Saskatchewan’s premier has rejected a call by the Opposition to reconvene the legislature in the weeks leading up to the fall provincial election.
On Tuesday, during the final stretch of a three-week spring sitting, NDP Leader Ryan Meili asked Premier Scott Moe to have legislature members return in September.
Meili said the Saskatchewan Party government’s 2020-21 budget fails to meet the needs of residents hurting because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And he wants members to return in the fall so the government can spell out how it has spent a $200-million contingency fund established to respond to the health crisis.
He also said people deserve to see the government’s multi-year revenue projections, after it posted a $2.4-billion deficit for the fiscal year. The last time the province was in the red, Meili said, it made cuts such as axing the Saskatchewan Transportation Bus company.
“They’re hiding what their real plans are,” said Meili. “It would be absolutely irresponsible of me to just accept this theatre, this farce as the real thing.”
Moe responded outside the assembly, saying Meili just wants a “do-over” of the spring sitting.
“There’ll be nothing of the sort,” Moe said.
He added that Saskatchewan was the first province to present a budget that factors in the economic impact of the pandemic, and there will be a fiscal update in August.
“We’ve returned this spring for the scrutiny of our budget. We’ve returned this spring to complete our legislative agenda.”
The premier said allowing businesses to reopen during the pandemic is a first step toward economic recovery.
On Tuesday, the government announced that seating capacity for restaurants and bars can increase starting July 6. Casinos, bingo halls, performing arts centres, indoor pools and rinks also got the go-ahead to reopen during the first few weeks of July.
Health officials reported six new cases of COVID-19 for a provincial total of 785. Five people are in hospital and 684 people have recovered, while 13 have died.
Moe said his larger plan over the coming years is to dig the province out of the deficit from the pandemic by growing exports and waiting for revenues to rebound.
“The intent is to not raise taxes,” Moe said.
“What we are focused on, and this is my belief, is that there will be no need to raise taxes in the next mandate if we are able to recover and grow the economy.”
Moe said the province’s finances were stable before the pandemic hit.
The Ministry of Finance said the crisis, which saw a drop in revenues and oil prices, meant the 2019-20 year ended with a $319-million deficit.
Moe said residents will get a chance to decide for themselves what they think of the government and its plan to recover the economy in the provincial vote.
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