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Thank you to everyone who joined us on February 16th to talk about all things Housing at our Housing Forum!
What better way to introduce this update on the Green Caucus' activities in the legislature over the past two weeks than with an inspiring statement that leader Peter Bevan-Baker made in the Leg on the very first day back?
Now is the winter of our discontent. We don’t quote Shakespeare terribly often in this House, but I think that little excerpt from Richard the Third seems entirely appropriate today. It’s been a rough time for the Island since the last sitting in this Chamber.
Omicron has claimed the lives of 15 Islanders. Our national capital streets were paralyzed by protests. Friends and families have endured continued isolation from each other as yet another wave of the pandemic swept around the world and across our province.
More Canadians than ever are finding it hard to put food on the table at the same time that Island farmers are forced to destroy millions of pounds of perfectly good potatoes. Lots of businesses lovingly and carefully built over many years are facing financial hardships created by forces far beyond their control, and unsurprisingly, many people are struggling with mental health issues.
And just last night, the geopolitical stability of our entire world came under threat. You could be forgiven for thinking that Shakespeare was writing about the winter of 2022, but of course, as with everything the bard wrote, that seasonal reference is a metaphor. Winter – the darkest, coldest, cruelest season – represents struggle and hardship. And we all know the first line of that soliloquy, but to understand all that is being said in that speech, you need to read all of it; the rest of the speech. The very next line talks about a glorious summer and suggests that the end of our unhappiness is close.
I certainly hope that’s the case, but as we all know, Island winters can be stubbornly persistent, and I suspect that emerging from all the challenges that we’ve endured over the last two years is not going to be a straight line to the beach days that we all know lie ahead. It will likely be more of a stutter step, an awkward stumbling around potholes and through mud that are cluttering the road ahead.
I want to thank all Islanders who have persevered through this difficult time and who continue to understand that the only safe way to the other side is to travel together, looking out for each other and taking care particularly of our most vulnerable. I hope that all of the divides, large and small, local and global, can be bridged and healed quickly.
In this Update:
The "Spring" Sitting of the Legislature started up on February 22nd. Let's have a peek at what Green MLAs have been saying and doing in the House!
One of the top agenda items during this sitting, as with all Spring Sittings, is the study and approval of the 2022 Provincial Operating Budget.
Hannah Bell, Finance Critic, delivered her response to the Finance Minister's budget address on behalf of the Green Official Opposition. You can watch or read Hannah's entire response here:
>> Hannah Bell responds to the 2022 Budget (Feb 24, 2022)
The verdict: This year’s budget fails to outline a transformative vision for a fairer, more sustainable Island.
"The budget presented by the King Conservatives is a fine representation of conservatism in policy and direction," said Bell. "Premier King is a champion of the status quo. As this government ‘moves on’ from COVID, we cannot move back to the way things were. Islanders need a government brave enough to build a society that works for everyone."
"This budget fails to address the root causes of so many crises facing Islanders," said Bell. "In fact, the overall message from this budget is this: if things were not working for you before, they will not start working for you now."
>>In the media:
P.E.I. budget lacks 'transformational' projects needed, Opposition says (CBC Feb 24, 2022)
Aside from the lack of vision to be found in the budget address, for Greens, the whole manner in which MLAs are asked to approve the budget is fundamentally flawed because the government does not provide adequate information about how the money it budgets is connected with its objectives and outcomes in the various departments.
This was exemplified by Green MLA Michele Beaton's statements about the $176 million Dept. of Education budget on February 25th, after it became clear that the Education Minister could not point to a strategic plan or anything else to show how new investments were connected with her department's objectives.
Islanders are being squeezed like never before between acute housing shortages and the rising cost of living, with PEI's inflation rate leading the country and prices at the pumps reaching record levels due to geopolitical uncertainty in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Green Official Opposition Caucus has been the voice of Islanders struggling to keep up and get ahead for years, and the last two weeks have been no exception.
