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EDITORIAL: Less hugs, more debates

Premier Dennis King and Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker share a hug following the closure of the fall session at the P.E.I. legislature on Thursday. The government passed more than 20 bills.
Premier Dennis King and Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker share a hug following the closure of the fall session at the P.E.I. legislature on Thursday. The government passed more than 20 bills. - Stu Neatby

Islanders need to see less hugs and more public debates from our elected representatives.

Yes, the picture on the front page of Friday’s Guardian showing Premier Dennis King and Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker hugging at the end of the fall sitting of the P.E.I. legislature certainly says a thousand words.

Much of those thousand words are more flattering for the Progressive Conservatives than they are for the Greens.

In 11 short days, the fall sitting saw MLAs pass 21 government bills, one private members bill and three Green party bills. That’s a lot to squeeze into the shortest sitting since 2004.

Bevan-Baker explained it was beneficial to view government’s draft bills in advance and offer suggestions on changes before they were tabled. He also called it a “smooth and efficient” way to pass legislation that hasn’t been seen before in the House.

And herein lies the problem. Democracy is the best system we have, and it is supposed to be a bit messy.

Public debate and opposition to government bills is healthy. It gives citizens a more transparent understanding of opposing points of view as well as insights into what elected officials believe. This is how we keep our government accountable, not by keeping opposing points of view behind closed doors.

We appreciate that MLAs aren’t grandstanding and are making efficient use of their time. But this can’t come at the expense of open, public, democratic debate. We shouldn’t have to wonder and speculate about what is going on behind the scenes.

To a lesser degree, the Liberals are keeping their distance from this lovefest between the Greens and the PCs. But then again, we saw many bills passed unanimously by all parties. Other bills, such as a veto regarding adoption records, got through without much debate.

But at least the Liberals picked their spots and set themselves apart from the PCs. This was certainly the case with Liberal MLA Robert Henderson putting the brakes on everyone’s plans to wrap up the fall session on Wednesday. He wanted more information about health care changes, and delayed the end of the fall session until the next day.

It’s scary to think that the fall sitting could have actually wrapped up in 10 days, or roughly a week and a half.

Even so, the appearance of collaboration benefits Dennis King by showing that he can bring parties together and get the job done.

For the Greens, it makes us wonder what happened to the party that ran on the promise of change. The Greens were elected to be the Official Opposition, but when we see government bills passed without much opposition, it makes us wonder if they’re taking that role seriously.

After all, we are headed back to the polls at some point. And if the Greens are serious about forming government, they need to start distinguishing themselves from the PCs.

Unlike the Liberals, being an opposition party is new territory for the Greens. One thing we noticed about the fall session is the Liberals spent much of their time doing what we expected them to do. They opposed.

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