Finance Minister Jill Burridge's operating budget includes $140 million in new spending, with an emphasis on health and housing, and projects a $152-million increase in revenue.

Last year, the government budgeted a total of $3.09 billion in spending with a $97.6-million deficit and $2.99 billion in revenues. 

Burridge said Islanders are struggling to obtain health care and housing, and the government has to help them.

"We need to make health care available to everyone. It must be timely. It must be effective. We need to make it affordable to live in Prince Edward Island," she told the legislature. "We need to protect our way of life for generations to come."

The biggest spending increase comes in health, with the government setting aside a total of $963.8 million for Health P.E.I., the province's health authority. It has budgeted $9.9 million for the University of Prince Edward Island's planned medical school and $58 million for primary care.

The government also plans to spend $25.8 million for patient medical homes and $6.2 million to improve recruitment of health-care professionals.

P.E.I. has budgeted $72.7 million for housing, including $10 million toward a community housing expansion program, Burridge said.

"To start, we will help Islanders most in need by investing $6.9 million to continue providing emergency shelter supports, outreach services, and residential support services in transitional and supportive housing," Burridge said.

She said this budget includes nearly $15 million in tax cuts, with the basic personal exemption increasing from $13,500 to $14,250.

The government has set aside about $1 million for the school lunch program, and plans to spend $4.3 million toward the $10-a-day child-care program.

Peter Bevan-Baker, Green member of legislature and Third Party critic for finance, said the government still seems unable to deal with people's fundamental needs even after five years in power.

He pointed to the nearly $1 billion set aside for health care, noting it's a third of the provincial budget.

"It is not spent in the most effective and efficient manner to bring proper health care to Islanders," he said.

"Health-care delivery on P.E.I. is continuously undercut by the politicians — the premier, principally — who make decisions for political ends, rather than providing islanders with the best health-care system possible." 

He said it was worrying that the government doesn't have a comprehensive strategy for climate change.

"Heat pumps are great, but heat pumps alone are not going to solve the climate crisis or prepare us for all of the impacts of the climate emergency, which are many and varied and increasing in their frequency and ferocity from one year to the next."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024.

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