This is the fourth part in our series featuring the great work accomplished by the PC Caucus during the most recent legislative sitting in the Fall of 2018. We are highlighting the actions of PC MLAs in seeking accountability and answers, showing strong leadership, and advocating on important issues bringing about positive action and real changes on behalf of Islanders. Today, three PC bills which remain under debate at the Legislature.
Bill 117: Mental Health Court Act, sponsored by MLA Jamie Fox
In introducing this Bill when it reached the Legislature floor, bill sponsor MLA Jamie Fox stated:
“The creation of the mental health court in our province is essential and it is needed. A mental health court is not a trial court, but an alternative. Participants must accept responsibility for their criminal actions. This is a holistic approach to ensuring Islanders suffering from mental health conditions who commit crimes of a criminal nature are provided with care and treatment to address their mental health issues in an attempt to avoid re-offending. This is a voluntary program, and one championed by many other provinces, including the province of Nova Scotia and also the province of Ontario.” (Hansard, Page 3970, November 20, 2018)
Mental health courts link offenders who would ordinarily be prison-bound to long-term community-based treatment. They rely on mental health assessments, individualized treatment plans, and ongoing judicial monitoring to address both the mental health needs of offenders and public safety concerns of communities, and seek to address the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behaviour. Mental health courts are utilized widely across Canada, and are shown to be an effective strategy to promote rehabilitation in convicted offenders.
There is significant public support to ensuring that proper programs and supports are put in place to improve our mental health care system to assist and treat those who are in need. In 2016 PEI Provincial Justice John Douglas stated his belief that mental health courts are needed here in the province (read more here: https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/news/local/judge-suggests-mental-health-court-needed-on-pei-58492/).
The MacLauchlan government opposes mental health courts.
Speaking against this bill, Justice Minister Jordan Brown stated in the Legislature:
“There is also a practical question I have though, as well is: where there is a court such as this in other jurisdictions, it’s set aside to basically skip the waiting line, if you will, to borrow the name of the act that’s used at the doctor’s office – it’s the same thing, basically, and to get you quicker to the end result. We don’t have that problem here, so there wouldn’t be a net gain, in our eyes, in setting up a separate court to deal with it.” (Hansard, Page 3972, November 20, 2018)
Private Member Bills such as this one require a procedural Royal Recommendation in order to pass third reading and enter into law. During debate on November 20th, MLA Fox directly and individually asked Health Minister Robert Mitchell, Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy, Justice Minister Jordan Brown, and, Finance Minister Heath MacDonald if they would support this effort to establish mental health courts in PEI and provide a Royal Recommendation funding the project. Each of these MacLauchlan government cabinet ministers refused to support Island mental health courts, leading MLA Fox to end debate on his bill at this time. But MLA Jamie Fox certainly has not given up hope, rising in the Legislature the very next day to continue to press this issue home:
— PEI PC Caucus (@PC_Caucus_PEI) November 21, 2018
Bill 104: Public Intervener Act, sponsored by MLA Jamie Fox
Bill No. 104 Public Intervener Act would legislate an independent public advocate to represent the public interest in regulatory proceedings at the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC).
PCs have brought up their private members bill to create a public intervener, who would have standing at IRAC hearings to represent the public interest, according to the act. #peipoli
— Kerry Campbell (@kerrywcampbell) April 19, 2018
Back in 2012, the current government appointed the PEI Energy Commission consisting of five commissioners (including former MacLauchlan Deputy Finance Minister David Arsenault) to examine our Island energy sector. The Commission released their final report entitled Charting Our Electricity Future in September 2012. This report made a number of recommendations including:
Recommendation: Establish a “consumer advocate for electricity” to represent individual ratepayers and help facilitate the participation of other interested parties
at regulatory hearings.
As already stated in Section 2.2, IRAC currently looks to third parties to challenge the submissions of Maritime Electric. The complexity of electric utility matters makes effective intervention costly and consumptive in terms of securing the required legal and technical resources. Further, if interveners consistently fail to elicit any substantive impact on the regulatory Orders issued by IRAC, the result is likely to be increasingly less public participation in the regulatory process over time.
In the absence of other interveners with the technical and financial resources necessary to challenge regulatory filings by Maritime Electric, Government often
takes on this role. An alternative approach would be for Government to appoint a consumer advocate to represent the interests of the residential and general
service ratepayer on electricity issues filed with IRAC. In addressing how best to give the electricity consumer a voice in regulatory oversight and the overall cost of electricity and performance of Maritime Electric, the Commission looked at four aspects of facilitating public involvement:
• Approaches to intervention.
• The role of a utility consumer advocate.
• The regulator as a utility consumer advocate.
• Modeling a utility consumer advocate for Prince Edward Island.
MLA Fox’s bill builds upon this recommendation long ignored by the MacLauchlan, to ensure a public intervener could advocate on all regulatory matters under consideration at IRAC. This would have been the case for the forced amalgamation process that took place in Eastern PEI that saw Islanders who live in unincorporated parts of the province being denied a proper voice and an opportunity to have their opinions and concerns heard.
Bill 104 remains in the Committee of the Whole stage in the Legislature, being obstructed and opposed by the MacLauchlan government.
Bill 118: An Act to Amend the Conflict of Interest Act (No. 3), sponsored by MLA Steven Myers
Currently PEI’s Conflict of Interest Act contains a six month cooling off provision applicable to cabinet ministers upon leaving office. This window is meant to ensure cabinet ministers cannot leave government and immediately receive contracts or become involved in lobbying, or make representations to the government, or accept certain contracts for a period of six months following their departure from government.
MLA Myers’ bill increases accountability and transparency in senior officials in government by expanding this cooling-off provision to apply to the executive division employees of government. This means all senior government officials who are appointed as executive division would now be required to observe this post-employment cooling off period as well.
Bill 118 remains in Committee of the Whole stage, being obstructed and opposed by the MacLauchlan government.
The bills may be viewed below: