CHARLOTTETOWN - Prince Edward Island's new premier says he wants to get Islanders engaged in democratic reform and a bid to make the province more open and accountable.
In his first speech from the throne, Wade MacLauchlan said Wednesday his Liberal government plans to strengthen the Island's electoral system and the role of the legislative assembly, though details are lacking.
The upcoming legislative session will include the release of a discussion paper on democratic renewal, he said, adding that he wants as many Islanders as possible to get involved in the process.
"My government looks forward to the active engagement of all Islanders, of all governments, of all peoples, sectors and communities, as we address the issues that matter most," MacLauchlan said in the speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis.
The word engagement appears no less than 12 times in the document.
The speech goes on to promise a review of the province's freedom of information legislation, a move aimed at making government information more transparent.
As well, MacLauchlan pledged to introduce a whistleblower policy with protections linked to the province's new ethics commissioner.
The premier has also committed to bringing all parts of the legislature under the authority of the province's auditor general.
"The path to our goals begins with governing well," the speech says. "(That includes) engaging Islanders in the decisions that shape their future, increasing openness and transparency, holding government and especially leaders to high standards of ethical conduct and accountability."
MacLauchlan's focus on accountability comes less than a month after his Liberals were elected to govern with a majority following an election campaign that saw the party repeatedly accused of undermining public trust.
The opposition parties used the campaign to raise questions about the government's accountability following a three-year RCMP investigation into allegations of fraud surrounding an immigrant investor program, which police closed in January with no charges laid.
Even before the campaign began, MacLauchlan tried to deal with the government's image problem by introducing a series of conflict-of-interest reforms.
He also asked the province's auditor general to examine an Internet gaming plan that was scrapped in February 2012, but remains at the centre of questions about the conduct of current and former elected officials and staff.
On Wednesday, MacLauchlan promised that a greater range of government information will routinely be made public.
As an example, he cited changes his government has already made to increase the level of detail required in the travel and hospitality expenditure reports filed by cabinet ministers, senior officials and political staff.
Among other things, MacLauchlan promised to balance the province's budget in 2016-2017 and to introduce: a new Water Act, a poverty reduction strategy and a Municipal Government Act.
Other measures include:
— capping the cost of generic drugs to under $20 for uninsured Islanders under the age of 65
— investing $1 million in a rural program that will allow paramedics to visit seniors in their homes
— expanding post-secondary programs in French
— ensuring there are wireless networks in every school in 2016
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