The last week in Saskatchewan politics was about as chaotic as it can get. A state of emergency declaration, dozens of cases of COVID-19 and rising, and oh yeah, the budget that never was.
On March 17 we were informed that instead of releasing a full budget, the government would release investment estimates with no revenue projections due to the rapid outbreak of COVID-19 and the damage it is doing on economies in Saskatchewan, Canada and around the globe.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer’s position in releasing the estimates in lieu of a full budget was to make sure the government could move ahead with new spending initiatives and stimulus going into the new fiscal year.
A plan that is good in theory, but in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, as opposition leader Ryan Meili put it, “it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on,” in the sense of other than the significant hike in healthcare, which we can more than assume will remain in tune with the current state of the province, there is not much backbone and could clearly be severely adjusted at any time as trends in the economy continue to nose dive in a way many people have never seen before.
Harpauer said during the budget estimate statement, with $1.3 billion in liquid cash reserves, Saskatchewan is in a “strong position to meet this challenge.”
She also said she is aware they are going to have to run a deficit.
You have to wonder just how far that $1.3 billion could actually go as oil dips to new lows constantly, coal is being phased out and there is an abundance of potash in the world that continues to mess with the market.
On top of all that, the agriculture industry is also suffering from the trade problems we have run into with China. These are all important industries that make up a large part of Saskatchewan’s economy.
We are also so close to further restrictions that could see everything but essential services shut down, as COVID-19 cases continue to jump on a daily basis.
There is a feeling of some sort of empathy for Premier Scott Moe and company. It wasn’t long ago we were dealing with rumblings of a snap election, where Moe toyed with the idea of having one because of COVID-19.
Boy did that not age well.
We are not far removed when things with the Sask. Party heading into a snap election would more than likely see them dominating the polls through a budget, had it been fully completed, would keep residents of the province hopeful amid tough times before the pandemic. There was also the announcement of a new hospital in Prince Albert.
The Sask. Party had so much momentum before the pandemic became such a reality check for all of us.
You could see the anguish behind Moe’s eyes as he continued to deliver restrictions and news revolving around what has become an everyday occurrence for how we have to adjust our own lives for a greater good.
There are still some positives. Estevan will open up a 20-bed provincial addictions centre, specializing in the treatment of crystal meth later this year. The hospital announcement for Prince Albert is long overdue, and a positive for everyone in the area, once it’s finally constructed.
It is good to know that although there was not a formal budget, the government is taking steps to ensure that at least on the healthcare front, funding will continue to be there.
The government also added that no matter what the cost is to fight COVID-19, the resources will be there to fund healthcare professionals for whatever is needed to flatten the curve.
It’s the rest of the almost-budget that could be damaging for the province. There will be no clear indication of what could see massive cuts until there is an official one tabled, which we will not see for months.
There are many projects that need funding, and no one can tell who will suffer from the economy taking one of the hardest hits in recent memory.
There is already a debacle on the table with the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation that needs managing, and who knows if money will remain on the table to help that come to an end.
As a reporter, trying to imagine the thought process behind making massive decisions in the midst of a pandemic is bone-chilling. Most people have no idea how to operate in a scenario the majority of us have never experienced.
It’s a job that not many people could say they would take on in situations like this. It’s easy to lambast the movers and shakers in times of turmoil, but it remains to be seen how prepared the government really is for the situation we currently find ourselves in.
For the budget that never was, it will be interesting to see how the province, and the country, get themselves back on track when this finally settles down.
Jordan Stricker is Glacier Media’s Local Journalism Initiative reporter, covering the Saskatchewan Legislature. Glacier is the parent company of Pipeline News.