Honourable Members of the Legislative Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I take great pleasure in welcoming you to this Fourth Session of the Sixty-second General Assembly.
As I begin my term as Lieutenant Governor, I look forward to working with Members of this Assembly and Islanders on measures to improve the quality of life for all citizens.
The dedication, expertise and experience of our public service is well demonstrated. My Premier will mark 2007 as the Year of the Public Servant in Prince Edward Island to reflect, recognize and celebrate the invaluable contribution made by our provinceís public service employees.
This past year the Province recognized and paid tribute to the contribution of our War Brides, whose legacy has made a lasting impact on our society.
Sacrifices continue to be made in the service of our nation as members of Canadaís armed forces serve around the globe, particularly in Afghanistan.
The past year was marked by great accomplishment and great celebration in Prince Edward Island.
All Islanders shared in the pride as our athletes competed with the worldís best. Heather Moyse of Summerside and Brad Richards of Murray Harbour wore Canadaís colours at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Mark MacDonald of Kingston continued to set the pace in the sport of harness racing, capturing the prestigious Little Brown Jug in front of a large contingent of Islanders.
This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Atlantic Veterinary College at UPEI. Today, the college is a nationally recognized institution making outstanding contributions to health research and our economy. A $32 million expansion to the AVC is now underway.
Our people and our special places provide a sense of promise for the future. This unity of purpose is a source of great inspiration reflecting My Premierís vision to build safe, healthy, prosperous and sustainable communities.
Across Prince Edward Island today there is renewed confidence and self-reliance. Islanders are moving forward, eagerly focused on opportunities for the future:
- the opportunity to become healthier citizens and families;
- the opportunity to embrace learning in all arenas of life;
- the opportunity to build a safe and caring society;
- the opportunity to create prosperity that respects our environment.
My Government is focused on clear goals to deliver better results for Islanders:
- increased income and job opportunities;
- enhanced health and well-being;
- improved learning and skills development;
- improved quality of our environment and its sustainability;
- continued improvement of provincial finances.
Investments and strategies will be targeted in the areas of literacy, population growth, healthy living and environmental and economic sustainability.
Under the leadership of My Premier, and in partnership with Islanders, we will ensure that Prince Edward Islandís finest days are ahead.
My Government has forged innovative community partnerships with the PEI Active Living Alliance, the PEI Healthy Eating Alliance, the PEI Tobacco Reduction Alliance, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the PEI Cancer Society and others to promote best practices for healthy lifestyles and help to create an environment where Islanders can be their best.
Wait times for health services continue to be a challenge for all Canadians. This is a national problem requiring a national solution. Timely access to medically necessary services is a priority for My Government. My Premier will work with our federal and provincial partners to address this challenge.
Nevertheless, My Government is taking direct action to reduce wait times here at home through innovative new approaches:
- legislation enabling nurse practitioners to contribute to collaborative health care in Island communities;
- a 10-year contract with Island Emergency Medical Services to provide state-of-the-art provincial ground ambulance services;
- Family Health centres operating in eight Island communities, giving Islanders more access to integrated health services;
- investments of $47 million to upgrade and better organize health services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in areas such as the Emergency Department, Ambulatory Care and Day Surgery Services;
- additional locum coverage for mammography radiology services;
- building a new hospital in West Prince to stabilize delivery of health care in the region.
Recruitment and retention of health professionals is a key element of My Governmentís plan to reduce wait times and improve health-care delivery. On this front there are many successes to report:
- an all-time high of 189 full-time physicians;
- vacant physician positions down by a third;
- an all-time high of 15 psychiatrists;
- 80 new nurses joined the health system in 2006;
- 71 Nursing Student sponsorships for Island students this year.
Health recruitment and retention will be expanded with a focus on initiatives for rural Prince Edward Island. New measures will be taken. A Medical Residency Program tailored to the medical communityís capacity to provide medical residency instruction will be developed. An enhanced package of tuition and tax incentives will be offered to Island medical students and to practitioners who can meet needs in under-serviced areas.
My Government recognizes the changing needs of children, youth, seniors and families.
Parenting is a challenging job, requiring support from community, family and healthy public policy. Positive experiences and relationships in the early years, from birth to age six, influence lifelong learning, behaviour and health.
To better focus government services and energies for the benefit of Island children, the Premierís Council on Healthy Child Development was created, helping highlight the healthy development of children in Prince Edward Island.
My Government will continue to support measures that will benefit Island families. Tax amendments will be introduced to allow parents of children under six to offset provincial tax on the Universal Child Care Benefit. The Young Child Tax Credit will apply in the 2006 tax year.
Collaborative work with the early learning and child care sector of the province will continue. Together, we will implement a comprehensive action plan that assures quality child care programs and supports parentsí ability to access child care services.
Our Island communities are stronger due to community-based volunteer organizations providing essential front-line social services to people with disabilities, victims of family violence, families in crisis and seniors. My Government has increased support to these organizations by 20 per cent this year.
Island seniors are a growing force in our society. The needs of active Islanders in early retirement are very different from the needs of people over 85 years of age.
My Government will promote healthy living and the active role of seniors in society. Focusing on priorities identified by the Seniorsí Secretariat, a government-wide approach will be taken to support our aging population. Access to government information and services for seniors will be improved. Work will continue with community and business partners to increase awareness and prevention of elder and financial abuse.
My Government worked to help address the challenge of affordable drugs by increasing the budget for provincial pharmacy programs by 63 per cent since 2000.
My Government will establish a new multi-year program to address capital requirements for the Islandís system of manors and also work to increase access in Queens County by expanding nursing bed capacity for Island seniors.
A change to the assessments for long-term care to consider a seniorís income rather than a seniorís assets will be made. In addition, seniors will no longer be required to pay the medical costs of nursing home care. When implemented, these measures will improve fairness and affordability for Island seniors.
The important relationship between individual health and the availability of appropriate, safe and affordable housing is well understood. Through the Canada/PEI Affordable Housing Agreement over 100 new units have been established across the province. Housing needs are changing in our province and a long-term housing action plan is being developed.
My Government will lower the contribution rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent of income for seniors housing, bringing it in line with rates for other social housing.
The 10th anniversary of the Premierís Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention will be marked by a renewed commitment to family violence prevention and education. My Government will work with all sectors of Island society to support the shared goal of safe and violence-free environments for everyone.
My Government increased funding to community groups delivering family violence protection services with a focus on groups working in rural areas. Sustained effort by families, communities and government is needed to effect true change. Our investments are having an impact as recent statistics show steady reductions in the rate of family violence in Prince Edward Island.
A Youth Addictions Strategy will be developed, emphasizing community-based programming to offer a range of necessary services for young people, from harm prevention to addiction treatment.
My Government recognizes the importance and value of lifelong learning. Investment in literacy and learning is the cornerstone of sustained economic and social progress.
My Premier will lead this initiative by example. Every department of My Government has been asked to contribute to a literacy and learning strategy to improve provincial literacy levels and government services.
Improving literacy is one of our best opportunities to improve the lives of Islanders. Todayís jobs require literacy and numeracy skills beyond the reach of many Islanders. My Government will bring together employers and educators to develop workplace programs tailored to specific employee and enterprise needs
Over recent months, private-sector partners and local media have created a groundswell of activity to help Islanders learn and continue learning. In the coming year, My Government will continue to raise awareness of the General Educational Development (GED) programs and to make it available free of charge at centres across the province.
These positive steps help Islanders contribute to society through meaningful employment and increased pride in becoming positive role models for families, friends and neighbours.
Addressing literacy challenges will require a broad, intensive effort. My Government will promote learning at home, at school, at the workplace and in the community.
New family literacy pilot projects are being funded at Dundas and Cardigan Consolidated schools based on award-winning family literacy research being undertaken at UPEI. My Government will introduce measures to improve reading results in the early grades, including funding for four new early literacy specialists this year. More will be added over the next two years.
Targeted investments in early learning, infrastructure, human resources and programs have been of benefit to our provinceís education system. By focusing on the basics, My Government will remain focused on improving the learning experience for Island students.
