SASKATOON — Saskatchewan politicians have rapidly increased international travel since COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were loosened as Premier Scott Moe remains laser-focused on global markets.
A Canadian Press analysis of publicly available data on out-of-province ministerial expenses shows a more than 33 per cent increase in spending on international trips for Moe and his ministers from 2018 to 2022.
“This is how Saskatchewan creates wealth,” Moe said in April after a speech focused on the province’s international trade missions at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities convention in Saskatoon.
“It is the recipe for success for us to attract investment.”
Moe has been touting how his Saskatchewan Party government is planting the province’s flag in key markets around the world while arguing the federal Liberal government’s policies are harming industry.
Jason Childs, an associate professor of economics at the University of Regina, said the province is pursuing its own export priorities because the federal government isn’t engaging in trade policy the Saskatchewan government wants.
“It’s really easy for Saskatchewan priorities to get lost as the federal bureaucracy pursues other objectives that are more important to other regions,” Childs said.
The Saskatchewan government spent $263,290 on 11 international trips in 2018. Six of the trips were to the United States. Officials also went to China, Mexico, Argentina, Israel and India.
A similar amount was spent on 11 international trips the following year.
Travel around the world was grounded for much of 2020 and 2021, but the Saskatchewan Party government began connecting with governments, industry and other partners internationally as pandemic restrictions loosened the following year.
The provincial government spent $351,197 on 14 international trips in 2022. Officials travelled to the United States, Germany, Mexico, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates.
Childs said the increase in spending on international travel — less than $100,000 — doesn’t amount to much in terms of the provincial government’s budget. But, he said, it can lead to a significant return for Saskatchewan.
“The more trade partners we have and the more diversified our trade partners are, the more stable our economy will be,” he said.
The international importance of Saskatchewan’s stable and established resource and agriculture sector was highlighted when Russia invaded Ukraine and put global supply chains under pressure.
Earlier this year, Saskatoon-based Cameco, one of the world’s largest uranium companies, signed a multi-billion-dollar deal with Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear energy utility, to provide uranium for its nuclear power plants until 2035.
Saskatoon-based Nutrien Ltd. — the world’s largest fertilizer producer — also saw a boon as the war shook up global agricultural markets and reduced supplies of fertilizer from eastern Europe.
The province has added more international trade offices around the world in recent years, including in Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Vietnam.
The total value of Saskatchewan exports to the world reached a record-breaking $52.6 billion in 2022, said the annual state of trade report released last week — up 42 per cent from 2021. A significant portion of the growth was from potash and oil, but agri-food and manufactured goods also saw a record year.
“Saskatchewan exporters are among the best in the world, and our province continues to prove that we have the food, fuel and fertilizer the world needs,” Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison said in a news release.
Childs said while most jurisdictions travel internationally to promote trade, he is not aware of any provinces pursuing global partners as aggressively — or visibly — as Saskatchewan.
Many regions still rely more on the federal government to foster international relationships.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government’s policies are often the target of Moe’s criticism. The two leaders have not met in person during either of Trudeau’s two stops in the province so far this year.
International trips and building relationships are becoming increasingly important, Childs said, as the world sees the hardening of borders and a return to industrial policy, with governments playing a larger role in guiding the formation of industries within their jurisdiction.
Moe said the benefit is already clear for Saskatchewan. The international delegations preserve and expand Saskatchewan’s market share and open up additional avenues for business, he said in April.
“We are going to continue to engage around the world.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2023.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press