As with any speech from the throne, the provincial government was long on generalities and short on specifics in Tuesday’s document. Once it got past touting its accomplishments over the past two years – five self-aggrandizing pages into a 15-page document – government finally got down to business.
There is little in the throne speech for Islanders to worry about – except perhaps an undisclosed carbon reduction plan. The government’s agenda for the next year was largely wrapped in a positive, upbeat message.
It’s the third throne speech brought forward by Premier Wade MacLauchlan and it’s time for the premier to add substance to his promises and depth to issues brought up for the third time since 2015.
An expanded capital budget, expected within the next several days, promised even more exciting news. The government has balanced its books and that fiscal wiggle room will allow for a capital plan that commits to extensive infrastructure renewal and development across P.E.I. – without going back into debt.
An exciting announcement in the speech was support to build a high-speed fibre network from tip to tip. Service providers will be able to connect to the network to finally deliver higher-speed Internet across the province.
The government is moving forward on its energy strategy for greater electrification to reduce carbon emissions. P.E.I. is scrambling to meet a 2018 federal deadline to adopt a carbon-pricing scheme so the speech was short on details but vows to “respect the economic context and realities of our province.”
The government promised to table the long-awaited Water Act, a first for the province, coming after extensive public consultations. Also coming is a Children’s Well-being Report later this year; and a previously-announced seniors’ strategy to address key issues such as health, wellness and housing.
Mental health is a growing issue and the government hopes to build on the contents of a 10-year strategy released last fall, including a modern campus of mental health services in Charlottetown. The province is working with the Canadian Mental Health Association to develop a long-overdue suicide prevention strategy.
The pending legalization of recreational marijuana received scant attention, except that government will “follow principles of public health and public safety.” It will consult with police, municipalities, health, education and business groups before developing legislation in the spring.
The government has finally committed to a timeline for a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. The strategy, promised since 2015, will be introduced following input from a provincial advisory council.
The final key topic in the speech from the throne dealt with democratic renewal. Government repeated its commitment to a clear referendum question in conjunction with the next provincial election and for a full debate on the issue.
The central theme of the speech is that government has worked hard over the past two years to create the current prosperous economic climate, resulting in the province’s ability to now offer additional help and supports to those in need. It’s time to put those words into action.