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Province to spend $14.15 billion this year, up 3.1 per cent from last year

'This is an unprecedented and challenging time in our province, our country and the world. We are all feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our government’s first priority is the safety and health of Saskatchewan people," said finance Minister Donna Harpauer
sask legislature stock
Saskatchewan Legislature (Shutterstock)

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer tabled the provincial government’s 2020-21 estimates on March 18, which shows the government’s spending plans for the coming year.

The 2020-21 estimates represent $14.15 billion of government expense through ministries and agencies, an increase of 3.1 per cent from 2019-20, which includes important investments and spending increases in health care, education, social services and infrastructure, according to a news release.

The government is taking the unusual step of tabling the spending estimates without revenue forecasts for the coming year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is an unprecedented and challenging time in our province, our country and the world,” Harpauer said. “We are all feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our government’s first priority is the safety and health of Saskatchewan people. That is precisely why we need to proceed with these expenditures now, providing stability and much needed new spending at the start of the fiscal year. It is particularly important our health-care funding flows and our infrastructure investment is in place to help our economy.

“We have a very strong cash position of $1.3 billion, so we are well positioned to manage through this challenging time, and are able to provide additional resources to address the health and economic challenges of COVID-19 as required.”

Capital investment of $2.7 billion by Crown corporations and executive government will serve as an important economic stimulus during this challenging time, the news release said.

Health funding

The Ministry of Health’s expense is $5.77 billion, a record investment and an increase of more than $211 million, or 3.8 per cent, from one year ago. The government will provide the Saskatchewan Health Authority with a $3.74 billion grant this year, an increase of $140.6 million, or 3.9 per cent over last year. This funds the doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals who on the front lines against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health funding includes $434.5 million for mental health and addictions supports and services, including a targeted increase of $12 million compared to last year, with nearly $5.8 million to support addictions initiatives and a further $6.2 million to fund enhanced mental health services. This spending will establish specialized crystal meth in-patient treatment services in Estevan, increase access to mental health and addictions treatment beds and supports, and provide for intensive supports for children and youth.

An additional $20 million is being provided to address surgical wait times and pay for about 3,700 additional surgeries, helping thousands of Saskatchewan patients receive their procedures sooner.

The Saskatchewan Cancer Agency will receive a further $18.4 million, up more than 10 per cent compared to last year, bringing its annual grant to a record $196.4 million.

Nearly $8 million in new funding for 36 acute care beds at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon and $2.3 million for 100 new community-based long-term care beds in Regina and Emerald Park are being provided.

Education funding

The Ministry of Education’s expense is $2.57 billion, an increase of $86 million, or 3.5 per cent from 2019-20. Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions will receive $1.94 billion in operating funding for the 2020-21 school year — a $42 million-increase over last year to address enrolment growth, inflation and collective bargaining.

The Ministry of Social Services’ expense is $1.29 billion, up $50.6 million or 4.1 per cent from 2019-20. Increased funding of $10.9 million to third-party service providers includes a $6.8 million-increase for those who work with people with intellectual disabilities. Service providers supporting at-risk children, youth and families will receive a $2.5 million increase.

There is $739 million, an increase of $11.2 million, for the Ministry of Advanced Education for post-secondary institutions and to strengthen supports for students and graduates, including maintaining the Graduate Retention Program — the most aggressive youth retention program in Canada, the news release said.

Vaccine funding

There is an increase in funding to the Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Organization (VIDO) to support construction of a new vaccine manufacturing plant. A VIDO research team is working with colleagues across Canada to develop and fast-track the testing of a coronavirus vaccine.

A record $278 million in Municipal Revenue Sharing is being provided through the Ministry of Government Relations. Revenue sharing is up nearly $27 million from last year, or 11 per cent, and up almost 119 per cent since 2007-08.

This year’s estimates include more than $213 million in targeted investment to help meet the priorities of Aboriginal communities, businesses and organizations — up $6.1 million, or nearly three per cent, from last year.

There is more than $85 million for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, which supports the province’s people, municipalities and service providers, and is positioned to address any emergency that may arise. There is a $1.7 million-increase in expense for the Gang Violence Reduction Strategy to address gun and gang activity. There is also an increase of $14 million to fund operations of community-service organizations that provide vital contributions —strengthening families and assisting those who are most vulnerable.

PST rebate

A PST rebate for new home construction is being provided, of up to 42 per cent of the PST paid on a new house contract up to $350,000, excluding the land, for new homes purchased after March 31, 2020, and before April 1, 2023. This not only helps the construction industry, Saskatchewan’s homebuilders and associated trades that are important job creators, it helps families afford a newly built home, the news release said.

The Oil Infrastructure Investment Program is being introduced. It is a SaskFirst new growth tax incentive that the Ministry of Energy and Resources is administering to support new and expanded pipelines, as well as new pipeline terminals, to flow oil to markets.

The government is also committed to investing in capital, the news release said. In 2020-21 seven new school projects and three major renovation projects are part of $130.4 million in education capital funding — up nearly $35 million, or more than 36 per cent, compared to last year.

New school construction

This year’s projects include a new joint-use elementary school in Harbour Landing in Regina, as well as a joint-use consolidation of St. Peter, St. Michael and Imperial elementary schools in Regina. Other new school projects include St. Frances Elementary School in Saskatoon, the consolidation of Princess Alexandra, King George and Pleasant Hill elementary schools in Saskatoon, and a new consolidated elementary and high school in Carrot River.

Nearly $142 million in health care capital spending this year includes $15 million to support the planning, design and procurement activities for the more than $300 million project for a renewed and expanded Prince Albert Victoria Hospital. Also, a $15.7 million investment will continue construction of a new, 72-bed, long-term seniors’ care home in Meadow Lake.

There is also $4.0 million for diagnostic imaging equipment, including $2.0 million to fulfil government’s commitment for a new CT scanner in Melfort.

Infrastructure upgrades

Nearly $648 million will be spent to improve safety and increase the capacity of Saskatchewan’s highways. More than 1,000 kilometres of provincial highways will be upgraded in 2020-21, the news release said. This year’s estimates include nearly $166 million for municipal projects.

There are also plans by the Crown corporations to invest $1.7 billion over the next year for upgrades to improve services provided by SaskPower, SaskTel and SaskEnergy.