On Friday after the major spike in gas prices, Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker called for a robust government response to slow and soften the rising cost of living. As part of that, Bevan-Baker reiterated the Green Party's call for the government to implement carbon tax rebate cheques to Islanders to offset these costs, given that PEI is due to announce a new carbon pricing program this year.
Another important issue that will be discussed later this sitting is the new Residential Tenancy Act. Greens have been listening to Islanders and have numerous concerns about the draft legislation. We are calling for government policy that starts with recognizing housing as a human right, and Green MLAs are prepared to propose many improvements to the new Act if the government doesn't address the concerns they have heard and relayed to government.
>>Read more: Official Opposition proposes improvements to new Residential Tenancy Act that will recognize housing is a human right and ensure tenants can live in dignity and security (February 22, 2022)
Check out these powerful statements by Lynne Lund and Steve Howard last week on the need to better support tenants and invest in affordable housing:
Steve Howard speaks to the need for government to "leap", not walk, when it comes to action on housing:
"100% of what can be done should be done - I have yet to see that action come from government… I would compare this government’s actions on housing to someone trying to go up an escalator in the wrong direction. Going at a normal pace is going to get you nowhere, or even moving backwards. We need to be sprinting and leaping up that escalator to get to the top."
"Many seniors in my district were given a notice of a 26% increase being filed and that a hearing would take place. They had five days before the hearing, and then they got literally hundreds of pages of evidence that was prepared by the landlord’s lawyer. It was written in legalese.
>>In the media:
Spiking cost of living on P.E.I. takes centre stage in legislature (CBC, March 2, 2022)
P.E.I. rents see biggest increase in a decade (CBC March 4, 2022)
Seniors need legal help fighting rent increases, says Green MLA (CBC, March 3, 2022)
P.E.I. Greens press for action on housing as vacancy rate drops to 1.5 per cent (Saltwire, Feb 2, 2022)
P.E.I. vacancy rate drops to 1.5 per cent (CBC, Feb 23, 2022)
Health & Wellness has been high on the agenda for the Green Official Opposition. Green MLAs took the floor to speak about everything from COVID-19 to paramedics, mental health and addictions to retention of health care workers, and from paid sick days to the social determinants of health.
Michele Beaton took government to task for its lack of action to protect residents of long-term care home during the Omicron wave, in spite of the lessons learned here and elsewhere early in the pandemic - such as the need to properly pay and support long term care workers.
"I think we need to ensure that we are recognizing the work that these allied health-care workers are doing and pay them," said Beaton.
>>In the media:
P.E.I. health minister faces volley of questions about LTC outbreaks during first question period (Saltwire, Feb 24, 2022)
Hannah Bell spoke up for immune-compromised Islanders who have been left behind by the government's "Moving on" approach to COVID-19.
Hannah Bell also brought forward a motion, which passed, urging government to recognize long-COVID as a social and health care issue, work with health care professionals across the country to rapidly understand this issue and bring best practices to PEI, and to immediately establish a dedicated 'long COVID' clinic to diagnose, treat and support those who are experiencing ‘long COVID’.
>>In the media:
MLAs unanimously pass motion urging government take closer look at long COVID (CBC, March 3, 2022)
The Plight of PEI Health Care Workers
Following a series of videos released recently by the PEI Union of Public Sector Employees, which represents many health care workers, in which staff with their identities disguised describe abysmal working conditions, Peter Bevan-Baker had a number of questions for the Premier.
Bevan-Baker also spoke about a disturbing anonymous email recently sent to the Office of the Official Opposition by an Island paramedic.
>>In the media:
P.E.I. health-care workers can speak freely, says Premier Dennis King (Saltwire, March 1, 2022)
Paid Sick Days
|Watch Trish Altass' Member Statement on the importance of Paid Sick Leave|
If there's one thing we learning during this pandemic, it's the importance of paid sick leave that enables those who are ill (and potentially contagious) to stay home. If there's another thing we learned, it's that there are wide disparities in the paid sick leave that different PEI workers have access to - with front-line, public-facing workers last in line.
