Growth is a good thing for Saskatchewan.
But with it comes challenges, and a new document “Saskatchewan Plan For Growth” looks to help the province prepare to meet those challenges.
That was the message Premier Brad Wall gave at a luncheon hosted by the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce last week in the city.
Wall said there are signs of growth all over the province, including a population which has again eclipsed one million.
“It’s growth we haven’t seen since 1924,” he said of the 80,000 new residents arriving last year.
But the Saskatchewan premier did note “with that growth come challenges,” adding that includes challenges in infrastructure, housing and on the social front as well.
Still, Wall said the province needs to grow.
It’s “an unequivocal yes, growth is a good thing,” he said.
Growth means a vibrant economy, and that means more dollars for the government to initiate programs which are good for people, offered Wall. He pointed to the 44 per cent reduction achieved on the province’s debt, the reduction of personal income tax already in place.
“That’s what growth pays for,” he said, adding growth “is not an end in, and of, itself for our government. We want it for the dividends it affords communities like Yorkton.” He went on to term growth “a social imperative.”
So the plan looks to set the groundwork to maintain and manage growth, and that means a document with many stated goals, said Wall, including achieving a population of 1.2 million by 2020.
The plan details six key areas on which to focus, said Wall, starting with work to ensure infrastructure is in place to sustain growth.
“We start from some strength in this regard,” he said, adding that with spending on infrastructure up 63 per cent the last four years, more needs to be done, and the government will commit $2.5 billion over the next three budgets to the area.
The province will also establish another Crown Corporation through the Treasury Board called Sask Builds “to plan for the long term needs of infrastructure in Saskatchewan,” said Wall.
Wall said governments have a difficult time looking beyond their four-year terms, but growth needs a longer term vision Sask Builds can afford.
As it stands Wall said his party recognizes infrastructure needs are massive, with Saskatoon needing a couple of new bridges, Regina needing a city bypass, Moose Jaw a new hospital, a new psychiatric centre in North Battleford, to name a few large initiatives to look at.
“There is a long list of expensive things to do,” he said, adding they need to be addressed because we can’t afford to let “infrastructure deficits to get in the way of growth.”
With the need to build infrastructure to help support private sector growth, having the employees to do the work is critical, said Wall.
“We have a labour shortage in this province,” he said, adding the province can’t afford to let a labour shortage be “a larger barrier to growth than it is.”
Wall called on the federal government to raise the immigration levels coming into Saskatchewan each year, since the jobs are here to support them.
The plan also calls on a system to better educate people to assume jobs. That includes a focus on adult basic education, as well as setting the goal to have more Grade 12 graduates on average than any other province.
Wall said they also need to work with First Nations to better engage them in the economy. He said they need to close the unreasonable gap between unemployment among First Nations people and unemployment among non-First Nations.
Moving forward Wall said the province needs to build on the natural resource base it has, including agriculture, oil and gas and mining. He said it’s a case of building on existing strengths.
“We know agriculture, so we should be focusing on crop science,” he said.
It’s the same in terms of uranium, said Wall, noting we are a major producer, but do little with it here.
The recently renamed Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation will look into things such as small reactor technology, said Wall.
It’s the idea of “innovation in the platform of what we’re good at.”
Hand-in-hand with resources and its development comes exports, and Wall said we must work on those strengths too. He pointed to lentils where Saskatchewan accounts for some 58 per cent of work exports, and the number is similar in peas.
In terms of China, Saskatchewan is the origin spot of some 47 of its canola imports.
“There is huge potential in this area,” he said.
When taken as a whole, Wall said the Plan lays out a map to help the growth work for the province.
“It’s building the kind of province we want, not just today but for the future,” said Wall.