Peter’s speech below is a response to the of 5 April 2016.
Orders of the Day (Government), 7 April 2016
Source: , pp. 108-117.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Monsieur le Président, je suis convaincu que cette session de l’Assemblée législative sera constructive dans l’intérêt de notre province et aussi de notre population et je suis certain que votre dévouement et votre bienveillance sauront nous guider tout au long de cette session parlementaire.
Mr. Speaker, I am confident that this legislative session will be constructive for both our province and for all Islanders, and I am sure that your dedication and your wisdom and kindness will guide us through this parliamentary session.
I also want to pay tribute to our Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Frank Lewis, and to our Premier, the Honourable Wade MacLauchlan, and to all members of this House.
Je remercie le sergent d’armes, le greffier, le greffier adjoint, les commissionnaires et tout le personnel de l’Assemblée législative qui fournissent un travail exceptionnel afin d’assurer le meilleur fonctionnement possible des travaux parlementaires.
I also want to thank the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Clerk, the Deputy Clerk, the commissionaires and all the legislative staff who do an exceptional job to ensure that our parliament functions well.
Merci beaucoup. Thank you so much.
With recent revelations about offshore tax havens in the so-called Panama papers and examples of world-wide political dishonesty and corruption, it’s easy to imagine that governments everywhere are fraudulent and all politicians liars. Faith in our leaders is one critical element of a cohesive and a functional society. These latest disclosures further erode public trust.
Here on Prince Edward Island it is absolutely essential that we govern with the transparency and the openness repeatedly promised both prior to and in this throne speech.
It is my belief that our traditional values don’t coincide with a wider global trend towards the undiluted desire for money and the attendant moral problems that flow from that, but we must remain vigilant and be on constant guard that our government reflect the honest industry and the concern for our neighbours for which Islanders are renowned.
It is my intention in my response to the throne speech to follow the layout of the speech and to at all times attempt to strike a balance between being fair and open-minded and also being questioning and critical. This government has outlined its vision, albeit a fairly vague one. In criticizing it I think it’s important that we don’t do just that, that we don’t simply denounce and be reproachful, but that we also articulate an alternative and a clearer vision. I shall welcome aspects of the speech where I see promise and where there are ideas in alignment with our vision in Prince Edward Island and I shall point at aspects where I see potential problems or an approach to me that just doesn’t seem to make sense.
The throne speech opened with a section called Focusing on our People. It’s encouraging to see the government will create a long-term strategy to maintain an attempt to expand our skilled workforce. The throne speech gives a few details on how we will entice people to come to Prince Edward Island and the recruiting and repatriation aspects of the strategy. I just hope that these efforts don’t focus too much on marketing because surely we don’t need to market the Island to Islanders.
We need more action on the retention phase. If we are to attract new Islanders and keep them here we need to offer them quality services. We need to make PEI not just a convenient place for them to arrive, but an attractive community in which they will stay. Previous research suggests that good jobs and quality of life are the key factors in doing this, so I suggest that we need to put our efforts in this area.
Over the last number of years, we have seen an increase in the number of skilled jobs on Prince Edward Island. We hear a lot about the growth of the aerospace, the biotech, and IT sectors, which is great.
But the question of quality of life and the well-being of our Islanders are less clearly understood. That is where my bill, the Well-being Measurement Act, will help, by increasing our understanding of the factors that affect the quality of Islanders, and it will help us to set policy goals to improve that.
Better quality of life means better retention, more Islanders choosing to stay on PEI. Our greatest competitive advantage is our quality of life. Having legislation which clearly states that will demonstrate to others that here on Prince Edward Island we care about more than just material prosperity, that we are building a society where we hold social cohesion, environmental stewardship, and economic health in equal regard.
There are a growing number of new farmers arriving on Prince Edward Island looking for ways of living that are in tune with their values of simplicity and stewardship. I believe that doing things on a smaller scale, whether that be farming and fishing, providing education and health care services, or doing economic development, that doing that on a small scale is what will separate us from an increasingly impersonal and unsustainable pattern of global economic development.
