Reaction is beginning to come in from around Saskatchewan after Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced the 2021/22 provincial budget Tuesday afternoon.
- Harpauer presents a $2.6 billion deficit budget with record investments in healthcare, education and social services
Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association:
Job creation and a step toward economic recovery are two key takeaways from the 2021-22 Saskatchewan budget for the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association.
The announcement on Tuesday from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways has $830 million, including $520 in capital, earmarked for dozens of projects throughout the province.
Many of these projects are multi-year initiatives that will enhance safety on Saskatchewan highways and ensure efficiency in the movement of products and services to and from rural and urban communities.
“In a time when our provincial economy is sluggish, our industry is thankful for the provincial government’s continuation of spending in our sector,” said SHCA President Shantel Lipp. “We believe our industry is one that will lead us to economic stability and future growth.
Saskatchewan Teachers Federation:
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is encouraged by the 2021-22 provincial budget and says it signals public education is a priority.
Education was allotted $2.66 billion, a 2.3 percent increase from 2020-21. The Federation says this is a reasonable budget.
“There are always resource challenges in schools and we always hope for funding increases beyond inflation and enrolment increases. However, these are difficult times for citizens and for government. A budget always requires tough choices to be made and the pandemic has increased financial pressure on the provincial government,” said STF President Patrick Maze.
“This budget essentially holds the line for education. Given the circumstances, this is a realistic approach.”
Maze cautions there will still be resource challenges in schools.
“The challenges we had pre-pandemic haven’t gone away and now there are new ones. Students have all had very different experiences over the last year that will need to be addressed,” said Maze.
“School divisions will still have to make difficult decisions.”
Saskatchewan School Boards Association:
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) is recognizing the critical funding provided to the education system during the COVID-19 response, while also emphasizing the need for predictability and sustainability as the pandemic continues to cause uncertainty and challenges for school divisions going forward.
“The operating increase announced today in the province’s 2021-22 budget will ensure the collective bargaining agreement with teachers is fully funded next year,” said Dr. Shawn Davidson, president of the SSBA. “It’s important to note though that other inflationary costs are not covered in the increase and therefore school divisions may have difficult decisions to make.”
School boards are appreciative of the federal and provincial dollars that have been allocated over the past year to address urgent and emergent matters related to the pandemic, Davidson said. The focus on health and safety of students, staff and communities continues to be at the forefront during these challenging times and will be ongoing as the effects of the pandemic on school systems continue to be realized, he said.
“As we start to plan for what future years are going to look like, the overall message that we hear from school boards is around the importance of predictable and sustainable funding,” Davidson added. “As we move forward, post-pandemic, we really need to have a deeper conversation about how education is funded.”
As school divisions learn about today’s budget announcement in their local contexts, more will be understood about the anticipated effects, which might vary among regions, he noted.
The SSBA also recognizes the increase to mental-health spending announced in today’s budget that includes youth-focused initiatives. Mental health has been identified as a significant factor affecting student success and well-being. School boards applaud inter-ministerial collaboration on this important issue.
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour:
Today’s provincial budget missed a crucial opportunity to invest in working people in Saskatchewan at a time when workers are struggling due to unemployment, illness, and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a continued lack of action by the Sask. Party government to enact measures to contain the spread of the virus.
“Today was an opportunity for the government to put workers first, and make meaningful investments that would create jobs and get people back to work, make workplaces safer, and ensure that workers have the supports they need to be able to get through the rest of the pandemic,” said Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) President Lori Johb.
“Unfortunately, this budget offers very little for the working people who have been on the front lines of this crisis since day one.”
Critical items missing from today’s budget include:
• A plan to create good jobs to get Saskatchewan people back to work
• Paid sick days for all workers to stop the growing spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan workplaces
• Investments in safer workplaces including proper PPE and rapid testing in all workplaces
• Introduction of a $15 an hour minimum wage that would boost the economy
• Meaningful investment in our public services and crown corporations
• Wage top ups for front line workers
• A plan to fix our broken long term care system
Regina and District Chamber of Commerce:
The Regina & District Chamber of Commerce responded to the budget by indicating that the budget really reflected the government’s election commitments like the Home Renovation Tax Credit, the SaskPower reduction, and the Active Families incentive.
