There's a long boardwalk that starts at Bradley's Cove, near Western Bay, that stretches out and up a hill in front of you like a curving caterpillar. It runs out towards the light at the point, where you can find the footprint of a much larger, now-completely-flattened lightstation, occasional flathead nails, broken crockery and foundation stones on a barren point of land dressed in blueberry bushes and the green fat blades of blue flag irises.
The walkway makes a mostly straight line, up high above the pasture, until, almost within sight of the light, it comes to a sudden and scraggly end. Decking gives way to bare stringers, then simply posts - it's not a work in progress, because there's not a single stick of wood left out there to continue the job. I asked someone in the community about the abrupt end - "Waiting for money from the government," they said. "It'll get finished in another year." So you move over onto a path, and eventually reach the point, with its jumble of sharp-edged and toothed rock, about as unwelcoming a spot of coastline to come ashore at as you can imagine.
I haven't been all the way out there since the blueberries were just starting to ripen last year: word is that hurricane Igor picked the whole boardwalk up like a child having a temper tantrum with model railway track, knocking it upside down and off to one side, away from its original location. More work for this year, I guess.
I thought of that boardwalk, and of a whole bunch of community ventures I've seen across the province, as the provincial government put out its annual release on the Community Enhancement Employment Program.
It's become an annual summer rite: this year, the release went out on June 21. Last year, it was June 23; in 2009, June 16; in 2008, June 20.
"The goal of the Community Enhancement Employment Program is to provide meaningful work to individuals in rural areas and to help them qualify for employment insurance benefits, while at the same time providing enhancements to their communities," Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O'Brien is quoted as saying in the news release. "For example, last year 2,250 individuals participated in the program which funded 303 projects and included improvements to walking trails, municipal parks, heritage structures and tourism facilities, as well as properties owned and operated by municipal governments and voluntary organizations."
It's got another name, of course, although it's not as pleasant: make-work.
Here's another snippet from the release: "The CEEP provides funding to community-based organizations which sponsor and manage projects. Eligible sponsors include towns, Inuit community governments, regional municipalities, local service districts, community and economic development organizations and other not-for-profit organizations. Individuals can be employed for up to 420 hours in order to become eligible for employment insurance benefits."
It's $4.5 million, ostensibly to fund "community enhancement," but also, just as importantly, to keep residents from falling onto the provincial social assistance rolls by bumping them onto the federal government-overseen Employment Insurance instead.
It is a triumph of governmental pragmatism, but it's also a tragedy of wasted effort.
And while it may be necessary and the only form of work available, it's hard to watch, especially in a province fond of trumpeting itself as a "have" province. There's not much "have" in trying to eke out enough hours to make your way onto the barest minimum of EI.
This is about addressing a workforce with no work and no matter how valuable to the community the projects themselves may end up being - from fencing and painting to playgrounds and trails - it's really more about marking time until the necessary hours of work are totalled up than it is about anything else.
A social program baldly and barefacedly designed to give workers enough hours to bump them onto another social program, with everyone pretending EI is insurance, even when no one would sell you insurance if your house burned down every single year. It's like we're all just willing to cover our eyes.
Necessary, sure - I don't doubt it's necessary. But don't ever forget that this is a heartbreaking waste of people, too.
Russell Wangersky is the editorial page editor of The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.