Sask. throne speech puts COVID-19 fight at forefront, highlights campaign commitments
REGINA -- The fight against COVID-19 will remain the Saskatchewan government’s top priority as it aims to navigate the pandemic and boost the economy.
In the province’s throne speech on Monday, delivered by Lt.-Gov. Russ Mirasty, the province said Saskatchewan is facing the most difficult moment of the pandemic to date.
It said more health orders may be required to slow the spread of COVID-19, but believes the best defence has been when people are vigilant and follow good practices.
“I am confident that will continue in the weeks ahead as we all work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the speech said. “At the same time as we are working to protect lives, my government is also taking steps to protect livelihoods. We can, and will, do both.”
The government touted investments in health care and education to address the pandemic.
It said teachers can expect another allocation of funding in December. There has been more than $85 million directed to the education system for safety.
Along with fighting the pandemic, the province said it will keep promises it made during the election campaign.
It plans to implement these programs while balancing the budget by 2024.
Here is a rundown of what people can expect.
ELECTRICITY BILLS TO BE REDUCED BY 10 PER CENT
Starting tomorrow, SaskPower will reduce electricity charges by 10 per cent for one year.
It will apply to residential customers, farms, industry, businesses, schools, universities and hospitals.
The province said the rebate will save people $260 million, which it believes can be re-invested into the economy.
HOME RENOVATION TAX CREDIT
The first bill introduced into the assembly will create the new Saskatchewan Home Renovation Tax Credit.
The province said homeowners will be able to claim a 10.5 per cent tax credit on up to $20,000 of home renovation expenses between Oct. 1 to December 31, 2022.
Homeowners are expected to save up to $2,100 on the cost of their home improvements. The province hopes the credit will boost the construction sector.
The credit is part of the province’s $7.5 billion infrastructure plan, which includes $2 billion in stimulus funding.
The province will create a Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement.
It will oversee the development and implementation of procurement processes, as well as information and technology infrastructure.
TEMPORARY REDUCTION IN SMALL BUSINESS TAX
The province plans to reduce the small business tax rate to zero per cent. It will be retroactive to Oct. 1.
By July 2023, the tax rate will be restored to two per cent.
The reduction will cost $189 million, which the province believes will be re-invested into the economy.
The province said there has never been a better time to buy local given the pandemic has caused hardship for many small businesses.
ELIGIBILITY EXPANDED FOR INSULIN PROGRAM
All provincial residents will soon be eligible to take part in the insulin pump program.
The province will cover the cost of an insulin pump for anyone who needs one.
Previously, the cost was only covered for people with type 1 diabetes under the age of 25.
The province will also pay for the cost of continuous glucose monitoring for children under the age of 18.
It’s expected this will benefit 600 children in Saskatchewan.
Beginning in 2021, children under the age of 12 who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will receive $6,000 a year to cover the cost for individualized therapeutic supports.
The province said it will hire 300 new continuing care aides to work in long-term care.
Of this number, 180 will work in long-term care homes, 63 for home care services and 57 for expanded home care services in rural and remote areas.
MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTIONS
The province said it will continue to support people with mental health and addictions challenges.
The province’s rural and remote health minister will oversee mental health and addictions programming in the province.
The government has invested $435 million in mental health and addictions in 2020.
SASK. ADVANTAGE SCHOLARSHIP
The province will be expanding the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship from $500 to $750 per year. It is expected to benefit 8,000 students in Saskatchewan.
COST REDUCTIONS FOR AMBULANCE CALLS
The government will be eliminating charges for inter-facility transfers for seniors, and will reduce the maximum cost of other calls to $135 per call. It had been $275 per call.
The seniors income benefit will also be increased to $360 per month from $270 per month.
COMMUNITY RINK PROGRAM
The province is re-starting the community rink affordability program.
The government will provide $2,500 per year to help cover the costs of operating rinks in villages, towns and cities.
It’s expected that 373 communities will be eligible for funding.
The province will be providing $1.5 million per year to the Saskatchewan’s veterans service clubs. The clubs had originally received $100,000 per year.
The province aims to add 750 childcare spaces over the next four years.
It will be re-starting the active families bennefit, which will provide up to $150 per year per child for families with an annual income of under $60,000. There will be $200 for a child with a disability per year.
This will cover the cost of participating in sports, arts or cultural activities.
RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES ACT
The government will be introducing legislation that will allow those who have been sexually assaulted in their accommodations to unilaterally break a long-term lease.
Currently, survivors of interpersonal violence can unilaterally break a long-term lease.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING ACT
The province will be introducing an act that allows human trafficking victims to obtain expedited protection orders.
It will also allow tough enforcement of orders and the seizure of property, bank accounts and suspension of drivers licences.
The government hopes to see Saskatchewan have a population of 1.4 million and 100,000 new jobs by 2030.
It’s looking to increase exports by 50 per cent, and invest $30 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years.
Saskatchewan will be adding three more international trade offices next year. They will be located in Japan, India and Singapore.
The province currently has an office in Shanghai, China.
CARBON TAX FIGHT
The province said it will continue to fight the federal carbon tax.
It said Saskatchewan’s climate change plan works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and helps sustainable industries survive.
In November, Premier Scott Moe appointed a legislative secretary with the job of examining how Saskatchewan can strengthen its autonomy within the federation.
The province has discussed the possibility of having greater control over immigration into Saskatchewan.
As well, it has appointed a provincial firearms officer.