Sask. budget: Government says it will spend $1.5B on COVID-19 supports this year
Critics pan lack of paid sick leave, dearth of PPE, low staffing in long-term care homes
The provincial government will spend $1.5 billion on direct COVID-19 supports in the coming fiscal year, according to budget estimates released Tuesday.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said these investments will help Saskatchewan to weather the pandemic and emerge stronger, but others disagree.
"In this battle with this pandemic, we witnessed a damaging lack of courage and failure to lead by that government," finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said.
The $1.5 billion figure includes money for the health, education and tourism sectors, but the provincial government is also counting various capital projects and the federally-funded cleanup of abandoned oil wells as part of the $1.5 billion.
Estimated COVID-19 expenditures in the budget include:
- $488 million for construction and renovation projects.
- $460 million in customer rebates from government Crown corporations SGI and SaskPower.
- $200 million for the federally-funded cleanup of abandoned oil wells.
- $90 million in health-care system supports to cover personal protective equipment, testing supplies and other expenses.
- $66 million in home tax credits.
- $65 Small Business Tax Rate Reduction.
- $39 million in support for casinos and other gaming enterprises.
- $20 million for the Saskatchewan Safe Schools Plan.
- $5 million for the Saskatchewan Tourism Sector Support program
Harpauer said all of these supports will contribute to a larger-than-expected deficit, but that the province is still in better shape than most others. She noted Saskatchewan's debt-to-GDP ratio is the lowest among provinces.
"The investments in this budget move toward that goal, helping to build a strong Saskatchewan," Harpauer said.
Wotherspoon sees it differently. He noted Saskatchewan has had the highest COVID-19 rates in Canada for months. He said very little of the spending will help average workers and that the government will fall far short of its election promise to hire 300 more staff for long-term care homes, which were hardest hit by the pandemic.
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Lori Johb said she was hoping to see the government address the lack of paid sick leave for workers, allowing workers to stay home without worrying how they'll pay the bills.
She said there is also a staggering lack of adequate personal protective equipment available for workers and no rapid testing capacity when outbreaks occur
"This is really disappointing. There isn't much here for working people," Johb said. "There needs to be a better way."