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Sask. government provides plenty of budget hints

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will be in the spotlight on Wednesday when she delivers the provincial budget. (Moreen Mugerwa/CBC - image credit)
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will be in the spotlight on Wednesday when she delivers the provincial budget. (Moreen Mugerwa/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan Party will unveil its 2024-25 budget on Wednesday afternoon. Still, much is already known about what will be included thanks to a string of announcements by the government.

One of the biggest unknowns is what Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will project in what is expected to be a deficit budget. The provincial government projected a $1 billion surplus for 2023-24, only to see that evaporate to a $250 million deficit at the most recent update.

Recently, the government spent $757 million through special warrants.

This week, NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said in the assembly that the deficit projection and the special warrant spending would put the government at a $1 billion deficit for 2023-24.

Spending promises

Addressing a packed convention hall on Thursday afternoon , Premier Scot Moe told the annual Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention the government would spend $340.2 million on municipal revenue sharing in the upcoming year, an increase of $42.3 million from 2023-24.

The total is no longer a secret, but how those dollars will flow will be revealed on Wednesday.

Moe promised the budget would focus on "classrooms, care and communities."

The premier's other announcement was a plan to spend $1.15 billion on the first phase of the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project, with construction beginning next year. The initial total cost of the project was tabbed at $4 billion in 2020.

The government says the cost will be paid by the province and producers who want to participate.

The plan is to unlock 90,000 acres of agricultural land in south and central Saskatchewan. Moe said Thursday that the province would start covering the cost while it waits to see whether the federal government will chip in.

"It doesn't look like that's coming through, but we'll continue to ask, continue to work with our federal government so that they could be a partner in this space, but we but we need to start moving on it," Moe said.

Education

The discussion on education has been dominated in the last several months and weeks by the labour dispute between teachers and the government. The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) is asking for class size and complexity issues to be included in any new deal.

The provincial government recently signed an agreement with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) on a four-year agreement in which it said class size and complexity will be addressed by the individual divisions.

The STF has called for binding arbitration and this week that request was rejected by Moe and Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill.

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill, left, speaks at the Legislature in Regina while Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Samantha Becotte (in green) looks on.
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill, left, speaks at the Legislature in Regina while Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Samantha Becotte (in green) looks on.

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill, left, speaks at the Legislature in Regina while Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Samantha Becotte (in green) looks on. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

In a rare move, less than two weeks ago the government posted a video on social media announcing it would commit $356 million annually for the next four years to K-12 education. Days later, it was revealed the SSBA had signed on.

However, the STF has criticized the deal, which guarantees funding for the next fiscal year but leaves the following years subject to appropriation, meaning the province could decide to change the amount or take it away altogether.

Health

Regarding the provincial health system, the government has made some pre-budget announcements.

In response to long and growing wait times for breast care and diagnostics, Minister of Health Everett Hindley has announced plans to open a breast assessment centre within the next year in Regina.

Hindley says more details on cost and staffing would be forthcoming in the budget.

This week just as the SARM convention was kicking off, Hindley and Moe announced a plan to pilot an independently run, publicly funded program to "enhance the role of nursepractitioners."

Two weeks ago, SARM called for an expansion in the use of nurse practitioners specifically to fill gaps in rural Saskatchewan.

The government said clinics would "improve access to primary care."

Hindley told reporters the plan was in the initial stages and more details would come as they are available.