No signs of affordability relief through the throne speech

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Inflation who? ArtsyBeeKids via Pixabay, manipulated by Lee Lim

That $500 cheque is not going to fix the economy

On Wednesday, October 26, Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty delivered the annual speech from the throne at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. The throne speech opens a new session of the legislature, laying out the government’s agenda, including prominent policies and political objectives.

This year, the Saskatchewan Party opened the legislature reiterating all those usual issues: economy, resource development, and resisting federal carbon taxation and environmental regulations.

The throne speech’s first item was the Saskatchewan economy. The province’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate; it may reach 1.2 million by the end of 2022. Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate is also the lowest in Canada at 4.1 per cent. According to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, Saskatchewan is set to lead Canada in economic growth this year. The report states that Saskatchewan’s GDP will grow 7.9 per cent in 2022. The speech also claimed that there is growing interest in Saskatchewan’s critical minerals and rare earth metals.

The Saskatchewan Party has always been a strong advocate of the province’s natural resource sector; perhaps too strong considering their poor record on consulting First Nations about resource and land development. In 2021, the Moe government opposed adopting legislation relating to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples because it claimed the legislation would harm the Saskatchewan economy. The Saskatchewan Party’s storied past with opposing federal carbon taxation is also very well known.

The throne speech further claimed that the “roadblocks imposed by our own federal government are also greater than they have ever been.” The details about what these alleged impositions are remain vague and opaque. However, the throne speech made the bold accusation that the federal government has transgressed “Saskatchewan’s constitutional jurisdiction over natural resources under the guise of environmental regulation.”

In response to the federal government’s alleged overreach, the throne speech states that the Moe government “will amend the province’s Constitution to state – in no uncertain terms – that Saskatchewan continues to retain exclusive jurisdiction over its own natural resources.”

Jim Farney, a political science professor at the University of Regina, stated in an interview with CTV News that this amendment is unlikely to produce the desired results. Farney told CTV News that natural resources are already under provincial jurisdiction. Consequently, in his view, this initiative to amend the constitution of Saskatchewan is just another symbolic gesture of resistance against the federal government’s carbon taxation and environmental regulations.

The Saskatchewan NDP criticized the throne speech as out-of-touch and tone deaf. Carla Beck, leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, stated in a press release earlier this week that the “Throne Speech offered no new measures to combat the generational affordability crisis. […] The majority of the measures announced in the speech are recycled announcements.”

Beck’s statement also claimed that the throne speech was full of symbolic gestures but little substance: “Saskatchewan has limitless potential and a great story to share. That’s the Saskatchewan story we’ll be selling to the world as Scott Moe’s out-of-touch government plays political games.”

About one page of the throne speech was dedicated to the topic of education. The Saskatchewan Party has made some effort in offsetting inflation by providing additional resources to the province’s elementary and high schools. Some funds have been allocated to FNU to develop its Dene language program: “In August, my government committed up to $255,000 to the First Nations University of Canada to deliver the Dene Teacher Education Program.”

Additionally, the Moe government promises to provide scholarships for students studying Indigenous languages: “My government will commit $50,000 a year to establish a new scholarship for students studying Indigenous languages. The new scholarship will support up to 25 students in their studies.”

Besides scholarships for Indigenous language students at FNU, the speech doesn’t mention post-secondary students at all. The throne speech mentions inflation once, although the inflation rate in Canada is at its highest in 40 years. Saskatchewan’s minimum wage is now the lowest in Canada at $13 per hour. Manitoba’s minimum wage is the second lowest at $13.50. For the 2022-2023 school year, the University of Saskatchewan increased tuition, on average, by 3.7 per cent. The University of Regina increased tuition, on average, by 3.5 per cent.

Rising consumer prices coupled with inflation and the lowest wages in Canada has Saskatchewan residents in serious economic hardship. Among other initiatives, the Saskatchewan Party is addressing this hardship by distributing “affordability cheques” to all Saskatchewan residents 18 and up. The Moe government has said the cheques will be distributed in November.

NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon calls the economic hardships Saskatchewan residents are facing an “affordability crisis.” During question period on Thursday, October 27, Wotherspoon said the Saskatchewan Party’s affordability cheques are too little too late. Wotherspoon said that it has been “months since inflation and the war in Ukraine sent the cost of living through the roof for Saskatchewan families, all while sending revenues soaring for that government. But this tired Sask Party government still hasn’t delivered affordability relief for families, denying them of the support they need and deserve.”

The Bank of Canada released a statement on October 26, 2022, that projected inflation would remain high until the end of 2023: “While inflation has come off its peak, it remains too high. […] The Bank [of Canada] expects inflation to fall to about 3 per cent in late 2023, then return to 2 per cent in 2024.”

It seems the “affordability crisis” will remain for the foreseeable future. Although Saskatchewan will lead the country in economic growth this year, Scott Moe’s government must still navigate this crisis with prudence and forethought. The crisis requires more than one-time relief cheques and political grandstanding.

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