In the wake of the Saskatchewan Party’s release of the 2013-14 budget, the local chamber of commerce and opposition are viewing it as a mixed bag.
It’s a “safe” budget, Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert summarized, noting that it has its merits and pitfalls.
Saskatchewan NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon is calling it a “credit card budget,” and Green Party of Saskatchewan leader Victor Lau would like to have seen more done to address the issue of poverty.
The following are some responses to the budget gathered the day after it’s release.
Chamber of Commerce
Infrastructure is one key component that the province’s 2013-14 budget could have better addressed, Lacert said.
“On one hand, the budget did put forward some further funds for infrastructure, unfortunately, being a conservative budget, it didn’t go as far to address some of the things that we would like to see in Prince Albert -- specifically even the Urban Highway Connector Program and continuing efforts there,” he said.
The Urban Highway Connector Program funds repairs to the Diefenbaker bridge, which has a long list of repairs that still need to be done.
Prince Albert is seeing some good things take place, including the expected completion of the Highway 11 twinning to Saskatoon, the completion of the St. Louis Bridge, continued investment in the local correctional centres and other things -- but, a vast majority is continued work from previous budgets.
A second North Saskatchewan River Crossing was expectedly missing from the budget, but Lacert said that chamber efforts will continue to see it come up sooner rather than later.
The chamber recently completed a survey of membership, with more than 76 per cent of members responding with confirmation that a second bridge is needed and that the chamber should continue to work on advocating for one.
“It’s about ensuring growth … so Prince Albert isn’t set back or passed over for opportunities,” Lacert said.
“I think the whole community is anxious about the bridge, and waiting to see continued repairs, and what is the summer going to look like if we have continued repairs.”
The chamber is also following proposed changes to the uranium mining industry’s royalty structure, and is very hopeful that it will attract further investment, which directly affects Prince Albert as “Gateway to the North.”
“We see this budget as a credit card budget,” Wotherspoon said. “It’s one that pushes costs into the future and onto future generations.”
The biggest example of this is with P3s, he said, citing the use of public-private partnerships to fund infrastructure projects like schools, highways and bridges.
This has been exemplified in the province’s rehashed Sask. Builds infrastructure initiative, Wotherspoon said.
“Really, what it is, is nothing more than a tricky privatization financing scheme that basically build infrastructure now, but the debt onto the books of the private sector at a higher interest rate, and for it to cost us far more over the long run.
“The Saskatchewan Party’s Mantra is really ‘just let the kids pay for it,’ and this short-sighted approach will truly catch up to us as a province before too long.”
Related to the mentality of “letting the kids pay for it,” is inadequate funding to both the public and post secondary school systems.
Long-term and home-care efforts haven’t received the funding the opposition would like to have seen, and neither has the health care system, he said.
On one hand, the budget did put forward some further funds for infrastructure, unfortunately, being a conservative budget, it didn’t go as far to address some of the things that we would like to see in Prince Albert -- specifically even the Urban Highway Connector Program and continuing efforts there. - Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert
The Urban Highway Connector Program, which funds things like the Diefenbaker bridge repairs, has yet to be clearly defined with a funding model.
“Infrastructure pressures are real – whether it’s wastewater, sewer, or sidewalks … or a bridge in Prince Albert, these are real pressures, real concerns,” Wotherspoon said.
“Without being addressed by other levels of government, like the provincial government, the cost to addressing that infrastructure is going to be directly on the backs of taxpayers.
“Saskatchewan’s economy is doing really well,” he said. “Saskatchewan’s economy is strong, so people are rightfully asking, ‘why doesn’t the Sask. Party do better with the opportunity that it’s been presented?’”
Wotherspoon and his fellow NDP members will continue to look at the as-yet clearly defined uranium mining royalties initiative, but judging from the province’s dealings with the potash industry, he doesn’t have his hopes up.
“The companies have been making profits that have been larger than ever before, but the return to the province of Saskatchewan has been flat lined.”
Green Party of Saskatchewan
“They’re claiming it’s boom time, so we’ve got lots of money, so let’s throw money at the problem,” Lau concluded.
Although they have the money to throw around, “is it really being effective? Are they really working with the people on the ground to find housing and things like that?”
Housing and homelessness is a concern throughout the province, with Prince Albert no exception, having reported three freezing deaths this winter and a report coming in on Thursday about a 62-year-old man found lying in the snow overnight, who was later pronounced dead.
“We need to enact -- maybe in the temporary or short term -- we need to ramp up shelters, we need to ramp up spending directly,” Lau said, adding that at the very least, there needs to be greater dialogue with various partners to get something done on this front.
A tax royalty consideration for the uranium mining industry was a disappointing thing to find in the budget, he said, adding that he’d prefer to have seen a full review of resource royalty taxes “to make sure that it is fair for the citizens of Saskatchewan, as well as for the companies that want to come here and operate.”
Singling out one industry isn’t the way to go, he concluded, adding that green initiatives don’t seem to have a place within the budget.
Education spending, both public and post-secondary, was another disappointment.
“With the amount of tuition rate increases … its’ not the way that we would like to go -- we would like to see universal tuition.”
Although the province has the graduate retention program, which retroactively pays back tuition over the first few years of student’s graduation as long as they remain in the province, Lau said that switching the program around and providing free tuition from the get-go would better suit students’ needs.
With no seats in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, Lau, based in Regina, will join others in rebuilding the party over the next few years, in time for the next election.