As the Official Opposition, we have a responsibility to help provide oversight of government policy, initiatives, programs, and services. From this oversight, we hold government accountable for its actions, seek to improve policy, and help provide transparency to the public.
This duty of oversight is especially important during times of crisis. In response to COVID19, government has been given an exceptional license to spend outside their regular budget, not to mention new powers under the Emergency Measures Act. In this situation there is a greater need for public transparency and accountability.
While I have been very impressed with government’s response, it has been a month. I feel we have reached a point where the public and their elected representatives need to engage more directly with the decisions being made.
I understand the Premier has asked the AG to help provide oversight. This is good. In fact, I asked for this back in early April. However, this only goes so far in providing the public an opportunity to be engaged.
There are a couple of additional ways to achieve this public oversight. This can be done through either our traditional legislative committees or by recalling the legislature. The Official Opposition would support either approach.
Legislative committees provide a public platform to raise concerns or provide solutions. For example, stakeholders could explain their industry needs and concerns and their expectations of support. Public servants who are designing the response to COVID-19 could provide status updates and data on existing programs and provide information on ongoing efforts to support Islanders during this difficult time.
If the legislature were to be recalled, there are measures in place already to facilitate a safe environment for MLAs to discuss and debate how government can best meet Islanders’ needs during this pandemic.
Government has been doing a good job of rolling out programs. These suggestions for public engagement are not about creating a forum to simply criticize the government. Rather, it is to provide the public assurance things are working as they should to meet Islander needs and to give opportunity for stakeholders to have their concerns represented in a public forum. These are about providing transparency, accountability, and public assurances.
It is important for Islanders to see and understand how we are working together to ensure no one is being left behind, no one is falling through the cracks, and that all voices are represented in the decision-making process of government.
The Official Opposition therefore calls on government to either recall the legislature or, at the very least, provide opportunity to the legislative committees to provide necessary and important public oversight of government’s work during this pandemic response.
Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker
Leader of the Official Opposition
MLA District 17 New Haven – Rocky Point