Environment, food innovation focus of throne speech

The government of P.E.I. is hoping to build on the province's natural environment and food production to grow the economy, according to the throne speech presented Tuesday in the legislature.

The government of P.E.I. is hoping to build on the province's natural environment and food production to grow the economy, according to the throne speech presented Tuesday in the legislature.

In opening the fall session of the house, the government made the point that food production on the Island and the environment are linked, and a part of the P.E.I. brand when marketing food off the Island.

"Our future as food producer and the quality of our natural environment are also closely intertwined," the speech says.

As part of its environmental initiatives, the government announced it will launch a model watershed pilot project. One of the province's 31 watershed groups will be chosen for this pilot. Government will work with this group to put together a detailed inventory of the land, water, and wildlife resources under the protection of the group, and develop a plan for those resources.

If successful, the pilot project's approach could be applied across the province.

The province also made reference to the Carver report on lands protection, which was presented to Premier Robert Ghiz in June, but has not yet been made public.

The central recommendations of the report have been accepted, and the report will be released during the fall session.

The government also announced a new private forests management program.

Food at centre of economic growth

The government hopes to bring together engineering and food production as a pillar of economic growth on the Island.

 A new design engineering school at the University of Prince Edward Island will be a part of that growth, according to the throne speech.

The school's program, focusing on sustainable energy and bio-resources, will be unique in Canada, the speech says.

"Engineers trained in this specialization are called upon, amongst other things, to address productivity and plant efficiencies in the food industry, and to design solutions," it says.

It describes the design engineering school as a landmark achievement for the province.

Past achievements

Much of the speech was focused on things the government has already announced.

Under health care, the speech reminded Islanders of its manor replacement program, new coverage for catastrophic drugs, and its record of attracting doctors and nurses to the Island.

Under education, it noted assessment tests results released earlier this month showed student achievement is improving.

Public sector pension reform is expected to be a major issue in the coming session. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan announced major changes last month, and the throne speech outlined the necessity of those changes.

"There is a growing gap between how much people take out of our pension plans versus how much they pay into them," it says.

"These changing demographics, combined with increasing volatility during the global economic downturn have been creating real challenges."

The speech acknowledges decisions regarding public sector pensions have been difficult, but says the government believes the changes are moderate.

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