Premier Robert Ghiz makes no apologies for offering no big spending promises in his 2014 speech from the throne.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers blasted the speech moments after it was delivered Wednesday as filled with nothing but re-announcements.
“Absolutely,” Ghiz responded.
“The speech from the throne was an opportunity to talk about the investments that we’ve made and that we’ve been able to protect,” Ghiz told reporters Wednesday.
“You’re not seeing the $10-million kindergarten announcements anymore, that’s because we’re still trying to reduce down our deficit… so I’m not making any apologies for saying yes, we are trying to be fiscally responsive but at the same time protecting the investments that we have made in the past.”
The end result is a 22-page speech wherein the Ghiz government lauds its many achievements since taking power in 2007 with a few new smaller-budget initiatives for the coming year.
The biggest among them – a provincial museum. Maybe.
Ghiz says he is “exploring options” to establish a provincial museum as a legacy project for 2017.
The caveat being – the feds must come on board.
“We will seek the participation of the federal government in this endeavour,” Ghiz states in the speech, adding later the province would be looking to cost-share on this project.
In education, Island classrooms will get a technology boost with over 7,000 new computers in the school system by 2016-17. Also, wireless Internet access will be installed in every P.E.I. school over the next five years.
A number of youth training and employment initiatives were also announced, many of which are being offered in partnership with the federal government.
New courses will be available in Summerside to help university and college students get extra credits. Also, $3-million will be invested in a new Career Prep Program to help connect 80 graduates to skilled employment in the private sector.
The environment also received a lot of attention in the speech. While no direct mention is made of the controversial lobby to lift the current moratorium on deep-water wells, Ghiz makes careful comment on the importance of protecting the province’s natural resources while also recognizing to the need for a sustainable agriculture sector.
“If we are to protect our environmental strengths and at the same time preserve the social fabric of our densely settled and extensively farmed rural communities, we must work in partnership,” Ghiz states in the speech.
An extensive public consultation will begin this year on a new Water Act.
“Our goal is to regulate water use in a manner that respects human needs while safeguarding the environment,” the speech states.
A new Environmental Justice Unit will be created to look at alternative measures in enforcement of regulatory compliance, including directing fines gathered into a new environmental damages fund.
For the province’s traditional industries, Ghiz announced a plan to create a new P.E.I. lobster brand aimed at expanding international markets.
For beef farmers, up to $5.3-million will be made available to expand feeder cattle and to create a supply of lean P.E.I. hamburger.
An unusual comment on patronage also made its way into the speech.
It notes an election promise Ghiz made in 2007 to eliminate a previous practice of firing government employees based on political affiliation.
“I am glad to report, Madame Speaker, that this promise has been kept: there has not been a single finding of political discrimination against this government since it came to power.”
When asked whether this throne speech – which focuses heavily on past investments and achievements – was a signal of an impending provincial election, Ghiz acknowledged it would likely be the last one before the next campaign.
“Every throne speech could be considered pre-election, I guess… it will all depend on what happens over the next number of months.”