The lovingly-named Rules, Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges Committee of the Legislative Assembly of PEI had a call for public comment on issues under its purview that closed last week. While my comments did not touch specifically on the issues being actively concerned by the committee, I thought them worthwhile of submission, as it is unlikely the these are issues members themselves would see as issues, being on “the other side of the rail” as they are. Here is what I submitted:
My concerns relate to how the experience of observing sittings of the Legislative Assembly and of Committees can be improved for citizens:
1. The security experience of attending a regular sitting has, understandably, been tightened in recent decades, and I do not dispute the need for this. However the unintended side-effect has been that citizens feel less welcome in our legislature. I believe this could be mitigated if the “front face” of the Legislative Assembly in this regard was improved.
The Commissionaires who currently manage this process are focused on the security aspects of admitting or denying entry; I would suggest that there is a role for a staff person, who would not be a security official, who could act as a greeter or welcomer and guide citizens through the security process and into the gallery, answering questions and working to ensure comfort along the way and throughout the sitting. Think of this role, perhaps most usefully, as the “maître d’” of the assembly.
2. The seating in the gallery, while perhaps historically appropriate, is very uncomfortable, and further reinforces this “we’re allowing you in here but don’t feel too welcome” feeling of visiting the legislature. Adding cushions to the church-pew-like seating would be a great service to citizens.
3. Those sitting on the government side of the public gallery have no way of knowing what time it is, as the clock is out of their view; this is exacerbated because cell phones are not allowed in the gallery, and many don’t wear a watch these days but rather rely on their phone to tell the time. Installing a clearly-viewable clock with a view from the gallery would mitigate this.
4. Citizens are not allowed to bring water into the gallery. It’s not clear why this is the case, but it would aid greatly, especially for long meetings and sittings, if those sitting in the gallery were either allowed to bring in water, or provided with access to it.
5. It would aid in the understanding of citizens if simplified copies of the Orders of the Day, or of committee agendas, were provided upon entrance to the gallery.
I’m happy to report that my feedback has already born fruit: when I attended this morning’s meeting of the Special Committee on Climate Change, there were copies of the agenda waiting in the public gallery.
I was, however, still not allowed access to drinking water. In time.