Saskatchewan headed for balanced budget, but with smaller surplus than anticipated: first quarter report

Saskatchewan Minister of Finance Donna Harpauer. (Herald file photo)

Saskatchewan remains on track for a balanced budget, but with a smaller than expected surplus.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer released the province’s first quarter update on Monday, which show increases in both revenues and expenses, along with a predicted surplus of $25.8-million. The government’s original budget anticipated a roughly $34-million surplus for the financial year.

“I am very happy to report that we still have a balanced budget, albeit a very thin surplus of $25.8-million,” Harpauer said during a media scrum on Thursday.

“I would like to say it’s early,” she added. “Q2 (the second quarter) will be more reflective because a lot of the unknowns will be more known at that time.”

Provincial revenue was higher than expected in the first quarter, however so were provincial expenses. Increased potash prices were one of the main reasons for the jump in revenue, while increasing pension liabilities were responsible for the rise in expenses.

Harpauer said the province made it through wildfire and flood season without having to spend large amounts of money, which helped keep the budget on track. Barring an early frost, she’s not expecting any problems for the agricultural sector, however she said outside issues like trade disputes could wreak havoc.

“The trade disputes that are happening globally are affecting Saskatchewan, we say, disproportionately, and by that I mean, the restraints or the restrictions that’s been put on our canola sales to China,” she said. “The industry is working very hard to find other buyers for canola, but that is one major concern because it’s a very significant crop for Saskatchewan. We’re hoping that there aren’t other trade issues in the future, but we know there’s a lot of discontent and confrontation globally.”

Harpauer emphasized that the results are very early, and that they wouldn’t have a clearer picture of the 2019-20 budget until the second quarter reports were in. She added that she’s encouraged by the province’s financial state, but also be nervous as long as the projected surplus remains small.

“I’m very mindful that this is very thin,” she said.