Editorial - Pandemic budget has few surprises

If anyone was expecting something startlingly dramatic to come out of Saskatchewan’s provincial budget that was unveiled Monday they were disappointed.

Of course, expecting fresh and innovative ideas from a government that has held power since 2007, is a high expectation to start with. One would hope in more than two decades the Saskatchewan Party would have brought its best and brightest ideas forward already, meaning this should have been a ‘steady as she goes’ budget from the outset.

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And then along came COVID-19 and the best laid plans of any government were left in tatters.

Estimates on revenues with the entire world basically on lockdown would be wrong and not because someone in government missed a key market signal for a key commodity such as potash, but because no one saw the economy grinding to a near complete halt because of the pandemic.

In fact, even the budget presented by Finance Minister Donna Harpauer has a feel of being something of a best guess to it. That is actually not a knock on the Saskatchewan Party or the Minister. There is just a massive amount of uncertainty right now when it comes to what revenues and expenses may be.

It doesn’t take much digging online to find many COVID-19 experts are anticipating a second wave of infections, and early indications from some American states that have re-opened tend to lend credence to the suggestion.

If a second wave hits here, what does that mean in terms of a provincial response? How will it impact provincial revenues? What will it cost the province in support efforts?

And, even if Saskatchewan holds the line and keeps a second wave to a minimum, what COVID-19 does around the world, in particular a key trading partner such as the United States impacts our province financially.

In the case of the U.S., COVID-19 is only one of the issues that could ripple north to impact Saskatchewan’s finances.

There is racial unrest, the always volatile situation of President Donald Trump, and a presidential election on the horizon that almost certainly will be divisive regardless of the results.

So Harpauer and the Saskatchewan Party put together a budget under a higher level of duress than is normal. It might be the most trying time in terms of forecasting revenues since the war years.

The result is, to nobody’s surprise a significant deficit, which could be worse with any kind of blip. For example, COVID-19 infections had been flirting near zero for several days, then one funeral in northern Saskatchewan and the number spiked to 18 Monday.

It would take only one person ignoring good social distancing protocols to see numbers jump anywhere in the province, and potentially slow, or even rewind re-open Saskatchewan plans and that would impact the budget projections.

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