At the most recent Yorkton Chamber of Commerce luncheon, NDP leader Ryan Meili had to concede that this most recent provincial budget wasn’t the worst he had ever seen. He appreciated the increased investment in mental health, for example. Instead, he knows when the worst budget happened, back in 2017, and he believes that there are still decisions made then that need to be reversed. Meili spoke alongside NDP Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon about the budget and the direction they see the province heading.
For example, Meili talked about the damaging effect that having the PST applied to construction caused. He noted that the construction industry is one that builds the economy, and putting the PST on construction discourages new builds and is a mistake for this economy.
In Yorkton itself, the big sore point in 2017 concerned grants-in-lieu. The city lost over $1 million thanks to the program being discarded. Meili and Wotherspoon agreed that the deal was a contract, and needs to be re-established. When asked if they consider it to be part of revenue sharing, Wotherspoon said they are completely different deals with different goals, and would not be considered related.
“That has to go into either less programs or more taxes, and that’s a real challenge for smaller communities, especially in a time of economic slowdown... Those weren’t a gift, that wasn’t a grant from the government, that was a contract, made in the 1950s, we had power utility right here in Yorkton, this was a trade-off. To completely rip up the contract one-sided was irresponsible really left Yorkton holding the bag.”
One of the main pushes for the NDP is education, and Meili believes that the flat funding for education in Saskatchewan is a mistake that is going to cost the province dearly. Noting that education funding has remained effectively flat, and advanced education has seen reduced funding, Meili he believes that the province needs to make education a priority.
“Every dollar you fail to spend in education, you end up spending five dollars down the road, in healthcare, mental and physical health, social services and justice. If we really want to have a strong economy, that’s where we need to be investing. What we’ve seen is the opposite, we’ve seen a government that hasn’t put the investment in, and as a result costs in health, justice and social services are growing... It’s a government that’s looking at the next budget, the next election and not the next generation.”
Meili also criticized Premier Scott Moe’s approach on issues such as the carbon tax. He noted that in its current form, the tax doesn’t make sense for Saskatchewan people. There is little in the way of credits for agriculture, for example, and it doesn’t recognize that in this province people inevitably have to burn gas to travel, there’s often no alternative.
“There are a number of ways that the current design is unfair. The problem is that the current Premier said that he wouldn’t talk to the federal government. It’s an all or nothing, absolutely not model. As a result, we got all instead of nothing. What he should have done, and should still do now, it’s not too late, is say to the federal government, we want to talk about designing a better program. We want to work with local industry, with farm leaders, with community leaders, with experts in the province, to design a model that works better for the realities of Saskatchewan.”