As the province emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming years, provincial spending on school construction, social housing and highways will be increased substantially.
In a capital budget tabled in the legislature Friday, Finance Minister Darlene Compton said it would help steer P.E.I. through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Times of crises do not call on government to be a shrinking violet,” Compton told the house Friday.
“Times of crises call on government to be bright and to be bold, always prepared to change its orientation and direction to take on the challenges we face.”
Overall, the capital budget contained a record $747.6 million in spending over five years.
Some of the largest increases in spending are allocated to highway construction and construction and renovation of Island schools.
The Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy saw the biggest single-year increase in its budget to $74.2 million, an increase of $16.3 million over the $58 million amount budgeted last year.
This increase comes after this department spent a total of $113.2 million – a full $55.2 million more than was budgeted in last year’s capital budget.
"Over this past year, the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy has overseen the construction and maintenance of a record number of highways and collector roads,” Compton told the House.
“Not since the 1970s and the years of the Comprehensive Development Plan, have we seen such a flurry of activity."
The budget also included $190 million over five years for paving existing roads and repairs to bridges. This represented a $10 million decrease to the total from last year’s capital budget.
The budget includes an increase of $23.4 million for school construction and renovations. Chief among the new investments will be a $6.4-million allocation for an addition to West Royalty Elementary School, as well as $42.1 million for the planning and construction of a new net-zero secondary school in Stratford – $4.1 million more than was budgeted last year for the same project.
The previous Liberal government had allocated $4.7 million for construction of new classrooms for West Royalty Elementary in the fall of 2018. This funding was removed from last fall’s capital budget and reallocated elsewhere.
The total budget for school construction is $113 million over five years, $23.4 million more than the previous capital budget. However, when compared to last year’s capital budget, spending on school construction and renovation will decrease by $4.3 million in 2021-2022 and by $7 million in 2022-2023 before increasing heavily by $13 million in 2023-2024 and by $10 million in 2024-2025.
In an interview, Compton said these immediate decreases in construction spending are largely due to delays in planning for the new Stratford secondary school.
All figures over five years:
- $145 million for Hillsborough mental health campus
- $36.2 million in social housing construction
- $36.5 million for repairs & replacement of bridges
- $25.3 million for health facility capital repairs
- $19.7 million for healthcare hubs
- $14.7 for women’s correctional unit
- $10 million for perimeter highway project
- $4.3 million for upgrades to the Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park for the 2023 Canada Winter Games
- $42.1 million for a new Stratford School
- $25.2 million for a new Sherwood School
- $46 million for school construction, renovations
- $31.5 million for purchase of new school buses, including 12 electric buses
- $870,000 for electric vehicle charging stations
- $5 million for active transportation km
"We are still in the planning phases of that. We know there is not going to be a major spend within the next year, for sure, going forward. The province was in negotiation with the town to find the right location," Compton said.
"It, I would say, is delayed somewhat because we need to know what the location is going to be."
Construction and renovation improvements are also planned for Montague Consolidated, Ecole-sur-Mer, Eliot River and Evangeline schools. The construction of the new net zero Sherwood Elementary School will also see a budget increase of $2.8 million over five years, bringing the total cost to $25.2 million.
In addition, a new $15.4 million allocation is planned for the purchase of 12 new electric school buses. An additional $120,000 has been allocated to the construction of electric vehicle charging stations, with $870,000 planned in total over five years.
A further $5 million in new funds have been allocated, through the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy to active transportation initiatives.
The province’s budget for new social housing has increased over five years to $36.2 million, an increase of $12.7 million from last year’s capital budget.
In her speech, Compton referred to two new projects that are part of plans for the Hillsborough Hospital replacement – an eight-person structured housing day program facility and a 12-bed women’s extended residence.
Compton said tendering for these projects has already taken place and “work on these projects will begin immediately”.
The province has maintained planned spending of $145 million over five years for a new mental health campus at Hillsborough, down slightly from $147.8 million last year.
A total of $19.7 million is planned in spending on health-care hubs in West Prince, Kings County and Summerside. Last year’s capital budget included spending of $5 million on healthcare hubs, although an additional $1.8 million was allocated to a collaborative care space in Queens County. The collaborative care space is now included in the health-care hub allocation this year.
The province saw several capital projects that were delayed due to COVID-19, such as construction of a Women’s Unit at the Provincial Correctional Centre was one of these projects. A total of $12.6 million is allocated to its construction in 2021-2022, with an additional $2.1 million allocated in 2022-2023.
Stu Neatby is The Guardian's political reporter.
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