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Business happy with balanced budget, but wanted more cost relief

Some business groups wanted to see a change to the PST; others happy to see with more investment
Donna Harpauer is seen here speaking to reporters prior to tabling of the 2023-24 budget in the legislature.

REGINA - It was a generally positive view of the 2023-24 provincial budget by business groups in the province, but there were still plenty of concerns about pressures facing their various sectors.

Affordability and the PST remained major concerns and there was a sense by some business advocates that the budget from Finance Minister Donna Harpauer on Wednesday was a missed opportunity to address some challenges.

In a news release Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce pointed to several positives including a $1 billion surplus to pay down operating debt, the largest ever investment in infrastructure at $3.7 billion which is $543.4 million over last year, and the $5 million investment in newcomer settlement. They were also pleased there were no new taxes or tax increases. 

But the Chamber pointed to two areas the budget fell short. They noted the budget did not address PST and Corporate Tax reform, stating Saskatchewan is one of only three provinces still taxing most businesses on their inputs through the application of the PST. The Chamber was also not happy with the decision not to continue the temporary freeze of the Small Business Tax rate at zero per cent.

 “Business is the driver of Saskatchewan’s strengthening fiscal position,” said Prabha Ramaswamy, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, in a news release. “It is critical to address PST and Corporate Tax reform to enhance competitiveness.” 

It was a similar story for other business organizations speaking on the budget. 

Brianna Solberg, Director of Provincial Affairs with CFIB, said at the legislature Wednesday “overall, small businesses can’t be too disappointed with his budget. There’s no new costs, no tax increases so that’s good news.”

“However, with a $1 billion surplus we would like to see some additional cost relief measures introduced to help small businesses recover from the impacts of the pandemic. 

“Our members are very concerned about all of their costs increasing at the same time, hence why they need affordability relief.”

Jennifer Henshaw, vice president of the prairies and north, Restaurants Canada, also liked the government getting their fiscal house in order, the focus on debt reduction, and the fact there were no new tax increases in the budget.

 “On the flipside of the coin itself is a bit of a missed opportunity to address some of the operational challenges that the industry is grappling West. We’re seeing minimum wage increases rolling out here in the next year in Saskatchewan that we’d would’ve like to see introduced some mitigating measures in the budget. We would’ve liked to see them eliminate PST on dine-in restaurant meals now that we’re back in the surplus position. It could have been something they could have done as a gesture to help the sector. It didn’t happen.”

The fact that there were no changes to the PST was another sore point for Gage Haubrich, Prairie Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“Last year, they added the PST to concert tickets and ‘Rider games. Seems the government still wants to tax fun the people are doing this province. We would like to see a cut on that that could’ve made every single thing you buy every day cheaper, but the government failed to do that today. And Saskatchewan families aren’t seeing any relief.” 

Overall, Harbrich said it was "always good to see a balanced budget especially with a government near record revenues they’re seeing.”

“Unfortunately it’s still going to continue to climb after 2024. But the biggest embarrassment for the government in this budget was a lack of real tax relief. Provinces all over the country are cutting income taxes, cutting gas taxes, and that helps families afford the necessities they need every day. Saskatchewan failed to do that today, and families are going to be struggling.”

Mining, heavy construction industries pleased 

The Saskatchewan Mining Association said they were pleased with the commitment in the budget to mineral exploration.

“The world is looking to Canada to be a preferred global producer of critical minerals as we have the geological potential and a record of strong environmental and social performance. Saskatchewan is competing for Canadian and international investments that are needed for a low emissions and digital economy. The increases to the Targeted Mineral Exploration Incentive Program and to the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit, announced in Budget 2023, are very welcome” said Pam Schwann, SMA President, in a news release. “They position Saskatchewan to be one of the leading Canadian mineral jurisdictions and will be effective in incentivizing additional investment into Saskatchewan.”

The heavy construction industry was happy to see spending on capital projects. In a statement, Shantel Lipp, President of Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association said they were “glad to see that this year’s budget increased from the previous one and our members are looking forward to the Ministry of Highways capital program breakdown and how it will impact our industry.”

“Going forward our hope is to work with the government to create long-term funding commitments that puts our industry on more stable footing as we see in Alberta and Manitoba”.

Film and TV industry pleased

Happy again with the budget was the film and TV industry, which saw a two per cent increase in the grant program from last year’s budget, up from 10 to 12 per cent.

“We’re very pleased with the Government’s decision to extend the reach of our Feature Film and Television Production Grant program,” says Erin Dean, CEO of Creative Saskatchewan and the official film commission for the province, in a statement. “Productions are a multi-faceted endeavour, built around labour with the potential to create many new jobs, and have far-reaching impacts on local hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors. This is estimated to result in a total of $55.8 million in positive economic outputs, and over 250 new jobs,”

“Creative Saskatchewan’s Feature Film & TV Production grant is one of the most competitive in the country. This is the catalyst which gives our producers the support they need to attract new private and federal money while expanding their screen-based business ventures,” said Mike MacNaughton, President of Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association, in a statement.