2021 State of the Province Address
Premier Dennis King delivered the 2021 State of the Province address to Rotary clubs of Prince Edward Island on Monday, February 22, 2021. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Premier's address was presented virtually.
Full Text of 2021 State of the Province Address
Presented by Premier Dennis King to Rotary clubs of Prince Edward Island
Monday, February 22, 2021
Bonjour Tout Le Monde.
Thank you, Ouma.
And thank you to the Rotary Clubs of Prince Edward Island for working hard to make sure we are able to connect with Islanders and continue with this important tradition of the State of the Province address each February.
Let me also thank the three Island Rotary Clubs who worked with the PEI Literacy Alliance and Government to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Project to Island children. Every child that signs up will receive a new book each month until their 5th birthday. A wonderful initiative that will make a positive impact the lives of many Islanders and Island families.
Welcome to all Islanders joining us – admittedly a little different than we are used to – but, over the last year we’ve all learned to adapt, to change, and to find new ways of doing things.
Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about time: the time since we last met, and how much change time has brought with it. I guess that is the one constant: that change is always wrapped within the passing of time.
That we have changed, how we have changed - combined with what we have learned and the recognition that we must continue to change and adapt as we rush to meet the future - is very much the story of COVID in PEI, and will be part of the legacy of this province as we transition through, and out of, the pandemic.
It will form the basis of the speech I will deliver tonight. It will form the basis of the agenda our government will set as we position PEI for a strong, prosperous future.
Two days shy of one year ago I was giving my first state of the province address with many of you, sharing the good news about 2019 and some things to look forward to in 2020. At that time, the prevailing issue on all our minds was the firearm threat that had been directed at one of our high schools that very day.
Thankfully, the threat turned out to be a hoax.
But even at that late date, February 24th, we had no real appreciation or understanding of the much of a greater threat, to our entire world, was lurking just around the corner.
The Pulitzer prize-winning columnist, George Will once said: “The future has a way of arriving—unannounced.” No kidding!
Only days later, we—along with virtually every other jurisdiction in the world--were in lock-down, unable to predict how long it would last and how severe the consequences might be in terms of human lives, the economy, and our general physical and mental well-being.
As it turns out, we’ve fared well here on Prince Edward Island. In fact, some people might say we’ve been lucky. There can be no doubt that we have enjoyed our fair share of good fortune, but I prefer to think that sometimes you make your own luck, and I think we have done that here.
From day one, we have been under the thoughtful, reasoned, and science-based guidance of Dr. Heather Morrison and her competent team at Health and Wellness.
Uncharacteristically, politicians - including myself and the Minister of Health - have stepped into the background and allowed the experts to do their job.
The Opposition leaders, too, have been nothing but respectful, and extra careful not to try to score political points in a time of crisis. For this kind approach, I am grateful and all Islanders are thankful.
Our frontline workers and essential workers - nurses, doctors, long-term care workers, teachers, early learning educators, truckers, farmers, fishers, store clerks, public servants, hospitality, and service workers - all have been selfless in continuing to provide the essential services needed to keep the rest of us nourished, nurtured and safe.
But above all, and most crucial to our good fortune, Islanders have responded with compassion and understanding. I would challenge anyone to find a province with a higher compliance rate with public health guidelines than ours.
So, is our good fortune a function of good luck, mixed with a lot of good planning and execution? For sure it is. But I don’t think any of it has been by accident. In my heart, I believe at its very root it’s a function of the caring and compassionate people in this province who appreciate that our collective health is more important than individual wealth.
Ladies and gentlemen, that in and of itself, says a great deal about the state of our province. And if I were to end my address there (and I can see many of you thinking “Please God, let it be so!”). . . If I were to end my address there, I would have said plenty about the state of our people, our province, and our community.
Because caring for one another, considering the well-being of others, and modeling our behaviour to protect the health and safety of our family, friends, and neighbours, those are the things that really matter most in the whole scheme of things.
But, I won’t end there. There is much more to speak about when it comes to the state of our province.
Overall, I would say quite confidently, that all things considered, Prince Edward Island has done pretty well in the face of the some of the most difficult challenges in the past century. For that all Islanders should feel thankful and proud.
However, we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Not just here in PEI, but around the world. PEI is not immune. These are unprecedented health, economic and social times for us. And although there are growing signs that we are on the way to the end, COVID-19 and its diverging variants have not yet let us out of their firm grip.
There is more work to do, and in our upcoming budget address we will again face this reality, and we will need to set aside a dedicated COVID contingency plan to ensure we can help Island families, communities, businesses and entrepreneurs get through and get past this pandemic.
In the face of the pandemic, last year we tabled a budget that had a record deficit. Every other jurisdiction in the world is in the same boat. We have a plan to make our way back to balance, and as part of that plan we will have a much-improved target this year.
But the catastrophic impacts of the pandemic, which threw our very solid economic standing into difficulty, combined with the remaining unknowns in our immediate view, require us to be patient, to be strategic and most importantly, to use every possible lever at our disposal to first get through, get on the road to recovery, and then to grow.
We are in a good position financially. We have the ability to weather this pandemic. We have a responsibility to help each and every Islander who has been impacted, and that is what we will do. Part of that responsibility is getting back to a solid position so that we are living within our means. We are on that path.
As challenging as the last year has been, I believe there are important lessons to be learned from COVID-19. I get asked all the time, “What have you learned most from COVID?”
Obviously, I think I have learned a lot about the resilience of Islanders, their adaptability, their innovative spirit.
The COVID experience has also validated for me the key strength of leadership.
There is one thing I have tried to bring to the table everyday in this job, and that is the ability to listen, to work with others, and not just to seek good advice but to put it to use.
It didn’t take me very long in the process – probably about eight seconds – to realize that our hopeful path through all of these health unknowns was to listen to our health experts, to consult openly and honestly with Dr Morrison, and to use science and the best research to guide our decisions.
COVID – in particular in the beginning when there was so much we didn’t know – was tremendously emotional. Islanders were rightfully worried and concerned and everyone had their own views and opinions of what needed to be done.
Making emotional decisions at that time would have been catastrophic for us. Using the best science and research and information available, we made decisions: tough decisions, sometimes unpopular decisions.
But, from the beginning – and through until today – there has been a consistency in our decision-making process.
We have not once wavered from the process of using the best information to guide us. We have not once deviated or responded to the emotion. That is not say we just dismiss the views and concerns of Islanders, quite the opposite actually.
Islanders deserve to be heard. They need to be heard. We always have to be open minded and open hearted to their concerns – and we have put the feedback from Islanders to good use. In fact, most of the programs we rolled out during COVID were because of what we heard from Islanders.
When we look at the issues that we faced before, during, and will continue to face after COVID, the same approach will serve us well. And frankly, I believe that is what Islanders should be asking of their government.
Many of the issues and concerns we face as Islanders are ones that we are passionate about and have varying opinions about; that’s a good thing.
Decisions to make changes, some that are long overdue, can’t be made in a vacuum, by one person or a small group of people who think they know best.
We have demonstrated time and again that by doing it differently we can make lasting, needed and appropriate change. We will continue with that approach.
So too will our desire to let the best research, information, science and data guide our decision making:
- Whether its our desire to preserve and improve the environment, to continue to lead the country with our climate action plans, and to have a long needed, grown-up discussion about the health of our land, soil and water and how they are all intrinsically connected;
- Whether it is to look at the delivery of our primary health care services in this province and a shift to putting patients - people, Islanders - at the centre of that delivery;
- Whether it is our top priority to be there for each and every Islander in need of mental health and addictions services with a system that is simple to access and easier to navigate.
We must not be afraid of the challenges and we must not be scared to admit we need to do better. For only when we acknowledge the need to be better, can we focus on getting to work to actually be better.
COVID has taught us the critical importance of courage, of working together to meet the difficult moment.
We’ve met the moment of COVID, head on. So too, must we meet head-on these important moments I reference, and so many others, as our province builds for a successful future.