In addition, the budget reflects the environment that Saskatchewan people and businesses are facing, the continuation of COVID-19.
The budget strongly focuses on COVID-19 initiatives from a health and safety perspective as well as programs which look to help businesses in the recovery process.
“While the deficit of $2.6 billion is significant, once one takes into account that $1.5 billion is a response to COVID-19, and a further $415 million for a pension adjustment the deficit is much smaller than first viewed,” said John Hopkins CEO of the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce.
Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce:
The Government of Saskatchewan’s 2021-22 budget, which was released Tuesday, contains several important new items for Saskatchewan businesses.
The overall theme of this year’s budget is a continued focus on battling the pandemic while supporting Saskatchewan people and businesses. The pandemic has triggered soaring healthcare costs, which are forecasted to be $6.54 billion.
“While the pandemic has impacted every household and business differently, we will collectively recover by focusing on health and safety protocols, and by vaccinating our residents as soon as possible. Once the pandemic is less of a concern, we expect the province to renew and increase its focus on the transition to economic recovery and building resilience into all we do in Saskatchewan,” said Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO, Steve McLellan.
The budget also contains important elements crucial to Saskatchewan businesses including continued financial supports for members of the business community negatively impacted by COVID-19.
Some of the other key elements in the budget that will have impacts on Saskatchewan business are:
• $3.1 billion of Capital Investments in 2021-22, including $530 million in new spending for shortline rail lines to enhance access to markets and a commitment of $18.9 million to continue to move forward the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project, which is projected to increase our provincial GDP by $35-$83 billion over the next 50 years.
• An investment of $3.2 million to improve the cyber security of Saskatchewan’s public service systems.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation:
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling on the Saskatchewan government to strengthen its plan to tackle the deficit as the 2021-22 budget doesn’t project a surplus until 2026-27.
“It’s true the pandemic is creating costs for government, but every family and business has found ways to save money and the province needs to do that as well,” said Todd MacKay, the CTF’s Prairie Director. “Spending is going up in ten out of the 11 major budget categories.
“It’s good to see the Saskatchewan government set a target to balance the budget, but it needs to work harder to hit that target earlier.”
The Saskatchewan budget now projects a deficit of $2.6 billion. The province’s taxpayer supported debt is projected to hit $17.9 billion this year and soar to $25.2 billion by 2025. This year, Saskatchewan will spend $755 million just to cover the interest charges on the debt.
Saskatchewan plans to balance the budget in 2026-27. Saskatchewan’s plan is significantly better than Alberta’s plan which has no timeline to balance the budget and Quebec’s budget which plans to balance the books in 2027-28. But Saskatchewan is still behind Nova Scotia and its plan to balance the budget in 2024-25.
“Tackling the deficit won’t be easy, but it won’t get easier if we procrastinate,” said MacKay. “We’re already spending three quarters of a billion dollars on interest payments, and we need to get a handle on spending before interest costs chew up even more budget.”
Saskatchewan Union of Nurses:
The budget is not getting a favorable response from the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses. President Tracy Zambory says not nearly enough was dedicated to the issue of mental health and addictions which continues to be very problematic.
“While there was a small amount of money sent that way, it is not nearly enough to deal with the mental health and addictions problem we have in our province.” Zambory said. “I wanted to see a large amount of funding to safe consumption. We need those safe consumption sites. We need to put our moral attitudes aside and understand safe consumption works. When it comes to COVID, we need leadership from the Premier to the Saskatchewan Health Authority that we will involve the front-line workers. We need a slowdown.”
CUPE president Judy Henley is not impressed with the budget. She says the government presented an austerity budget that relies on federal funding to address the effects of COVID-19, while ignoring its own provincial responsibility to provide stable, long-term health care and education funding.
Henley also claims the province is using federal investments to claim that they are providing record investments to help workers with the negative effects of the pandemic as they falsely claim that they are helping working families, when the reality is they are deferring the responsibility of providing worker assistance to Justin Trudeau.
