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Sask. budget promotes record spending with $273M projected deficit


Saskatchewan is projecting a $273.2 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year while announcing "record increases and spending" for multiple ministries, including education and healthcare, in its 2024-25 budget released Wednesday.

Total expenses are expected to be $20.1 billion, up nearly eight per cent from 2023, with revenue forecasted to be $19.9 billion, an increase of more than $184 million, the province said, adding that it expects to return to a surplus in 2025-26 thanks to increasing revenues.

Combined, the ministries of education and health will receive $10.89 billion in 2024-25, which the province says includes the “largest-ever” increases in operating funding for both ministries.

“Sometime later this year, Saskatchewan’s population will reach 1.25 million people, that’s up a quarter of a million people since our government was first elected. This budget responds to the challenges of a growing province by reinvesting the benefits of a growing province,” Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said.

The province also announced no provincial tax increases or decreases for the upcoming fiscal year.

Harpauer reiterated, however, that Saskatchewan continues to be the most affordable province in Canada.

“Saskatchewan residents will receive additional relief this year as a result of our decision to stop SaskEnergy and SaskPower from collecting the carbon tax on natural gas and electric residential home heating,” she said.

Harpauer added that the record spending is a direct result of expense pressures due to a growing province and said the revenues to support the extra spending will be seen in the future.

“I am comfortable with the investments we’ve made in this budget and I think the timing is now to invest in services for people and I am also very comfortable and confident that our economy will support it and it will be sustainable into the future,” she said, adding that spending carelessly is not an option.

Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck and finance critic Trent Wotherspoon share their thoughts on the 2024-25 provincial budget. (DonovanMaess/CTVNews)

In a news conference on Wednesday, NDP Leader Carla Beck said the budget does not help people who are struggling to make ends meet.

“This budget won’t help a young mom who’s struggling as families across the province are struggling with higher costs. We see no gas tax relief. We see no new programs to make life more affordable,” she said.

NDP MLA and Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon echoed Beck’s statement, saying it’s “sad but not a real surprise,” that that the government brought forth a budget without cost of living measures.

“What’s in the budget isn’t a question about politics or curiosity. It’s about whether they’re going to pay the bills, pay the rent, buy groceries, whether they need to cut the activities their child loves,” he said.

“It’s real life and it’s real hardship.”

Education funding

The province said $4.4 billion will be given to education sectors, including the Ministries of Education, Advanced Education and Immigration and Career Training.

Of the $4.4 billion, the Ministry of Education, which supports Prekindergarten to Grade 12, will receive a total of $3.3 billion, an increase of $247.8 million, according to the province.

Of the $3.3 billion, the province says school divisions across Saskatchewan will receive a combined total of $2.2 billion for the 2024-25 school year.

“A record increase of $180.0 million, or 8.8 per cent, compared to the 2023-24 Budget,” a news release from the province said.

Specifically set aside for classroom supports will be $356.6 million, $45.6 million more than last year, the province said.

“This includes ongoing funding for the Specialized Support Classroom and Teacher Innovation and Support Fund pilot projects,” a release said.

The province said part of $28.5 million will be used for funding to begin planning for nine new schools that include eventual builds of public and catholic joint-use elementary and high schools in east Regina and Saskatoon.

“We undoubtedly have more kids in our classrooms. We have to build schools and we have to build classrooms and we have to put more resources into our classrooms,” Harpauer said.

While Harpauer touted the province's education budget inside the legislative building, outside thousands of Saskatchewan teachers and their supporters protested as part of a one day provincewide strike.

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and province remain at odds over a new contract, with the last one expiring in August of 2023.

Wotherspoon said when it comes to education, teachers want to be in their classrooms with the resources that students need.

“Our classrooms are at a breaking point. The people working with them are ignored and disrespected,” he said. “There’s a reason why there’s thousands of hard working teachers out in front of the building here today.”

“If things were going well in education, we wouldn’t have 5,000 teachers out talking about the conditions in their classrooms.”

Healthcare spending

Healthcare will receive a total of $7.59 billion, which the province says is a record increase of $726.4 million.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) will receive $4.68 billion, $248.9 million will be going to the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, the “highest-ever” budgets, according to the province.

Provincial initiatives for capacity pressures in Saskatoon and Regina will receive a funding boost of $30 million.

According to the province, the additional money will help address acute-care, community-based care and emergency department capacity.

There will also be $11.6 million the province said would fully fund 250 new or enhanced permanent full-time positions in rural parts of Saskatchewan.

“Our government is committed to continuing to recruit more health care professionals to our province,” Harpauer said.

Nearly $517 million will be used for ongoing and new healthcare projects, the province said.

That includes $55 million for the planned new hospital in Weyburn and $21.9 million for a parkade at the Regina General Hospital.

During the NDP news conference, Wotherspoon said the government is ignoring the solutions brought forth by health care workers and said the system needs to change.

“We can lead the nation in health care again, but we need to rebuild it from the ground up,” he said.

“The majority of health care grads are leaving the province, no plans to fix ambulance services to reduce pressures in or emergency rooms to make sure that an ambulance is there when you call 911.”

Beck said the healthcare funding could be better spent in patient care.

“It's a pretty simple thing to commit to sit down with health care workers and to listen to them about why they're why they're leaving the profession, why they're leaving the province,” she said.

Social services, other highlights

Other highlights from the budget include $1.5 billion for the Ministry of Social Services, which includes increased funding for Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) and Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) clients.

As well, over $255 million in funding will be given to First Nations and Metis people and organizations. A $16.7 million increase will be invested to continue the provincial approach to homelessness, which will include $7.2 million to support emergency shelters.

There will be $42.4 million in municipal revenue sharing, which includes 17 Combined Traffic Service positions.

In terms of supporting the economy and expanding Saskatchewan’s presence internationally, the province will spend $40.6 million for the Ministry of Trade and Export Development, as well as $53.8 million to the Ministry of Energy and Resources.

The province will also maintain the small business tax rate of one per cent until at least June 30, 2025.

Despite the province boasting record spending, both Beck and Wotherspoon said they don’t trust the government to deliver on their promises.

“I think we have a lot of reason as Saskatchewan people not to trust their budgets. I think we have even more reason to not trust that this government is focused on actually fixing the things that people care about in this province,” Beck said.

“This is a government that really has an awful fiscal record, and an awful job of getting the job done with the dollars that they're deploying,” Wotherspoon said.

This is a developing story. More details to come. Top Stories

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