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Friday, March 24, 2023

P.E.I. PCs fulfilled about 60% of 2019 promises, CBC finds

The way P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King tells it, his government made good on nearly all of its campaign promises four years ago.

“We did a little quick update on our platform commitments from 2019 just this morning,” King said on March 3, just before announcing Islanders would be heading to the polls in April.

“We’ve completed over 95 per cent of those promises that we made in 2019 … When we tell you what we’re going to do for the next four years, you can take it to the bank.”

When asked by reporters if the PCs planned to release that analysis, King responded: “You have the platform. Do the math.”

So CBC/Radio-Canada conducted an assessment of the 121 distinct commitments included in the PC’s 2019 election platform.

Island Morning11:57Tracking the PC party

Premier Dennis King made a statement that his government fulfilled more than 95 per cent of the campaign promises. CBC and Radio-Canada have done an analysis as to how many commitments the previous government fulfilled. Kerry Campbell joins us with more.

How we checked the facts

By our analysis, the PCs fulfilled 45 per cent of those promises in whole, and another 16 per cent were completed in part or with significant caveats attached. Thirty per cent of the promises, as far as we can tell, remain unfulfilled. The percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Some promises were too vague or otherwise impossible to fact-check. A few commitments repeated multiple times in the platform were omitted from this analysis.

CBC/Radio-Canada spent two weeks looking at news stories, government announcements, ministerial mandate letters, transcripts of debates in the legislature, and reaching out to multiple government departments, third parties that would have been involved in some files, and the PC Party.

For the cases in which official sources didn’t provide any information and there is little to no information included in public records we could find, we considered whether we could find any evidence the commitments had been fulfilled.

The PC Party did not provide its own analysis to CBC/Radio-Canada despite repeated requests.

The tables below includes all the commitments (minus duplicates included in the platform document itself), together with highlights from the various platform areas.

Health care

Replace the Hillsborough Hospital: Promise broken

The very first commitment in the platform is to “replace the Hillsborough Hospital immediately.”

There’s no way to assess this promise except as a broken one, given the way it’s worded. The same goes for the PC promise from the campaign trail to have “shovels in the ground” on Day 1.

The drawn-out process to replace P.E.I.’s psychiatric hospital began under the Liberals. When the PCs first took office, health-critic-turned-health-minister James Aylward said he’d asked his staff to complete within two to three years what had been a five-year plan under the Liberals.

There are several components to the mental-health campus project, but the latest estimate on when the main psychiatric hospital could open — during the winter of 2025-26 — is even later than what the PCs said the Liberals were working with following the change in government.

The PCs made a slew of health-care related promises during the 2019 election campaign. CBC News found more than 60% of all the party’s promises were kept or partially kept. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Doctors recruiting doctors: Promise kept

Involving doctors in the recruitment of their colleagues to join P.E.I.’s health care system was a key plank of the Tories’ health platform. A year and a half after the election, government announced it had signed a deal with the P.E.I. Medical Society.

Broaden the scope of practice: Promise partially kept

The PCs promised to broaden scope of practice for a wide swath of health care workers, from nurse practitioners to pharmacists. 

There’s been a steady increase in the role pharmacists are able to play in health-care delivery under the Tories, but delays in expanding scopes of practice for some other professionals — such that the PCs made another promise in the opening days of the 2023 campaign to broaden the scope of practice for nurse practitioners and allow them to work in ERs.

A pharmacist stands at a pharmacy desk
The PCs had promised to broaden the scope of practice for nurse practitioners, RNs, RCWs, LPNs and pharmacists, a promise CBC found was partially kept. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Address gaps in emergency care: Promise broken

Overnight emergency service at Western Hospital in Alberton has been suspended pending a review by Health P.E.I., while staff shortages have led to regular closures of the dayside ER in Alberton, and closures in Montague as well.

Implement ‘third option’: Promise kept

The “third option” allows sexual assault survivors to have samples collected and stored as potential evidence without having to make an immediate decision about whether to report their assault to police. The Tories began making the case to implement this in P.E.I. while in opposition. It was implemented in 2021.

Public service, culture and heritage

Communities, families

Implement ‘First 1,000 Days’ initiative: Promise broken

This was a core commitment of the PC 2019 platform, though the details weren’t fully sketched out. The initiative is meant to ensure Island children get the best start in life, It was mentioned in the initial mandate letters for Brad Trivers as education minister and James Aylward as health minister. But there’s been little talk of it since.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told CBC News the program was being developed by the Chief Public Health Office.

CPHO’s annual report for 2021 makes a brief mention of the office supporting “government initiatives such as the First 100 [sic] Days,” but provides no further information.

