As MLAs said their goodbyes and extended holiday greetings following Wednesday’s closure of the P.E.I. legislature, members must have wondered if they would ever see their colleagues again in that chamber. With a provincial election widely expected next spring, there is a good chance MLAs won’t return to the house before then. The jokes and good-natured jabs about, “see you next spring – maybe,” suggested an election will delay the spring sitting.
There was a degree of wistfulness among members as they closed down the fall sitting. Four MLAs have announced they won’t re-offer and others may not win their seat. There are always upsets or surprises at the ballot box and most districts have new electoral boundaries and names. Changes are inevitable.
Speaker Francis (Buck) Watts, who isn’t seeking re-election, succinctly summed up the fall sitting: “It was probably the best session I’ve seen as speaker.” The three parties in the legislature were largely on their best behaviour, wary of gaffes or mistakes heading into an election.
There was a historic degree of collaboration and all parties scored wins. The Greens made history by having their first bill pass in the house. The PCs had two important pieces of legislation win approval, while the governing Liberals had a busy session with more than 20 bills getting royal assent over the relatively short three and a half week’s sitting.
The session saw a greater degree of co-operation and a reduction in partisanship. It showed that all parties can work together for the benefit of Islanders, even as the Opposition held the government to account with aggressive scrutiny during question period.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan stepped back from the limelight and preferred to present a team approach in the legislature. Economic Development Minister Chris Palmer took much of the heat from Opposition questions on the problematic PNP program. The PCs were determined to remind Islanders that the Liberals are still wearing that file, while the premier was equally determined to distance himself from PNP, a distasteful carryover from a previous Liberal government.
The other Liberal MLA on the hot seat was Transportation Minister Paula Biggar who paid dearly for a curt social media response to a Francophone constituent. The minister finally did the right thing and formally apologized to end that brouhaha.
The Liberals were able to bask in the good news of a $75-million surplus from the past fiscal year and delivered a massive $154-million capital budget – the largest in history. There was a seemingly endless stream of good news announcements as the government was able to deliver in health, education and social welfare because of the strong economic state of the province.
The government hopes to reap some sizeable benefits in the next quarterly Corporate Research Associates (CRA) poll expected next week. The results of that poll could result in a wide fallout -- from the timing of the next provincial election; to the leadership and political future of Premier MacLauchlan. Analytics seem to carry a lot of weight these days.