CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - After MLAs spent 39 days in the legislature, the spring sitting of P.E.I.’s legislative assembly came to an end Tuesday evening.
During the sitting, MLAs passed 19 bills covering a wide range of issues, including a bill to deal with an upcoming referendum and legislation to cover post-secondary schools and some municipalities under P.E.I.’s freedom of information law.
After the house closed Tuesday night, Premier Wade MacLauchlan said he thought the big event of the spring was the government’s budget, which was a main part of the early days of a sitting that lasted almost 10 weeks.
“We’ve gotten a lot done,” he said.
In April, the government tabled its second balanced budget with a $1.5-million surplus for 2018-2019, but it wasn’t the only business that had to be dealt with during the sitting.
With the federal government set to make marijuana use legal in Canada, the P.E.I. government had to prepare the legislation necessary for its sale in the province.
This included details around the legal age limit, the creation of a Cannabis Management Corporation and the sales model that will see home delivery or purchases in four government-run stores.
The Liberals also had to deal with a referendum on electoral reform that is planned to coincide with the next provincial election.
Legislation the Liberals tabled set out the question and threshold for change in the referendum.
It met stiff opposition from the Greens with leader Peter Bevan-Baker spending several hours speaking to the bill before other MLAs started to discuss it.
Eventually the bill passed after numerous amendments with the Liberals making many changes in response to criticism about parts of the bill.
MacLauchlan said when the government first introduced the legislation it made it clear amendments should be expected and that it was a project requiring the kind of debate MLAs had in the house.
“This is work that has been done well and it’s been patient work,” he said.
Even though the house closed Tuesday night, MLAs will have to return at some point to vote on the appointment of a referendum commissioner.
MLAs also passed legislation this spring to limit political donations to $3,000 per year per person and ban corporate or union donations.
This sitting had a different dynamic with former Liberal MLA Bush Dumville in the house as an independent after leaving the party earlier in the year.
Dumville started the sitting with questions about what he said was backroom interference in the public accounts committee and other MLA business.
He also managed to get a private members bill through the house to have the red fox named P.E.I.’s official animal emblem, although that legislation initially had a bumpy ride.
Liberal MLA Alan McIsaac proposed an amendment to the bill to make the Holstein cow the official animal emblem, but he later withdrew that amendment.
Backbench Liberal MLA Al Roach also managed to get a private members bill passed to have plastic shopping bags banned in P.E.I.
For MacLauchlan, he said he thought modernizing legislation dealing with companies in P.E.I. will be one thing that stands out from the spring.
“That will likely be in place for many, many years and lay a foundation on which a lot of decisions are made and Islanders are able to do their business and makes their choices about how they do business on a modern foundation,” he said.
Among the things that will be on Islanders minds most when it comes to benefits are the changes to social assistance the government recently announced, MacLauchlan said.
“Permitting people to earn more, to retain benefits, to see their lives get better without feeling that it’s all for naught.”
On the other side of the house, Opposition Leader James Aylward said his Progressive Conservative caucus scored significant victories during the spring sitting.
The Opposition broke new ground by getting several private members bills passed, including legislation to give victims of domestic or sexual violence paid leave.
Another Opposition bill will see members of the public appointed to the Island Investment Development Inc. board of directors.
"The opposition is typically there to oppose, but the trajectory that we like to do is not only to oppose but to actually propose as well," Aylward said on Tuesday.
“It stems from an opposition that listens to the people of P.E.I.”
Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker said his party also managed to make significant impacts during the lengthy session.
In particular, Bevan-Baker referred to the Electoral Systems Referendum Act amendments made before the bill’s adoption on Tuesday.
Bevan-Baker and his Green colleague, Charlottetown-Parkdale MLA Hannah Bell, spent much of the Spring session questioning the MacLauchlan government’s handling of the bill.
"I think there was a realization from government that there were certain aspects of that bill that were liable to be unconstitutional," Bevan-Baker said.
With files from Stu Neatby