King government passes budget as spring sitting comes to a close
First sitting under PC minority emphasized collaboration among 3 parties
A delayed spring sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature came to a close Friday with Premier Dennis King's minority government surviving its second confidence motion — but with a slimmer margin of victory than the first one.
The King government became the first minority government in Island history to win the confidence of the legislature when all MLAs from all three parties voted in favour of the throne speech on June 20, with only Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald absent from the vote.
On Friday when government's budget bill came up for a vote, Green MLAs Hannah Bell and Ole Hammarlund voted against the bill. The other six Greens, six Liberals and all 11 PC MLAs on the floor voted in favour.
King stressed collaboration and co-operation from his administration with the two opposition parties in the legislature.
But asking why Liberal priorities to increase funding to watershed groups and fund development of a livestock strategy for the province weren't included in the budget, Liberal MLA Robert Henderson questioned whether that collaboration really took place.
'Words with no action'
"You keep talking about the issue of collaboration," Henderson said to the premier during the final question period of the sitting. "We hear it everywhere you go, you say 'collaboration' when it comes to your model of governance for P.E.I. … but it seems on the opposition side, both sides over here, all of it seems to be words with no action."
King defended, saying "I boast about collaboration because in six weeks the most collaborative legislature in the history of this building [was] in action."
The Liberals, King said, tabled 12 budgets and "never asked any party what they wanted in the budget.
"Not once … that's not collaboration, this is collaboration."
Right from the start, the tone of the legislative assembly was different than in previous sittings.
Green and PC leaders agreed to put an end to heckling in the chamber — a restriction that wasn't always observed but still led to an increase in decorum and more civil debate.
The King government tabled P.E.I.'s third consecutive surplus budget but did come under fire from the opposition for what the Greens called "bait-and-switch" tactics with regards to some of the budget priorities put forward by the opposition parties.
Midwifery coming, but could be user-pay
Health Minister James Aylward said the province would introduce midwifery services by Jan. 2020, but said government is considering a user-pay system. The Greens said that ran counter to their budget request for public funding for midwifery.
The Greens also asked government to provide funding for a commission to set the stage for a basic income pilot project for P.E.I.
In the end, the Greens won support from the other two parties in the house for a motion calling for the creation of a special committee on poverty, one that would itself lay the groundwork for a pilot project for a basic income guarantee on P.E.I.
And after one of the longest debates of the sitting the Greens were able to pass a private members bill setting a more ambitious target to reduce P.E.I.'s carbon emissions.
That bill, sponsored by Lynne Lund, was supported by the entire Liberal caucus and by four PC MLAs, including Environment, Water and Climate Change Minister Brad Trivers, who initially said he would not likely support the bill.
Overall, government passed a dozen pieces of legislation.
An amendment to the province's Income Tax Act will increase the basic personal exemption on P.E.I. to $10,000 and lower the small business tax rate by 0.5 per cent. Both measures were promised by the PCs during the election campaign but neither goes as far as what the PCs had committed.
Last piece of Water Act
The PCs also put forward the final set of draft regulations required before the province's new Water Act can come into effect this fall, bringing a years-long debate on safeguarding the province's water supply into its final phase.
And the King government set in motion changes to the rules regarding legislative standing committees. Those committees will now include two members from each party.
The third party Liberals kept their focus during the sitting on holding the King government accountable for the more than 100 commitments contained in the PC platform from the spring election.
If you’re wondering: did they hug again? <a href="https://t.co/qzQ95HpWnX">pic.twitter.com/qzQ95HpWnX</a>—@kerrywcampbell
The house closed just days before the deferred election in District 9 Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.
That election was deferred following the death of Green candidate Josh Underhay and his son Oliver in a canoeing accident just days before the Apr. 23 provincial election.
Whichever party's candidate wins the deferred election on July 15 won't change the relative standings of the parties in the legislature.