PEI

Official Opposition calls for government 'oversight, transparency and accountability' during pandemic

Official Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker is calling for a higher degree of oversight after the government declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 Thursday.

'There’s a role for the Official Opposition and all MLAs'

Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker says he hopes to see the legislature sit either in person or virtually. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. )

Official Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker is calling for a higher degree of oversight after the government declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 Thursday.

The ability to declare a state of emergency comes from the province's Emergency Measures Act and provides the government with new sets of powers to be exercised in times of crisis. 

"When government is given exceptional powers, there needs to be greater degree of oversight, transparency and accountability," Bevan-Baker said.

"That certainly has not been applied to this point."

Bevan-Baker said he'd like to see the public and elected officials engage more directly with the decisions being made. He'd also like to see the legislature reconvene in some form.

"The government has been given exceptional powers to spend beyond what would be considered a normal budget," he said.

"There's more accountability required than simply on a budgetary basis, so I think there's a role for the Official Opposition and all MLAs." 

'Much more open to the public'

Staff with the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly have already made preparations to accommodate 10 MLAs — the bare minimum required to pass laws — in an emergency session of the legislature, should one be called.

Public Safety Minister Bloyce Thompson at the briefing Thursday when the state of emergency was declared. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Bevan-Baker said the legislature could meet with the minimal 10 MLAs or could also convene the rules committee to pass a rule to re-engage the legislature to be able to meet virtually as other jurisdictions have, which is currently not allowed.

"I would much rather that we get back together and all 27 MLAs sit in the people's House and bring forward the people's concerns," he said.

"Compromises have been made all the way around in this extraordinary time."

Overall, Bevan-Baker said he is pleased with how governments, both federal and provincial, are rolling out programs to assist those affected by the pandemic.

"Of course they were spun up in haste, and anytime you do something large and complex, like the sorts of programs you're doing here, you're going to end up with a situation where you create a problem with very sharp edges," the Opposition leader said, adding that he doesn't want to see people fall through the cracks.

Bevan-Baker said though he has been involved in subcommittee meetings and briefings with the opportunity to provide input, he believes decisions are being made elsewhere. 

The Opposition leader said he'd like to see data and reports presented and decisions made "in a forum which is much more open to the public."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Kerry Campbell and Wayne Thibodeau

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