Economy, education

Increase the basic personal exemption: Promise kept

The Tories followed through on various commitments to reduce taxes, including raising the basic personal amount to $12,000, and reducing the small business tax rate to the lowest in the region. But under the PCs, government tax revenues have consistently come in far above budget estimates — in part, because tax brackets in P.E.I. are not indexed to inflation.

Reinstate elected school boards: Promise kept

The first slate of English school board elections in 14 years took place in P.E.I. last fall. But with only mail-in ballots involved, the participation rate was abysmal.

A government report from 2012 had made lots of recommendations to increase turnout in trustee elections, including piggy-backing on municipal voting. But despite the fact trustee elections took place within days of municipal elections, that didn’t happen.

An elementary aged student does work at a desk
The PCs pledged to reduce the frequency of provincial standardized testing, a promise that was kept according to a CBC News analysis. (Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty)

Reduce frequency of standardized testing: Promise kept

One of the first moves the PCs made related to education after the election was to announce a pause in Grade 3 common assessments.

It’s not clear if those assessments ever resumed, with the pandemic also disrupting assessment schedules. A government web page listing assessment results hasn’t been updated since 2019.

Environment, land, industry

Continue moratorium on high-capacity wells: Promise partly kept

The full wording of this commitment was “Continue the moratorium on deep-water wells and obtain independent studies to provide conclusive, science-based research to develop a permanent policy on their use.”

Work on developing a Water Act in P.E.I. began under the Liberal government of Robert Ghiz. The new law came into effect under the Tories, who ended the moratorium on high-capacity irrigation wells two decades after the PC government of Pat Binns brought it in.

But the research that every government from Binns to King said was required in order to lift that moratorium isn’t expected to be delivered for at least another year.

Restore Lands Protection Act: Unknown

The Tories vowed to restore the spirit and the intent of the Lands Protection Act. Amendments were passed in 2021, and came into effect last year. But IRAC’s investigation into a controversial land transfer still hasn’t been released to the public.

Without being able to see details around what took place — or what recommendations, if any, the commission made to close what the minister at the time said were “loopholes” in the act — it’s impossible to give the Tories a passing grade on this promise.

A tractor in front of a colourful sky
The PCs pledged to establish a land bank for the purpose of buying farmland and leasing it out to new Island farmers, a promise CBC News found was broken. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Establish a land bank: Promise broken

The PCs gave an untendered contract for $50,000 to consultant Kevin Arsenault — an unsuccessful PC leadership candidate — to study the idea of a land bank, which had been promised by the PCs, Greens and NDP in the 2019 campaign. It would have seen the province buying land from retiring farmers and leasing it to young people who wanted to get into farming.

But the last public word on that, from the final report of the Land Matters Advisory Committee in 2021, said “there was not sufficient evidence to support recommending the creation of a land bank.”

Diversity and inclusion

Address barriers to women: Partly kept

The Tories promised to implement measures called for since 2009 by the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government that the group said would address barriers preventing women from seeking elected office.

Some measures, such as eliminating regular evening sittings of the legislature, were adopted by the Legislative Assembly. But another recommendation was ignored by the premier just last week: adhering to fixed election dates.

Housing, trust in government

Deliver 1,200 affordable rental units: Promise partly kept

The PC’s tenure has coincided with an ongoing housing crisis which started under the previous Liberal government, driven in part by P.E.I’s growing population.

A government release issued days before the election call said the province had “already initiated 1,185 of the 1,200 [additional] units committed to in 2019.” But an email to Radio-Canada broke down the numbers, showing more than half those units — 630 — were in the form of mobile rental vouchers.

Providing Islanders with a discount on an existing rental unit will help them pay the rent, but won’t help budge the province’s 0.8-per-cent apartment vacancy rate. Only building new units will do that.

The P.E.I legislature as it used to be, without all the scaffolding.
During the 2019 election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives pledged to reduce evening sittings of the Legislative Assembly, a promise that was kept. (Canadian Press)

Give opposition majority on committees: Promise kept

The King PCs made this commitment even before they won a minority government. Technically, the rule change to give each party an equal number of committee seats was made by the legislature’s standing committee on rules, regulations, private bills and privileges, which previously had been controlled by the governing party.

Require prompt, direct answers in QP: Promise broken

The PCs said cabinet ministers would reply “promptly, directly, and succinctly” during question period under a Dennis King government. The legislature has no rule to stipulate that, but as the head of cabinet, the premier could try to enforce this rule among his ministers. If you watched much debate over the past few years, you would probably conclude the premier was not doing this — or if he was trying, it wasn’t working.

Improve freedom of information: Promise partly kept

The Tories promised to increase funding to the privacy commissioner’s office, which was included in the last provincial budget. But there hasn’t been time for that to address the ever-growing backlog of freedom of information requests under the King government.

A promise from the PCs to eliminate the $5 application fee for access requests was never implemented.

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