Government passes 19 pieces of legislation in a rare late spring session that saw big debate on power cable and teachers
A rare spring-into-summer sitting of the P.E.I. legislature officially came to an end on Friday.
Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis was on hand to give royal assent to 19 pieces of legislation, including the Animal Welfare Act and an act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Act, the latter of which will see a bipartisan committee engage Islanders on whether the province’s current first-past-the-post voting system should change.
The house also strengthened fines for using cellphones while driving, introduced legislation to ban the sale of flavoured tobacco and launched public consultation on a Water Act.
Since the session began June 3, two of the hotly debated issues were the $100 million underwater power cables and a proposal to cut 28 teaching positions across the Island.
The power cables came in $50 million cheaper than expected (original estimate was $150 million). The Opposition would like to see the province explore attaching it to the Confederation Bridge but Premier Wade MacLauchlan says Ottawa isn’t keen on the idea due to liability concerns so it will go underwater.
As for the teachers, Education Minister Hal Perry found himself on the hot seat this past month over the proposed cuts. The province is currently reviewing the issue but the premier said Friday it’s not about backing down.
“That’s what it is to have a legislature,’’ MacLauchlan said. “If we didn’t listen and learn there would be no point of having a legislature. What we’ve said is there will be a review of that situation. I believe all the significant players are looking at what we can do better.’’
Progressive Conservative Party Leader Rob Lantz said education was a big part of their plan heading in.
“It took up a lot of time in the session debating cuts to education,’’ Lantz said.
“I think we were effective and played a big part of having this review come about.’’
The issue led to a protest outside the legislature on June 29, one which was downgraded somewhat when Gilles Arsenault, outgoing president of the P.E.I. Teachers’ Federation, called it off after government agreed to review the matter.
MacLauchlan said Friday that review will be completed this month. Green Party of P.E.I. Leader Peter BevanBaker said one of his goals was to bring some civility to the normally partisan process.
“As the days went by I felt more at home. As I leave the first session I feel I made a contribution in debates but also, hopefully, the tenor of the house,’’ Bevan-Baker said. “I think it became less partisan. I know that will never completely disappear. I’m not naïve to the dynamics of the house but I think the general tone of debate did become more civil as the session went on.’’
It was a session Lantz found hard to watch at times because, due to his election loss, he wasn’t a part of the debate. He also reminded the media that he isn’t the first PC leader to sit outside the rail. Pat Mella spent three years there, 1993-96, before the Pat Binns administration took office.
“Absolutely difficult because I’m there participating in (caucus meetings) and, occasionally, I feel like shouting out something one of the members forgot to mention. I’d absolutely love to be in there.’’
As for what’s ahead, Bevan- Baker says he intends to propose bills during the fall sitting, Lantz will tour the province promoting the party while the premier hinted there will be more elements of his government’s campaign promises to come in the fall.
Opposition House Leader Steven Myers, left, and Premier Wade MacLauchlan shake hands at the close of the spring sitting of the legislature Friday as Liberal MLA Bush Dumville looks on.
MLAS are shown on the final day Friday of the rare legislature sitting extending into the summer.