Keeping Government Accountable is our Democratic Duty
Updated: Mar 29, 2020
In the days following the closing of the Legislative Assembly, I was struck by the eagerness of the Conservative Premier and Green Opposition Leader to congratulate themselves.
Certainly, it is valuable for people to take quiet pride in their work. However, I was raised in a tradition that hard work is its own reward, and a willingness to praise one’s self is a barrier to improvement.
That said, I would like to offer my thanks to the Premier and the Green Leader of the Opposition. Every member of the Third Party appreciates their sincerity and willingness to place themselves in the public eye and work towards a better Prince Edward Island. This is the role of elected representatives – and it can be a very difficult job.
As the interim Leader of the Liberal Third Party, I would like to take a very different perspective on the recent sitting of the Legislature.
Collaboration is a wonderful word. But our position is this: Collaboration must involve the public.
As a group, Robert Mitchell, Rob Henderson, Hal Perry, Heath MacDonald, Gord McNeilly and myself have been discussing our approach to debate in the House.
Together, we have reached the conclusion that more effort will have to be invested in the democratic duty of keeping government accountable for its actions.
Let me offer an example.
This fall, a new Adoptions Act was introduced – and passed by members of the House.
The vast majority of Islanders will not be affected by the new law. But there are hundreds of Islanders who have a very real, personal interest in adoptions.
So, the law was introduced – and debate was very limited. In fact, it now appears in hindsight that the Adoptions Act was rushed through the House.
In the end, the members of the Third Party chose to vote against the new law – because we came to the understanding that there was insufficient scrutiny of the Act.
Our failure was this: We should have spent more time insisting on explanations.
And even more importantly, we should have demanded a more thorough process of consultation with the Islanders who are affected. So, that’s a regret. Our role as members of the Third Party must be to act as the vigilant eyes and ears of the general public. And that job is especially important when it comes to safeguarding the rights and interests of small groups.
We could have done a better job. And that is the lesson we learned from the fall sitting.
For those reasons, we will be developing a new approach for the next sitting of the House – which will take place in the spring of next year.
We will rely less on assurances from the governing Conservatives and Opposition Greens that “everything is fine, and debate should be limited.” We will not obstruct – but we will do our very best to ensure that the requirements of parliamentary due diligence are followed and the implications of new laws and government spending decisions are understood to the best degree possible.
Most particularly, we have agreed to press government on the need to engage in meaningful public consultation. Collaboration is a wonderful word. But our position is this: Collaboration must involve the public. When the public is excluded from legislative debate, collaboration is little more than a closed dialogue between politicians. And that serves neither our democracy nor the shared goal of a better Prince Edward Island.