Reflections on my first full sitting

This has been my first full sitting since being elected, so I’m still quite the neophyte in the legislature.  In the fall I was sworn in just as the fall sitting was winding down. I always say being the newest MLA is like trying to drink from a fire hose--there is just so much you need to know--legislative procedure, policy issues, constituency concerns, interpreting legislation, and in this sitting trying to assess whether Bill 38 would survive a constitutional challenge.

In addition to the regular duties, I also took on the role of Third Party House Leader, which meant that I worked with other house leaders and the Speaker on allocation of opposition time and called the Third Party motions.  It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about how our legislature works, and I now know much more about procedural matters than I ever thought would be necessary or even healthy.

For me the highlights of the Spring 2018 sitting have been around what I like to call my “Security and Dignity for all Islanders” campaign. In the weeks before the sitting, I met with close to a dozen organizations that work with persons with disabilities and on issues such as poverty reduction.  Based on their feedback, I brought forward motions, including a motion on ostomy supplies and a motion on security and dignity for all Islanders, and I raised many, many questions during Question Period.

On April 24th, during question period I pointed out to Minister Mundy that “In PEI, social assistance clients must liquidate all financial assets greater than $50 dollars to be eligible to apply for short-term assistance and $200 dollars for long-term assistance.” and asked her how she expected clients to avoid social dependency when “applicants must be utterly destitute before they can apply?” On the same day I also pointed out to the Minister that PEI’s income clawback--the amount of money that a recipient can earn before having benefits clawed back--was the lowest in the Maritimes and created an unnecessary disincentive to work and eventually become independent. I have been really pleased with government’s response: On June 7th they announced significant changes to the Social Assistance program, that would directly address the concerns I raised. One of reasons I sought office was to help improve the lives Islanders, especially the most vulnerable, so it was amazing to see that even in opposition, I can have a positive impact.

There have also been several meetings with the Minister of Health to discuss the need to cover the costs of ostomy supplies.  I first became aware of this issue, while campaigning for the by-election in District 11. A resident told me about the costs, and the risks of infection and the social isolation that result from simply not being able to afford appropriate ostomy supplies. I worked directly with government and the Council for Persons with Disabilities to help address her immediate needs, but quickly became aware that there were hundreds of Islanders in similar situations. On the very first day of the legislative sitting, I tabled a motion calling on government to extend the pharmacare formulary to cover ostomy supplies for all patients. The issue was immediately picked up by the media.  I was overwhelmed by the number of people who have approached me since then to tell me their stories or simply to thank me for advocating on their behalf. I am feeling very optimistic that the Minister of Health is working on a solution that will help bring dignity back to lives of these Islanders. Indeed one of the first things I did once the sitting ended was to send a follow-up email to the Minister.

Of course, these are just a few small victories and there is still a lot of work, especially around affordable housing, food and transportation allowances, and access to medical needs, but my experiences this spring have shown me that even though we are in opposition, I can present solid evidence-based arguments to government and have a positive impact on the lives of individual Islanders.

I will be spending part of my summer out and about in the district, and attending events across the Island, so if you see me, please come over and say “hi” and let me know what your priorities are and how my Green Party colleagues and I can help.