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'Things I never expected to see': Sask. budget a fascinating one for political science prof.

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Wednesday’s provincial budget was a fascinating one that included announcements University of Regina political science professor Jim Farney said he never expected to see in an election year.

“The Sask. Party choosing a deficit, they’ve always tried to end on a balance, this year it’s small but they are deficit spending,” Farney said.

The province announced a projected $273 million deficit, but also promoted record spending and funding increases nearly across the board including for the ministries of education and health.

Farney said he was also intrigued by all the messaging that advertised the record spending.

“In all the messaging [it said], ‘we’re very proud’ of kind of the significant spending increases that the budget introduced.”

Farney said whether the funding increases were enough or not could turn into one of the main debates at the Legislature this spring between the Sask. Party and opposition NDP.

With 2024 being an election year in Saskatchewan Farney was asked why it seemed there was no vote grabbing headlines, he said modern elections have changed from 20 years ago.

“I think 20 years ago they might have packaged it that way. The way modern elections work is more about reaching and engaging lots of vey specific groups of peoples.” Farney said.

According to Farney, the technique is called micro-targeting.

“When you read this budget front to back you can see how you could package it that way and I think that’s they type of election campaign we will see. We’ve got this topline theme of the government having listened to people and invested and then a bunch of little promises that roll out,” Farney said.

Farney added he will be curious to watch the opposition NDP over the next few weeks and how they recalibrate their message of what they would do if they had the opportunity to form government.

“I think the challenge from the opposition is going to be, that they’ve been trying to talk about affordability, which is a key concern for people and advocating for both tax cuts and reinvestment. I don’t think anybody was anticipating the scale of the reinvestment that the government announced,” he said.

Sask. Teachers contract dispute

Nearly overshadowing the budget on Wednesday were the thousands of teachers and their supporters picketing outside the legislative building as part of a one day strike as they remain at odds with the province over a new contract.

Farney says right now it’s very tough to tell how this could affect the Sask. Party at the polls come election time because there are no public opinion polls providing people the opportunity for people to say whose side they’re on.

“As strikes and labour action go on, people move around. I do think it doesn't solve, because a budget can’t solve what’s really I think the key sticking point at this point, which is classroom size and composition,” he explained.

Farney said classroom size and composition is not really a budgetary matter and something he didn’t expect to be solved with the budget.

“Teachers had a large and very polite protest outside the legislature and so I think its part of this ongoing debate that the budget couldn’t solve,” he said.

Buried at the back of budget documents was something Farney found to be of significant importance – a forecast that population growth will continue to slightly outpace GDP growth.

“What that means is we will have more people who need healthcare, we will have more kids in schools and those needs will grow faster than the economy,” Farney said.

Farney said that will become obvious over the next five years in a series of difficult decisions like the ongoing job action with Saskatchewan’s teachers.

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