P.E.I. is falling short of the 2,000 new housing units per year needed to begin to make a dent in the province's housing crisis.
Both the Green Party and the King government agreed Wednesday in the Legislature that the province isn't meeting its goal, and the vacancy rate won't improve until it does.
Green Party Peter Peter Bevan-Baker said both the PCs and the Liberals have failed to invest in the infrastructure needed to service the Island's growing population.
Housing Minister Rob Lantz said the department is working with "community partners and stakeholders" on a housing strategy which will be released when it's done.
"The department's busy working on many initiatives to help clear the way to make housing starts more efficient and it will be a focus of the department," he said.
Goal for vacancy rate now 3%
Lantz said many other provinces are seeing a drop in housing starts.
"I think we can attribute that to some of the market conditions, some of the financing conditions. I feel like we will bounce back from that ... It's going to take time, but we have to work across departments with our labour strategy, with our community partners."
Bevan-Baker pointed out that before the election, the King government said it was committed to getting to a 4% vacancy rate. Now that number is 3%.
Lantz agreed the province is facing a huge challenge.
"In terms of the figure that the the leader of the Third Party presented earlier about 2,000 starts per year just to keep up, that's correct. That's just to keep up with our projected growth. In fact, we need to build more than that to affect their vacancy rates," Lantz said.
Green Party MLA Karla Bernard said P.E.I. will need to recruit and retain more skilled construction workers in order to increase housing starts.
She said Build Force Canada's outlook for P.E.I. projects nearly 1,500 retirements in the construction sector over the next 10 years.
Premier Dennis King responded by saying his government has been talking to the P.E.I. Construction Association, and those kinds of conversations are informing the province's decisions.
"We're trying to upscale, we're trying to rescale, we're trying to bring new people to the province to fill the vacancies that will be coming, and to add to the skilled workforce," he said.
In terms of people leaving the province, King said 7,000 people came to P.E.I. last year.
Low construction wages hurting
Bernard said attracting workers would be easier if P.E.I. had more competitive wages and working conditions for people in the construction industry.
"In 2022, our medium wage median wage was a full $2 below the next closest Atlantic province. And $8.50 below the national average. How does the Premier expect us to grow our labour force when we are the least competitive province for labour?" she asked.
King admitted that needs to change.
"Look, it's no secret ... I've talked about in here for many, many years. P.E.I. for too long has been sold as a place to come here and pay people less. We've been working to address that. We're seeing the wages grow in this province. Are they growing as fast as they need to? Absolutely not. Do we need to do better? Yes," he said.
Bernard suggested the province create a wage grid to set minimum wages in the industry. King said it sounds interesting and he'd like to have more information.