Teachers tell us that Grade 1 students are arriving at school better prepared to learn. They attribute this to positive student experiences in Kindergarten and to the new Age of Entry policy which results in students starting school a little older and more prepared to succeed.
My Government is investing $9 million over three years to improve student achievement based on recommendations from the Premierís Task Force on Student Achievement. Other targeted investments have reduced class sizes, improved the student/teacher ratio and sparked effective new programs and policies.
My Government is partnering with school boards and teachers to develop common assessments. A new science curriculum for grades 1 to 9 was introduced to Island schools this year. New programs for Social Studies, Health and the Skilled Trades will follow.
This year 42 Island schools will participate in a three-year school development initiative to improve teaching and learning, the school environment and parent involvement. New software will give teachers, students and parents better information on student achievement.
My Government will continue to implement the new Trades Strategy to strengthen links between trades educators and employers, supporting Islanders who are working in the trades to get their certification.
Identifying barriers to learning and early intervention are crucial to unlocking the learning potential of our students. As part of My Governmentís Learning Disabilities Strategy, three additional school psychologists have been hired to assess and assist children with learning difficulties.
New funding to the Eastern School District will support English language training for over 100 new immigrant students attending Charlottetown area schools.
My Government recognizes the need for a well-educated and skilled bilingual workforce. Over the years, la Société éducative has built a successful track record meeting the learning needs of Islanders in Francophone communities. In addition to high-quality, post-secondary opportunities, it offers a variety of programs such as literacy and adult basic education training which enable students to go on to meaningful employment and further learning. My Government will strengthen support to la Société éducative to enable it to further enhance programs
Several new learning facilities have opened, including the Holland College Centre for Labour Force Innovation and the Tourism Research Centre at the UPEI School of Business. This month the Webster Centre for Teaching and Learning was officially opened at UPEI.
The new West Prince French School is nearing completion and planning is underway for a $14.5 million investment for a new Montague Regional High School through the School Capital Investment Program. Construction of a new gymnasium at Parkside Elementary School is expected to be completed early in the new year and planning is underway for a new gymnasium at Tracadie Cross Consolidated School.
My Governmentís sustained investments in infrastructure and human resources are working. This yearís annual MacLeanís rankings of Canadian universities placed UPEI fifth among 21 primarily undergraduate universities.
Post-secondary enrolments are at record levels with almost 7,000 Islanders now pursuing higher learning at UPEI, Holland College and private training schools. Over 400 Island seniors are registered this year for some of the 89 courses offered in Charlottetown and Summerside with the PEI Seniorsí College.
Mindful of the pressures of financing post-secondary education, My Government will implement initiatives to further support Island post-secondary students. The objective will be to open the doors of learning for more Island families and students as well as make our province more attractive for settlement.
The Island economy is diversifying as My Government develops new areas of excellence. The Islandís entrepreneurial spirit is thriving.
My Government is focused on developing a skilled workforce, a competitive tax environment, and a climate encouraging investment and innovation to position Prince Edward Island as an attractive place to invest and do business.
The results are clear.
Total employment rose by nearly two per cent in 2005, the highest rate of growth in Atlantic Canada and second highest in the country. The number of jobs has grown by more than 1,000 per year over the past decade.
Island export products are reaching markets worldwide, bolstering the provinceís reputation for excellence in food quality and manufacturing. Provincial exports have more than doubled over the past decade.
My Government has led trade missions to Alberta to help Island businesses identify growth opportunities. This includes opportunities in supply, subcontracting and outsourcing which allow businesses and workers to benefit here at home from this growing market.
Businesses are recognizing the Island advantage. AIM Trimark will establish a financial services centre in Charlottetown, creating 300 new jobs. CGI is developing a near shore facility in Stratford that will create 150 new jobs. Cabinetmaster will expand in Lower Montague, creating 35 new jobs. My Government will continue to prospect new investment opportunities for Prince Edward Island, opportunities that will create meaningful year-round employment in all parts of the province.
My Governmentís Progressive Tax Program has supported economic development, leading to the creation of more than 700 new jobs, leveraging $90 million in new private sector investment to 85 projects.
