'They don't have to do a lot to do well:' Expert on Saskatchewan government
Jim Farney, political scientist, says the budget will loom as the largest issue this spring sitting
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe doesn't have to worry much about how his government will perform as he enters the spring sitting of the legislature Monday, says a political scientist.
"They're facing a weak and under-resourced opposition and, so long as that's the circumstances they're in, they don't have to do a lot to do well," said Jim Farney, head of the political science department at the University of Regina.
The Opposition NDP plans to champion issues such as a $15-an- hour minimum wage, mental health supports and free prescription drug coverage.
The New Democrats have said they will continue to press the Saskatchewan Party government on how it handled several contentious developments, including plans for Brandt Industries to move into Regina's Wascana Centre.
Farney said those issues mainly resonate with people living in Saskatoon and Regina, which are not key battlegrounds for a government with a core rural base.
He suggests the focal point of the upcoming legislative calendar will be the budget.
Moe has promised to deliver balanced books for the coming year to fulfil a three-year plan set in motion by his predecessor, Brad Wall, to tackle a $1.3-billion deficit from the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Last November, the government said the deficit was $348 million.
Farney is interested to see how the government plans to get back to a balance, especially with recent public union settlements. "They've been lucky the last couple of years, with changes to accounting rules for pensions or some resource royalty windfalls that were unexpected."
Deputy premier Gord Wyant said Friday that a balanced budget will be tabled March 20.
Given the next provincial election is one year away, Farney doesn't anticipate that budget will contain unpopular measures, as was the case with the 2017-18 spending plan that increased the provincial sales tax and shuttered the Saskatchewan Transportation Co.
"At worst, it will be a steady-hand kind of quiet, frankly, probably kind of boring budget," he said.
"If they've got extra money in the bank, there might be a couple of shiny things to look at."
MLAs are returning Monday for the first time since they went on break in December. They are expected to debate bills that were introduced in the fall, including changes to Saskatchewan's trespassing law and new legislation that would allow police agencies to disclose someone's violent past to their partner.
"Certainly some of the issues that we've heard from residents in rural Saskatchewan about crime, about trespass ... are important generally to the people of Saskatchewan — not just to rural residents," said Wyant.
Moe has spent his time away from the legislature in the public eye as he continues to champion trade and rally against the federal government's energy policies.
He travelled to Washington, D.C., with the conservative premiers of Ontario and New Brunswick to talk to U.S. governors. Before that, the trio joined federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer at a pro-pipeline rally.
Moe has primarily built his brand around opposing the carbon tax, said Farney, who noted Moe's leadership style appears to be more collaborative and "not flashy" compared with Wall's.
"That seems to be working so far for him."