P.E.I. Opposition leader uses strong language to condemn government's handling of return to school

·2 min read
'What pisses me off is that when Islanders brought forward real concerns about their health and safety, they got a scolding from the premier,' says Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of the Official Opposition Green Party.  (YouTube - image credit)
'What pisses me off is that when Islanders brought forward real concerns about their health and safety, they got a scolding from the premier,' says Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of the Official Opposition Green Party. (YouTube - image credit)

Prince Edward Island Opposition Leader Peter Bevan Baker took to YouTube to post a video statement Friday, criticizing the government's handling of its back-to-school plan to manage COVID-19.

In particular, Bevan-Baker referenced the briefing just over three weeks ago in which Premier Dennis King said it "pissed him off" to hear opposition MLAs criticize the province's back-to-school plan.

"I hear politicians questioning, saying we should do this or that, and I would just say to every Prince Edward Islander: If you were in [my] job, would you take the advice of a partisan politician or the chief public health officer who is a Rhodes Scholar, who is an infectious disease expert?" King said on Aug 24.

"A couple of weeks ago, I brought forward an alternative position on what our back-to-school plan should look like," Bevan-Baker said in his video statement. He had suggested improvements to school ventilation systems and that students wear masks at all times, among other measures.

"And that pissed off the premier. Well, what pisses me off is that when Islanders brought forward real concerns about their health and safety, they got a scolding from the premier," Bevan-Baker said in his video statement.

He also expressed disappointment that the King government no longer seems to be working collaboratively with the opposition parties on policy on such issues, as it did when in a minority position. King's Progressive Conservatives took a slim majority after a byelection (holding 14 of 27 seats) last fall in Charlottetown-Winsloe.

Since the return to school last week, there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 at West Royalty Elementary in Charlottetown as well as cases at Charlottetown Rural High School in Charlottetown and one reported at École La-Belle-Cloche in Rollo Bay.

The events led to the closure of all Charlottetown-area schools for the first three days of this week, and a massive testing effort which saw long lineups at the Charlottetown testing facility on Park Street, as well as a separate pop-up testing clinic Friday attended by hundreds of people at West Royalty Elementary.

The province now has 43 active cases, the highest since the pandemic began. More than 500 close contacts of the school cases are in isolation.

As a result of the deepening outbreak, all English and French schools on P.E.I. are now moving back to cohorting as well as masking for students in Grades 4 through 12.

Bevan-Baker said he supports those tighter measures, adding the province needs to go even further, by bringing in a vaccine passport and introducing more paid sick days for parents or caregivers who must stay home with children who are required to self-isolate.

"We still live in a special place, a place that's done extraordinarily well. But we just cannot be complacent and assume that it's always going to be that way," he said.

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