While his government earned deserved criticism for various missteps in other areas, it warrants praise for its successes when it comes to the provincial economy.
The government brought down a balanced budget this spring – razor-thin, but still balanced. The province’s population has increased – reversing an Atlantic trend – thanks to increased immigration numbers. Exports have reached record levels.
The latest economic indicators are positive. Housing starts are up 20 per cent, international exports rose and employment growth is double the national rate.
Tourism indicators for June are staggering. After a slow May because of poor weather, June numbers surged at the airport, ferry service and Confederation Bridge. Key primary industries such as fishing and agriculture are coming off record seasons and the 2017 tourism season appears ready to shatter 2016’s huge numbers.
The premier’s focus on the economy began as soon as he took office in early 2015. One of his first acts was to appoint the Board of Economic Advisors to the Premier. The three, high-profile economists were to help chart the broad economic course for the Island. Tim O’Neill, Elizabeth Beale and Michael Horgan came with impeccable credentials. They quickly came back with key recommendations on balancing the budget, reducing the deficit, increasing immigration and boosting exports. The premier has followed them diligently. The end purpose of the board was to enhance the prosperity of all Islanders. Who can argue with that?
Premier MacLauchlan obviously feels this is the best way to go for the long-term prosperity of the province. Without a strong economy, more jobs and higher tax revenue, there is less money to support health, education, social programs and infrastructure. Without the former, the province will simply sink deeper into deficit.
So it looks positive that the premier’s next key economic initiative – challenging 26 local community and business leaders to serve on four new Regional Economic Advisory Councils ‘to guide, develop, and drive community and economic growth across Prince Edward Island’ – will be successful as well.
Based on the big-picture experience with his economic board, it seems reasonable that the premier will act on the advice from these advisory councils. There will be no magical, big vision solutions, but grassroots ideas and solutions from across the province.
Council members deserve our thanks for agreeing to serve the province. If they can contribute like the premier’s economic board, the idea will be a success. And since when is consulting with Islanders a bad thing? Dictating policy from Charlottetown has failed in education and health areas. Consultation is a positive step.
It’s refreshing to see government acknowledge that it doesn't have all the answers and is willing to consult with Islanders on better ways to do things.
Let’s hope the government will follow the economic advice from these four councils. The idea holds much promise.