Saskatchewan’s Opposition is calling on Premier Scott Moe to delay introduction of the budget in the wake of falling oil prices and economic impacts of the novel coronavirus.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the 2020-21 budget, which is to be tabled March 18, should be postponed two weeks.
Oil price projections that the Saskatchewan Party government was working with several weeks ago have changed drastically, he said.
“This is a big deal,” Meili said Tuesday.
“Oil prices dropping $20 a barrel, stocks crashing hundreds of points – this is a massive impact. And the premier brushed it off.”
Meili said delaying the release of the government’s new spending plan would provide more time to see how oil prices are playing out.
Otherwise, Meili said, the budget document will be a work of fiction.
Moe said Tuesday that next week’s budget will be released as planned, and it will be balanced.
“We’re not going to make panicky decisions, knee-jerk reactions to what has to date been a couple of days of variable market forces,” he said.
“If those market forces continue to be variable and negative out into the next number of weeks and months, the appropriate time for us to realign our budget here in this province would be at the first quarter.”
Meili said he believes Moe intends to call an early election the day after the budget is tabled. He said that wouldn’t make sense given the outbreak of COVID-19.
Moe reiterated that his government is preparing for a fixed fall election date, but that he has the right to call an earlier vote.
He said he hasn’t yet decided.
“I’m not ruling out anything with respect to election timing.”
There are no known cases of COVID-19 in the province. But Moe said he is still encouraging people to wash their hands, keep their distance from one other and refrain from shaking hands.
Moe said earlier that the coronavirus outbreak and national unrest over rail blockades were reasons not to commit to a fall election. He then said he had mentioned COVID-19 in error.
Health Minister Jim Reiter said it’s difficult to predict the spread of the virus during an election campaign, and the premier will have to decide what month is best to drop the writ.
Moe said officials are trying to get the best information they can from health officials.
“I think it’s a factor in everything we do right now,” Moe said. “This is a very serious situation.”