Trish Altass is hoping to change that with the Paid Sick Days legislation that she plans to introduce later this sitting.
Mental Health & Addiction
Last week, Island Press published a series of articles on the state of mental health and addictions on PEI, the result of a year-long investigation. This prompted a number of questions for the government in the Legislature.
For instance, Peter Bevan-Baker asked why some Islanders have to pay for their own prescriptions for products like methadone under the province's opioid replacement therapy program. This came as a surprise to the premier, who committed to changing this as soon as possible.
Karla Bernard asked the government what has become of plans for a safe consumption site. The government had budgeted $250,000 for it in the 2021 budget, but this year's budget contained no mention of safe consumption sites.
"Given the horrific stories we continue to hear about mental health and addiction struggles in our communities and the pressing need for supervised consumption sites, I can't understand why this government is still stalling," she said. "Islanders are suffering because of this inaction."
>>In the media:
Retention of Nursing Staff
In light of the serious nursing shortage and the problems that have been revealed with the retention of existing nurses, Green Health Critic Michele Beaton and Peter Bevan-Baker initiated debated on a motion calling on government to improve retention by funding education opportunities for nursing staff.
The motion urges Government to provide free and accelerated training for nursing staff on PEI to enter the healthcare system and upskill their expertise. This motion has not yet come to a vote.
The Social Determinants of Health
The release last month of the Chief Public Health Officer's (CPHO) 2021 report prompted Peter Bevan-Baker to question government on how it plans to address to social determinants of health, including income levels, that the CPHO identified as such an important driver of health and wellbeing on PEI.
Ole Hammarlund, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, is the most senior or PEI MLAs. On February 22nd, Ole made a humor-filled Member's statement about his own embrace of old age, but that, more seriously, acknowledged the important role of seniors in our society.
"It is clear that PEI is such a wonderful place to live very much because our seniors play a huge role, not only as grandparents or doing their jobs, but also in running our cultural and community organizations, often as dedicated volunteers, but always as the very backbone.. So hurrah to all Island seniors - we should be proud to be old."
>> Watch Ole Hammarlund's statement, "Seniors as the backbone of PEI"
Motions: Supporting Island Elders and Exploring alternative models for seniors’ living arrangements
True to the spirit of Ole Hammarlund's words above, and in light of the serious challenges seniors have faced to their quality of life during the pandemic, Peter Bevan-Baker and Karla Bernard launched debate on a motion, Supporting Island Elders, which calls on Government to invest in and
promote policies that support elders, and address the challenges that they are facing.
Peter and Karla have also brought a motion to the Legislature entitled Exploring alternative models for seniors’ living arrangements. This motion highlights the need for a broad continuum for care for seniors, beyond traditional institutional long-term care, and asks government to explore some of the innovative elder-care models from around the world.
Seniors Food Security
The provincial government has announced that it will be investing $250,000 on a pilot program to deliver reheatable meals to seniors experiencing food insecurity or in need of nutritious meals - but that this program will initially only run in Kings County.
During question period last week, Green MLA Karla Bernard said the province is "beyond a pilot" at this point, and that P.E.I. should be providing supports for all seniors the same way it does for students through the pay-what-you-can school meal program.
"We've established that a school food program is crucial in this province. If there's one thing we know about hungry children [is that] they have hungry parents, hungry grandparents," she said.
"The Poverty Elimination Strategy Act, it states that by Jan. 1, 2025, that food insecurity among all Islanders will be reduced by 50 per cent. That is less than three years away.... How can you expect to reach these targets if food security programs aren't made Island-wide and permanent immediately?"
