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'I'd rather pay the fuel tax': Debate swirls over Sask. affordability following budget

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Saskatchewan’s opposition NDP says an Angus Reid poll shows many people in the province continue to struggle financially, proving that affordability needed to be further addressed in Wednesday’s provincial budget.

According to the poll, 35 per cent of people surveyed in Saskatchewan are “struggling” while another 22 per cent said they were “uncomfortable.”

The NDP is continuing to ask for a pause in the provincial gas tax to address affordability, which currently adds 15 cents per litre at the pumps for both gasoline and diesel.

“Saskatchewan is the only prairie province that has still not cut provincial fuel taxes in light of generational cost-of-living challenges,” the NDP said in a release, adding that Manitoba’s Wab Kinew has now indicated he’s considering extending the gas tax cut in his province.

“In Saskatchewan, you can earn $20,000 more before you pay income tax than you do in Manitoba, I’d rather pay the fuel tax than pay income tax on $20,000,” Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said.

Harpauer also pointed out that Manitoba has a provincial sales tax (PST) that is one percentage point higher than Saskatchewan’s.

“Those most stressed are Canadians in the middle of their working lives and potentially child raising. Among 35- to 54-year-olds, the proportion of the struggling is at its highest,” the poll said.

Among 1,310 Canadians who said they are currently struggling, 61 per cent said they feel they will be worse off in a year’s time. Of those who said they currently feel “uncomfortable” 31 per cent said they believe they will be worse off in one year.

In Saskatchewan, 44 per cent of those surveyed said that paying their mortgage or rent is currently “very difficult” or “tough.” Another 44 per cent said making those payments was currently “manageable,” only 12 per cent said making their mortgage or rent payments was currently easy and causing no stress at all.

NDP leader Carla Beck opened Question Period Thursday morning asking why the province offered nothing new to aid residents struggling with the cost of living.

Premier Scott Moe said there is currently over $2 billion invested into affordability measures and those were reaffirmed in Wednesday's budget.

“We continue to ensure that 112,000 people in this province, low income families many of them, are not on our provincial tax rolls at all,” Moe said.

“There are a number of other incentives that were continued in the budget, affordability measures,” Moe said.

Moe pointed to a Saskatchewan employment program that helps low income families find work, saying it received $17 million boost in the budget.

“If there were people in this province struggling before the budget and there’s nothing new to deliver cost of living relief, they’re going to continue to struggle after the budget,” NDP leader Carla Beck said.

“There’s nothing new at all and the premier and his whole tired and out of touch government must think that everyone in this province is doing just fine,” Beck added.

Angus Reid said the poll was conducted online from Feb. 28 to March 6 among a representative of 4,550 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum.

“A probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20,” Angus Reid said.

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