The P.E.I. government is projecting it will spend more than $195 million on capital projects in 2021-2022, with schools, housing and health care among the priorities.
Finance Minister Darlene Compton delivered the annual capital budget address Friday morning in the P.E.I. Legislature, calling it the largest capital budget in P.E.I.'s history.
It includes roughly $40 million more in spending than the previous year's capital estimates ($156 million).
"The world as we know it today is certainly different from when I presented my first budget," Compton told reporters.
Before the pandemic, Compton said, her approach as minister when it came to capital spending was to decrease government spending and save for the political equivalent of a rainy day.
Now, she said, "here we are."
'Pavement over people': Greens
A news release issued by the Green Party Friday expressed displeasure with the capital budget, saying it "values pavement over people."
Michele Beaton, the Official Opposition Critic for Finance, is quoted in the news release as saying: "This is definitely not a Green budget … Despite asking for investment in areas like mental health, housing, schools, and the environment that will improve the lives of Islanders, government is stubbornly committed to putting down blacktop."
The Green's criticism is based on the fact that the province budgeted $46 million in last year's capital estimates for paving and construction and overspent by $54 million for a total of $100 million.
Meanwhile, in social development and housing, $17 million was earmarked in last year's capital budget, primarily toward housing construction. The government spent only $9.3 million of that total, and was essentially 50 per cent under budget.
Friday's capital budget forecasts Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy will spend $74.26 million in 2021-2022, the most of any government department.
Of that, $10 million for the Perimeter Highway Project will fund "three roundabouts for the intersections at MacWilliams, Angus, and McRae Drives, [and] a new structure to support four lanes at Wrights Creek."
Also, $5 million will be aimed at repairs to Island bridges for a new five-year total of $36.5 million.
More money for schools, upgrades and electric buses
While $195 million in capital spending is budgeted for the 2021-2022 fiscal year alone, the five-year projected total is $747.6 million (for the years 2021-2026).
New money includes $16.5 million for "significant upgrades and enhancements" to West Royalty Elementary, Montague Consolidated, Ecole-sur-Mer, Eliot River and Evangeline schools. Of that, $6.4 million is specifically for West Royalty Elementary.
Other spending in education includes:
$4.1 million more toward the construction of a high school in Stratford;
An additional $2.8 million for the construction of the new, net-zero elementary school in Sherwood; and
an increase of $15.4 million (for a new five-year total of $31.5 million) to buy 90 electric school buses.
The federal government is covering half the cost of electric buses over the next two years -- which amounts to $4,550,000 in savings for P.E.I.
Accelerated spending in housing, health care
In housing, the province is putting $12.7 million in new money toward the construction of additional senior and family housing units; more transitional housing; and the completion of 100 affordable units.
Over five years, the province is projecting to spend $36 million total on new builds with over $28 million of that in the next two years. That would include the 100 units announced previously.
In health care, continued investments are spread over the next five years with the Mental Health Campus near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown being a high-priority project.
Over five years, $145 million is earmarked for this campus, with the bulk of the spending happening between 2023 and 2026.
Additional spending includes $19.7 million in this timeframe to go toward the development of health-care hubs in West Prince, Kings County and the Summerside area.
Ottawa offering bigger cost-share percentages
In what's a record year for spending, the federal government's new COVID-19 Resiliency Stream is accelerating many provincial projects by providing cost-share funds.
This pot of money prioritizes some essential projects that could have traditionally been a 50/50 cost split between the federal government and the province to be roughly a 80/20 split instead -- allowing the province to take advantage of this stream to get projects underway that might otherwise have been pushed down the road.
However, these are projects that must be completed by the end of 2021. They include various projects across a number of departments, such as school renovations, hospital repairs and more.
Of the roughly $195,853,500 projected spending in this year's capital budget, Ottawa is contributing $82,431,600.
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