Report from the Legislature, April 17, 2013
Last week, our government took a major step supporting the ambitious Growth Plan goals pertaining to agriculture. Under Growing Forward 2, the provincial and federal governments are partnering to provide $388 million in funding over the next five years for programming for farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses and exporters. This programming was created in consultation with agricultural producers, and includes:
· $170 million in agriculture innovation, research and technology transfer;
· $65 million in rural water infrastructure;
· $60 million in environment, food safety, plant and animal health;
· $32 million for value-added business development as well as trade and market development;
· $25 million in farm business management;
· $4 million to support the industry in agriculture awareness initiatives;
· Business risk management programming such as Crop Insurance, AgriStability, AgriInvest and AgriRecovery.
Growing Forward 2 includes a new Agricultural Awareness Initiative. This program provides funding to producers, commodity organizations, agribusiness and agencies to develop and implement educational activities about how important the agriculture industry is in Saskatchewan and Canada.
Agriculture remains one of the top drivers of the Saskatchewan economy. This new five-year agreement will give our province’s hard-working agricultural producers and businesses the tools they need to ensure that continues. This programming will also help our government meet its Growth Plan goals of increasing exports of agricultural and food products from $10 billion a year to $15 billion by 2020 and increasing crop production by 10-million tonnes over the next seven years.
You can also see the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth in action on the University of Regina campus. Our government is providing $10 million to build new housing for 605 post-secondary students at the University of Regina. This financial commitment moves us closer towards our goal of 12,600 new housing units across the province by 2016. This new residence will house a day care and be located near the Campion and Luther Colleges. This facility will provide safe housing for those pursuing a post-secondary education and in turn open up housing spaces in the Regina market. The expected completion date is September 2015.
Our government is continuing to assist individuals and communities with preparations for the spring melt. The Water Security Agency and the Ministry of Government Relations continue to hold a series of well attended informational meetings across the province, providing people an opportunity to gather information and advice on flood mitigation and programs available. The Emergency Management and Fire Safety already has more than a million sandbags, 68,000 feet of flood barrier and more than 80 pumps ready to go. This equipment will be distributed to municipalities and First Nations across southern Saskatchewan. Many lessons have been learned since 2011 and it is great to see so many communities being pro active and taking precautions. For more information about flood preparedness go to www.gov.sk.ca/flood or www.wsask.ca.
Report from the Legislature, April 3, 2013
Spring is slow arriving in Saskatchewan and with that comes the annual spring melt. This winter we saw heavy snow fall across much of the province, which has created the potential for significant spring flooding. Our government is preparing for the impact of the spring melt through the creation of the 2013 Emergency Flood Damage Reduction Program. This program will provide engineering and technical assistance to municipalities while sharing the cost of permanent and temporary flood prevention projects. For more details, go to https://www.wsask.ca.
To prepare for the spring melt, our government is working with stakeholders to create a multifaceted plan. The Ministry of Government Relations and the Water Security Agency will continue the provide assistance to communities throughout the province. Emergency Management and Fire Safety have deployed emergency equipment to the south of the province in areas likely to be affected by flooding. Provincial Disaster Assistance Program (PDAP) Response Teams are ready to assist communities that have been severely impacted by flooding. The Water Security Agency will release the next run-off forecast update during the week of April 8th.
Another excellent resource for preparing for the spring melt is the Spring Runoff Preparedness website. It has information on:
· Snowpack Update
· Municipality and Band Office Contacts
· Mitigate Actions
· Preparing for a Flood – Homeowner’s Guide
· How to Build a Sandbag Wall
· SaskPower Flood Hazards
· Electrical Safety
· Gas Safety
This information can be found at http://www.gr.gov.sk.ca/flood.
Another sign of spring in Saskatchewan is the start of highway construction. This year, signs in the highway work zone are changing to ensure that speed limits are “black and white.” Speed limits in highway work zones will be clearly marked with regulatory black and white speed signs of 60 km/h. As per all other speed signs, the driver must legally slow to the speed indicated or face increased penalties in the work zone. A driver will know they are approaching a construction zone by the orange sign with an image of a worker on it, the new speed sign will be approximately 150 metres behind. When leaving the construction area you will see a black and white regulatory sign with the new speed limit.
