By Andy Walker
Will the spirit of consensus and cooperation Premier Dennis King has staked his political reputation on delivering, continue during the fall session of the legislature?
After voters delivered a minority government, there was plenty of talk from all three parties about working together. The Speech from the Throne drew ideas from all party platforms and the budget was largely developed by the outgoing Liberals, who will likely be pointing out it was their fiscal management that resulted in a $57 million surplus when the Public Accounts were tabled at the end of last month.
It has to be pointed out that figure is way off the $600,000 in the black projected by Cornwall-Meadowbank MLA Heath MacDonald in his last budget as financial minister. The previous year, the Liberals had forecast a $1.5 million surplus and the Public Accounts actually came in $73.5 million ahead of that.
We won't know until this time next year how well Finance Minister Darlene Compton has done on her forecast for a $1.8 million surplus. While having more money than planned is definitely a good problem, almost half of the surplus in the last two fiscal years came from higher than projected tax revenue. If it happens again, Islanders will probably start demanding some tax breaks.
With the economy chugging along (the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council is forecast P.E.I. will again lead the region in growth in 2020), the King government is likely to claim vindication that consensus government is working. They have bolstered their ranks since the summer sitting with Natalie Jameson winning the deferred election in Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park, leaving them one shy of a majority.
Many Island political watchers are astounded at the fact the rookie MLA has not yet been sworn into cabinet, considering the fact she is now the only MLA from Charlottetown on the government benches.
The Green opposition has to shift the focus more from popular leader Peter Bevan-Baker to help increase the profile of the six rookie MLA's elected in April. They also have to place more emphasis on issues not directly related to the environment or they risk being seen as a one-issue party. Nobody denies environmental issues are important and an argument can certainly be made there is nothing more important. However, there are also many other bread and butter issues like jobs and health care Green MLA's must do a better job addressing.
For the Liberals, the session will likely be the unofficial start of the leadership campaign. Robert Mitchell has stepped aside as interim leader and is considering taking a run for the job on a permanent basis. Heath MacDonald is also expected to throw his hat into the ring. Both will be looking for a high profile during this session. The Third Party will be led this time around by Evangeline-Miscouche MLA Sonny Gallant.
While a high level of cooperation will likely continue this session, all three parties will likely want to increase their efforts to put their own stamp on the first functional minority government in Island history.
By Andy Walker