As far as “austerity” budgets go, Finance Minister Ken Krawetz’s 2012-13 budget wasn’t as hard on rural Saskatchewan as some thought it might be.
In fact, there were even a couple gems set aside for some rural communities that may leave some thinking that this wasn’t an austerity budget at all.
Of course, the standard for “austerity” in rural Saskatchewan was set relatively high 19 and 20 years ago when NDP budgets designed to reduce the Progressive Conservative budgets cut deep into the heart of the province. Tax increases and cuts to highways spending and the GRIP program in 1992 followed by the closure of 52 rural hospitals in 1993 clearly left lasting scars on the rural landscape.
Last Wednesday’s Saskatchewan Party budget inflicted no such deep wounds ... although a few of the cuts will certainly be felt.
The government’s “efficiencies list” of program spending cuts included an increase on the cap of the seniors and children’s drug plan to $20 (from $15) that will pinch all provincial citizens. Similarly, the $25 additional costs (to $275) of the Senior Citizens’ Ambulance Assistance plan deductible might be more felt in rural Saskatchewan that has a higher percentage of seniors.
The elimination of Enterprise Regions at a $4-million saving will also takes a bigger toll on rural people that benefited from the provincial government’s help in economic development.
Closures of two northern field offices in Cumberland House and Pelican Narrows plus a third in Moosomin (where conservation office staff will be consolidated in Melville) also stings.
But a lot of rural communities also received a lot of direct benefits in this budget.
For starters, $5.5 million for the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) program suggests rural people are on their way to better emergency care. Also, there was $42.7 million to begin construction of seven previously announced long-term care facilities in Biggar, Kelvington, Kipling, Kerrobert, Maple Creek, Meadow Lake and Prince Albert as well as third-party grants for six additional LTC facilities currently being built in Radville, Redvers, Rosetown, Shellbrook, Tisdale and Watrous.
There was $38.6 million for construction of six new schools in Warman, Swift Current, Saskatoon, White City and Lloydminster, $4 million in planning funding for three new schools in Hudson Bay, Leader and Martensville. Meanwhile, schools in Lloydminster, Lumsden, White City, Prince Albert, Regina, Humboldt, Regina, Saskatoon, Hillmond and Weyburn will all see money for major renovations out of a $50.1-million fund.
Rural communities also faired pretty well in highways spending, notwithstanding a near $18-million drop in the department’s overall budget to $426 million from what was spent last year. The ministry will be moving forward on Estevan’s bypass, completion of Yorkton’s trucking route, the St. Louis Bridge and completion of Hwy 11 twinning. Also, $70.5 million has been set aside for upgrades under the rural highway strategy and there’s a $13-million increase in the bridge and culvert strategy (to $59.2 million) that will see 29 bridges replaced. The government also committed $23.5 million to its Municipal Roads for the Economy Program.
Communities will be hit with the previously announced eight-per-cent increase in policing costs, but Meadow Lake will see $70,000 to address policing issues in that city.
In agriculture, there will be $321.4 million to fund Crop Insurance and AgriStability plus $5.3 million for the Beneficial Management Practices Program, $3.5 million for intensive Livestock Operations Environment Program, $2 million for wheat geonomic research, $790,000 for Farm Business Development Initiatives for Young Farmers, $210,000 for grain bag recycling, $1 million for rat control and $500,000 for beaver control.
Finally, the Emergency Flood Damage Reduction Program of 2011 will be continued into 2012 with $5 million.
Sure, it’s our dollars and resource royalties paying for this, so perhaps we shouldn’t get too excited about the government spending our own money.
But with all the pre-budget talk of austerity, cuts to rural Saskatchewan were not as deep as we’ve seen in the past.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.