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King proud to demonstrate minority government can work
More than one hundred days into his new government, Premier Dennis King says his key accomplishment has been demonstrating that minority governments can work.
The topic of collaboration has basically formed the personal brand of King, both in the lead-up to last April’s election, and during the spring sitting of the legislature. The result has been a throne speech and budget, both passed with support from both Liberal and Green parties. In addition, reforms to standing committees have been adopted, placing opposition parties on equal footing with government.
King believes this reform will have a big impact on how his government operates.
"I certainly think that the style, tone and tenor of government has changed drastically," King told The Guardian on Friday.
“I think people wanted us to demonstrate stability, to show that the government, although in a minority situation was in good hands, it was going to be functional.”
Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker agreed Islanders have appreciated the sense of co-operation since April. But he said some promises of collaboration, such as weekly meetings between King and the leaders of the Greens and Liberals, did not materialize. Negotiations between government and opposition over the budget were also a source of tension.
“It feels to me like collaboration-lite," Bevan-Baker said.
“There's a sort of ongoing and building sense of disappointment that the collaboration may be overstated."
By now, this talk of parliamentary co-operation has become familiar to Islanders.
But many have begun to wonder how a King government will differ from its predecessors on issues of social policy. Many question how the province can end the shortage of physicians and nursing staff. Currently, 14,000 Islanders lack access to family doctor.
King said he hopes to involve physicians in the recruitment and retention of healthcare staff. He said a collaborative approach to health care delivery will also help retain staff.
“When all healthcare professionals get a chance to play a role in the overall delivery in a more practical way, I think that makes it easier for doctors and nurses and nurse practitioners and all health care professionals to realize that 'this is the place I want to be'," King said.
King said he has also had conversations with UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz about establishing “some medical components” at the university, similar to Dalhousie’s satellite medical program at the University of New Brunswick.
“I know the president of the University has been very, very adamant about dipping his toe in that pool," King said.
The Progressive Conservative platform also focused significant attention on improving mental health services in P.E.I. The Guardian recently reported incidents of individuals who expressed fear of self-harm who were discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital emergency room.
King acknowledged that P.E.I. has fallen behind when it comes to mental health care delivery.
"Islanders are facing a crisis,” he said.
“They feel that they're falling through the cracks.”
King said his government plans to integrate mental health care delivery into care in smaller communities. He said an expedited plan to replace the aging Hillsborough Hospital, the province’s psychiatric facility, is long overdue.
"One of the determinants for how people judge us will be how we've been able to work through this file," King said.
Another key commitment from King was for his government to respect the "spirit" of the Lands Protection Act.
Recently, The Guardian reported that a sale of 2,200 acres of farmland to an Irving-affiliated company occurred without the approval of King’s cabinet. A representative of the company acknowledged the sale followed P.E.I. laws, but that “some might call it a loophole.”
The transfer of the 2,200 acres appears to have occurred as a result of a corporate sale.
King said he was not happy about the sale.
“This can't happen again. This is not what the Lands Protection Act has been designed to do," he said.
"Like all Islanders, I was very, very disappointed to see what happened here. I didn't like a representative of that corporation describing it as a loophole.”
Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson has asked the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission to review the sale.
But Bevan-Baker said he expected Thompson to be more assertive on the issue.
"I'm disappointed by what appears to be a fairly lax attitude on this,” Bevan-Baker said.
“Is this the first time that this mechanism to circumvent the LPA has been used? We need to know that."
In response to the housing shortage, King said he has pushed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about access to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funding for new affordable builds throughout P.E.I.
He said builders have told him the process is overly cumbersome.
"He suggested to me that that's something he was going to try to look toward and fast-track to get some of these projects going," King said of Trudeau.
King said the pace of rental unit construction has increased significantly in the last year, but he did not know when the housing "crisis" would end.
“If we continue on the road that we're on for the next 18 months, you're going to see some relaxation of the pressure," King said.
When asked what Islanders should be asking federal candidates in the coming weeks, King brought up health care and education. But he said the possibility of a slow-down of the US economy should be on the minds of voters as well.
"I'd want them to be asking candidates what's their economic plan for the next couple of years for Prince Edward Island," he said.