Representatives of both opposition parties have panned the record $747.6-million Prince Edward Island capital budget, tabled on Friday.
A media statement from the Opposition Green party said the budget placed “priority on pavement over people” due to the significant investment allocated to highway and road infrastructure projects.
Liberal finance critic Heath MacDonald said the budget was a disappointment and failed to adequately invest in long-term care and mental health and addictions.
In a statement after the tabling of the $747.6-million capital budget on Friday, Green finance critic Michele Beaton said she was happy to see some initiatives, including “a few Green ideas sprinkled through it”.
"But don't be fooled. This is definitely not a Green budget. A Green budget would not try to use paving to stimulate the economy," Beaton said.
Beaton said the Green caucus had requested the funding for a restorative care unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which would provide rehabilitative services for patients.
“This is an investment that would have positively impacted our frontline workers – health-care professionals – which are predominantly women,” Beaton said.
“Big surprise, this government passed on this request."
Beaton also said she was disappointed to see a full $190 million invested in paving existing roads and repairing bridges, while investments in social housing amounted to $36.2 million.
A statement from the Opposition Greens also said it had requested funding in the 2021-2022 fiscal year for the start of construction of the new Sherwood Elementary and Stratford Secondary schools. Compton told The Guardian that most construction of the Stratford Secondary school would likely not begin before 2023-2024 due to delays in negotiations with the Town of Stratford.
"I would be prepared to vote against this budget, considering it doesn't meet the needs as it stands right now," Beaton said.
Beaton said the Green caucus would be examining the budget in the coming days.
An Appropriations Act for the Capital Budget would be a confidence motion, meaning that if it did not pass, it could cause the PC government to fall. However, with the recent addition of newly elected MLA Zack Bell, the PCs control 13 seats in the legislature. Speaker Colin LaVie is also a PC MLA and would have to cast a vote in the event of a tie.
'Lack of empathy'
MacDonald noted the budget showed a “complete lack of empathy.”.
"There's no mention whatsoever of long-term care,” MacDonald said in an interview.
He said he had hoped to see investments in long-term care, particularly in spaces for patients with dementia. The psychiatric ward of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown has not fully reopened due to the presence of several dementia patients, many of whom are awaiting beds in other facilities.
MacDonald said he was disappointed with the investments in mental health and addictions programming.
"The next pandemic is mental health. Why wouldn't you focus on that?" MacDonald said.
When asked about the record spending in the budget, MacDonald pointed to $700 million he said has been received by the provincial government from programs from the federal Liberal government since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That's 95 per cent of the transfer payments that P.E.I. would receive annually,” MacDonald said.
“So, when you put those combined together, it could and should be the largest capital budget in history.”
MacDonald did not say whether he intended to vote against the capital budget.
Stu Neatby is the political reporter for The Guardian.