The provincial government has projected a $1 billion surplus for the 2023-24 fiscal year, largely due to a $1.5 billion increase in tax revenue, and a $435 million increase in non-renewable resource revenue.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said they expect Saskatchewan will bring in $19.7 billion in total revenue next fiscal year, with $18.7 billion in expenses. Harpauer said they would use that $1 billion surplus to pay off operating debt over the next year, saving the province money on interest payments.
“Saskatchewan is growing at its fastest pace in more than a century,” she said in a media release. “This budget is designed to ensure that growth continues and that it’s growth that works for everyone.”
Harpauer credited strong commodity prices, solid job growth, increased private investment, and a rebound in crop production for the increase in revenue.
Estimated revenues of $19.7 billion are 14.7 per cent higher than last year’s budget. The province expects to bring in $9.6 billion in taxation revenue, along with $3.3 billion in non-renewable resource revenue.
The province’s $18.7 in estimated expenses mark a 5.9 per cent increase over the year before. The bulk of those expenses fall under healthcare ($6.9 billion), followed by education ($4 billion), capital infrastructure projects ($3.7 billion), social services and assistance ($1.7 billion), and public safety and the justice system ($1 billion).
The biggest funding increases are in the healthcare sector. The province has promised an increase of $82.7 million to fund a Health Human Resources (HHR) action plan to recruit, train, incentivize, and retain healthcare professionals. The budget also includes an extra $44.9 million to recruit and fill 250 full-time healthcare positions, and expand some part-time positions to full-time in rural and remote areas.
The province also includes a $42.5 million increase to fund 6,000 more surgeries in the next fiscal year, a move Harpauer said would reduce the province’s surgical waitlist to its pre-pandemic levels by March 2024. It also includes $25.2 million in new funding to add 550 seats across 18 health training programs in Saskatchewan, including $10 million to expand the province’s nursing programs by 150 seats.
Other funding increases include a $39 million increase to improve care for seniors, including $5.5 million to hire 75 continuing care assistants, along with an extra $7 million to reduce wait times for CT and MRI scans, and a $26.6 million increase to low income benefits, including the Saskatchewan Income Support, Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability, the Senior’s Income Plan, and the Personal Care Home Benefit. The province also promised a $13.5 million increase for community-based organizations (CBOs) who deliver social services, and $876,000 over three years to expand counselling and support services for domestic violence victims living in second stage housing. This type of housing gives women who leave their abusive partners a place to stay.
“This budget is about more people, more jobs, and more opportunities,” Harpauer said. “More doctors, more nurses, and more surgeries. More students, more schools, and more affordable child care. More support for seniors, for young people, and for people with disabilities. Safer families and safer communities. A growing economy, a brighter future, and a growing province whose best days are still ahead.”
The government’s budget received strong criticism from NDP leader Carla Beck and finance critic Trent Wotherspoon, who said Premier Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party should use the $1 billion surplus to reduce utility rates or provide tax relief for struggling residents.
“We have the second highest rates of financial insecurity in Canada and despite the government sitting on massive resource revenues there’s not a stitch of serious cost relief for ordinary Saskatchewan families,” Beck said in a press release. “Resources belong to Saskatchewan people and it’s simply unfair for Moe to sit on a pile of cash while people are struggling to stay afloat.”
Beck added that the province’s healthcare investments aren’t enough to replenish a system she said is on the verge of collapse. She pointed to a provincial auditor’s report from December 2022 which said the SHA needed to recruit more than 2,000 workers over the next five years, including 840 continuing care assistants, 520 registered nurses, and 180 medical laboratory technicians.
“They had a chance to bring forward an ambitious plan for our health system and they blew it,” Beck said in the press release. “Instead, they’re ploughing forward with the same old plan that the provincial auditor lambasted.”
The budget also received strong condemnation from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. CTF Prairie Director Gage Haubrich said they were disappointed with the lack of tax relief, and by the lack of a long-term plan to reduce the province’s debt.
“The government is seeing close to record revenues but returning none of it to taxpayers,” Haubrich said. “Other provinces have been able to provide relief to residents, but Saskatchewan families are getting left out in the cold in this budget.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) echoed those concerns. CFIB provincial affairs director Brianna Solberg said they appreciated the province’s decision to include no new taxes or cost increases. However, she said they wanted to see more tax relief or other measures that would help small businesses lower their expenses.
“With only half of small businesses back to normal sales levels and the majority still staring down significant pandemic-related debt and stress, many small business owners will still require additional help in order to stay open,” Solberg said.
The CFIB did credit the province for their healthcare investments, as did the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM). SARM president Ray Orb said those healthcare investments are desperately needed as service disruptions, aging facilities, and struggles recruiting healthcare professionals are major problems in rural areas.
Orb also said they were encouraged to see $8.9 million in funding for the Saskatchewan Firearms Program, and looked forward to meeting with the province and the RCMP on ways to use this investment to fill gaps in rural policing. Orb said rural Saskatchewan is already underserved by current police resources, and they’ll need a coordinated effort if they’re going to change that.
The Saskatchewan Labour Federation (SLF) blasted the province for not using the extra resource revenue to lower utility rates or increase the minimum wage. SLF president Lori Johb said Saskatchewan workers face a cost-of-living crisis, and failing to give workers a raise or help reduce their expenses would only make it worse.
“Scott Moe’s provincial budget misses the mark,” Johb said in a press release. “It does not invest in the workers that power our economy and provide our public services.”