Legislative Debates (30 March 2005)

Legislative Debates

From Hansard - 30 March 2005

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Budget Debate
Mr. Stewart: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Its my pleasure to join in on the budget debate in this Hon. Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, this NDP government, or this province for that matter, has never seen such a windfall on the revenue side with revenues exceeding expectations in the budget year just ending to the tune of $1.1 billion revenue generated by unprecedented oil and gas prices, steadily increasing prices for potash and uranium, and nearly half a billion dollars in unexpected, one-time federal transfers. That $1.1 billion was generated in the fiscal year just ending, Mr. Speaker, and for the new fiscal year that is about to begin they project an additional $400 million on the revenue side.

Heady times indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, especially when one considers that the additional 400 million that is projected for this upcoming fiscal year is based on only $41.50 oil. Pretty conservative, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when we consider that oil is up around $57 a barrel and the fundamentals that we are aware of today indicate that it will likely stay up around the $50 mark for the year. That makes the governments projection probably $10 a barrel or about 25 per cent low, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Conservative indeed.

In other words, Mr. Deputy Speaker, never in the history of this province has any government had such an opportunity to show some leadership or to take a direction that will begin to propel us out of the economic and social stagnation that we have been mired in for six decades.

But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we see no direction in this budget and no leadership. In fact there is so little direction and leadership in this budget that it looks like they just couldnt agree on any kind of a direction and after squabbling for a period of time the Premier, or whoevers in charge over there, threw up his hands and said okay, then well just give every government department and agency a little money, we wont do anything for the real people in this province, and well once again abdicate our responsibility to lead.

You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I didnt volunteer to speak in this budget debate until I saw the budget. I knew that the NDP government had a huge windfall of cash to spend. I assumed that they were smart enough to direct a good portion of that money where it could really make a difference. And I didnt want to be put in a position of having to criticize the government for trying to do the right thing. But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they missed the mark badly and theyre not making any kind of a serious effort to do the right thing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, lets examine some of the specific shortcomings of this budget. Since the early 1990s, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this NDP government has been downloading on both rural and urban municipalities. But not only have they been downloading costs and responsibilities on municipalities, they have at the same time cut back revenue sharing grants to both rural and urban municipalities. There is nothing in this budget to address that injustice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This will undoubtedly mean that property taxes will again be forced up right across this province, the province with the highest property taxes in all classes in the country.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, former Premier Roy Romanow got a lot of credit for balancing the budget in the mid-1990s. He did that on the backs of every segment of the population except the provincial government, which continued to grow right through his NDP government. And no segment of the population, with the possible exception of farmers, paid a higher price for those balanced budgets than did property taxpayers. Mr. Deputy Speaker, not only are high property taxes a burden on our families and our agricultural sector, but they are making us uncompetitive in all sectors of our economy and they are one of the big three taxes that discourage investment in this province.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, this matter of high property taxes needed to be addressed as soon as the government had the financial capacity to do so. This NDP government had the financial capacity to address it in this budget, and they failed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, low income earners in this province pay the highest income taxes in the country. The Saskatchewan Party has a plan to give low-income earners the break that they so richly deserve by substantially increasing their personal exemption. Often when this tired, mean-spirited, old government cant come up with a workable idea of their own, they steal ours, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have never so sincerely wished that they would steal one of our ideas than I did in this case.

We on this side of the floor have compassion for good productive people who work hard and still cant get a break. And we have a plan to do something about it. This government had the opportunity and the financial means to do something about it, and they refused.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, Saskatchewan has the highest business taxes in the country. The NDP dont like business. They are socialists. They believe in the Regina Manifesto which is the document that their ideology is based on and it vows to destroy capitalism. What the NDP either dont know or intentionally ignore is the fact that it takes a vibrant and growing private business sector to make the investments and create the jobs that will cause an economy to prosper.

This province, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has the highest basket of taxes not based on profit of any jurisdiction in Canada. These are taxes like corporate capital tax, PST, and property taxes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, business expects to pay a fair amount of tax in one form or another, but the taxes that they find most repugnant are those taxes that are not based on profit. And they will invest in jurisdictions where those taxes are lower or dont exist, and they will continue to avoid places like this where they are unreasonably high. Mr. Deputy Speaker, this government had the financial ability to deal with these taxes that kill investment and prosperity in our province, and chose not to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this budget the government actually broadened the base of the corporate capital tax that applies to oil and gas industry by applying this job-killing tax to energy trusts. Is it any wonder, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this incompetent government predicts less drilling starts this year this year, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with $57 oil than we had last year? And is it any wonder that there were less drilling starts last year than the year before?

Our school teachers contribute to this province like they never have before, Mr. Deputy Speaker. These days they are expected to be social workers, policemen, psychologists, and parents as well as teachers. They have done their part to help this province and now, when they expect and need a little fairness in return, this NDP government imposes a 0, 1, and 1 wage settlement guideline on them which today we hear may not be firm after all.

Not only that, Mr. Speaker, but this NDP budget allows no new money for K to 12 operating grants, money that will be necessary to cover any kind of a negotiated wage settlement. Once again they had the means but refused to do the right thing by our teachers. This action, or inaction, has the potential to throw this province into a teachers strike and eventually drive more of our teachers out of the province. Since this budget allows no new money for K to 12 operating grants, any settlement this government makes with our teachers will go straight into property taxes and further exacerbate that already grim situation.

