It may not have all the bells and whistles opposition has been asking for, but Saskatchewan’s latest budget is balanced and forward thinking.
This is a summation of Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie and Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgen’s point of view after the budget’s Wednesday release.
“It balances the books and the priorities of Saskatchewan people,” Jurgens concluded.
Various previously announced initiatives will continue to receive funding, including the Pineview Terrace Lodge long-term care facility, prison expansion projects, Carlton gymnasium expansion and projects.
“We’re still looking to finish the twinning off Highway 11, which will be done within this budget context,” Hickie said.
“We’re hoping by the grace of God and mother nature,” he later added. “There’s apparently only 13 km left, and I know we saw a lot of prep work take place late in the year.”
This project’s completion will see the Sask. Party make good on a broken promise the opposition made when they were in power, Hickie noted.
“As we saw the province booming, we knew that that particular highway had to be done -- not just for safety issues, but because we still have the great increase in traffic to the north and to Prince Albert in general, to spur the economy on.”
One new item within this year’s budget that will immediately benefit the city is the newly opened Hope’s Home, which will see $180,000 in provincial funding.
“That is ongoing funding for the child-care spaces … that include spaces for medically fragile children,” said Jurgens, who represents that area of the city.
Some of this money was put toward the building’s renovation, at the old Prince Albert Family Church property at 550 First Ave. E.
Currently, the facility is licensed for 44 children, and touts a goal of accommodating up to 90 by the time they’re fully set up.
Another youth-centred initiative the province funds is the Eagle’s Nest Youth Ranch, which provides care to youth in a group living environment. This organization will continue to see $5.7 million in annual funding, Jurgens said.
This year’s municipal revenue sharing initiative, which shares a portion of the provincial sales tax with municipalities, will see an 11.4 per cent boost in funding, representing a current total of $264.4 million.
Prince Albert’s share is $7.47 million -- a $870,000 jump from last year’s $6.66 million.
“We look at that funding as a mechanism to help with the growth that we’re seeing in this province,” Hickie said. “It’s used as unconditional funding where municipalities can apply that as they see to fit to address growth issues.”
The Saskatchewan Plan For Growth has set a goal of having 60,000 more people working in Saskatchewan by 2020 -- an effort supported by this year’s increase in funding to various education and employment efforts.
“Our economy is so strong that we need the skilled labour now, and we need more people than (those who) are living here,” Jurgens said.
With some efforts targeting First Nations and Métis people in particular, Hickie noted that the government is also recognizing that “the growing group in our province that needs to have the advantages and opportunities for education are the aboriginal and First Nations and Métis people, because they are also the people that will be able to contribute to northern communities that will see the growth in mining, specifically.”
It balances the books and the priorities of Saskatchewan people. - Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens
With a skilled labour force accompanying the province’s efforts to grow the uranium mining industry of northern Saskatchewan, Prince Albert’s “Gateway to the North” status will come into play.
“It’s very important for Prince Albert, because people from the north travel quite frequently into Prince Albert,” Jurgens said, adding that many also choose to live in Prince Albert, using it as a home base to launch into the north from.
“Any way we can increase northern development, it automatically helps Prince Albert,” she said. “We are the centre of the north.”
As expected, the province’s 2013-14 budget does not include provisions for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing near Prince Albert -- an item the opposition and Prince Albert city council have advocated for and criticized the Saskatchewan Party for excluding.
Citing the findings of the Prince Albert Area Second Bridge River Crossing report released earlier this year, Jurgens said that “the bridge is not a No. 1 priority right now. It doesn’t mean that it’s discounted; it just means that right now we are not putting money into another bridge.”
Hickie commends city council’s recent discussion about gaining a better foothold on economic development and bringing the population up on par with the growth seen throughout the province as a whole.
“If they drive that message and get it done, then there may be a need for a bridge sooner than later,” he said.
“It’s all contingent upon the economic development and growth and population growth driving the need. Right now we’re status quo moving forward.”
Although all Prince Albert area infrastructure projects that will see funding come out of the latest budget were all previously announced and underway, Hickie said that as projects wind down the government is keeping its eyes and ears open as to what the next list of priorities will be.
Although Jurgens and Hickie believe that the last provincial budget is another step in the right direction, not everyone agrees.
On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan NDP issued a press release criticizing the budget in several regards, including an allegation that it’s not balanced at all, but that it’s increasing debt by $835 million.
“We don’t know what they’re talking about,” Hickie said of the allegations that their budget is not balanced.
“We see this as a means to deflect from a very strong budget to continue Saskatchewan’s strong dominance in the country as a leader when it comes to the economics and growth issues.”
“We have two sets of books that say that it is balanced,” Jurgens later noted. “It’s just more information for the people instead of just one narrow set of financial statements.”
The Saskatchewan NDP’s take on the budget will be reported in greater length for Friday’s edition of the Daily Herald, alongside other groups and individuals who choose to comment on the document.