From drills and maws to bills and laws

Writing laws is lots of work. It’s also very complicated, especially if your main training was how to stick needles in people’s faces and fill holes in their teeth. None of that prepares you terribly well for the analysis and development of legislation. But in my new occupation as a legislator, I consider the writing and scrutiny of laws as the most important aspect of my job. Looking after the concerns of my constituents, representing their views in the House, and advocating for district 17 is important and serious work, but like my 26 colleagues in the House, the study of new and existing laws should be the centrepiece of all our work lives.

I have learned a lot since switching careers so abruptly, and I can sincerely say that I am a better person for having become a politician. Those are not words that I ever thought I’d write. I’ve always imagined that the public’s perception of the world of politics is that it inevitably sucks out your soul, dumbs down your brain and crumbles your principles. That hasn’t been my experience, and among countless valuable learnings has been the recognition of the complexity, elegance and significance of good legislation.

As the third party in the House, I have equal opportunity to be involved in the deliberation of government Bills, and to ask as many questions as I like as they work their way through the Legislature, but I get very limited time to introduce my own legislative ideas – about 20 minutes a week. Given that our Legislative sessions are typically only a matter of a few weeks long, that means that I can only reasonably expect one - or at most two - Private Members’ Bills, as they are known, to be debated.

It’s worth, I think, for those few folks who don’t spend all their lives glued to the electrifying entertainment that is our provincial legislature, to head down the dusty and largely unpaved road of what a Private Members’ Bill is for a moment. Almost all laws that get passed in our House come from government. That government has of course on PEI been either Red or Blue. If your colour didn’t happen to be in power, you knew you only had to wait for an election or two and it would be your turn again. Because of this completely predictable Island political cycle, there was little point while in opposition, of going through the agony of presenting a piece of legislation that would almost certainly not pass in the House: much better to be patient and get it through when your team had the majority. Because of this permanent dynamic, there is little history of Private Members’ Bills being presented or debated in our Legislature.

That hasn’t stopped me from bringing my own forward, and despite the lack of success of the Well-Being Measurement and Election Age Acts, undeterred, I am in the process of drafting some new Bills for the next session which begins in a few weeks.

First up is a law to extend so-called Whistle-blower protection to all workers on the Island. The government has promised to present its own Whistle-blower legislation which will apply to public employees only, but that leaves tens of thousands of Islanders without the same protections that their civil servant neighbours are soon to enjoy. My bill will complement government’s legislation by extending similar protections to employees in the private sector.

Just in case this excursion into statutory minutia has been so gripping that it has got your heart racing at dangerous levels, I shall protect you from the rapture of what a jurisdictional scan is, and cut to the chase of why I’m doing this. Imagine you worked in a private nursing home, and your boss was not following provincial guidelines, and that concerned you because you cared deeply and above all for the safety and well-being of the people in your care. After speaking with your employer and trying to fix things internally with no success, in the absence of legal protection, it would be a risky thing to do to expose those concerns to the appropriate licensing body, and you may well jeopardise your job. Imagine the same dynamic in a restaurant where health and safety protocols are being ignored, or on a farm where the application of pesticides may not be following provincial regulations. In all of these cases, currently there are no protections for people in the private sector who bring these concerns to the appropriate body.

As a former employer, I am acutely aware of the value of staff loyalty and dedication, but I am also concerned about balancing that with employer responsibilities and the greater common good. It is my hope that our bill finds that balance, and that it will proceed successfully along that road less travelled, the bumpy highway of the PEI Private Member’s Bill.

For your continued reading delight and statutory ecstasy, you are invited to provide comments as we prepare the best version of the Bill we can for the upcoming session. I look forward to the input of employers, workers and anyone else who wants to improve the lives of all Islanders, which, after all, is what good Legislation strives to do.