This change in signage also comes with increased penalties for those who break the law. Fines for drivers caught speeding in work zones will start at $210 and will increase by $3 per every kilometer over the speed limit, up to a speed of 90 km/h and $5 for every kilometer over 90 km/h. Drivers who speed through a work zone at 100 km/h will receive a fine of $450 plus a victim surcharge of $80 for a total of $530. Photo radar will also be used in some work zone beginning this year. These changes were first conceived following the tragic death last summer of a young highways worker.
The theme of the 2013-2014 provincial budget is “Balanced Growth.” This year’s budget is balanced, controls spending and continues to make investments to ensure a better quality life for all Saskatchewan people. It also delivers on commitments we made in the Plan for Growth.
Saskatchewan remains the only province with a balanced budget. This is key to achieving our Growth Plan goal of 1.2 million people by 2020. Through prudent management of the province’s finances, including debt reduction saving hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments, we lay a solid foundation for the future.
In the 2013-14 budget, our government continues to make investments to ensure a better quality of life for Saskatchewan people. Seniors Income Plan benefits increase to $250 a month – a 178 per cent increase since 2007. Benefits under the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program are also increasing as we work toward our Growth Plan goal of making Saskatchewan the best place in Canada to live for people with disabilities.
This year’s budget provides support for victims of domestic violence through the opening of the first new transition house in Saskatchewan since 1989 – in Melfort – and increased funding for women’s shelters across the province. We are committing $70.5 million to the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative – which will result in 7,000 additional surgeries performed this year as we work toward our goal of no one waiting more than three months for surgery by 2014.
We are continuing to invest in the infrastructure a growing economy needs. The 2013-14 budget contains:
· $281million for highways including work on the West Regina Bypass, Estevan Bypass, and a series of passing lanes on Highway 10 between Balgonie and Fort Qu’Appelle and $168 million to repair and upgrade existing highways;
· $86.5 million for Long Term Care facilities currently under construction; and
· $50 million for the new Moose Jaw hospital.
Our “Balanced for Growth” budget also contains measures to support Saskatchewan’s growing economy. For the third straight year, municipalities will receive record revenue sharing. This year’s total is $264.4 million, an increase of 108 per cent since 2007.
We lowered education tax mill rates to help offset the recent property assessment. With property values’ increasing by a record amount over the last four years, our government is taking action to ensure the amount collected in education property taxes remains revenue neutral this year. That being said, some property owners who saw their assessment go up more than average may still see their taxes go up.
The 2013-14 budget contains $119.6 million to fund 21 ongoing major school capital projects, two new schools and 15 pre-K facilities. With a projected need identified in the Growth Plan for 60,000 more workers by 2020, we are creating more training seats for the trades and taking further action to eliminate the wait list for Adult Basic Education by 2015.
Agriculture continues to play an important role in moving Saskatchewan forward. To that end, we have invested in a record $198.3 million for Crop Insurance in the “Balanced for Growth” budget. Crop Insurance coverage levels are also a record $194 per acre – more than double what was offered in 2007. The budget also contains a record investment in agricultural research of $27.7 million and an increase of $25 million for strategic initiatives like rural water infrastructure, trade and market development and farm business management. All of these investments will help us reach our Growth Plan goals.
The 2013-14 budget not only balances the books, it reflects and balances the priorities of Saskatchewan people. Through controlled spending in key areas, we are promoting opportunity and supporting society’s most vulnerable citizens. We are well-positioned to meet the challenges of growth. This budget will keep Saskatchewan moving forward.
Report from the Legislature, March 14, 2013
Our government is committed to ensuring Saskatchewan remains the best place in Canada to live, work and raise a family. To that end, we have announced that education property tax rates will be reduced in next week’s budget. The overall value of property in Saskatchewan has increased by 67 per cent over the last five years, which could have meant significant property tax increases. Reducing education property tax rates will help mitigate those increases. While some property owners may still see their taxes go up, others will go down and the overall impact in terms of re-assessment will be revenue neutral across Saskatchewan. When we first took office five years ago, property taxes funded about 60 percent of K-12 school costs. Because of changes made by our government, education property taxes now only fund about 35 per cent of those costs, with the remainder being covered by the provincial government. With a growing population and increased school enrolment, ensuring school divisions have the financial support they need is an important component in planning for growth.
