In a legislature that features several historic firsts, I’ve been most impressed with the early performances of 11 new MLAs, among them Premier Dennis King.
The Progressive Conservative leader saw his party return to power in May after 12 years in the political wilderness. But in P.E.I. firsts, the Tories formed only a minority government, the Green Party became the official Opposition and the Liberals were reduced to third party status.
King’s performance in a rare summer sitting of the legislature has been neither over- nor underwhelming. In a minority government, he needs the support of at least one other party to get his bills through and so far, he seems to be handling that balancing act fairly well. But clearly, he and his eightmember cabinet (among them newcomers Bloyce Thompson and Ernie Hudson) are still finding their feet in the legislative assembly.
As expected, Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker and Hannah Bell have been effective in Opposition, pressing the new cabinet on everything from climate change and health care to poverty and housing.
But a pleasant surprise for me has been the contribution to the legislative debates being made by new MLAs, among them Michele Beaton, Karla Bernard, Stephen Howard and Ole Hammarlund of the Greens and Liberal Gord McNeilly.
I have three honourable mentions among the newcomers. The first goes to Lynne Lund of the Greens who was successful in getting a private member’s bill passed, gaining the support of all Green and Liberal MLAs as well as four Tories including environment minister Brad Trivers. That’s impressive. The bill will set a much more ambitious carbon emissions target for the year 2030.
The second goes to rookie Tory MLA Cory Deagle who has shown he’s not afraid to ask tough questions of his own government. Just one example: He asked Education Minister Brad Trivers why a project to replace the gym floor at Montague Intermediate School had been deferred. The minister said it was near the top of the priority list and if a bit more money could be found, “maybe we could get it in next year.” Deagle replied, “We want it done this summer, not next year.”
And the third honourable mention goes to Green MLA Trish Altass who tackled a thorny issue earlier in the session. She said since being elected, she’s been approached by several people and organizations who believe she, as an MLA, has a direct role in connecting job applicants with seasonal work and workers through the Employment Development Agency. She rightly pointed out the ethical concerns around MLAs being involved in the hiring process – a practice known as patronage that once flourished on P.E.I. She asked Fisheries and Community Affairs Minister Jamie Fox why some people are asking MLAs for jobs. Fox said MLAs receiving any requests should simply direct them to EDA staff, and they will review the applications and fill the jobs based on need.
One more rookie MLA will be added to the fold after Monday’s deferred election in Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park – an even dozen newcomers to Island politics.
I think that’s good news as it gives the legislature a good mix of new and seasoned members who have already shown they can work together and get things done in a minority government.
Wayne Young is a freelance writer living in Summerside.