May Green Caucus Updates + Upcoming Events

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With the Winter/Spring sitting of the PEI Legislature having come to a close a couple of weeks ago, the Green Caucus having just shuffled their critic portfolios this week, and a couple of fun events coming up soon, we thought this would be a good time to send you an update!

In this update:

After 35 sitting days spread over 10 weeks, the longest legislative sitting since 2018 came to a close on May 13th. Our Green MLAs accomplished a LOT during this time, really showcasing their strengths both individually and as a team. Altogether, the Green Official Opposition As one of the CBC Political Panel commentators remarked on May 14th, one can now picture the Greens as an alternative governing party.

Let's have a look at the highlights of our Green MLAs' work in this sitting.

Poverty Elimination Strategy Act

Easily one of the most talked-about bill of this sitting was Hannah Bell's Poverty Elimination Strategy Act, which passed this sitting. While governments have frequently spoken in terms of "reducing" poverty, this bill stands out in Canada for its ambition to eliminate poverty over the next 14 years.

Notably, this bill makes PEI the first jurisdiction in Canada to set explicit targets for reducing food insecurity.

"By putting a framework in place that has clear targets, measures, definitions and accountability for the minister responsible then what that does is requires government to actually take and report on actions specifically against those targets, that's a really important thing," said Bell.

See the box on the right for the targets now established by the Poverty Elimination Strategy Act.

 

Environmental Bill of Rights

Lynne Lund's bill, the Environmental Bill of Rights, is another monumental Green bill with far-reaching implications for the ways Islanders can safeguard their rights to a healthy and safe environment, which this bill will establish in law for the first time.

The bill passed second reading during the spring sitting, but Lynne Lund agreed to hold off on sending it for a third reading vote (usually a formality) in order to allow the Epekwitk Assembly (representing the Mi'kmaq Nations of PEI) more time to study the bill. "The Mi'kmaq have been the protectors of Abegweit since time immemorial and I have no doubt that they have lots to offer to this conversation," Lund said.

Learn more about the Environmental Bill of Rights in the graphic below. East Coast Environmental Law also published two articles about this bill and what it means for Islanders, comparing it with similar legislation in other parts of Canada. See Part I and Part II.

Health Services Act Amendment

MLA Trish Altass (Photo credit Stu Neatby, the Guardian)

This is one of TWO bills introduced and passed by Trish Altass this sitting. Her amendments to the Health Services Act was an important victory for principles of good governance.

In a nutshell, Altass' bill largely reversed controversial changes that had been brought in by the Liberal government in 2018. Those amendments had given the Health Minister far-reaching powers to personally interfere in the operational decisions made by Health PEI's expert board. You may recall that this led to the mass resignation of the entire Health PEI board at the time. Martin Ruben's April 6th guest opinion piece in the Guardian helps explain why the 2018 changes made accountability for outcomes in our health care system impossible, leading to poor health care delivery.

“I am pleased to see government recognize the need for increased transparency in the decision making process for health care,” said Trish Altass, Official Opposition Critic for Health and Wellness. “The changes I put forward for the Health Services Act give more power and authority to the Health PEI board to implement our provincial wellness plans. This change greatly reduces the possibility of political interference.”

>>Read: Increased transparency and accountability in healthcare decision making with passing of Official Opposition Bill

Police Act Amendment

Trish Altass' Police Act amendment was her second bill, introduced late in the sitting but passing quickly. This was a relatively straightforward change to bring PEI in line with other Canadian jurisdictions by allowing complaints against provincially regulated police forces to be filed up to 12 months (up from 6) following an incident, with allowance for longer time frames if it is deemed to be in the public interest.

This change applies to the municipal police forces in Charlottetown, Summerside and Kensington. The RCMP are a federally regulated police force.

“These amendments improve the process for Islanders wishing to make a complaint against police misconduct. A fair and robust complaints process is an important part of public confidence and trust in the police.” said Altass. “These changes will bring PEI in line with other jurisdictions in Canada.”

The Green Caucus intends to consult with Islanders and bring forward further proposals for police reform in the Fall.

