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Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce chats with finance minister, who says new P.E.I. budget is ‘friendly’

P.E.I. Finance Minister Heath MacDonald addresses a crowd of Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce members at Tuesday’s budget breakfast event. MILLICENT MCKAY/JOURNAL PIONEER
P.E.I. Finance Minister Heath MacDonald addresses a crowd of Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce members at Tuesday’s budget breakfast event. MILLICENT MCKAY/JOURNAL PIONEER - The Guardian

SUMMERSIDE - Although it wasn’t the small business tax rate cut Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce members may had hoped for, president Sean Aylward, says last week’s provincial budget is “friendly” for all Islanders. 

“It’s a nice budget for the business community. It’s starting conversations, and although we didn’t see the small business tax rate drop as much as we would like, there are other aspects of the budget that keep it balanced.”

On Tuesday, chamber members sat down with provincial Finance Minister Heath MacDonald for their annual budget breakfast review.

“It’s a real privilege for our members to have this opportunity to ask the minister questions and go over key points from the new budget,” said Aylward. 

MacDonald, who presented his first provincial budget last week, told chamber members it is a good time to be a business on P.E.I. 

“We’re in a good place and we have a strength in the economy, population growth and we have to continue to contribute to that… We have to, as a government, try to make changes as quickly as possible to ride this wave of success we have on P.E.I.,” said MacDonald.

He also discussed the importance of health care in the 2018 budget. 

“We’re increasing the number of nurse practitioners, drugs to the formularies, 100 new long-term care beds over the next two years, which will address wait times and enhance the Hepatitis C program.”

MacDonald also discussed the government’s planned investment in mental health services on P.E.I. and working to form student wellbeing teams, new frontline positions at Prince County Hospital and a new mental health campus, which could house psychology, psychiatry, research and development. 

The minister also indicated assistance plans for students that could help them pay off student loans and initiatives to grow the Island’s labour force. 

“It’s no secret we have a labour shortage and we have an ecosystem of trying to get people back in the workforce.”

He added later, “Coming out of Economic Development gave me an insight into how important small and medium enterprises are on P.E.I.’s economy.” 

After MacDonald’s presentation, Aylward brought forward a couple of questions. 

Members asked, will there be any offsetting programs to help small businesses reduce their carbon footprint? 

MacDonald replied, “We’re still working on the carbon tax and working with the federal government. We’re not Ontario, we’re not Manitoba, we’re not Saskatchewan and that’s what we’re trying to get across to Ottawa. But P.E.I. is about two-and-a-half years ahead of what the feds want. It’s important that they hear us.”

Aylward also asked why the small business tax rate wasn’t reduced further? 

“It’s a balancing act. I think we are projecting in the right direction. There are a lot of incentives out there for business on top of this tax… There are fair arguments on each side and I think we’ll be able to do more with that as we move forward.”

Millicent.mckay@journalpioneer.com 

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