This past Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending the budget presentation at the Legislature accompanied by three of my caucus colleagues, James Yachyshen, Chris Brown and Manny Sonnenschein. We were joined with hundreds of other people – many of whom represent various organizations in the province – to see what the Sask Party would present to the people of Saskatchewan after winning their massive majority last November.
To say that it was a disappointment would be an understatement. We listened to the Finance Minister drone on for what seemed like hours throwing out numbers like they were confetti at a wedding. It was obvious to me that Ken Krawetz was trying to impress the gathered crowd – most of whom I think you would call “friendlies” of the Sask Party government with his mastery of arithmetic. His problem is that if you take the time to actually pick up a copy of the budget documents and go to the back pages where the general revenue fund is itemized and where there is actually a summary financial statement of the province’s finances, you will find that our debt went up by $1.2 billion this year. We’ve had Mr. Krawetz and Mr. Wall trying to convince us in the last few weeks that they were doing some necessary austerity to keep Saskatchewan moving ahead. They were really stretching the truth.
The simple fact is that spending went up 4.7% in this budget and Saskatchewan’s GDP will only be 2.8% if everything comes up roses. This budget is only doable with a 56% increase in potash revenue and if oil prices stay up above $100 per barrel throughout the entire year. Mr. Krawetz neglected to mention that several of Saskatchewan’s potash mines have been in shut down for months and that the recently announced potash sale to China is $100 a tonne under his projected figures. There is a balanced budget because Mr. Krawetz off-loaded onto seniors, students and the arts community in Saskatchewan. All of this pain in these various sectors will mean nothing if the price of potash or the price of oil doesn’t materialize as forecast and he will be back into the so-called “rainy day fund” for more money or will be taking more out of the Crowns AGAIN just like the NDP used to do.
I guess what I found most disheartening was that after achieving his large majority government and basically relegating the NDP to a political rump for years to come, we still had no vision presented of what Saskatchewan could be in the future. As I mentioned in my commentary last week, there are huge opportunities for utilizing our oil and gas resources, expanding the fertilizer industry and creating thousands of value-added jobs rather than continuing to simply ship out raw products. Mr. Wall does not have to fear the NDP opposition anymore when it comes to doing the right things with our uranium resource and expanding value-added opportunities there. With a large mandate in a second term, it is usually expected that governments will begin to very early on to indicate some priorities that it wants to do with its political mandate.
So far all that we have seen from this government is a budget that seems to rob Peter and instead of paying Paul – it pays nobody and continues to increase spending. In fact with one more year of debt increase like we had this year, in 6 years of government Mr. Wall will be back to square one. There was $10.5 billion in total debt when he assumed government and now he is only $900 million away from that. Another year like this year and we will be further in debt than when Mr. Wall started in 2007. If you don’t believe me, just read the budget document.
This is the absolutely the wrong time for Saskatchewan to be adding more MLAs to the Legislature with the extra salaries, the extra pension plans, the extra staff and the fact that these extra costs will be with us for decades. Surely the 58 MLAs that we have there now have got the ability to shoulder the load. Saskatchewan is way over-governed compared to every other jurisdiction in western Canada. This move of Mr. Wall’s to add members to the Legislature while he is cutting back soap to seniors in nursing homes is unconscionable. This is simply trying to buy political peace in his own caucus so that Cabinet Ministers are not competing against each other for seats and rural Saskatchewan will have a couple less members.
I would encourage all of you to voice your disapproval to the media, to members of the Legislature and to the Premier that this is not appropriate time in Saskatchewan’s history to be adding politicians. If there is any extra money to spend, it is on the infrastructure of this province where we all can benefit from the money spent and the money that is collected from our pockets in taxes.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.