Reflections on the Spring/Summer 2020 Legislative Sitting

As I pass the 5 year mark of being elected to the legislature, while I don’t feel like a veteran of the House, I do have a unique perspective from the corner of the room in which the newcomers to our provincial parliament sit. 

So much has changed during that time and a few moments from this sitting demonstrate just how much politics on PEI has been transformed.

The most obvious change is the presence of three strong parties in the House. No longer is our province a place of ping-pong politics where the Party not in power knew that if they just wait for an election or two, they’d be the ones occupying the fifth floor with their hands on the levers of power. Nowadays, none of us knows what the future pattern of governance will be, and who will be in the basement office, living as the third party.

This seismic shift is not just about which floor your office is located on, it has changed the nature of debate profoundly. With no history in the House, and therefore no habits or traditions of our own developed about what it means to be there, the Greens have had to find our way and our own voice in a complex and charged environment. 

Initially I often felt bewildered and overwhelmed by my new vocation. I came to politics to achieve a few things, but I had literally no idea of how to do that within the confines of the legislature. It is one thing to participate in the daily proceedings of the House, as I did with vigour and seriousness from day 1, and quite another to be able to exert enough influence to change the laws that shape our province.

This sitting demonstrated to me that the Greens are now officially a grown-up Party; one that has found its unique and authentic voice, and is having a profound influence on the very nature of how politics is practiced on PEI. That’s something I am both astonished at, and deeply proud of. We have not done it alone, but it would not have happened without us, and while it is clear that old habits die hard in some corners of the House, I feel that I can say with absolute conviction that Islanders are better served by the new politics than they were by the old. 

Green MLA Hannah Bell (Charlottetown-Belvedere)

The old Parties have been part of governance on PEI for 180 years. The Greens have been present as a significant force for one. It has been a challenging task to learn how to be effective in the strange world of politics, especially when simultaneously remaining true to yourself and the values of the Party you belong to in how you behave and develop positions on every issue. Add the test faced by all new MLAs regardless of your political stripe of learning to live and operate in the strangest of work environments, and my overwhelming emotion leaving this sitting is of one of great admiration for my colleagues who have blossomed into effective and mature legislators in an astoundingly short period of time. While established Parties may have a turnover of a few new MLAs in any election, and those new legislators enter an organisation with deep institutional knowledge, and are surrounded by experienced colleagues, the new Greens were thrown into a position with heavy responsibilities and very little of a road map to help them. Amid my admiration I also recognise how much we still have to learn, and despite all I’ve just said, my Green colleagues and I are far from established and must continue to earn the trust and confidence of Islanders every day in our commitment to our constituents and as legislators pressing to shape the future of our province into a fairer and more sustainable place. 

Here are a few examples of things that happened this sitting to illustrate how having a strong Green presence in the House has served Islanders well.

Green MLAs Trish Altass (L), Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke, and Lynne Lund (R), Summerside-Wilmot chair the Special Committees on Poverty and Climate Change, respectively.

1. The reports from the two special committees on poverty and climate change. Both these committees – which are chaired by Green members, and would almost certainly not exist if we were not in the legislature – presented interim reports. Both committees demonstrated the hard and important work that they are doing to make PEI a leader in how we will tackle the devastating problem of poverty in our community, and to shift our economy to take advantage of the opportunities that are present as the world moves to a greener, cleaner and more efficient energy economy.  

2. The resistance to government’s proposed changes to the Emergency Measures Act, which, despite the unanimous lack of support from the Liberal opposition caucus, led to the establishment of a special committee which clearly showed that the attempted power grab was unjustified and unnecessary, and ultimately to the Bill’s defeat. 

Green MLA Ole Hammarlund (Charlottetown-Brighton)

3. The formation of a mechanism to finally establish an oversight framework that will provide true accountability and transparency in record keeping in a province where a string of scandals have remained hidden because of this deficiency. This all happened as government came forward with its own insipid proposal to look into the e-gaming scandal which I posit was doomed to gloss over this chronic problem once again. Finally we will truly get to the bottom of some issues that have blemished our fair province for far too long. Again, I suggest that this would never have happened without Greens in the House. 

Green MLA Steve Howard (Summerside-South Drive)

4. Effectively and appropriately holding government to account during the pandemic. Navigating through the impacts of COVID-19 was and is a challenge for governments everywhere. Endorsing and amplifying the messages coming out of the Public Health Office was critical early on for all politicians, and it was only when decisions requiring balancing public health with other considerations, principally economic ones – in other words, political decisions - when it was important that government be held to account, and decisions about how and when to open our economy and our borders be scrutinised. The Official Opposition continues to do this, and to give voice to the legitimate concerns many Islanders have about finding where the sweet spot between over-reacting and under-reacting lies, and ensuring that decisions made are fair, evidence-based and consistent.

Green Party MLA Michele Beaton (Mermaid-Stratford)

5. We passed four pieces of our own legislation. We have passed important bills at every sitting since becoming official opposition, and it’s easy to forget that this is not how things have typically worked on PEI. Thinking back to my preamble, in the days of the two old parties, when in opposition, there was little legislative ambition shown. Knowing that within a couple of election cycles you would have a majority and be able to do as you please dissuaded opposition members from coming forward with bills they knew would be summarily dismissed. 

Green MLA Karla Bernard (Charlottetown-Victoria Park)

6. Making the minority government work for the benefit of Islanders. Not only is this parliament the first one with three strong caucuses, it is the first minority one on PEI in living memory. Making a minority situation work well demands a willingness to cooperate and saying goodbye to the long-standing custom of wielding majority power with little concern for opposing voices. Some people are disconcerted by this new atmosphere of collaboration and the thoughtful and decent debate which has replaced the more familiar rancour and fervent partisanship of the past. Granted, it may not regularly provide the same sparky moments of unrestrained combat, but I’ve never thought of our purpose as politicians to provide entertainment; we are there to provide good governance and improve the well-being of the most number of Islanders possible. 

As I look at the list of accomplishments above, I think our caucus is contributing substantially to that goal. I look forward to emerging from this pandemic and continuing to work in partnership with other members of the House to build an Island society in our post-COVID world that will ensure long-term well-being for all built on Green principles of equity, community strength, ecological health and self-sufficiency.

Peter Bevan-Baker
Leader, Green Party of Prince Edward Island
Leader of the Official Opposition


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