Saying it is a budget that protects the health and public safety of Saskatchewan people and the province’s economy in the fight against COVID-19, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer has presented a provincial budget that has a deficit of $2.6 billion. However the minister insisted it is one that sees record investments in health care, education, social services and the protection of people and property.
“This is a significant challenge that requires a significant response,” Harpauer said. “As a result, this year’s deficit will be larger and it will take longer to return to balance than we had anticipated. But we are going to make the investments needed now to protect Saskatchewan people through the end of the pandemic and to drive a strong economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Harpauer said with the deficit at $2.6 billion, the plan is to now have a balanced budget by 2026-27, which means the government will not be living up to its election commitment of being back to balance by 2024.
“It is frustrating, but I do think that we were there for the people of Saskatchewan,” she stated. “We need to plan for growth and for the days when we will be leading the nation in growth like we did in the past. I think we have the right budget to do that, but we are borrowing.”
“We will manage carefully – without reckless cuts or large tax increases that would threaten both the pandemic response and a strong recovery.”
The highlights of the budget are:
• $4.8 billion in support to help protect Saskatchewan lives and livelihoods in the fight against COVID-19, including $1.5 billion in this budget, after a nearly $2.0 billion investment in the 2020-21 fiscal year. A further $1.3 billion of support is in place for the next two years.
• A record budget for health of $6.54 billion, up $359.0 million or 5.8 per cent from last year’s budget, will strengthen the provincial healthcare system to protect families and communities.
• A $90 million increase in this budget will support Saskatchewan’s comprehensive COVID-19 response, including costs associated with a mass vaccination rollout, purchase of more personal protective equipment, supporting contact tracing measures and expansion of testing and assessment sites. Additional provincial laboratory capacity, supports for long-term care and coverage of added physician costs are also part of this funding.
• A record $458 million for mental health and addictions programs and services, up $23.4 million or 5.4 per cent from last year.
• Education across government, including spending related to Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 education, post-secondary education and career training programs and commissions, is $3.75 billion in this budget, up $391.3 million or 11.6 per cent from last year.
• The Ministry of Education will support pre-K to Grade 12 students with$2.66 billion in the 2021-22 Budget, an increase of $59.6 million or 2.3 per cent from 2020-21.
There are also some tax credits you will want to know about.
- An annual tax of $150 is being introduced for those who have registered an electric vehicle. This takes effect October 1
- $4 million has been put aside to reinstate the Active Families Benefit. This is being done to get youth to enrol in sport, recreation and cultural activity. Families who are eligible will get $150 dollars a year per child. That figure is $200 dollars for a child with a disability.
- The Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship is increasing from $500 dollars annually to $750 dollars
NDP calls budget “out of touch”
The budget is one that leaves the opposition NDP with raised eyebrows.
Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon said this is a budget that doesn’t respond to the crisis the province is facing.
“This is a budget that fails to rise to the occasion” said Wotherspoon. “It doesn’t do a thing to get a control of COVID-19, and it doesn’t get the job done for Saskatchewan people and families.”
Calling the budget “out of touch”, Wotherspoon continued by saying there is no jobs plan in the budget presented by the Saskatchewan Party government.
Party Leader Ryan Meili followed the same theme when he suggested that the tabled budget have a lot of things missing.
“It’s a budget with no plan to get people back to work, ignores the opportunities we have to diversify our economy with renewable energy, and leaves the PST on construction and restaurant meals missing an opportunity to kick start those key industries,” said Meili.
He added this is another example of Premier Moe failing Saskatchewan and that he has not been honest with the people of Saskatchewan about the realities the province is facing.