Wednesday, 09 December 2015 16:21

Sask’s fall legislative sitting was a dress rehearsal

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The final sitting of the Saskatchewan Legislature before the next provincial election was a useful dress rehearsal for the upcoming political campaigns of the Saskatchewan Party and the Saskatchewan NDP.


The 25-day sitting of the legislative assembly concluded  Nov. 26, despite objections from the opposition NDP. The party made a formal request in the legislature on the second last day of the fall session that the sitting is extended for two weeks to allow for “proper scrutiny” of the mid-year financial updates and other issues, but it was turned down.
The government avoided the opposition’s scrutiny of the mid-year financial update in the legislature by releasing the document on Nov. 30. It indicated a reduction of almost $400 million in non-renewable resource revenue for the province since the introduction of the 2015-16 budget in March.
Revenue is down $270 million from budget, reflecting the impact of the declining oil price, and expense is up $99 million from budget, partially as a result of forest fire costs. The government is therefore projecting a budget deficit of $262 million by the end of the 2015-16 financial year.
The financial details in this document would not have changed the narrative already set by both sides for the upcoming election during debate in the legislature.
The mantra from the government benches has not really changed much since the previous provincial election — a Saskatchewan Party government is keeping Saskatchewan strong and moving forward, and despite the current challenges the people of the province do not want to return to a NDP government.
The opposition argued that government spending on things such as Lean consultants, faulty smart meters and an expensive and underperforming carbon capture and storage project is evidence of misplaced spending priorities that is dragging the province into deficit.
NDP leader Cam Broten added another twist to this argument towards the end of the legislative session when he spoke about how the Brad Wall government’s spending priorities have changed from paying down debt and hiring more nurses to wasting money on projects that are not benefitting the people of the province.
These two opposing points of view — trust the Saskatchewan Party government you have because the alternative is a NDP government versus the current government is out of touch and wasting money — will probably provide the overarching framework for each party’s campaign.
The issue of privatization is set to be a prominent campaign issue as a result of a government announcement during the fall sitting that if re-elected it intends to do a major overhaul of the liquor retailing system.
The government’s intention is to convert 40 government liquor stores to private stores and to add 12 new private liquor stores in underserved communities, while the liquor permitting and pricing system will also be updated.
The NDP has already criticized this proposal to privatize government liquor stores because the party is concerned this change will result in a loss of government income, which is used to pay for health and education.
The privatization of health care services in the province will most likely become part of this election debate, especially in view of the passing of legislation during this fall sitting that allows patients in Saskatchewan with the option to pay for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan at a private clinic. The NDP has opposed this legislation over concerns that it is the start of a two-tier health care system and that an option to pay for privately provided services will not address wait times for services in the public health care system.
The NDP’s argument during the fall sitting that the growing provincial debt as an indication of the government’s misplaced spending priorities will no doubt be repeated during the election campaign. The Saskatchewan Party counter argument on the election trail will also be similar to what was said from the government bench in the legislature – the party has been careful to control spending during challenging times while the NDP demands for more spending on health care and education will only result in larger deficits.
The fall legislative sitting has been a good practice run for both parties to try out their arguments for the upcoming election, but the real test will happen on April 4 when they face the Saskatchewan electorate.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at mliebenberg@ prairiepost.com.

Read 2816 times Last modified on Wednesday, 09 December 2015 16:23
Matthew Liebenberg

Reporter/Photographer