Premier Wall unveils big spending plans

Premier Brad Wall revealed the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth at the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce.
Premier Brad Wall, seen at a health-care meeting in Toronto in June, revealed the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth at a Saskatoon event hosted by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

The Saskatchewan government is opening its coffers to infrastructure spending.

On Tuesday, Premier Brad Wall revealed the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth at an event in Saskatoon hosted by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.

The provincial government's main goal is to invest at least $2.5 billion in infrastructure over the next three years. This includes an immediate commitment of $150 million, which will be pulled from the province's Growth and Financial Security Fund (GFSF). It says the biggest infrastructure needs are highways, bridges and overpasses, water supply systems, waterwaste treatment facilities, and sewer systems.

"This further $150 million will be used to establish the new SaskBuilds Fund and will leverage hundreds of millions of dollars more through financing innovation like public-private partnerships," Wall said in a news release.

Wall said the provincial government is hoping to maintain $500 million in the GFSF and any excess money will be spent on infrastructure or to reduce the debt. It is planning to reduce the provincial debt by $400 million to $3.4-billion by 2017.

Once debt is eliminated, Wall said his government will establish the Saskatchewan Heritage Initiative to determine what happens with non-renewable resource revenue. Wall has appointed former University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon to lead the initiative. He notes other jurisdictions have created savings funds such as the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which has set aside non-renewable resource revenue since 1976.

In its growth plan, the Saskatchewan Party government expects to have 1.2 million people living in the province by 2020. Saskatchewan's population has increased by nearly 80,000 people over the past five years with the population currently at 1,079,958.

Here of some of the key goals in the Saskatchewan Plan for Growth:

  • 1.2 million people living in Saskatchewan by 2020
  • 60,000 more people working in Saskatchewan by 2020
  • $2.5 billion invested in infrastructure over the next three years
  • Invest $344 million to add 12,600 new housing units by 2016
  • Lobby the federal government to increase the cap on provincial immigrant nominees from 4,000 to 6,000
  • Lower the incorporated business tax rate from 12 to 10 per cent by 2015
  • Cut the provincial debt in half from its 2007 level by 2017
  • Increase crop production by 10 million tonnes by 2020
  • Increase exports of agriculture and food products from $10 billion in 2011 to $15 billion in 2020
  • Reduce the difference in graduation rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by 50 per cent by 2020
  • Lead the country in Grade 12 graduation rates by 2020
  • Reduce surgical wait times to no more than three months by 2014
  • Eliminate wait times in emergency rooms by 2017

Source: Government of Saskatchewan

John Nilson, the interim leader of the Opposition NDP, said Wall's idea of a heritage fund for future resource royalties was his party's idea.

Nilson, however, was critical of Wall's plan because, according to Nilson, at the rate the government is paying off debt, there won't be a savings account before 2060.

"I'll be almost 110 years old," Nilson said. "I plan to live that long, but I think it's a long time for Saskatchewan people to wait."

Nilson added the plan lacks details on important goals, such as how to better engage Aboriginal people in the economy.