I believe the key to rejuvenating our rural communities lies in making PEI a place that resonates with those values and which will attract families who want to live a healthy and wholesome life. But, once again, we need to provide the services in rural Prince Edward Island in order to attract and, particularly, to retain them: excellent schools, medical care, recreational facilities, and modern connectivity.
Mr. Speaker, I just want to pause.
I should have done this at the beginning of my speech and recognized a couple of guests here. Ms. Lynne Lund, the deputy leader of the Green Party of Prince Edward Island.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Dr. Bevan-Baker: Sitting behind her, Jeff Matheson.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Dr. Bevan-Baker: And behind me, in the back here, John MacLean. Nice to see you all here.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Dr. Bevan-Baker: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
There are other positive points in this section. Helping to retain more international students is a great goal, but they will only stay here if there are opportunities for them and a good quality of life.
The population target – and the hon. minister spoke about this a couple minutes ago. I’m going to contend a couple of the things that you said there, hon. member. The population target of 150,000 people by 2017 is, if you ask me, a little bit bizarre considering that we are close to that figure already and that there’s not a whole lot that we can do in a single year to affect population growth. Indeed, net migration to PEI sits around 1,500 people annually and we’re already at a population of 147,000. This announcement is really just a statement of the inevitable. You don’t need a crystal ball or a brilliant prognostication to come up with that.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Some Hon. Members: (Indistinct).
Dr. Bevan-Baker: It seems to me that the government is more interested in the pretty symmetry of the number: it’s 150,000 people on the 150th anniversary of our country.
But I, myself, am more interested in learning about government’s long-term strategy for population. There are some important discussions to be had about how much growth Prince Edward Island can sustain. How many people can this Island really support?
We have accepted, without question, for many decades that growth is good, that bigger is better. I talked last year, in my response to the throne speech, that we are at a point in human history where we have to start questioning that assumption. Bigger is not necessarily better. Right, hon. member? Small, sometimes, is great.
Ms. Biggar: I’m pretty small.
An Hon. Member: I’m small.
Dr. Bevan-Baker: That’s what I meant.
Bigger is not necessarily better. Indeed –
An Hon. Member: Biggar.
Dr. Bevan-Baker: Yes. Bigger with an ‘e’ is not necessarily better.
I’ve lost my train now.
Bigger is not necessarily better. Indeed, further growth of certain kinds may actually be overtly destructive. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing humanity today is to reconcile our presence on a finite planet with our habit of demanding ongoing growth in our global economy.
Interestingly, the throne speech contains the sentence, and I quote: “Global and national discussions have pointed to the connection between environmental sustainability and economic growth.” Indeed, there have been conversations in that regard. Many of them. And many of those discussions have concluded that those two are incompatible.
For decades many eminent economists have been warning governments that continued reliance on economic growth as a panacea for financial challenges is a really bad idea. I realize that this is an unusual, this is a new thought to many of the members in this room. How could economic growth possibly be a problem? But we’re at the point now where the damages caused by further economic growth are actually creating more problems than they are solving.
Indeed, there are numerous reports telling us that striving for further economic growth is actually impoverishing not only our generation, but particularly those generations who will follow us and who will be tasked with cleaning up the social, the economic, and the environmental messes that we are currently creating.
Mr. Trivers: Depends on the growth.
Dr. Bevan-Baker: That’s true. It is entirely – I’m going to talk about that.
It is entirely possible to stimulate further economic growth. We can do that by drawing down resources, for example, or by putting ourselves further in debt. But the costs associated with that may well exceed the benefits that we derive.
Continuing to defer to growth in order to solve problems is attractive politically because it allows governments to ignore the thorny issues of limits and of sharing.
A truly sustainable world will be one where all human needs are met and where those critical supporting elements that sustain societies – food, water, shelter, soil, clothing, security – all of those are properly protected.
