GST "tough politically" but right move for future of P.E.I.: Ghiz

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Island voters took their concern over the introduction of the harmonized sales tax on April 1 to the front steps of Province House, calling Premier Robert Ghiz and Finance Minister Wes Sheridan liars and calling on them to resign.

Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz

Still, Ghiz says the introduction of the HST is the single greatest accomplishment his government has achieved in 2013.

“From a policy perspective — not from a politics perspective,” Ghiz said in his annual year-end interview with TC Media.

“While it’s tough politically, from a policy perspective I still say it was the right move. It puts us on a level playing field with every province east of Manitoba.”

The HST, which combined the five per cent GST with the 10 per cent provincial sales tax, came into effect in April. 

Hundreds of protesters marched to the steps of Province House in June, demanding Ghiz and Sheridan resign and calling the Liberal administration liars.

During that protest, Sheridan said the province was proceeding with the HST because it would level the playing field for every farmer, fisherman, tourism operator and every small business operator across Prince Edward Island. 

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“It is the right thing to do,” he said.

During the year-end interview, Ghiz also triumphed the introduction of the catastrophic drug plan, which went into effect Oct. 1.

P.E.I. was one of only two provinces without a catastrophic drug plan. The other is New Brunswick.

“Being able to bring that program in is going to really make a difference in the lives of Islanders who are going through some difficult times. As a politician, that’s really why you get into politics.”

Ghiz also discussed the province’s finances.

The P.E.I. government has been forced to push back its plans to balance its budget until 2016, which also coincides with the next provincial election. 

Last spring, the province budgeted for a $58.9-million deficit as part of its plan to balance the province’s books by 2015-2016.

That plan includes a projected $34.5-million deficit for 2014-2015 and a surplus of $600,000 in 2015-2016.

Ghiz said the province’s finances remain healthy. He said the bond raters continue to describe the Island’s debt as manageable. 

“I don’t think people need to worry,” said Ghiz. “But at the same time it’s something we need to keep our eye on.”

The premier’s full year-end interview with The Guardian will be published in The Guardian Dec. 26.

A Conversation with Premier Robert Ghiz, a one-hour prime time special, will air on Eastlink TV Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. with rebroadcasts on Dec. 30 and 31 and Jan. 1 and 2. 

Ghiz said he’s confident his government will balance its budget by 2016. 

“Yes, we have a deficit but I think pretty much every jurisdiction in Canada — including the federal government which would probably be the most right-wing government we’ve had in Canada in the last number of generations is still running a deficit.”

Organizations: Province House

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, New Brunswick Canada

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