To plan for the future, we need to know where we stand today.
You may be surprised to hear that, even on the economic front, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some bright spots, some pandemic stars that have continued to shine despite the clouds, and yes even the odd COVID Comet that has taken flight and unexpectedly lit up the sky.
I also want to share with you what lies ahead: the challenges, the beacons of hope and the priorities of your government in 2021.
Now, when I was here less than a year ago, 2020 was off to a pretty good start. It appeared that we were on track to continue the upward economic trajectory we had been enjoying for the past several years. All the indicators were positive.
And then, the future arrived unannounced, it’s been devastating on many fronts.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it: the turmoil is likely to last some time into the future. Recovery is not going to be overnight. Mending supply chain fractures, replacing lost income, getting Islanders back to work, retooling industry and manufacturing, restoring consumer confidence - all of these things will take time.
The good new is, Prince Edward Island is better situated than most to bounce back with vigor. With fewer than 120 total cases, no hospitalizations, and no deaths, we have thus far (knock on wood) been able to enjoy liberties that people in our sister provinces can only dream of.
And while I don’t want to appear to ‘beggar thy neighbor’, PEI’s economy on many measures represents the best of a bad situation. Sure, the PEI economy shrank by 3.8% over the past year.
But that compares favourably with the overall Canadian economy, which contracted by 5.1%.
Similarly, with our labour force. Particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, many businesses were obliged to lay off workers. Our labour force declined by 3.2% after having enjoyed several years of steady growth.
But to put things in perspective, the number of Islanders participating in the labour force this past year was 76,700, slightly more than employment numbers for 2018. When you compare our decline to that of Alberta and BC, at 6.6% each, and the national numbers at 5.2%, we are doing fairly well.
Interestingly enough, in the peak of our pandemic response we have seen a record number of people working from home. Local research tells us that over 50% of the workforce worked from home during the pandemic and 57% of Islanders would prefer to work remotely going forward. While a year ago we would have never considered that having half of our province working from home would have been possible, when push came to shove we found a way to make it work, to keep businesses operational and keep the economy from coming to a screeching halt.
That has been part of the give and take of COVID. On one-hand, the lessening daily commute for half of our workforce has helped us see a needed decline in our carbon emissions. On the other hand, those in our service sector who rely heavily on that work traffic daily for their success, saw business either rapidly decline, or disappear.
Tourism and its related businesses - accommodations, restaurants, tour buses, and the culture and event sectors - have taken the biggest hit. Opening the Atlantic bubble in July certainly helped for a spurt in the summer, but overall, the tourism and hospitality sector has taken the brunt of the economic impact.
Overnight stays this past year were fewer than half the previous year. Traffic on the Confederation Bridge was down by half, and ferry traffic was down by almost two-thirds. Air traffic was down 81%, and both cruise ship and motor coach visitations were virtually non-existent.
I’m not going to pretend for a moment that these latter two aspects of the tourism industry - cruise ship and motor coach visits - will bounce back any time soon. It’s going to take some time and proven success with our vaccination regimens before people are feeling confident enough to return to this mode of travel. This is particularly the case because both of these travel modes cater significantly to seniors, the most vulnerable in our population.
On a positive note, more and more Islanders took the opportunity to explore parts of our province this year. I see that as a positive trend and a continued growth opportunity that industry will continue to pursue as we make our way back to a more normal time.
For tourism, I see 2021 as a transition year. All things being equal, an Atlantic bubble will be open by spring, and as the vaccine regime expands across the country and when it is deemed safe to do so, I expect that our borders will begin to open to more Canadian travel. 2021 will be better than 2020; it won’t be as good as 2019, but I see the transition beginning in earnest this year - and in 2022 we will blow the doors off!
In reflection, to state the obvious, we saw dramatic change in 2020, change not just in how and why we do things, but change in attitudes.
Issues were brought to the spotlight which must be addressed.
This summer, as we have never seen before, thousands of Islanders demonstrated their desire to see meaningful and impactful cultural change. The Black Lives Matter march was the largest demonstration that I have witnessed in this province. At its root, it was a show of force and spirit demanding that we all do better as a province.
We’ve listened, and we’ve acted. We were asked to put a racially-focused lens on every decision government makes. We were asked to review all government policy to ensure the way we do business is inclusive for all. Those initiatives are underway.
Our efforts must go further. Regardless of race, colour, gender, sexuality, language, religion, we are Islanders and all Islanders deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and equality. Honest discussion and respectful deliberation are required; we have to be honest in saying that we haven’t always gotten this right because we haven’t.
Our choice is simple even if the path ahead isn’t. We must not stop working to be better.
More needs to be done, but we have made some initial steps.
We have strengthened our connection with our First Nations, sharing more of their language and culture, ensuring they have a voice and a seat at tables of decision. We have dedicated more resources to create employment and have expanded on the framework of partnership to create wealth and independence within our Mi’kmaq communities.
With respect to our Acadian and Francophone communities, we have followed up on the great success of last year’s Congres Mondial with investments to further preserve and enhance the French language, culture and education across the province. The Commission Scolaire de langue Franciase asked for more funds, and we will respond accordingly. And, after years of slammed doors and rejection…, we have committed to a new school for the Evangeline region. Work is underway on making that project a reality.
Pride PEI and PEERS Alliance have demonstrated the commitment to assist in making our province a leader in celebrating and supporting the diversity of gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression.
Our PEI culture is broad and diverse, and is growing more diverse every day. This province must always be a warm and loving place, a home for every person who chooses to be here.
No longer are these just part of the social fabric of our Island, they are also an important aspect in the creation of a more inclusive and resilient economy. Culture in this new and changing world economy is isaleable. There is a growing audience for it. And nobody does it better than we do it here. We will make greater investments in those Islanders as they share the best of our history, wrapped in the hopes of our future.
Our economic future is bright. Key areas of our economy have not only survived, but flourished.
The construction industry, for example, is booming. New housing and commercial buildings are going up everywhere. Building permits ended the year up 13% over the previous year. We recorded almost 1,200 building starts, the second most starts recorded since 1978.
When we came to government we faced a housing crisis. Our vacancy rate was less than 1%. We knew we had to take this on, and we did. We made record, targeted investments, worked tirelessly with partners across the spectrum - businesses, entrepreneurs, municipalities, NGOs, and community groups – and this past month we’ve seen the vacancy rate climb to almost 3%.
Now, our work here is not done, but we’ve moved the marker significantly and we need to continue the momentum. We know more spaces will be needed Island-wide as our economy expands and our province grows.
Not only has the number of building permits soared, but more importantly the value of building permits has soared in virtually every municipality across the province. Investment in building construction increased almost 11%, totalling just over $851 Million.
And while new construction is booming, we’ve also seen that many Islanders have taken advantage of their isolation to do home renovations and improvements.
Real Estate agents will tell you that, right now, the market on PEI is very hot. That’s both good news and bad, I suppose, depending on which side of the transaction table you’re sitting.
It’s a seller’s market, largely driven by our continued increase in population. At the end of July, Prince Edward Island had a population of 159,625 souls. That’s almost 2,400 more people than I reported in my State of the Province address last year.
Our population has grown by 20,000 in the past decade alone and even in the face of the pandemic we are still enjoying the fastest population growth-rate in Canada.
We had originally targeted the end of 2022 to achieve a population of 160,000 people. It now appears that we’re already there - a full two years ahead of schedule.
Where are these people coming from?
Well, we know that many of them are new Canadians, anxious to build new lives and new businesses in a land that cherishes and protects religious, economic and political freedom.
At 13 immigrants per one thousand population, we have the highest immigration rate in the country, almost double the rate for Canada as a whole. We need that to continue and expand.
We’re getting more than our fair share of new Canadians, but the COVID crisis has prompted another group as well: Islanders who are returning home to the safest and most secure jurisdiction in North America.