>>Read more: Seniors food security program in Kings County should be made Island-wide amid rising costs, Greens say (CBC, March 2, 2022)
The potato export ban has had a devastating impact on PEI and on farmers in particular. Given the unacceptable risk that potato wart poses, Green Party leader and Agriculture Critic Peter Bevan-Baker is calling on the province to take the fields where potato wart has been found on P.E.I. out of potato production — permanently. He says the move would help contain any future spread of the fungus and reassure buyers of Island potatoes.
"This province has absolute jurisdiction over land use," Bevan-Baker said. "We can choose to take those fields out of production — obviously compensate the farmers appropriately. "
Currently, fields where potato wart has been found can be replanted with wart-resistant potato varieties after five years have passed.
Since 2000, there have been 33 detections of potato wart on Prince Edward Island, according to the Canada Food Inspection Agency. "The latest detections in October 2021 represent the largest area and highest number of associated fields," said the CFIA website. "This increase required the strongest action to date against the further spread of potato wart off P.E.I."
>>Read more: Greens ask P.E.I. to take fields where potato wart has been found out of production permanently (CBC Feb 23, 2022)
Last week, Steve Howard made some follow-up questions on the Citizens Assembly on Proportional Representation that the legislature voted in favour of last fall:
"Last fall, this Legislature passed, with support from every party, a motion to create a citizens’ assembly to consider the best forum of proportional representation for PEI. Many Islanders and I were very disappointed not to hear mention of it in the Budget speech. Last year, we heard from the Premier that it would be looked at in the new year, this year. Well, here we are at go time. Government just put the effort into developing a Budget for this year. A question to the Premier: Where is the funding for our citizens’ assembly?
...All I hear there, Mr. Premier, is platitudes and lip service to something that this Legislature gave you the green light for and many Islanders care about. Mr. Premier, you have indicated numerous times that you are in support of electoral reform, and even specifically, proportional representation. You have the green light now from the Legislative Assembly to carry out important work to give us a clear option that can be presented to Islanders for their consideration. No one is asking you to unilaterally change the electoral system; just hold true to your words."
Supported Decision-making refers to a legal framework that provides the resources and supports that allow a person to participate in decisions that affect their life. PEI has lacked this legal framework to this point, despite repeated calls for one (including by Peter Bevan-Baker in the legislature).
Finally, the government is working on Supported Decision-making legislation - however it has done a very poor job of consultation, and the PEI Coalition for Supported Decision Making has given the thumbs down to the bill in its current form. You can read what the Coalition had to say on its Facebook page.
In order to prevent a poorly-thought out bill from being debated and potentially passing, Peter Bevan-Baker made a motion last week for the bill to be referred back to committee. Fortunately, the motion passed, giving another chance for the government to get this long-awaited legislation right.
Days before the Legislature resumed, the government released its Net-Zero plan.
It's good to see the government finally coming out with a Net Zero plan as Greens have been asking (and passing laws requiring) them to do for the past two years, however we do have concerns that there appears to be a lack of concrete measures included to actually reach the plan's targets, many of which are set as far back as possible to 2040. Yet we know that emissions are cumulative, and the cuts we make in the next 5-10 years are the most important of all for fighting climate change.
Green Environment Critic Hannah Bell said she was happy to see firm targets for reducing emissions in agriculture, transportation and the building sector, but that the plan lacks costing details as well as firm information on how transit services will scale up to the point that they change the habits of commuters. She said land use planning will be an important element of how to get more Islanders to move around on transit than in personal vehicles.
“The actual goal is not only all EV, but it's reducing the number of passenger trips overall," Bell said. "It's very difficult to function here if you don't drive."
Peter Bevan-Baker has also had questions for the government in relation to its forestry management plans.
"Given how badly things have been going in our forests and the poor record on developing an ecologically sustainable forest policy and practice for PEI, why is the forestry program outlined in the net zero plan going to continue to be led by the forest industry?", he asked in the Legislature
The Green Caucus has been hard at work to improve the lives of Islanders. If you haven't already, be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And check out their website at www.peigreencaucus.ca for blogs, videos and more!
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