>>Read: Improvements to The Police Act pass second reading

Voting Age Act

One Green bill that appeared hopeful but suffered a rather disappointing defeat was Karla Bernard's Voting Age Act, which would have lowered the voting age on PEI from 18 to 16. The majority of both PC and Liberal MLAs ultimately voted against the bill, despite a great deal of effort on Bernard's part to consult widely on the bill and to present evidence showing not only the capacity of 16 and 17 year-olds to vote, but the potential benefits in terms of democratic engagement of allowing them to do so.

PEI had made history in 2016 when it became the first province to allow voters as young as 16 to vote in a plebiscite (the Plebiscite on Electoral Reform). However, this marks the second time since then that the Legislature has rejected the idea of allowing them to vote in an election.

“It appears the slogan ‘it’s about people’ is nothing more than a politically convenient tagline. Today the King government decided to exercise its majority privilege to deny Island youth an opportunity to engage in the democratic process,” said Karla Bernard, Official Opposition Critic for Education and Lifelong Learning and bill sponsor.

“As MLAs we are elected to represent Islanders, regardless of their ability to vote,” said Bernard. “What government seems to not understand is, by denying franchise to our youth, they are refusing to empower a valuable, important sector of our society and are denying them a voice in decisions impacting their futures.”

>>Read: King Government denies Island Youth a voice in decisions impacting their futures

Bills to Modernize Electricity on PEI

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MLA Steve Howard (Summerside-South Drive)

Steve Howard had introduced two different bills in an attempt to modernize the legislative framework for electricity on PEI and pave the way for the rapid growth of the renewable energy economy.

>>Read: Modernizing electricity on PEI

The first of these bills, the Act to Amend the Electric Power Act, sought primarily to eliminate the "volume discount" that Maritime Electric currently extends to large electricity users, essentially creating a disincentive for energy conservation and resulting in a situation where those who use smaller amounts of electricity are subsidizing those who use a lot. It also sought to introduce "time of use" pricing for electricity starting in 2023. Time of use pricing is widely used in other jurisdictions to promote efficient use of energy by incentivizing users to reduce electricity use during peak hours. This is particularly important when renewable energy from wind and solar are a large part of your energy mix.

Unfortunately, this bill was defeated in the Legislature.

Howard's second bill, the Act to Amend the Renewable Energy Act, aims to change the legislation in a number of ways that will help pave the way for more renewable energy, including introducing the concept of energy storage to the bill for the first time. Significantly, it also proposes to scrap the minimum purchase price for wind power - which the government likes because of the revenues it generates for the PEI Energy Corporation, but which comes at the expense of Island households while also making it virtually impossible for other, non-governmental actors to sell wind power on PEI.

Steve Howard is currently working with the government to address its concerns and hopes to be able to reintroduce his bill in the next sitting.

Motions_(2).png

Our Green Caucus also tabled a total of 24 motions during the Winter/Spring Sitting. While motions are not usually binding on the government, they are great ways of introducing issues and ideas to the Legislature, and often result in action from the government. Sometimes a motion doesn't even have to come to a vote for it to have this effect.

MLAs typically "table" many more motions than there will actually be time to debate, because a) this gives them the option of calling up whichever motion feels most relevant at the time, and b) the amount of time actually available for debate on motions during a sitting is highly variable and unpredictable. Motions also help MLAs sharpen their focus on and understanding of particular issues and potential policy solutions, which can lead to other things down the road, like bills.

Of the 24 motions tabled by Green MLAs, 15 were able to be called up for debate, and 7 of those were passed. The table below lists all the Green motions tabled so far this year, and their status. Read through this list to get a sense of the diversity of issues our MLAs are working on, and click on any motion to read the full text.

Motion

Sponsors

Status at end of sitting

Sustainable agriculture

Bevan-Baker/Beaton

Debate in progress

Motion to establish Prince Edward Island as a cycling destination

Bevan-Baker/Hammarlund

Not debated

Reducing waste and promoting the right to repair

Bevan-Baker/Lund

Not debated

Establishing a senior-level position in government dedicated to Aboriginal content in education

Bevan-Baker/Bernard

Not debated

Calling on the Department of Health and Wellness to support PEI seniors to age in place

Altass/Bevan-Baker

Debate in progress

Mental health courts

Howard/Altass

Not debated

Making IRAC independent from government and accountable to the Legislative Assembly

