latest news from OCN,
Saskatchewan’s spring legislative session, which begins Monday afternoon, will focus on what could be another budget surplus for the Saskatchewan Party government.
Part of the focus over the next 11 weeks will be on the provincial government’s key legislative initiative starting this fall, the introduction of Saskatchewan’s First Act.
The sit-in will also see groups inside and outside the building hoping to grab the attention of voters in the Regina by-election in the next few months and the provincial election coming up in the fall of 2024.
The Premier promises the passage of the Saskatchewan First Act
In the fall, the government introduced the Saskatchewan First Act, which it says will guarantee the province’s independence and control over its natural resources.
Premier Scott Moe was in India last week and could not be reached for a pre-settlement interview, but issued a statement: “At this time, our government will continue to protect Saskatchewan’s economic independence by passing the Saskatchewan First Act.”
The act passed second reading and could be passed later this spring. It is expected to be discussed in the committee.
The government has so far shown no intention of amending the act despite concerns expressed by First Nations and Métis leadership.
The move was widely criticized by indigenous groups, including the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Métis Nation Saskatchewan Assembly. Both said they had not been properly consulted before the action was initiated.
The government has maintained that the bill will not violate treaty rights.
Another surplus for 2023-24?
Moe said the government’s goal in the next session “will continue to ensure that growth works for everyone.”
“The next provincial budget will help keep our economy strong and invest new funds that are important to people and government programs, while carefully managing the province’s finances and paying off debts,” said Moe.
Saskatchewan’s finances changed significantly in 2022-23.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed to a rise in commodity prices, which has seen oil and potash prices rise.
In the fall, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced the government would spend more than $1.1 billion in 2022-23, a $50.1 million increase from what was forecast in the first quarter review and a $1.6 billion improvement from the original budget.
This is a far cry from the 2021-22 budget, which estimated a record shortfall of $2.6 billion. At the time, the government predicted it would not see a balanced budget until 2026-27.
Now, the province is on track to receive the most money possible in a row.
In November, Harpauer said he did not have a “crystal ball” and would be shocked if commodity prices remained high.
Potash prices remain strong, while oil prices are down significantly from last year. WTI (West Texas Intermediate) was $107 US/barrel at the beginning of March 2022, but now it is hovering around $78 US/barrel.
The increase in income allowed the government to cut a $500 check for every person over the age of 18 who filed income taxes of $450 million.
Harpauer says a similar cost-of-living discount is not being discussed. Opponents have been calling for more ways to deal with rising costs, including calling for lower energy bills.
Harpauer will unveil the budget projects and spending plan on March 22.
The NDP wants support
This spring will be the second term of office for Opposition Leader Carla Beck.
The NDP leader is coming into the spring with a new chief of staff, former NDP MP and cabinet minister Warren McCall. He retired from politics in 2020 after serving 19 years as Member of Parliament for Regina Elphinstone-Centre.
The group must also find a new president to replace Shelia Whelan who recently left this position.
Beck said Wednesday the changes are “two different situations.”
“In politics, changes happen,” he said.
Since becoming leader last summer, Beck has focused on concerns about affordability and how state government manages health care.
“[The government] marches under the banner of ‘Growth that works for everyone.’ It’s time to say that the Emperor has no clothes. This is a government that is out of touch and out of touch with priorities.”
Last month, NDP health critics began a provincial tour of health facilities. Expect health care to be a major focus of the opposition during question time.
“People who said they voted for Sask. Since the party was founded, they say they are done. Frustration is growing,” Beck said last week.
With about 600 days until the next election, Beck said his team is focused on convincing voters that the NDP is “another Sask. Party.”
Other groups compete for attention
Since 1999, Saskatchewan provincial politics has been dominated by two parties: the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP. Sask. The party has been in power since 2007 and has enjoyed many seats in the legislature during that time.
However, three groups hope to attract the attention of the voters and eventually be elected as members.
Last fall, Independent MLA and former Saskatchewan Party (Saskatchewan Rivers) MLA Nadine Wilson became leader of the newly formed Saskatchewan United Party.
Last week, the team held an official launch at Saskatoon’s Prairieland Park.
Wilson’s presence as the leader of the new party added new momentum to the debate in the house.
This week, SUP posted advertising across the state highlighting the specific organization and level of financial support.
It bills itself as “your choice for Saskatchewan.”
“Now is the time to get involved, now is the time to take care of our great province. We have a lot riding on it,” Wilson said last week.
“Like those who came before us, we must honor Saskatchewan by fighting for its future, its voice, and its sovereignty.”
Sask. United will have to compete for attention and votes with the Buffalo Party, which fielded 17 candidates in the 2020 provincial election, and finished second to the Saskatchewan Party in four rural contests.
The Buffalo Party holds its annual meeting in April in Humboldt. The group that started as Wexit Saskatchewan in 2021, now has three interim leaders. Phil Zajac was appointed leader in March 2022.
Later this month, the Saskatchewan Liberal Party will hold its annual convention in Saskatoon.
On the agenda, there may be a name change. This week the group announced that a proposal has been submitted to change the group’s name and rebrand. Leader Jeff Walters ran last year in Saskatoon Meewasin but only received 2.8% of the vote.
By-election at Regina Coronation Park
Last month, veteran MLA and former Speaker Mark Docherty resigned from his post at Regina Coronation Park. Docherty won the Saskatchewan Party seat in 2011, ending the NDP’s 25-year reign.
A by-election has not yet been called, but Beck said he would like to see it.
The timing of the election is entirely up to the government, but Moe must call it within six months of Docherty’s resignation.
There is no guarantee that the winner of that vote will have the same success in 2024. In Regina Northeast, Yens Pedersen of the NDP defeated Gary Grewal of Sask. The party in the by-elections even lost a re-election two years later in the national elections.