Sask. gov’t lays out plan for province

Seeding is ahead of schedule, grass and hay are coming along and Saskatchewan’s agriculture minister is bullish about the future.

“I’d go so far as to say that the stars seem to be lining up for an average to better than average crop, although it’s very early,” he said after the May 17 throne speech.

Appearing before the Senate agriculture committee in Calgary May 19, Stewart raised grain transportation and whether it will in fact be adequate to handle this year’s crop.

The federal government has announced it would extend the provisions of the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, enacted after the grain backlog of 2013-14, but nothing has happened since then.

In question period in Ottawa, agriculture critic Chris Warkentin asked agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay if he would extend the provisions immediately.

“People are starting to believe this is another broken promise by the Liberals,” he said.

MacAulay said he could assure Warkentin that grain will move to port.

“We will make sure that we supply the transportation for the Canadian farmers,” he said.

Farmers who looked to the speech for an indication of what the province intends to do for them this session would be left wondering.

The speech was largely a repeat of the Saskatchewan Party’s election platform, which was stingy with spending promises.

However, it did note agriculture’s place in the economy.

“I think rural people and farmers will note that agriculture is recognized as being one of the major contributors and builders of the economy in this province, and that agriculture makes all of our lives better,” said Stewart.

More details are expected in the June 1 budget.

Meanwhile, the government will move ahead with its $70 million “surge” funding for highways and has a four-year plan to invest $2.7 billion in highways and transportation.

It will also consult on how best to establish a new growth tax incentive announced during the election campaign. The “patent box” would offer better tax rates for patents and intellectual property commercialized in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association president Doug Gillespie said that is great news for the many innovators in the agricultural sector.

However, one of the key elements in the speech was the idea that the budget will mark the beginning of “a government-wide exercise of transformational change to ensure the sustainability of high quality public services delivered in the most effective, efficient way possible.”

Premier Brad Wall said stakeholders will be asked how services could be better delivered.

“Do we have the right number of health regions? Do we have the right governance ration in education?” he said.

When asked if that might mean a single super health or education board, he said that should be part of the discussion.

“We’re not going to come with that bias, but that should be on the table,” he said.

When asked how that might extend to municipalities, he said he has often told the organizations that represent rural and urban municipalities that they should find ways to co-operate and perhaps reduce their numbers.

It raises the spectre of the attempt nearly 20 years ago by the then-NDP government to persuade RMs to amalgamate. Many considered they were being forced to do so and protested the idea. The government eventually backed down.

“We won’t be coming with a stick, rather a carrot in this case,” Wall said.

He said that also extends to health care, education, corrections and social services.

It will likely take at least a year to consult, and changes could be announced in the 2017-18 budget.

Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities vice-president Carmen Sterling said municipalities already do a lot with their lean resources.

Many do co-operate and share services, but she said there are different concerns and needs in different areas of the province. Those factors affect costs and logistics.

Sterling said decisions to legally amalgamate should be made locally.

“I think there’s a difference between being asked and being told,” she told reporters.

“We would need to hear more detail as to what that proposal might look like.”

The government moved quickly on one of its throne speech initiatives, announcing that the standing committee on human services would examine the province’s organ and tissue donation rate and recommend ways to increase it.

The province has a low rate of donation. In 2015, there were 11 deceased donors from a population of just more than one million.

The Canadian average is 17 per million.

Ninety-five Saskatchewan residents were waiting for kidney transplants at the end of March, and 68 people were waiting for corneas.

The province said one organ donor can save up to eight lives, while one tissue donor can help 75 people.

The committee is to provide recommendations by Nov. 30.

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