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The Greening of Prince Edward Island

April 22, 2019

The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island is, geographically, the size of Delaware, but with a much smaller population.

The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island is, geographically, the size of Delaware, but with a much smaller population. Think of Delaware without Wilmington. The province consists of a large island and about a hundred small ones, and is connected to the mainland by a bridge on its east coast. The province is warmed by the gulf stream and the St. Lawrence River, and is buffeted from coastal storms by Cape Briton Island of Nova Scotia to its south, and Newfoundland to its northeast.

In what passes for an economy, the island has potato farming (producing about a third of the potatoes that Idaho produces) and fishing (mostly for lobsters and such). Tourism is a major industry with beaches and other recreational spaces, and a slowed-down pace. Manufactured goods are imported, as is almost all of its energy (windmills produce 15 percent of the island's demand).

Being a self-contained and mostly "post-industrial" place, environmentally-sensitive, and inclined to center-left and left-wing politics, the island has a lot of regulations concerning land use, recycling and so forth, including some of the highest taxes and cost of electricity in North America. And now the island has the prospect of electing the Green Party to govern it.

On Tuesday, Prince Edward Island will hold provincial elections, and the polls show the Green Party to be in the lead, with the Liberals and Conservatives vying for second place. Using the uniform percentage shift method, it looks as though the Greens will win 15 seats (out of 27), which would give them an outright majority. While Green parties have been junior partners in various coalition governments in Europe, Prince Edward Island may be the first place in which it is the senior party in a ruling coalition or a majority party.

The Green Party of Prince Edward Island is not very clear about what kind of Green New Deal they have in store for the island. On their website, they say in their core values that the Earth's resources are limited and that the conditions of the world are worsening.

Link to core values of the Green Party of Prince Edward Island

https://www.greenparty.pe.ca/values

The statement that the conditions of the world are worsening is demonstrably false. The statement that the Earth's resources are limited is true, and means that we need some mechanism to reconcile supply and demand. Basically, the reconciliation of supply and demand requires a choice between free markets wherein price does the job, and central planning wherein government controls do the job. While no real world system is completely one way or the other, it is easy to show that the free-market approach is superior.

But, so much for platitudes. What does the Green Party of Prince Edward Island actually intend to do about, say, electricity. Windmills produce 15 percent of the island's demand (this averages zero when the wind doesn't blow and positive percentages when the wind blows). Much of the island's supply is imported from a nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick; and, the rest from conventional fossil fuel plants off the island. Tourists, as they bike along the rural roads of the island, might think the electricity in the sockets in which they recharge their devices comes from the windmills about them. But, the truth is the electricity is largely imported from non-green sources.

Similarly with the concrete and steel in the fine hotels at which the tourists stay, from where did those materials come, and the fashionable sweaters tied about the neck, and the bleu cheese at the wine-tasting? Are these the products of sustainable local production? Are they in line with the post-consumerist values espoused by the Green Party of Prince Edward Island? Or, are these just some of the ways that people enjoy the wealth made possible by the rule of law and specialization and trade on a global scale?

It's one thing for a distinctive place such as Prince Edward Island to make itself into a kind of Disney World of make-believe, indulging visitors with the illusion that they have separated themselves from the hustle and bustle of the marketplace. It would be something else to replace this illusion with the reality of a pre-Industrial Revolution place.

Author
Clifford F. Thies is the Eldon R. Lindsay Professor of Economics and Finance at Shenandoah University. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Boston College.
cthies@su.edu