The P.E.I. government will build a high-speed fibre network that reaches across the province as part of “extensive” new investments in infrastructure, and will also revisit promises from previous throne speeches including a vote on electoral reform and strategies to enhance culture and reduce poverty.
These were some of the commitments made within the 2017 speech from the throne delivered Tuesday at the P.E.I. legislature by Lt. Gov. Antoinette Perry.
The speech lays out the roadmap for government’s policy agenda over the next year.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan said Tuesday the province’s current economic successes now allow government to invest in new projects and initiatives to improve the lives of Islanders.
“We’re looking at a period when we can make premium investments, when we can take steps that have been in course for some time and when we can continue to make progress,” he told reporters.
The tip-to-tip high-speed fibre network announced Tuesday will be a significant infrastructure project for the Island, aimed at “escalating” government’s plans to enhance high-speed internet service.
MacLauchlan says this will be a “backbone” for internet service providers to connect to in order offer more expanded internet services to Island households and businesses.
But just who will own this network remains unclear.
“That remains to be seen, but government will be taking the lead on this,” MacLauchlan said.
“It will be on terms that will be competitive and will enable the private sector to participate and offer the service to the customer.”
The throne speech also announced a number of additional new government initiatives.
In education, a review will be done of student assessments “to stay current with best practices and reflective of the overall needs” of students.
In health, a suicide prevention strategy is being developed, led by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
As part of an upcoming seniors strategy, a new program will be developed to fund practical services, such as light housekeeping or snow removal, to make it easier for Island seniors to remain in their homes.
The speech also promises a new “creative industry market development program” to work with artists, enterprises and industry to grow the creative business sector, as part of an upcoming five-year culture strategy.
Electoral reform is addressed, with a promise to table referendum legislation in 2018 for a second, binding vote on democratic reform to be held at the same time as the next provincial election. This legislation will include “a clear referendum question as well as the rules required for a fair and transparent process.”
Additionally, government says it will request the creation of a map to show how the mixed-member proportional representation system that was the winning choice in the 2016 plebiscite would appear geographically.
But both Opposition Leader James Aylward and Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker noted the speech included a number of re-announced commitments made in throne speeches from 2016 and 2015, including:
- A longpromised Water Act
- A review of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
- A new open data platform
- A poverty reduction strategy
- A housing strategy
“We’ve been talking about high-speed internet since essentially 2008, we’ve been talking about poverty reduction since 2011,” Aylward said.
“These issues just continue to come up and the government just keeps making announcements, essentially regurgitating the promises over and over again.”
Bevan-Baker agreed, saying he felt the speech lacks vision.
“If I was to give the throne speech a title, it would be ‘We’re going to try again, and this time we might even get it right,’” he said.
“That’s the sort of vibe I got from the throne speech.”
A previous throne speech commitment thought to be scrapped has also re-emerged.
Last year, MacLauchlan announced he would eliminate political donations from corporations, businesses and unions entirely and place a cap only on donations from individuals of $1,500 a year. Six months later, he backtracked, saying he would continue to allow corporate donations and, instead, impose a cap of $3,000 for political donations.
The new throne speech says government will now release a “discussion document on campaign finance reform.”
Imminent federal deadlines for carbon pricing and cannabis legalization were addressed broadly in the speech, with details promised eventually on a carbon tax and legislation in the spring for legal cannabis.
Those details and more particulars about how all the initiatives and projects in the throne speech are to be developed will be revealed in the fullness of time, MacLauchlan said.
“The nature of a throne speech, is to be sure that the people, and the media, see what it is that’s in the works.”