There is one number which clearly illuminates the profound challenges that we face. If all people in the world were to live to the same standard of prosperity that we do in North America, living in houses like ours, driving the same number of cars per capita, eating the same sort of diet that we enjoy in North America, having closets full of unused clothes – if all the world lived like we do, it would require four more planet earths to supply everything to do that. Clearly an impossibility.
So what do we do? Some other plan must emerge other than the unthinking, misguided adherence to growth everlasting.
We must open a proper discussion about limits to growth and of global equity. This is not just to address the simmering problems associated with perpetual poverty in large parts of the world, but it is a security issue
for every single one of us living in areas that have amassed more than our fair share of global wealth.
But the good news is that we don’t need more economic growth of the conventional kind to provide us with meaningful and content lives. Indeed, we all know that more stuff does not make you happier. Island traditions are rooted in community values and material modesty. We know that happiness can be grasped without striving to great affluence or to outdo our neighbours. To a larger extent than most of North America, Islanders have not bought into that value system and joined the rat race. It is one of the things that makes PEI so lovely and it is the main reason that my family moved here 15 years ago.
This place is not like the rest of the world. In this uniqueness lies our strength and lies the allure of Prince Edward Island. The more we try to emulate everywhere else, the more we lose what matters most to Islanders.
Our generation can still choose a different path, one that is best suited to our unique attributes. We have the gift of jurisdiction. We are an island. We have good soil, and rainfall and weather patterns that, it appears, in the face of global change, will allow us to continue to be the Garden of the Gulf long into the future. We have a culture that respects the land and the knowledge to develop a thriving, sustainable economy. In short, we can choose the future we prefer, one that will provide for Islanders and which will protect the precious things that make PEI so special.
Bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes bigger is just bigger, and on our little Island, which as the throne speech so astutely points out, is finite and shrinking, we have the distinct blessing of being able to adapt to a changing world and a way that preserves both our heritage and the opportunities and dreams of our children.
The new website is a decent idea, or perhaps it would have been 10 years ago, but I’m not sure whether it addresses the real problem.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
An Hon. Member: (Indistinct).
Dr. Bevan-Baker: Young people know how to find job listings online. The reason they’re not moving back is not because they are unable to navigate the web and find jobs that they’re qualified to do. It’s because of a chronic lack of opportunities here on the Island.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Dr. Bevan-Baker: I would suggest that we need to have a single point of contact for both new arrivals and established Islanders who need help finding work. Further, I suggest that in our impersonal, digitized world, rather than being a new website or an app, that this single point of contact be a real human being, a person with Skills Canada, or people with Skills Canada, I should say, serving as coordinators or focal points of information, a place where people can go to get help accessing government services whether they are seeking work, looking to start a business or wondering how to get a family doctor.
Finding the right contact to access government can be an incredibly frustrating experience and we absolutely have to improve that for people. A personable, skillful single point of contact to access government services which would reflect the friendly and welcoming nature of Prince Edward Island be a huge step in that direction.
There’s not a whole lot new in the section entitled Enhancing the Workforce. Supporting the creation of 1,000 summer jobs for students sounds really great, but it also raises some questions. Are these new jobs? How much of an increase is that from what we are doing already? How many of these jobs are coming from federal programs? This is nonetheless of course a good way to support both young Islanders and employers, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Programs to encourage young Islanders into farming and fishing are also great, and we talked about that a little bit this morning, twice, and we should keep these up, but in order to ensure the long-term success of these programs we also need to make sure that we support the modernization of these sectors, something which seems to be completely omitted from the throne speech.
We have to ensure that we are encouraging young Islanders into sectors that are full of opportunities. Once again I find myself talking about creating quality services in rural Prince Edward Island in order to attract these new farmers and fishers and thus to revitalize our rural communities. There is a market out there for energetic, motivated people looking for exactly what we could offer here on Prince Edward Island. We simply need to make a commitment to focus on quality of life, tell the world that we are doing that, and these people will find us.
