P.E.I. government lays out plans to spend $156 million on capital projects next year
Capital budget is first one from newly-elected Progressive Conservative government
The P.E.I. government will spend $17.5 million over two years on 100 new publicly-owned affordable housing units, part of the province's $156-million capital budget released Friday.
Finance Minister Darlene Compton said the budget represents a balance between "increasing our spending, but yet keeping it within good fiscal management."
As part of its five-year capital plan, the province also announced $20 million for the refurbishment of three older schools: École Évangéline, Eliot River and Montague Consolidated schools.
But investments in new school construction, like the $22 million replacement of Sherwood Elementary promised two years ago, are being delayed.
While the previous Liberal government had budgeted $28 million for school construction and renovation in 2020-21, the PC's have budgeted just $5 million. The PCs have doubled the school repair budget for that year, from $2 million to $4 million.
Nearly 50% increase for mental health campus
Meanwhile, what was announced last year as a $100-million development of a mental health campus to replace Hillsborough Hospital, the province's main psychiatric facility, is now pegged at $148 million, in part due to rising construction costs, government said.
Compton said construction will begin in 2020.
Compton also said the budget builds on the previous five-year plan released by the Liberals last year.
"As a new government we recognize we're fortunate to have commenced our mandate with a healthy economy, and it's our job to continue to support its growth," she said.
Other notable spending includes:
$12.3 million for the construction a women's unit at the province's correctional facility, announced by the previous government in March 2019.
$5 million for rural health care hubs that would include both health care services and other supporting services, like social assistance. The province said there would likely be one in both the eastern and western ends of P.E.I.
$8 million for electronic medical records. Records in labs and pharmacies will be integrated into a computer based patient record in 2020-21.
$6.6 million for continued installation of biomass heating units at approximately 20 government-owned facilities.
Funding for the province's first electric school bus as part of a pilot project in 2020-21.
Opposition finance critic Michele Beaton told CBC she's encouraged by the capital budget laid out on Friday.
Beaton said the health care campus was part of the Green Party's platform during the election.
"The new role of the House Leader bringing in information from all caucuses allows for a more robust budget that actually will look after all Islanders' needs. I was encouraged by seeing a lot of our asks included in the budget this time," she said.
"My caucus and I, we campaigned on the rural health care hubs. That was in our platform, that was a promise we made to rural Islanders and it's funded and I'm encouraged that we can collaborate."
NDP Leader Joe Byrne said at first glance the budget's priorities seem to lie in paving and road work, but he is pleased by the investment in mental health and addictions.
However, Byrne said he doesn't think the province's budget for public housing doesn't go far enough.
"I would have preferred to see more money invested over that full five-year period because we really need to have a dramatic increase in the number of units that are owned, operated, controlled by the public," he said.
The Liberals said they're generally pleased with the five-year budget plan, said House Leader Heath MacDonald.
He thinks this capital budget is similar to the last one laid out by the Liberals. He said he hopes to see what he calls new ideas in the future.
"It's pretty hard to vote against this budget. If it's good for Islanders, it's good for Islanders," he said. "We're not here to oppose just for the sake of opposing. We've got to work together."