If yesterday’s budget was designed to give something to everyone in order to win over voters for the upcoming election, then it is clear where the poorest and most vulnerable in our province rank in the minds of Sask Party electoral strategists.
Despite an obvious and acute housing crisis, this budget offered a paltry $1.7 million for two new affordable housing initiatives while the immediate need for new housing in the province is approximately 3000 units. For those who cannot wait for the construction of new housing, no relief was forthcoming to prevent the regular rent increases that seem to have become the norm in our province.
Despite ranking dead last among the provinces in child-care space, the budget offered to fund the creation of only 500 new child-care spaces when the need is closer to 5000. Currently, Saskatchewan has licensed child-care spots for only 9.1 per cent of children between the ages of zero and five, compared to the 20.3 per cent national average. While we applaud the government for committing to the creation of these new spaces, our province desperately needs a much more aggressive and long-term policy to address our child-care needs.
Despite the desperate need to replace the only psychiatric hospital in the province, this budget offered absolutely nothing for those suffering from mental illness.
In contrast, business owners will reap almost $80 million in tax savings due to the reduction of the small business tax while off-sale beer vendors will enjoy a $5.1 million discount. While the government has made much of it’s low-income tax reduction policy, a tax cut on nothing is still nothing. If we were to measure what constituencies this government covets by the amount of largesse given to them in yesterday’s budget, it is obvious where the poorest in our province rank.
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz stressed that this budget represented the “New Saskatchewan” and that we are no longer “next year country” but “this year country.” Perhaps a better metaphor for the province could be borrowed from the famous American political commentator Michael Harrington; “The Other Saskatchewan.” The “Other Saskatchewan” has not shared in the prosperity that the Sask Party is so quick to claim credit for. The “Other Saskatchewan” includes people who cannot afford spiraling rent increases, food and fuel prices, utility bills and other basic necessities. The “Other Saskatchewan” is experiencing increased homelessness, growing social assistance caseloads, lack of access to quality childcare, increasing unemployment among aboriginal peoples and a woefully inadequate minimum wage.
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz also made repeated mention of the “Saskatchewan Advantage” – obviously borrowing from the oft-used “Alberta Advantage.” Let’s hope that the Sask Party is not intent on also borrowing Alberta’s record of wanton neglect for the poorest in that province as well; the “Other Saskatchewan” simply cannot afford it.