Premier says federal budget will help Islanders of all ages

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 22, 2016

Members of PC Youth of P.E.I. met at the UPEI campus Tuesday and spent a bit of time looking online at federal budget coverage. Attending were, from left, William McGuigan, Courtney Gunn, Brendan Curran, president of the group, Colin Trewin and Sydney Gallant. The tax-free, non-repayable Canada Student Grants for youth attending post-secondary education will rise about 50 per cent. Now it will be $3,000 per year for students from low-income families; $1,200 per year for middle-income students; and $1,800 per year for part-time students.

©THE GUARDIAN/Nigel Armstrong

Wade MacLauchlan says budget will pump extra $50 million per year into pockets of P.E.I. residents

Premier Wade MacLauchlan says the federal budget will pump an extra $50 million per year into the pockets of Islanders.

Half of that money will come from the new $10 billion Canada Child Benefit that will provide tax-free cheques of as much as $6,400, depending on the family situation.

"That is a very significant number. That's $6,400 per child for people who (make) $30,000 or less of net income. That's a big benefit,'' MacLauchlan told The Guardian following federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget address in Ottawa on Tuesday.

RELATED: Liberals' maiden 'sunny ways' budget showers spending, deficits

The premier was also happy to see Canada student grants rise to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students; to $1,200 from $800 for middle-income students and to $1,800 from $1,200 for part-time students.

"Those turn into pretty sizable numbers.''

There are also changes coming to employment insurance that will see rules changed to make it easier for new entrants to the job market and for those re-entering the market to qualify for benefits. The wait period for the first EI cheque drops to one week while benefit periods will be extended by five weeks in areas with the sharpest increases in unemployment.

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter said the two-zone issue is still a work in progress. The former Stephen Harper government creaed two EI regions, one for rural areas and one for Charlottetown, although the Charlottetown region encompasses rural communities as well.

"We're working on that, and I hope we get there because that is a problem of inequality,'' Easter said.

MacLauchlan said all four P.E.I. MPs are working on it.

"We've been advocating for a return to a single-zone for Prince Edward Island,'' the premier said.

MacLauchlan also singles out Ottawa's decision to spend about $1.5 billion over four years on a youth job strategy as great news.

"We think you could comfortably say that the total benefit for Prince Edward Island is in the order of $50 million a year. That is a net gain. This money goes to people who need it, to families who will use it for the purpose that it is intended and it will go into circulation,'' MacLauchlan said.

Easter said the budget will also see an extra $29 million a year going to P.E.I. in transfers for a total of $582 million.

The Veterans Affairs Canada district office that was closed in Charlottetown under the Harper government will re-open.

"There is a commitment there to do that,'' Easter said. "That's important for veterans, and there is a fair bit in the budget remarks on veterans and providing better service for veterans.''

Darlene Compton, finance critic for the Opposition in P.E.I., said it's not all sunshine and roses.

She points to the fact the budget will lead the country to projected shortfalls of $29.4 billion this year and $29 billion in 2017-18.

"If we're going to go $30 billion into the hole, what's the plan for job growth,'' Compton said. "The flipside of that is what is the plan to balance the budget in the long term because there was no talk about that. What does it mean for P.E.I.?''

However, Debi Buell, provincial director of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), argues government has to spend to stimulate the economy.

Buell listed a number of highlights, including $4.22 billion over five years for improvements for First Nations and $40 million over two years for the inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Buell is calling on the federal government to get back to the bargaining table and reinvest in services PSAC provides.

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart