P.E.I. premier focuses on climate, health and kids in 1st state of the province address
King says P.E.I. moving toward “full electrification” of school bus fleet
Ten months after he became premier of Prince Edward Island, Dennis King focused on climate change, access to health care and supporting children in his first state of the province address Monday night.
Speaking at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Charlottetown, King made a point of leaving talk of economics, job growth and balanced budgets — the things he said were the normal fare of such speeches — until later in his address, focusing first on "the most important issues of our time in Prince Edward Island."
On the issue of climate change, King said the province is committed to "full electrification" of its school bus fleet "over the next few years, and leading the country in this form of clean transit."
King said the buses would perform double duty, providing public transit in areas of the province currently without that service.
Federal funding available
After his address, King told reporters using the buses in both roles would open up new sources of federal funding. He said further details would be provided during or in the lead-up to the spring sitting of the legislature.
The province announced funding for a single electric school bus in its most recent fall capital budget as a pilot project.
Also on the issue of climate change, King announced a new $1,000,000 climate challenge fund, a grant program to spur innovation to help the province meet its emission reductions target.
No cuts, staff reductions in health care
On health care King laid out a plan moving in the opposite direction from the proposed cuts to services which have threatened the future of the Blaine Higgs government in New Brunswick, another minority government led by a first-term PC premier.
King said his government's approach "is not focused on cutting money or reducing staff — in fact it's quite the opposite. We will add both as needed."
As part of a revamp of rural health care, King said the province would "undertake extensive community engagement" starting next month.
King called mental health and addictions "the defining health care concern among Islanders," pledging to continue on a master plan begun under the Liberals to redevelop mental health treatment and facilities.
"There are too many Islanders right now waiting to access care," King said. "They deserve better from us, and we are working to respond."
School lunches, universal pre-k
On investing in Island children, King reiterated what he called his government's "very ambitious goal" to have a school lunch program in every Island school by September.
He also reiterated his government's plan for a free, universal pre-kindergarten program, but this time without mentioning when the program would roll out. Questions have been raised recently in meetings of the province's standing committee on education and economic development as to whether the program will be ready to launch in September as promised.
Toward the end of his address King rattled off the numbers showing a strong economy: economic and job growth at or near the best rate in Canada; unemployment the lowest since records began in 1976.
And he lauded the "new tone of our politics" since Island voters gave his PCs a minority government in last April's provincial election.
"Our debate in the legislature is far less rancorous," he said, noting cooperation among parties on issues including social assistance rate increases and the Water Act.
He said he approached both opposition leaders for their priorities ahead of his address, and found "that our priorities were quite similar."
"But proud as we may be with the new tone and style, … we are ultimately judged by what we do -- by what we achieve or what we fail to achieve."
The next sitting of the P.E.I. legislature is set to begin Apr. 7.