency in which they are resident.

Today, Prince Edward Island is divided into sixteen double constituencies. The increase took place at the last redistribution of 1965. There are five constituencies in both Kings and Prince County, and six in Queen's County, the largest of the counties which is based upon Charlottetown. Since the province is divided fairly evenly on religious lines, the parties have often found it convenient to run one Catholic and one Protestant candidate in each of the constituencies. In some constituencies, such as Fifth Queens, the religious division appears to be not as important as it once was. Since 1975 this constituency has been represented by two Catholics. However, as Jeffrey Simpson pointed out in Discipline of Power (pp. 109-110), a political party disregards the religious split in PEI at its peril. Consequently, the general practice of running one Catholic and one Protestant candidate continued in the 1982 election.

Prince Edward Island constituencies are not really dual constituencies. Rather, each party nominates one candidate for Councillor and one candidate for Assemblyman. The contest is a single one in each constituency between the candidates running for the Councillor's seal and those running for the Assemblyman's seal. In four of the sixteen constituencies the voters elected one Conservative and one Liberal, however, in an equal number of constituencies the coattails of one of the candidates were sufficiently long to help elect the party's other candidate in the same constituency. Consequently, it is difficult to say whether or not PEI electoral system hinders or helps ticket-splitting.

Election turnout has been consistently quite high by North American standards, usually well above 80% although it was a mere 78.2% in 1882. The less generous have said that this high turnout is linked to the historically very close association between voting for a political party and being employed by the provincial government, the idea of the bureaucracy as a rational Weberian device apparently not having caught on.

The division of seats in the provincial assembly between Catholic and Protestant factions says interesting ways about how Prince Edward Islanders imagined their community as being constituted by two separate, bur equal, subcommunities, each deserving of independent representation and (one might speculate) each influenced by influence-dealers in ways intended to encourage these divisions to remain. They were never formalized, it's important to note, here or in education or elsewhere; they were simply understood. I wonder if they would have stood a Charter challenge? The place where people fitting into neither community could fit might have been fairly small. Apparently Lebanese-Canadians cast their lot in with the Anglo-Catholics on the grounds that they were the closest fit to the Maronites ...

Interesting tensions would have been at work in ways that weren't necessarily openly voiced. And what about conflicts within these subcommunities? Were Acadian, Irish, and Scottish groups competing in the Roman Catholic community? Was a more fragmented Protestant sphere caught between ethnic and denominational ties which cross-cut in any number of ways? What was said about these divisions? What wasn't? And what was felt.

Funny thing. I'm fairly familiar with Island politics and Island history--I'm a good student, don't you know?--but these things hardly came up. Is it a matter of some subjects being too sensitive for anyone to touch on? And if these questions dealing with intenral communal relations are touchy, how much more so questions regarding the Island's relationship with the wider world that keeps the economy First World and the public sphere honest?