Reflections on the Spring Sitting

The morning after the legislature closed on June 12th, I took advantage of a suddenly free schedule and went for a long walk in the woods with our dogs, Balloo, Murphy, Jane and Knox (yes, that’s a lot of dog!)  There’s nothing like a beautiful PEI landscape and the uncomplicated companionship of man’s best friend to help me restore my mental equilibrium after a long legislative sitting. And when it comes to length, this sitting was one for the record books--the longest sitting since 1999.

Reflecting back I am somewhat amazed that this has been my seventh sitting since being elected.  I’ve come a long way from the first few weeks when an incredible amount of my focus was devoted to knowing when to stand, when to sit and when it was my turn to speak.  Since then, I have become much more comfortable with the procedures of the House, and I have learned to trust my instincts as well as the research provided by my legislative office.  But no matter how comfortable I become with this most public of roles that an MLA must perform, each session comes with its own challenges.

Looking back, there is much to celebrate.  A number of noteworthy government and private member’s bills passed, including the ban on single-use plastic bags, a new Business Corporations Act, and a long overdue update of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP). Although I have called the amendments to FOIPP anemic and I think the Act really should have gone further to make government more transparent and open, the amendments will bring post-secondary institutions and the four largest municipalities under the Act and that is a significant step forward.  As of April 1, 2019, members of the public will be able to make freedom of information requests to these bodies--the delay is designed to allow them to develop policies and procedures to implement the legislation.

I was also both surprised and pleased by government’s sudden reversal on election finance reform.  For those who have not been following this issue closely: in the spring of 2015, Premier MacLachlan promised to reform political party finance rules and ban all union and corporate donations and put caps on individual donations. This is a policy that I wholeheartedly support, especially since the Green Party is the only party that has never accepted corporate or union donations.  These reforms would also bring PEI in line with legislation that is being implemented in other jurisdictions across Canada.

Unfortunately, within a year of making the promise, the Premier started to back away from the commitment. Over the last couple of years I have been somewhat relentless on calling the Premier to account.  In fact, I have brought it up in Question Period at least a half dozen times. During this sitting the Premier finally relented, introducing legislation that will ban union, corporate, and off-Island donations and cap an individual’s donation to $3000 per party per year.  This is an enormous step forward to reduce the influence of “big money” on parties and subsequently on government and I wholeheartedly endorse the new Act.

Of course, one of the reasons the legislature was in session for so long was the extended debate around Bill 38: The Electoral System Referendum Act.  I still have a lot to say about that act, just as I did during second reading in the legislature, but I plan to write an entire blog just on that in the next week or two, so you’ll have to tune back in for that.

Each session has its highs and its moments of panic.  I try not to focus too much on the panicky bits, but instead savour the highlights.  For me, the ultimate highlight was having the amazing Hannah Bell sit next to me for the entire sitting.  After years of being the lone Green MLA, it has been an absolute delight to have a Third Party colleague with her intelligence, passion, and empathy. She has added so much to the legislature as a whole, and specifically to our team, that I honestly can hardly recall how I used to muddle through without her. I can’t wait to see what we will be able to accomplish together.