I don’t have official statistics for this group, but the anecdotal evidence is all around us. Real estate agents will tell you that they have seen a spike in out-of-province inquiries.
Anecdotal evidence or not, this opportunity shouldn’t be overlooked. It could be a way of continuing to grow our population by simply welcoming Islanders back home, or an opportunity to fine tune our immigration & population strategy. We are one of the safest jurisdictions in the world – we are the envy of the country – and that itself, is worth its weight in gold these days.
To these sons and daughters who initially felt the need to move elsewhere to advance their careers, Prince Edward Island is like a familiar security blanket that gave us comfort in our childhood. My dear mother always used to say Islanders are like homing pigeons. We’re not content until we’re back in our own little coop.
And of course, we’re all here to welcome them home with open arms.
In addition to our population growth, the past year has been filled with a number of other pleasant surprises as well.
- Despite periods of lock-down and limitations to the number of customers allowed in our stores at any one time, retail sales on the Island are actually up slightly, more than 1%.
- Wholesale trade has increased more than 2%, the fastest growth among all the provinces.
- Manufacturing shipments declined by 4.3 per cent this past year. But we can take some comfort in the fact that this was the second smallest decline in the country.
- Despite this, the value of Island exports actually increased 1% in 2020, reaching just over $1.5 billion. Again, that represents the second fastest growth among the provinces.
Much of that good news in terms of international trade is credited to the surprising strength of our two essential sectors, farming and fishing.
You’ll recall that in March, we weren’t even sure there would be a lobster fishery. But despite a two-week delay, our fishers got out on the water. And while prices were off, catches were brisk, and some other factors like wage assistance and lower fuel costs helped ensure that the season wasn’t an entire bust. The fall season saw strong catches and slightly better prices.
And similarly, with agriculture. A dry, hot summer challenged potato yield, but cereal, grain and other crops thrived. Crop receipts, led by wheat and soy beans, increased by almost 15%.
Perhaps because more people are cooking and eating at home, farm cash receipts hit an all time high. In the first three quarters of last year, farm cash receipts reached almost $430 Million.
That’s a 3% increase over the previous year.
All of these benchmarks and indicators are reason for optimism.
But the greatest reason for optimism is something far less tangible than GDP or population statistics. The greatest reason for optimism is more a matter of belief, and attitude.
Clearly, Islanders believe in a future beyond COVID-19, and I can assure you, your government certainly does as well.
Of equal significance to our future is the confidence that has been expressed by the third-party observers of the PEI economy and financial picture.
The fact that our growth was, and will again, be sustainable was recognized by the international bond-rating agencies. All three: Moody’s, Dominion Bond Rating, and Standard and Poor, acknowledged that what we have going is a new economic order.
In response to our efforts - to put in place the essential infrastructure, to diversify the economy, to work collaboratively, to implement timely and appropriately designed support programs, to keep our COVID infection rates in check - each of these agencies improved our rating and have maintained that rating despite the disruption of the pandemic. That says a lot about the rest of the world’s confidence in the strength of our business community and the direction and leadership that all three levels of government have charted for our future.
That vote of confidence is also reflected in the economic forecasts of the six major banks and the two private sector think-tanks that track and monitor economic performance in Canada.
On average, these eight independent entities are predicting a growth rate of 3.5% for the PEI economy in 2021. Three of the charter banks (The Royal, the National, and Scotiabank) are even more bullish on PEI’s prospects for recovery; they’re predicting growth rates in excess of 4%.
There are many factors that go into these projections – many variables that we can’t control and many that we can - thus, as a government we must be ready with a variety of scenarios should something arise that is unexpected.
As a government, we have been with you every step of the way on this journey. We have, and will continue to use the levers of government to support you, to support our economy, to support our health system.
Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes - we will be with you. We will get through this, together.
If I can be so bold to rob the words from Sir Winston Churchill, we should never waste a good crisis.
Your government has bold aspirations for the year ahead.
These bold aspirations will be grounded in the same decision-making process I spoke about earlier. We will use the best science and the best data to guide your government in the year ahead, to get to work, to tackle the challenges that have emerged from COVID, and some of the challenges that have been pushed to the side.
When it comes to mental health and addictions services in this province, as a government, we need to do better. This is a topic that touches every Islander. No matter your age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status, it affects all of us.
We have to make it easier for Islanders to navigate and access the appropriate mental health and addictions services. Starting in 2021, we will introduce a single point of access for mental health and addictions services on PEI. It will be a 24-hour line, 7 days a week, where a real human-being answers the phone and helps to navigate the process of getting the appropriate treatment.
Gone will be the days where Islanders have to walk through seven or eight different doors, or dial numbers only to be asked to leave a voicemail, to find the service they need. This single point of access for mental health and addictions will ensure that no matter who you are, where you live, or what challenges you are facing, someone will be there to help you.
We also know that we have to improve the fleet of services we offer when it comes to mental wellness.
Statistics show that less than 30% of individuals need a clinical intervention when it comes to mental health. That means, we need to invest more in community-based programs and services that are offered within the province to ensure that Islanders get the right treatment, at the right time, and the right place.
While we know we need to make more targeted investments in the clinical treatment of those Islanders in need, we need to open our minds and put more emphasis and resources into early intervention and prevention.
To do that we need to be more upstream in our approach. We need to offer more mental fitness opportunities for Islanders and find more ways to integrate these practices into everyday life; self-care, coping mechanisms, mindfulness and other holistic mental wellness exercises can be very helpful to all of us, and must play a greater role in our overall strategy.
And in order to do that, we need one central organization that will coordinate this. It can’t be piece meal, it can’t be on the side of anyone’s desk. We need someone that wakes up everyday and when their feet hit the ground they are working hard to enhance our mental health and addictions services throughout the province.
To do this, we will be establishing a PEI Centre for Mental Wellbeing – a dedicated organization, funded by, but independent of, government, that will work with community organizations like Canadian Mental Health Association, PEERS Alliance, the Boys and Girls Club, and so many more to create a coordinated network of services that are available for Islanders when they need them.
This isn’t a bureaucratic body to download these services. This is a Centre that will advocate to government, educate the public, and work together – as a network – to provide coordinated programs and services for all Islanders.
The Centre will get off the ground immediately, with a founding board of high performing leaders from across our province who will build a solid foundation so the Centre can be fully operational by fall 2021.
And in keeping with the style of governing that we have brought to this province, rooted in the desire to put partisan politics to the side, the founding board for the Centre will be structured to provide one seat for each political party in the Legislature. That representative can either be a sitting MLA or be an individual designated by that caucus.
I have said from the beginning that no one person or party owns the good ideas. No one person or party cares more about these important issues than others. We all care and we share a fundamental desire to make it better. And we have demonstrated as a provincial legislature that when we work together, put politics aside, roll up our sleeves and put people first, we can make a big positive difference. When it comes to mental health and addictions services in this province we need to make a positive difference.
This year, you will also start to see our government transform the way we deliver primary care services in this province.
For decades, Islanders have heard successive governments were working to find a doctor for every Islander, and time and time again, politicians have stood on a stage and said that milestone is just around the corner. The truth is, it has never been.
I want to be honest with all Islanders. It never will be.
Case in point: the last four governments, mine included, have accurately claimed to have recruited to a record number of physicians, which has led them to again accurately proclaim that PEI has more physicians than ever before in our province’s history.
Yet the names on the patient registry only get longer. If we are serious about making this better, we can’t keep doing the same things that aren’t working.
In addition, health professionals are telling us there are other solutions. Health care providers are telling us they want to work in teams, in a collaborative environment where everyone gets to practice to their full scope, and the patient – the person, the Islander – gets the best possible service in the most efficient and timely manner.
To be clear, when an Islander needs the services of a doctor, that service must and will be provided. We will put more resources and efforts to continue to recruit more new doctors, specialists and health professionals to continue to improve our health delivery services.
The collaborative medical environment has so many other tools, many that are currently under-utilized that can help. We must do a better job of making those services available to Islanders, whether it be nurse practitioners, registered nurses, LPNs, social workers or pharmacists.
Islanders have been telling me over and over they want to be able to access medical services when they need them, in a timely manner, and as close to their home community as possible. In a province of 159,000 citizens, in which we collectively spend over $1 Billion dollars annually on health care services, I believe in my heart this is achievable.
In 2021, we will be introducing Medical Homes and Medical Neighbourhoods in communities across the province. These homes and neighbourhoods will have multi-disciplinary teams ready, willing and able to help the Islanders that are assigned to them.
This is a national model, one that has the backing of organizations like the PEI College of Family Physicians, the Medical Society of PEI, the Nurse Practitioners Association and others. We will hit the ground running this year by establishing our first three medical homes and medical neighbourhoods in this province.
A critical part of this initiative is the electronic medical record system which is in the process of being implemented across the province starting this month.
COVID-19 has uncovered new challenges, and amplified others.
But one of the takeaways from last April for me, was that in order to ensure we have a healthy and resilient workforce in our province we need a more robust early childcare system.
For years Prince Edward Island has received accolades for our great early childcare system. We will build upon that. We must continue to strive to be the best and that’s where the bar is set for our government in the year ahead.
Our 4-year old Pre-K program will be a great start, but we ought not stop there. We need to, and we will, increase the spaces so that there is universal access to childcare for every young Islander from Tignish to Souris and every point in between.
In order to do that, we will need more Early Childhood Educators, and in order to do that, we need to increase the wages for those in this important sector so that more and more young Islanders will choose a career in this field.
As I mentioned earlier, as we work our way back to balanced budgets, and to make the necessary investments in these key areas, we will need to get the cogs of economic engine working at full capacity, we will need to introduce new cogs to make it turn a littler faster.
One of those areas will be in clean technology development and innovation. Perhaps more so than most, the people of Prince Edward Island understand the importance of our environment.
With challenging coastal consideration, extreme weather events and with resource sectors that are precious in all parts of the province, Islanders are very attuned to the impacts of climate change. We see it every day.
It’s February 22 and the Northumberland Strait is essentially ice-free. I can’t remember a winter in my lifetime when that was the case. Snow storms in Texas, no ice in the Strait. . . if you don’t think the climate is changing, I don’t know what further proof you need.
Prince Edward Island has established increasing strengths in renewable energy and climate action. Our leadership in wind energy has been forged over decades, and we still are building our capacity across the province in this valuable sector.
In the past three years, 13,000 homes have transitioned to cleaner electrical heating through heat pumps and now 98% of new homes built in PEI are using clean electricity.
It is through these innovations that Prince Edward Island has been able to see its per capita carbon emissions decline by 27.5% since 2005. This kind of climate action is essential to protecting our province’s environment for generations to come.
More innovation is needed. Tackling climate action now and in the future will require our best ideas, ingenuity and enterprise. We need viable, long-term solutions in areas such as transportation and agriculture to meet our target as the first province in Canada to reach net zero.
PEI already has some leading-edge companies established right here. Aspen Kemp and Associates provides innovative micro-grid power solutions to Islands and marine vessels around the world, and Island Water Solutions develops next generation water treatment and monitoring solutions around the globe.
In 2021, Government will embark on a plan to build PEI’s Clean Tech sector, supporting PEI-based companies to develop and deploy competitive, clean technology solutions, to help solve some of our most pressing environmental challenges: climate change, clean air, clean water and clean soil. Our aim is to encourage leading-edge development that will provide solutions needed to combat climate change.
To help meet these challenges, we will establish a $50 million-dollar investment fund for new business development or existing business to scale up in clean technology solutions. We will establish three tax-free development zones that will provide opportunities for Clean Tech businesses to cluster and take advantage of common services and supports to accelerate their work.
We will also establish a $10 million-dollar research and development fund to work on the ideas and solutions we don’t yet know.
And on top of these investments, we are committed to creating the talent-pool needed for this sector by working with our post-secondary institutions.
