PEI

Lengthy fall sitting closes with municipalities debate

With the wind howling and blowing snow reducing visibility outside the Coles building, the fall sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature came to a close Thursday night, with most of the evening devoted to debate over the province’s new Municipal Government Act.

Sitting saw Liberals on defensive over plebiscite, e-gaming emails

MLAs shake hands at the close of the Fall 2016 sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature. (Kerry Campbell/CBC News)

With the wind howling and blowing snow reducing visibility outside the Coles building, the fall sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature came to a close Thursday night, with most of the evening devoted to debate over the province's new Municipal Government Act.

The two opposition parties asked questions about the bill for more than an hour before the legislation came to a vote, with the six PC members in attendance voting against the bill. The leader of the Green Party and the 13 Liberals at the house Thursday night voted in favour of the bill, which Premier Wade MacLauchlan later described as the highlight of the fall sitting.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan said passing the province's new Municipal Government Act was the highlight of the fall sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature. (CBC)

"[It's] the first time to have new legislation in this area since the 1940s," said MacLauchlan, saying there was "great co-operation" on all sides of the house during debate on the bill.

"I think that's a great example of the legislature at its best, doing its work and moving things forward in a generational way for the improvement of the province."

You can't just change the rules, says Opposition leader

MLAs sat for 19 days, making it the longest fall sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature since 2002.

Interim PC leader Jamie Fox during debate in the P.E.I. Legislature. (Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island)

It was a sitting during which the Liberals often found themselves on the defensive, trying to justify to the public the need for a referendum on electoral reform, or making the case there was no wrongdoing with regards to deleted emails referenced in the auditor general's report on e-gaming.

The Opposition PCs asked over and over again — "Whose emails were deleted?" — but never received the response they sought from government.

Opposition leader Jamie Fox said the premier failed to provide the necessary leadership by probing more deeply into the issue and finding out why sensitive records which the auditor general said should have been retained, were not.

"You can't just say that, 'Well we're going to change the rules for next time.' What happens if somebody breaks them rules? Is somebody going to change them again? The province needs to know what took place on this issue."

Plebiscite debate 'pivotal moment' for Green leader

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said the debate over government's response to November's plebiscite on electoral reform provided the "pivotal moment" of the sitting for him, "but I'm not sure it was a highlight for me."

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker argued P.E.I. should hold thits next provincial election under mixed member proportional representation, the system favoured in a provincial plebiscite. (Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island)

Bevan-Baker, with support from the PC caucus, found himself pitted against the MacLauchlan Liberals on the issue of whether government should have changed the province's electoral system based on the plebiscite results, where a majority of voters expressed their preference for mixed-member proportional representation.

A motion from Bevan-Baker to that effect was defeated, while a competing motion from the premier, calling for a referendum to be held alongside the next provincial election, was never brought back to the floor for a vote. The last time that motion was debated was Nov. 22, with Bevan-Baker the last MLA to speak to the issue.

"It was pretty clear to me a few days after they pulled it from the floor I wasn't going to get to speak on that anymore," he said.

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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