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EDITORIAL: P.E.I. budget's serious omission is health care

A new poll has revealed that health care is top of mind for Island voters as they head to the polls April 23. - Guardian graphic
An April 2019 poll revealed that health care was top of mind for Island voters as they headed to the polls April 23. - Guardian graphic - Custom Content

Serious

budget

omission

History keeps getting made, and the air of collegiality continues, with every new day faced by P.E.I.’s first minority government to officially run the province.

Wednesday saw the latest “first” chalked up by Dennis King and his Progressive Conservatives: tabling a provincial budget.

Finance Minister Darlene Compton told media after reading the document into the legislative record book that the budget is also remarkable because the Opposition Green and Liberal parties were invited to consult on it.

Indeed, Ms. Compton bucked the trend of so many newly minted finance ministers who take the opportunity to bash the last guys to hold the purse strings, and instead acknowledged the bookkeeping of the former Liberal government in her budget address.

“Our plan today is built on the good work of the previous government and some great ideas from all parties in this assembly,” she said.

That act of acknowledgment and collaboration is historic in itself.

The role of Opposition parties, however, is to oppose, and the Green and Liberal finance critics could not quite bring themselves to praise the budget wholeheartedly.

The Greens say more could be done to address the affordable housing shortage in the province, while the Liberals did not see enough tax breaks for individuals and small businesses.

There is one omission from the budget that no one is talking about: health care.

A Narrative Research poll commissioned by The Guardian and Journal Pioneer during the recent provincial election found that far and away the main priority Island voters chose as the issue that the new government should address is health care. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents gave this as their priority, compared to the next highest answer of housing at 14 per cent.  

The budget contains a 5.4 per cent increase in health-care expenditures over last year, including two new family physicians. In reality, that amounts to a drop in the bucket. That 5.4 per cent raise barely covers the annual increased costs of maintaining the status quo. And a budget line promising two new family physicians is a long way from real doctors in real offices seeing real Island patients.

The latest data we have from December 2018 shows there are 15,622 Island residents without a family doctor. In the time it takes to recruit, hire and set up the two doctors promised in the budget, the number of new Islanders coming to the province needing a physician will increase. And the number of physicians left to see them may decrease.

A survey conducted by the Medical Society of P.E.I. found that 56 per cent of Island physicians plan to either reduce their practice, leave the province or retire over the next five years.

The PCs’ own election platform highlighted health-care spending as a priority.  

While we applaud the collegiality that brought the King government’s historic budget together, we need all three parties in the house to do more to address the gaps in health-care services in this province. It is a priority we can’t afford to ignore.  

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