Along with all other Islanders, local politicians’ regular workflow was overhauled in March as MLAs and MPs were suddenly called to address new challenges pertaining to COVID-19.
MLA Cory Deagle, representing Montague-Kilmuir, said he has stopped spending as much time at his constituency office given people are more reluctant to meet in-person. But he fielded an increase in calls, especially early on when government programs were rolling out to address the pandemic.
“A lot of people were trying to figure out what program they could use,” Mr Deagle said. “It was a matter of matching people up with the program that would work for them.”
He said reaching constituents has changed because there were fewer events to attend although, with eased restrictions Islanders have been able to go ahead with some events and social activities. Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay echoed a similar challenge in regards to reaching constituents without a robust calendar of events.
“I’m pretty well known for being out and around but there were no events,” he said. “People were concerned about the virus so you didn’t go to homes.”
Mr MacAulay has conducted the majority of his parliamentary business from a distance.
“I find when you want to deal with an issue you want to sit with a person and see them eyeball to eyeball.”
Mr MacAulay has attended some meetings in-person such as the federal cabinet retreat in September, when ministers gathered to discuss the direction of the country.
Most of Mr MacAulay’s meetings have been conducted over his iPad since March, often from his Veterans Affairs office in Charlottetown.
“Since March I’ve been in Ottawa twice,” he said.
Like other MPs, Mr MacAulay has been voting on issues tabled in the House of Commons virtually.
When the House was open before COVID-19, Mr MacAulay would spend most work weeks in Ottawa. He would return home on weekends and for one week when the house closes to allow MPs time in their constituencies.
International travel is usually a big part of Mr MacAulay’s role as Minister of Veteran Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.
“This year is the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. Canadians liberated the Netherlands, they played a major role in Europe and around the world.”
If it weren’t for travel restrictions and advisories, Mr MacAulay said he would have attended anniversary commemorations abroad.
“Some of our relatives paid the ultimate price so we could have freedom and that’s so important,” Mr MacAulay said, adding in many parts of the world basic freedoms aren’t granted.
Ernie Hudson, MLA for Alberton-Bloomfield and provincial Minister of Social Development and Housing said, a necessary shift in focus has had a big impact on his day-to-day.
“Focus shifted from pre-COVID plans to programming that was absolutely necessary to help Islanders through the pandemic,” he said.
Restricted social interactions impacted his ability to reach constituents but,“We’re in a different world now than we were 15 years ago. Contact can still be made, whether it’s by email, text, Facebook messaging or by phone.”
He said over the past couple of months legislative work seems to be shifting toward figuring out how the government can best suit the needs of Islanders in a new normal and back to or revisiting and improving some programming on the table before the pandemic.
Hal Perry, MLA of Tignish-Palmer Road Riding, said many constituents have continued to reach him by phone, email, text or on social media but nothing compares to meeting in person to get a good sense of their needs.
Some of this work happens at his constituency office which neighbours Access PEI.
He said often members of his constituency would drop in with ideas, concerns or just to chat. People would often get to his office through the Access PEI entrance.
Mr Perry expects these interactions have decreased in part because the location has not been open full-time.
He said access to his office through this specific route is minor in comparison to the need to ensure Access PEI is consistently accessible to residents in his riding.
Right now Access PEI in Tignish is open on alternate weeks.