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Frustration growing about getting P.E.I. committees to actually meet

FILE PHOTO: Brad Trivers, Conservative MLA for Rustico-Emerald.
FILE PHOTO: Brad Trivers, Conservative MLA for Rustico-Emerald. ©THE GUARDIAN

Progressive Conservative and Green MLAs are raising concerns about difficulties they say they have been facing trying to schedule legislative standing committee meetings.

Only four committee meetings have been held so far in 2018, despite multiple attempts by Opposition MLAs to schedule more.

The problem has been trying to nail down government MLAs, says PC Rustico-Emerald MLA Brad Trivers.

“It’s like pulling teeth to get meetings scheduled,” he said.

“It seems like a low priority for the government members.”

The public accounts committee, considered to be one of the most powerful committees of the legislature, was supposed to meet Wednesday, but the meeting was cancelled Tuesday when all four government MLAs on the committee said they could not attend.

Trivers, who is the chairman, says he has been trying to get something going since December, but so far only one meeting has been held on Feb. 7, and that was an organizational planning session. An earlier meeting scheduled in January was cancelled to make way for Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s last cabinet shuffle.

Now Trivers says he’s being told Liberal MLAs also will not be available for another meeting scheduled for March 14.

“We don’t have many formal timing commitments as MLAs. One of the only formal time commitments we have is the legislature and another is committees, so I feel like we should be able to prioritize those,” Trivers said.

The issue is not limited to public accounts. At an agriculture and fisheries committee meeting last week, a testy exchange erupted between Trivers and chairman Hal Perry when Perry said he could not make a meeting scheduled in March, so it would have to be cancelled.

Trivers pushed to have Perry appoint a different chair and allow the rest of the members to go ahead without him, but Perry refused, breaking a tie vote in favour of cancelling.

Government house leader Alan McIsaac told The Guardian the whole issue is simply a matter of scheduling conflicts.

“Committee work is an important aspect of our job, as is meeting with constituents and conducting community business. Sometimes these different events overlap,” McIsaac said, stressing that his members “appreciate the work of the committees and we like to participate in all the committees on which we are serving.”

But Green MLA Hannah Bell questions why government MLAs are placing other priorities ahead of scheduled committee work.

“I’m on four committees, and three of them already have had at least one cancellation,” she said, citing frustration at being told public accounts was cancelled Wednesday because the four Liberal MLAs were busy.

“How are all four of them busy? And what are they giving priority over a committee commitment? This is as much part of our job as the house,” she said.

Bell questions whether there are partisan motives for why government members are cancelling meetings. For example, is it to ensure no meetings go ahead with an Opposition majority?

“I’m asking why a committee can’t go ahead if someone isn’t available and, secondly, if all of them are unavailable, which is what we were told – what is more important?”

With fewer than five weeks left before the legislature resumes, time is running out to get work done on these committees, both Bell and Trivers noted.

“I’m not sure (government MLAs) are giving these committees the attention they deserve,” Trivers said.

McIsaac says a meeting of the infrastructure and energy committee will go ahead on Thursday and noted that if an Opposition MLA needed a meeting rescheduled, “we would be understanding of that.”

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