COVID-19 response top of re-elected Saskatchewan Party government’s agenda

·6 min read

Regina– The Nov. 30 Saskatchewan Speech from the Throne reads like a checklist, ticking off the boxes of the re-elected Saskatchewan Party’s campaign platform in addition to dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

The 17-page Throne Speech was read by Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty after the election earlier in the morning of Biggar-Sask. Valley MLA Randy Weekes as speaker.

Premier Scott Moe said in a release, “Our first two bills will be to create a new Home Renovation Tax Credit and reduce small business taxes, as promised in the recent election campaign.”

“We will also be moving quickly to cut everyone’s power bill by 10 per cent starting tomorrow, reduce ambulance charges for seniors and reinstate the Community Rink Affordability grant, as promised in the election campaign.”

The speech comes at a time when daily government press releases detail the continuing spread of COVID-19. Just minutes before the speech began, 325 new cases, 49 recoveries, and two deaths were announced for Nov. 30.

The speech noted, “Today, Saskatchewan is facing the most difficult moment of the pandemic to date.”

“My government’s top priority during this session and in the coming weeks will continue to be working to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In recent days, new public health orders have come into effect, and more will be added if required. But throughout the pandemic, our best defense has been the selflessness and the vigilance of Saskatchewan people in following the good practices that protect themselves and others.

“I am confident that will continue in the weeks ahead as we all work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19. At the same time as we are working to protect lives, my government is also taking steps to protect livelihoods.

“We can, and will, do both.”

It spoke of distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021 and the Saskatchewan Temporary Wage Supplement Program to top-up the wages of workers in long-term care facilities, personal care homes, integrated health care facilities and to home care workers.

SaskPower rebate

Key among the commitments is the promised 10 per cent SaskPower rebate.

Beginning Dec. 1, SaskPower will reduce electricity charges by 10 per cent for one year. The speech said, “Everyone will benefit, including residential customers, farms, industry and businesses, and institutions such as schools, hospitals and universities. The rebate will save the people of Saskatchewan $260 million – money that can be reinvested into the economy to help drive the recovery.

“The government, not SaskPower, will bear the cost of the program.”

The new Saskatchewan Home Renovation Tax Credit will see homeowners able to claim a 10.5 per cent tax credit on up to $20,000 of eligible home renovation expenses incurred between Oct. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2022. Homeowners will save up to $2,100 on the cost of their home improvements.

“This new tax credit will save Saskatchewan homeowners about $124 million and provide a significant boost to the province’s construction sector,” the speech said.

The largest change within government announced in this Throne Speech is the creation of a new Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement, which will be charged “to manage infrastructure projects and assets more effectively.”

“The new ministry will oversee the development and implementation of standardized government procurement processes and information technology infrastructure, ensuring that Saskatchewan tax dollars go further in providing the best possible value for the lowest possible cost,” it said.

The government will temporarily reduce the small business tax rate from two per cent to zero. The change will be retroactive to Oct. 1, 2020.

By July 2023, the small business tax rate will be restored to two per cent. The reduction means the government will forego $189 million in revenue that would have otherwise been collected from the tax. The idea is that small business will invest that money back into the economy “to further drive a strong recovery.”

The province has spent $6 million in marketing campaigns to encourage Saskatchewan residents to shop local, including a $1 million “Together We Stand Saskatchewan” campaign sponsored by local chambers of commerce and other business organizations.

Other campaign promises

The Throne Speech spoke of increased support for persons living with diabetes by covering the cost of insulin pumps and covering the cost of Continuing Glucose Monitoring up to age 18.

The government will extend individualized funding for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder up to age 12, doubling the number of children who are funded from the roughly 500 that receive support now. Children under 12 diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder will receive $6,000 a year to cover the cost of individualized therapeutic supports.

Deafblind individuals will receive increased supports, with close to 150 people benefitting from enhanced services.

The government is hiring 300 new continuing care aides to work in long-term care homes and home care, of which 180 will work in long-term care homes, 63 will go to existing home care services, and 57 will support expanded home care services in rural and remote areas.

Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship from $500 to $750 a year, reducing tuition costs for those who qualify.

The government will increase funding to the Saskatchewan Veterans Service Club Support Program to $1.5 million a year.

It will add 750 new childcare spaces over the next four years. The government will also restart the Active Families Benefit to help families with incomes under $60,00 per year with the cost of children’s sports and cultural activities.

Qualifying seniors will benefit from increases to the Seniors Income Plan benefit to $360 a year over the next three years. The maximum ambulance charge for seniors will be reduced from $275 per call to $135.

On the legislative agenda, the government also committed to make amendments to The Residential Tenancies Act. Those amendments will allow those who have been sexually assaulted in their rental accommodation to unilaterally break a long-term lease.

The Protection From Human Trafficking Act will enable victims to obtain expedited protection orders, allow for the tough enforcement of those orders, and provide civil remedies including the seizure of property and bank accounts and the suspension of driver’s licenses.

The speech emphasizes the Saskatchewan Growth Plan which targets by 2030 growing the population to 1.4 million, creating 100,000 new jobs, increasing exports by 50 per cent and investing $350 billion in infrastructure.

“This month, the Premier appointed a Legislative Secretary with the job of examining how Saskatchewan can exercise and strengthen its autonomy within the federation,” the speech noted. It highlighted the court case against the federal carbon tax, the appointment of Saskatchewan’s own chief firearms officer, and the future opening of new trade offices in Japan, India and Singapore. Saskatchewan would also discuss “the possibility of assuming greater control over immigration in Saskatchewan,” it said.

The fall sitting is expected to last two weeks. There will be a longer legislative sitting in the spring, when the government will present the 2021-22 provincial budget.

Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury