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Takeaways from Premier Moe and the cabinet at SARM

Premier Scott Moe announces a new record revenue sharing at $340.2 million, as well as early works of Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Project.

REGINA - With the provincial budget less than a week away, delegates to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities Convention got a dose of good news from Premier Scott Moe.

In his address to the convention Thursday, Moe announced 2024-25 Municipal Revenue Sharing will be $340.2 million, a record amount and an increase of around $42.3 million over last year.  It is also a 14 per cent increase from 2023-24.

That is just one of a number of highlights from day two of the SARM convention, a day which also featured a bearpit session with provincial cabinet ministers who fielded a host of questions from delegates that afternoon.

Here are four takeaways from the appearance of Premier Moe and the cabinet at SARM.

Municipal revenue sharing

Funding for municipal revenue sharing is based on the revenue sharing formula which has long been in place with municipalities, which is based on three quarters of one point of the provincial sales tax revenue collected from two years before.

“As the provincial economy grows, you’ll see that municipal revenue share grow as well,” said Moe. He said the increase of 14 per cent this year, or $40 million, is “a very significant metric” as to when people are asking the question “is the Saskatchewan economy growing?”

“Well, the municipal revenue sharing formula is growing, which is based on the amount of PST that’s been in the province, which is based on the amount of commerce that is actually invested in this process. It says that it is.”

Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Project

Another major announcement from the Premier, and an issue of particular interest at this SARM convention, is that Saskatchewan is moving ahead with constructing the early works of the first 90,000 acres of the Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Project.

The initial phase of the project is estimated at $1.15 billion. According to the province’s news release, this cost will be shared between the province and those producers who choose to participate.

In speaking to reporters, Moe said the funds “will be allocated as we move along. What we need to do is start some of the construction, and then start some of the agreements, cost- sharing agreements that we will have with, first of all, ag producers that will utilize the water to either increase the production of the crops already growing, or likely over time we will see crops actually change."

Moe also pointed to the opportunity to build channels for water security for municipalities, and also for investment attraction for industries including potash, the energy sector, and the livestock sector.

One disappointment so far is that the federal government has not yet committed funding for the project. “We were hopeful we would have a federal partner in starting this project and seeing it through,” Moe said. 

Moe added they “will continue to ask, continue to work with the federal government so they can be a partner in this space, but we need to start moving on it.”

Reaction to bearpit session

The bearpit session saw a number of questions posed to provincial cabinet ministers on issues including crop insurance, various issues in rural health care, addictions issues, regulations and red tape, and infrastructure funding and the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

Premier Moe had this reaction to the questions posed:

“Municipalities are facing the same challenges that we are facing as a provincial government… and we’re facing as individuals and families as well, and that’s the cost of living, inflationary challenges in building, for us, schools and highways; for municipalities, rural municipalities, it’s building roads and bridges. The cost is significantly up, and that pressures the bottom lines at the municipal level, it pressures bottom lines at the provincial level as well. 

“And then an ongoing conversation, that I think it predates government, is ensuring that the governments are reacting when it comes to funding healthcare services that are available often in rural Saskatchewan, as that is a large dynamic at this conference, but also other services like surgeries and such that are more available in urban centres… 

“From the cabinet’s perspective, I would say that the question and answer period is incredibly valuable, as it provides us with a real look inside of two hours into what is the priority in communities right across this province, coming from the very leadership coming from those communities.”

He called it “collaborative, looking for solutions, and that’s I think the best kind of Q and A to have.”

Still issues in Richmound

One of the questions concerned the ongoing issue in Richmound where the so-called QAnon “Queen of Canada” Romana Didulo and her followers had set up in a local school there.

“We have a cult in our community,” said Mario Koch, Reeve from the R.M. of Enterprise, who posed a question during the bearpit on what can be done about it. “We’re kind of running into a situation where we can’t do anything about them because there’s too much red tape.”

Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Paul Merriman called it a “very unique situation” and they would like to have it resolved, but he noted the “challenge is until an individual actually breaks the law, we can’t charge them with anything. And that’s kind of that in-between area.”

Minister Don McMorris said he had met with the Richmound area delegates that morning at the legislature. He cited the need for small communities to have zoning bylaws up to date to prevent a situation like this from happening elsewhere, and also make it easier to have such groups removed. 

Part of the issue in Richmound, as McMorris noted, was that the community itself is too small to have had adequate zoning bylaws set up to deal with such a situation.

“They (the Didulo supporters) are in a school that really in other jurisdictions wouldn’t be zoned for residential. But Richmound is a small community of 120 people, they haven’t thought about putting zoning bylaws in place,” said McMorris.

In the scrum afterwards, Premier Moe told reporters the issue was “new for us, in particular, in some of our more rural and smaller communities like Richmound.”

Moe noted this might be an opportunity to “update some of the municipal bylaws” to ask “is there a way for provincial governments to help, in particular, smaller rural communities, again to deal with something like this in the months and years ahead, to have the tools necessary so that they act.” He said part of the conversation should be with the law enforcement arms as well. 

“It is new to us, and it sounds like it isn’t going very well for the community of Richmound, and so we want to support them in any way we can, but also prepare other communities for a similar occurrence.”