Did you know that you can receive our newsletters straight to your inbox? Never miss a thing by subscribing here!
The Legislature reconvened for its Fall Sitting on October 19th, and what a powerful couple of weeks it has been for our Green Caucus!
Our aim with this update is to share some of the highlights of the past two weeks in the Legislature with you.
Our leading update dates from Thursday, when Motion 71: A Citizens' Assembly on Proportional Representation tabled by MLA Steve Howard and Green Official Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker was passed in the Legislature in a 13-11 vote in which the Green MLAs were joined by three PC and two Liberal MLAs.
Motion 71, which calls for a Citizens' Assembly of 27 randomly-selected Islanders from every district to engage in a deliberative process to design the best electoral system for PEI, can be traced back to a grassroots policy resolution passed by Green Party of PEI members earlier this year - click here to view that resolution.
This is a great example of the Green Party of PEI's commitment to providing grassroots members with meaningful opportunities to shape party policy and even to influence the dialogue in the Legislature, and we thank those members who have participated in that process so far!
We are eager to see how the government responds to this motion, and are hopeful that it will help spark a new conversation about improving our electoral system on PEI.
Click here to learn more about Motion 71 and the watch Steve Howard and Peter Bevan-Baker introduce it in the legislature.
Motion 71 is not the only Green initiative to improve elections on PEI. Peter Bevan-Baker is also in the process of consulting on a new bill to fix some significant loopholes and other issues in the Election Expenses Act - the law that governs how PEI political parties raise and spend money.
Peter's amendments seek to:
- improve how political parties raise money;
- make political financing more transparent to Islanders, and;
- limit the influence of big money on elections.
Most significantly, this bill would close a loophole that currently allows political parties to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from any lender, on any terms, and without disclosing who their creditors are and on what terms they made their loans. PEI is the only jurisdiction in Canada with such a weakness in its political finance laws, and only once we fix this will the distorting influence of big money truly be removed from PEI politics.
PEI is facing a triplex of crises right now that need bold and immediate action from our government - solving these problems not only in the present, but with a view to our long-term future as well.
Unfortunately, the King Government has been largely missing-in-action (although not always lacking in lip service) in these three areas.
That's why you will see the Green Official Opposition focussing primarily on the crises in Healthcare, the Environment, and Housing.
Climate change is high on the agenda worldwide right now, with the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26) about to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, and here on PEI with last week's release of the PEI Climate Change Risk Assessment Report, which underscores the threats posed by climate change to our Island, our way of life, and our economy.
COP26 is the most important global climate conference since the 2015 Paris conference. This is the first time there will be a formal reckoning of the gap between the emissions cuts that countries are promising (assuming they keep those promises), and what is actually needed in order to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C.
It's a badly-needed reckoning because, unfortunately, the gap is still VERY large. Whereas scientists tell us we need to reduce global emissions by 55% by 2030 in order to hold below 1.5 degrees of warming, the current commitments will only get us as far as a 7.5% reduction - one seventh of what is required!
Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker took the opportunity to make a Member's Statement in the legislature, recalling how concern about climate change promoted him to run for office for the first time - all the way back in the early 1990s.
Last Tuesday, Green Environment, Energy & Climate Change Critic Hannah Bell tabled Motion 67: Calling for decisive action to address climate change. This motion points out the continued failure on the part of the government to produce a comprehensive plan to achieve our 2030 and 2040 Net Zero carbon emissions targets, and calls on the government to accelerate its work on this as well as its actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change on PEI.
Hannah Bell also called for made-on-PEI carbon pricing on the first day that the legislature resumed. Our current carbon pricing scheme is ineffective and does not meet national standards. Greens are proposing a revenue-neutral carbon fee & dividend model, which would drive down greenhouse gas emissions while keeping life affordable for families.
Our Healthcare system is in crisis on PEI, and it is one of the top focusses of our Green Official Opposition.
Last week, Peter Bevan-Baker seconded by Green Health Critic Michele Beaton brought forward Motion 64: Calling on government to allow Island pharmacists to work to their full scope of practice.
Pharmacists are trained to do a LOT more than they are currently allowed to do on PEI, which is one of the most restrictive provinces in Canada. In other provinces, pharmacists can prescribe medications for simple ailments like ear and eye infections, and in some of those provinces they can also prescribe birth control, renew many medications and even order blood work and interpret the results.
Obviously, in these times of severe doctor shortages, expanding the scope of practice for PEI pharmacists would really help. In fact, PEI pharmacists have been asking for this for the last 20 years!
Fortunately, this motion passed! The government had thereby committed to creating a one-year pilot program to expand the scope of practice of pharmacists.
Another Green motion that passed last week was Motion 59: Supporting the mental health of Islanders through artistic, cultural, and social activity.
This motion, brought forward by MLAs Lynne Lund and Trish Altass, recognizes the growing evidence of the mental health benefits of social prescribing, i.e. prescribing participation in artistic, cultural, and social activities in lieu of medication.
This motion urged the government to develop a gift card program for Islanders struggling with mental health issues and low incomes to be able to attend artistic, cultural, and social activities. Not only would this have benefits for patients, but for businesses and organizations in those sectors, which have been hard hit by COVID-19.
Another Green idea that Islanders can get behind!
