CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - P.E.I.’s Green MLAs say they are frustrated by a lack of office space in a building that has traditionally housed only offices for Liberal and Conservative MLAs, with the odd single-member exception.
Green MLAs Peter Bevan-Baker and Hannah Bell have taken to social media to make pointed references that they have inadequate office space in the Coles Building in Charlottetown.
“Basically, there isn’t space to accommodate and meet the changing need of the building,” Bell said.
“It works when there’s two parties, more or less, but as things change, there’s no space for us to adapt into.”
The Coles Building has housed the offices of non-cabinet government MLAs and Opposition caucus members for many years. Each of these caucuses take up the second and third floors of the building, respectively. But since 2015, the building has also been a temporary home for the legislative assembly while Province House undergoes a massive renovation.
This has meant the addition of not only a temporary legislative chamber, but also space for security, legislative staff and the media. This takes up the entire first floor.
The public archives office is located on the top floor of the building, and uses much of the basement for record storage, complete with special climate controlled areas.
The only free space left in the building is one office in the basement. This has been used on the few occasions P.E.I. has had a third party or independent member in the legislature. Former tenants include former PC MLA-turned-independent Olive Crane and former NDP leader Herb Dickieson.
Now, the third party in the P.E.I. legislature has two members and has recently negotiated a more funding to allow them to hire more full-time staff. But Bell says they can’t hire anyone else because they have no room for them.
The Liberal non-cabinet caucus has four members and an entire floor, while the Green party has two members and one office. Newly independent MLA Bush Dumville currently has no office space at all.
“The short answer is, there is no space for us without some moving around, to reshuffle the space within the building,” said Bell.
“It’s a responsibility of the legislature and eventually of governments and treasury boards to consider what it is that’s required to provide the services of a legislature in our province. It’s our most important democratic institution in the province and that sometimes requires investment… to make sure that it works as a legislative assembly.”
Charles MacKay, clerk of the legislative assembly, says work is ongoing to do just that. It could require moving the public archives to another location and/or some capital work to the building to accommodate the changing dynamics of P.E.I.’s political landscape.
But this will take time.
A proposal on a long-term solution is expected from the Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy department early next week. This would then have to go to legislative management and then to treasury board for approval.
The necessary changes will also require investment, which can often be a political hot potato.
In 2012, a committee of MLAs and a Supreme Court judge examined a proposal to construct a new legislative office building on the site of the current legislature parking lot, across the street from Province House.
This proposal received swift backlash from the public when it came to light that politicians were looking at spending upwards of $15 million on a new office building for themselves.
MacKay says even when Province House reopens – likely in 2021 – the changing dynamics of politics in P.E.I. and the demands from the public for a more modern legislative assembly will require more spending on space, regardless of political optics.
“It’s a responsibility of the legislature and eventually of governments and treasury boards to consider what it is that’s required to provide the services of a legislature in our province,” MacKay said.
“It’s our most important democratic institution in the province and that sometimes requires investment… to make sure that it works as a legislative assembly.”