Politics may be unpredictable, but if there's one thing Islanders should expect from the fall session of the P.E.I. legislature, it's that it will be a contentious one. Emotions that have run high over government's decision to realign a section of the Trans-Canada Highway are bound to find their way into the legislature, and enabling legislation for harmonized sales taxation is certain to generate a fresh new round of controversy.
The session begins today with a speech from the throne that will outline government's priorities over the next year, including everything from deficit reduction to delivery of services for health care and education.
Twenty-five bills will be brought before the house, including the one dealing with the HST. Opposition Leader Olive Crane has already stated her caucus won't support it, and although the Tories won't be able to stop the Ghiz majority government from getting it through the house, the five members won't likely allow for easy passage either. Hopefully the result of this is that Islanders will hear some substantial discussion about harmonized sales taxation, specifically why government is ushering it in in spite of the controversy it has sparked in other areas. They also deserve an equally detailed case from the Opposition about why it won't support the bill.
Government did explain last spring that the HST, among other things, would bring in extra money at a time when it's attempting to reduce the deficit, and that provisions would be made to cushion the impact on modest-income earners. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped opponents who've warned that while the HST rate may be slightly lower than the total tax rate of the two currently separated GST and PST, Islanders will pay taxes on items now exempt from provincial sales tax, and end up with less money in their pockets. Islanders would be wise to pay close attention to what is sure to be an impassioned debate over this, and they should also make a point of making their MLAs aware of their concerns.
As well, given the recent release of the names of recipients of the provincial nominee program, it's a given that Opposition Leader Olive Crane will continue hammering away on this file. She has consistently demanded accountability and transparency from government on its handling of the PNP program, and the recent ruling from the P.E.I. Supreme Court that led to the release of the names of recipients has put the PNP back in the news. This can't help but encourage Crane in her quest for more disclosure.
Other things on the agenda for the fall session, such as the capital budget outlining government's plans for infrastructure spending, and the fiscal update, could also be contentious. Judging from recent comments by the premier, who has reminded us that infrastructure work will return to more traditional levels now that federal stimulus spending has ceased, some Islanders could be disappointed at what this capital budget will provide. And those who are closely watching government's deficit-reduction targets may not be happy if the fiscal update shows that those targets have been significantly adjusted.
Government will be on the hot seat for all of the above, and that's as it should be. The legislative assembly sits only twice a year, and for relatively short sessions. During that time, government owes it to Islanders to account for its actions, and the job of the Opposition is to make sure government does just that. Let the session begin.