5 things to watch for in the spring session of the P.E.I. Legislature

Full details of the government’s priorities will be revealed Thursday during the throne speech, but in advance, here are five things to watch for during this sitting. 

Top priorities for all 3 parties in legislature include mental health and economic recovery

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says his government's recent cabinet shuffle was a chance to 'reset the agenda.' (CBC)

The P.E.I. Legislature opens Thursday for its spring sitting, the first since Premier Dennis King shuffled his cabinet earlier this month. 

Full details of the government's priorities will be revealed during the speech from the throne, but in advance, here are five things to watch for during this sitting. 

1. Mental health top priority

Mental health access for Islanders will likely continue to dominate the spring session, as it did during the fall

During his state of the province address earlier this week, King talked about access to mental health and addictions services on P.E.I. 

In particular, King spoke about a new P.E.I. Centre for Mental Wellbeing, an organization that would be dedicated to helping Islanders access services.

The details about the new centre are scant at this point, but King said it will not be a brick-and-mortar building but more of an entity offering a collaborative approach to mental health care on P.E.I. 

"Having listened to many, many Islanders who are struggling to get into the system and to be treated adequately and properly in a timely manner, we really thought it was important to bring all of our partners together to have a body that has a little bit more authority to give direction to how we deliver mental health and addiction services," King told Kerry Campbell on Mainstreet P.E.I.

Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker says his party will be 'holding government to account in a more robust manner than perhaps we have in the past.' (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker said in theory, the idea for this centre sounds good, but raised one issue. 

"Unless [the premier's words] are attached to a significant funding increase in the services that Islanders need, then we're still not going to be dealing with the mental health crisis that is ongoing here," he said. 

Both the Greens and the Liberal Party said mental health services are also a priority for them heading into the spring session. 

2. Focus on P.E.I.'s post-pandemic economic recovery 

All three parties in the legislature said helping P.E.I. bounce back economically from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a focus this spring. 

In his state of the province address, King spoke about the possibility of a vaccine passport for future travellers to P.E.I., though he confirmed there have been very few discussions so far about the idea. 

"It's important for us to sort of be as open and honest as we can be, particularly with those in the tourism sector, so they can try to plan the best they can for some type of tourism season," he said. 

Bevan-Baker echoed that sentiment. 

"How are we going to continue to support [the tourism] industry to make sure that they are still there, post-COVID?" he said.

Interim Liberal Leader Sonny Gallant says the tone in the legislature has 'changed greatly' in the last two years, but his party will still ask important questions. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Interim Liberal Leader Sonny Gallant also said he'll be watching for how small businesses are doing. 

"Small businesses and tourism, you know, are really going to need some help if the tourism sector doesn't pick up," Gallant said.   

3. Opposition wants poverty and housing kept on the agenda

Bevan-Baker said beyond mental health and economic recovery, poverty reduction and the housing crisis are big priorities for the Official Opposition. 

"We've seen … a distinct lack of decisive action when it comes to some of the most serious problems that are afflicting islanders that were here before the pandemic, and that will outlast the pandemic," he said. 

"The housing crisis … is ongoing despite the fact that the vacancy rate has increased a little bit." 

One of the bills the Greens plan to introduce during this session is a bill on the elimination of poverty.

4. Access to rural internet will continue to be an issue 

With many Islanders still working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both Gallant and Bevan-Baker would like to keep access to rural internet on the government's agenda. 

"Broadband is pretty essential across the province with most people trying to study from home or work from home," said Gallant. 

"We have an opportunity here, to create, with good internet services in rural areas, an economy that is incredibly diverse, that is incredibly robust," said Bevan-Baker.

5. Recruiting more doctors to P.E.I. 

Physician recruitment was a top issue during the last sitting and one Islanders can expect to see raised again by both the Liberals and the Greens. 

Right now, there are more than 15,000 Islanders on P.E.I.'s patient registry list waiting for a family doctor. 

"You should never take your foot off the gas looking for doctors. We know it's difficult, but it's something that you have to work at," said Gallant. 

The province, in partnership with the Medical Society of P.E.I., recently hired its first physician recruiter.

In his state of the province address, King announced the province will launch a new health-care model in three Island communities, called "medical homes." 

More from CBC P.E.I. 

With files from Brittany Spencer and Mainstreet P.E.I.


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