Peter Bevan-Baker, MLA New Haven-Rocky Point
Leader of the Official Opposition
Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into the slogans that political parties adopt for their campaigns. However, presumably, they are crafted to not only capture our attention and be memorable, but also to reflect the character and goals of the party itself.
“It’s about people” was Premier King’s promise to Islanders and invitation to vote for his team. Politics is, of course, all about people. My understanding is that it means all the people, and that good politics is about providing the most benefit possible to the most people possible.
In many respects it is our littlest people that require the greatest care. Children are unable to fend for themselves and it is the responsibility of society to ensure that all newborns are protected and nurtured from day one – actually from before day one. The best start in life means proper information and supports before conception, prenatally, during delivery, and postpartum. Everywhere in Canada, unless you live in Prince Edward Island, one of the options available to mothers for these supports is midwifery services.
A vital promise
So, it was with great delight and excitement that I greeted the Throne Speech on June 25th, 2019. Included in the Throne Speech, in direct response to a specific call from the Official Opposition caucus, was $150,000 “to allow these services to be appropriately established, consistent with current and anticipated demand.”
A couple of weeks later on July 5th, I asked a series of questions in the House to get some more information on what this budget commitment actually meant. My initial enthusiasm was bolstered when the Minister told Islanders that, “Standing here today, my goal as the Minister of Health and Wellness, will be to have midwifery introduced, fully operational, available at the very latest, January 2020.”
It was fabulous news, though given that January was only 6 months away, it also seemed ambitious. But this was a new government, one that made “The First 1,000 Days Initiative” – a promise to focus on the first three years of a child’s life with the aim to improve the health, development and well-being of mothers and children – a key part of their campaign. I wanted to take the Minister at his word. He spoke with such assuredness and optimism, saying, “I’m very confident that Islanders will be very pleased with the rollout.”
Well, this Islander, for one, is far from pleased with the rollout. Perhaps rollback would be more accurate at this point.
A day late and a dollar short
It is now February 2021, fully one year beyond when “fully operational” midwifery services were to be available to all pregnant Islanders, and we have precisely nothing. Of course, COVID disrupted things in all departments, and it is reasonable to expect some delays as a result. But the initial plan was to hire a “coordinator” to establish what midwifery services would look like on PEI – things like where they would be administered, how many midwives would be hired, and how midwifery would be integrated into the existing system.
Yesterday, we finally heard from the erstwhile absent Minister of Health. In an interview with CBC, he now says we will need to wait at least another nine months before PEI has midwifery services. This is indeed turning out to be a long and difficult delivery for this Minister.
According to the latest update on this rollercoaster of misinformation, he is hoping to hire a coordinator this Spring – but wait a moment. He said in the House last June that he had hired a coordinator. Women on PEI have grown and birthed thousands of infants in the time it’s taking the Minister to figure out if he did or did not hire someone.
He is also saying he hopes to hire three midwives in the next while – no real timelines, but a vague commitment to hire. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, back in December 2019, then January 2020, again in February 2020, and again in June 2020.
I am rather befuddled by the Minister’s excuse for the delay and the contradicting information he has been sharing with Islanders. He said in his interview it was a result of being a junior minister. The health portfolio is a large responsibility and covers so much of Islanders’ experiences, outcomes, and needs. It is never the responsibility of a junior minister. I’m afraid that excuse doesn’t hold much water with me.
If midwifery had been a true priority for the Minister and Premier, then all of the preparatory work laid out in the plan to establish midwifery on PEI would have been done by now. We should have services available today. Instead we have a Minister who, until yesterday, refused to respond to numerous requests from media for interviews. Despite a promise in the House that he will “once and for all, get PEI on the map with midwifery services” we remain the only province without the benefits of midwifery.
The establishment of midwifery on PEI has been a long, painful, and to date, unproductive labour. It is way past time for the Minister and Premier to deliver on this promise.