Budgets rarely capture the imagination of the electorate, and today’s Saskatchewan budget was certainly no exception. This is unfortunate due to the very real choices for the future direction of our province that lay beneath the more mundane economic statements contained in today’s budget speeches.
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz stated that this year’s provincial budget will be about “keeping the Saskatchewan Advantage,” through the introduction of certain austerity measures that are "needed to preserve the province’s prosperity."
While the need for austerity during times of supposed prosperity may strike some as a contradiction, it does point to the very myopic and fleeting notion of “prosperity” that the Saskatchewan Party seems to cling to. One might reasonably ask what the purpose of all this prosperity is, when we cannot seem to make basic investments in one area without commensurate cuts in others.
Indeed, the very thought of harnessing some of the province’s current prosperity through increased revenues to invest in the future seems anathema to this Saskatchewan Party government. Even marginal increases in resource royalties or corporate tax rates are seen as beyond the pale, as even minimal tinkering will supposedly undermine the fickle and fragile confidence of private investors. Instead we are asked to welcome new spending initiatives with the elimination of others. What, ultimately, is the benefit of this “Saskatchewan Advantage” if we are forced to endure austerity in order to ensure prosperity? Who is the Saskatchewan Advantage actually advantaging? Could the Saskatchewan Advantage be an advantage for only a very select group in the province?
And this is the crucial question. What is the inheritance that we will leave for tomorrow with today’s prosperity? There seems to be no real foresight or vision in the government’s approach to Saskatchewan’s current economic success, as if this resource boom will defy all the laws of economics and history and last for time immemorial.
We have a powerful example next door to us in Alberta of how to grossly mismanage a resource boom. The legacy of Alberta’s “Advantage” is a litany of corporate tax-cuts, resource giveaways, paltry public royalties, decaying infrastructure, threadbare safety-nets, environmental disasters and ballooning deficits.
Despite this dramatic reminder right on our doorstep, our current government seems determined to blindly follow the same myopic fiscal path as our western neighbour. Ensuring a fair return on our natural resources and a fair return from the corporations that profit from our natural resources is the best way to ensure that Saskatchewan's "advantage" advantages everyone - both today and tomorrow.
Simon Enoch is Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.