Capital Beat column
After 23 days of often testy debate, the spring sitting of the legislature is now in the history books.
For the Robert Ghiz Liberals, it would have to be classified as a lacklustre session. The legislative agenda was modest, with most of the 22 bills passed being of a housekeeping nature. Changes to the Highway Traffic Act are designed to crack down on repeat drunk driving offenders and a new act governing the pharmacy industry were among the highlights.
The biggest item on the government agenda was passage of the $1.6-billion budget – a document that projects a $40-million deficit and holds little in the way of any new spending. That will come in 2016, which could or could not be, an election year. Amendments to the Fixed Election Act mandate there will be a vote in the fall of 2015 – unless there is a federal election taking place at the same time. Should that occur, Islanders will elect a new provincial government in the spring of 2016.
There was no shortage of topics for the Opposition Progressive Conservatives to tackle. Cuts to the education system, low lobster prices, high gas prices, and cuts to the social services budget were all hot topics in Question Period.
Education Minister Alan McIsaac frequently came under fire for everything from the handling of the national headlines generated by the Brooklyn Mavis case to cuts to Reading Recovery. McIsaac gave little in the way of answers, preferring instead to lay every issue at the feet of the English Language School Board.
The Opposition Conservatives definitely scored some points with a steady performance. For a party that went through what had to be the worst year in its history, that might be as good as they could hope for. For them, the focus has to shift to attracting candidates for the leadership. They have to be ready in case there is an election next October, and, right now, there isn’t even a date for the convention, let alone any candidates.
Independent MLA Olive Crane continued to make the most of a bad situation. She made effective use of her right to submit written questions, tabling over 200. The government ministers had answered the majority of them by the time the house closed. She did ask for more time in Question Period but that is unlikely to happen.
For the NDP, a legislature sitting always proves challenging since they don’t have anybody inside the rail to ask questions. Leader Mike Redmond tried his best, issuing a flurry of news releases, even suggesting on the last day that the legislature should keep sitting to deal with low lobster prices.
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, who had a high profile during the debate leading up to the construction of the Plan B highway, last year, was virtually invisible. That is something he is going to have to change as an election looms.