House ses­sion pro­vides lots of strong de­bate

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

over heard on the is­land “I couldn’t fix the roof af­ter the storm be­cause of the belief that it was a ter­ri­ble thing to drive a nail on Good Fri­day.” From the col­lec­tion of Is­land au­thor David Weale.

The spring sit­ting of the P.E.I. leg­is­la­ture – which turned into an early sum­mer ses­sion be­cause of the May 4 elec­tion - at­tracted lots of at­ten­tion.. A more pop­u­lous Op­po­si­tion was much more ef­fec­tive and the gov­ern­ment faced in­tense scru­tiny and ac­count­abil­ity ques­tions on both the speech from the throne and the bud­get – es­pe­cially on the hid­den cuts con­tained within that fi­nan­cial doc­u­ment.

It was a ses­sion where MLAs va­cated his­toric Province House and con­vened in the Coles Build­ing. It was a ses­sion where Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Rob Lantz tried his best to con­trib­ute de­spite not win­ning his seat and be­ing forced to re­main out­side the rails. It was also a ses­sion where the first Green Party MLA in Is­land history took his seat.

It was a ses­sion where MLAs had the rare op­por­tu­nity to elect the Speaker and a sur­pris­ingly in­tense cam­paign was car­ried out by four back­bench Lib­eral MLAs. A sec­ond bal­lot was needed be­fore for­mer fish­er­man Buck Watts donned the black robes to take pos­ses­sion of the Speaker’s chair.

It was a ses­sion where Op­po­si­tion Leader Stephen My­ers be­came one of the dom­i­nant fig­ures on the floor. He started off with his usual ef­fec­tive heck­ling to get un­der Lib­eral skin, and was called to task for ‘ver­bal bul­ly­ing.’ Per­haps Mr. My­ers didn’t take se­ri­ously the calls for more ci­vil­ity in­side the rails dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign and made some early ses­sion probes to see if it was true. It was.

The premier was af­fronted, Green Leader Peter Be­van-Baker was ap­palled and it’s likely that Mr. Lantz urged his house leader to tone down the rhetoric. Mr. My­ers launched into a six-hour-plus re­ply to the speech from the throne – per­haps to make a point that he wasn’t happy with the new rules about heck­ling. Observers were sur­prised he didn’t make his fil­i­buster-like stand on the bud­get rather than on the less con­tro­ver­sial fare in the throne speech. The throne speech was rel­a­tively short, light on self-con­grat­u­la­tory back­slap­ping and con­tained some promis­ing and in­ter­est­ing ob­jec­tives.

Once the ses­sion set­tled down to busi­ness, deco­rum did im­prove and MLAs are to be com­mended for their will­ing­ness to get to work and largely leave the the­atrics to the ac­tors across the square in­side Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre.

The bud­get con­tained few sur­prises and saw more belt tight­en­ing as gov­ern­ment said Is­lan­ders voted to see the province live within its means and bal­ance its fi­nances.

The bud­get largely found favour be­cause the only tax hikes were on to­bacco prod­ucts and the deficit was cut to roughly $20 mil­lion this fis­cal year with a sur­plus pro­jected for 2016. Much of the sur­plus is based on op­ti­mistic in­creased per­sonal tax rev­enues.

With­out doubt, the re­duc­tion of teach­ers in the class­room was the dom­i­nant topic in ques­tion pe­riod and the new min­is­ter was on the de­fen­sive for much of it. Hal Perry took a lot of heat and while he looked un­com­fort­able, he did hang in and sur­vived.

The Op­po­si­tion can take credit for forc­ing the gov­ern­ment to re­view plans to re­duce 28 teach­ing po­si­tions.

P.E.I. Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Gilles Arse­nault led his bar­gain­ing team away from the ta­ble, ac­cus­ing the province of ne­go­ti­at­ing in bad faith. Only when gov­ern­ment blinked and promised to re­view the cuts did talks re­sume and op­po­si­tion at­tacks cooled.

And we can’t for­get it was also the first sit­ting for new Premier Wade MacLauch­lan. He per­formed well un­der pres­sure and tried his best to con­duct pol­i­tics in a pro­fes­sional man­ner while reach­ing out to en­gage all MLAs.

The gov­ern­ment brought in some sig­nif­i­cant bills and will con­sult Is­lan­ders on crit­i­cal is­sues like a new wa­ter act and hold a plebiscite on elec­toral re­form. Im­por­tant leg­is­la­tion to ban flavoured to­bacco, tax re­duc­tion for low-in­come Is­lan­ders and an an­i­mal pro­tec­tion act were passed.

All in all, it was an in­ter­est­ing and pro­duc­tive sit­ting.

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