What a change a week can make in Saskatchewan. We were looking at one of the earliest springs in a long while and everyone was talking about spring seeding being done in record time. One week later, Mother Nature has thrown us a weather curve ball. On our farm we have received just about 3 inches of rain in the last week and now we have water lying in the fields where I certainly didn’t expect to see it. It is still early and I am sure we will have lots of opportunity to sow the 2012 crop and be able to take advantage of the current good commodity prices.
Speaking of commodity prices, the Saskatchewan government is going to need this crop as badly as the farming community does. The figures that came out last week showed that Canada’s GDP was down because of the slowness in the mining sector and particularly, the potash mining business. If you remember, the Saskatchewan budget was supposedly balanced because of the large amount of money to be received from the potash industry. I remember sitting in the gallery with several of my colleagues on budget day and thinking, “here we go again”, when Ken Krawetz started talking about all this potash revenue that was going to come to the province. He was talking about the increased sales and volumes of potash and how this would back stop his budget and make sure it stayed balanced. All of us in the Legislature that day knew at the same time, that two of Saskatchewan’s major potash mines had already been in shut down for some time and there was obviously buying resistance from many of our major customers.
If Canada’s GDP is down, then Saskatchewan’s must also be down. I would guess right now that we are in a deficit position and significantly under the Sask Party’s bullish projections. The two things that have been propping up Saskatchewan’s economy have been agriculture and consumer spending. It is very obvious to me that this Sask Party government has put too many eggs in the potash basket. They have given away too much income to potash company write-offs and they have refused to put in place a process which would bring about a review of our royalties and taxes on all of our resources on at least a four year basis. If we do not start developing value-added processing and jobs in other resources, we will constantly live in the boom and bust of the commodity cycle. Budget making for the Sask Party government seems to revolve around whatever good news story some corporate CEO is blowing in the Premier’s ear. You can’t build the needed infrastructure in health, education and highways on corporate goodwill and somebody’s failed marketing plan. You certainly cannot build new football stadiums on unbalanced budgets.
There are two news items on the labour front which I would like to close off my comments on. Number one, the nurses’ union and health regions have come to a tentative two-year agreement. We don’t know what the details of that agreement are but it sounds like it will be a substantial raise because of the wage settlements in the provinces to the west of us. It also appears that Rosalie Longmore, SUN’s President, was in no mood to settle another long-term contract which would take her group out of the pre-election bargaining period. This is good news for nurses and may not be such good news for the provincial budget.
The second item is the Premier’s want to now get into wholesale review of labour legislation in Saskatchewan. His musings about how maybe certain groups should be exempt from paying union dues is obviously meant to pacify his hard right-wing business friends. During the last election campaign, Mr. Wall stated that this would not be a priority of his government and that he had more important things to do with building our economy than fighting with labour. The stats show that the percentage of Saskatchewan workers who are unionized has been steadily dropping for the last 20 years and will probably continue to do so. Why Mr. Wall thinks it’s now important to open up this can of worms and then use his massive majority to ram through new labour legislation is beyond me. If this were an honest attempt to modify and modernize our labour codes, there would have been an announcement which laid out a long-term process for all parties to comment and propose changes. These changes would only come into affect after a long process which would involve input from not just business and labour, but members of the public in general.
The end result of a process like this should be good for another 20 years if it is done properly and the government should not be speculating about what they want or how they would tip the balance of power one way or the other in the labour market. This is meant to pick political fights, appease friends and take the public’s mind off of unbalanced budgets and a lack of economic development and job creation which Mr. Wall and his Enterprise Saskatchewan have failed to deliver. Leadership is about more than silly political games and doing whatever it takes to keep your job.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.