Wednesday, 01 March 2017 11:44

Saskatchewan looks like it will be a different place

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With the countryside littered with fragments of shot-down (trial) balloons as the release of the Saskatchewan budget nears the end of this month, Premier Brad Wall is at his first real crossroads.

While he has enjoyed arguably unprecedented popularity as the most popular premier within his own province for years ... the times, they seem to be changing. On March 22, the new budget will be tabled and so far Kevin Doherty, Sask. finance minister, hasn’t showed his hand about what exactly is happening including giving a traditional third-quarter update. The deficit in June 2016 was reported at about $434 million, but Wall indicated in February it is now at $1.2 billion.
Oops. Unless Doherty has won a Powerball in the United States — because this deficit is too much for the Canadian lotteries — the financial picture is not looking so rosy.
Most people are hopeful the petroleum industry will come back strong and start piping in more dollars to government coffers, but in the meantime, Saskatchewan government officials have been trying to streamline certain government operations.
It looks like there is a push to decrease administration in two of those three big areas. While education has already had an official study and report, now it’s just a matter of time before government officials decide whether to vastly decrease the number of school divisions and administrators or reduce to just one mega division.
One are that has been changed is health. It was reported by the Canadian Press Feb. 27, administrators including 12 CEOs and 62 vice-presidents for all 12 Saskatchewan health regions were  offered buyouts and have until mid-March to comply — conveniently a week before the budget is to be tabled in the legislature. The single health region idea probably will be implemented in the fall.
All of this has to do with being wary of the smaller centres and rightly or wrongly, getting back to small ‘c’ conservative political thinking of less government and administration. Of course, the government sought the public’s opinion on what they would like with consultations, sending “leaked” stories to the media and watching subsequent reaction on social media and elsewhere. Ultimately March 22, we will know the direction of this government.
While on the surface, it looks like these cuts would not fly in Regina or Saskatoon where many of the faceless administration and bureaucrat type people those in rural areas love to despise live, all of a sudden now, the wiping out of health and schools boards looms large.
Not having that “local” connection to the government is troubling for many. While there is always jealousy of administrators who get paid a lot of money to sit on a board, it’s usually those people who are leaned on for support when something is required.
Now government is sending up trial balloons about the potential sale of Crown Corporations, especially new legislation which would allow government to sell 49 per cent of it to private interests.
Somewhere Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) officials must be wondering what will happen to their membership. After health and education, one has to wonder about the next area of expenditure and that would be the funding of municipal governments for which SARM represents —all 296 of them. With SARM’s annual convention in Saskatoon March 13-17, one would think that could get interesting.
All that will be left is to pick up the pieces of the trial balloons off of the Saskatchewan landscape. A wait and see attitude is prevalent amongst voters as they try to figure out whether they have an option with the NDPor stick with who got them here.
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor