Unions, NDP call for restored funding ahead of April 10 provincial budget

The protesters on the parking lot of the Buckland firehall in 2017. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Unions, interest groups and the official opposition are calling on the provincial governments to back off of planned cuts and invest money in things like education ahead of next week’s provincial budget.

The budget is due to be tabled by finance minister Donna Harpauer Tuesday afternoon. Early indications are the Saskatchewan Party will put forward another tough budget.

Prince Albert MLA Joe Hargrave said as much in an interview with the Herald in March.

“There are still revenue shortfalls for sure. I’m not expecting it to be a cakewalk. I’m expecting a pretty tough budget.

But other groups want to see some changes. SGEU, CUPE, the NDP and the Social Work Student Society sent out press releases Thursday asking for a different approach from the provincial government.

Social Work students at the Saskatoon Campus of the University of Regina sent the first of the releases out Thursday morning. The Social Work Student Society (SWSS) is appealing to the province to halt post-secondary cuts and restore funding to their program. They said they recently learned that a number of spring and summer courses they need for their degrees will be reduced in 2018.

“Programming was being reduced due to a lack of resources at the University of Regina directly linked to the 3% cut in funding to post-secondary education in last year’s Provincial Budget,” the SWSS said.

SWSS Saskatoon chapter president Heather Crooks said the cuts are threatening the program’s accreditation.

“The budget cuts put increased pressure on a program that was already bursting at the seams. Our program is relying heavily on sessional instructors to deliver our courses. In fact, we have learned that the Faculty of Social Work is at risk of losing its accreditation with the Canadian Association of Social Work Education if majority of classes continue to be taught by sessional (instructors),” she said, calling the situation “unsustainable and unacceptable.”

CUPE also called for funding for education. The public sector union said that despite increased enrollment, K-12 education has been underfunded, including $54.2 million in cuts to school and classroom supports.

The union identified cuts or reduced hours for front-line staff at several school divisions, including Chinook, Good Spirit, Horizon, Prairie South, Prairie Spirit, Prairie Valley, Regina Public, Saskatchewan Rivers, Saskatoon Public, St. Paul’s Catholic and Sun West.

CUPE said wages for support staff have not kept up with inflation, and also criticized the use of the P3 model to build schools, citing a government report in Manitoba that building them without the P3 model was more cost effective.

Premier Scott Moe recently announced an emergency allocation of $7.5 million for schools, increasing to $30 million in the budget. CUPE argued the move isn’t enough.

While CUPE and SWSS are calling for more funding for education, SGEU is asking for a different sort of cut.

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union is calling on Scott Moe to end contracts with private highways consultants.

The union said the Ministry of Highways spent $49 million on private consultants last year, compared to $12 million in 2009. They also referenced a 2014 report by the auditor investigating the use of consultants in Central Services, pointing out that the use lacked proper oversight and was not shown to be cost-effective.

“In light of the devastating budget cuts imposed on families and communities in the past year, unnecessary spending on handouts to private companies, who are often from outside the province, needs to be reined in,” said SGEU president Bob Bymoen.

“We call on government to end costly contacts with the private consultants and rebuild the capacity of the public service so our highways are built and maintained in the most cost-effective manner.”

The NDP also put out a statement, calling for investments in areas that will reduce costs long term. The NDP identified these areas as education, housing, health care and early childhood development. They said funding those areas will reduce costs in key areas such as health, justice and social services.

“What we need in this budget are the right investments that will get Saskatchewan people back to work and grow the economy,” NDP Leader Ryan Meili said. “The Sask. Party has taken a short-sighted approach in previous budgets, spending excessively on pet projects while cutting the core services that are the foundation for future prosperity. That’s why we’re calling on the Sask. Party to change their approach and budget with the best interests of all Saskatchewan people in mind.”