One of the issues that the PC Party raised in last fall’s Saskatoon Northwest by-election was the fact that Saskatchewan citizens have not seen an increase in the potash royalty since 1994. This is because NDP and Sask Party governments have been preoccupied with giveaways to the potash companies for mine expansion. Instead of a coherent policy which would separate the construction of new mines or the expansion of existing ones from production, it has all been lumped together so that the taxpayer and resource owner, the people of Saskatchewan, have basically been paying the upfront cost of this activity instead of more royalty wealth flowing on a consistent basis to the government of Saskatchewan.
The ridiculous scenario of BHP trying to buy existing mines rather than build their own because they could write off the cost of the purchase against mining royalties and taxes is an outdated policy. These policies evolved when potash was a low-priced commodity with much shut-in demand. If potash is going to become a much sought after commodity and it’s pricing consistently up in relation to other fertilizers, than there should be a new approach taken to how the proceeds of that new demand are shared. Companies with the profitability of PCS who just announced the 2nd largest profit ever in company history and Cargill, the largest shareholder in Mosaic, can well afford to move their employees around without huge tax credits from Saskatchewan taxpayers. It has also become apparent that politicians cannot be trusted with the budget making process and our take from potash royalties and taxes or else how does one explain the Sask Party’s $1.9 million “oops”? Are they listening too much to the CEOs of these companies and are their interests so intertwined that the owners of the resource are not getting the true picture? I will be commenting on solutions to this in the future. The NDP have recently started to make an issue of this and as the media has quite correctly pointed out, their past performance while in government is part of the reason we have the current inequities. We shouldn’t trust them to be asked to fix the problem in the future.
The upcoming provincial budget needs to be prepared to deal with some very pressing issues. Since my trip to Yorkton and area, I have had the opportunity to talk with some volunteers for the Canadian Red Cross and I am told that thousands, not hundreds, of Saskatchewan people are still displaced from their homes and residences because of last year’s flooding. This situation can only be resolved with a stronger response from government and a marshalling of resources from the local, provincial and federal levels. It is readily apparent from listening to the debate at the recent SUMA convention that a new housing strategy is being called for by all levels of civic government. We are rapidly approaching a crisis level in affordable housing in this province and to have this situation from last year adding to an already tight market does not make sense. The government of Saskatchewan must pay attention to this housing predicament and come forward with a long-term vision besides some short-term cash. Hopefully people will not let the Sask Party get away with an election budget which will simply throw money at a problem so as to save Sask Party political hides.
The situation around the province in regards to health care was also raised at SUMA and has been a weekly news item around the province. It is certainly one that is raised by people with me as I travel the province. We had the example this past week of the Minister of Health when under fire on the funding requirements for health care facilities which are currently 65% provincial government and 35% for the local jurisdiction had the Minister speculating that they are looking at an 80/20 split. When pushed by the many communities who are currently engaged in trying to upgrade their local facilities, the Minister said that there was no definitive time table and that they were working on it. I think the truth is starting to dawn with people around the province that after more than 3 years of Sask Party government, they really aren’t much different than their NDP predecessors whereby they simply have the health boards take the heat for not getting things done. Everyone knows that the health boards get their money from the provincial treasury and must follow provincial guidelines so they really can’t affect much change without the say so of Mr. Wall and his friends in Cabinet. It once again raises the question….if they are only out there to poach doctors and senior staff from one another….what purpose are they serving? I think the SUMA delegates were getting it right when they were going directly at Don McMorris for his lack of leadership and the province’s inability to answer the tough questions.
The building of health care facilities and their staffing and technological tools should not be the stuff of election promises but should be part of long-term vision and budgeting on a consistent basis. These issues supersede 4 year terms of government and should be non-partisan in nature. In a province like Saskatchewan I know that politics is difficult to remove from reality but where that has been accomplished around the world, their systems perform much better than when politics was involved. We as citizens need to demand more.
These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.