P.E.I. legislature's fall session underwhelming in many ways

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P.E.I. legislature

Threadbare sack containing a few lumps of coal delivered down chimney of George Coles Building

The 12 meager sitting days of the P.E.I. legislature’s pre-Christmas session can only be described as underwhelming. It seemed that a threadbare sack containing a few lumps of coal was delivered down the chimney of the George Coles Building.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan had promised a robust fall sitting but after a brief session that somehow miraculously stretched over four weeks, his government was anxious to prematurely shut things down by end of day Wednesday.

There was a lively and important debate still underway over amendments covering government loan write-offs when the premier stepped in to bring the session to a close. The Opposition raised key questions about critical flaws in that legislation. Vague language and too much discretion about exemptions and other issues raised concerns on the Opposition benches and they pressed home the debate.

It was perhaps the finest hour for the Opposition as it forced the government to back away from what it thought was going to be routine passage of the amendments, while waiting impatiently for the arrival of Lt.-Gov. J. Frank Lewis to give royal assent.

The Opposition was willing to keep the session going for another two days this week and quite likely into next but Mr. MacLauchlan closed debate and left the contentious bill still on the order paper until the spring sitting. This way, it will eventually get a thorough discussion.

It was a major victory for the Opposition while a chagrined premier headed to Paris for the United Nations climate change conference without being distracted by the fall session continuing without him.

The government could easily have allowed the House to continue for several more days to get those amendments properly debated and changed. Other bills also died on the order paper in the government’s unusual haste to bring the session to a close.

The premier tried to put a brave face on the fall sitting, citing accomplishments such as the passage of 26 bills, a capital budget and the report of the committee on electoral reform. But the majority of the bills were for minor housekeeping and amendment issues, the bare-boned $79 million capital budget will likely be revised once federal infrastructure dollars come on stream and the all-party committee on electoral reform didn’t produce the key question for a plebiscite - now pushed back until a year from now.

Revisions to the School Act calling for a collaborative approach to help students achieve excellence seems to be a work in progress because few people are sure exactly what the changes are or will mean.

On some issues, the government did appear willing to try to work with the Opposition. But on others, not so much, as the government shut down Opposition calls for an infrastructure summit and defeated a motion to keep a ring rot spray program going while discussions restarted.

Government stonewalled on providing details for the $950,000 loan to fund its ill-fated e-gaming initiatives. It hid behind the excuse that the auditor general is still conducting her investigation.

Opposition Leader Jamie Fox was right in pointing out that P.E.I. taxpayers wanted to keep the session going, have issues brought forward and keep questioning government on e-gaming. Mr. Fox did a very effective job in his first session as new leader.

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker was successful in having his private member’s bill looking to measure the well being of Islanders sent to a standing committee for further review. The intriguing bill drew a lot of favourable public comment.

This session lasted just two days longer than the abbreviated sitting last fall, intentionally shut down early following the startling resignation announcement from Premier Robert Ghiz. The PCs were anxious to get started with their leadership convention while the Liberals were eager to select a new leader and launch a premature spring election.

So what’s the excuse this time?

Organizations: United Nations

Geographic location: P.E.I., Paris

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