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Two years into his mandate, Premier Dennis King has chosen to emphasize a commitment to nursing and the development of a clean tech sector in P.E.I. as key initiatives for the coming year.
The throne speech, a prelude to the province’s coming operating budget, was read to P.E.I. MLA’s by Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry on Thursday, opening the winter sitting of the legislature. The speech emphasized planned initiatives in health care, mental health and addictions, education, childcare and sustainability. The economic recovery of the province in the post-COVID period was mentioned but was not a dominant theme of the speech.
A key focus of throne speech’s health-care commitments were initiatives aimed at both attracting nurses and making nurses and nurse practitioners more of a core component of the healthcare system. Premier Dennis King had signaled this earlier in the week during a state of the province speech, in which he said that providing all Islanders with a family doctors was not a realistic possibility.
“Despite the efforts and intentions of our health-care professionals, many of us remain frustrated with our health-care system,” Perry told the legislature. “My government has adopted a model of health care which will move the primary focus from acute and long-term care toward community-based care.”
This will mean the creation of a program called "medical homes and medical neighbourhoods". This will initially involve the establishment of three new “primary care homes”, which will have a collaborative team involving family doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses and other health professionals. It is not clear where these new homes will be located.
In addition, the speech pledged to expand post-secondary programs for registered nurses at UPEI and licensed practical nurses for Holland College.
A planned $5 million dollar fund for recruitment of nurses and nurse practitioners will also be established, which will provide student debt forgiveness for those working in P.E.I.
The speech also noted that implementation of a long-awaited medical records system has begun.
On mental health and addictions programming, the government pledged to establish a $10 million mental health and addictions fund for new programming. In addition, a new P.E.I. Centre for Mental Well-being will be established, which would be composed of non-profit partners.
A new 24-hour mental health phone line is planned.
A new seniors health strategy was also mentioned in the speech but few details were offered. The speech noted the province will be piloting a new at-home respite program as well as “multi-disciplinary dementia team”.
The speech also said nurse practitioners would be introduced into the care teams for private long-term care facilities.
Perhaps the most ambitious effort involves a $50 million pot of seed funding for clean tech initiatives in P.E.I. King has pledged to create 2,000 jobs in the sector.
The speech appeared to define clean tech as including enterprises focused on climate change, clean air, clean water and soil health.
"The doctor will be at the centre of that delivery for sure but there will be other professionals, whether they be nurse practitioners, RN's, LPN's, social workers," King said in an interview.
In addition, the speech pledged the creation of three “tax-free development zones” for clean tech businesses, as well as a $10 million research and development fund for clean tech.
A P.E.I. Energy Academy will be established, involving Holland College and UPEI.
The throne speech also pledged to create 300 new childcare spaces on P.E.I. this year. In addition, a plan to establish universal half-day pre-kindergarten for four year olds, initially planned to be in place last fall, is planned for implementation this fall.
“This measure will constitute the first step toward a universal model with a fixed rate for early childhood centres,” Perry told the legislature.
The province is also pledging to offer more inclusionary programs. One such program involves micro-loans to allow under-represented populations such as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, women, LGBTQ+ individuals and youth to establish businesses.
The speech also pledged to fund seats within the Atlantic Police Academy that would be earmarked for “under-represented groups and visible minorities”.
Finally, the throne speech said a report from the Premier’s Council for Recovery and Growth, a body establish to develop ideas for P.E.I.’s post-COVID recovery, would be tabled in the legislature this session.
The speech also pledged $1 million to help the Charlottetown Airport Authority to develop an air travel recovery strategy.
Agriculture and the fisheries did not figure prominently in the speech but were noted. The speech noted the increased challenges faced by farmers due to climate change.
“We must not sit idle while this important sector is at a critical point. My government will not turn its back on farmers,” Perry read from the speech.
Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker painted the throne speech as a “tepid, trite and timid” vision for P.E.I.’s future.
He said he was disappointed the speech did not provide more substantial investments in mental health and addictions, or for addressing poverty. He noted the speech did not heavily emphasize the new mental health campus on the grounds of Hillsborough Hospital.
"We've gone in two years of this administration from shovels in the ground on day one to 'here's a phone line,'" Bevan-Baker said.
"I heard nothing about wages, nothing about minimum wage, nothing really about the elimination of poverty."
Interim Liberal Leader Sonny Gallant said his caucus was dismayed that there was not more of a long-term economic vision for the province. He also said there was not enough focus on seniors. The Liberals plan to introduce a bill that would see the creation of a seniors' advocate on P.E.I.
"There's a lot of different seniors that can't navigate the system, they don't have family members here," Gallant said.