Finally, the Sask. Party has released the 2021 budget for Saskatchewan that includes a $2.6 billion deficit and a goal of returning to a zero budget by 2026-27.
The 2021-22 provincial budget, tabled by Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Donna Harpauer, protects the health and public safety of Saskatchewan people and the province's economy in the fight against COVID-19 and makes record investments in health care, education, social services, and the protection of people and property.
"This budget will protect Saskatchewan people through the pandemic, as more vaccines are received and life begins to return to normal," Harpauer said. "This budget will build Saskatchewan by investing in new long-term care facilities, hospitals, schools, highways and vital municipal infrastructure. And as our province and our economy emerge from the pandemic, this budget will grow Saskatchewan through incentives and key investments, while keeping life affordable for families."
The 2021-22 Budget has a deficit of $2.6 billion. The province's fiscal path is projected to steadily improve over the next three years with smaller deficits of $1.7 billion in 2022-23, $1.2 billion in 2023-24, and $770 million in 2024-25. A return to balance is expected in 2026-27.
Saskatchewan's real GDP is forecast to grow 3.4 percent in 2021, but that follows a projected 4.2 percent contraction in 2020.
"While Saskatchewan's economy has fared better than most through the global health crisis, with continuing high levels of employment, the pandemic has still had a significant impact on the province's economy and finances," Harpauer said. "Our government has set a course to meet the fiscal challenge. We will manage carefully - without reckless cuts or large tax increases that would threaten both the pandemic response and a strong recovery."
Revenue is forecast at $14.5 billion in 2021-22, with most revenue categories forecast to increase compared to the latest 2020-21 forecast. An expense of $17.1 billion is projected, an increase of $1.0 billion compared to last year's budget.
This year's record health budget of $6.54 billion - up to $359 million or 5.8 percent from last year - will strengthen the provincial health care system to protect families and communities. A $90 million increase in this budget will support Saskatchewan's comprehensive COVID response. This includes the mass vaccination rollout; purchase of more personal protective equipment; supporting contact tracing measures; expansion of testing and assessment sites; additional provincial laboratory capacity; supports for long-term care; and coverage of added physician costs.
The 2021-22 Budget provides the Saskatchewan Health Authority with a $3.96 billion grant this year, up more than $221 million, or nearly six percent, compared to last year. The budget invests a record $458 million for mental health and addictions programs and services, up to $23.4 million or 5.4 percent from last year. This includes $7.2 million for targeted mental health and addictions services including specific youth-focused initiatives, investments in suicide prevention, and expansion of harm reduction and addictions treatment.
The 2021-22 Budget will spend $6.0 million to hire approximately 100 continuing care aides who will help long-term care clients with personal care, meals and medication.
Education spending across government is $3.75 billion in the 2021-22 budget, up more than $391 million, or 11.6 percent compared to last year. This includes spending on pre-K to Grade 12 education, post-secondary education, and career training programs and commissions.
Saskatchewan's 27 school divisions will receive $1.96 billion in operating funding for the 2021-22 school year, a $19.2 million increase. This includes fully funding the two percent salary increase in the teachers' collective bargaining agreement.
Federal-provincial Safe Schools funding of $155 million has been provided over the last year to help school divisions and independent schools during the pandemic. More than $20 million of this funding will carry over into the 2021-22 school year, with $134.2 million allocated in 2020-21.
An increase of $2.0 million in this budget brings child care funding up to $75.5 million and will create 176 additional licensed home-based spaces and 51 new licensed centre spaces.
The 2021-22 budget provides social services and assistance with $1.56 billion, up more than $66 million, or 4.5 percent, compared to last year.
"This budget meets our election commitment to increase benefits to seniors with $3.5 million in additional funding for the Seniors Income Plan," Harpauer said. "The investment will help low-income seniors enjoy a better quality of life with maximum payments increasing by $30 a month effective July 1. This is the sixth increase our government has made to the Seniors Income Plan since 2008 after it had been frozen for 16 years by the previous government."
The 2021-22 budget also provides $246,000 to meet the government's campaign commitment to further enhance communication services provided by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services.
The Saskatchewan NDP is not impressed as they released the following press release:
Saskatchewan New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili and Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon reacted to the Sask. Party’s 2021 Budget is out of touch with the needs of Saskatchewan families, businesses and communities - and breaks key campaign commitments.
“Scott Moe has failed Saskatchewan. This budget shows that the premier is in over his head and he hasn’t been honest with the people of this province about the realities we’re all facing,” said Meili. “People were having a tough time before COVID-19 hit - and the Sask. Party’s failure to show leadership in containing the pandemic means those families are even further behind. This budget takes the same approach as the government’s pandemic response: weak half measures that don’t get the job done for Saskatchewan people.”
Under Scott Moe, Saskatchewan has led the country in COVID-19 cases throughout 2021, 23,000 more workers are out of a job than last year, and more people are leaving the province year after year.
“Saskatchewan families and businesses are paying the price for Scott Moe’s failure to fight the pandemic and protect our economy,” said Wotherspoon. “There’s no jobs plan in this budget to get struggling families back to work - despite the many opportunities we have to grow and diversify our economy. COVID-19 exposed the real crises in education, health care, long-term care, mental health and addictions - but this government won’t make the crucial investments we need in the services families count on.”
Specifically, the Sask. Party government fails families by Not including a jobs plan that works for people and gets people working; Not removing the PST from construction labour and restaurant meals; Taking no responsibility for the Sask. Party’s lack of action to prevent the severe second and now third waves of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan; Leaving Saskatchewan with the lowest minimum wage in Canada; Not investing properly in hard-hit areas like long-term care and our classrooms; Not acting quickly to diversify our economy and take advantage of the real opportunities in green technology to create sustainable jobs for the future.
Meili also pointed out that Premier Moe has gone back on his election commitment to hiring 300 more continuing care aides (CCAs) in the Province’s hard-hit long-term care sector. Budget 2021 only contains a commitment of $6 million for 90 continuing care aides and points to a “three-year, $18.4 million election campaign commitment to hiring 300 continuing care aides”. But the fact is the Sask. Party’s election promise makes no mention of this commitment being phased in over three years. In fact, the Sask. Party’s costing document includes $18.4 million each year for all four years of the mandate.
“The government said during the election they would balance the budget by 2024, knowing full well that they would not. That lie was confirmed today. They said there would be no tax increases for families. Instead, property taxes for families are going up. And now we see the government lied to families in the last election about their plans to increase staffing in our hard-hit long-term care facilities,” said Meili. “The truth is, when it comes to what matters most to Saskatchewan families, Scott Moe simply can’t be trusted.”
Gary Horseman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Four-Town Journal