On encouraging education and entrepreneurship, government has correctly identified education as a key to long-term prosperity. I am encouraged by many of the actions so far in this area, especially the greater emphasis on community engagement and the commitment to frontline services. It’s too early yet to evaluate the success of the new approach to engagement, but there is certainly great opportunity here for government to listen and learn from Islanders and to become more responsive to the needs and concerns of students, of parents, of teachers and of the greater community.
This new approach has the potential to lead to better student achievement, a more efficient bureaucracy, a more inclusive approach which is able to better respond to the individual needs of Island students and a more grassroots decision-making process through engagement. Consulting with teachers here regularly is a critical element of this engagement process. The demands on our teachers are enormous and they are the ones who are most acutely aware of the challenges in our classrooms and therefore the people who best know what supports are needed.
As with so many aspects of governance –
An Hon. Member: Cheers.
Dr. Bevan-Baker: Cheers.
As with so many aspects of governance, we have tremendous opportunities on Prince Edward Island, due to our size and flexibility, to be bold and to strike out in a unique and innovative path.
In education, I personally am intrigued by the possibilities of creating smaller-scale human – you might say human-scale schools in our rural areas. For a very long time now we have been closing smaller schools and busing Island children to larger centres. I say it is time that Island kids spend less time on buses and more time in their communities, and I’m not talking about a return to the days of the one-room schoolhouses. But, I am suggesting that the needs of our Island students can be equally, if not better, met in smaller schools in their own communities.
The potential spinoffs from such a change and direction would be many. Time in transit becomes time at home, cost saving in busing, healthier children, and smaller schools becoming once again the catalyst for revitalizing rural communities. I think it is good to see government introduce coding into the curriculum which will help prepare young Islanders to better understand the increasingly digital society in which we live. I support this initiative, but I have to ask: Will this come at the expense of other subjects? The curriculum is already pretty crammed. Hopefully the department can find the right balance and make coding fit.
Aside from the benefits to the students, this could also greatly help the teachers who will develop new skills themselves that can then be used in other aspects of their jobs. Professional development will be critical here and I look forward to hearing about how the education department develops these new skills with our Island teachers. I’m really glad to see a commitment to multiyear funding for our post-secondary institutions.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Dr. Bevan-Baker: I would encourage government to ensure that this funding is enough to allow UPEI in particular to stop making cuts. How can we be strengthening our post-secondary institutions when we are forcing them to make cuts?
On the entrepreneurship side, we see a new start-up zone to help develop new businesses. I’m encouraged that government looked to see what models worked well in other jurisdictions. That’s always a good practice. The throne speech indicates that this start-up zone will be initially, and I quote, “in Charlottetown,” implying that if that works it could be moved to other parts of the Island. I hope government will have a serious look at how this or something similar could be used in rural communities where there is a greater need for economic development.
Again, I want to promote small-scale development here, whether that be an agriculture, education, health care or economic development. I mentioned this this morning: PEI will do so much better with multiple modest amounts of seed capital, developing numerous home-grown small businesses, rather than competing with other jurisdictions for the big fish. I think I said this morning when cash-strapped small provinces like ours court big international players we get out-maneuvered and taxpayers most often get burned.
We also believe in providing the necessary supports for young entrepreneurs to start businesses and succeed on Prince Edward Island. However, we note that there is little information on how the government will provide these young entrepreneurs with access to capital, but it remains unclear whether government intends to directly finance these start-ups through IIDI or through Innovation PEI or if government is willing to provide access to cash and expertise and therefore help entrepreneurs connect with early-stage investors or venture capitalists, or even to attract them to the Island.
An Hon. Member: (Indistinct).
Dr. Bevan-Baker: All of the above. On improving health and wellness, I want to start my discussion on health and wellness by thanking the government for finally allowing a women’s reproductive health care centre to be established on PEI.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Dr. Bevan-Baker: I’m also really glad to see that a new mental health and addictions strategy will finally be coming this year. This has been a glaring hole in our health care system for too long.
