11/13/2012 06:49 EST | Updated 01/13/2013 05:12 EST

P.E.I. throne speech vows to strengthen private sector amid federal EI cuts

CHARLOTTETOWN - The Liberal government in Prince Edward Island opened its fall session of the legislature Tuesday with a promise to strengthen the province's private sector as a means to offset federal cuts to employment insurance.

The government said it has "significant concerns" about the effect changes to the program will have on Islanders who work in seasonal industries that have traditionally driven P.E.I.'s economy, including tourism, agriculture and fishing.

The new rules expected to take effect next year would force those seeking employment insurance to take lower paying jobs — for some, in unrelated occupations.

"The province is firmly of the opinion that the federally imposed reductions to the national employment insurance program will penalize individual Islanders and the province as a whole," said the speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis.

"Unfortunately, the government of Canada has not yet acknowledged the value and importance of seasonal industries and seasonal workers in Prince Edward island or the harm that its measures will cause."

The government said it will work to grow the number of jobs on P.E.I. to 75,000 by 2016, including 2,000 in emerging sectors such as aerospace and bioscience.

It said part of that growth will come from improvements in the province's education system and ensuring that appropriate training opportunities are in place for workers.

The government also confirmed it will bring in the harmonized sales tax next year. The 14 per cent HST comes into effect April 1.

The speech also includes promises to help balance the province's books, strengthen local governance and improve health care.

Where health care is concerned, the government said its goals include reducing wait times for long-term care, noting that one in five Islanders will be a senior within eight years.

The speech also said the government plans to introduce legislation surrounding public sector pensions in the coming days. It said the legislation will allow the government to increase employer and employee contributions, but did not elaborate.

Premier Robert Ghiz's Liberals hold 22 of the legislature's 27 seats.

The Conservatives hold the rest.