Somehow the Brad Wall government seems to be sending mixed message through its recent provincial budget.
On the one hand there is the anticipated everything is wonderful rhetoric associated with most budgets.
The economy is supposed to be percolating along at a strong pace, one which will see growth that should likely lead the nation this year.
Here in Yorkton we certainly see evidence of a booming economy. Business and housing starts are both looking strong for the months ahead, the community’s population has grown to flirt with 20,000 for the first time in the city’s history, and staff wanted signs dot the business sector.
When you add in the arrival of at least some spill over of the oil and gas sector to the local economy, continued recent strength in both cattle and grains from the farm sector, and continued expectation of a new potash development pending for the region, things are good here.
A look at business numbers and population growth, coupled with resource exploration and growth numbers across Saskatchewan pretty much says this province in experiencing very good times.
That all means that the Wall government is at the helm of the province in some of the best times in decades. Some of that is to the government’s credit, and some to the fact our resource base is finally something the world needs and is willing to pay for.
So the times are generally good.
Then the question becomes why is the Wall government nickel and diming through its budget and in the process killing entire sectors in the process?
Two of the sacrificial lambs hit close to home in Yorkton, and neither makes any sense.
The first is the announced elimination of the Film Employment Tax Credit, something almost every province has a form of in order to help film be made in the province. Here we are aware of the significance of the film industry through the long-running Yorkton Film Festival.
Wall seemed to enjoy his guest appearance on Corner Gas, but without some form of government stimulus shows like that will not be made here.
Wall also talks about raising the awareness of the province outside its boundaries. Shows such as Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairies do just that by illustrating quality film does not need to be made it Vancouver and Toronto, it can happen in Indian Head and Rouleau as well.
The cut is supposed to save $8 million, but what that means is the Saskatchewan economy loses that $8 million, plus many additional dollars invested in shooting film. Cameramen, seamstresses, sound techs, restaurants owners, engineers and gas station owners and a host of others living in this province lose money they would have earned and the turned around and spent here.
The film industry may not be an economic driver, but it is an economic stimulator, meaning dollars invested flow through many hands and buy many goods and services here.
It’s the same thing with the $1.5 million which will be saved by the announced Liquor and Gaming Authority grant cut to the horse racing industry.
When an owner takes a purse at a track such as Cornerstone Raceway in Yorkton it immediately flows through our city, with payments to trainers, drivers, grooms, ferriers, veterinarians, and to those selling horseshoes, oats and hay. Again in stimulates our city’s economy as it passes from hand-to-hand.
Tim McMillan, Minister responsible for the Liquor and Gaming Authority said the decision was one of priorities.
“Largely it comes down to priority,” he told Yorkton This Week, adding “first and foremost we believe in having a balanced budget.”
McMillan said with rising costs to meet a growing population in education, long term care, and addressing health issues such as surgical wait times, the government needs to look at where it spends its money.
So in some of the best times in history economically for Saskatchewan the Wall government has let spending on health and education get so out of hand that it must kill two industries which stimulate local economic activity in order to save less than $10 million annually to feed the voracious appetites of the two big cost departments of government.
So what happens when the economy tightens, and one day it will? The $10 million won’t mean anything. It’s the proverbial drip in the ocean when looking at health and education.
Perhaps wiser cuts would be to find savings within the two massive departments, although it is likely for most in government those budgets are so large and convoluted they are difficult to fathom.
But, if the Wall government struggles with the finances of the provinces today to the point of killing industries to generate miniscule savings, what will we face when the economy cools?
The loss of the film and horse race sectors will mean two local economic stimulators gone, and in the end the savings will mean nothing to the overall budget, which leaves us asking why make the cuts at all?