• Liberal Caucus

Response to the Budget 2020

Even as the hardship of these times weigh upon us all, I believe in the capacity of Islanders to shoulder a great burden …

As a province, we have lived through difficulties before – and even after the terrible costs of war, economic depression and illness, we have always emerged with strength, maturity and, in time, good cheer …

We will move through this time as well, Mr. Speaker – and with history as our guide, we will learn to adapt, grow and excel …

And I want to pay special tribute to every Islander who has worked so hard to protect our collective good through individual sacrifice …

Striking the balance between the desires of an individual with the needs of a community is the truest test of a people – and as Islanders, I believe we have acted in a most responsible, sedate and clear-eyed way …

The Recent Past:

Unlike many parts of the world, Prince Edward Island retains enormous reservoirs of faith in our institutions and leadership …

We look toward governments, experts and local leaders with respect – and as a result, our social cohesion withstands even great tests and struggles …

In part, I believe this resilience is founded on the intimacy of our province, and the true respect and deference we both offer and expect from one another …

In that way, our smallness is the wellspring of our success …

Over the last several weeks, the members of the Liberal caucus have consistently urged the province toward a clear, articulate plan to deal with the ravages caused by COVID-19 …

And, in our role as opposition politicians – and as citizens – we will remain concerned …

And as I will address later, we are extremely concerned with some of the projections in this budget …

We are concerned that government is sugar-coating some of the realities we may face, in an effort to hide its lack of real planning for the challenges we now face ….


Areas of Pressing Concern:

In health care, Islanders understood the need to flatten the curve – to take the steps necessary to avoid the terrible danger of over-burdening our health care system …

All of us fully understood that challenge – and again, it is to our province’s credit that we listened to the warnings and avoided the dangers that may have overwhelmed us …

There is a lesson from this: Our task now must be to build a plan that copes with the threat of a second wave, while simultaneously ensuring that access to surgeries, primary care and treatments is unimpeded …

In education, we have pressed government to describe its plan for students and families – and most especially in the context of a potential second wave …

Mr. Speaker … we simply cannot allow a generation of young Islanders to lose too much time … in a world that will place new and extraordinary demands on their knowledge and their talents …

Economically, the members of the Third Party are deeply worried about the prospects in store for small business and the thousands of Islanders who keep our province moving …

And our first issue must be this: How do we protect, sustain and improve the capacity of Islanders to succeed in this changed world?

In that context, I want to draw attention to the role of ‘essential workers’ …

In many ways, the lockdown phase of the pandemic was a massive reminder of the role played by so many individual Islanders …

Truckers … grocery store employees … long-term care professionals …

In every case, we truly learned the meaning of the word ‘essential’ …

And I continue to believe – as do all members of the Liberal caucus – that we need to speak about fair pay for hard work … and that a re-evaluation of the way we distribute our collective wealth is required …

A New Understanding:

And if government takes full advantage of the opportunity to renew our approaches, there are other areas that require a deep examination …

Over the years, several generations of politicians have made commitments to better internet access …

During my time in government, we pledged better service – but as everyone in here knows, we did not deliver as much as we tried …

We need to move beyond bland assurances of ‘hope’ …

Over the past couple of months, we have seen just how essential internet access is …

It’s needed to keep in touch with family members … it is a prerequisite to learning … and our small businesses clearly need the best possible access to the internet …

For all those reasons, we need to move beyond target dates that shift with political timetables or the passing complaints of the day, and move toward real action …

Similarly, I believe we also need a rapid understanding of the opportunities government can provide to students and families in the post-secondary field …

Too often now, I am hearing from people who may want to take a gap year … or who may be content with the long wait toward recovery …

I think – as community leaders – we need to underline this reality to all Islanders: The coming months can be used …

Distance learning for university is an opportunity …

Skills development through Holland College … may be a real option …

Getting a GED – or learning how to type … or develop bookkeeping skills … all these solutions are out there, waiting to be taken …

All of this is available – and this coming year may be a time for thousands of Islanders to seek educational and skills improvement …

But – government needs to get on the case …

Government must engage with its educational partners – and with Islanders – to put in place the kind of vigorous, imaginative educational agenda that will truly help individuals to move forward …

The Opportunity:

In other words, Mr. Speaker, we can use this time to our advantage …

As a result of the pandemic, most jurisdictions are beginning from a level playing field …

New advantages will emerge – and those places that are best capable of responding to a changed world will best succeed …

In many ways, that was the effort made by the former Liberal government…

We were not a flashy government – but we did our best to keep the government running well … and we worked hard to build an economy that truly encouraged prosperity growth for everyone …

We also recognized the dangers that always circle our world – and that is the main reason we ran successive budgetary surpluses that totaled more than $130 million …

We did that, Mr. Speaker … to provide a cushion … a safeguard … against a rainy day …

Well, Mr. Speaker … today it is rainy … and looking back, I am very proud of the fact that we did all we could to prepare for that humbling and difficult reality …

The Budget:

And today, we see government’s response to these difficulties …

We recognize the trials and tribulations of the last several months – and we are just s aware of the grim dangers that surround us still …

And … we are very, very concerned that today’s budget does not truly reflect the realities of our economy …

In recent days, the Minister of Tourism has offered bleak forecasts about revenue losses this year …

And yet – unbelievably – government is forecasting an increase in retail sales tax revenue …

In this part of the House, we are absolutely mystified by a belief that sales taxes this year will rise – and frankly, that point alone raises serious questions about credibility …

Similarly – at a time when thousands of Islanders are depending on federal income programs – an expectation that income tax revenues will rise is exceedingly optimistic …

And – there appears to have been little effort by government to control any aspect of its spending in light of this crisis …

In fact, budgets for every single government department have risen …

Now – we understand – perfectly – the need for continuity of services during a difficult time …

But raising the budgets for every department?

We are extremely concerned, Mr. Speaker – that instead of a re-invention of many government programs, we have simply seen a government that spends more … and predicts infusions of cash that may not be realistic …

It is one thing to be optimistic, Mr. Speaker …

It is another matter to engage in exaggeration and

lack of caution …

Perhaps, in the days and weeks to come, we will see an economic boom …

Perhaps government will see its HST revenues rise … and income tax … and business tax … and property tax …


Perhaps this magical world will come true …

Perhaps it makes sense – to substantially increase the budgets of every single department … while Islanders look anxiously to the news every day, waiting to find out if federal income support programs will continue …

Perhaps, Mr. Speaker – the caution we have advised is too pessimistic …

Perhaps we just need a little jolt of budgetary optimism to move our economy forward – and past the worst crisis this planet has seen since the Second World War …

Perhaps …


Parliamentary democracy finds its best outcomes after a stern and serious discussion – because the issues faced by citizens deserve sobriety and difficult questions geared toward the promotion of new solutions …

And – after a first review of the budget documents, we are not seeing a government that is truly willing to deal with many of the issues we face in frank and open way …

Mr. Speaker, Islanders need a plan for our future, we need a vision and a realistic understanding of the situation we are in to ensure our future – Islanders’ future – is protected.