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EDITORIAL: March winds, April showers bring forth May election

Finance Minister Heath MacDonald stands outside the Coles Building in Charlottetown where he tabled his government’s second consecutive balanced budget.
Finance Minister Heath MacDonald stands outside the Coles Building in Charlottetown on Friday, April 6 where he tabled his government’s second consecutive balanced budget. - Ryan Ross

Because the government is spending the extra federal and provincial cash and investing almost every dollar it can get its hands on, it adds to the speculation that an election is coming sooner than later.

The 2018 P.E.I. budget brought down Friday is the strongest indication yet that Islanders are heading to the polls this year. A late May or early June date is not out of the question.

The budget projects a modest surplus of $1.5 million for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. It follows a $1.2 million actual surplus for the past fiscal year, finally ending years of troublesome red ink.

Yesterday’s document certainly doesn’t have to cut it that close. There is an extra $62 million coming from Ottawa which takes the pressure off rookie Finance Minister Heath MacDonald.

The P.E.I economy is booming and added revenue is pouring into provincial coffers. Because the government is spending the extra federal and provincial cash and investing almost every dollar it can get its hands on, it adds to the speculation that an election is coming sooner than later.

This is a very good news budget where the biggest recipients are healthcare and education. Health is getting an extra $32.5 million, much of it going towards mental health initiatives, an area which needed a cash infusion and where government earned a lot of negative publicity over the past year.

Wade MacLauchlan has long been known as the education premier and programs announced Friday support that theory. There is more money for university and college students and more supports for high school students.

In fact, there is good news for almost every department, sector and Islander. From a political strategy viewpoint, it would be a wasted opportunity to produce such an attractive document without giving Islanders the chance to offer their support to the provincial government.

A government looking ahead to an election in 2019 – the scheduled year for a provincial vote – or even 2020, would perhaps be more cautious and thrifty, saving some cash for that campaign. Or a government charting a course to fulfill its full four-year mandate might pay down more of the $2.2 billion provincial debt rather than simply meeting basic payments.

The reaction from agriculture, university, students, small businesses and chamber of commerce has been positive. The only boos from the gallery come from unions – which supports various investments but remain concerned over funding private, rather than public, long-term care beds - and the Opposition.

Brad Trivers, the finance critic for the Progressive Conservative Opposition, said the budget proves an election will come before the end of the government’s mandate as it looks very much like a Liberal Party election platform.

Back-to-back surpluses are a godsend to fiscally fragile P.E.I. And it’s no mean feat for a province with 152,000 people and very limited natural resources; yet little P.E.I. is leading the region and nation in many economic and demographic categories.

The provincial government deserves credit for the current healthy state of affairs. But also credit the opposition parties for being effective critics and fiscal watchdogs; and the hard work and ingenuity of Islanders right across the province - all coming together to produce these economic good times.

It is cause for a little chest-thumping.

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