“This budget does not offer a stitch of relief.”
Saskatchewan NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon is giving their perspective as the official opposition, after the Saskatchewan government delivered its budgetary package for the next fiscal year starting April.
As MyLloydminsterNow reported Wednesday the budget has expenses at $17.6 billion, up 3.1 per cent, revenue at $17.2 billion, up 18.5 per cent from the previous year and a deficit of $463 million.
Wotherspoon is concerned about the level of taxation and what they see as the lack of relief offered to the people facing rising living costs.
“We have been calling for an affordability agenda for relief on fuel prices, for a cut to PST on children’s clothes and restaurant meals and other measures to make life more affordable. This budget doesn’t offer a stitch of help to make life more affordable. What it does do is crank up the cost of living with 32 new taxes and fee hikes including a hike in property taxes and power rates.”
The government as of October 1st will be raising PST on tickets to sporting events, concerts, shows, movie theatres, museums, zoos and historical sites, tickets to fairs, rodeos, trade shows, arts and crafts shows, fees to conferences and seminars, professional theatre tickets and subscriptions, gym, golf and curling fees and memberships, as well as hunting and fishing guide fees and outfitter services.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer says the changes are “literally aligning (PST) with GST, which saves a lot of confusion with the different services and providers.”
Wotherspoon does not see the need to raise taxes.
“The finance minister and the premier’s justification is pretty weak and totally flawed on this front and they are completely out of line with the reality that Saskatchewan people are facing with the crushing cost of living.”
Wotherspoon adds the tax even on gym memberships does not support businesses that have been struggling.
“Industries that have been really hard hit as well through the pandemic, if you think of gym memberships, is one of the areas that they are now sticking the PST onto. If you chat with the local gyms and local businesses across the province, they have really suffered through these last couple years. We should be supporting those local businesses. And we should be supporting Saskatchewan people or at least not punishing them for making the choice to do their best to stay healthy.”
Wotherspoon says he is pleased to see funding for the film industry. The Creative Saskatchewan Production Grant Program for film and television has been increased to $10 million. He says this is something he fought for over the last decade to see happen.
“We see some dollars dedicated to rebuild a film industry in Saskatchewan. Now the program they have committed to looks like a bit of a half-measure compared to the kind of competitiveness that we are going to need to grow this industry and compete with other provinces. But this was a once thriving industry in Saskatchewan and it was scrapped by the Sask Party in 2012.”
Wotherspoon continues that the film sector has suffered economic loss even as Alberta and Manitoba are thriving.
On education which got $3.8 billion, Wotherspoon has concerns.
“The education budget is deceptive,but if you chat with the school boards across the province, they are unhappy with the situation. Because the reality is the province is trying to say they are bringing more money to it, but because of the fixed costs folks have with their contractors, there’s no additional dollars to deal with inflation across classrooms. Classrooms that were already underfunded before the pandemic are actually going to be facing cuts.”
The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation critiqued that the budget was a more than three per cent cut to K-12 operational spending.
On health which got over $6 billion, the NDP leader Ryan Meili says, “Health care was run to the red line for years. The pandemic has revealed how bad it is and this budget doesn’t get anywhere close to fixing the problem.”
Wotherspoon adds,”We really don’t see the investment that’s needed right now to respond to the magnitude of the challenges that we are facing.”
In wrapping up, Wotherspoon advocates against new taxes. He recommends offering relief on fuel and reducing rates on auto-insurance in the province. The NDP would also invest in the classroom, support seniors with a new model of home care to ensure their dignity and security, and promote measures to help struggling families.
“This is a budget that actually cuts labour force development by 41 per cent, at a time when we really need to make sure we are doing all we can to extend opportunity and train Saskatchewan people to make sure they can reach their potential.”