Private member’s alcohol use education bill fails in P.E.I. Legislature

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 A P.E.I. private member’s bill to fund alcohol use awareness from liquor sales has been rejected by the province’s legislature on Wednesday.

The majority of MLAs voted against Liberal member Gord McNeilly’s proposed legislation that would have diverted some liquor commission profits to health education.

The vote came a day after P.E.I. Finance Minister Jill Burridge said Liberal MLA’s bill could not pass as it stands, and McNeilly replied he was not interested in amendments or sending it to a standing committee for further discussion.

The vote spells the end of the private member’s bill, which would have seen three per cent of profits dedicated to programs supporting responsible liquor consumption.

Wednesday’s motion saw all present Progressive Conservative MLAs vote against the bill, with Greens and Liberals voting in its favour.

McNeilly called the result “cowardly,” citing P.E.I.’s 40 impaired driver-caused deaths in the last five years. P.E.I. saw more than 1,300 impaired driving convictions in that time, according to the province, roughly one-in-five of those were repeat offenders.

“It’s terrible, that’s what we’re elected for,” McNeilly told CBC News in an interview after the vote. “We’re in there to make decisions on important things … It was one of the most disappointing, discouraging moments I’ve seen.

“To vote no against something and then try to make excuses about it later, it’s completely discouraging. I hope it moves the conversation, and I think the government did get the message.”

Burridge said her caucus’s issue was not with the cause behind the failed private member’s bill, but with the way the failed legislation was framed. She had hoped McNeilly would have agreed to let a standing committee address the issues.

The finance minister said she will instead call on P.E.I.’s Liquor Control Commission and Cannabis Management Corporation to commit in their mandates to at least three per cent of their net profits on “social responsibility” and what “grassroots” advocates say would help curb impaired driving.

“Budget allocations should be done within the budget process,” she told CBC News on Wednesday. “We shouldn’t have legislated percentages put into legislation.

“This is a policy conversation, and the way we really cut to the outcomes that I think everybody in the House wants … it’s not through legislation, it was a wrong pathway.”

A person speaks into a microphone in a legislature.
Finance Minister Jill Burridge says she would like to see the bill move forward, but can’t support it as it stands. (Submitted by Government of P.E.I.)

A day earlier, during a committee of the whole meeting, Burridge cited international evidence provided by P.E.I.’s Chief Public Health Office that public education may be ineffective at reducing alcohol consumption, and that some studies had found increased consumption in the wake of education campaigns.

“With the bill the way it reads right now, and there’s a few problems with it, we would have to vote it down today,” Burridge told MLAs on Tuesday. “But I don’t want to do that.

“I want to take it to a standing committee and have more discussion on this.”

‘We have no alcohol strategy’

McNeilly said he is not interested in waiting for that.

“You send it to a standing committee, that’s a year away, and we have the information,” he said. “We have no alcohol strategy, minister.”

As for superseding the budget process, McNeilly said there are other examples of minimum-spending requirements in P.E.I. legislation.

Kristen Cameron, who was left paralyzed from the collarbone down after being hit by a drunk driver in 2010, was invited by McNeilly to the legislature to talk about the bill on Tuesday.

“This matters, this is a representation of a whole community of people — people that have been affected by drinking and driving,” the 39-year old athlete said. “It’s not just me because I’m in a wheelchair because I got hit by a drunk driver.”

She acknowledged the bill was far from a complete solution, but said more funding for awareness programs would be a good start.

“Policy obviously needs to change, but why wouldn’t we do a little bit of both?” said Cameron.

In response, Burridge thanked Cameron for sharing her story, saying, “We do have problems in P.E.I. that we have to work on … We are listening.”

The finance minister said the government is committed to dealing with irresponsible and unhealthy alcohol consumption, but will be looking at other ways of achieving those goals. 

She added government spending on those initiatives will likely exceed the $750,000 that would have been mandated by McNeilly’s bill. 

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