4 Green MLAs abstain from capital budget vote as fall legislature sitting ends

·5 min read

Premier Dennis King's capital budget has passed all three readings in the P.E.I. Legislature, but four Green MLAs abstained from the vote as the fall sitting came to an end.

A total of 19 MLAs voted in favour and three MLAs voted against the budget motion: Liberals Heath MacDonald and Rob Henderson and the Green Party's Hannah Bell.

The capital budget includes $195 million in capital spending for the 2021-2022 fiscal year alone. The five-year projected total is $747.6 million (for the years 2021-2026).

The four MLAs to abstain from the vote were Opposition and Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker and Green MLAs Ole Hammarlund, Trish Altass and Michele Beaton.

Bevan-Baker said that he didn't like the budget, which the Official Opposition has called short on detail about the spending of tens of millions of dollars, but he didn't want to trigger an election.

"I chose to abstain so I would not add to that burden," Bevan-Baker said. "I just didn't feel enthusiastic about the budget to, with good conscience, endorse it."

He said deciding how to vote on the budget was complex and he and members of his caucus took a lot of time to consider.

"I can tell you that hours and hours and hours of debate and thought and careful consideration went into each and every vote."

Decision to abstain

The decision to abstain captured the attention of both government and Liberal benches.

"As the leader of the province, I need to have the strength and courage to make decisions," King said.

"I don't have the ability to abstain. This job calls for difficult decisions to be made."

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald said elected officials need to show leadership, which he doesn't think this decision did.

"Anybody to abstain on a budget, capital budget or operational budget — and being a former finance minister knows what goes into that — I think is rather cowardly to be quite honest," MacDonald said.

Bevan-Baker said he was surprised to hear MacDonald describe his decision that way.

"I've never shied away from making a decision on a difficult topic and I think, I think that's the first time I've ever abstained on a vote and it's because I was taking my responsibility to Islanders as the leader of the Official Opposition, to be absolutely sure that I did not contribute to something that I knew Islanders did not want," Bevan-Baker said.

Highlights of the fall session

Bevan-Baker said overall he's pleased with what was accomplished throughout the fall session.

"I was really happy with the session, happy with the that work our caucus did. We went in with a few priorities and I think we spoke effectively to all of them," Bevan-Baker said.

Issues like access to mental health and addictions services, housing, rebuilding the economy and health care dominated question period throughout the session.

"We ticked all of those boxes, whether it was through a motion or a piece of legislation or questions to ministers," Bevan-Baker said.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

There were a total of 37 bills passed during the fall sitting, which included legislation from government and both opposition parties.

"I think that's a great sign that there's continued collaboration that takes place," King said.

"Under difficult times we had a productive session, the capital budget of course, the largest in our history is a big one as well."

Interim Liberal Leader Sonny Gallant said he's also happy with what his caucus accomplished this sitting and Liberal members brought forward legislation that reflected the interests and needs of Islanders.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

"We heard from Islanders and we listened to the agriculture community, the business community and people that had issues with health and that's where we went with this session," Gallant said.

There were also 10 committee reports adopted by the legislature this sitting, including reports from the special committee on poverty and the standing committee on natural resources and environmental sustainability.

Unfinished business

Some other notable highlights from this sitting include PC MLA Cory Deagle's plans to push forward with legislation that, if passed, would keep P.E.I. on daylight time permanently. This bill did not get debated during the fall session, but will be back when the house resumes in the new year.

Green MLA Karla Bernard's private member's bill to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 was only debated for one day.

In 2017, Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker introduced a similar bill to lower the voting age to 16, which faced stiff opposition from the governing Liberals and was soundly defeated. Bernard said she's optimistic that her bill will get more support.

Early in the session, PC MLA Sidney MacEwen spoke in the legislature about plans to bring in legislation to ban the use of home heating oil in new homes starting next year.

MacEwen told CBC News the bill wasn't ready and he hopes to bring it forward during the next legislative session.

King has one-seat majority

King's Progressive Conservative government moved from minority to one-seat majority status with a byelection win in November.

They hold 14 of the legislature's 27 seats.

The fall session of the P.E.I. Legislature concluded after sitting for 14 days. The legislature has now adjourned until February.

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