Islanders had already anticipated that the fall sitting of the P.E.I. legislature would be more bruising and combative than usual. Now, they have additional reasons to expect impassioned debate.
The session, which opens this afternoon, marks the House debut of James Aylward as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Aylward is anxious to establish himself in debate, and send a message that five years of turmoil with the party’s leadership is over – and that he’s firmly in control.
Mr. Aylward plans to show Islanders that his party is holding government to account and is a credible option to the Liberals.
The unexpected byelection in Charlottetown-Parkdale, where each of the four parties have so much at stake, promises to add extra fuel to debates and Question Period.
This month also marks the one-year anniversary of the plebiscite on electoral reform, when many Islanders felt that government betrayed the democratic process. Supporters of electoral reform have been busy with letters to remind Islanders about the plebiscite victory by the MMP option.
The speech from the throne and looming capital budget might be provincial in nature, but there could be specific references to Charlottetown-Parkdale to boost the chances of the Liberal candidate. And the criticisms and questions coming from the Opposition benches in the legislature will certainly have District 11 in mind to boost the profile of their candidates.
What happens in the House over the next two weeks will be viewed carefully by voters to help them mark their ballots Nov. 27.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan took advantage of the brief interlude between election call and House opening to hit the campaign trail, signaling the importance he is placing on the byelection outcome. While his focus will shift to the legislature, Mr. Aylward and Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker will stump whenever time allows. NDP Leader Mike Redmond must, by necessity, expend most of his energies campaigning, while keeping an eye on House proceedings as best he can.
Government has promised to hold a referendum on electoral reform during the next provincial election. That referendum might be addressed in today’s throne speech.
In its most recent fiscal update, government said it was close to balance, a goal often promised but never realized since the Liberals took power in 2007. Balance is expected to free up additional dollars in the capital budget.
The government expects to introduce 20 pieces of legislation, but none as important as a Water Act, protecting a commodity which is crucially important for each and every Islander. Government will address a carbon tax, table marijuana legislation and reintroduce a lobbyist’s registry and whistleblower protection.
Government is past the half way mark of its third term and is anxious to show Islanders that it has new ideas, direction and energy, all building on impressive economic growth over the past two years.
The Opposition says government is simply recycling old ideas and programs. Voters in Charlottetown-Parkdale might provide more clarity on which opinion they think is correct.