The Atlantic Technology Centre in Charlottetown has spurred growth in the Information Technology sector, this year welcoming new businesses like Rogers Communications and Newcap Broadcasting and employing in excess of 400 Islanders with an annual payroll of $21 million.
Prince Edward Island is nurturing a growing cluster of video game development companies with employment forecast to double this coming year. The Game Force Designersí Program will cultivate needed skills for this exciting career in math, creative writing, physics, problem solving and artistic design.
The aerospace sector has grown to become Prince Edward Islandís fourth largest industry and second largest exporter, accounting for a quarter of all provincial exports and employing nearly 900 Islanders.
Currently, the Island bioscience industry accounts for over $60 million in sales and employs more than 500 people. The National Research Council Institute for Nutrisciences and Health is now operational. The new Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at UPEI and the new Biotechnology Program at Holland College are examples of an innovative new approach to research and business partnerships.
My Governmentís new Bioscience Tax Incentive will help promote further growth in this dynamic sector, extending the bioscience opportunity to all corners of the province.
The year ahead marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Confederation Bridge which has created unparalleled opportunities in trade, transportation and tourism.
Prince Edward Island now hosts nearly one million visitors annually with an economic impact of approximately $300 million. My Government believes a vibrant tourism industry contributes greatly to sustainable communities.
Successful partnerships between My Government and the Charlottetown Airport Authority to enhance air access continue. New carriers have been attracted and services expanded with flights to new destinations resulting in a 22 per cent increase in air passenger traffic in the first three-quarters of 2006. My Government will partner on an expansion of the Charlottetown airport to better accommodate increased air passenger traffic.
This year more than 23,000 delegates have attended 153 meetings and conventions in our province generating over $19 million in spinoffs. My Government supports the Islandís growth as a leading event destination.
The new North Cape and Points East Coastal Drives now guide visitors through the picturesque communities of eastern and western Prince Edward Island.
The Islandís cruise ship sector continues to show great promise with a $20 million upgrade underway at the Historic Charlottetown Seaport to secure cruise ship growth.
Working with the tourism industry, My Government is using a research-based approach to chart a course for the tourism sector. A Cultural Tourism Strategy will be released this year to bolster the marketing of cultural and heritage attractions. Work has begun to develop a Beaches Strategy to preserve and promote one of our greatest natural assets.
Strategic investments by the province to promote the golf sector have laid the foundation for ongoing private sector investment and development. Accordingly, My Government will initiate an examination of future options surrounding Crown ownership of golf courses.
My Government is committed to a five-year reduction in the corporate small business income tax rate. This year the rate was lowered to 5.4 per cent and will be reduced further in each of the next four years. By 2010, Prince Edward Islandís small business tax rate will be one per cent, the lowest in Canada.
My Government will introduce legislative changes to increase the competitiveness of Island merchants and tourism operators.
To that end, the Retail Business Holidays Act will be amended to allow Sunday shopping on Prince Edward Island starting on the third week of May and continuing until December 31. My Government will monitor impacts and revisit the matter after one year.
A committee of industry and government will be renewed to consider the tax competitiveness of the Island tourism sector.
These initiatives build upon the Provincial Sales Tax exemption on clothing and footwear to further the Islandís competitive position and encourage Islanders to shop at home.
Oil prices have reached all time highs in the past year with millions of dollars leaving the Island economy to purchase fuel. Renewable energy and conservation measures help keep these dollars in our local economy. To encourage greater self-reliance, My Government will continue to implement ďMade in PEIĒ energy solutions.
Today, wind farm developments are occurring across the province. The new Eastern Kings Wind Farm is the second largest capital project in Island history. Scheduled to come online early in the new year, this $56 million project will encourage Islanders to invest in their energy future.
Investment is happening across West Prince. The $3.5 million Wind Energy Institute of Canada has opened at North Cape and wind farms near Norway and West Point are being developed. New businesses and jobs are being created to support this construction activity.
