CHARLOTTETOWN — The Prince Edward Island government tabled a budget with a $600,000 surplus Monday, the province's first journey into black ink in more than a decade.
The turnaround from an estimated deficit of $18.9 million at the end of the most recent fiscal year was due to stronger economic performance and government controls on spending, said Finance Minister Allen Roach.
"Our plan for 2017-18 is responsible, responsive and reliable," Roach said in the legislature.
"It is a blueprint for social and economic expansion — and it does so in a manner that is fiscally disciplined."
The surplus fulfills a year-late promise by the Liberal government to balance its books. It means P.E.I. is one of only two provinces in Atlantic Canada to do so, with Nova Scotia also poised to table a balanced budget for the second consecutive year later this month.
On Thursday, Newfoundland and Labrador tabled a budget with a $778-million deficit, while New Brunswick projected a $192-million deficit by the end of March 2018 in its budget earlier this year.
The P.E.I. budget is the third to be tabled by the Liberals under Premier Wade MacLauchlan since the party won office with a majority in May 2015.
MAJOR BUDGET THEMES:
Roach said the Island's economic performance was helped by improved lobster prices that increased the landed value by 28.5 per cent to $193 million. Potato yields also increased while tourism numbers increased by 10.2 per cent to reach a record high.
A key piece of the government's economic strategy is a plan to increase the Island's population through immigration. As of July 1, 2016, the population was estimated to be 148,649 — an increase of 1.3 per cent when compared with 2015.
Private sector GDP forecasts see modest growth continuing with average real GDP projected at 1.3 per cent in 2017 and 1.2 per cent in 2018.
The $1.8-billion fiscal plan includes a $35-million increase in health spending to $640 million — touted as the largest increase in nearly a decade.
Other spending plans include $1.2 million for mental heath and addictions, and new funding for adding emergency room doctors to reduce wait times.
There is also an additional $5.4 million for education, including $600,000 for more educational assistants and $100,000 to increase early years autism grants.
There is $43 million for infrastructure spending, $28 million of which is allocated to water projects across the Island.
The budget also increases municipal grants by $1.1 million.
An adjustment to the basic personal amount by two percentage points is expected to reduce provincial income taxes by a total of $1.5 million for about 85,000 Islanders.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press