Top News

P.E.I. government, advocacy groups give tentative thumbs up to 2018 federal budget

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, right, is congratulated by Treasury Board President Scott Brison after delivering the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 27.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau, right, is congratulated by Treasury Board President Scott Brison after delivering the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 27. - The Canadian Press

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Prince Edward Island lawmakers and advocates are cautiously optimistic about Tuesday’s federal budget, with its emphasis on greater gender equality and increased money for skilled work and entrepreneurship.

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey said Tuesday he is especially happy to see initiatives aimed at helping the working poor.

One of the Trudeau government’s main talking points about helping the middle class often rings hollow on doorsteps in P.E.I.

“We always talk about the middle class, and when I’m knocking on doors talking about the middle class, what I often get is, ‘What about the poor?’” Casey said Tuesday.

“So, I’m awful glad to be able to answer that question favourably.”

He pointed to changes that will see the Canada Revenue Agency automatically apply the newly re-branded Canada Workers Benefit to low-income workers – a change that will help approximately 8,000 low-income earners in Prince Edward Island.

Steps are also being taken toward a national pharmacare program – an initiative that will also benefit those on fixed and low incomes, once implemented.

“We’ve finally, as a government, got past whether we’re going to implement pharmacare, and we’re now on to how,” Casey said.

Overall story: Liberals champion their values in 2018 budget aimed at long-term vision

“There’s really (a) need for increased development at the national level to make sure that there are childcare spaces that are affordable and available in all parts of the country that match the needs of the workers in those areas.”
-Jane Ledwell

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will receive an additional $48 million in funding to help businesses and entrepreneurs in the region grow and innovate. Of this, $8 million will be earmarked specifically for female entrepreneurs.

P.E.I. Finance Minister Heath MacDonald says he was happy to see investments in employment and skills programs, including those aimed at increasing participation of women in non-traditional trades.

“To get into a deeper dive into the numbers will be a telling tale, but I really think it really aligns well with what we’re trying to do here,” MacDonald said, adding that growing a skilled workforce is a key priority of the provincial government.

That’s why he is especially interested in learning more about the $230 million to be invested in federal-provincial skills programs funded through Labour Market Development Agreements.

Part of this funding will go toward providing relief to seasonal workers on employment insurance who experience a “black hole” of time between when their EI benefits run out and their seasonal jobs resume.

But, Casey noted this support will be tied to training programs. And while they welcomed this new initiative, both he and MacDonald say they would have preferred to see the two EI zones in P.E.I., created by the former Conservative government, eliminated.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect that to happen in the budget, but that’s something on which I continue to work,” Casey said.

Another wish list item the province would have liked to see was an increase in what it was told it would get in equalization transfers, which did not happen. Casey noted equalization payments are going up six per cent this year, totaling $638 million.

“We want to continue to see growth in those areas, and transfer payments would make it easier, but we don’t have it, so we work within our means,” MacDonald said.

Meanwhile, the budget’s heavy emphasis on gender equality and growing opportunities for women was welcome news to many, including Jane Ledwell, executive director of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Making sure women can participate in the workforce doesn’t just benefit women, it benefits all of Canada, she said.

“While people frame it as ‘creating advantages for women,’ what it’s really doing is addressing a situation that’s unequal and that has consequences for families and for all of society.”

Ledwell also welcomed the news that Status of Women Canada will be made into a full federal department complete with more money for grant programs for projects aimed at advancing gender equality, as well as the increased parental leave for new parents.

But gaps in access to childcare remain continued barriers for women, notably single mothers.

“There’s really (a) need for increased development at the national level to make sure that there are childcare spaces that are affordable and available in all parts of the country that match the needs of the workers in those areas.”

Rory Francis, president of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, expressed support for increases in funding for skills development and innovation as well as initiatives aimed at gender equality.

But with a deficit of $18.1 billion and no plan to return to balance, business owners are concerned about the potential for future tax hikes.

“The economy is doing well in (this) country. This would seem to be a time when we should be toning down spending overall and making sure we have some room to respond to downturns in the economy,” Francis said.

But, Casey argues the Liberal government’s spending plans for the last two years have helped to create the current economic boom.

“It’s a good thing for now and, in time, the growth in the economy will allow us to make the decisions that we need to make to bring us back into balance.”

Recent Stories