My Government has set a bold target of producing 30 per cent of the provinceís total energy needs from local, renewable resources by 2016, including electricity, transportation and home heating fuels. Evaluation will continue on the economic feasibility of ethanol and bio-diesel industries for our province.
A new emphasis on developing energy from biofuels holds the promise of new markets for Island farm families. The expertise of Island farmers, coupled with access to world-class research and development, positions Prince Edward Island to compete positively.
Prince Edward Islandís traditional focus on primary industries provides a strong foundation for our economy, environment and society. Our traditional primary resource industries will remain key engines of growth for the Island economy by strengthening Prince Edward Islandís international reputation for premium, value-added products from the land and the sea.
New solutions to old challenges are being achieved through innovation and diversification. My Government is committed to growing sustainable and prosperous farming enterprises.
Close to 200 applications have been approved under the Future Farmers Program. This is a significant step in the ongoing commitment to strengthen and revitalize rural communities.
Over the next two years My Government and our federal partners will fund projects worth $5 million to protect and utilize water resources, ensuring environmental sustainability on Island farms. The farm sector and My Government have invested over $20 million in farm conservation projects in recent years.
To meet the demand for high-quality, safe and wholesome foods, My Government will lead by supporting healthy food production from sustainable production systems. Our primary industries realize the value of competing in the marketplace on the basis of quality, rather than quantity
This approach favours our traditional strengths in the primary resource sectors. Products from the land and sea bring higher returns from value-added processing and innovative new approaches.
My Government worked with hog producers to create a new ownership model for Garden Province Meats, built around the provinceís strengths producing quality food for the natural and organic markets.
The Islandís fishery continues to make significant economic contributions. Lobster landings rose by 16 per cent this year, totaling over 21 million pounds worth approximately $114 million.
My Government is working hard to ensure equitable access to fisheries resources. Surplus tuna quota for Island fishers was obtained this year through the determined advocacy of My Government. In total, over 500,000 pounds of tuna were landed in 2006 by approximately 250 Island fishers. The traditional right of Island lobster fishers to fish MacLeod's Ledge has been restored by the federal government, following determined advocacy by My Government and Island fishers.
Island fishers in areas such as the Northumberland Strait face considerable challenges. My Government recognizes these challenges and is taking action. Working groups have been established to address issues of economic diversification, debt mediation, alternate management and marine habitat. The province will work with fishers, processors and other partners to restore productivity in the Northumberland Strait and sustain the Island fishery for future generations.
Sustaining the environment is critical for the future well-being of our land and our people. Protecting soil, air and water resources, and encouraging biodiversity are priorities for all Islanders.
My Premier recognizes that Island forests and healthy forest ecosystems are essential to our health and well-being, our environment and our economy. Extensive public consultations have led to a new Provincial Forest Policy, stressing the role of public forests in education, research and sustainable management.
Our history as a province has been influenced by people from all corners of the globe who have travelled to the Island to build a better life for their families. New chapters of our history have been written by Islanders from many backgrounds, enriching our culture along the way.
This year My Government will participate in three national summits on Aboriginal issues. These summits will address issues in the areas of health, economic development and priorities for Aboriginal women.
My Government realizes the importance of retaining our young people and attracting new settlers. The Islandís population has defied regional trends, growing by nearly 3,000 people over the last five years. An enhanced Population Strategy and related programs will attract former and future Islanders to our shores, making Prince Edward Island a destination for students, young adults, families, new settlers and retirees.
The safety and security of citizens and property are vital to sustainable communities. New resources have been provided to support law enforcement, including funding for additional RCMP officers assigned to drug enforcement duties. My Government will work with law enforcement and community partners to focus energies toward meaningful crime reduction and prevention.
Safety on Island roads is a concern and My Government will take action to improve road safety by:
- toughening the provinceís Graduated Licence Program;
- introducing legislation to increase ATV safety;
- ongoing community partnerships and public education on impaired driving, seat belts, child booster seats and safe driving practices.
A new Ignition InterLock Program has been introduced as a tool in the fight against impaired driving. My Government will consider further measures to make Island roads safer through tougher impaired driving penalties.
