Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On Monday, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer delivered Saskatchewan’s 2020-21 provincial budget after a three-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the Saskatchewan Party, including Harpauer and Premier Scott Moe, referenced the $2.4 billion deficit as the “pandemic deficit”, with projected revenues of just $13.6 billion, down 8.3 per cent from last year.
The budget stated there would be “$50 million in emergency pandemic support for First Nations and Métis organizations and community-based organizations to help offset an $80.7 million reduction in casino profit revenue-sharing grants resulting from the closure of casinos.”
Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili and members of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party were highly critical of the budget and Premier Moe.
“The premier says this is a pandemic deficit,” NDP Leader Meili said during Tuesday’s Question Period following the budget’s delivery. “Well, where’s the pandemic budget? Where’s the budget that will actually meet the needs of the day?”
One of the largest criticisms from the NDP came not just from the numbers contained within the budget, but the length of the actual budget itself. The official document came out at just 25 pages long compared to 77 pages a year ago.
In a budget-related release published by the province, the Minister Responsible for First Nations and Métis Relations, Lori Carr, said “the Government of Saskatchewan looks forward to a new year of partnership, collaboration and discussion with First Nation and Métis people as we recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic together.”
The government tabled a “targeted investment of $186 million to meet the priorities of Saskatchewan’s First Nations and Métis communities, businesses and organizations,” with the casino-related grant making up about a quarter of that investment.
Five other figures were quoted in that release:
- a $5.4 million increase for third party Indigenous service providers,
- a $1.16 million increase for First Nations On-Reserve Policing and Enhanced Policing,
- a $134,000 increase for the First Nations University of Canada, Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, Gabriel Dumont Institute and Dumont Technical Institute,
- a $100,000 increase for Métis Addictions Council of Saskatchewan Inc.,
- and an $80,000 increase to the Aboriginal Courtworker Program.
Carr said “Indigenous families and businesses are not only a part of Saskatchewan, they are an important and growing economic force that benefits the entire province. With the investments included in the 2020-21 Budget, we will continue to support Indigenous communities and pursue meaningful, lasting reconciliation.”
The budget was originally scheduled to be released in mid-March before social distancing measures and a state of emergency declaration on March 18 forced the closure of many government businesses and services. Monday was the first day back in the chamber for members of the Legislative Assembly as part of a 14-day sitting session.
The province’s novel coronavirus numbers have been among the nation’s lowest. There have been 13 reported deaths in Saskatchewan related to the virus, with 684 cases (40 active) as of Tuesday.
The government also states that $370,000 was provided to northern municipalities to help with education costs related to homeschooling and distance learning. No further details were provided in the release about what these entailed.
While projections were in place for what the March budget was supposed to look like, Meili was dissatisfied with the minimal changes to the budget, particularly in relation to the plan to reopen schools for in-person classes in September.
“We’ve had three months for the Finance Minister and the Education Minister to come up with a plan how they were going to do this safely,” Meili said.
Healthcare was also a key talking point of the budget discussions. On Monday, Premier Moe dismissed Meili’s concerns of both a past and future shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline workers. The following day, Minister of Rural and Remote Health Warren Kaeding announced the opening of two long-term care facilities: a new one in Grenfell and an expansion on an existing property in La Ronge.
"Our government is taking action to meet the need for long-term care services in rural and northern areas," Kaeding said during Tuesday’s parliamentary session.
However, no specific mentions were made by Kaeding regarding Indigenous communities or their health concerns.
“While the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and Metis Nation-Saskatchewan were contacted for comment for this article, neither had provided a statement before press time.”
The full budget is available here.