Planning for growth also means ensuring Saskatchewan families have timely access to high quality healthcare, no matter where they live. Recruiting doctors to rural areas, and then keeping them there, is a major priority for our government. The new Rural Physician Incentive Program is a significant first step toward improving access to physician services outside major urban centres. The program will provide $120,000 in funding over five years to recent medical graduates who practice in communities of 10,000 or less. Eligible physicians will receive a payment at the end of each year of practice, with those payments gradually increasing over that five-year period. Not only will the Rural Physician Incentive Program help ease the financial burden many new doctors find themselves under, it also keeps and improves upon a commitment we made during the 2011 election campaign. Promise made, promise kept.
And they say that in politics, as in life, you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s really too bad for new NDP leader Cam Broten. Minutes after delivering his first official speech as leader, he came out in support of Dwain Lingenfelter’s plan to cut a special deal with First Nations on resource revenues. As a matter of fact, Broten could not think of one thing he would change in the disastrous Lingenfelter election platform rejected by voters on November 7, 2011. Then when asked about his position on the Keystone XL pipeline project, Broten was all over the map. At first, he wouldn’t say where he stood. Then he said he wanted to wait for National Energy Board approval. It turns out though that Keystone received NEB approval three years ago. Broten ended his first week in his new job by saying he did support Keystone, despite the fact that in May 2012 he voted against a motion to support the project.
Report from the Legislature, March 6 2013
Our government is committed to taking action that reflects the values important to Saskatchewan people. After extensive consideration and consultation, we have decided the drinking age in Saskatchewan will not be lowered from 19 to 18. The idea to look at possibly changing the drinking age was the result of a resolution from the Saskatchewan Party’s youth wing. So we said as a government, we would look at it and accept comments and feedback from some of the major stakeholders, as well as the public on this matter. We received feedback from groups such as the province’s police chiefs, Mothers Against Drinking and Driving, Students Against Drinking and Driving, medical professionals and addictions counsellors. Based on what we heard, we have decided not to change the legal drinking age. With this decision, Saskatchewan remains in line with most other Canadian provinces where the legal drinking age is 19. It has been 19 here since 1976.
Another area our government is seeking public input is on traffic safety. To that end, a new legislative committee has been created to explore ways to improve traffic safety and reduce fatalities. This new committee is made up of both government and opposition MLAs. In the coming months, the committee will be holding meetings throughout the province to consult with the public and stakeholders. Areas such as ways to improve traffic safety, reduce the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities caused by factors like impaired driving, distracted driving, excessive speed, wildlife and intersections will be considered. The findings of the consultations will be release in a report on August 30, 2013. Last year there were 175 traffic fatalities on our highways, the deadliest year in recent memory. After the senseless death of an 18 year-old woman working in the Orange Zone, our government took action to implement safety improvements for highways workers, including rumble strips to be used in prioritized work zones, gates that narrow the approaches and increased fines for drivers caught speeding in the Orange Zone. We also introduced legislation for photo radar in the Orange Zones which will be implemented once it’s passed in the spring.
With the spring session of the Legislature upon us, our government is committed to moving forward on the commitments we made in the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth. To that end, one of the first orders of business will be our sixth consecutive balanced budget. Overall spending increases will be less than four percent, but Saskatchewan people will not see any significant cuts or elimination of important programs and services. It’s been a more challenging budgeting process given pressures such as lower resource revenues, but we will move forward on Growth Plan initiatives such as SaskBuilds, a government agency that will look for innovative ways to address our growing province’s ongoing infrastructure needs. The spring session of the Legislature began on March 4th.
One of the key components of the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth is our government’s commitment to balanced budgets. Our record in this area is strong – we’ve had balanced budgets every year since 2007. Last weeks’ release of the 2012-2013 Third Quarter Financial Report shows that we are on track to do the same thing this year, despite falling resource revenues. Those declines are being offset in large part by the benefits of growth, including a growing tax base thanks to higher employment and record population growth.
The Third Quarter Financial Report projects that we will finish the 2012-13 fiscal year with an $8.8 million pre-transfer surplus. That’s down from what was in the budget, mainly due to increases such as:
- $50 million for highway improvements;
- $40 million for the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program; up $110 million in total over budget;
- $47 million for AgriStability, AgriInvest and Crop Insurance;
- $10 million for snow removal and ice control on provincial highways;
- $4 million for increased usage of the Graduate Retention Program.
Not only does the budget continue to be balanced, we are doing this against a backdrop of no increase in government debt and with a healthy balance of more than $660 million in the Growth and Financial Security Fund.
Fiscal responsibility is an important element of the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth. Without it, achieving the plan’s ambition goals will be even more of a challenge. If we want to grow our province to 1.2 million people by 2020, double our exports and continue to invest in programs and services important to you and your family, we must be prudent.