Beaton/Bell

Debate in progress

Calling on government to ensure that all Islanders accessing services are treated with dignity and respect

Lund/Bernard

Debate in progress

Calling on government to take bold and decisive action to solve the PEI housing crisis

Bell/Beaton

Not debated

Zero-emission vehicle incentives

Howard/Lund

No debated

Controlling rental increases

Bell/Bernard

Not debated

Facilitating renewable energy for farmers

Howard/Beaton

Not debated

In appreciation of Island youth and their contributions to keeping our community safe

Bernard/Lund

Debate in progress

Motion calling on government to increase play-based learning in PEI public schools

Bernard/Lund

Passed

To encourage development of supported decision making legislation on Prince Edward Island

Bevan-Baker/Altass

Passed

Social assistance vision care

Bell/Altass

Passed

Calling on government to address long and growing wait times for elective surgeries on PEI

Altass/Beaton

Debate in progress

Calling on government to ensure that Islanders living with obesity are provided the support they need

Altass/Bell

Not debated

Affirming rental control and condemning unlawful rent increases

Bell/Bevan-Baker

Debate in progress

Allow use of locally cut wood

Hammarlund/Howard

Debate in progress

Referring development of a sustainable irrigation strategy to committee

Lund/Bevan-Baker

Passed

Increased civic education in Island schools

Bernard/Lund

Passed

Referring Bill 18 (Gunshot and Stab Wound Reporting Act) to committee

Altass/Howard

Passed

Referring Bill 19 (Temporary Foreign Worker Protection Act) to committee

Bell/Bevan-Baker

Passed

The Special Committee on Climate Change was created nearly two years ago after a motion calling for its establishment was introduced by Lynne Lund and passed in the Legislature. The mandate of the committee was "to explore the options available to reduce GHG emissions and to make fully costed recommendations on how the province can best meet its emission reduction targets."

The Green members on this committee were Lynne Lund (chair) and Steve Howard. Like all Legislative committees since 2019, this committee had equal representation from each party represented in the legislature (two each).

On May 12th, the Special Committee on Climate Change delivered its final report to the Legislature, effectively concluding its work. The final report includes 24 new recommendations, plus 16 that had been delivered to the Legislature earlier through interim reports.

We have created the following infographics to summarize the newest recommendations from the Committee. Click on any of the graphics to see a larger version of it.

To read the full report, which goes into much greater detail on all the recommendations, click here.

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One of the top issues in the Legislature this sitting was the the Water Act and the use of agricultural holding ponds.

Early in the sitting, newly-minted Environment Minister Steven Myers announced that the government would finally proclaim the Water Act into law on June 16th, 2021 (nearly four years after the bill was first passed in the Legislature, in 2017). However, new draft regulations that the minister released at the time indicated that the government planned to permanently exempt any holding ponds build before June 16th from the requirements of the Act. The Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability Committee, meanwhile, which had conducted extensive consultations on the Water Act regulations, had recommended that all holding ponds be required to be brought into compliance within two years.

This caused a lot of concern and debate in the Legislature, with the Green Caucus leading the charge. The concern was that an exemption for holding ponds would create unequal access to water in each watershed and potentially exceed the water withdrawals that a given watershed can sustain.

Thanks to all those who contacted the minister and their MLAs, who wrote letters to the editor, posted on social media and made submissions to the Natural Resources committee, Minister Myers was forced to backtrack and clarify that holding ponds will indeed be required to be brought into compliance with the Water Act.

You can see all of the comments submitted to the Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability Committee's consultations on the draft Water Act regulations here.

This sitting saw both a new Throne Speech (which resets the government's agenda) and an Operating Budget (which allocates program funding to government departments, programs and grants - representing the vast majority of all government spending).

The Throne Speech was... a disappointment. As Peter Bevan-Baker said, “A Throne Speech is the time for government to express its biggest dreams and to tether those dreams to practical and attainable policy. Making good choices now will set PEI up for a future that is both fair and sustainable,” said Bevan-Baker, “However, from what we heard yesterday, it seems the Premier is happy with maintaining the status quo. He is content with the state of our mental health and addictions services. He is fine with the housing crisis we face. He is okay to see so many Islanders without a family doctor. In fact, he went as far as to say it is unrealistic for Islanders to expect to have a physician dedicated to their health. It seems the Premier is giving up on the issues that are so very critical to the health and wellbeing of Islanders.”

