Thursday April 24, 2014

We can only hope 2014 will be like 2013


So what kind of year should we hope for in 2014?

Well, how about one almost identical to the year we had in 2013 — one of the best years that Saskatchewan (and especially, rural Saskatchewan) has ever had.

Of course, this past year may not have always seemed that way to some.

Potash revenue took a serious $107-million nosedive from budget projections, due to a price downturn. With that downturn came major layoffs at the Lanigan and Cory mines as PotashCorp shed 440 jobs in this province in order its maintain its profits. Other potash companies may follow suit in 2014 is well within the realm of possibilities.

The Saskatchewan Party government was also hit with a provincial-sales-tax decline, indicating slowdown in the economy in 2013.

And while Premier Brad Wall is loathe to even mention the word “boom” — let alone, admit that it might be over — he did issue a warning at year’s end that the 2014 provincial budget will require even more belt tightening than was in the 2013 budget that was criticized by some for its lack of spending.

One would think that would make things even tougher in 2014. After all, finding doctors (especially rural and emergency room doctors in the cities), keeping emergency rooms and even some rural hospitals open, declining highways and overcrowding in schools seemed to be a repeated theme of 2013.

Add all this together and one might assume that 2013 wasn’t exactly a year we would want to emulate in 2014. Well, 2013 was actually a very good year ... especially in rural Saskatchewan.

Of course, we should heed Wall’s warnings about the upcoming budget. However, we need to understand his comments came while stressing the different between the provincial economy (which continues to do very well) and the budget (which continues to struggle, but largely because all governments like to spend more than they have).

We should also understand that Wall’s comments were made in the context of the very good news that Saskatchewan continues to grow. The province’s population reached 1,114,170 by last Oct. 31 as a result of 5,867 more people in the previous quarter. And while growth is not as evenly distributed as the Premier would lead us to believe, we are still growing at a healthy clip — largely, because of a very healthy economy.

And as bad the potash dip was in 2013, there still seems interest in long-term mine expansion and building that will hopefully continue in 2014.

What was even better, however, is the way other industries took up the slack when potash faltered.

Both oil royalty revenues for government and oil patch activity were on the rise in 2013 and there’s no reason to thing it won’t be at least as good in 2014.

However, the real boom in 2013 was in the business for which Saskatchewan is best known — agriculture, that produced a record 38.4-million tonne crop. That crop was 40-per-cent larger than 2012 production and 48-per-cent larger than the 10-year average.

So exceptional was this year’s harvest that the Sask. Party government noted in exceeded its “Growth Plan” goal to increase crop production to 36.6 million tonnes by 2020. (Of course, should we get drought, flooding, frost or even an average crop in 2014, don’t except the government to announce its failure to meet its goal.)

Nevertheless, the success of the 2013 harvest should start working its way through both the provincial budget (through more income tax collected) and the provincial economy (through more consumer purchasing) in 2014.

We can only hope 2014 will be as good as 2013.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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