P.E.I. throne speech targets population growth

The P.E.I. government will focus on population growth and rejuvenation over the coming legislative session, along with building prosperity for an increasing number of Islanders, according to the throne speech delivered this afternoon by Lieutenant-Governor Frank Lewis.

Government aims to hit population of 150,000 by the end of 2017

The second session of the 65th General Assembly of P.E.I. began Tuesday afternoon in Charlottetown. (CBC)

The P.E.I. government will focus on population growth and rejuvenation over the coming legislative session, along with building prosperity for an increasing number of Islanders, according to the throne speech delivered this afternoon by Lieutenant-Governor Frank Lewis.

Overall, the Island population has been growing, reaching an estimated 146,933 in March 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

But while international immigration has been boosting that number, P.E.I. has been losing out to destinations like Alberta and Ontario when it comes to migration between the provinces. P.E.I. experienced a net loss of 1,132 people in 2015 to interprovincial migration.

"We witness too many younger Islanders leaving the province for education and work opportunities, and many wishing to return," the throne speech notes. "Sustainable economic growth relies upon the ability to increase our population, expand our skills, and grow our workforce."

Over the coming year, the P.E.I. government plans to put in place "a comprehensive long-term strategy to repatriate, recruit, and retain a skilled and talented workforce."

The province has set a target for the population to reach 150,000 by the end of 2017.

Government said it will contact expatriate workers and entrepreneurs by hosting events in Ontario and Alberta, and will launch a new marketing campaign designed to convince Islanders who've left the province to return home.

"Many places set out to have a population strategy and you have to practically go knocking on doors," said Premier Wade MacLauchlan.

"But in our case we actually have tens of thousands of people who've left Prince Edward Island who consider the Island home and who'd love nothing better than to be here with their families and with an opportunity to build their lives and contribute and be part of the province."

But the Opposition questions why those people would come back to P.E.I., noting the province has lost 2,200 jobs over the past year.

"We have a problem, we're bleeding jobs," said interim PC Party Leader Jamie Fox.

"Why wasn't the brakes put on a while ago? It wasn't done. Things just keep on getting worse and worse. Islanders want help, they're asking for help."

Reducing taxes would be one way to entice Islanders back, Fox said, and would help offset the upcoming increase in electricity rates.

Further scrutiny on spending

In a year when government has pledged to deliver a balance budget, the throne speech says there will be further scrutiny of public spending to ensure it remains "focused for longer-term social and economic prosperity on Prince Edward Island."

The speech notes that health care and education make up more than half the provincial budget.

"It is critical to ensure government expenditures do not far outstrip our means of paying for these public services."

Government also says it will review future benefit arrangements in the public service.

Some other highlights from the speech from the throne:

  • Government will introduce a lobbyist registry in the fall of 2016.
  • Government will introduce new legislation around campaign financing to meet "best practices."
  • The number of nurse practitioners in the province will grow. Government will also expand their scope of practice, and develop a recruitment program to enhance access to nurse practitioners in rural areas.
  • On the controversial issue of parking fees at the province's largest hospital, the throne speech has this to say: "To better support patients and visitors, we will address parking arrangements at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital by putting in place the best solution possible."

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