Report from the Legislature – April 2, 2014

On March 19, our government was proud to present its seventh consecutive balanced budget.  By controlling spending, keeping taxes low and making targeted investments in people and infrastructure we are ensuring Saskatchewan remains on the path of steady growth.

Schools, hospitals and long term care facilities, highways, bridges and bypasses are among the many priorities outlined in a provincial budget that includes many of the initiatives the NDP opposition had petitioned for. Despite this, their members still voted against it.

The NDP voted against innovative health care programs and increased benefits for seniors and those with disabilities.  They voted against 500 new daycare spaces and against funding to help students afford their education.  The NDP also voted against funding to address enrolment growth in K-12 schools and more post-secondary training and apprenticeship seats.

While opposition politicians continue to say one thing and do another, our government will continue to focus on the steady growth of our province.  We will use the benefits of growth to create better quality of life that ensures our children and our nieces and nephews will never again be forced to leave Saskatchewan for opportunities that only exist in other provinces.

In 2014-15, our government has budgeted $669 million for post-secondary institutions.  We have also allocated $216 million to help students afford their education – including $82 million for the Graduate Retention Program.  We are also continuing to invest in the training of nurses and doctors, including $14.3 million for the final year of the registered nurse seat expansion, $13.7 million to continue implementing 100 new medical undergraduate seats and $10.4 million to continue implementing 120 new medical residency seats.

Our steady growth budget also provides $189 million for programs and initiatives that specifically benefit First Nations and Metis people.  Much of this is to ensure First Nations and Metis people receive the education and training they need to take full advantage of our growing economy.  While last year’s budget added 300 new seats to begin to eliminate the Adult Basic Education waitlist, this year’s budget includes $2.1 million in new funding to add 700 more seats.  It also includes a $1 million increase to add another 300 apprenticeship training seats.

As part of the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth, we expect to add 60,000 more people to our workforce by 2020.  We’re making record investments in post-secondary education so people can receive the training needed to participate in our dynamic labour market.  This includes inclusive programming for adult learners to begin, continue, or enhance academic studies and training.  This year, our government is investing $25 million in Adult Basic Education and foundational skills programs.  This increases the number of ABE training seats to 8,580.  We are also providing $31 million through the Provincial Training Allowance for living allowances and child care for adult learners in ABE and short-term skills training programs.

The strength of our economy is allowing employers to pass on the benefits through higher compensation, an asset when it comes to attracting new workers.  Statistics Canada figures show that, over the last year, Saskatchewan’s wage increases continue to outpace the national rate with people in our province enjoying both a better quality of life and rising wages.  Saskatchewan’s average weekly earnings reached $953.92 in January.  Nationally, average earnings were $924.77.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan’s minimum wage is set to increase October 1, 2014.  Providing security and predictability for both minimum wage and earners and business owners, our government will soon introduce regulations to provide for regular indexing of the minimum wage.  Since 2007 our government has increased the minimum wage six times, moving it from $7.95 to $10.20.  This 28 per cent increase is well ahead of the rate of inflation.

The tax burden on minimum wage earners in our province has also been significantly reduced by increasing the basic personal, spousal and child benefits and by creating the Saskatchewan Low Income Tax Credit.  These efforts have removed about 112,000 people from the tax rolls. Individual taxpayers now pay no Saskatchewan income tax on their first $18,650 of income while a family of four pays no Saskatchewan income tax on their first $48,320 of income – the highest tax-free income threshold for a family of four in Canada.