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With the Legislature now taking a one-week pause following Friday's tabling of the 2021/22 Budget, we wanted to bring you an update highlighting some of the work our Green MLAs have been doing for all of us.
The government tabled its 2021 Operating Budget on Friday. While the budget includes some good things, it also reflects the same lack of overall vision (and the same vagueness) that we saw with the Throne Speech, and crucially, it leaves out relief for many of those hit hardest by the pandemic: low-income Islanders, essential and frontline workers, seniors, and students.
Peter Bevan-Baker said of the budget: "This government has proven over the past two years that it can tell a good story. It has also shown it cannot keep the promises it makes. Islanders do not need another smoke and mirrors act from the storyteller Premier and his government. COVID laid bare the real issues impacting Islanders, and this budget was an opportunity to address them with real solutions. Once again, government chose story over substance."
The Green Caucus will have more to say about the budget next week when the Legislature resumes to go over the budget line-by-line.
Some good news in the budget:
- Free shingles vaccines for seniors starting January 2022 (something our caucus had asked for);
- Increased supports for people with diabetes (also a Green request);
- More childcare spaces and more front-line staff in Island schools;
- An electric vehicle incentive program (something we've been asking for for a long time!);
- Money for a Rural Transit pilot (hopefully progressing soon to much more than a mere pilot);
- More money for primary care and to recruit and retain nurses;
- Extending the School Food Program to students through the summer.
We'll be looking for more details on some of the other initiatives announced by the government, such as the Energy Efficiency Equipment Program and Land Protection Fund.
See the Official Opposition's full list of budget requests here.
Last week, we brought you Peter Bevan-Baker's, Lynne Lund's, Karla Bernard's and Ole Hammarlund's responses to the Speech from the Throne. Today, we bring you the remaining responses from Hannah Bell, Trish Altass, Michele Beaton and Steve Howard.
Hannah Bell focusses her response on the things that loom large on PEI but were scarcely mentioned in the Throne Speech: poverty, the struggles of people living with disabilities, the housing crisis and precarious workers - and actually lays out some suggested actions that the government could be taking to address those issues right now.
The Green Party's Health & Wellness Critic, Trish Altass used her response to the Throne Speech to take the government to task for the wide gulf between what Islanders need and what the government has promised on the one hand, and what the government has actually done about it on the other hand. She speaks of the need for an integrated health care system, rather than the disjointed approach currently prevalent in PEI.
Michele Beaton opens her response by speaking about the incredibly important role that farmers and the agriculture industry could be playing in other key priorities, such as tourism, and how we should be supporting farmers to help PEI reach our climate goals, saying that agriculture is one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to sequester carbon (while simultaneously building the soil, increasing yields and reducing costs).
She went on to speak about the importance of building an economy that supports workers (including front-line health care workers), and expresses scepticism that the government's move to drastically cut business taxes is the best way to support and increase the competitiveness of small businesses, not to mention whether it will truly trickle down to support workers. She also asks whether it is time for Prince Edward Island, which has one of the most generous tax regimes for high-income earners in this country, to have a look at our income tax system and how to make it more progressive.
In his response, Steve Howard implored the government to remember that more Islanders voted to reform our electoral system in 2016 and 2019 than voted for any single party in the Legislature, and to take action to reform our voting system so that more collaborative politics becomes the norm and not the exception. He also, like many of the other Green MLAs, pushed back against the Premier's characterization of his agenda as "evolutionary, not revolutionary", saying that we have major issues to deal with that do indeed require a more "revolutionary" approach, imploring the Premier to return to the "moon shot" mindset he had shown earlier in his term.
Last Friday, Lynne Lund once again grilled the government on its decision to ignore the Water Act recommendations of the Natural Resources Committee (which were based on months of work and consultations with experts and stakeholders by the committee), when it decided to permanently grandfather holding ponds from the requirement to be compliant with the Water Act. In this, Lund had an ally in PC caucus member Cory Deagle, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee and is equally unimpressed by Environment Minister Steven Myers' disregard for the work of the committee. This led to some strange remarks from Myers, in which he compared the committee to Maggie, the baby from The Simpsons, and himself to Marge, saying that he's the one "driving the car".
