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One issue that was on the minds of Island residents this year, as well as a hot topic around the world in 2019, is climate change.
And the most notable climate story in P.E.I. was the effects of post-tropical storm Dorian.
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King told The Guardian’s political reporter Stu Neatby in a year-end interview that the storm provided a learning opportunity for the new government.
Part 1 of the interview appeared online and in the Dec. 30 edition of The Guardian. The following is Part 2, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Guardian: Looking at the impacts on the Island, what lessons did we learn in terms of how to manage emergencies, climate storms like that?
Dennis King: This was a big one. It impacted a broader area than we had first anticipated.
On Sunday, Monday morning (after the storm) we thought, "oh, well we seem like we've missed the brunt of this." But if you've ventured outside the city of Charlottetown and you drove all the way to Tignish, to Souris and you knew the impact of the Trees.
The one thing I would say I hope we learned from this is, as much as you possibly can be, you have to be extremely flexible in this. You have to be able to pivot quickly. But you also have to keep the Islanders informed to the best extent that you can because we live in an age where everything is immediate.
But I do think we did an amazing job as a province with the first responders getting done what we needed to get done in a short time. It was a horrible mess. Luckily, we didn't have any lives lost, we didn't have any major infrastructure or buildings that fell down. We'll just learn from it and try to take from it what we need to and prepare for the next storm, which we know is coming.
TG: You're likely to start negotiations on carbon pricing with the federal government in 2020. Do you imagine Prince Edward Island will see a similar backstop from what you've seen for provinces like Ontario or Manitoba or will we continue on with a drop in excise taxes?
DK: The agreement we inherited from the previous government was probably an ease into the process of the carbon levy and how that will be applied going forward. I would probably suggest that we will evolve a little bit from that current one.
I would like us to continue to make investments to incentivize Islanders to make sure that we work to become more environmentally friendly on carbon reduction. But I think Islanders are in a better position to be open to accepting a greater responsibility when it comes to carbon reduction.
But also, I think there's a greater opportunity for Prince Edward Island to find the economic opportunities connected to the changing environment. Probably early in the new year I will be wanting to put together some kind of a task force to be a little more aggressive when it comes to finding the new economic opportunities wrapped within the environment.
All of that, I think, will be included in that carbon discussion going forward. I think there is probably a fair expectation from the federal government that we be a little more open to carrying more of that burden going forward.
TG: The economy is humming, job growth is up, but still people feel there's a disconnect. Why do you think some people feel they've been left behind by the strong economic performance of P.E.I.?
DK: I think it's a phenomenon that you see on the national scene as well.
But if you spend time, as I do, walking around, talking to people, there's a sense and a feeling that people at the upper middle part of that are doing very well. But there's a sense that there's people under that who don't feel that they're getting as big a piece of it.
You'll probably see in the weeks ahead that we'll do some more sharing of some of the revenues with some people at the lower end and social services. You're going to see another increase in the minimum wage.
I do think we have to find a way to make sure that more of our economy is shared.
TG: It almost sounds like you're talking yourself into a scheme like a basic income guarantee. Do you think that's the sort of thing we need to address some of the challenges out there?
DK: I've been very impressed in the premise of a basic income guarantee. I've been doing a lot of studying on papers from the U.S. about a job guarantee. Is there a hybrid model for P.E.I. that we can follow or chart the course for? I don't know.
I would like to find a made-in-P.E.I. way to do this. I think we're small enough to be able to do that. There is a flicker of interest at the federal level to be open to seeing what we could do. I'm hoping to exploit that a little further in the new year.
TG: Recently, your minister of agriculture introduced changes to the Land Protection Act. There will be more transparency around shareholders, an increase in fines for people who violate the provisions of the LPA. Do you think these changes were enough to close what some people have called the loopholes in the LPA?
DK: I think they're a positive first start. I think we've been committed since the beginning that this is an issue that successive governments have kicked down the road for a long time. So, I think these are important first steps that we're taking to close some of the most glaring loopholes, if that's what we want to call them. But there's much more to be done.
Look, agriculture's our biggest economic contributor. It's a huge, huge boost to the tax purse. That's how we're able to fund social programs, all the things that we've been doing. So, we have to be very careful in how we proceed with this. But it is evident to me – and it has been for a long time – that Islanders want to see some changes here.
TG: In 2019, you became premier, you became head of your political party. What's been the highs and lows?
DK: At my very root I'm a political junky as well. That I went to the lieutenant-governor and she asked me to form a government, that was pretty exciting for me. I would have never thought a year before that was even possible.
In terms of lows, the pace at which government works makes it difficult to do things quickly. There's lots of things I'd like to do more quickly, but I'm finding (with) a bureaucracy of thousands of people spread out across P.E.I., it's difficult.
But I love the fact that we have a minority government. I think it's the greatest gift I've been given. I love the way we're operating. I'm very, very proud of that and I'm really excited to see what it brings.
It's (a) minority, so I don't know if we'll be here in a year or if you'll be with somebody else. I have no idea. But I'm going to just take every day as it comes and just try to do the very best I can for Prince Edward Islanders and to make their lives a little bit better.
Due to technical issues, the online portion of Stu Neatby's interview with Premier Dennis King will not be available until later in January. Watch The Guardian for confirmation of the date.