Premier Robert Ghiz says it is time for the private sector to take over as the economic driver of the province.
In his second throne speech since being re-elected last year, Ghiz outlines the numerous investments and programs his government has implemented since 2007 – especially during the stimulus spending period following the worldwide recession.
That spending and the resulting initiatives must now pave the way for the private sector to emerge as the focus of economic growth for P.E.I., Ghiz says in the Throne Speech.
“It is extremely important to shift our economic emphasis toward the private sector,” the speech says.
“As that historic shift in emphasis takes place, the province will ensure that a balanced approach is taken, in a way that enhances our economic prospects.”
Speaking to reporters, Ghiz said he hopes to accomplish this through encouraging diversification in P.E.I.’s three main industries of farming, fishing and tourism.
HST legislation to be introduced this fall is another major component of this plan.
Ghiz says the new harmonized tax will level the playing field for P.E.I. companies in Atlantic Canada. This, in turn, will help those businesses prosper.
“It’s about creating the tax structure for those businesses in our province to be able to grow, creating incentives out there,” Ghiz said.
Government will also work on more trade missions and trade agreements so Island businesses can expand exports of P.E.I. products into new and emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey.
“We’ve been too focused on the U.S. economy, in particular the northeastern United States where 80 per cent of our exports have been going,” Ghiz told reporters.
“We need to find more markets, we’re an exporting province. If we do not have exports, our province does not survive so that’s what we’re going to concentrate on.”
The province will also increase support for job training and education. A new Workforce Development Program will be established, which will ensure skills training programs maximize opportunities for Island workers while strengthening industries.
There will also be easier access to capital for Island entrepreneurs with an expansion of the Entrepreneurship Loan Program and a reinstatement of the Student Entrepreneurship Loan Program.
But with this focus on growing the private sector, government has planned few new public programs or initiatives.
The bulk of the throne speech document lists funding and programs previously announced or initiated.
Ghiz said this is because his government is now “protecting the investments (government) made over the last five years and also looking at how we can improve our economy in the province of P.E.I.”
Opposition Leader Olive Crane says she believes the throne speech offers no tangible plans to address the province’s current challenges.
“For example, they mention about a fiscal problem, there’s no plan here on how they’re going to address that fiscal problem, they talk about creation of employment in the private sector but there’s no plan to demonstrate exactly how they’re going to that,” Crane said.
“The introduction of the HST will level the playing field and simplify the tax system – enabling businesses to grow investment, exports, and jobs,” - 2012 Throne Speech
The throne speech document should contain government’s priorities and an action plan to outline how this would be accomplished, Crane said.
“This speech from the throne lacks any detail … I believe (it mentions) three times about the party in 2014 but no detail on how they private sector is going to create more employment in the province.”
The speech does outline a new announcement that books will be exempted from the provincial portion of the HST when it is implemented April 1. It also says legislation will be introduced this fall that will see civil servants increasing their pension contributions.
Otherwise, government’s main focus will be to try to grow private-sector jobs, balance the books by 2015 and build on the last five years of investments in education and health care.
“We cannot fix every problem overnight but what we can try to do is put the foundation in place so that Islanders will be in a better position over the long run,” Ghiz said.
The throne speech marks the beginning of the fall sitting of the legislature.
This session will be a heavy one for legislation with approximately 25 bills coming forward, including the much-anticipated HST legislation.
Other legislation this fall will include the School Act, the Regulation of Health Professionals Act, the Public Health Act, the Pension Benefits Act and the Highway Traffic Act.