MUNICIPALITIES OF SASKATCHEWAN:
Municipalities of Saskatchewan say they appreciate the stable funding for municipalities included in the 2021-22 provincial budget. In a release, president Rodger Hayward says “Saskatchewan’s hometowns understand the difficulties of preparing a budget with limited resources. We appreciate the province’s investments in municipalities, including the stable funding provided for the 2021-22 year through Municipal Revenue Sharing.”
Municipal Revenue Sharing for the 2021-22 year is set to be approximately $275 million.
At the same time, Hayward says MOS is disappointed the provincial government will not be continuing the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program (MEEP) program for the 2021-22 year. In 2020, the program provided $150 million to municipalities.
University of Regina:
On Tuesday, the Government of Saskatchewan tabled its 2021-22 provincial budget, which included the announcement of stable multi-year funding for the province’s post-secondary institutions.
The University of Regina, along with Saskatchewan’s other post-secondaries, will see base operating funding protected at current levels for the next four years. The University of Regina welcomes the longer-term approach the government has introduced, as it enables the University to plan into the future with greater certainty.
Tuesday’s provincial budget announcement also includes nearly $11 million in non-base funds that will be allocated to the University of Regina over the next two years. This injection of funds is intended to assist the University in transitioning to a more financially sustainable future by funding projects or initiatives that generate new revenue streams, enable greater cost efficiencies, and provide for increased sector-wide collaboration.
“The University of Regina applauds the Government of Saskatchewan for having recognized the need to work toward a sustainable future by providing this incremental funding. Our institution is built on ideas and innovation and we look forward to charting a course that will strengthen our teaching and research enterprise,” said Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Thomas Chase.
“While institutional costs continue to rise due to inflationary pressures, salary and benefit increases, and other expenditures, the University is proud of its sound financial management, delivering balanced budgets for 26 consecutive years.”
The Saskatchewan Party government today presented an austerity budget that relies on federal funding to address the effects of COVID-19, while ignoring its own provincial responsibility to provide stable, long-term health care and education funding, according to the president of CUPE Saskatchewan. “On many occasions, the province claims they are providing record funding, but in most cases, they also acknowledge that much of that funding is coming from the federal government,” said Judy Henley, president of CUPE Saskatchewan. Protecting Workers
Budget 2021-22 fails to protect workers from the economic effects of the pandemic. While the provincial government repeatedly cites “record investments”, they are including funding provided by the federal government to make these claims.
The province is taking credit for:
$8 million in federal funding for the province’s “record” spending of $18 million in employee assistance for people with disabilities.
$17 million in federal funding for the province’s “record” spending of $39 million for Immigration and Career Training.
Municipalities of Saskatchewan:
As Saskatchewan continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Municipalities of Saskatchewan appreciates the stable funding for municipalities included in the 2021-22 provincial budget.
“Saskatchewan’s hometowns understand the difficulties of preparing a budget with limited resources,” said Municipalities of Saskatchewan President Rodger Hayward. “We appreciate the province’s investments in municipalities, including the stable funding provided for the 2021-22 year through Municipal Revenue Sharing.”
Municipal Revenue Sharing for the 2021-22 year is set to be approximately $275 million.
Municipalities of Saskatchewan is appreciative of the investments in the Urban Highway Connector Program and Community Airport Partnership Program, and for the return of the Rink Affordability Grant Program. Municipalities of Saskatchewan has been advocating for the return of the grant that helps hometowns offset the cost of rink operations. An additional $23.4 million for mental health and addictions programs and services is also welcome.
However, Municipalities of Saskatchewan is disappointed that the provincial government will not be continuing the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program (MEEP) program for the 2021-22 year. In 2020, the program provided $150 million to municipalities.
“Strong hometowns are critical to our economy,” said President Hayward. “A made-in-Saskatchewan infrastructure program like MEEP helps our hometowns undertake infrastructure projects that are not only important to their communities, but that also stimulate the economy and encourage local job creation.”