CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – In what may be a dry run for a campaign stump speech, Premier Wade MacLauchlan gave his state-of-the-province on Monday night at the annual gathering of Rotary Clubs of P.E.I.
MacLauchlan’s speech, a yearly tradition, touched on a wide array of economic indicators that showed P.E.I. besting Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, the traditional economic powerhouses of the country.
A hand-out placed before each audience member bore the headline "getting ahead, together." The hand-out displayed a series of economic charts on one side, and an infographic showing social program spending of the P.E.I. government under MacLauchlan on the other.
During his speech, MacLauchlan referred several times to economic statistics and charts displayed in the hand-out.
Since December 2016, he said, P.E.I. has seen the greatest rate of full-time job growth – at 8.8 per cent - of all provinces. He also said that, during his tenure as premier, 5,000 new full-time jobs have been created.
"The jobs that we're talking about, together with other social measures and initiatives and investments, have translated into a shared prosperity," MacLauchlan said.
"Prince Edward Island can teach the rest of Canada about getting ahead together."
MacLauchlan also argued P.E.I. has emerged from its status as a have-not province and has achieved economic and job growth rates that can compete with Canada’s highest performing provinces.
MacLauchlan did acknowledge the fact that P.E.I. has the lowest average weekly wages in the country. But he downplayed the importance of this.
"We sometimes fall into saying to ourselves about Prince Edward Island, 'oh, we've got the lowest average weekly wages.' Well that's largely a function of the fact that, in some other provinces, they've got some pretty big numbers in the top end of that average,” MacLauchlan said. “The point is not about our average anything, it's how we're doing and how Islanders are doing, relative to how we were doing last year and the year before and whether Islanders have got money in their pockets.”
The hand-out stated that, according to Statistics Canada, average disposable income in P.E.I. has increased from $21,081 in 2015 to $21,770 in 2017.
In addition to attracting new immigrants, the Island has begun to buck the trend of out-migration of young Islanders, MacLauchlan said.
"We know this. We meet people on the street, we have family members, we have people working in our workplaces, who are coming to Prince Edward Island and choosing to be here," MacLauchlan said.
MacLauchlan claimed this has resulted in a drop in the average age of Islanders for the first time since 1968.
However, P.E.I.’s most recent statistical review showed the Island saw a net loss of 436 people to other provinces for the year 2016/17, the most recent year measured.
MacLauchlan also said the economic growth has allowed the province to invest in social programs. He listed several programs that have seen increased funding by his government, including the creation of a generic drug program in 2015 and recent increases in social assistance rates.
He also acknowledged that P.E.I. is facing a housing “crunch” but said the commitment to fund over 1,000 rent subsidies over the next two years represented a fivefold increase in housing funding.
MacLauchlan closed his speech by summing up what he described as the Island’s accomplishments over the last four years.
“Our economy is strong, we are investing in Islanders, we're going where the people are and people have more money in their pockets," he said.
"That is a track that we can and will continue on."