Having viewed the document which represents the fruit of three years of work I’m surprised that it has taken that long to produce, but I remain optimistic that it will lead to bold and strong actions to improve the well-being of Islanders. Here again, I believe we have an opportunity to be leaders in the delivery of innovative services. Mental illness is a complex, multi-faceted spectrum of problems and only when we understand it as such, as bio-psychosocial, when we understand the complexity of it, will we develop the individualized approaches that will start to treat people appropriately and, more importantly, keep them well.
Speaking of well-being, the throne speech talks about having a, and I quote, “…conversation about a strategy to reduce poverty…,” including, with the federal government, to again, and I quote, “…consider the best means…” to support Islanders.
There’s a lot of ambiguity in those statements and I think I’d like to break that down a bit. On the surface it sounds like we might be talking about something potentially wide-ranging and innovative, something like, perhaps, a universal basic income in which the federal government has expressed significant interest recently.
I’ve previously suggested in this House using Prince Edward Island as a pilot project for universal basic income, and government has indicated that there has been some discussion with our federal partners on that possibility. I’m hoping to hear more news on this in the near future.
Rather than poverty reduction as a goal touted in the throne speech, a universal basic income could lead to poverty eradication altogether with all the attendant benefits that that would bring. Never mind the strictly humanitarian benefits of getting rid of poverty, a universal basic income would reduce administration, health, and criminal justice costs, and free up Islanders to live fulfilling lives and contribute more fully to their communities.
However, that sort of vision is unfortunately absent in the throne speech and the wording of the speech is vague and noncommittal.
Why have a conversation about creating a poverty reduction strategy instead of simply doing it? It sounds almost as if government
is not sure whether poverty reduction strategy is indeed a good idea.
After the most recent household food insecurity report in Canada, just released a couple of days ago, 22% of children on Prince Edward Island live in food insecure households. If that’s not a clear enough indication that we need comprehensive poverty reduction strategies on PEI I don’t know what is. Just last week a group of friends in my district became so concerned about food insecurity in their neighbourhood that they’ve started a process of establishing a community food bank.
This is one of many initiatives at the community level and it reflects one of the hallmarks of Prince Edward Island life, that we tend to care deeply about our fellow Islanders, about our neighbours. I hope that this government will emulate the work of these volunteer groups who provide so much of the glue that maintains our communities and to do something to substantially help out our most vulnerable neighbours. While I acknowledge that government is open to at least talking about poverty reduction, I would have liked to have seen a much stronger clearer commitment here.
The throne speech correctly recognizes that early childhood education is, and again I quote, “…the foundation of a prosperous future.” While PEI might be doing a good job on the national scale there are still ways to improve.
Government has indicated that frontline workers are a priority in education. A look at the Job Bank shows that wages for early childhood educators range from minimum wage to an upper level of about $16 an hour. That to me is not an indication of a highly valued profession. We need to value and invest in these workers in whom we entrust our young children’s well-being.
I spoke last year in this House about a single psychiatrist who made over $1 million. If indeed that million dollars had been put in frontline full-time early childhood educators paid at their highest rate of pay we could have had over 40 of them. It seems clear to me that we have a warped sense of value here and that these people who are entrusted with the care of young Islanders deserve better.
Overall, the government’s approach to helping young children and low-income Islanders seems to defer to the federal government. We should absolutely work with our federal counterparts, I get that, but there’s plenty of room for us here to take our own initiative and deal with some of our own issues.
On growing our economy. On Prince Edward Island we have the foundations on which to build a successful economy based on the traditional strengths of farming, fishing, arts and culture, and tourism. A strong local economy is built with a diversity of vibrant small businesses. It is increasingly self-reliant and it is protected against the growing global instabilities.
The growing our economy section of this throne speech might well have been called the ‘My Government will continue’ section. Government is evidently happy with the direction of our economy and content with its current programs. I would say that here on Prince Edward Island our situation is okay. We’re not a disaster, but our economy is also not nearly as strong and resilient as it could and should be.
The throne speech lists a number of ways which Prince Edward Island was an economic leader in 2015. These are essentially per capita economic indicators, which may suggest that the overall economy is working, but it says nothing about how evenly these benefits are divided. How does Prince Edward Island compare with the rest of Canada, for example, in terms of inequality?
