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P.E.I. Liberals and Greens push government over ‘pat on the back’ Fiona report

Both P.E.I. opposition parties questioned the premier Tuesday about the Fiona After-Action Review report released last week, saying most Islanders would take issue with it.

Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly brought up the topic during question period, four days after the release of a 57-page document summing up what a third-party review found. He called it a “pat on the back” for the King government, and one that didn’t reflect the fear and emotions Islanders felt during one of the worst storms in Prince Edward Island’s recorded history.

“The government proudly released its Fiona After-Action Review after a 14-month wait. I’ve read it, and it’s a whitewash,” McNeilly said in the legislature Tuesday.

“This do-nothing government should be embarrassed. It doesn’t mention shelters, it doesn’t mention vegetation management and it barely mentions government’s responsibility to keep Maritime Electric accountable to Islanders … I’d hoped to see at very minimum a critical review.”

Premier Dennis King responded, saying the recommendations in the report are being implemented.

A man in a blue suit and white shirt stands while posing questions to the premier.
Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly says the Fiona After-Action Review report does not reflect the emotions and tensions that ran high in the days and weeks after Fiona. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

“Every Islander would know that we went through the most devastating situation that we’ve gone through in our history with Fiona,” King said. “It required us to take a comprehensive look at what we did well [and] what we needed to do better, and provide a road map for us to make sure if we ever have to deal with this again that we’re on a better footing.

“I think the report does that.”

The report was prepared by Ottawa-based consulting firm Calian Group, the same group that handled a similar exercise after 2019’s post-tropical storm Dorian, producing a document that was about 30 pages longer than the Fiona report.

Short of putting a globe over the province, I don’t know what I’d have to do to keep the former Green leader happy.— Premier Dennis King

The Fiona review report arrived more than a year after the historic storm hit the Island in September 2022.

Fiona made landfall in Atlantic Canada on Sept. 24, 2022. On Prince Edward Island, the fierce winds knocked down millions of trees and damaged homes, roads and businesses.

Calian conducted surveys and focus groups with 140 Island organizations and government departments, as well as collecting feedback from 300 households across the province. 

A work crew clears fallen trees from a roadway.
A work crew clears trees felled by Fiona from the Iona Road in eastern Prince Edward Island just after the post-tropical storm rolled through. (Carolyn Ryan/CBC)

Based on that feedback, the report outlined three areas that need to be improved: increasing emergency resources, improving communication, and better co-ordination between response agencies and government departments.

According to the report, only 20 per cent of the public surveyed felt confident in the province’s ability to effectively respond and recover from the post-tropical storm.

The report found that “overall, the province conducted a well-coordinated response and recovery to post-tropical storm Fiona” and that the availability of fuel and critical supplies “for the continuity of essential services was excellent.”

King defends Fiona relief response

But on Tuesday, McNeilly continued to press the premier, listing cases in which people went without food and fuel for days on end after Fiona; seniors in public housing units were living in cold, dark rooms; and people lined up for hours trying to access funds through the Canadian Red Cross.

A man in a dark blue suit and tie stands while taking questions from opposition members.
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says the Fiona relief fund rollout wasn’t perfect, but the government hasn’t found a better way to have done it. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

Of the provincial government, the Liberal MLA said: “They didn’t learn from Dorian, they didn’t learn from Fiona, they went back to the same company and got the same results. We need to do better than that. 

“How can you accept a report that finds your government’s response acceptable when everyone was able to witness the extensive mismanagement of relief funds?”

King said the province, through the Red Cross, paid out relief money to more than 50,000 Islanders within the first three weeks after Fiona.

“We tried to find the fastest way to get money into the hands of Islanders,” he said. “Was it perfect? Absolutely not. Was there a better way to do that? We haven’t found one.”

Greens say report ‘sadly lacking’ details

The Greens followed up on the line of questioning, saying the report was “sadly lacking” in details. Green MLA Peter Bevan-Baker asked what specific recommendations from the report the King government will be putting into practice for next time.

The premier said he wishes “there was a button that I could press in my office to fix all those things as quickly as possible,” but there isn’t.

A man in a dark suit and checkered green tie standing while posing questions to the premier.
Green MLA Peter Bevan-Baker asked why King didn’t launch a public inquiry into the Fiona response. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

Hearing that, Bevan-Baker questioned why the government didn’t launch a public inquiry into Fiona.

“There’s no magic button in your office, premier, but there is a choice you could have made … A public inquiry would have given us all the information we needed to do truly better next time. Why did you prefer this incomplete and inadequate report?”

King said the most serious issues have been talked about significantly during legislative committees.

“Short of putting a globe over the province, I don’t know what I’d have to do to keep the former Green leader happy,” he told the legislature. 

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