With the Saskatchewan government expected to deliver a big budget surplus, various groups are hoping for more cash or tax cuts amid struggles to afford food and access health care.
The Saskatchewan Party government is to introduce its 2023-24 budget Wednesday, revealing plans the finance minister says will address cost-of-living and health-care pressures.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer told reporters Tuesday the budget contains a substantial surplus.
“You’re going to see more targeted supports that [aren’t] necessarily for everyone,” she said. “You’re also going to see a very strong and aggressive health budget to address the pressures that we are all hearing [about] in health, not just in the major centres, but also across Saskatchewan in our rural and remote areas.”
Critics will be watching to see if the measures are 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 Monday. “This government keeps making things worse, and Saskatchewan people keep falling behind.”
The 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, which 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.
Harpauer 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.
Harpauer said there won’t be new taxes or tax cuts.
She said affordability measures would be geared toward people who have low incomes, including seniors and people with disabilities.
“There’s always going to be those that would like more somewhere. But overall, I think that every area the government has support for – we’ll see increases [in funding].”
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.
The province already has a $60-million health-care plan that aims to hire 1,000 staff over the next two years, but critics have said this plan falls short.
“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.