Prince Edward Island has been awarded the 2009 Canada Summer Games. The Games will have a budget of over $33 million, generating an economic impact of more than $90 million and will feature our best athletes and volunteers, demonstrating community spirit and pride.
My Government will help our young athletes prepare to compete by partnering with the Island sport community in the 2009 Best Ever Program. This program helps sports groups identify and develop athletes and teams through high-performance training and sport nutrition.
Since 1999 the Community Development Bureau has worked with communities and local groups to identity opportunities for growth and renewal, investing more than $6 million in 285 community projects from Tignish to East Point. This innovative, community-based approach has leveraged investments of nearly $45 million from all partners and My Government will continue to partner with Island communities.
Growing sustainable communities requires infrastructure investment to help provide our Island communities with the tools to succeed. My Government has worked with partners, developing a framework to secure more than $165 million in infrastructure investments right across Prince Edward Island such as:
- 74 projects worth over $35 million through the Canada-Prince Edward Island Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund including a $3.2 million arena for Tignish, $1.7 million sports turf fields in Cornwall and new wellness centres in Summerside and Montague;
- a major highway improvement project between Hunter River and Fredericton and construction of the Islandís first modern roundabout at Travellerís Rest;
- over $1.7 million for the City of Charlottetown and Pat and the Elephant to support public transit and transportation of physically challenged individuals.
The five-year Capital Budget introduced last year has benefitted both government and industry, allowing contractors more effectively plan for the future which leads to lower costs and greater stability. My Government will update the Capital Budget to lay out capital priorities for the next five years. Investment priorities include:
- $148 million to upgrade the Islandís portion of the National Highway System;
- $47 million for renewal of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital;
- $34 million for school repair and construction;
- $8.5 million to upgrade the school bus fleet.
A responsible and accountable government involves citizens in decisions affecting their future. My Government has sought the opinions of Islanders through future-shaping consultations on student achievement, public forest policy, seniors issues, health-care delivery in West Prince and electoral reform. These conversations with Islanders extend to Legislative committees which have engaged Islanders on youth entrepreneurship, cyberbullying and ATV safety.
My Government will continue to seek the input of Islanders on important public issues and will continue to lead by example, responding to the priorities important to Islanders.
My Government is demonstrating leadership in several ways.
Prince Edward Island continues to lead in sustainable environmental practices as the only province to offer full source separation collection to all homes and businesses through the Waste Watch program. Over 17 million collections from 63,000 Island homes and cottages have diverted almost 200,000 tonnes of organic materials from landfills since 2002.
A disciplined approach to public finances is creating a sustainable basis for the future. Steps to reduce high interest debt and lower the Debt-to-GDP ratio are taking effect. Moodyís Investor Services has upgraded the provinceís credit rating to the highest in its history, with a stable outlook for the future.
My Premier has asked the public service to collaborate and develop effective, affordable ways to deliver public services with encouraging results to date:
- A new Public Safety Division was created to better organize emergency services such as Emergency Measures Organization, 911 and the Fire Marshallís Office.
- Fleet maintenance operations, including school buses, are now delivered under one roof to improve service and reduce costs.
- A new secure driverís licence was launched to protect Islanders from identity theft and fraud, creating benefits in design, security features and cost savings.
My Government has made significant investments in the PEI Analytical Laboratories. The facilities have received full accreditation, a formal recognition of the high quality of services provided. Options will be explored for a single lab facility to provide easier access for Islanders and improve efficiency of operations.
Productive federal/provincial relations help effectively deliver public services for Islanders. My Government has a clear agenda to advance the quality of life in this province and will continue to aggressively promote Island interests to the Government of Canada.
Prince Edward Island is a unique place. A place of strong values and caring communities. Together, our strengths of people and place will be blended to fully realize Prince Edward Islandís promise, creating a cycle of prosperity and well-being for the benefit of all Islanders.
That promise is just before us in a world where our only limits are those of our creativity and excellence. By drawing upon the strength and determination of Islanders, we are more than equal to the task.
I call upon Members of this Assembly to work collaboratively to advance the best interests of Prince Edward Island and its people.