After a delay of nearly three-months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislative session resumed today, and the Finance Minister delivered the 2020-21 Budget. Honourable Donna Harpauer introduced what she calls a $2.4 billion “pandemic deficit” budget that, while significant, is much smaller than the deficits expected in many other provinces this fiscal year.

Revenue is forecast to be $13.6 billion, down $1.2 billion, or about eight per cent from last year, a result of the closing of domestic and global economies to contain the spread of COVID-19, and the collapse in oil price. The 2020-21 Budget includes $16.1 billion in spending, an increase of $1.1 billion, or about seven per cent compared to last year. The increase includes record spending on health care, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget also invests strongly into many needed programs and services.

In an effort to help stimulate Saskatchewan’s economic recovery and create jobs, the province’s capital plan in the 2020-21 Budget includes a $3.1 billion investment earmarked to build hospitals, schools, highways, municipal and Crown corporation infrastructure. Over the next two years the province will invest $7.5 billion as part of its capital plan, which includes $2.0 billion announced in May. The 2020-21 Budget includes more than $1.0 billion in support to fight the pandemic, for individuals, for businesses and for initiatives to help the economy recover.

Here are a few highlights from the Provincial Budget 2020-21:

  • Seven new school projects and three major renovation projects have been announced to date, as part of nearly $168 million in education capital funding—up more than $72 million, or 75 per cent, compared to last year.
  • The 2020-21 Budget builds hospitals, providing $172 million in health care capital spending—including $15 million this year to support the planning, design and procurement activities for the more than $300 million project for a renewed and expanded Prince Albert Victoria Hospital.
  • A $15.7 million investment will continue construction of a new, 72-bed, long-term seniors care facility in Meadow Lake.  The 2020-21 Budget provides $4.0 million for diagnostic imaging equipment, including $2.0 million to fulfill government’s commitment for a new CT scanner in Melfort.
  • $715 million in the Highways and Infrastructure budget to improve safety, increase the capacity of Saskatchewan’s highways and provide economic stimulus as communities recover from the economic impact of the global pandemic.  The budget includes $411 million for capital projects, including $54 million added through stimulus funding.
  • $316 million for municipal infrastructure.  It includes $166 million in transfers to municipalities, including funding made available through the Gas Tax Fund, Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, New Building Canada Fund and other programs.  It also includes $150 million, through the economic stimulus funding, for the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program which supports all municipalities with per capita funding for a wide-range of projects, from local roads and bridges to water services to recreation projects, to name a few. The application process has started and the dollars will help communities remain strong through the pandemic, creating local jobs and encouraging economic development.

Highlights from each Ministry can be found here:

NDP Leader Ryan Meili says that this budget presents no recovery plan for the people of Saskatchewan, and he called on the Premier to present a real recovery plan that puts people first. Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon focused on what’s missing from the budget – specifically, what he says is the fact that for the first time, the Sask Party government omitted most of the standard economic and fiscal forecasts and projections usually found in budget documents, raising serious concerns about transparency, and cuts and sell-offs to come. Meili made mention of the NDP plan that was released last week, saying that their recovery plan commits to the best home care system in Canada, affordable, accessible early learning and child care, a $15/hour minimum wage, and SaskFirst procurement.

Over the next two weeks, there will be 60 hours of scrutiny of the budget estimates in legislative committees with the final vote on the budget to take place on July 2. Only 10 members of the government and five members of the opposition will be allowed in the chambers at any one time.

Today’s budget provided the first glimpse into the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the province’s finances. As expected, the major push of this budget focused on post-COVID-19 recovery, with significant expenditures aimed at restarting the province’s stalled economy and strengthening the health care system to withstand any post-pandemic echoes.

When the government released the Budget Estimates on March 18, 2020, the theme was “stability,” and today’s budget announcement continued along that theme. The previously announced $7.5 billion infrastructure package will create significant economic stimulus within the province and will go a long way in addressing some of the infrastructure gaps found in the various municipalities throughout Saskatchewan.

It also needs to be noted that this will be the last budget before the upcoming provincial election. While this is clearly a post-pandemic budget, it also has the look of a pre-election budget. The governing Saskatchewan Party took the opportunity within the budget to shore up their election chances by delivering a fiscal plan that will resonate with their political base. The sitting will be the last time the public will hear from its MLAs in the assembly before ballots are cast on October 26. It will also be another opportunity for the two leaders, who have never led their parties in an election, to sway voters. The Saskatchewan Party will seek a fourth consecutive term.

For more information on the 2020-21 Saskatchewan Budget, please click here.