We need to measure the affects of the economy on the lives of Islanders in the ways that matter, ways that are more closely related to our quality of life.
The only part here with anything new, actually, is the initiative to reduce red tape, which is apparently widely applauded, which is interesting given that it hasn’t even been implemented. There’s a certain room for improvement in this area for sure, and even though there is no commitment here for actual action I do hope that the government keeps up its efforts in this area and that it leads to concrete improvements.
Renewing infrastructure. On infrastructure the throne speech sets transportation and energy as top concerns. These are indeed fine priorities, though the details are another story.
Government wants to build transportation infrastructure for exports, which is rather imprecise. I’m not sure what that means. Does it mean roads, airports, warehouses or something else? I don’t know.
Mr. LaVie: Boats.
Dr. Bevan-Baker: We have all of these. I’m not sure what else is needed to get our products to export markets. Further details will no doubt emerge when the budget is presented.
Hopefully that will include a commitment to Island-wide public transit, which is much needed not only for moving Islanders around, rural Islanders in particular, but also fighting climate change and poverty.
On energy government will, and again I quote, “…emphasize…,” “…work on…,” and”…work with…,” but apparently will not make any firm commitments. We are slowly moving in the right direction and seeing nice words, but it’s time that we take some firm action to transition the Island to clean energy.
I’m nonetheless happy to see that the government has been willing to consider some Green ideas on energy policy, reflecting a more collaborative approach in this Legislature. And I thank them, in particular, in heeding our advice and dropping the proposed CT4 diesel generator in favour of renewables. I hope we never seen another proposal like that again.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Mr. LaVie: Thank the opposition.
Dr. Bevan-Baker: The next section of the throne speech was titled Ensuring a Sustainable Environment.
Mr. R. Brown: That was a good section.
Dr. Bevan-Baker: They were all good sections, were they not? In some people’s opinion.
Other than offering to sit at the table to discuss climate change with other provinces or the federal government, there is no commitment from our government to offer any initiative or to invest in real solutions to address climate change that would benefit all Islanders. There’s also no initiative to address the connection between environmental sustainability and economic health at the provincial level. There is no commitment on the government’s part to provide incentives and programs or even the necessary environment – again I use quotations – to invest in green start ups or businesses adopting environmentally friendly practices.
I appreciate the government’s intent to strengthen our communities, but it is unclear from this throne speech what the vision of government is. There is no indication of how the government intends to work with local communities to achieve a diverse, sustainable, and vibrant economy. I suggest the government clarify what concrete measures the government will take to sustain strong, vibrant communities where people can live and work in quality jobs that provide fair wages. We need an environment in which local businesses and industries can thrive.
When it comes to green energy, we understand that the emphasis will be placed on, and again I quote, “…better harness renewable capacity and potential.” To promote energy conservation at a consumer level and make better use of our resources our position is to encourage the government to further invest in innovative technologies to improve environment performance, create employment, and limit our impact on air, land, and water.
On Spending Public Funds Carefully. I agree that there’s a need to spend public funds carefully. There is a need to assess performance in order to achieve balance in the application of public funds and perhaps contain the demand for some services.
I believe measuring the outcomes of government programs – something my colleagues to my left here were talking about today – and deliverables is important to good management. It’s critical to good management, to public accountability and to transparency, and to internal organizational learning and development. I even suggest that the government should design a government-wide performance reporting framework that uses very simple and relevant information, and key indicators, capable of signalling to the Legislature, to the government, and to all Islanders whether programs deliver intended results and if value for money is being attained.
I encourage government’s efforts to improve transparency and accountability to the Legislature and to put measures in place so that the priorities become easier to achieve through accountable management practices.
I will be encouraging the government to integrate, produce, and present performance information into the budget process and in budget documents. Performance information can be a part of the annual budget cycle and feed into decision making at different levels and stages of the process. This will put a greater emphasis on planning and on setting the objectives in order to improve decision making. By providing better and more concrete information on the performance of government operations, we will improve expenditure control and public sector management.
