REGINA - Strong economic numbers and resource revenues is allowing Saskatchewan to post a $1 billion surplus budget for 2022-23.
Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Donna Harpauer delivered the budget in the legislature Wednesday afternoon. As expected, it contains no new taxes or tax increases, as well as increases across the board to health care, education, social services, public safety and the justice system, municipal revenue sharing and capital projects.
There is also a record $3.7 billion in capital investments, a reduction of up to $1 billion in operating debt, and a net debt-to-GDP projected to be 14.1 percent as of March 31. It is also projected to drop to 13.2 per cent by the end of 2023-24.
The theme of the budget is the government’s familiar slogan “Growth that Works for Everyone.” In a media conference with reporters prior to her address in the legislature, Harpauer pointed to figures released that day showing Saskatchewan grew by over 25,000 in 2022.
Harpauer also pointed to the Saskatchewan economy leading all provinces in growth in 2022, with private sector forecasts projecting the second highest growth in the nation in 2023.
She said the goal of the budget is to ensure that growth continues.
"Saskatchewan’s population is growing at its fastest pace in 108 years," Harpauer said. "More people, more jobs, more opportunities. More doctors, more nurses, and more surgeries. More students, more schools, and more affordable child care. Safer families and safer communities. Strong fiscal management, a brighter future, and better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people, and that is what this budget is about. That is growth that works for everyone.”
On the financial side, the province is forecasting revenues of $19.7 billion, up $2.5 billion from last year's budget, powered by $9.6 billion in taxation revenue from Corporate Income, Personal Income and Provincial Sales Tax revenue which is a $1.5 billion increase over last year.
Non-renewable resource revenue is forecast at $3.3 billion, up $435 million over last year, driven mainly by solid potash and oil price expectations.
On the flip side, expenses are forecast at $18.7 billion, up $1 billion or 5.9 per cent, from last year's budget. The net debt to GDP ratio is second lowest among provinces at 14.1 per cent.
Harpauer was noted debt retirement and lower borrowing generated $117 million in annual interest savings, which is “money that will be reinvested in people, programs and projects.”
Here are highlights of what the various ministries will be spending money on in the 2023-24 budget:
As expected, health education and social services will make up the lions share of the budget at 70 per cent.
The 2023-24 budget calls for a 6.7 per cent increase to the Ministry of Health budget up to $6.9 billion. It includes $98.8 million— “an increase of $82.7 million over last year's budget for the Health Human Resources Action Plan,” said Harpauer.
$55.5 million is going towards recruiting 250 full-time positions and expanding part-time positions in rural and remote areas around the province, an increase of $44.9 million.
The budget also includes support for recruiting internationally educated health care workers and for the College of Medicine in new academic and research positions, special residency seats and family medicine seats.
The budget includes a $42.5 million increase to the surgical wait time strategy. Harpauer said it will fund the largest volume of surgical procedures in history: 6,000 more surgeries this year for a total of 103,000. It will also reduce the waitlist to its pre-pandemic level a year ahead of schedule, by March 2024.
Mental health and addictions programs and services are getting $518 million including a targeted investment of $12.4 million over last year, with the province touting it as the highest investment ever in Saskatchewan for these programs and services
In Advanced Education, $25.2 million in new funding goes to expanding training programs, with around 550 seats to be added across 18 training programs. $10 million will support the 150-seat expansion in nursing programs and $2.4 million to train internationally educated health care providers. $539,000 goes to support five new veterinary training seats for Saskatchewan students.
Immigration and Career Training is also putting in $5.2 million to support expansion of post-secondary seats, as well as initiatives to fill current vacancies through the licensing of internationally educated health care workers already in Saskatchewan.
The 2023-24 Budget will see post-secondary institutions receive over $697.4 million in operating and capital grants. It includes $431.8 million to the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina and federated and affiliated colleges. $171.1 million goes to Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, and Dumont Technical Institute; and $35.6 million goes to Regional Colleges.
The province is putting an additional $39 million to seniors care, with $17.6 million to 133 long-term care beds in Regina and $9.3 million for third-party long-term care providers. $5.5 million is set aside to hire 75 continuing care assistants, fulfilling the last phase of the government’s three year commitment to hire 300 CCAs to deliver home care and support services for seniors in long-term care facilities.
As well, to reduce wait times, there are increases of $7 million for more medical imaging, primarily CT and MRI scans, and $2.6 million more for more endoscopy procedures.
As was confirmed in the House by Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky this week, more money is going to social services. The budget for social services and assistance is a record $1.7 billion, up $41.2 million, including an additional $26.6 million to support those with low incomes, families and seniors.
Increases are coming to benefits for Saskatchewan Income Support, Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability, the Senior's Income Plan, and the Personal Care Home Benefit.
There is a $30 a month increase for each of SIS basic, shelter and alternative heating benefit and the SAID basic benefit. SIS and SAID clients are to receiving six per cent more in monthly benefits.
There is also a $13.5 million increase allocated for Social Services community-based service delivery partners. The increase for Child and Family Services is $10.5 million, and there is a $3 million increase in the Seniors Income Plan with maximum monthly benefit increases by $30/ month to a maximum of $360 or nine per cent. There is a $2.9 million increase in the Personal Care Home Benefit, for an increase of up to $400 per month or 20 per cent.
The budget for pre-kindergarten to grade 12 and post secondary education is over $4 billion, up 6.2 percent.
A record $3.1 billion, an increase of $192.8 million, is going to schools, early learning, child care and libraries.
