The world of provincial politics is always one of challenges balanced with anticipation, progress wrestling with pitfalls. The past year has been no different, given the influence of federal decision making, economic turbulence, and international unrest. The challenges and the victories trickle down to provinces, territories, constituencies, communities, and ultimately households. Looking at the overview, Humboldt Watrous MLA, Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Donna Harpauer has seen much, and she breaks it down in our Year in Review chat.
While Harpauer acknowledged that Saskatchewan’s economy remains strong with a growing population, she knows there’s no denying factors that are impacting many of the province's sectors and the majority of its residents.
“It does come with its challenges. We have some schools that are seeing a lot more students. We are seeing and hearing concerns on housing availability as more workers are going to come to our province for jobs being created by the private industry investments. There’s no doubt we’re hearing concerns about affordability because of the price of groceries and fuel.”
While the challenges often take the forefront of both public concerns and headlines, the Minister points to the excitement within communities. When it comes to growth, Harpauer says the Government’s municipal revenue sharing increases have been an important part of trying to help communities manage infrastructure expansion and associated costs.
“They (municipalities) have seen unprecedented increases, and I think they’re going to see another one coming forward in the next fiscal year.”
Harpauer knows the excitement is happening in Lanigan with the construction of the new K-12 school. While there’s inconvenience attached with another project, she notes the progress being made on the Highway 5 stretch, a key connector for Humboldt and area to Saskatoon.
Further to the theme of affordability, Harpauer recognizes the complexity of issues impacting personal spending power. While she says there’s no single approach to improvement, she touts Saskatchewan as one of the most affordable provinces according to indicators.
“However, there still are stressors, and that’s why we did the one-time affordability tax credit of $500. Our most recent initiatives are two-fold, one of which addresses growth as well. We’ve introduced a PST rebate on new home construction, and we have a secondary suite program that will help with the home buyers and hopefully stimulate construction and address some of the housing pressures.”
Harpauer turned her attention to the inequity in the Federal government’s treatment of homeowners around home heating fuel and the carbon tax. The Moe government maintained that a relaxation of the carbon tax collection on heating oil unfairly favours eastern homeowners.
“We have said come January 1 we will no longer collect the carbon tax on residential heating, and we feel that is fair for our residents. That will average about $400 per residence.”
Asked about the government’s initiatives on supporting the health care workers of the province, Harpauer pointed out the government’s maneuvers to bring in additional workers through its HHR plan. It includes increasing training seats, expanding recruitment domestically and internationally, creating incentives for targeted positions in rural and northern Saskatchewan, and programs for retention of current workers. She notes that some of the retention piece will have to occur through upcoming bargaining with current health care workers.
Similar challenges exist in education, she acknowledges. She cites the addition of $40 million in allocations to school boards beyond initial budgeted amounts. The idea is for the money to alleviate pressures around class size and composition. In the latest round of bargaining, educators and governance groups have shared that those dollar amounts are not sufficient.
“We’re hearing about class size and composition more, and it is something that is of concern. The disagreement the government and the STF has is whether that can be collectively bargained.”
Despite these and other challenges, optimism reigns in the region on the heels of BHP’s green light and funding announcement of its Jansen Project Stage 2. The economic spin-off throughout the constituency is set to bolster business, municipal revenues, and regional employment opportunities.
“It’s going to put pressure on our region, but it’s still exciting news because jobs are what stabilize communities. It brings families into our communities, and those families become our volunteers, they become the kids in our classrooms, they become everybody on the arena ice surface. It’s exciting times in our region.”
Minister Harpauer sends out best holiday wishes for all.
“As we head into the year-end season, I hope everyone can enjoy time with their friends and their families. That’s truly what’s most important.”