In the coming weeks, MLAs will return to the legislature for the spring session. Shortly thereafter, we will announce our next budget. Not only will it be balanced, it will further reflect our government’s commitment to ensuring the benefits of growth are used to improve the quality of life for all Saskatchewan people.
Together we will maintain the Saskatchewan Advantage and continue to move our province forward.
Saskatchewan’s economy remains one of the strongest in the country, if not the world. Major economic forecasters are predicting we will be number two in Canada in terms of economic growth this year. Oil production in Saskatchewan hit a new record high in 2012. At 1,086,054, we are well on our way to achieving one of the key goals of the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth: a population of 1.2 million by 2020. A strong economy has allowed our government to invest in programs and services that are improving the quality of life for all Saskatchewan people.
With our next budget just around the corner, our government is committed to keeping another one of the goals of the Growth Plan: balanced budgets. The 2013-14 budget will be balanced, but there are several factors we are taking into consideration as we work toward that goal. Growth is not without its challenges
Property values in Saskatchewan have increased dramatically over the last four years. This is another reflection of our strong economy but rising property values put upwards pressure on property taxes. While our government will do what we can to mitigate any increases, it presents a challenge in the budgetary process. Other challenges are lower oil and potash prices.
That being said, Saskatchewan municipalities will continue to receive record levels of support from our government. $264 million will be allocated in municipal revenue sharing funding in the upcoming budget. That’s an 11 per cent increase from last year and continues our commitment to providing Saskatchewan’s cities, towns, villages and RMs with a long-term stable source of provincial funding. During our time in government, revenue sharing to municipalities has doubled.
Revenue sharing provides municipalities with unconditional funding they can then use to provide the programs and services a growing province needs. And our province is indeed growing. In 2012, the number of babies born in Saskatchewan hit a 22-year high of 15,035. The last time we cracked the 15,000 mark was 1991. The most popular name for baby girls last year was Emma; Liam was the most popular boys’ name.
Our government continues to take action to work toward the ambitious goals outlined in the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth. Following the announcement of the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) in the Growth Plan last fall, we are moving forward in partnership with the U of S and PCS to provide $50 million in funding by 2020 to address the increasing global demand for safe, reliable food. In addition to announcing the appointment of the CEO last month, this week we announced the appointment of three new directors to the founding board of the GIFS. With its abundance of natural resources, Saskatchewan is well-suited to play a significant role as a secure source of food to meet the needs of a hungry world.
MLA Report Jan 30th, 2013
Saskatchewan’s economic and population growth have provided us with the resources to improve services, invest in our communities and provide sound fiscal management. This growth however does come with challenges. If you own property, chances are the value of that property has increased greatly over the past few years. The flip side of this is good news is that it may translate into higher property taxes. Over the past four years the value of property in Saskatchewan has increased 67 per cent, moving from $58 billion in 2009 to $97 billion in the 2013 revaluation year. Since the education property tax is levied on the assessment of property, our government will need to take a close look at the potential impact of the increase in property assessments on taxpayers. In 2009, the provincial government delivered the largest education property tax cut in Saskatchewan history, reducing education property taxes by more than 80 per cent on farmland and nearly 30 per cent on residential properties. Our government is taking a thoughtful approach during our budgeting process to mitigate increased property taxes.
One part of ensuring everyone benefits from growth is providing recreational spaces for families. It was with that in mind that our government recently announced the keeping of a campaign promise to support community rinks. Through the Community Rink Affordability Grant, our government has invested more than $1.6 million in 554 facilities in 387 communities to maintain indoor ice surfaces. This grant was open until December 21st which allowed communities, non-profits, schools, rink boards and First Nations to register their indoor rink for the $2,500 grant. This is another way your Saskatchewan Party government is making Saskatchewan the best place in Canada to raise a family.
As mentioned, one of the benefits of growth is the ability to provide improved services and programs that produce real changes in our communities. One such program is the Targeted Police Initiative, which supports effective and relevant enforcement services. Every community has specific issues around crime; this funding allows municipal police services to focus on these issues. This approach has led to reduced crime, resulting in safer communities. In 2011, Saskatchewan crime rate dropped three per cent and our youth crime-rate was four per cent lower than ten years ago. The Targeted Police Initiative is already at work in Estevan, Moose Jaw and North Battleford for an investment of $1,300,000 and more will be announced in the near future. In 2007, we promised to provide 120 additional police offers throughout the province. We kept that promise in our four years in government and continue to move forward this program as the next step in our commitment to make Saskatchewan a safe place to live.
