By Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker
Leader of the Official Opposition
I was disappointed, but not surprised to read a recent Opinion Piece by Third Party Leader Sonny Gallant (May 21, 2020) indicating that “…the Liberal caucus will now withdraw from direct participation in decision-making and input” with government. I am disappointed to see a political party abdicate their responsibility to work with other elected MLAs for the benefit of their constituents. But I am also unsurprised as the Liberal caucus had little interest in being collaborative or transparent when in government. Indeed they shamelessly used their parliamentary majority to silence criticism, block legislation that would hold them accountable, and shut down legislative committees.
Beyond disappointment and lack of surprise, I am mostly confused by Gallant’s piece. The Liberals present a bizarre vision of parliamentary democracy where one can either work with government for the benefit of all OR hold government to account, but can never do both. Yet, the past twelve months have shown the exact opposite.
Yes, the Official Opposition has worked effectively with government and the Third Party to bring forward many important initiatives that the Liberals unilaterally blocked when they were in power: including the creation of an independent Child and Youth Advocate; legislation to oversee government advertising; improved climate change targets; improved food rates for social assistance clients, and balanced representation on legislative committees.
Although we have succeeded in making government more accountable and addressing the needs of Islanders, we have never shied away from asking difficult questions. Gallant is correct that his party has been strangely silent in the past few months, but using the excuse of collaboration to justify their failure to hold government to account is self-serving.
Throughout this crisis, the Official Opposition has produced numerous statements, blogs and virtual question period videos challenging the King government to do better. We have demanded answers on issues that matter to Islanders including the mysterious Economic Growth Council, the lack of consultation with residents of the Prince Edward Home, the need for childcare to reopen the economy, the Premier’s meanspirited insinuation that CERB is a disincentive to work, their failure to address rural internet, and the decision this week to open our borders for cottage owners. If the third-party has been silent, I doubt it is from an excessive desire to collaborate.
The final thing that puzzles me is Gallant’s claim that his caucus will “withdraw from direct participation in decision-making….” Unless the Leader of the Third Party has been invited to meetings that I have not, the opposition parties have not participated in government decision making around the COVID-19 response. We have attended high-level briefings and been given the opportunity to ask questions minutes before the decisions already made were publicly announced. I appreciate the Premier offering us this courtesy, and I have learned a lot during these briefings, but they are not, by any definition, collaborative.
I am very much looking forward to returning to the legislature, but I am concerned that the Leader of the Third Party’s opinion piece indicates an intention to return to the loud, disrespectful, unproductive and partisan approach to debate that voters so clearly rejected during the last election. Gallant is perhaps right when he says “the Liberal caucus is old-fashioned,” but Islanders deserve MLAs who can work together AND hold each other accountable for the public good.
Leader of the Official Opposition