More than just a pretty place

More than just a pretty place

Wade MacLauchlan has every right to boast—P.E.I. is leading the region in key economic indicators

Prince Edward Island led the way across Canada for full-time job growth between Nov. 30, 2016 and Nov. 30, 2017 with 2,700 new permanent positions being created (a 4.6 per cent increase). That nation-leading growth was seconded by B.C. at 4.4 per cent full-time job growth.

“It is fabulous really,” Premier Wade MacLauchlan says of P.E.I.’s gains. “This shows an economy that is both intensifying and diversifying. That is very interesting. We have had two very strong years in the fishery overall, and those tend to be resources that move around in the economy and affect all parts of the province. Agriculture, too, has been good for a couple of years; you always have either your price or your yield that is never 100 per cent.”

That said, the 63-year-old Liberal premier is quick to point out that the ‘Garden Of The Gulf’ is more than just agriculture, fisheries and tourism.

“Those three together comprise $1.7 billion, maybe more than that when you bring in multipliers and money that gets spread around,” MacLauclan said while pointing out the island’s aerospace industry is equal in spending to tourism. “The total P.E.I. economy is about $6.6 billion. It is always interesting in any economy to see how the traditional economy is doing and how the new sectors are coming up. While agriculture and the fishery are doing well, this has been matched by and coupled with serious growth in manufacturing. We have seen manufacturing growth higher than the country as a whole.”

He says that P.E.I. has doubled the national average in export growth over the last 25 years, and over 60 per cent of their economic growth is in rural areas.

“Anytime you look at percentages it is relative to what the base was. But a 25-year comparison is a good one because it is about sustained growth over time. The aerospace industry started pretty well around then. The whole bioscience and pharmaceutical area has really grown during that time. That growth continued in 2015 and 2016.”

MacLauchlan says the opening of the Confederation Bridge in 1997 has been a major contributor to the strides the island’s economy has taken. The fixed link between P.E.I. and N.B. means goods and people can flow freely at any time of the day.

“We have 500 trucks crossing every day in each direction,” MacLauchlan says. “We could never have enough ferries. Whatever number you could come up with, it would not have been enough ferries to keep up with this act of commerce. This is not just a one-way street. We are buying and selling.”

“One of the things that a government with the right conditions can do and should in a time like this is invest in strategic infrastructure. This has been a very favorable time in terms of federal infrastructure programs. We have invested in and completed the upgrade of the electricity transmission cable between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. [It cost] $142 million—a huge thing and it is something that should be good for 50 years, maybe longer.”

Peak demand on the island is 270 megawatts under current conditions with the old cable maxing out at 200 megawatts. The upgrade can now bring P.E.I. 560 megawatts of electricity under the Northumberland Strait. “That is a huge thing and it is done now for the next two or three generations,” MacLauchlan says. “It actually gives us the ability that we can think about selling some power.”

MacLauchlan has plans for more economic expansion in the coming years with improvements currently being made at the Charlottetown Airport, including a new runway, and a provincial commitment to bring broadband internet to every home on the island within the next two years.

The previous Liberal government under Robert Ghiz undertook a similar project but the threshold for island-wide service was only 1.5 megabytes per second. MacLauchlan said this project will do even more.

“Oh, much faster and reliable,” MacLauchlan says of the internet network upgrades to be made, while stopping short of putting a hard number on how many megabytes islanders can expect. “As soon as you put a number on it someone will say ‘I’m not getting that’ or ‘I just dropped a phone call.’ But it is meant to be effective high speed and right across the province.”

MacLauclan says this infrastructure program will lift constrictions that hindered rural P.E.I. from accessing foreign markets online.

When sworn into office, one of the biggest concerns for MacLauchlan was the province’s population, which was aging with young people often opting for work in the nation’s larger centres. But according to the latest statistics, P.E.I.’s population has risen to 152,000 people as of June 2017 with the median age actually decreasing from 43.7 years to 43.5. Ontario and Manitoba were the only other provinces to see decreases with both lowering median age by point-one compared to the point-two decrease on P.E.I.

“This is the one that I am proudest of… P.E.I. is not used to being the one leading the way in these things. We actually had an increase in natural birth rates in 2017 compared to the year before. Immigration has been a sizeable contributor to this too. We have made some sizable gains by about 50 per cent, in the intra-provincial net migration of people throughout the country.”

MacLauchlan says with the bend in the curve in population increase, P.E.I.’s population is projected to hit 200,000 people by 2056. That’s impressive for a province that hit 100,000 people in the 1880s and has historically had trouble making sizable increases to that number.

“People are on the move and people have choices,” MacLauchlan says. “We have our second largest capital budget ever that is addressing some real needs, with the biggest expenditures being in education and health. [Having a growing economy and a balanced budget] enables us to invest in critical areas and priority areas.”

P.E.I. has the advantage of scale which will continue to serve it well in the years to come, the premier says.

“We can work more closely together and make sure we’re seizing every opportunity we can,” MacLauchlan said. “We are and we will continue to show the world that a growing economy does not simply mean moving to town. Prince Edward Island, in the context of global trade, if we’re doing it well, we are always going to come out ahead.”

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