Is Premier Wade MacLauchlan tone-deaf or simply trying to change the negative narrative on the spring sitting of the P.E.I. legislature? The house finally adjourned Tuesday night – the longest sitting since 1999 – after 39 days debating 19 bills.
It was satisfying to see MLAs engaged and eager to debate the issues of the day. Over the past 11 weeks, we can attest that our 27 elected members earned their paycheques.
It might be the final sitting this session if the premier decides to call an election this fall. Based on recent polls that reflect poorly on the government, and Premier MacLauchlan personally, that is looking less likely.
The session might have ended a week earlier or more had it not been for the strong push-back from opposition parties against the flawed Electoral Systems Referendum Act. The government dealt with 17 amendments to correct glaring problems. The bill is law and government can keep its promise to have the referendum attached to the next provincial election. It offers Islanders an historic opportunity to change the way we select our MLAs through Mixed Member Proportional Representation.
It would seem that based on the length and level of debate on that bill, and its momentous implications, the act should be the defining moment for the spring sitting. Instead, the premier reached back to the earliest days of the session to suggest the balanced budget - with its projected $1.2 M surplus, spending increases and tax cuts - was the highlight. It’s his mantra of a strong economy with more jobs and opportunities for Islanders.
A balanced budget is important. It sends a positive message that we are getting our financial house in order and now is a good time to invest in this province. A recent glowing bond rating analysis supports the premier’s arguments. Don’t count the Liberals out just yet.
Much of the government’s bad press was the result of its own missteps. Anti-amalgamation sentiment, the finger-flipping photo, the botched referendum bill and PNP fumbles all could have been avoided with common sense and due diligence.
There was much good news legislation and progressive bills, such as supports for social services; a ban on plastic grocery bags; more help for mental health; legislation to cover post-secondary schools and municipalities under freedom of information; legislation for the sale of marijuana; legislation on political donations; and modernizing legislation dealing with companies.
Opposition Leader James Aylward and his Progressive Conservative caucus were effective getting private members bills passed, especially legislation to give victims of domestic or sexual violence paid leave. Another bill will see members of the public appointed to the Island Investment Development Inc. board of directors. Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker and his party were particularly effective with referendum bill amendments. It was a productive session for all.
One housekeeping item remains - MLAs will have to return to vote on the appointment of a referendum commissioner. The timing of that recall will offer information on a possible fall election and the start of a referendum period.