The extensive cuts, increased fees, and rising debt load associated with Saskatchewan budget are not going over with many Saskatchewan residents.
The opposition Saskatchewan NDP said the PST hike from five per cent to six per cent, along with other increases, will be particularly tough on Saskatchewan families, the middle class, and job creators in the construction business.
“To put it simply, the Sask. Party lied. On top of an increase to the PST, everything from power bills to children’s clothes, fishing licenses, and a case of beer will cost the people of Saskatchewan more. They only people coming out on top will be Saskatchewan’s wealthiest who will get a $38 million tax cut,” NDP Finance Critic Cathy Sproule said. “There are 40,000 people currently out of work in this province. That’s double the number from when the Sask. Party took office but, instead of investing in job training, post-secondary education, and stimulating the economy, the Sask. Party is cutting those programs and cutting $1.32 billion out of the Saskatchewan economy. How does the Sask. Party expect to grow the economy, if everyone has less in their pocket?”
The NDP argue that in addition to a wide variety of tax and fee increases, totalling approximately $1 billion, the Sask. Party is still banking on an additional $250 million in job and wage cuts across the province that they have yet to disclose how they will implement.
This all is compounded by their budget’s projected debt of over $18 billion.
“The Sask. Party has clearly forgotten who they’re working for. Every page of this budget shows another broken promise, a tax hike, or a cut to Saskatchewan families trying to get ahead,” Sproule said. “The Sask. Party arrogantly and recklessly spent the people of Saskatchewan’s money, and now it’s those people – those families and those workers – that are being forced to pay for the government’s mismanagement, scandal, and waste.”
The NDP are also concerned with the SaskParty unilaterally eliminating the Saskatchewan Transportation Company. Sproule notes this is an important Crown Corporation that provides a crucial service to people across the province who depend on it for travel, accessing medical appointments, and shipping parcels.
“Less than a year ago, the then Minister responsible said STC is a ‘needed service’ and was safe from a sale,” Sproule said. “STC provides a vital service to many seniors, workers, and families throughout the province and, by scrapping it out of the blue and without asking permission of the owners – the Saskatchewan people – the Sask. Party is sending a clear sign, how little they care about protecting our Crowns like SaskTel.”
“Either the Sask. Party doesn’t get it or they just don’t care anymore. Responsible and forward-looking management would have been a welcome change from this party,” said Sproule. “But this budget, with his skyrocketing debt, massive tax hikes, callous cuts and lack of strategic investment leaves too many behind and does nothing to build hope in the future.”
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour
The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) issued a press release stating they are deeply disappointed with the budget.
SFL president Larry Hubich said the budget moves forward the Sask. Party’s ill-conceived idea to claw back 3.5 per cent from public sector workers.
“Today’s budget is a continuation of the Sask. Party government’s attacks on hard-working Saskatchewan people,” said Hubich. “We have already seen the government blame their financial mess on some of the lowest-paid public sector workers, such as janitors, and now they are expanding that attack to education workers, frontline healthcare staff, and the professionals in our public service,” he added.
The SFL, as part of the Own It! initiative to protect Crowns and public services, recently held a pre-budget consultation in Saskatoon. Many ideas were submitted that would strengthen the services people rely on, protect our Crowns from Bill 40, and invest in the economy.
“From our consultations with Saskatchewan people, it has become apparent that cuts, layoffs, and sell-offs are not the direction that will grow our economy or support our communities,” said Hubich, “it is too bad that the Sask. Party government has so blatantly ignored the people of this province,” he added.
“Putting SaskTel and other Crowns on the chopping block is not in the best interest of Saskatchewan people or our economy,” Hubich stated, “this budget leaves the door open for the passage of Bill 40 and, as a result, the sell-off of our Crowns. It’s a bad budget, and Bill 40 must be stopped.”
Canadian Taxpayers Federation
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation does not like the budget’s impact on taxpayers, who are shouldering the bill for the provincial deficit.
“The Saskatchewan government is trying to fix its deficit problem by forcing families and businesses to pay more taxes,” said Todd MacKay, Prairie Director for the CTF. “The government is making some tough decisions to trim spending, but taxpayers are getting hit hard with the brunt of this bad news budget.”
