P.E.I. social services minister receives dressing down over comments about youth

P.E.I.’s new Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers received a dressing down in the provincial legislature Wednesday, apologizing for remarks he made the day before where he dismissed the financial toll the pandemic has taken on young Islanders.

Brad Trivers says he lacks 'life experiences' to understand some Islanders

Brad Trivers, shuffled from the education portfolio to become P.E.I.'s minister of Social Development and Housing in February, apologized in the legislature Wednesday for comments he made about youth employment. (Kin Linton/CBC)

P.E.I.'s new minister of Social Development and Housing, Brad Trivers, received a dressing down in the provincial legislature Wednesday, apologizing for remarks he made the day before where he dismissed the financial toll the pandemic has taken on young Islanders, referring to accounts of "precarious employment" among young people as "employment opportunities."

Those comments came during debate on a motion introduced by the Green Party to recognize the contributions of Island youth in the province's fight against COVID-19, and to acknowledge those same youth have borne much of the "economic risks and harms related to COVID-19, as a result of inadequate wages, inconsistent paid sick leave, precarious employment and challenges obtaining gainful employment."

"I have to say that, I think what we need from our elected officials is we need people who are going to support the youth, and not encourage them to be victims," Trivers said Tuesday in response to the motion.

"On Prince Edward Island, I personally don't see a lot of precarious employment out there, I see a lot of employment opportunities."

Trivers went on to describe growing up on a farm, working for no wages.

"I wasn't making, quote-unquote, money doing that, but that was very gainful employment," he said. "Those were the type of experiences that made me the person I am today, and they made me appreciate every dollar I've earned."

On Wednesday Trivers offered a short apology, saying the comments he made were "misinformed."

But the Official Opposition was not satisfied with that apology.

"Yesterday, the minister of Social Development and Housing told us that he doesn't understand what precarious unemployment is and that he doesn't believe it exists in P.E.I.," said Hannah Bell, the opposition social development critic during question period. 

MLA Hannah Bell, Opposition critic for social development and housing, says Islanders need to know that all cabinet ministers support the message of equality and inclusion. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"He described low-wage precarious work, even unpaid work, as an opportunity for character building. He also said that we should stop pointing out the problems with precarious or low paying work, lest we make our youth victims."

Bell had previously delivered a written statement to the House, describing constituents she said were struggling to work multiple low-paid jobs, raise children, pay tuition fees and make the rent.

"This is what precarious employment looks like. It is unstable, poorly paid, unreliable, with few if any worker rights," said Bell.

"While this may not be the experience of members of this House, it is the experience of thousands of Islanders."

Asked by Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker whether he supported his minister's statements, Premier Dennis King said, "I don't support that statement at all. I think we're here to help Islanders, that's our job, and if we're not here to help Islanders, none of us should be in here."

Minister should show 'empathy'

"The Department of Social Development and Housing is a place where many marginalized Islanders seek support," said Bevan-Baker. "Do you think it's important for the cabinet minister in that portfolio to have a deep understanding of, and an empathy for the people that their department serves?" he asked the premier.

The Greens also brought up previous comments Trivers has made on housing.

At a committee meeting in January, before Trivers was housing minister, he said Islanders receiving rental support from the province living in substandard housing "have the freedom to choose to make their own decision about whether they stay there or not."

At a meeting in October he calculated that two people earning minimum wage could buy a home, accessing a provincial funding program to make the down payment, and afford mortgage payments of $1,200 per month.

"It may not be right in Charlottetown, maybe people will have to travel," he said.

In question period Wednesday, Bell said anyone who was "precariously employed … can't actually qualify for a traditional mortgage."

Minister hasn't shared 'life experiences'

"These are very serious issues," Trivers said in the legislature Wednesday. "We're all learning, we're all growing and the comments I made yesterday, when I say they were uninformed, it's simply because I haven't shared the life experiences of people who were impacted in that way in many cases and I will freely admit that."

At one point during the session Trivers committed to creating a registry to track rental rates on P.E.I., something the Opposition has been asking for.

After question period, Bell said the point of questioning Trivers about his comments was to get him to acknowledge there are problems with issues like wages, employment and sick leave benefits.

"Premier King needs to have his cabinet ministers on board" with the vision of equality and economic security delivered in last week's throne speech, Bell said. 

"Trivers's comments show a pretty huge gap. It makes it hard for Islanders to know what to believe, and who to trust."


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