The 27 school divisions are to receive $2.04 billion in operating funding, an increase of $49.4 million. The province is also providing $7 million to school divisions to retain over 200 Educational Assistants hired since Sept. 2021.
Distance learning is also getting funding. $23 million is going to support startup and operation of the new Saskatchewan Distance Learning Corporation - Sask DLC - offering flexibility to students and a wide variety of online courses.
Early learning and child care is seeing an increase of $72.1 million to $382.4 million. As of April 1 child care fees for families of children up to age six will go to $10 per day, on the heels of the recent federal-provincial announcement to that effect.
Police and law enforcement
The budget is calling for $968.5 million to go to protection of persons and property. This includes $7 million towards establishing the new Saskatchewan Marshals Service, a commitment announced during the fall sitting of the Legislature.
There is also $3.1 million being added to expand the Warrant Suppression Team in Prince Albert and the Crime Reduction Team in North Battleford.
As was indicated by Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre earlier this month, operational funding is coming to second stage shelters with a new investment of $876,000 over three years to support expansion of counseling services for clients living in second stage housing, with $292,000 this year. Over $27.5 million in interpersonal violence supports and services are in the budget.
Municipal revenue sharing
As was announced by Premier Scott Moe at SARM, the 2023-24 Budget includes the highest level ever of Municipal Revenue Sharing at $297.9 million, an increase of $35.3 million or 13.4 per cent, The budget includes $503 million of direct provincial support to municipalities for an increase of $54.5 million or 12.2 per cent over last year.
There is also $249.1 million in targeted funding coming for Indigenous and Métis people and organizations, an increase of 6.8 per cent.
The ag budget is $548.2 million, a 19 per cent increase. It includes $89.8 million for strategic initiatives under the federal-provincial Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, $1 million to target invasive weed control on agricultural Crown land pastures, and $408 million to fund a suite of federal-provincial risk management programs including Crop Insurance and AgriStability.
Investments in trade
The budget includes a $1.4 million increase to open a trade office in Germany, part of the province’s $19.3 million International Trade and Investment Strategy to advance the province's economic interests abroad.
The budget also provides up to $2.2 million in a Minimum Revenue Guarantee to Saskatoon Airport Authority to support a US direct flight. This was the amount previously announced in connection to WestJet’s new direct flights to Minneapolis. Similar resources are also available to Regina's Airport Authority for their efforts to attract a direct flight to a US hub.
Economic development is seeing $367.4 million allocated, up $39.7 million. It includes a $5 million increase for newcomer settlement and increased immigration, $4 million funding for the expanded Targeted Mineral Exploration Initiative, and an additional $2 million to the Film and TV Production grant bringing it up to $12 million.
Capital projects funding
The provincial budget includes a record $3.7 billion for capital and $15.2 billion in planned capital investment over the next four years.
It includes the following:
$337.6 million is going to health care capital, an increase of $181 million, for projects including major ongoing construction at Prince Albert Victoria Hospital and the Weyburn General Hospital replacement.
$442.9 million is going to transportation capital including over 1,000 kilometres of provincial highways improvements. Among the projects are twinning near Rowatt and Corinne on Highways 6 and 39 between Regina and Weyburn, completing passing lanes and widening on Hwy 5 from Saskatoon to Hwy 2, and planning for construction to extend twinning east of Saskatoon on Hwy 5.
$147.3 million goes to education capital, in particular five new school capital projects, and support for ongoing planning and construction of 15 new schools and the renovation of five existing schools.
$4.4 million is being allocated to begin planning on five new school capital projects including: the new K-12 school to replace and consolidate the elementary and high school in Carlyle; a new K-12 Francophone school to replace Ecole Valois in Prince Albert; new Francophone elementary school in Saskatoon; renovations and expansion of Greenall High School in Balgonie; and renovations to Campbell Collegiate in Regina.
This is in addition to $115.7 million to build 15 new schools and renovate five existing schools in Blaine Lake, Carrot River, La Loche, Lanigan, Lloydminster, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Regina, Saskatoon, Wilcox, and Yorkton.
$348.1 million is going to municipal infrastructure, coming from various programs such as the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, Canada Community-Building Fund, the New Building Canada Fund and other programs.
$973.1 million is to be invested to support municipal infrastructure projects over the next four years as part of the Capital Plan.
Finally, Crown corporations will invest $2.1 billion into major capital in 2023-24, largely through SaskPower, SaskEnergy and SaskTel for electricity generation, gas transmission and distribution and communication network projects.
Minister Harpauer’s reaction
While there is plenty of spending in the 2023-24 budget, the budget will not please everyone. The question Harpauer faced from reporters was one they anticipated would be asked by the public: why there wasn’t more spending on targeted programs with a $1 billion surplus.
“We have to be very careful as a government not to take one time revenue and incorporate it and bake it into our year over year operational costs," said Harpauer. "Because what happens when that one time revenue falls, and you’ve seen that time and again, because we are fortunate to have resource revenue… but they’re volatile. And if you’ve lived through the downturns of revenues and if you’ve baked it into operational costs the following year, where do you find that money to continue a program or the expenditure.”
She said since becoming Finance Minister she was committed to restraining the use of resource revenues to cover operational costs.
“I like to keep it to 10 or 15 per cent of expenses covered by resource revenue. This budget accomplishes that,” said Harpauer, saying in the budget 12.5 per cent of operational costs was covered by resource revenue.