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'A huge amount': NDP says Sask. government 'quietly' spending additional $757M

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Saskatchewan’s NDP opposition is accusing the provincial government of trying to secretly pass an extra $757 million of additional spending one month before the release of the next provincial budget.

In a news release, the opposition said cabinet approval of the spending was “quietly posted” on the government’s website “without the normal fanfare” and was not included in the last provincial budget.

“This is a huge amount of money without budget authorization or any clarity on how it is being spent,” NDP Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon said in the release.

The government responded to the accusations of mismanagement in a written statement, saying it’s following “best practices” in providing a mid-year financial update on Nov. 27, 2023 and a third-quarter update expected on budget day.

In this case, the government said a “Special Warrant” was used to spend money not announced in its latest budget.

“Special Warrants are used when no appropriation for the necessary expenditure exists within the current fiscal year. All Special Warrants are ultimately reviewed by the Legislature at the next available sitting, as Supplementary Estimates,” the statement said.

The NDP said the third-quarter update needs to be released sooner, saying the government’s current structure of a budget day release comes “when the focus is on the plan for the year ahead.”

The government did provide details on $741 million in spending, but did not specify what, if any, was accounted for with additional money outside the current budget. Additional spending by the province could be erased by incoming revenue, but that is generally not known at the time the extra money is used.

Included in that total was $450 million for the Ministry of Health, which the province said is being put toward addressing operating pressures at the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), funding for the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and a newly negotiated contract with the Saskatchewan Medical Association and “higher-than-budgeted fee-for-service and out-of-province utilization.”

About $132 million of the cash injection to the health ministry is going to unforeseen staff compensation pressures.

An executive council spokesperson says the money includes funding for the Saskatchewan Health Authority's capacity pressure action plans in Regina and Saskatoon, a dual hiring blitz designed to relieve bottlenecks in patient care at the cities' hospitals.

The Saskatchewan Nurses' Union has cautioned that many of these new jobs are "recycled positions" — existing temporary positions that have been relabelled as permanent.

“In order to address the current issues that we face when it comes to pressure on our emergency departments and elsewhere in the hospitals ... that does come at a cost,” said Minister of Health Everett Hindley.

Other funding sources in the government’s total include approximately:

  • $94.5 million for the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources
  • $86.3 million for the Ministry of Agriculture
  • $23.4 million for the Ministry of Highways
  • $22.75 million for the Ministry of Social Services
  • $20.3 million for the Ministry of Environment
  • $17.7 million for the Ministry of Government Relations
  • $8.99 million for the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement
  • $8.97 million for the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety
  • $5 million for the Saskatchewan Resarch Council
  • $1.82 million for the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport
  • $1.66 million for the Ministry of Justice

Reasoning for the dollar amounts provided included the appropriation for additional pressures to higher than budgeted for winter activities and appropriation for the continued clean-up of abandoned mining sites.

The government has been projecting a $250 million deficit for the year ending March 31. These latest expenditures could boost the total to $1 billion, although that may be offset by an improvement in revenue.

-- With files from Wayne Mantyka and Rory MacLean

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