What to expect from the next provincial budget?

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&What's expect from the next provincial budget?

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will unveil the 2023-2024 provincial budget on Wednesday.

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will unveil the 2023-2024 provincial budget on Wednesday. (File photo)

Health, education and inflation should be priorities for the Saskatchewan government in its 2023-2024 budget, according to the director of the Institute for Canadian Studies and professor in the department of political science at the McGill University, Daniel Béland.

However, he notes that, over the past two years, Saskatchewan's financial situation has been improving.

The situation in Saskatchewan two years ago was dire fiscally. We had a deficit of $2.5 billion, which was a record deficit. However, since last year, things have changed, especially with the price of natural resources, says Daniel Béland.

For him, the increase in oil prices, caused in particular by the war in Ukraine, contributed to the economic growth of Saskatchewan. He refers in particular to the budget report presented by Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer last fall.

For the year 2022-2023, we are already planning a budget surplus of more than $2 billion, but it could be even more, he says.

Daniel Béland says there are many issues that require funding, such as inflation, health and education. According to him, despite the expected budget surplus, we must be careful with the planned expenditures.

There is a lot of uncertainty in Canada and globally regarding the economic situation and inflation, or even a risk of recession. Natural resource prices can change very quickly and we have no control over that, he notes

The director of the Institute for Canadian Studies and professor in the department of political science at McGill University, Daniel Béland.

“You have to be careful not to try to overspend and keep a small reserve to deal with potential rifts and declining natural resource revenues. »

— Daniel Béland, professor of political science

We cannot predict, but with regard to oil, for example, if the conflict in Ukraine slows down, the situation could be changed and there, we have no control either, he specifies. According to him, it is necessary to plan ahead with expenses and to take into consideration the current economic uncertainty.

Daniel Béland believes that a significant investment in the health sector is to be expected, particularly after the disappointment regarding the federal government's announcement of $5.94 billion over 10 years for the improvement of care in the province.

Saskatchewan recently signed an agreement with Ottawa regarding federal health funding. So, the pressure is there to spend more on health […] In the last budget, there was already a significant increase of 4.5%, or approximately $800 million, he underlines.

With rising oil and potash prices, Béland believes Saskatchewan can make a big contribution to health care. Saskatchewan should normally be able to, at least, balance the health budget for the coming year, he notes.

The professor also wonders how the Government of Saskatchewan will help its people with the ongoing inflation.

Checks have been sent to Saskatchewan people in the recent past. Are we going to send the checks back or are we going to do other things? When you see the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Saskatchewan, they would like us to do more for people, especially for low-income people, says Daniel Béland.

He also believes that one-time spending to help Saskatchewanians can work in favor of the Saskatchewan Party for the provincial election scheduled for 2024.

This is not a pre-election budget, but obviously the members of the Saskatchewan Party are already thinking about 2024. That way, we can imagine other measures to help people deal with inflation because it's always good on the electoral plan, believes Daniel Béland.

“Expectations are high on spending, so the Saskatchewan government is mindful of the 2024 election.”

—Daniel Béland, Director of the Institute of Canadian Studies and Professor in the Department in political science at McGill University

According to Daniel Béland, this year, Saskatchewanians could be surprised by the size of the budget surplus. However, he wonders how the government will manage its spending going forward.

We will see if the government will be more conservative with its spending to make more budget surplus or if it will try to spend a lot in order to help people to cope to inflation, he says.

The surprise will be if we decide to dramatically accelerate spending or if we are conservative and think more about being cautious because we know that the prices of natural resources tend to change, he adds.

With information from Noémie Rondeau

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