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Stats Can numbers on Sask. business failures a hot topic in Leg

Daily Leg Update: NDP point to 91 business failures in Saskatchewan; government points to a much sunnier picture for province
Opposition Critic Aleana Young speaks to reporters at the Legislature April 30 about small business closure statistics.

REGINA - Once again, the two main parties in the Legislature were busy painting contrasting pictures of the economic situation for businesses looking to make a go of it in Saskatchewan.

The opposition NDP spent Tuesday afternoon roasting the Sask Party government over the latest business closure figures released from Statistics Canada, with Saskatchewan seeing an overall decrease of 91 local businesses. 

According to the numbers the NDP pointed to both in the Assembly and in a news release issued Tuesday afternoon, Regina lost eight businesses overall, Saskatoon lost 30, and the rest of the province lost 53.

Opposition Leader Carla Beck referred to those numbers as she grilled Premier Scott Moe on the issue. She once again accused Moe of "selling out" Saskatchewan jobs -- a line that has been a common NDP theme of late in the Legislature. The exchange is from Hansard:

Ms. Beck: — “Mr. Speaker, whether the Premier understands it or not, Saskatchewan people are struggling. And Saskatchewan people are struggling because this Premier keeps selling out Saskatchewan jobs… Statistics Canada yesterday released new data, new data that shows that after the last 12 months in this province we’ve lost another 91, 91 Saskatchewan businesses. That’s 91 fewer businesses hiring local people and fewer businesses benefiting local communities. Mr. Speaker, why won’t this Premier stop selling out Saskatchewan jobs and hire Saskatchewan?”

Moe’s response pointed to other, more positive numbers from Stats Can: labour force data for March 2024 that showed an increase of 10,500 full time jobs year over year.

Hon. Mr. Moe: — “Mr. Speaker, the most recent reports from Statistics Canada have Saskatchewan jobs up ten and a half thousand over the course of the last year. What that has precipitated, Mr. Speaker, is 30,000 more people living in Saskatchewan communities, people coming from all over, all around the world, making their home in a Saskatchewan community.

“Mr. Speaker, we have 225 individuals that have brought their families, are working in a Saskatchewan Health Authority complex in a community across Saskatchewan. Many of them largely are recruited from the Philippines.

“We have people that are working in the potash industry, Mr. Speaker, due to — another statistic from Statistics Canada — Saskatchewan last year was second in attracting private sector investment into our province, into our communities, private sector investment that is employing many of those ten and a half thousand people, Mr. Speaker. And Statistics Canada also says that we’re set to lead the nation when it comes to private sector capital investment in the nation of Canada this year.”

Ms. Beck: — “Saskatchewan people can’t pay their bills, businesses are closing, but this Premier is clapping for himself as are his minions, Mr. Speaker. Saskatchewan people, they don’t care about spin, increasingly desperate spin, Mr. Speaker. Saskatchewan people care about results…Mr. Speaker, to the Premier: how is that growth that works for everyone?”

The Speaker: — “I’d just like to caution the Leader of the Opposition on her choice of words. I recognize the Minister of Crown Investments Corporation.”

Instead of hearing from the Premier, it was Minister of Crown Investments Corporation Dustin Duncan who stood and pointed to $2.6 billion being spent through Crown corporations on capital this upcoming year.

Hon. Mr. Duncan: — “We’re going to extend fibre across this province, Mr. Speaker. In fact the budget of the Crown corporations in terms of capital under the last NDP government in the last year, Mr. Speaker, doesn’t even equate what SaskTel is going to spend in capital in this province.

“And, Mr. Speaker, when you look at the record, how many Saskatchewan jobs were created when $16 million were lost under the NDP on a Chicago-based fibre optics company? Zero. How many jobs were created in Saskatchewan when $9.4 million was lost on a Newfoundland cable company? Zero. How many jobs were created in Saskatchewan when $25 million was lost on an Atlanta, Georgia-based dot-com company? Zero, Mr. Speaker. That’s the record of the NDP. On the record on this side of this House, we’re growing jobs; we’re growing this economy, Mr. Speaker.”

Following Question Period, Opposition Critic for the Economy and Jobs Aleana Young blasted the government over the Stats Can numbers for business failures.

“First and foremost, anytime we see a small business close in Saskatchewan it’s a sad story. 99 percent of the businesses in Saskatchewan are small businesses, they’re the job creators, community builders, and a critical part of the economy. And what we’re talking about today is the fact that month to month, January last year to January this year, 91 fewer small businesses operate in the province. That is bad in and of itself. If you want to look at the full year, we’re down 256 small businesses across the province, which is again in and of itself a bad thing. But what is, I would say, the most concerning, is the fact that this is not a month to month blip. This is sustained. When you look at Premier Scott Moe’s time at office, when you look at 2018 to where we are today we have lost 875 businesses in Saskatchewan. That is sustained, that is continual, that is not something a healthy economy fees, and that is in consistent with what we see in other provinces. And it’s tragic for those employees, for the small businesses, for all the people who put their hopes and dreams and savings into that dream of entrepreneurship, and it is a devastating symptom for our economy.”

Young also pointed to the “worst record in Canada when it comes to job creation” and to 40,000 fewer jobs in rural Saskatchewan since Moe took office. 

“It’s a symptom of a province that is not doing well under Scott Moe’s leadership. This is a Premier, this is a government that has broken the economy of Saskatchewan, regardless of what indicator you want to look at. We are consistently and so disappointingly back of the pack. We’re either last or second last when it comes to any major economic indicator and I mean you don’t have to take my word for it. Anybody who walks down their main street whether it’s Scarth Street here in Regina or you’re walking down the main street of Humboldt, or you're walking through PA (Prince Albert) which looks like a ghost town right now, or Moose Jaw. People can see the level of poverty, the level of desperation, the closed storefronts on our streets.”

As for what to do, Young said they would not abandon any part of the province or any industries or businesses, and accused the government of having a pattern of picking winners and losers. “That is something you will not see from a Carla Beck-led government. We believe in diversifying the economy. We believe in investing in regional economic development.”

In contrast to the NDP's focus on business failure numbers, the government countered by sending a media statement with a host of “good news” statistics on business attraction in the province.

Among the numbers provided: Saskatchewan was home to 151,646 businesses in 2023, and had 122 small businesses for every 1,000 people, the second highest per capita rate in the country. Private capital investment  increases by nearly 25 per cent to $12.4 billion in 2023, the second highest growth rate among provinces, and the province is projected to increase 14.4 per cent in 2024 to $14.2 billion, for the highest expected growth rate in Canada.

The government also pointed to “substantial investments in major projects,” including stage two of the BHP Jansen potash project, major investments in canola crushing capacity from Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, and investments in thermal oil projects by Cenovus and Cardinal Energy.