Response to Budget 2022/23
Updated: Feb 25
As we sit here today we continue to find ourselves in unprecedent times.
We find ourselves once again attempting to navigate out of a new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that has challenged all of us in one way or another, but has disproportionately affected our businesses, our health care system, our educators and students, and our seniors.
When I think back to last year when we delivered an address on the budget there was much optimism and hope even in the face of COVID and I find myself feeling the same way as I stand here today but, with a higher degree of caution.
That’s because we have seen heartbreaking challenges continue to face Islanders. Our Island potato growers and exporters have faced unimaginable challenges as a result of the export ban on potatoes shipping to the United States market.
It is encouraging to hear that progress is being made towards resolving this issue, but the hardships, mental strain and worry experienced by our farmers can never been rectified.
We have seen a return to isolation requirements, travel restrictions, and lockdown measures that once again took a toll on our citizens and industries.
And sadly the latest round of the province's fight against COVID-19 resulted in us losing the lives of 15 Islanders. This exposed weaknesses and short-comings in our long term care and community care home services, and placed further strains on resources in our social development system and on the vulnerable Islanders who seek them.
We have also seen some unfortunate examples on how our country and province are more divided than ever on the best steps to take moving forward.
So when I say that I remain optimistic and hopeful about the year to come, I believe we must conduct ourselves with a higher level of caution, given the unfortunate events of this past year I outlined.
As an MLA, I believe in government. I believe in its capacity to achieve great progress on behalf of all citizens. Individually, we can only achieve so much.
It is when we come together that we can address social and economic inequality and provide the important protections that offer us all security and the capacity to succeed.
But in order to do this, there needs to be a plan. Simply put, throwing a little bit of money in a vast amount of areas and having fancy headings in front of the numbers will simply not do. Government needs to take bold action behind those dollars, and address problems and concerns as a government, and not rely so heavily on the generosity and good people behind our community organizations and not-for profits.
I was fortunate to serve with a government that had a clear and definite agenda for improvement. I think of the introduction of public, all-day kindergarten and the creation of an early years system across our Island. These initiatives were major leaps forward and as a result today, Prince Edward Island is viewed across Canada as a leader in offering early childhood programs.
Similarly, we took steps to ensure that post-secondary education was made more affordable and I am so proud when young Islanders tell me how essential the George Coles Bursary was to their development and I am happy to hear about the announced increase to the bursary.
Those initiatives were built around the idea of equal access to the best that we can offer and that leads me to my central criticism of this government. Three years in and I still struggle to detect a clear plan on how the government is going to tackle the major issues in our province. I have to believe that COVID didn’t darken every government activity.
Surely there was enough capacity to truly address issues of affordable housing and the recruitment and education of LPNs, RCWs and nurses. Surely there was enough capacity to do more than provide a centralized float pool of 25 nurses. Especially when we can’t even find enough nurses now to fill our current vacancies.
And while it is always great hear numbers like $8.7 million being directed towards specialty physician recruitment, our caucus would have liked to see dollars and a plan showing how government is going to address fixing the system that we are seeing, one where physicians don’t want to stay.
Surely there was enough capacity to provide more than $100,000 to modernize the inspection process for long term care especially given the recent stories we have been hearing. I find that disrespectful to the residents who have suffered as a result of the ill-prepared nature of department of health wellness’ approach to dealing with COVID in long term care.
On the issue of tackling affordability and cost of living, I don’t see much in this budget that will address the sky rocketing costs of housing, gasoline, oil prices, and other essentials. So much has been neglected and in a time of great and growing uncertainty both here and across our country we need a vision that will sustain us for many years to come.
I also want to voice concern with the astounding deficit that was announced. $92.9 million is a substantial amount especially when considering that 98% of the money used to tackle COVID in our province was provided by the Federal government.
I also want to highlight some of this budget's successes. Our Liberal Caucus is pleased to hear the announcement of free school supplies for children from kindergarten to grade nine and other advancements for Island youth. We are pleased to see our tourism partners receiving funds to build back and recover.
We are pleased to see expansions to rural transit and clean tech industry.
But overall, I feel that we missed the mark on taking bold action to tackle the most pertinent issues facing Islanders. As I said, I believe in the great task of government. I believe that much can be achieved when a government can distill the collective will of a population in a way that moves us forward.
Today I am not seeing that, instead I see the first scribblings of a history which may be writing a story of lost opportunity.
Provincial Budget: Operating Budget 2022 - 2023 can be found here https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/sites/default/files/publications/estimatesbook.pdf