As the spring session of the Saskatchewan Legislature wrapped up last week, Greg Ottenbreit, Yorkton MLA and Sask Party caucus whip, is proud of his government’s record and the 2014-2015 budget passed during the session.
“The theme of the budget was keeping Saskatchewan on a path of steady growth,” he said. “It’s something that’s very important to us in the government is that consistent growth, economic growth, population growth. As we say quite often the end result is wanting to create a better quality of life for all the people of Saskatchewan, it’s not just economic growth as an end unto itself.”
Ottenbreit pointed to the latest population statistics that the province has grown to 1,117,503 people as of the most recent legislative session.
“We’re on a really steady path to growth, surpassing some of the numbers that we had forecast,” he said.
He also highlighted the Province’s continued Triple-A financial rating and the lowest unemployment rate in Saskatchewan history.
“Some new good news is the Conference Board of Canada has given Saskatchewan the highest rating possible, an A-plus, so that’s great news for the province,” he added.
Of course, on the local front, Ottenbreit cited the $10 Million investment the government made in Parkland College’s new Trades and Technology Centre. Ottenbreit was joined earlier this month by Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz and Rob Norris, minister of advanced education at the official ground-breaking of the centre.
He also addressed K-12 funding issues. When the budget was released in the spring, Dwayne Reeve, director of education for the Good Spirit School Division said it was not a “status quo budget for us,” noting that GSSD will receive only a .047 per cent increase in operating funds, well short of the 2.5 per cent anticipated increase in expenses.
“There will have to be some areas where we try to reduce our expenditures,” Reeve said.
Ottenbreit was confident, the division would work it out.
“There’s always pressures and struggles, but if you look at the overall funding that’s gone into all different areas whether it’s municipal revenue sharing or whether it’s funding to schools, they’ve gotten consistent lifts every year,” he said. “The lifts have kept up with or outpaced even cost of living increases and through all different agencies right within government or our partners like in education or health, we’re finding efficiencies within government, within things we have direct control over so the areas we fund we’re also asking them to do the same, finding efficiencies in the areas that they can. I’ve got full confidence that they can do that.”
It was also a bit of a bad news budget for the Sunrise Health Region, which is currently struggling with a $1.04 Million operating deficit. The budget gave Sunrise an increase of 0.7 per cent, which prompted Lawrence Chomos, health board chair to call the challenge to put together a budget for the region, “unprecedented.”
Ottenbreit was undaunted.
“In health, where we were having increases of eight per cent every year, eventually when you compound that increase, you end up all you can fund is health, you have no money for infrastructure or anything else so we’ve got to start finding efficiencies within those areas so we can continue to fund the things that are very important,” he said. “Again, being able to keep that balanced budget and not having exorbitant tax increases on the backs of taxpayers, so it’s all part of keeping that economic growth is keeping the financial environment in the province attractive for business development, but also continue to fund the things that governments are responsible for like education, health care, policing and public safety.”
Ottenbreit believes that, like the school board, the health region will be fine.
“They’ve been very efficient at finding efficiencies,” he said. “They’ve been very good at outlining some of the challenges they have and meeting those challenges.”
He did suggest, however, that the government is trying to help school divisions and health regions with infrastructure by developing new ways of financing capital projects such as the P3 (public-private partnerships) model that has been announced for the new psychiatric hospital in the Battlefords.