Spring session might not be so quiet after all

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Inside Province House

A change in provincial election date would cause panic among Opposition

The 4th session of the 64th General Assembly of the Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. resumes this afternoon in historic Province House. MLAs, legislative staff, press gallery and members of the public hope to get through the session without mishap — not necessarily from fiery debate, controversial legislation and verbal missteps — but perhaps from falling plaster or other structural problems besetting the national historic site.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of pre-session buzz or hype, suggesting it should be a quiet, stay-the-course spring sitting for Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz’s majority government. At least that is what the government hopes will happen. All too often, a projected quiet session turns into a troublesome one for the government.

The auditor general’s report is expected to be the first interesting piece of business for the House to consider. The report usually gets dropped in among a Speech from the Throne or other business amid the hopes it gets scant attention until it goes to committee for consideration months from now. Let’s hope the report and its contents get a thorough review before it heads off to collect dust.

The budget will be brought down shortly, setting the foundation for the government’s spending plans and priorities for the next fiscal year, all leading up to an election call. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan has vowed to balance the budget before the next provincial vote and time is starting to run out to make significant gains in the revenue over expenses ledger. He will try his best to rein in spending while avoiding cuts.

We were given assurances last fall the next provincial election isn’t coming until April 2016, after the province was forced to move its voting day from the fall of 2015. Ottawa has decided that is the best time for a federal election and didn’t care that four or five provinces had planned their elections at that time.

But there is no legislation yet setting that date. In fact, there are suggestions floating the province may opt to go to the polls much earlier, such as the spring of 2015. The government, hoping to cash in on the goodwill and festivities accrued during this 150th celebration year of the Charlottetown Conference, may feel it’s in its best interests to go earlier than later. That option will create a furor with the opposition.

The Progressive Conservatives have been delaying a date for a leadership convention, thinking they have lots of time for a spring 2015 get-together, followed by an election a year later. A spring 2015 vote will send them scrambling to get a convention in place by mid-fall and then launch a hasty search for candidates, develop a platform and fundraise over the coming winter.

The party hasn’t been swamped by candidates announcing an interest in seeking the leadership. Moving an election to a year from now would create considerable consternation on the Opposition side. The NDP would also be tossed into the maelstrom in a search for credible candidates.

The spring sitting might also see some fine-tuning of the HST which has been in place now for a full year. Mr. Sheridan might be willing to ease the costs in energy and other sectors to soothe voter anger and pain.

Other issues sure to come up this session include deep-water wells for supplemental potato irrigation, land use, more accessible health care, education system changes, addictions and mental health report, help for the lobster fishery, the lack of a new federal health accord, impact of EI changes, increasing the basic personal tax exemption and skyrocketing increases this winter for propane, home heating oil and electricity.

Yes, a projected quiet spring session may not be so quiet after all.

Organizations: General Assembly of the Legislative Assembly of P.E.I., Province House, Progressive Conservatives NDP

Geographic location: Ottawa, Charlottetown

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