Our Green Official Opposition has also been holding the government to account on Healthcare every day in Question Period. Some of the health topics covered in the past two weeks by Green MLAs include:
- The growing number of Islanders on the patient registry (now more than 20,000!);
- Paid sick leave for all Islanders;
- Unacceptably long wait times in Emergency Rooms;
- The mobile mental health units (which are now mired in a conflict-of-interest scandal)
- Construction of the new Hillsborough Hospital;
- The status of the new dental care program;
- The vaccination status of educational staff and childcare workers;
- Health PEI job vacancies;
- Access to Trikafta for Cystic Fibrosis patients;
- Why Islanders without family doctors are still being required to go to the ER to renew prescriptions;
- The PEI Vax Pass;
- Ventilation on Island schools;
- Access to clean drinking water refill stations in schools;
- Wait times for neurologists;
- The South Shore Clinic;
- The Maple virtual health care blackout;
- The overcrowding and strain on nurses at the QEH;
- The 187 people in hospital because they are waiting for long-term care beds;
- The access inequalities caused by the $5 fee to use the Skip the Waiting Room service to book appointments at walk-in clinics;
- and more!
- PCs pounded on health care on opening day of P.E.I. Legislature (CBC, Oct 19)
- P.E.I. Greens, Liberals slam health-care ‘digest of disappointments’ (The Guardian Oct 19)
The housing crisis on PEI is, alongside health care and climate change, one of the top three areas of focus for our Green Caucus.
On Day 1 of the Fall Sitting, Hannah Bell seconded by Michele Beaton launched debate on Motion 15: Calling on government to take bold and decisive action to solve the PEI housing crisis. This motion enumerates all the various ways the housing crisis is manifesting itself and affecting Islanders today, and urges government to:
- Make significant immediate and long-term investment in public housing—including cooperatives,
supportive housing, seniors and family housing—through all available opportunities and partnerships;
- Take all possible steps to improve and enforce municipal and provincial short-term rental regulations and return housing stock to the long-term market.
- Consider taxation policy measures to cool down the housing market;
- Promote better collaboration and communication between the Department of
Social Development and Housing and the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture to ensure that housing is addressed in a holistic way;
- Implement and report on clearer performance indicators for the PEI Housing Action Plan and housing initiatives generally;
- Assign the development of the proposed Residential Tenancy Act to the Department of Social Development and Housing, which has expertise in matters of housing, and to introduce the said legislation without delay.
It was during debate on this motion that Social Development & Housing Minister Brad Trivers revealed the ideology behind the King government's reluctance to take the most basic actions to address the housing crisis:
This prompted Summerside-South Drive MLA Steve Howard to deliver a punchy "Housing Wakeup Call" - click here to watch it (1m 39s).
In related issues, MLAs Karla Bernard and Trish Altass raised the issue of people who are forced to part with their pets due to the lack of rental housing, including publicly owned social housing, that allows tenants to keep pets.
- Rising cost of living forcing Islanders to leave, say Greens (CBC, October 21)
- Opposition asks why some tenants have to choose between housing and their pets (CBC, Oct 28)
One of the big stories on PEI during the first week of the Sitting was the walk-out of 200 high school students - mostly girls - in Charlottetown on October 19th, protesting that complaints of sexual harassment and sexist comments aimed at girls were not being adequately addressed in their schools.
This prompted Green Party Deputy Leader Lynne Lund to make a powerful statement in the House the next day - one which got attention across Canada (click here to watch Lynne's statement, 2m 48s).
Greens have been pressing for better policies to counter sexual harassment in schools for a long time. Last year, MLA Karla Bernard began working on legislation that would require strong policies & procedures in all schools.
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker led question period the day after the protests, with some hard questions for Premier King and Education Minister Jameson:
- How are girls supposed to feel safe enough to come forward with situations such as these, or even worse, when the school has proven time and time again that they will not protect them?
- Why hasn’t your government done more to teach about gender discrimination and sexual violence in our schools?
- What opportunities has, or will, the Public Schools Branch provide to students to engage with the Child and Youth Advocate on this critical matter?
- What tangible actions are you and your department taking to create a safe learning environment for all students?
Greens are also supporting the Child & Youth Advocate's call for an independent, third party to handle sexual assault and harassment complaints from students.
Greens have been pressing for a better response from the Public School Board during this sitting, and will continue working until all students feel safe in our schools.
- Government challenged to take action after P.E.I. high school student protest (CBC, Oct 20)
- After P.E.I. school walkout, Greens press for action on sexual misconduct allegations (The Guardian, Oct 20)
Also in the Children & Youth file, Green MLAs questioned the government on:
- Whether they will amend legislation to prevent situation in which separated parents withhold children from each other in the absence of shared custody agreements;
- Why the government has failed to consult with the independent Child & Youth Advocate and with Island youth themselves on its revised Child Protection Act legislation;
- The rights of grandparents and other alternate caregivers, and how they can be better supported when raising children instead of their parents.
Last week, the PEI government tabled its 2021/22 Capital Budget - that's the budget used for investments in infrastructure as opposed to ongoing operational expenses of government programs.
Once again, the Capital Budget shows that this government priorities pavement over people.
“Three years into its mandate and the King Conservatives have yet to demonstrate that its priorities are about people,” said Hannah Bell, Official Opposition Critic for Finance.
The Official Opposition made a budget submission outlining what Islanders have been saying is critically important for their wellbeing and prosperity. The King government has chosen to ignore Islanders and focus instead on paving more roads.
“In our budget submission we highlighted four key areas of critical concern for Islanders: healthcare, housing, education, and sustainable communities,” said Bell. “According to the capital budget, what Islanders are getting instead is a government hyper focused on continuing its mission to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Spending for pavement is more than twice the investment being made in housing and even millions more than the commitment to health.”
As you can see, there's a lot happening in the Legislature right now - and these are just some of the highlights! We will be back with more updates soon to let you know how the rest of the sitting goes.