After 39 days, the spring sitting of the legislature has finally wrapped up. It was the longest sitting so far this century, and everyone at the Office of the Third Party is looking forward to winding down a bit. The Spring sitting was not just epic in length, it was also a watershed sitting, creating both new opportunities and new challenges for the OTP.
Among the highlights of the sitting was the work Hannah did to stand up and speak out on behalf of our most vulnerable Islanders. In the weeks before the sitting, Hannah met with close to a dozen organizations that work with persons with disabilities and on issues such as poverty reduction to hear their concerns. Based on their feedback, she developed her “Security and Dignity for all Islanders” campaign. Hannah brought forward motions on the issue, including a motion on ostomy supplies and a motion on security and dignity for all Islanders and she raised many, many questions during Question Period. We have been really pleased with government’s response: they have made significant changes to the Social Assistance programs, and there have been several meetings with the Minister of Health to discuss the need to cover the costs of ostomy supplies. There is still a lot of work, especially around affordable housing, food and transport allowances, and access to medical needs, but it shows that even though we are in opposition we can present solid evidence-based arguments to government and have a positive impact on the lives of individual Islanders.
Another highlight for the Third Party was 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 we in the OTP 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 Peter has been relentless on calling the Premier to account, and there have been many fiery exchanges on the issue in the legislature. 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. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition on the Green Party Website. Your support is appreciated.
We were also pleased to be able to support Allen Roach’s private member’s bill to ban single-use plastic bags. When it comes into effect in July 2019, the Act will ban all single use retail shopping bags and place a fee on paper bags to encourage people to bring their own bags. This will make PEI the first provincial jurisdiction in Canada to implement a ban.
Of course there were also challenges. One of the challenges that surprised us the most was simply the amount of attention the Third Party garnered from both government and the official opposition. And of course this attention was almost never positive. There were a number of attacks made against both the party and individuals within the party during the legislative sitting and on social media. Although it is gratifying to know that we are now considered a sufficient threat to be worthy of attack, it presented new challenges for us as we developed strategies to respond. For the most part, we have tried to state the facts calmly and avoid escalating any conflict. It has been our experience, especially on social media, that it is best not to respond to unwarranted attacks. Put the old “do not feed the trolls” adage in action. We have been very proud of how members of the Green Party have resisted the temptation to respond on social media and escalate conflict. Your commitment to maintaining civil debate that focuses on the issues is both noteworthy and admirable. As we continue to work hard to transform the political landscape on PEI, we will no doubt be placed under even greater scrutiny and be subject to more criticism, and it will be even more important to respond with calm factual information or to simply ignore partisan baiting.
The biggest challenge we faced during the Spring 2018 sitting was Bill 38: the Electoral System Referendum Act. This act sets out the rules for the next vote on Electoral Reform. As originally drafted, Bill 38 put incredible, and possibly unconstitutional, restrictions on proponent and opponent organizations wanting to advocate during the next referendum. The third party fought hard to amend the bill, and at one point there were 28 amendments drafted and ready to be debated. Ideally, the bill should have been sent to committee for review and public input, but no matter how regularly we requested that, government insisted on amending the bill on the floor. The bill did eventually pass, and although it is vastly superior to what was originally proposed, the rules are still needlessly complicated, and we are already seeing inaccurate information being discussed on social media. Eventually a Referendum Commissioner will be appointed, who will be able to lay out some of the details, but until then we would advise anyone with questions on the Electoral System Referendum Act to contact the Department of Justice and Public Safety at (902)368-4589 or [email protected].
However, there is one aspect of the new bill that Green Party members do need to know. Bill 38 prohibits political parties, their candidates, potential candidates or their financial agents from being a principal member for a “registered referendum advertiser.” We are not yet entirely sure how this may be interpreted by the commissioner, however, it is clear that unlike during the last plebiscite, the Green Party will have to limit its participation in the referendum process. Therefore we would advise members to organize any advocacy efforts around the PR Network, and try to avoid any confusion between proponent groups and the party--for example if you are handing out flyers on PR, you probably shouldn’t wear Green Party buttons or logos.
The implications of Bill 38 will soon become more clear, but for the time being, it’s important to be patient, check your facts with the appropriate officials, and keep in mind that the Green Party must not be seen as acting as a proponent group.
Spring 2018 has been one of the most exciting sittings that we have had since the Green Party first elected a member in the PEI legislature. The Office of the Third Party has a new website (www.thirdpartypei.ca) and it includes lots of video from the session and background information on initiatives. We also have a newsletter, so be sure to sign up for that for regular updates on our activities. Thanks for all the help and support from members. Just as work ends for one legislative sitting, we are beginning work on the next sitting, so please continue to send us your concerns and ideas so we can begin to develop our plans for fall 2018.