PEI·Analysis

4 memorable moments from the fall sitting of the P.E.I. legislature

Four moments to remember from a lengthy sitting that saw no shortage of interesting debate.

Longest fall sitting since 2002 contained moments some MLAs might prefer to forget

As the sitting came to a close, Premier MacLauchlan agreed his finger jab earlier in the session didn't fit the tone he's asked MLAs to adopt. (CBC)

At 19 days, this past fall sitting of the P.E.I. legislature was the longest since Pat Binns was premier (and in his first term, no less) — in 2002, which was also 19 days.

Here are four memorable moments from what proved to be a very interesting sitting (though some MLAs might be eager to forget some of these).

1. Wade MacLauchlan's finger jab

Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker seemed to spend the first two weeks of the sitting finding new ways to get under the skin of Liberal MLAs over government's response to a plebiscite on electoral reform.

On the second day of the sitting, Nov. 16, Bevan-Baker posed a series of questions to the Minister of Workforce and Advanced Learning Richard Brown about plebiscite results in his district. Waving his arm — Brown refused to answer the questions saying they weren't related to his portfolio. The Speaker later ruled the questions were in order and Brown should have answered them.

After that, the premier himself burst into an uncharacteristic response during question period, jabbing his finger at the Green Party leader.

"When a member opposite appears in the public media and accuses other members of cowardice, or accuses other members of filibustering when they're offering an honest and decent opinion, that's when you start bringing this House into disrepute," said MacLauchlan.

As the sitting came to a close, MacLauchlan agreed that outburst didn't fit the tone he's asked MLAs to adopt, in which he's urged them to "call on their better natures" during debate.

"That was a response to a particular comment," he explained. "I think it's sort of a tit-for-tat that we don't want to see every day and we haven't seen on very many days from our side of the House, I'm proud to say."

2. 'Whose emails were deleted?' x18

According to Hansard transcripts of the sitting, members of the Official Opposition asked the question "Whose emails were deleted?" at least 18 times.

They never received the response they were looking for regarding government emails the auditor general said she was unable to obtain in her investigation into the province's e-gaming scandal.

For days government members said they would "take the issue under advisement" before coming back to the House with a response.

When Education Minister Doug Currie — also the minister responsible for archives and records — did come back with a response, it was that upwards of 2,500 government email accounts had been "disabled" since 2007 as part of the normal course of doing government business.

The auditor general said she was unable to obtain certain emails in her investigation into the province's e-gaming scandal. (Shutterstock / Jane0606)

But this response didn't address government's and particularly Doug Currie's obligation under the Archives and Records Act to retain particular emails as part of the government archives, something the auditor general said the province didn't do with the e-gaming emails.

Currie takes exception to PISA criticism

In his education portfolio, Currie's attempt to bask in the glow of the province's improved PISA assessment results was short-lived. Just days after the education minister announced P.E.I. had climbed out of the cellar to reach the middle of the pack among Canadian provinces in the international test, the opposition honed in on a CBC story revealing one out of seven 15-year-olds in the province had been exempted from the test — an exemption rate three times higher than allowed under PISA standards.

When the opposition raised questions, Currie responded saying he had been "embarrassed" by the lack of support offered by the PCs and Green Party in response to his initial announcement. He said he left the chamber in the midst of those responses — not to have his photo taken with a group of students at the House that day — but rather to apologize to the students for the remarks of opposition MLAs.

P.E.I.'s Education Minister Doug Currie responds to criticism over the province's PISA exemption rate in the provincial legislature. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

"Anyone who would make an assumption or assume that there was – and challenge the credibility and the integrity of the process and the educators that had that responsibility back in 2015, I take great exception to that," Currie said.

"I take great exception to the fact that we're not standing tall as legislators and as an Island and celebrating success after a long time of focused, committed hard work by all educators and students of the Province of Prince Edward Island."

Unanimous support for "Hannah's Bill"

Amid the jabs, heckles, and normal taunts of a P.E.I. legislative sitting were moments of solidarity among MLAs.

Three motions received unanimous support during the sitting: one calling for a review of Freedom of Information legislation in the province; another calling for a task force to examine ferry service to the Island; and a third expressing support for a basic income guarantee pilot project on P.E.I.

And then there was unanimous support to officially rename Bill No. 49 as "Hannah's Bill," in honour of 18-year-old former Easter Seals ambassador Hannah MacLellan.

A beaming MacLellan was on the floor of the legislature as the bill was debated. It came about in response to MacLellan's request language in existing legislation dealing with persons with disabilities and disabled parking spaces be changed to refer to "designated accessible parking spaces" and "persons with mobility impairments."

PC MLA James Aylward welcomes Hannah MacLellan to the P.E.I. Legislature. (James Aylward/Twitter)

"I'd certainly like to commend Hannah on bringing this issue forward and making her voice be heard," said PC MLA James Aylward during the debate, conveying a sentiment expressed by MLAs of all parties that day.

He said renaming the bill after MacLellan was "a tribute to your work and dedication on this, and it just shows your commitment to making our Island better for everyone."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

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