14% power rate cut promised in P.E.I.

Islanders will see their electricity rates cut 14 per cent by "legislative means," the P.E.I. government pledged Friday in a throne speech opening the fall legislature session.

New health centres coming, throne speech pledges

Lt.-Gov. Barbara Hagerman reads the P.E.I. government's speech from the throne. ((Province of P.E.I.))

P.E.I. residents will see their electricity rates cut 14 per cent by "legislative means," the provincial government pledged Friday in a throne speech opening the fall legislature session.

The speech promises to bring in an Electrical Rate Reduction Act, part of a new P.E.I. Energy Accord that will cut power costs for consumers starting in March of next year. The reduction is part of a two-year plan that will also hold rates steady in 2012 across all rate categories.

"For generations, Island governments have grappled with the challenges of our nearly total dependency on external and costly sources of electricity," Lt.-Gov. Barbara Hagerman read to the legislature.

"My government has approached this challenge by developing structural changes which attack the roots of this problem."

The rate reduction would be achieved in collaboration with Maritime Electric, which provides almost all of the electricity to the Island outside of Summerside, which has its own utility.

The rate reduction will mean consumers will pay $25 million less for electricity, the government's speech says. It gives no details how those rate reductions might be paid for.

The accord has three primary goals: electricity rate reduction, rate stability and the development of P.E.I. into a world leader in wind power.

Palliative care centre announced

The speech also announced a new palliative care centre that will provide "a caring and homelike setting for the last days of life." The centre will operate in addition to a palliative drug program that assists Islanders who choose to die at home, which was launched in 2008. No date or location is given for the centre.

Two other new health care centres are promised as well, one in Cornwall and one in Murray River. The Murray River centre will be part of a larger community complex, which will include an early years centre as well as office and retail space.

The speech outlined what the Liberal government of Premier Robert Ghiz sees as its main accomplishments in the health care field since it came to power in 2007. Among those are increasing the number of family physicians working in the province from 85 to 96, and a 46 per cent increase in spending on government drug programs, including the addition of 117 medicines to the formulary for seniors and low-income people on the provincial drug plan.

French Language Services Act

The government also said it intends to increase services for the Island's Acadian community in its own language.

The French Language Services Act would be overhauled to provide more government services in French, "balancing community needs and government's capacity to deliver."

New immigrants also earn a mention. While the province has been successful in attracting immigrants in recent years, there have been questions about its ability to keep them. A 2009 report found a 25 per cent retention rate, with the majority of immigrants moving to other parts of Canada. The throne speech said a new settlement strategy will be unveiled during the fall session of the legislature.

Island Prosperity Strategy

The speech did not outline any new economic initiatives, instead focusing on what the government sees as the success of the Island Prosperity Strategy.

The government credits the strategy with protecting the Island economy from the worst ravages of the recent recession. More than 500 jobs have been created in sectors targeted by the strategy — aerospace, bioscience and information technology — with more than 4,000 Islanders now employed in those sectors, the speech said.

The speech also discussed improved wages.

"In 2007, one-quarter of Islander earned more than 20 dollars an hour," it said, "and by the end of 2009, this share had increased to one-third."

It also noted one in six Islanders were earning less than $9 an hour in 2007, and now no Islanders do, because the minimum wage was set at that rate on Oct. 1. Those changes translate to a 14 per cent increase in earned income from 2007 to 2009, the speech said.

Addressing the needs of Islanders still struggling financially, the government promised to end the clawback of the National Child Benefit from families on social assistance as of next April 1.