The past several months have been extremely difficult for Islanders.
Worries about health care, family, friends and community have dominated our thoughts and actions.
And now, there is deepening concern about the economic impact that COVID-19 will have on business, employment and the capacity of government to help a struggling province.
During the first phase of the pandemic, the Liberal caucus was very supportive of government’s actions. Liberal members took part in various government committees – and we virtually eliminated any critical public commentary.
We did that for a reason: As a group, we believed it was vitally important to help maintain public trust in institutions during a crisis, and ensure that help was reaching Islanders. Chirping from the sidelines would have helped the sum total of no one.
To a degree, that will have to change. Elected members have two primary roles: Constituency representation and holding government to account. As we move into the next phase of this crisis, the latter role will help to ensure that our longer-term future as a province is protected from rash decisions.
For that reason, the Liberal caucus will now withdraw from direct participation in decision-making and input – and move more toward the pressing challenge Prince Edward Island now faces.
First, we will take on a more direct role in making sure that our province is ready for a potential second wave of COVID-19.
Islanders deserve to know that we have a good stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE). They also need to see a plan that will deal with the backlog of health-care services that has built up – and that safe steps are being taken to care for a potential round of patients affected by the virus. Essentially, we will be looking for a plan that prepares us for a second wave – while simultaneously looking after the ongoing health care needs of Islanders.
Second, Islanders will need to hear a clear, logical and achievable plan for economic recovery. We all know that the pandemic has been an economic wrecking ball. Tourism is uncertain. Demand for lobster will be unpredictable. Labour shortages may worsen – and thousands of Islanders may find it difficult to qualify for employment insurance.
These are very real challenges – and government must be open with Islanders to an unprecedented extent.
We also understand that many Islanders will be unhappy to hear difficult questions posed to government. The desire for uncritical support for all of government’s actions remains very real to many Islanders – and as a group, the Liberal caucus respects that view.
But total support is not our parliamentary role. A good government welcomes reasonable challenges and questions – because that debate tends to produce better results. And we are concerned that the Green Opposition may neglect that job – in favour of seeking deals and accommodations that meet their political agenda.
Now, it is possible the Liberal caucus is old-fashioned. Maybe we should put aside the old ideas of holding government to account in the legislative assembly. But none of the six Liberals are comfortable with that.
Despite being a small group, we take our role seriously – and we will do our best to shed light on government’s actions, so Islanders have a better view of the future that is before us all.
Sonny Gallant is leader of the Third Party for Prince Edward Island.