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ALAN HOLMAN: It’s started and can last as long as King wants

Premier Dennis King says he has made it a priority to reach out to both the opposition Liberal and Green parties in the lead-up to his government’s first speech from the throne.
Premier Dennis King. - Stu Neatby

The Island’s first legislative sitting of a minority government got underway on Thursday in an age of cooperation with no surprises, but there was a bit of a surprise after all.

It had been anticipated that Liberal MLA Hal Perry from Tignish would be elected speaker. The 12 MLAs from the governing party wouldn’t put a name forward, they wouldn’t want to lose one of the few legislative votes they have.

The surprise was Souris-Elmira MLA Colin LaVie wanted to be speaker; not that he became speaker. Opposition MLAs can add, and one less vote for the government is fine with them.

Though the Green Party’s draft agreement for consultation between parties didn’t get signed, there have been consultations among the parties about some of the legislative agenda.

Some observers are now wondering if Premier King was as diligent at cooperating and consulting his own caucus. Or, was he aware of Mr. LaVie’s desire to be speaker and was prepared to give up that legislative vote?

Colin LaVie is one of two fishermen in the legislature, both happen to be Tories. Fishermen occupy a unique space in the legislature; they are prevented by law from becoming provincial cabinet ministers.

The ban on being in cabinet occurs through a combination of federal and provincial laws and regulations.

Federal laws state that only fishermen can own a fishing license. This law exists to prevent corporations from owning large fleets of vessels and the fishermen become employees. And the federal law prevents a fisherman from putting his assets into a blind trust, again to ensure the industry isn’t indirectly dominated by corporations.

Provincial conflict of interest regulations require cabinet ministers to put their business assets into blind trusts, which everyone but fishermen can do. Hence, the Island has a dairy farmer who is the minister of agriculture, and in the past have had numerous lawyers as ministers of justice. But under these regulations a fisherman couldn’t be the minister of education or even be premier. But they can be speaker. Maybe Mr. LaVie simply saw an opportunity and took it.

Surely, one of the first acts this new government takes should be to make fishermen as equal as everyone else in the legislature; make them exempt from the regulations, except when it can be shown there is a clear instance of conflict of interest.

As has already been mentioned in this space, the province should also make fishermen wear life-jackets, or PFDs. The number of fishermen who have drowned in the past year is a clear indication such regulation is needed, just as regulation was needed to ensure seat belt use in vehicles.

Enough about fishermen.

This is the first sitting of a minority government in the Island’s history. As historian Ed MacDonald recently pointed out, while there have been two instances where governments ended in minority situations through resignations and byelections neither of them went to the legislature, they opted to go to the polls instead.

Another first is having the Green Party as the official Opposition. In the past, it’s always been a either the Liberals or the Conservatives. It is also the first time a party has gone from being the government to being the third party.

Dennis King is in the unusual, if not unique, position of being the premier without any legislative experience. However, three-quarters of his caucus are experienced MLAs. People will be watching to see how he does.

Also under scrutiny will be Peter Bevan-Baker as the opposition leader. Part of his political appeal is his aura of being a non-politician politician. Will he be able to maintain that aura, or a year from now will he be just another politician?

Mr. King faces opposition parties of almost equal strength. One on the rise, one on the wane. By themselves neither party can defeat the government. The Liberals need time to reorganize, a lot of time. This government can likely last as long as Premier King wants it to.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: alanholman19@gmail.com.

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