Each of our Green MLAs took the opportunity to respond to the Throne Speech by laying out the vision and substance that they wished the speech had contained. You can watch or read their responses at the links below:

The budget was similarly disappointing and lacking in vision. The Green Official Opposition called it a "smoke and mirrors budget", and Peter Bevan-Baker said of it: "This government has proven over the past two years that it can tell a good story. It has also shown it cannot keep the promises it makes. Islanders do not need another smoke and mirrors act from the storyteller Premier and his government. COVID laid bare the real issues impacting Islanders, and this budget was an opportunity to address them with real solutions. Once again, government chose story over substance."

In the end, the budget passed, while the majority of the Green Caucus - Peter Bevan-Baker, Karla Bernard, Ole Hammarlund, Trish Altass and Hannah Bell - voted against it.

You've probably heard about "Cabinet shuffles", where the Premier assigns new ministerial responsibilities to government MLAs. In the Official Opposition, each MLA also carries responsibility for certain issue portfolios, and on Tuesday this week, Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker "shuffled" those portfolios as well.

Bevan-Baker said: “I am extremely proud of the hard work and commitment Green MLAs have demonstrated these past two years,” said Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Official Opposition. “As we continue to grow and develop as a strong government in waiting, we seek opportunities to strengthen our caucus and improve our collective depth of knowledge.”

Our MLAs have done fantastic work on their portfolios, and it will be exciting to see the approaches they bring and the issues they will highlight in their new areas of responsibility!

Green MLAs have now taken on critic responsibilities as follows:

Peter Bevan-Baker Leader of the Official Opposition
Critic for Agriculture & Land, Intergovernmental Affairs, Indigenous Affairs, Acadian and Francophone Affairs
Hannah Bell Critic for Finance
Critic for Environment, Energy and Climate Change
Lynne Lund Critic for Justice and Public Safety
Critic for Fisheries and Communities
Michele Beaton Opposition House Leader
Critic for Health and Wellness
Karla Bernard Critic for Social Development and Housing
Critic for the Status of Women
Ole Hammarlund Critic for Transportation and Infrastructure
Steve Howard Critic for Education and Lifelong Learning
Trish Altass Opposition Party Whip
Critic for Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture

You can find contact information for all the MLAs on our website: peigreens.ca/caucus.

The Official Opposition is hiring! The office is currently looking to hire a post-secondary student starting on June 8th to work as a Summer Project Research Assistant. The successful candidate will Provide administrative and research support for policy development and public engagement of the Office. With staff assistance, the student will learn how to research a policy issue, read and summarize reports, research articles and papers and consult with stakeholders and constituents on various issues.

Learn more and apply here.

Monday, May 31st (Stratford): Burger, Batter and Banter

Join Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker, Mermaid-Stratford MLA Michele Beaton, and the Stratford Greens for "Burger, Batter & Banter" at Phinley's Diner on Monday, May 31st at 7pm.

You will enjoy:

  • Your choice of either Phinley's famous Fish & Chips, the Smokin' Fox Junior Burger, or the Garden Veggie Burger, all of which include dessert and a beverage
  • Island Trivia
  • Music from the Green Party Party Band
  • A Mystery MLA singer!
  • Meeting Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker

Reserve your tickets at peigreens.ca/bbb. Tickets are just $55 and come with a $25 tax receipt! All proceeds support the Green Party in Districts 5 & 6.

 

Green Family Feud (online): Thursday, June 3rd

MLAs Lynne Lund and Trish Altass are feuding! They just can't seem to agree on anything anymore - each thinks that SHE is right and the other is WRONG - but we all know that they can't both be right, can they?

The Regional Association for District 21 & 23 is stepping in to resolve this conflict the proper, peaceful way - with a game of Green Family Feud on June 3rd at 6:30pm, via Zoom.

In case you've never seen Family Feud before, basically it's a contest between two teams - families - who strive to answer the most questions correctly.

If you can, JOIN US online on June 3rd at 6:30pm to take in the showdown!

Who will prevail: "Tell it like it is" Trish or "Lay it on the line" Lynne? This battle of the wits will last for approximately one hour.