Report from the Legislature – February 5, 2014

The success and growth of our agriculture industry depends on getting products to port and shipped throughout the world.  Unfortunately, problematic weather and the sheer volume of this year’s crop is so great that rail transportation can’t keep up.  This shouldn’t happen.  Our government is committed to finding solutions and fully supports the federal government in its efforts to alleviate this situation – including enhancements to the Grain Monitoring Program.

We need to move our product to market and it was extremely disappointing to see thousands of CN train and yard operations employees serve strike notice.  In a letter to Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, Premier Wall asked for immediate legislation to prevent members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference from taking strike action.  This action was necessary as a strike at this time would only further exacerbate an already intolerable situation.

Railways need to immediately enact a plan to increase grain shipments.  We recognize efforts are underway to develop a long-term plan for the future, as we anticipate these larger crops will become the new normal.  However, further action is necessary to clear up the immediate backlog as soon as possible.  We will continue to work to find a solution with stakeholders, including the federal government, grain companies, railways and port authorities.

We have a choice in Saskatchewan.  We can plan for growth or we can plan for decline.  After experiencing the latter for far too long, Saskatchewan people chose growth.  Today, our province is growing and our government has a plan to help sustain that growth over the long-term.  A key part of our growth plan is investing in infrastructure.  Just this year, our government invested $850 million in things like highways, housing, healthcare facilities and more. We are on track to meet our commitment to invest $2.5 billion over four years.  Since 2008, our government and Crown Corporations have invested $13.2 billion into infrastructure – double the amount that was spent in the previous six years.

As we work to finalize the 2014-15 provincial budget, we recognize there are a growing number of necessary infrastructure projects that require funding.  Innovative financing is needed and, realistically, we won’t be able to keep up if we aren’t engaging the private sector.  To meet the challenges of growth, within a balanced budget, we are looking at all of our options.  As a result, we may have to consider taxation to help fund these projects.  This, of course, would be a last resort.  Our government has a track record of reducing taxes and keeping them low.  While raising tax for revenue opportunities is something we are reluctant to do, it is something we have to consider as there is a lot to do if we want to keep up with infrastructure demands.

The strength of the construction sector is building our infrastructure and creating jobs.  In fact, Saskatchewan set a new benchmark with $3.15 billion in building permits last year.  Between 2005 and 2013, permit growth on a cumulative basis was up 247 per cent – more than double Manitoba’s rate, more than triple Alberta’s increase and more than seven times the national basis.

While many hands helped to build Saskatchewan’s economy in 2013, the same can be said for building Saskatchewan pride.  After an incredible year that saw the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup at home, congratulations now go out to Head Coach Corey Chamblin for being named CFL Coach of the Year.  Saskatchewan people are also proud of homegrown heroes like Regina’s Jon Ryan and Weyburn’s Graham DeLaet.  Ryan, a punter with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, just won the Super Bowl while DeLaet is carving out a reputation as one of the best golfers around.  Many of us now turn our attention to Sochi, Russia where 19 other athletes with ties to our province have arrived to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. They are living proof that you can grow up to be a world-class hockey player, figure skater or snowboarder right here in Saskatchewan.  We look forward to cheering them on!