Editorial - COVID pandemic will long impact government budgets

Spring of course is the time of renewal, and typically that includes governments unveiling their latest budgets, the City of Yorkton passing its budget recently and last week the Saskatchewan Party presenting its plan for spending and revenues provincially.

On the surface the latest provincial budget can be summed up rather simply; offering an expected deficit of $2.6 billion with an expectation to a balance budget in 2026-27.

Of course no one was expecting anything other than a deep dive into red ink thanks to the impact the past year of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Depending on how you look at the current health situation, possibly fearing the emergence of variant strains and daily infection rates in Saskatchewan again hovering around 300, or with optimism based on the arrival of vaccines, the pandemic is either about to wane, or to make another nasty explosion.

However, another impact of the pandemic, one that will ripple for years into the future is the deficits governments have incurred to try and keep individuals and businesses at least treading water through the worst the situation COVID has caused.

Saskatchewan Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier Donna Harpauer might be suggesting they can wrestle deficit spending back to a balanced budget rather quickly, but if they falter in that enterprise they have an out, that the impact of COVID has lasted longer than expected.

One might even question how accurate we can expect the latest budget to be since the past week has not been a good one in terms of the pandemic in Canada, highlighted by Ontario moving to at least another month of lockdowns with non-essential businesses closed and people being told to stay home if possible.

Here in Saskatchewan we hit 358 new cases Friday, the highest single-day increase in nearly three months. On Jan. 15, 382 new cases were announced. 

Premier Moe has since said the government will consider whether more health measures are required to deal with the current spike.

What happens in the next week or two in terms of COVID numbers, and the provincial government’s response will have an impact on any numbers in the recent budget predicting income and of course expenses should the province need to buffer more lockdown protocols.

The financial implications for residents dealing with reduced hours, or lay-offs is significant for many, but the pandemic is hitting the bottom lines of companies and governments too. Certainly, some will have done quite well filling niche services through the pandemic – a company manufacturing hand sanitizer is likely doing well, but most will have been forced to tighten their financial belts.

Moving forward that belt tightening will have continued impact including at the government level.
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