On modernizing governance I appreciate the government’s consideration of integrity, transparency, and ethics in government operations and in seeking new ways of governing, engaging partners, and delivering services.
There is no indication, however, of future changes to the conflict of interest regulations. Currently, only Members of the Legislative Assembly are able to ask the commissioner’s opinion on whether an MLA may be in contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act. We believe that anybody from the public should be able to file a complaint with allegations of conflict of interest involving an MLA. If the complaint is valid, the commissioner should have the power to conduct an inquiry regardless of the source of the complaint.
The future introduction of the new lobbyist registration act raises, for me, a lot of questions in terms of the design and implementation. What does it mean in the context of Prince Edward Island, I wonder. I assume that what the government really means, really wants to do, is to reward those who are honourable and to sanction those who are not. But PEI is so small and access to elected officials so effortless and so ubiquitous – which of course is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but that’s the reality that we all face here. So I wonder how government plans to define lobbying and determine who should be registered as a lobbyist.
On open data. On the issue of open government and the practice of open data, we believe in using technology to create an open, accountable, participatory, and innovative government. The government is taking a first step towards taking a data-driven accountable and transparent culture in the public sector. However, developing policy is not enough. Government should implement the legal and regulatory framework to ensure the coherent use of digital technologies across all of government. Any actions must also reflect a risk management, of course, approach to address digital security and privacy issues.
In the section on building strong communities, as I mentioned earlier, strong local communities are critical to the long-term success of our province. PEI is the most rural province in Canada and this is a defining part of our identity, our economy, and our culture. It’s what makes us unique.
But the trend over the last number of years has not been good for rural communities. Last year’s State of Rural Canada 2015 report confirmed what many of us already know, that providing services in our rural communities is vitally important. I’d like to quote from that report, on the chapter on Prince Edward Island:
“…hospitals and schools have served as the heart and soul of communities and the loss of these ‘essential’ social services in the name of economies of scale and regional rationalization was especially damaging to the vitality and future viability of rural” Prince Edward Island communities.
Those are strong words. Clearly we need to change the way that we do rural development. There is a definite shift, I sense in this throne speech, towards more long-term planning so I’m surprised that we don’t actually see that reflected in this section.
I’m looking forward, of course, to seeing how the long-awaited municipal reforms will strengthen our local communities, especially in rural areas. Communities in my district, and no doubt across the rest of the Island, are really concerned about the potential for forced amalgamation. Government should therefore continue to collaborate with both large and small municipalities to find voluntary solutions that work for both.
There was a section on renewing relationships with Aboriginal Islanders. This is where we go, in the throne speech, from merely ambiguous and non-committal to downright hollow and fuzzy. I’ve read through that section repeatedly and I still cannot determine what was really being said, which is a real shame, because there is so much that needs to be said about the condition of Mi’kmaq Islanders and so much that should be done.
Poverty, high rates of illness, clean water, mental health, schooling issues, all chronic problems in Island Native communities which deserve our immediate attention. I saw no sense of urgency and certainly no plan anywhere in this speech to combat any of these concerns.
In conclusion, there is a lot to like in this throne speech and many good intentions described in ornate language. There are also some glaring omissions and areas where I had hoped and expected to see more boldness. I guess I was hoping for a more transformative vision from this Premier rather than the somewhat cautious and unambitious one that we seem to see in this throne speech. However, I’m glad to see that my repeated calls from last year for more long-term planning have found a receptive ear in this government.
I think I understand and appreciate better, after a full session, the rigours of governance and that there are few easy answers to all of our complex issues here on Prince Edward Island. Premier MacLauchlan has had a year to become established and to colour the tone of his government. I remain optimistic that this administration will continue working, calling on our better natures, and will prove itself to be truly transformative for Prince Edward Island and Prince Edward Islanders.
I also give my own commitment that I will continue to encourage this government to consider new ideas, to be bold and brave, and I will push them to give their best to the people of Prince Edward Island.
Merci, Monsieur le président.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!