The leaders of both Opposition parties in the P.E.I. legislature say they felt their biggest challenge of 2017 was trying to effectively hold the MacLauchlan government to account.
James Aylward, the leader of the official Opposition and the Progressive Conservative party, says he feels Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s promises of openness and transparency are not materializing.
“It gets extremely frustrating going into the legislative assembly, asking questions of the government and not getting an answer, just getting political spin,” Aylward said.
“Everything is just so secretive.”
Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says he found his biggest challenge this year was coming to terms with his limitations as a legislator when dealing with a majority government.
“There are certain areas where government is not going to give ground legislatively, and in a majority situation I’ve discovered you are entirely impotent in that circumstance,” the green leader said.
Both Aylward and Bevan-Baker cited the school review as a major political issue of 2017 and both felt government handled the issue poorly. They were especially critical of the impact on Islanders and communities who went through months of stress and concern over the future of their community schools only to have the premier finally announce no schools would close.
“There was this sense that they put Islanders and communities through hell, and it really was hell for them with all of the fears and concerns of the potential closure of their schools,” Bevan-Baker said.
“The whole process was unnecessarily cruel.”
Aylward says he felt the issue could have been dealt with more effectively with better planning.
“It almost seems like government doesn’t have a plan, because they know that their goal is to grow the population, but yet they don’t want to have the infrastructure in place to grow the population,” Aylward said.
The two leaders also said they feel an escalation in need this year within P.E.I.’s mental health system has not been adequately addressed by government.
Aylward says mental health is the No. 1 issue he hears about from people who contact him, many of whom are turning to him for help after hitting roadblocks getting the help they need.
“I would have to give government a failing grade … It just didn’t seem like they were engaged or listening,” Aylward said.
“I’m hearing these stories and I know that the government members are hearing them because a lot of those who have been reaching out to me are not in my district. The majority are from a district represented by a Liberal MLA and they’ve reached out to me because they’re just not getting anywhere.”
When it comes to the District 11 byelection win by the Green party and the impact this may have had on the political landscape of P.E.I., the two party leaders’ views diverge.
Bevan-Baker says he believes Hannah Bell’s win will help to make 2017 stand out to Islanders as one to remember.
“It was perhaps a year that people will look back at and say, ‘That’s when things started to really shift.’”
Aylward says he was disappointed he couldn’t have made it a PC win, but says it the result was “a democratic process and, it is what it is.”
Both leaders say building the organizational side of their respective parties will be a major focus in the year ahead, especially since MacLauchlan has been evasive on questions about when the next provincial election will be called.
“Moving forward, with regards to the new boundaries for the 27 districts across P.E.I. we will be getting the 27 districts organized and executives in place and getting fundraising on the go as well,” Aylward said.
“I mean, there is a provincial election coming up and we don’t know when it’s going to be.”
Bevan-Baker says he wants to try to shift some focus away from himself alone as leader and allow Bell and his shadow cabinet to gain more profile in the year ahead.
He believes the often leader-centric focus of politics is “problematic.”
“I think there is a greater wisdom that comes from a diversity of voices that is allowed to express themselves fully and openly in a safe environment,” he said.
“There’s been a great gathering of really fine people with a bunch of good ideas and lots of energy and I would like it to be unleashed onto Island politics.”