Add your name and share: Don't blow a hole in our Water Act!
Tenants - and Greens - have long been calling for a Rental Registry that would enable tenants and authorities to better monitor whether some landlords are illegally raising rents by more than the annual allowable rates set by IRAC.
Housing Minister Brad Trivers has said that the government would create a rental registry, but renters are keen to see action this time. Hannah Bell pressed the minister for a timeline, but unfortunately he could not provide one.
Michele Beaton also pressed the government on housing issues, asking what it plans to do to tackle the rising cost of homes, and what progress it is making towards the introduction of a Vacancy Tax - a measure introduced in some other jurisdiction with housing shortages, which ensures that secondary, non-seasonal residences are being used for housing. The Greens first asked about this more than a year ago. While the Minister of Finance responded that she supports the idea, she also said that "we're not there yet" without offering a timeline for getting there.
On a related note, Michele Beaton introduced a motion calling for the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) to be made an independent body responsible to the Legislature, instead of to the Education Minister and Cabinet alone, as is currently the case. IRAC is responsible for regulating utilities, fuel prices and matters of land use and acquisition, regulating the rental marker and hearing appeals of decisions under various statutes. Michele's motion argues that reporting directly to the Legislative Assembly would enhance legislators’ understanding of IRAC and empower members of the Legislature to better support the Commission’s work.
Karla Bernard re-introduced her bill to lower the voting age to 16, and it is currently in committee. Hopefully we'll see this move forward soon.
Lynne Lund asked the Premier in Question Period when he planned to re-activate the Premier's Youth Council, which has not met since before the 2019 election, and what he is doing to ensure that youth have direct input in the provinces recovery plans.
Earlier this month, Karla Bernard and Lynne Lund introduced a motion calling on the Legislature to express appreciation for the contributions Island youth have made to keeping their communities safe, and to better support them during and after this challenging time. One way to do this would be by re-instating a moratorium on student loan payments.
Our MLAs have been advocating for better supports and more dignity for Island seniors. On March 4th, Trish Altass introduced a motion calling for the Department of Health and Wellness to support PEI seniors to age in place (i.e. in their own homes), by expanding public home care services such as the Caring for Older Adults in the Community and at Home (COACH) program, and creating a seniors care benefit for caregivers of seniors on PEI.
On March 10th, Peter Bevan-Baker pressed the government to act to increase the staffing levels at nursing homes, noting that many are falling below the mandated minimum hours of care and thereby causing significant deterioration of many seniors' quality of life. He also asked the government what it is doing to re-balance funding between institutional care and home care, enabling more Island seniors to age in their own homes as many would love to be able to do.
Ole Hammarlund, the most "senior" Member of the Legislature, noted some of the progressive seniors care models in his birth country of Denmark, designed to enable seniors to remain in their own homes for longer and to live with more autonomy and dignity in care homes, and asked the government whether it was looking to these kinds of progressive changes.
Mobile Mental Health Units
There have been a number of questions about the way in which the government is going about the introduction of mobile mental health crisis units on PEI. While the government claimed that it was using an evidence-based approach to design the units, Trish Altass questioned that, pointing to the fact that the government consulted with a grand total of four people from the same family for a perspective on "lived experience", and ignored expert recommendations against a police-led model for the units.
The Opposition has also raised questions about the government's decision to hand over management to a private organization, Island EMS - a move that also caught nurses, who will be working in the units, by surprise.
Supported decision making (SDM) is a tool that allows people with disabilities to retain their decision-making capacity by choosing supporters to help them make choices. A person using SDM selects trusted advisors, such as friends, family members, or professionals, to serve as supporters. The supporters agree to help the person with a disability understand, consider, and communicate decisions, giving the person with a disability the tools to make her own, informed, decisions.
Currently, P.E.I. does not have a legislative framework for supported decision-making - something Peter Bevan-Baker is hoping to change. According to Peter, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities instructs our governments to make sure that adults with disabilities have whatever supports they need to enjoy their legal capacity. Yet, after 10 years or promises by government, we still do not have a supported decision-making framework on PEI.
Have a great March break! Until next time!