Our agricultural producers have been this governments favourite whipping boy since Roy Romanow and his bunch failed to honour signed GRIP [gross revenue insurance program] contracts with producers in 1992 and got away with it. This government signed on to the CAIS program knowing full well that the provinces share was to be 40 per cent. Then, Mr. Speaker, they capped the provincial contribution at $99 million, knowingly breaking their word and violating the terms of the agreement that they had signed with the federal government. They then steadfastly refused to live up to their signed commitment and fully fund the 2003 program until the dying days of 2004.

At first, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they claimed that the province couldnt afford the program that they had already agreed to, and then, when oil revenues began to roll in at a rate that even they couldnt conceal any more, they did what they always do when theyre in a tight spot. They blamed the feds. They said that they were misled by them, that they were told that 99 million would always be enough to cover the program in Saskatchewan.

Then, Mr. Speaker, they began to challenge the 60/40 cost-sharing arrangement that they signed on to in order to stall some more.

Mr. Speaker, everybody knew what the cost-sharing formula was, and everybody knew that $99 million wouldnt come close to funding 40 per cent of the program in Saskatchewan. And nearly everyone said so. As the opposition Ag critic at the time, I said so publicly. How stupid are they? Or how stupid do they think the rest of us are? The very fact that they floated this series of distortions of the truth indicates with clarity the lack of respect and pure contempt in which they hold our most important industry, agriculture.

Theyre doing it again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Now theyre refusing to fully fund the 2004 CAIS program and this budget makes no allowance for them to fully fund it. This at a time when they have the financial ability to grow the size of government in this province, particularly the communications salaries in the Premiers office which are up 58 per cent, from $856,000 to 1.35 million in this budget.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, this government has gutted the crop insurance program. This will be the third or fourth consecutive year that they have increased premiums and reduced coverage. Crop insurance and CAIS are the only protection our producers have against the vagaries of our climate and a marketplace that is all too often interfered with by protectionist policies and products subsidized by foreign governments. They had the means to address these critical issues in agriculture and they turned their back.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, the food allowance for recipients of social services hadnt been raised for 20 years. The Saskatchewan Party has repeatedly brought this issue to the governments attention and to the attention of the media. Finally in this budget they address the situation, but to such a small extent as to be totally meaningless. Neither is there any provision to index the basic social services allowance, Mr. Speaker. These are not measures that cost a lot of money, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but they do cry out for a commitment from this government which has once again turned its back on the poorest among us in the budget in favour of increasing the size of government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, drug addiction is a very serious problem in this province and has been for a long time. But the introduction to our province of crystal methamphetamine is a whole new ball game. Crystal meth is the most addictive drug that is known to exist, with many users being addicted after their first usage. After becoming addicted, the average life expectancy of a user is six years.

My colleagues and I get too many calls and emails and letters from desperate parents who are watching their teenagers kill themselves on this drug. They tell us that there are not nearly enough treatment facilities, and that there is no specific program for this horrible drug that needs to be treated differently. This budget makes no provision for additional treatment beds for those suffering from addictions, and those caring families will continue to have nowhere to turn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, northern Saskatchewan is rich with economic development opportunities, but it takes infrastructure to make development of the Norths rich resources possible. That infrastructure is the responsibility of no one but the government of this province.

Once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is no provision in this budget for all-weather roads in the North, roads that could be the key to unlock the vast potential of northern Saskatchewan. This government had the financial ability to address this issue as well, but once again we see the interests of real people in this province take a back seat to this administrations interest in growing the government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, this government is sitting on a windfall in excess of $1.5 billion over and above what they expected in revenue at this time, and they are still trying to force teachers and nurses into a non-negotiable wage settlements of 0, 1, and 1. Sadly there is no money in this budget to allow for higher settlements. And this government is on a potential collision course with these professionals that will devastate education and health care in the province and send more of our valuable professionals scurrying to more friendly jurisdictions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, even though this government had 1.5 billion extra dollars to play with in this hapless budget, they managed to miss the mark on all of the important issues that I have discussed, and many more.

But they still managed to overspend. The budget document clearly shows that even with this windfall of cash, this bungling, irresponsible NDP government managed to spend more than they took in. And that, friends and neighbours, is a deficit. In order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make this appear to the unschooled to be a balanced budget, they drew down $145 million from the Fiscal Stabilization Fund. Most people surely know by now that there is no money in the so-called Fiscal Stabilization Fund. It is nothing more than a bookkeeping entry and any money that is drawn out of this fund for any purpose must be borrowed by the province. That is what this budget proposes to do and it means that, clearly, there is a deficit this year of $145 million and correspondingly the debt of the province will increase by that amount.

Last year this NDP government pleaded poverty and increased the PST by one point. This year, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they had the opportunity to reverse that PST increase, but reducing taxes to real people flies in the face of their philosophical bent to increase the size of government so they didnt do that either.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, this budget should have used one-time windfall cash in a way that would build an economic future in this province and look after the least advantaged among us with compassion. It misses that mark badly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and accordingly I will not support the budget but I will be supporting the amendment.

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