As the short 14-day spring sitting was drawing to a close NDP Opposition leader Ryan Meili penned a letter to Premier Scott Moe with an usual demand.
Meili asked Moe to resume the legislature in September to present:
“The standard budget projections for years two, three and four, including this government’s plan for spending and revenue in that period,” and;
“An allocation of the $200 million contingency fund.”
The request quickly drew derision from the Saskatchewan Party benches, with Moe decrying that Meili was asking for a “do-over” or a “mulligan” for what has largely been perceived as a poor performance by Meili and his small NDP caucus.
Meili didn’t have a great sitting but his call wasn’t completely without merit.
The Opposition leader was right that the $20-million contingency fund – the answer to most any spending shortfall question since MLAs returned to the Legislature on June 15th – would be easily and quickly exhausted.
Meili is also right that a 14-day sitting is not nearly enough time to properly scrutinize the $16 billion in provincial spending that exceeds revenue by $2.4 billion.
If the Sask. Party is arguing that Meili and the NDP are asking for a do-over, it certainly can argued that biggest annual deficit in Saskatchewan history is one we should do over.
It’s also true that Meili and the NDP – and arguably more important, we taxpayers – didn’t get a lot of information in the 2020-21 that we got in the 2019-20 budget.
That would include revenue, expense, and surplus/deficit projections for the next three years that the Saskatchewan government has – at least in recent decades – included in the annual budget presentation.
Not only were these critical numbers missing, but estimates GDP growth, future commodity prices for things like oil, job growth, retail sales and even debt were limited to just one more year.
But while it’s pretty easy for any opposition as some nerfarious attempt by government to deceive the voting public prior to the election, here’s a couple other things to keep in mind.
In the last NDP government budget in 2007, the government somehow forgot to include most these very same three- and four-year projections for their last pre- election year budgets. It’s also worth noting the then Sask. Party opposition screamed bloody murder about this at the time, as well.
One big difference, however, is the then-NDP government in 2007 didn’t have to rewrite a budget in three months.
This is precisely what happened when Finance Minister Donna Harpauer scheduled a full budget presentation for March 18, but discovered she couldn’t credibly do so with COVID-19 hammering the planet at time.
One can rightly criticize the content of the Harpauer’s June 15 spending for not abandoning the Sask. Party government’s spending plans unveiled on March 18.
Under the circumstances of a worldwide recession, one would think Harpauer should have spent the last three months adjusting her spending.
But that hasn’t been the major criticism from Meili and other New Democrats, who have more been critical of the Sask. Party government for not spending enough.
Finally, let’s get a little realistic about those long-term numbers New Democrats now tell us are so vital. No government – neither their governments nor the Sask. Party government – ever came close to hitting them anyway.
They are of value in that they somewhat hold government to account. But they aren’t legally binding.
So why bother with telling you about this silly political debate?
Well, it’s a pretty good illustration of how silly this entire sitting was and how neither the NDP nor the Sask. Party should have much to celebrate when it comes to their performance.
Sadly, what we just witnessed from both sides won’t much help voters with the choice they will have make on Oct. 26.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics since 1983.