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The spring session of the Prince Edward Island legislature has opened with a throne speech acknowledging the challenges of the past year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry thanked the chief medical officer of health and other front-line workers for their efforts keeping Islanders healthy and safe.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to those who put themselves in danger to accommodate our needs,” Perry said Thursday.

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“Because of them, and because of the faithful adherence to public health protocols on the part of all Islanders, we are in an enviable position to make a speedy recovery from this pandemic,” she said.

Perry said she walks in the footsteps of the many governors and lieutenant-governors during the 170 years of government on Prince Edward Island, but joked she’s probably the first to wear a mask into the legislative chamber.

The speech outlined a number of new health initiatives planned by the Progressive Conservative government, including the creation of three new primary care homes.

“Islanders assigned to primary care homes will have quicker access to the appropriate health professional,” Perry said. “The new model will employ more virtual care options in circumstances where a physical visit may be unnecessary.”

She said the government is also creating a five-year, $10-million fund for mental health and addictions.

“And to ensure that attention to our mental health has parity with our physical health, my government will establish the P.E.I. Centre for Mental Well-being,” she said. She said the centre will provide guidance to ensure mental health services are responsive to the needs of the community.

Perry says the government will table a seniors health strategy during this legislative session, which will focus on preventing hospital admissions and increasing at-home care. She said the government will also increase efforts to recruit and retain more health professionals.

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A working group will collaborate to expand the nursing programs at UPEI and Holland College, and the government will establish a $5-million fund to recruit nurses and nurse practitioners over the next five years. The government also announced a $2.5-million Retention, Mentorship and Training Fund for registered nurses and nurse practitioners currently working on Prince Edward Island.

Perry said the government will announce programs to support the development and use of clean-technology solutions to cut carbon emissions. The government will also increase access to childcare by adding 300 additional childcare spaces this year, she said.

The speech acknowledged the pressures felt by the tourism sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Perry said 2021 will be a stabilizing year for the tourism industry.

“We will focus on a local campaign, working to reopen the Atlantic Bubble, and as our vaccine programs result in immunity over time, opening to travellers from the rest of Canada,” she said.

Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said considering the importance of tourism to the provincial economy, he expected more help for the sector.

“I didn’t hear any funding in there to ensure tourism operators are going to be there when tourism comes back, hopefully in 2022,” he said in an interview.

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Bevan-Baker said he was pleased to see some emphasis on developing the clean-tech sector but overall was disappointed with the throne speech. “It’s a pretty timid vision for what Prince Edward Island should be,” he said.

Premier Dennis King says the spring session will include the 2021-22 operating budget and that the government plans to introduce about 20 pieces of legislation.

The governing Progressive Conservatives hold 14 seats in the legislature, while the Greens have eight and the Liberals five.

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