[CHARLOTTETOWN, PE] - The Liberal government on Prince Edward Island presents its final budget before a fall election this week, but the finance minister says don't expect a lot of pre-election goodies.
Instead, Wes Sheridan said the government is sticking to a five-year plan to control spending in an effort to return to balanced budgets by 2013-14.
“We have to keep the expenditure growth under two per cent, and that's what we've been able to achieve for the last two years,” he said in an interview.
“Don't be looking for any big new spending. We'll be looking to protect the programs that are so key to Islanders - new initiatives that we've brought forward in the last three years that have been so important to seniors and low-income Islanders.”
Those include a co-pay program on seniors drugs and the reintroduction of a senior home repair program.
The 140,000 residents of Canada's smallest province shoulder a net debt of close to $1.7 billion - about $12,245 for every man, woman and child.
The government forecast a deficit of $55 million for this past fiscal year, and if it remains on track with its five-year plan, the deficit for the coming year could be around $40 million.
“The whole secret to our plan is just having expenditures growing at a slower rate than our revenues are,” Sheridan said. “That's what we have been able to achieve for the last two years, and this will be no different.”
Premier Robert Ghiz has already said there will be no increase in the sales tax in Wednesday's budget. P.E.I. is the only province in the region that does not have the HST.
Meanwhile, a recent energy agreement signed with NB Power in November has resulted in a 14 per cent cut in power rates on the Island.
Sheridan said people are just starting to see their first bills with the new rate. The deal will also freeze rates for the next two years.
Sheridan said everyone he spoke with during pre-budget consultations urged the government to continue working towards a return to balanced books.
“Islanders want us to reduce that deficit and start to look at debt reduction,” he said.
But Conservative Leader Olive Crane doubts Ghiz and his government can achieve that goal.
“Don't forget the Ghiz administration has added $500 million to our long-term debt in the province in four years,” she said.
“We certainly know what their track record is and it's one of broken promises and really terrible fiscal management.”
Crane's party is down to just two members in the legislature, something she hopes to change when Islanders go to the polls Oct. 3.