Budget comes March 23
On Monday, March 26, Saskatchewan’s government returned to the legislature to resume session, and there are countless stories to watch over the next couple of months as the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP battle it out in the chamber. Of course, the biggest thing on the spring agenda is the budget, set to be released on March 23.
“I think a lot of what they’re going to have to grapple with in terms of legislation is going to be shaped by global events. I think they’re still dealing with a lot of pandemic-related issues. I noticed there’s a bill that they’re looking at about protests and hospitals and keeping protests away from hospitals. I suspect you’ll see other things around pandemic recovery and economic issues. I think that’s probably going to be one of the major issues they’ll have to deal with,” said Daniel Westlake, a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan.
The pandemic has been a significant issue across the globe and within Canada. Scott Moe has faced a massive amount of criticism for how he has chosen to deal with the crisis. Despite the prevalence of Omicron and the advice of public health officials, all of the public health measures in the province were dropped at the end of February, and it’s expected the Opposition will continue to use hospitalization numbers and general pandemic mismanagement as firing power against the government. Those numbers aren’t easy to come by since the province also decided to stop reporting COVID numbers, the only province in Canada to do so.
Westlake also noted that “the NDP is in the middle of a leadership race and that can sometimes make it a little bit more difficult for the Opposition to focus. It’ll depend on how much that’s a competitive leadership race. Right now, there’s just one candidate, and if it’s just one candidate, they might have a little more freedom to attack the government. If not, then, I mean it might be a challenge for the NDP to … have a debate going on within the party between potential leadership candidates or potential leaders.”
Another issue to watch as the session continues is to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Saskatchewan has a large Ukrainian population, and the Saskatchewan immigration minister has said that Saskatchewan is willing to take as many Ukrainian refugees as Ottawa needs. Other issues that might surface are the kind of support the government sends directly to Ukraine, as they have already pledged $100,000 in humanitarian aid.
Another high-profile issue is Bill 70. This bill would completely restructure the security system at the Legislative Building. The bill would remove a large portion of the Sergeant at Arms’ duties and place the building’s security under the control of the government and not the speaker. When asked if he thought the government would have issues throughout the session, Westlake said “I think they’re very electorally secure. They’re a majority government so they don’t have to worry about losing votes on legislation. They’re doing reasonably well in the polls as well, and I mean, they’ve got time until the next election. This is one of the better positions the government can be in, in terms of having broad freedom to do what they want, and pursue whatever issues they see as important. Now, again, they’re constrained by world events, but beyond that they’re not worried; they’ve got leeway in terms of doing things that might put them in difficult situations with respect to public popular, they’ve got more leeway than most governments.”
The final thing to watch for will be the budget. The economy has been heavily influenced by world events such as the war in the Ukraine and the pandemic, and the government will have a lot to work out as they propose a budget for a landscape that is changing rapidly every day. The budget will be in a deficit as the province does not expect to be able to balance until 2025.
In summary, as the session moves forward, global events will impact how everything plays out from the budget to legislation, and the government will have an interesting time trying to navigate that landscape as the weeks go on.