The Shadow Blog is where our Opposition Shadow Critics share their thoughts on current Prince Edward Island policy issues and their visions for a brighter future for all Islanders.

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Reflections on my first full sitting

This has been my first full sitting since being elected, so I’m still quite the neophyte in the legislature.  In the fall I was sworn in just as the fall sitting was winding down. I always say being the newest MLA is like trying to drink from a fire hose--there is just so much you need to know--legislative procedure, policy issues, constituency concerns, interpreting legislation, and in this sitting trying to assess whether Bill 38 would survive a constitutional challenge.

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Raiders of the Lost PEI Ark...

Last evening I had the privilege of attending Steven Mannell’s book launch for “Living Lightly on the Earth” Building an Ark for Prince Edward Island, 1974-76 and although I should have left inspired, instead I left frustrated and thinking of how much short term planning without a vision can influence decision making.

The Ark was visionary, a project about redefining what a dwelling could be by incorporating sustainable design and experimenting with green ideas. I’m not going to delve deeply into the waters that were the political and environmental climate of 1970s, suffice to say there was a real push at the time to “live lightly on the land”. In 1974, PEI was leading an environmental movement, where today we have fallen behind.

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The Best Interests of the Child

On May 22, 2018 the federal government introduced Bill C-78 which sets out to amend the Divorce Act and other federal legislation that touch on child custody and child support. The Bill attempts to streamline the process for varying child support, and moves away from divisive language such as “custody” and “access” -- terms which have been known to drive conflict between parents sparring over their children.

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Preventing Despair

I have learned over a lifetime of personal and professional relationships that suicide and the thought of ending one’s own life is a complex and heartrending experience.   I don’t know how many people have shared with me their belief that suicide was a real choice for them - possibly hundreds. A belief that arose from despair and hopelessness.

Responding to suicidal ideation or behaviour in the moment, through initiatives such as Help Lines or peer support, is different than helping people to no longer consider suicide as an option at difficult times in their lives.  And this is different again than preventing, or at least reducing the incidence of, suicide in our society as a whole. Or as the final statement in the recently released Suicide Prevention Strategy The Building Blocks of Hope describes it: “make Prince Edward Island safer from suicide”.  

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One Piece of the Puzzle

Over the past few weeks we have heard a great deal about the new funding being made available to PEI’s post-secondary students through bursaries and debt-reduction programs. This is fantastic news for young Islanders who are beginning their post secondary education and those who are going to stay here on PEI after they graduate. I look forward to seeing the details of how these new programs will roll out.

I applaud this effort, but have been surprised to see Ministers pointing to this as a ‘cure all’ for the problems facing Island youth. Of course, it would be impossible for one program or initiative to address every issue. The needs of young Islanders are complex and varied.  Yet, in the current sitting of the Legislature, new bursary and debt reduction programs for post-secondary students have been presented as an answer to a wide range of issues such as affordable housing for youth, low youth income levels (see Hansard April 24, pg 1921), and perhaps most confusingly, as a response to why UPEI is not covered under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP)  (see Hansard April 12 2018, pg. 1561). Indeed, the new student bursary and debt relief programs were featured in Ministers’ statements three out of the four days the first full week the legislature was in session (see Hansard April 17-20). Unequivocally, this seems to be a go-to-answer for almost any question related to post-secondary education or young Islanders.

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The case for funding stability

We were delighted to read the province’s recent announcement of one-time financial support for 16 non-government organizations (NGOs). Discretionary funds are invaluable for these non-profit community organizations to move forward on projects and activities, and we applaud this move.

Supporting the NGO sector is a good investment for so many reasons; the very nature of NGOs means that in addition to creating meaningful jobs, they also are tackling social, environmental or financial injustices. Many provinces have taken steps to recognize and value the contribution of this sector, and rightly so. This announcement, however, did leave us with a few questions.

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Mental health literacy is not mental health intervention

RE: “Island teachers trained to detect mental health disorders in the classroom”.

Hoping for something does not make it so - a lesson most of us learn early in life when the magical thinking of childhood is lost. Training teachers to deliver curriculum designed to increase knowledge of mental health issues does one specific thing - increases knowledge of mental health issues. A worthy goal in itself, but what does the evidence actually tell us about this program’s ability to support student mental health and wellbeing?

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Strings attached

This year for the first time, PEI post-secondary students who are Employment Insurance (EI) eligible have been allowed to collect EI while attending school. This is an important change that will help make higher education more accessible for all our youth, and alleviate some of the burden of student debt. Additionally, the program encourages students to be actively employed during the summer break, which will no doubt bolster employment in our seasonal industries. The inclusion of University students within the PEI Career Connect program is a positive and timely change that puts us in line with our neighbouring provinces that have similar initiatives (see EI Connect New Brunswick and Fast Forward Nova Scotia).

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Access to Justice

In Canada we are fortunate to have access to a publicly-funded health care system to meet our medical needs when sickness or injury occurs.  But what about access to justice when unforeseen legal issues arise?  

The issue of “access to justice” most commonly refers to the inability of a growing number of people to obtain legal representation.  In many cases, these are people requiring assistance with family law matters, including child custody and access rights and child support.  

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Profit Above, Wealth Below

Northumberland_Strait_fish_farm.pngAs I sat in the overflow room listening to the representatives of Northern Pulp defend themselves against the many questions of the MLAs from the Agriculture and Fisheries Standing Committee on Feb 16th, I watched the faces of the fishers sitting around me and felt their helpless frustration at the plans to pipe effluent from the mill out into the Northumberland Strait.

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