Being fiscally responsible is socially responsible. As the special edition of The Guardian (April 6) dramatically demonstrated, poverty is a huge issue in PEI with 15.8% of Islanders classified as low income. The reality for too many Islanders is that our social systems are not meeting their needs, and band aid solutions are not going to be enough. We are not meeting our obligations to our citizens if we are not providing basic and equitable quality of life to all – and that requires a commitment to fiscal policy that is different, but not radical.
When we want to make a transformational change, we have to start by identifying what really matters and why – and then be prepared to make clear decisions and take actions to effect that change. What if we approached fiscal policy with the big goal of creating as high a level of quality of life for Islanders as possible, while managing the long-term sustainability of public finances? We would need to focus on three main objectives:
- A high level of sustainable economic prosperity and employment without unacceptable effects on the environment, the climate, or people’s health
- A social support system that benefits everyone
- A long-term plan for resource use, investment and debt management
In addition, we would need to think carefully about the budgetary framework that would provide the management and oversight for these objectives. Islanders deserve to have confidence that their tax dollars are being managed well, and that short term ‘quick win’ projects do not carry greater weight at the expense of long term sustainability. What if we implemented a surplus target for the public sector, with a ceiling for central government expenditures, and required a balanced budget from all ministries with three year projections? After all, it is no less than any small business is required to do.
This is a framework for a new way of managing the public finances of PEI. It establishes fundamental principles that support evidence-based and integrated decisions for economic health. And it is not an impossible pipe-dream. This approach is based on the fiscal policy framework and key objectives that have been in place in Sweden* since 2010, with elements that were developed and implemented in the early 1990s. At that time, Sweden faced a financial crisis that threatened the health and welfare of its people, and decided to do politics differently.
I have long held that change only happens when committed and passionate people decide it is time to step up, and so after many years of remaining non-partisan (belonging to all parties or none, depending on whether I wanted to vote in leadership nominations!) it is time I stepped up. I am excited to be working with The Green Party of Prince Edward Island as the Shadow Finance Critic to formulate and articulate fiscal policy for all Islanders.
Hannah Bell MBA
Finance Critic, Green Party of Prince Edward Island