by MLA Joe Hargrave
It is hard to believe almost a year has passed since the announcement of a renewed and expanded Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert, which I am pleased to say is still on track and proceeding as planned.
The following week, Saskatchewan confirmed its first case of COVID-19 and the global health pandemic has been a top priority ever since.
Saskatchewan, much like virtually every other jurisdiction in the world, shut down a sizeable part of the economy to contain the spread of the virus.
It had to be done to protect us and our health-care workers who have been so heroic throughout the pandemic.
The economy suffered and governments at every level took immediate action to support businesses, workers, families and communities.
Our government alone has invested nearly $4.4 billion in responding to the pandemic and supporting our economic recovery.
At the provincial level, we understood that we had to work with our municipal partners to deal with the immediate crisis, and to kick start the recovery.
We fast tracked revenue sharing so our communities could address the pressures right away.
As part of our two-year, $7.5 billion capital plan, we also committed $320 million to municipal infrastructure – new money – that included the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program. Altogether, more than 760 communities took advantage of this initiative.
Today, with meaningful public health guidelines in place, the number of COVID-19 cases have stabilized and are starting to come down.
Our government will never discount or diminish the danger of the COVID-19 virus.
We mourn with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones, and our thoughts are with those who are ill today and may be facing a long road to recovery.
Much of our economy is open and operating safely because businesses have, for the most part, operated responsibly by adapting and investing to ensure their customers and staff are safe.
These efforts are keeping people working and earning a paycheck.
On the vaccine front, we put our initial supply of vaccine into people’s arms faster than any other province.
Shipments from the federal government should pick up again soon and we will be ready to ramp up and get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible.
As we move further down that road, we will shift our focus to the recovery.
In Saskatchewan, we’ve weathered the storm better than most provinces.
Right now, we have the highest percentage of small businesses operating and the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
Saskatchewan is leading the nation in wholesale trade growth, our exports are surging, and our agriculture shipments are up more than 30 per cent year-over-year.
Even real estate sales are red hot, up nearly 50 per cent year-to-year.
While we have lost a lot of jobs in Saskatchewan, we are determined to get them back and get our economy on track.
In government, we’re supporting the recovery in many ways, including the implantation of our campaign promises:
• We cut power bills by 10 per cent for one year – a $260 million rebate that will benefit everyone in the province.
• We cut the small business tax rate from two per cent to zero – we’re going to leave it at zero for the next year and a half, before going to 1 per cent for a year, and then back to 2 per cent in 2023.
• We put into place a new Saskatchewan Home Renovation Tax Credit – it will be in effect for the next two years, saving homeowners about $124 million while boosting our construction industry.
• We’re continuing to roll out the $7.5 billion in infrastructure funding, this year and next.
• We’re building new schools and hospitals and new long-term care homes while continuing to invest in major renovations.
• We’re building new highways and fixing old ones; and
• We’re investing in our municipalities.
While this has been one of the toughest years we have ever experienced, there are so many reasons to be optimistic about our future in Saskatchewan. Here in Prince Albert, there’s optimism surrounding the forestry sector at a time when we’re looking forward to exciting new projects like the hospital expansion and the new aquatic centre.
Getting back to normal means getting back to the business of building a strong, growing, confident Saskatchewan. We will do this together with strength and determination knowing that better days – our best days – are still ahead.