Saskatchewan government expected to announce surplus budget as funding needs loom

·3 min read

REGINA — With what’s expected to be another surplus budget in Saskatchewan, various groups are hoping for more cash or tax cuts as people struggle to afford goods and access health care.

The Saskatchewan Party government is to introduce its 2023-24 budget Wednesday and many observers expect it will forecast a sizable surplus.

Premier Scott Moe has already hinted at introducing some measures that address affordability and health care, but critics will be watching to see if it will be enough.

The NDP Opposition has argued the government has failed to provide enough relief because it has not cut gasoline taxes and has proceeded with utility rate hikes.

“Costs keep rising,” NDP Leader Carla Beck told the legislative assembly on Monday. “This government keeps making things worse, and Saskatchewan people keep falling behind.”

The Moe government had projected a $1.1 billion surplus by the end of the fiscal year that ends March 31 after receiving a huge windfall in resource revenues. The increase has largely been attributed to increased demand and higher commodity prices as the war in Ukraine forced countries to look elsewhere for goods.

The government decided to spend the bulk of those increased revenues on $500 affordability cheques that were sent to adults who filed an income tax return for the 2021 tax year. It also planned to spend $1 billion to pay down some of its operating debt.

Moe has said paying down the debt will save money in the future.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has asked the province to control spending, cut taxes and pay down the debt, noting Saskatchewan's accumulated debt has grown considerably over the past 10 years.

The Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce has requested a freeze on the small business corporate tax rate, as well as for the removal of the provincial sales tax on gym memberships and event tickets.

Beck has said the top issue she hears from people is the need for immediate relief.

“This is a government that has failed to deliver on job growth, failed to invest meaningfully in health care and certainly in education,” she said in early March.

Tracy Zambory, the president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said her organization wants funding that will help retain senior nurses and those midway into their careers.

She has also called on the government to set up a task force to find solutions.

“We are so short-staffed, so we should be doing everything that we can,” Zambory said Tuesday

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation has also asked for a huge injection of funding to address pressures in classrooms.

Moe has indicated that Wednesday’s budget will address ongoing problems in the health-care system, including plans to perform more surgeries.

The province already has a $60 million health-care plan that aims to hire 1,000 staff over the next two years, but critics say this plan falls short to retain current staff.

“If registered nurses finally see that the government has taken their issues seriously, that they are finally going to say, ‘Yes, we do have a problem and we need to work together on it,’ they're going to feel like there's finally some hope and some work being done,” Zambory said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press