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Saskatchewan legislature members debate cost-of-living pressures post-2024 budget

REGINA — Premier Scott Moe’s government is rejecting Opposition accusations its new budget hangs Saskatchewan residents out to dry when it comes to affordability.

During question period Thursday, NDP Leader Carla Beck criticized the Saskatchewan Party government for not pausing the fuel tax at a time when people are paying more in provincial sales tax. 

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer responded by accusing the NDP of having Manitoba envy, as that province did pause the fuel tax. 

Harpauer said Saskatchewan is more affordable to live in than Manitoba, as people in her province pay fewer sales and income taxes.

“I’d rather pay the fuel tax than to pay tax on $20,000 worth of income,” Harpauer told the assembly.

She added the province’s decision to not remit the carbon levy on home heating to Ottawa — a move that breaks federal law — saves people on average $400 per year. 

NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon told the assembly Harpauer is out of touch with concerns over inflation, citing a recent Angus Reid survey that suggested it was the No. 1 issue in the province.

He said the government had added the sales tax years ago on children’s clothing and used cars along with increasing power rates.

“The list of ways this government has made life more expensive is long,” Wotherspoon said.

He also reiterated his party does not support the carbon price and supports the decision to not remit the levy.

Wotherspoon faced a barrage of heckling from Saskatchewan Party members urging he call his purported boss, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

“Those cabinet ministers can heckle all they want, while six out of 10 Saskatchewan people struggle to put food on the table. You want to talk about out of touch? Exhibit A,” he said while pointing to members opposite. 

The province’s pre-election 2024-25 budget released this week promises record spending on education, health care and municipal revenue sharing along with no tax hikes and a $237-million deficit. 

The government said now is the time to invest to meet the needs of a growing population and economy.

Moe told reporters Thursday the budget balances the needs of more investment while keeping tax rates the same.

“We fare very well,” he said.

Moe said the budget looks to address staffing and overcapacity issues in health care along with adding more supports to classrooms. 

He said decisions to send patients to Calgary for mammograms, which cost more than doing them in the province, spend millions more on contract nurses and use hotels more often for social services recipients, are temporary.

The Opposition has said those plans point to mismanaged spending, as the province could have saved money had it acted sooner before issues got so bad. 

“It’s really a recognition of the failures of this government and it’s a reminder this Saskatchewan Party government and this premier broke health care and education, and Saskatchewan people certainly can’t trust them to fix it,” Wotherspoon said. 

Saskatchewan United Party Leader Nadine Wilson accused governing members of being Liberals, citing the record spending, deficit and no fuel tax relief. 

Moe chuckled and said Wilson is the only person to ever call him a Liberal. 

“When I was elected leader in 2018, I think in my very first speech it was pretty evident I wasn’t voting for the federal Liberal party,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2024.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press

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