by Joe Hargrave
Budgeting is about finding a balance between revenue and expense – but it is also about priorities. Prioritizing public dollars is a challenge for all levels of governments at the best of times but it truly tests our mettle when meeting the challenges of a global health pandemic.
The current circumstances call for a significant response, not just here in Saskatchewan, but across Canada and around the world.
The 2021-22 provincial budget delivers dollars to protect, build and grow Saskatchewan in response to the biggest economic shock we have experienced since the Second World War. It protects the health and safety of our people and our economy, builds our province through investments in infrastructure to stimulate economic activity, and grows Saskatchewan through incentives and key investments.
Among the many highlights of local interest is a significant safety enhancement with funding to twin a section of Highway 3 west of Prince Albert to Shellbrook. We can expect to see design work, safety studies, and stakeholder consultations with a work tender this fall. This twinning is in addition to the six sets of passing lanes on track to be completed along the same stretch later this year.
The budget also includes funding to advance the Victoria Hospital project. I know that the residents of our area are thankful for these projects and I’m delighted to see them on track and moving forward.
In addition to $1.5 billion for COVID-19 response, part of a multi-year $4.8 billion allocation, the budget includes record funding for health, education, social services and the protection of people and property.
This budget funds the hiring of 100 continuing care aides, the first year of a three-year commitment to hire 300 continuing care aides.
It supports children with Autism and their families by expanding the ASD program to provide individualized funding for children ages six to 11.
The budget expands eligibility under the Insulin Pump Program which means the cost of an insulin pump is now covered for all residents who needs one. Funding also covers continuous glucose monitoring for those under age 18.
I am pleased to say that this budget supports low-income seniors with the maximum benefit under the Seniors Income Plan increasing by $30/month effective July 1, 2021.
It also reduces ambulance fees for seniors to $135 per trip and provides funding for additional ambulances and a new STARS helicopter.
Budget 2021-22 helps students with the cost of tuition with an increase to the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship from $500 to $750 annually and creates more childcare spaces in Saskatchewan with funding as part of a four-year commitment to provide 750 new licensed centre spaces.
The budget reinstates the Community Rink Affordability Grant, assisting hundreds of communities with operating and improving ice surfaces, funds the Veteran Service Club Support Program which will grow from $100,000 to $1.5 million this year, and also keeps life affordable for families with a benefit for children enrolled in sport, recreation, and cultural activities.
This budget provides the largest ever budget for school divisions, includes the highest ever grant to the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, and delivers on 14 specific campaign commitments to make life more affordable for Saskatchewan people.
You can learn more at saskatchewan.ca/budget.
I welcome the support of our budget from the Prince Albert & District Chamber of Commerce, along with the acknowledgement that our initiatives will help keep the economy moving.
Throughout this pandemic, we have witnessed Saskatchewan’s resolve, as our people made the sacrifices required to protect not only themselves, but also their families, friends, neighbours and co-workers.
When this pandemic is over, we will witness Saskatchewan’s resilience, as our economy recovers and grows, as businesses reopen and more people return to work, and as Saskatchewan recovers to be even stronger than before.
Joe Hargrave is the MLA for Prince Albert Carlton. His column appears monthly.