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P.E.I.'s economic glass is half-full

Premier Wade MacLauchlan, P.E.I.'s self-proclaimed "optimist-in-chief," continued his mission to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative during his annual state-of-the-province address to Rotary earlier this week.

Citing job-growth numbers, population increases and other pre-selected graphs and indicators, MacLauchlan told P.E.I. Rotarians gathered for the address at the Rodd Charlottetown Monday night that Prince Edward Island is "getting ahead, together." And he will brook no suggestion that things aren't postcard-perfect in Anne's land.

Most notably, MacLauchlan told the crowd 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 of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. This is indeed taking a glass-half-full mentality to an art form.

Prince Edward Island continues to rely heavily on equalization payments, high-paying government jobs and cost-shared projects to make the bottom line look as healthy as it does. It is disingenuous to suggest that the Island has ventured anywhere near the line where it sheds the have-not role.

The premier is also turning a bit of a blind eye to the wages average Islanders are earning in this province. He lauds the job growth and new businesses, but ignores the fact many of the workers in these newly created positions are earning far less than their counterparts across the country. MacLauchlan says the highest earners in the other provinces are making it seem like P.E.I. is out of whack in what it pays its workers. But a glance at job listings for even unskilled work in other provinces tells a different story. Islanders continue to take home a smaller paycheque than those doing the same job across the country.

Another blind spot is P.E.I.'s unemployment rate, which was the second highest in the country in December, at 9.6 per cent. Only Newfoundland and Labrador, at 11.7, was higher. To compare, Canada's national unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent.

However, MacLauchlan is right that there are some economic indicators to be happy about.

While unemployment is high, the full-time job growth rate since December 2016 has been higher than all the other provinces - at 8.8 per cent.

As well, immigration has helped P.E.I. earn the fastest population growth in the country, expanding by 4.27 per cent from July 2016 to July 2018 to stand at more than 153,000 people.

MacLauchlan's handout to Rotarians also states that, according to Statistics Canada, average disposable income in P.E.I. has increased from $21,081 in 2015 to $21,770 in 2017.

The average age in P.E.I. has also dropped for the first time since 1968, though MacLauchlan failed to mention Islanders are still older than the Canadian average. Still, it is heartening to see more young people are either staying or moving to P.E.I. than they were in the last Census.

There is one thing we can all be certain of, much of the good news contained in MacLauchlan's state-of-the-province speech will make its way into election campaign material, possibly sooner rather than later.

– SaltWire Network

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