Government announces forthcoming tax changes, autism funding in throne speech

The Saskatchewan Legislature is shown. © Submitted photo

Tax measures include increase in corporate tax rate, option for seniors to defer education property taxes

The provincial government outlined its priorities for the next year in an “ambitious” throne speech Wednesday, Brad Wall’s last as premier.

The outline of the provincial government’s plan included tax changes, health and education funding and the threat of a trade war with Alberta over the province’s beer regulations.

‘Saskatchewan has enjoyed a decade of growth and our government is working to ensure our province keeps growing stronger,” Wall said in a press release.

‘Today’s throne speech outlines our plan to strengthen our economy, continue to improve important services like health care and education, protect our communities, and carefully manage the province’s finances.”

The speech contained several promises about two of the government’s largest responsibilities, health and education.

Health measures included the promise to fulfill a commitment to provide funding to children under six with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) improve the rate of organ donation and continue to reduce health care administration costs through the ongoing consolidation of 12 regional health authorities into a single province-wide authority.

The funding for children with ASD will consist of $4,000 per year per child, for a total investment of about $2.8 million in the next fiscal year. The funding is in addition to the approximately $8 million already spent annually on ASD services within the health care system.

The province will work to increase organ donation through a program led by donor physicians to educate and support other health care providers, championing organ donations across the province. The Sask. Party will also amend regulations to allow for donation after cardio-circulatory death and implement a mandatory referral program. At the same time, they will explore the option of moving to a presumed consent model, where every citizen is assumed to be an organ donor unless they opt out.

The throne speech’s promises surrounding education include legislative measures, the development of new curriculum and funding to support increased math literacy.

The province, which sided with the Catholic school divisions in opposing a court decision that prohibited public funding for non-Catholic students attending Catholic school, announced plans to pass legislation invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms “to protect the right to school choice.”

That decision could anger public school divisions, which have long argued Catholic schools should only be for Catholic students.

The province has also announced the pause on curriculum development has been lifted, and “curriculum renewal” will continue in a number of subject areas. While some areas will be undergoing a curriculum review, the province announced it will also begin developing computer coding curriculum to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Brad Wall’s Sask. Party also promised to expand math reinforcement and supports in response to low math testing scores. This will be done by “broadening access to common-sense methods that have been proven successful in the past and in other jurisdictions,” the speech said. International models will also be explored.

The province will also look to improve the quality of French and French as a second language instruction by working with other provinces, including Quebec.

Finally, the speech promised $456 million in funding for postsecondary programs and skills training, as well as employment initiatives, for Indigenous students.

School boards will also be looking closely at one of the tax measures proposed in the Speech from the Throne.

The province is promising to introduce a seniors education property tax deferral program, which will give seniors with household incomes under $70,000 the option to defer the education portion of property taxes on their home.

That’s not the only tax measure introduced in the speech. Wall also intends to return the corporate tax rate to 12 per cent. It was lowered to 11 per cent previously to match the rate in B.C. Now that B.C. has raised its rate to 12 per cent, Saskatchewan did as well, bringing it in line with other provinces as the lowest rate in Canada. To provide more wiggle room for small business owners, the province will raise the small business income threshold from $500,000 to $600,000, making it the highest in Canada.

Those tax initiatives were included in a portion of the speech detailing tax and trade issues.

The speech lauded the forthcoming Canada Free Trade Agreement, and urged NAFTA negotiators to remember the benefits of free trade and pitfalls of protectionism.

The speech also railed against Alberta’s brewery tax credit program, where in-province brewers receive a tax credit, making their products cheaper to produce and sell. The practice was shot down in court as a violation of interprovincial trade agreements, a decision Alberta has announced it will appeal.

In response, Saskatchewan is considering “a range of retaliatory measures.” What those measures could entail was not specified.

The speech also criticized the planned federally-imposed carbon tax, pledging to introduce “further actions that actually reduce emissions” and threatening a legal challenge against the carbon tax plan.”

Other measures announced in the speech include:

  • A targeted mineral development strategy whtich will cover a portion of costs associated with ground-based exploration
  • An agriculture value-added new growth incentive to attract investment
  • The creation of a new provincial park in porcupine hills, southeast of Hudson Bay
  • $300 million in improvements to Sasktel’s network
  • The previously-announced repeal of measures in Bill 40 that would allow the province to sell up to 49 per cent of a Crown corporation
  • Legislation allowing SGI to offer “affordable” insurance for Uber and Lyft ride-sharing services to provide another option to get home and reduce impaired driving
  • A plan to work with smaller communities to attract or establish ride-sharing networks
  • A Privacy Act amendment allowing victims of unauthorized distribution of intimate images to sue for compensation in civil action with reverse onus on the defendant (the person who released the images) to prove the person suing (the plaintiff) consented to the release of the images. The amendment will also allow people to bring the claims forward in small claims court, instead of in Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • Measures to improve disclosures of tenant landlord dispute board

The Herald is following up on several of these announced policies. Stories will be posted as they are completed over the coming days.