While personal and business income taxes are each being trimmed by 0.5 per cent, the total tax burden for Saskatchewanians will go up by $908 million as the result of the one per cent increase to the Provincial Sales Tax and other taxes.
They are also concerned that despite their commitment to reducing compensation costs for government employees by 3.5 per cent, for a total savings of $250 million, spending in this year’s budget is still rising by 0.6 per cent when compared to last year’s budget.
There is also an additional $84 million more in debt interest payments this year for a total cost of $381 million.
“Saskatchewanians have been trimming their family budgets for a few years already and it’s time for the provincial government to do the same,” said MacKay. “It’s unfair to force Saskatchewan families to pay more when the government still isn’t significantly reducing its own spending.”
Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association
While the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) was pleased to see the municipal revenue sharing program was not impacted, they do raise some concerns over provincial downloading.
SUMA points out that SaskEnergy franchise fees will soon go to provincial general revenue instead of municipalities, which represents a loss of $36 million in revenue to SUMA members. In addition, fees for provincial labs to test water samples have also increased. Urban governments now must also pay the province more to meet regulations imposed by other orders of government.
“SUMA has frequently expressed concern about provincial downloading,” said SUMA President Gordon Barnhart. “We have a policy position to that effect, and are disappointed that Saskatchewan’s hometowns are once again bearing the brunt to continue providing the services Saskatchewan people expect and deserve.”
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation are concerned that significant operational funding reductions could negatively impact front-ling services and supports across the Pre K to Grade 12 education system.
They say the budget undervalues public education.
“The announcement of a reduction of 1.2 percent in operational funding is troubling,” said STF President Patrick Maze. “School divisions are still to be briefed this Friday on the details, so uncertainty remains as to how they will actually respond. It is one thing to expect budget cuts during tough economic times, but the last thing that should be affected is student learning. We had hoped that the government would demonstrate a stronger commitment to supporting teachers based on previous assurances that they would look to administrative savings and educational governance reform first.”
SEIU-West notes that the budgetary cuts unveiled on Wednesday afternoon do nothing to address the shortage of staff in health, education and community-based sectors.
“This government is failing the people of Saskatchewan,” said Barbara Cape, President of SEIU-West. “Their budget does not have any vision for tomorrow. Instead it’s all short-term nickel and dime savings that will have a negative impact on individuals and their families in the long run.”
They argue the numerous budget cuts negatively impact the services that people can expect in our hospitals, long-term care homes, schools and community sector.
“What our members don’t understand is how you can go after these sectors in such an aggressive way and damage not only their livelihood but actually deteriorate the services they provide even more,” added Cape. “One of our members broke down in tears as she admitted that she had to call clients and cancel their care because there was no staff to do the work. Due to the current hiring freeze, staff have worked too much overtime and they are physically exhausted.”
SEIU-West has been urging the Wall government to explore other options that should be on the table such as imposing fair taxation on large corporations and conducting a thorough review of bureaucracies like SAHO, 3sHealth and eHealth.
“Let’s be clear, privatizing services is not the answer,” continued Cape. “Our experience with the access and quality of the linen coming out of the provincial laundry services has taught us that this is neither a reliable resource nor a savings.”
“There’s nothing innovative or new in this budget,” added Cape. “We have been offering solutions for years with no uptake from this government. Our members know how to save this province money in their respective sectors. But this government fails to listen to those who are the front line experts time and time again.”
Saskatchewan Medical Association
The Saskatchewan Medical Association raised their concerns about the strain facing healthcare and the negative impact on patient care despite a 0.7 per cent increase in the health portfolio.
“We appreciate the fiscal challenges this government is facing, but we are concerned that the system will be strained and patient care may be negatively affected,” said Dr. Intheran Pillay, president of the SMA. “In our ongoing discussions with government we have always stressed the need to proceed thoughtfully with transformation. The health system is big and complex and improvements don’t happen overnight.”
Dr. Pillay noted that the health-care system needs to be fundamentally changed to address the challenges it faces.
“The province’s physicians have been doing their best in a system that is not designed to address chronic diseases, mental health, and frailty. The focus remains on volumes, not value. As hard as they try, individual physicians work hard and have some success, even as they struggle to surmount a dysfunctional system.”
He said solutions to these kinds of challenges exist, and they are better implemented with the full participation of physicians.
