Parties need a formal agreement on collaboration

It has been over a month since the historic provincial election that brought in a Progressive Conservative minority government on P.E.I. In that time, we have been hearing a lot about collaboration and the need to work together, and I couldn’t agree more. We have an opportunity here on P.E.I. to set a shining example for other jurisdictions, like

New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, whose transitions to minority governments have been fraught with conflict.

We are fortunate on P.E.I. that the three party leaders genuinely like each other and see the value of working together. We also agree on many policy areas – with campaign promises often appearing on more than one of the three party’s platforms. But goodwill and a desire to collaborate will only take us so far. We also need a blueprint of what collaboration will look like and set ground rules for when we can’t agree.

That is why I have proposed we sign a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA). This type of agreement is commonly used in minority situations to ensure the stability and productivity of government. In a typical CASA one or more of the opposition parties would commit to supporting the government on matters of confidence (in other words, they promise to support the government on any matter like a budget or throne speech, which might result in the government falling) and in return, the minority government agrees to consult with the partners, provide information, and implement certain policies.

Among the issues that could be set out in an agreement would be the principle of good faith and no surprises, provisions for how information will be shared, meaningful collaboration on key policy areas, an agreed code of conduct for members of the legislative assembly (MLAs), and a conflict resolution mechanism.

I believe it is essential that the premier not only commit to working with the opposition parties, but back up his commitments with a written agreement that spells out exactly what that means. Without that clarity, promises of collaboration are empty platitudes that risk breaking down under the first hint of disagreement.

We are in an unusual and unique situation on P.E.I. In a normal minority government, the party with the most seats would try to form an alliance with the third or fourth party, while the party with the second-most seats would remain the opposition. This is how the minority governments in British Columbia and New Brunswick are functioning. But Premier King has proposed a much more ambitious form of collaboration, where all three parties in the legislature work together.

This is a bold vision and, as far as I know, unprecedented – except in wartime. If we are going to make it work, we must set ground rules now so all three parties understand their roles and responsibilities. For that reason, I have offered to have my staff draft a CASA, which I have presented to the other leaders.

I am optimistic that we can be truly inspirational here on P.E.I. by creating a stable and productive government through meaningful collaboration across all elected parties. But to succeed, we will need something more substantial than fine words. A formal agreement will go a long way to ensuring the Green caucus can continue to support Premier King’s ambitious plan.

 

This piece was originally published in the Guardian newspaper as a Guest Opinion on June 3, 2019.