The spring legislative session has come to a close, and to wrap things up, I’m going to offer some of my parting thoughts on how it all went.
It was generally a rather lack-lustre session – no big important bills, no major spending announcements. This is a consequence of the fact the province has frozen its budget for the last three years, so they generally have no money to do anything controversial. That being said, this doesn’t mean government couldn’t have brought forward more substantial legislation. When I asked Premier Robert Ghiz why his legislative agenda was so light this session, he told me the fall is for major legislation and the spring is about the budget. Last fall, he told me the fall session is about the throne speech and the big things come in the spring. I guess he’s having a hard time deciding which season to bring out the important work. But let’s also remember, the biggest legislative change made in his whole seven years in government came in the spring of 2013, when he brought the HST to P.E.I.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on the session that was. Please keep in mind these reflect my own opinions – and I cannot stress enough that I am not partisan (so don’t bother trying to attribute my opinions to politics).
Steven Myers – While I am not always a fan of the kinds of rhetorical questions the interim PC Leader uses in QP (i.e. Why won’t you admit you’ve failed Islanders? & etc.) there’s no question Myers is sharp on the floor of the legislature. He’s always able to offer a quick comeback or a snappy sideswipe, calling cabinet ministers on discrepancies in their responses and statements. He also is fairly knowledgeable about budget issues, as he has worked in the Department of Finance. He often knows just the right questions to ask during budget estimates.
Olive Crane – When in the Tory Opposition caucus, Crane was often criticized for her questions and negativity. This session saw her focus on more kitchen-table issues and offer suggestions that government just couldn’t refuse. She was able to get the premier to agree to look into a guaranteed livable income, got the health minister to agree to put nursing home inspections online and also got Doug Currie to agree to have a roundtable meeting with some local women to hear about gaps in services for postpartum depression. That’s more than she was ever able to get from government while she was Opposition leader. But then, there’s some obvious politics at play there too.
Premier Robert Ghiz – he is always good on his feet in the legislature, more polished than the rest of his cabinet. This time around, he was much more relaxed, less combative than in past years, even jovial at times. And this time around his most impassioned rhetoric came at the expense of the Harper government, rather than his Opposition across the floor. This, of course, will do nothing to quell rumours he has his sights set on Ottawa.
Most important issue: I believe one of the most important issues debated this session was the $2 million cut to the social services budget and the fact $2.3 million was left unspent last year.
I have many close friends and acquaintances that have been forced to live in the meagre stipends of social assistance and I can tell you, it does not provide enough to properly live on.
If you knew how much the rent allowance is and have seen the accommodations that fall within the financial range of this allowance, you would be shocked to know such places exist in P.E.I. and that the most vulnerable Islanders are forced to live in these places.
If you knew what it was like to try to make a monthly social assistance food allowance cheque last a whole month, you would know it is, in fact, impossible. Food banks, soup kitchens and community charities must make up the difference.
It is nothing short of shocking to me to know that Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty had $2.3 million in her budget last year that could have provided some kind of relief for these Islanders who struggle every day to make ends meet – even if it would have only been temporary.
The poorest Islanders would certainly have welcomed any small amount of help. And $2.3 million could indeed have helped.
Least important issue The $25 million HST transition payment. Let me clarify – it is certainly important to scrutinize any and all amounts of money given to the provincial government by Ottawa. However, the hooplah made of this issue by the Tory Opposition confounded me. First of all – the whole issue was two years old. Secondly, it was all based on a change in accounting rules – which equals ‘confusing and boring’ to the general public (no offense meant to accountants). And since the money has already been long spent and even the auditor general was backing up everything Finance Minister Wes Sheridan had to say on the matter, it was really something the Opposition should have moved on from much sooner.
Strangest moments: When Deputy Premier George Webster tried to explain how he charged $40 for an in-room movie during a stay at a hotel in Texas. First he said it might have been a staffer. In his hotel room. Then maybe it was someone who came into his room when he was sleeping. With the volume down. Or maybe he sat on the remote. Really? You sat on the remote?? While I would never advocate a politician saying “no comment,” I have to think this might have been a wiser approach in this case.
And now for something completely different... A number of our MLAs have finally boarded the social media bandwagon and have joined Twitter. Ghiz especially has become a most avid user of the social media site, tweeting not only official-type messages, but also joins in Twitter conversations about big basketball and hockey games in the evenings. He began to watch tweets from us in the media during question period, and afterward would walk over to the press gallery and make comments or clarifications about our tweets. Steven Myers once even tweeted while question period was still underway. It has certainly made the legislature a lot more interactive – could even be a way to engage more youth in the goings-on in the house?