Sask. Party and NDP square off on debt ahead of Wednesday’s budget

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

With an eye to Wednesday’s budget announcement the Opposition took aim at the past record of the current government.

NDP Leader Carla Beck and finance critic Trent Wotherspoon spoke Monday morning about debt, and government spending.

As sure as you can tell the season by the flight path of Canadian Geese, you can tell it’s an election year by the deployment of political rhetoric.

Beck said as much.

“To state the obvious, it’s an election year,” she said.

The NDP focused on the record of the government in accruing, in their words, “$31.5 billion” in debt, accounting for all public accounts.

“In a mere six years, Premier Scott Moe has nearly doubled Saskatchewan debt. With provincial debt expected to reach an all time record later this week,” said Beck.

Wotherspoon brought up the additional $757 million in special warrants approved in February, combining the projected deficit and that into a billion dollar deficit calling it “a $2-billion miss on the budget.”

During question period Monday, Beck brought up the increase in debt from former premier Brad Wall. Beck said Saskatchewan was “$17.6 billion in debt. At mid year, we had over $31 billion. That’s nearly double,” said Beck who anticipated another increase on Wednesday.

Moe spoke on capital expenses increasing, upping agricultural exports to India, $50 billion worth of exports to 150 countries.

“In a few days” people will see “investments in our classrooms, investments in care and investments in our communities,” the premier said.

Beck noted again the province was on track to double provincial debt, with Moe adding $14 billion to the running tally.

“We’ll remember Grant Devine as the conservative premier who nearly bankrupt this province. But this premier is in a league of his own,” said Beck.

Moe argued that “net debt to GDP” is the metric used by the federal government and from that perspective Saskatchewan has the second lowest net debt-to-GDP in Canada, before talking about the NDP governments of the past, hinting that there will be more capital dollars for new schools in the budget.

“Over the last two fiscal years the Government of Saskatchewan has paid down $2.5 billion in operating debt,” read a statement from the province.

During question period Beck called Moe’s economic stewardship “incompetent.”

In response to a question from Wotherspoon, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said she wondered “how the members opposite would even begin to fund their plan,” asking the NDP what taxes they’d increase.

“It is easy to defend when you look at the new schools across our province, it’s easy to defend when you look at the new hospitals we’ve built,” Harpauer said when asked how the government defends adding onto the provincial debt.

Harpauer asked what hospital the Opposition would have chosen not to build, calling the NDP’s record “abysmal.”

A provincial election is slated to occur on or before Oct. 28 and the budget will be announced on Wednesday afternoon.