Growing pains addressed in provincial budget

by Lauren Golosky
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz and NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon speak about the recently tabled budget to local radio. Photo by Lauren Golosky

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz and NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon speak about the recently tabled budget to local radio. Photo by Lauren Golosky

“Balanced growth” was the theme as the Government of Saskatchewan released its 2013-14 budget.

The province is growing and Premier Brad Wall has set a population target of 1.2 million people by 2020. But with growth comes growing pains.

The challenges associated with a growing province include increased pressure on the healthcare system, infrastructure, and the education system.

With its recent budget, the government is allocating 96 per cent of its total expenses on health, education and post-secondary education. This includes $3 billion to be spent on healthcare, including $29 million to be given to the health regions to deal with population growth.

“We’re providing $11.6 billion dollars in a whole host of areas,” said Finance Minister Ken Krawetz. “We’re dealing with greater utilization in healthcare because of population demand; we’re providing over $17 million to the education system to deal with increased enrolments. When you look across all ministries, we’re meeting the challenge of a growing population”

The government also increased spending on infrastructure projects, totalling $847.5 million, the most since the 2009-10 budget.

“One of the very real challenges of course is infrastructure,” said Krawetz. “With a decaying infrastructure, and then the need to rebuild that infrastructure plus to create new infrastructure, that’s the pressure.”

However, the opposition NDP is calling the budget a “credit-card budget,” alleging that it will have serious implications on future generations.

“(The budget) really fails to support Saskatchewan’s growth,” said finance critic Trent Wotherspoon.

Wotherspoon stressed that the budget fails to sufficiently support the education system.

“We see nothing meaningful on this front to alleviate the strain and pressure that’s in our classrooms, on our students, and we need to do a better job of making sure we’re making education a priority, understanding what it means to the future of students, but what it also means to the future of our province, economically, socially and otherwise,” he said.

Saskatchewan School Boards Association President Janet Foord was also disappointed with the government’s budget in respect to education.

“It’s a status quo budget. It does not represent the premier’s growth agenda,” she said. “It allows us to continue doing what we’re doing, but there’s not enough money in there to address the aboriginal/non-aboriginal achievement rate or the graduation rate.”

 

Students want voices heard during time of cuts

by Lauren Golosky
U of R Students' Union president, Nathan Sgrazzutti, speaks to a board member before University Council meeting begins. Photo by Lauren Golosky

U of R Students’ Union president, Nathan Sgrazzutti, speaks to a board member before University Council meeting begins. Photo by Lauren Golosky


Universities across North America are going through turbulence and Saskatchewan’s universities are no exception.

Both universities are currently facing deficits. The University of Saskatchewan is projecting a deficit of $44.5 million, while the University of Regina is facing a three per cent cut across all departments.

Each university is reacting to these budgetary challenges differently, with the U of S instituting TransformUS, a prioritization program that includes two taskforces that will review academic programming and support services. The budget cutting program is hoping to save the university $20-$25 million dollars annually.

As the universities are now challenged to cut their budgets, some student groups are concerned their interests are getting lost in the business side of post-secondary education. At the U of S, the TransformUS task forces include three students. Students’ Union president Jared Brown is content that the university allowed some student membership on the task forces.

“I don’t think the university would have allowed us to have 51 per cent of the members,” he said. “I think we understand that, but would I have liked more? Absolutely. But I am happy we do have people on the task forces.”

However, students at the U of R are less pleased with student representation at the University Council meeting on March 6. Bart Soroka, the U of R Students’ Union LGBTQ director, was disappointed they were only able to fill some of the spots mandated for student representation on the council.

“The administration was actually supposed to do council elections every year in the fall and they never did them so we actually ended up coming into the council meeting with five members instead of 50, which we were supposed to have,” he explained. “I spent about a week desperately, desperately trying to get up to 50, but the administration, and at the end of the day, myself as well, realized that the language of the document would not let us appoint councilors.”

URSU president Nathan Sgrazzutti was also unhappy with student representation at the council meeting, adding that “we were caught by bylaws and rules that we feel weren’t very fairly administered.”

Although a student representative put forward an amendment asking for non-member students to be allowed to comment during the meeting, the amendment was rejected. Sgrazzutti and Soroka are concerned students will continue to be underrepresented, especially in relation to a motion that recommended a separate budget committee be created.

“I just want to make sure when we do have these breakout committees, when we do have these other groups if they end up being formed, that we still do have student representation on them because, as important as faculty and administration are to the university, without students the place couldn’t run,” said Soroka.

One student representative requested an amendment that would require 10 per cent of student representation on a separate budget committee, but it was rejected, as the committee’s composition had not yet been defined.

For Sgrazzutti, it is crucial that U of R students remain engaged during these tough times.

“We need to make sure that our voices continue to be heard and then listened to because the things that make sense for administration and make sense for government aren’t necessarily going to be things that make sense for students,” he said.