Considering the fiscal climate that is being called the "new normal" in the age of COVID-19, the Dennis King government had little choice but to run a record deficit when it delivered its revamped 2020-2021 budget.
The budget was originally set to be delivered sometime in April and Finance Minister Darlene Compton quite rightly pointed out the world is a very different place now than it was just two short months ago. With the economy in contraction and the possibility of a second wave of the virus later this year, this was no time to be tightening the fiscal purse strings.
Like virtually every other province, PEI will be running a record deficit-- in our case it is projected at $172.7 million, that includes tax cuts for individuals and businesses and new programs. For the agriculture industry, there is the promise to extend the use of marked fuel in all farm-plated vehicle. This has been a long-standing ask from a number of industry groups.
The budget of the Department of Agriculture and Land has been increased by $2 million, with most of that being a contingency fund to help take care of any additional expenses related to COVID-19 over and above the programs already announced by the province.
The long-promised establishment of a land bank was also included as part of an overall review of the Lands Protection Act. The government had earlier commissioned researcher Kevin J. Arsenault to study land banking models in other provinces and his report was turned over to government earlier this year but has yet to be made public. Hopefully the government is serious and a promise that has been little more than hot air for over a decade for governments of various political stripes will finally become a reality.
Construction of a holding pond in Shamrock by Austin Roberts and Andrew Lawless has led to calls for an interim moratorium on the practice until the Water Act and its regulations are in place. The Coalition for the Protection of PEI Water held a news conference recently on a farm adjacent to where the holding ponds are being constructed. They pointed out the construction is perfectly legal-- there are no regulations governing holding ponds and no permit is required.
Speaker after speaker quoted Brad Trivers, the former minister of environment, water and climate change, who indicated last year the regulations would block what he called a loophole of using low capacity wells together to pump high capacity volumes of water. There has been no indication from current minister Natalie Jameson whether she intends to follow through on that intention and consultations on the regulations are now on hold due to COVID-19, although they are slated to resume this summer.
The temporary moratorium is a good idea as it would allow time to review the issue. As for the holding pond in Shamrock, that is likely here to stay. It currently meets all the requirements and the government would surely face a legal challenge if they tried to impose regulations retroactively.