Premier says he'd like to eliminate debt before leaving office
After paying off big chunks of the government's debt since becoming Saskatchewan premier, Brad Wall says he'd like the province to be debt-free by the time he leaves office.
By the end of the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the Saskatchewan Party government plans to have 40 per cent of the province's debt paid off, leaving $4.2 billion left to pay.
Finishing the job is something Wall said he'd like to get done before he leaves the premier's office.
"Whenever I leave here from this wonderful office or the people ask me to leave from this wonderful office, I would like to walk away from a debt-free Saskatchewan," Wall said in a year-end interview with CBC News.
But the Saskatchewan Party might need to win another election in order to finish paying off the debt, he said.
With the next election set for the fall of 2011, there will likely be some debt still on the books, unless there is a dramatic change in commodity prices, he said.
Debt servicing payments still cost the provincial government hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
That money could be better used on tax relief, or investing in innovation, or post-secondary education, Wall said.
"That's what lost," he said. "Every single dollar you send to a bank to pay interest on debt, you lose an opportunity to do something else."
NDP Leader Lorne Calvert, who heads the opposition, said he wasn't impressed by Wall's debt-reduction talk.
"As I've observed before, it's only right that Mr. Wall and his government should have that as a goal, since they gave us the debt in the first place," he said.
While the Progressive Conservatives were in government during the 1980s, they racked up a series of deficits that plunged the province deep into debt.
The Saskatchewan Party was formed in the late 1990s when a group of Liberal MLAs and PC MLAs merged.
Wall said when he was working for the PCs, he was just a young ministerial aide in a government that did what every other government was doing in the 1980s — running up debt.
Still, he said it does add somewhat to his own feelings of responsibility.
"There's a lot at stake for all of us to do something about the debt — maybe even more so if you were part of any government at whatever age that was involved in the debt going up," he said.
A debt-reduction plan will likely be part of the Saskatchewan Party's next campaign platform, he added.