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.”