MLA Report, Jan 23, 2013
Access to affordable, quality health care is one of the most important services a government provides for its citizens. That is why our government has been working in conjunction with other provinces and territories to provide lower cost generic drugs. This plan will see a great reduction in cost on six of the most commonly used drugs. The new prices will come into effect April 1, 2013 on:
· Atorvastatin – used to treat high cholesterol;
· Ramipril – used to treat blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions;
· Venlafaxine – used to treat depression and other mental health conditions;
· Amlodipine – used to treat high blood pressure and angina;
· Omeprazole – used to treat a variety of gastrointestinal conditions; and
· Rabeprazole – used to treat a variety of gastrointestinal conditions.
By working with other provinces and territories we will save close to $10 million for Saskatchewan residents, private insurers and the provincial government. While this is good news for Saskatchewan families we recognize that this change will impact community pharmacies. We will work with pharmacies to identify opportunities to re-invest a portion of the savings back into the services they provide.
While it’s important to ensure people have medication that’s affordable, it’s as equally important to educate youth about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. This is why we are continuing our efforts to reduce the use of tobacco, especially in our youth. The Ministry of Health has launched the second phase of the youth anti-tobacco campaign which will include television, cinema ads, on-line and Facebook ads about the negative impact of tobacco use on your health. This campaign will feature messages from Saskatchewan youth directed to the ages of 11 to 14. This is one element of an overall effort to reduce tobacco use. Right now, stats show that the daily smoking rates in Saskatchewan are at an all-time low.
Another important aspect of preparing our youth for successful futures is through education. To that end, our government is taking action to ensure our students have uniform instructional time across Saskatchewan. Until now instructional times have varied throughout the province which was a noted concern for the Provincial Auditor in 2011. After extensive consultations beginning in 2011 with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, the League of Education Administrators, Directors and Superintendents, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the Saskatchewan Association of School Business the school year will now be set at 950 instructional hours. This change will bring us in line with our western Canadian counterparts and take effect in the 2013-14 school year.
Report from the Legislature, Jan. 9, 2013
One of the keys to getting where you want to be is knowing where you’ve been. That rings very true for our government as we move into 2013. 2012 was a fantastic year for Saskatchewan with record levels of investment, job growth and population.
Our population hit an all-time of 1,086,564 last year. There are 23,024 thousand more people living in Saskatchewan. This is the largest-ever single year population increase since 1921. One of the challenges of that kind of growth is having enough work for those people. Saskatchewan came through with shining colours on that front in 2012. In December, there were a record 539,800 people working in Saskatchewan, a new monthly record. Over the course of the year, full-time employment increased by 16,300
Those are just a few of the truly impressive economic statistics for the Land of the Living Skies in 2012.
We also led the country in non-residential investment, at $1.3 billion in the first three quarters of the year. Saskatchewan was also best in Canada in terms of urban housing starts, with an increase of 35.4 per cent in the first 11 months. Our international exports totalled $26.5 billion and retail sales had hit $14.25 billion, by October 2012. While we’re still waiting for some final data to come in, 2012 was a great year and all indications are to expect more of the same in 2013.
The Conference Board of Canada is predicting Saskatchewan will be number one in terms of economic growth this year, at 3.4 per cent. According to seven other major economic forecasters, Saskatchewan’s growth rate will still be amongst the top in the nation.
In 2013, families will continue to benefit from our government’s actions in regards to income tax. This year, a family of four will pay no provincial income tax on their first $47,790 of income –the highest tax-free income threshold for a family of four in Canada. Since 2008, our government has taken several measures to reduce personal income taxes which, when you combine them with new tax reduction programs like the refundable Low Income Tax Reduction and Active Families Benefit, have resulted in significant savings for Saskatchewan families. By the end of this year, a family of four making $50,000 a year will have saved over $12,000 in taxes over the last six years.
In 2013, our government will continue to be guided by the growth plan we announced last fall – which includes balanced budgets, a population of 1.2 million by 2020 and an aggressive growth agenda with measurable targets. The Saskatchewan Plan for Growth lays out a very clear direction that means more growth, more investment and more people living and working here. Through the growth plan, we will ensure that the benefits of growth are used to improve the quality of life for you and your family.
May 25, 2013