“For almost a year now the SMA has engaged in a continuous and robust discussion about the role of and relationships with physicians in an integrated health system, which we have coined as ‘health system redesign,’ ” Dr. Pillay said. “We know the province’s physicians are interested in building a better, more integrated system that is better able to address citizens’ needs while making the practise of medicine more effective. However, I am concerned that in a climate of significant cost reduction, our members will be preoccupied with shortages and rapid changes, and won’t have the energy or the motivation to pursue the longer-term strategy of health system redesign. In a recent survey more than half said they are at risk of burnout. I can’t help but think the implications of this budget might exacerbate this worrisome phenomena.”
The Canadian Union of Public Employees argues the budget priorities will have a detrimental effect on public services and will not put the province back on fiscal track.
“The budget paints a clear picture of how poorly our province has been run over the last nine years, and it is not pretty,” said Tom Graham, president of CUPE Saskatchewan. “The Sask Party’s reckless decisions, like building P3 schools, embracing Lean contracts, and selling off public assets, got us into this mess. And now the only solution they have for a situation they created is to punish frontline workers and cut public services while decreasing taxes for their rich corporate donors.”
“When facing declining revenues from the resource sector, why is the Sask Party further reducing their own revenue with personal income and corporate tax reductions? This budget shows that the government has no idea how to properly manage Saskatchewan’s economy,” said Graham. “Wall seems to have little idea what to do about it other than cut services and workers’ pay cheques. Instead, the government should focus on growing and diversifying the economy, and maintaining the spending power of Saskatchewan people instead of putting people out of work.”
Restaurants Canada says the hospitality industry could lose $140 million in sales as a result of the PST being added to food purchased from restaurants.
“We’re extremely disappointed with this unfair tax policy that creates winners and losers in the food industry,” said Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada’s Vice President, Western Canada. “Our members are perplexed the government has ignored our advice, and is instead punishing the sector of the food industry that creates the most jobs and economic activity. Clearly this policy benefits large corporate grocery stores at the expense of thousands of labour-intensive small businesses that make up the hospitality industry.”
To add insult to injury, the government is also increasing liquor markups by between 4.0 and 6.8 per cent. Both the new meal tax and liquor price increases are effective April 1, providing restaurants with little time to adjust to the new taxes.
Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union
The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union is concerned by the net loss of 111 full-time equivalent positions which are part of the provincial government. They note these cuts have occurred in areas where workers meet the basic needs of Saskatchewan residents, including the Ministry of Highways, Education and Environment.
“Saskatchewan public services have already been cut to the bone, leaving gaps in the workforce and chronic understaffing in vital areas, like child protection and correctional services. More than 1,900 government jobs were cut between 2010 and 2014. Now, workers struggle to deal with unmanageable workloads, and families who need services suffer the consequences,” says SGEU president Bob Bymoen. “Additional cuts will place even more strain on overburdened staff and the people they serve.”
He is also concerned over the impact of the $250 million less in compensation for the entire public sector and the approximate 3.5 per cent wage decrease the province is hoping to negotiate.
“If a threatened 3.5 per cent wage cut is imposed on public service workers, they will be much worse off than before the beginning of the resource boom,” Bymoen points out. “Wages for government employees have not kept up with the cost of living. In real dollar terms, government workers already take home less today than they did a decade ago. A further wage cut would be excessively punitive.”
The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities gave mixed grades to the budget, and they anticipated that tough decisions were coming in response to the current economic climate.
SARM was pleased to learn the municipal revenue sharing formula was maintained, continuing a commitment to municipalities.
They were also pleased to see there were no major changes to school division boundaries and locally elected school boards will be retained.
In addition, the $134.2 million allocated for municipal infrastructure, plus $86 million to repair and upgrade 150 kilometres of rural highways, were both appreciated.
However, they were disappointed to see the fuel tax exemption for bulk gasoline purchases be eliminated and the fuel tax exemption for diesel bulk purchases be decreased to 80 per cent. SARM notes that since 1987, these tax exemptions have provided much needed tax relief to producers, who face steep costs to acquire and maintain the farm equipment necessary to feed the world.
They are also saddened by the discontinuation of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, which will disproportionally affect rural residents.
“While we’re disappointed to see cuts to some important programming, we understand the immediacy of getting the budget under control during this economic downturn,” stated SARM President Ray Orb.