Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall delivered a mostly positive economic message March 14 to delegates attending the 112th annual convention of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities in Saskatoon.
But he also stressed the need for RMs to cut costs, scrutinize expenditures and look for ways to deliver services more efficiently.
“We are hoping that all of our municipal partners are undertaking the same sort of efforts (as the province) to curb costs,” Wall said following an address to SARM delegates.
“I think if there’s an expectation that every source of money from the provincial government is going to stay the same or continue to increase at the levels (they have been), I think that’s probably the wrong expectation…. So, I think it’s important that they’re looking at their own expenses very, very carefully.”
Wall said Saskatchewan has fared reasonably well despite coming through a period of depressed commodity prices, not only in agriculture but also in the mining and oil and gas sectors.
He said that according to recent job creation statistics released by Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan led the country in jobs created.
The province’s population also continues to grow and is now in the neighbouhood of 1.15 million people.
But there have been challenges.
For the third year running, provincial resource revenue is expected to be off by $1 billion.
Wall said the province needs to reduce its reliance on resource revenues, and perhaps place a greater emphasis on taxing consumption.
He also suggested that the province may be softening it stance on balancing the provincial budget in the short term.
“We have structurally less money now…. The bottom line is that next year will be the third year in a row that we’re over a billion dollars short on our resource revenue,” he said.
“That’s the reality … so we need all of our partners to realize that there’s less, not more, and everyone should be looking for ways to save dollars.
“But I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do,” he said.
“We’re not going to follow suit and follow along with other jurisdictions where they have just eliminated the goal altogether to get to (a balanced budget).
“If we do have a longer-term approach to (balancing the provincial budget), it won’t be very long. It will be a matter of years.”
Speaking to reporters, Wall said a number of steps are being considered in discussions aimed at balancing the budget.
Topics of discussion have included a review of PST rates, a review of PST exempt services and potential changes to the farm fuel rebate program.
Wall said the province had heard comments that the farm fuel rebate program should remain in place for fuel used in farming operations but should not be applied to fuel burned on highways.
“All those things have been on the table,” he said.
The province will take steps to ensure that the farm economy is not treated unfairly, he added.
“We have an ag sector that’s been strong, and its been carrying the weight for a lot of the economy, so let’s not shock it. Let’s not stress that ag sector too much.
“We’re going to make sure we balance the need for fairness for revenue with the importance of the agriculture sector.”