Revel in the pros­per­ous present

Signs of pros­per­ity ev­ery­where but no credit com­ing to premier or pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Alan Hol­man is a free­lance jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Char­lot­te­town. He can be reached at: achol­man@pei.east­link.ca

Driv­ing through Prince Ed­ward Is­land this sum­mer it is hard to be­lieve it is still con­sid­ered one of Canada’s havenot provinces. Ev­ery­where you look, in the cities and towns, along the high­ways and down the back roads, there are signs of pros­per­ity.

New houses be­ing built and old ones ren­o­vated. New cars. New trucks. In Mon­tague, as an ex­am­ple, there are new busi­nesses be­ing es­tab­lished and old ones ex­panded.

For some, good times are hard to deal with. Like the fish­er­man down east, who, while ac­knowl­edg­ing the sea­son was a good one, says all this means is “we’re one year closer to a bad one.”

That aside, it is likely that to­day’s Is­lan­ders are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the best eco­nomic con­di­tions in the prov­ince’s his­tory. For­get about the past, it’s not the good old days, it’s the pros­per­ous present.

In the past year, all four en­gines of the prov­ince’s econ­omy; agri­cul­ture, fish­ing, tourism and man­u­fac­tur­ing were fir­ing on all eight cylin­ders, all at the same time.

In agri­cul­ture, last sea­son’s potato crop saw high yields, strong de­mand and good prices. This sum­mer, Is­land dairy farm­ers had their quo­tas in­creased by five per cent be­cause of an in­creased de­mand for their dairy prod­ucts. Over­all farm cash re­ceipts on the Is­land in­creased over two per cent in 2016, four times higher than the Cana­dian av­er­age.

To­tal man­u­fac­tured goods shipped in 2016 in­creased by four per cent to a to­tal of nearly $1.7 bil­lion, an all-time high for the Is­land. There are 6,000 Is­lan­ders em­ployed in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor pro­duc­ing ev­ery­thing from french fries to brew pubs to truck trail­ers.

In tourism, the num­ber of room nights sold in­creased by nearly 10 per cent in 2016, and camp­ing sites sold were up over 12 per cent. And this sum­mer could be even bet­ter.

But, the eco­nomic sec­tor show­ing the most dra­matic in­crease was the fish­ery, chiefly be­cause of the in­creased value to the lob­ster fish­ery. In 2016 lob­ster land­ings ac­tu­ally fell by about five per cent, but a hike in prices saw the value of the lob­ster fish­ery in­crease by 28 per cent to more than $193 mil­lion. In 2013 the PEI lob­ster catch was about $90 mil­lion.

So far this sea­son, the lob­ster land­ings in most ports were up from last year and the price on the wharf in­creased to the $6.50 - $7 per pound range, up from last sea­son. With about 80 per cent of the land­ings com­pleted it looks like the lob­ster in­dus­try is head­ing for an­other record year.

Though it seems counter-in­tu­itive, in some ways the fish­ing in­dus­try is now the back­bone of ru­ral Prince Ed­ward Is­land. A greater per­cent­age of the fish­ing re­ceipts are spent in the prov­ince.

Farm­ing is cap­i­tal in­ten­sive. It re­quires ex­pen­sive ma­chin­ery, mostly made else­where, im­ported fer­til­iz­ers and chem­i­cals, ex­pen­sive build­ings and costly land.

With the ex­cep­tion of the en­gines and the elec­tron­ics in their boats, most of a fish­er­man’s re­quire­ments can be met lo­cally. Most fish­ing boats in Is­land wa­ters were built on the Is­land; the lob­ster traps are ei­ther made by the fish­er­men them­selves or bought lo­cally. Their fuel, rope and nets would be im­ported.

A new con­trib­u­tor to the Is­land econ­omy is the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Canada Child­care Ben­e­fit. In Oc­to­ber 2016, the CCB sent $2,300,000 to the prov­ince’s small­est rid­ing, Eg­mont. The money went to 3,600 fam­i­lies to help sup­port more than 6,500 chil­dren. That’s an av­er­age of $640 per fam­ily for that one month, all tax-free.

It’s likely that sim­i­lar pay­ments are be­ing made in the other three fed­eral rid­ings. This means, in ad­di­tion to the in­creases al­ready men­tioned there’s an­other $120 mil­lion flow­ing an­nu­ally into the pro­vin­cial econ­omy.

Some of this money was spent in the re­tail trades, the ser­vice sec­tor and some went to the pro­vin­cial trea­sury, all of which also recorded in­creases in 2016.

All this pros­per­ity, and nei­ther Mr. MacLauch­lan, nor the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment seems to be get­ting any credit for it.

Alan Hol­man

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