CHARLOTTETOWN – Two provincial programs aimed at helping Islanders finance repairs and upgrades to their homes have been suspended for the remainder of the fiscal year, as both have reached their budget limits.
But Opposition Leader Olive Crane says she believes these are just the first in a slew of upcoming program cuts as the province tries to meet its financial targets.
The Energy Efficiency Grant Program, launched by the provincial government in 2008, aimed to assist Islanders in reducing their home energy consumption. Island homeowners obtained energy audits and could access a subsidy to implement recommended upgrades.
Over the past two years, 2,172 Islanders have accessed this program. But last Thursday, the province quietly suspended it.
Notice of this suspension was published only on the Office of Energy Efficiency's website.
But Wes Pickard of Stratford didn't think to check the website before heading in to submit paperwork last Thursday for recent energy upgrades made to his home. He had solar panels installed and did so expecting to receive a rebate from the Province.
"I thought, 'Perfect. They've got this program. Oil is a buck a litre, I heat my house with oil so we've got to do something here.' Plus it lowers your footprint," Pickard said.
"I went through, put the (solar panel) system in, had my federal energy audit Thursday and then took the paperwork down Thursday afternoon and was told that basically until further notice they were not accepting applications for the provincial grant program."
Finance and Energy Minister Wes Sheridan said the program was suspended because reached its budget capacity for the year
"The budget has been fully spent and that's always good news when a program gets out to Islanders strong enough that they would understand that it's there," Sheridan said in an interview.
"The fact of the matter is, everyone has a budget to live within and the department has come to the end of that with the 1,180 applicants this year."
But this is not the only renovation financing program suspended recently.
The Seniors' Home Repair Program, which helps low-income seniors make emergency upgrades to their homes, has also reached its budget target for the year.
Crane says this program is important for seniors living in older homes.
"Often a senior that's on a fixed income, they're trying to hold off the repairs as long as they can, so usually something happens that they have no choice, they have to get it fixed and it makes it a lot more difficult for them to stay in their home."
She said these suspensions are likely the first in a long line of programs and services likely to be slashed as the province tries to balance its books.
"We're still waiting for an update on where the province is fiscally and it sounds to me like these are some of the cuts that are probably going to take place," Crane said.
"We know that the government has put the province in a bad financial situation, but the unfortunate thing is that you do not want to see these cuts happen on the backs of seniors. They can least afford them."
Pickard said his biggest frustration was discovering the energy efficiency grant program had been suspended with no prior warning.
"I understand the government can start and stop programs, but they always do a big blitz when they're launching programs but they just seemed to quietly close this one down and never gave anyone any warning," Pickard said.