The time is now. By 2030, it is our goal to see the creation of over 2,000 jobs in the clean tech sector here on PEI.
Mental health and addictions, transforming our healthcare system, introducing universal childcare, and creating a new clean tech sector - these aren’t easy issues to tackle, but we must.
When you are in the chair I occupy today you are presented with moments that must be met. While the position is often lonely, success as Premier, I believe, is directly tied to the ability to consult broadly, to listen intently, and to be open to good ideas wherever they come from.
Shortly after the pandemic started, we began thinking and planning how we were going to emerge in the other end. I invited a group of Islanders from all walks of life and all regions of the province to come together as The Premier’s Council for Recovery and Growth.
The group invited public input and they received more than 1,100 suggestions and ideas to make our province the best place to live, work and raise a family. What I heard was loud and clear:
- mental health and addictions services need to be improved,
- our health care system needs to be renewed,
- our early childhood system needs to improve, and
- we need to create a clean tech sector to bridge the economy with the environment.
One of the key priorities discussed at each meeting of this Council concerned those most vulnerable in our province, in particular those who don’t enjoy the comfort of a basic, livable income.
This is an area that all Islanders want to see improve.
We also had a key recommendation from a Legislative standing committee, asking the government to continue to make steps toward the implementation of a basic income guarantee.
While I know there are questions that persist and more education is required to explain to all Islanders what a basic income guarantee is - and who it would be directed at - at their core
Islanders want to do everything they can to help those who most need it.
We all know that the PEI government can’t undertake this endeavour alone. I have written to Prime Minister Trudeau asking him to commit to direct senior officials in his government to talk with senior officials from my government to begin the work on designing what a basic income guarantee program could look like in PEI.
I believe if we could get to work on some of the details, use research and good information, park the emotion to the side for a time and remember that we are trying to help those Islanders who need it the most, we can figure out a path forward.
Those in the most need can’t wait. Until the Federal government can positively respond to this request, we will continue to make the necessary investments in shelter and basic needs allowances for our social assistance clients. This year – we will also proceed with the expansion of a PEI Secure Income Pilot – putting more money in the pockets of our most vulnerable Islanders who face barriers entering the labour force.
This Council group wasn’t scared to tackle these challenges and neither am I. These are fundamental to ensuring we recovery from this pandemic from a social, economic and environmental perspective.
I want to thank those Islanders who served on the Council and the many Islanders who made submissions to this group. The full report from the council will be released to the Legislature during the upcoming session.
Many of the policy and program ideas and suggestions the Council received will be reflected in Her Honours Speech From the Throne, which will open the session on February 25th.
The willingness of these people to give up their time for the betterment of their province is reflective of the spirit of community and caring that is such a vital element of our genetic makeup here on Prince Edward Island.
It’s the optimism of Islanders that has kept me motivated over the last 11 months.
I have great faith in the people of Prince Edward Island. As Islanders, we trace our roots to the Mi’kmaw: kind, caring, community-minded people who have opened their arms and their hearts to all of those, all of us, who have relocated here to this beautiful Island of Epikwetk.
Because they have taught us, we now know what the Mi’kmaw have known for time immemorial - that life on this sandbar isn’t always easy. The land and the sea doesn’t offer up its bounty easily. The land and the sea will best work with us, when we submit and commit to work fairly and sustainably with it.
As a province, through unimaginable difficulty, we have done well together. We are close to the finish line. We need to give just another push or two to get us across the line. Don’t let up. Don’t let your guard down.
Because we have done well, we are perfectly positioned to seize a strong, successful future. We are in this position because of each and everyone of you. Be proud of that.
In the darkest of days, when we didn’t know what was to come, you put your trust and confidence in me, in our government. Together, we found our way through. For that – I am most grateful and proud.
As we make the steps together toward the bright future ahead, we must do so knowing we will face some tough days. It is my commitment to you to do everything I can to remain worthy of your continued confidence and trust.
And, I know in my heart, that if we make these steps together, we will make this amazing little province so much better.
Thank you very much.