The Saskatchewan provincial budget 2015-16 will continue to fund infrastructure projects for Regina, but it also presents lack of funding in other important areas of the city. The budget, presented on March 18, showed considerable funding for projects like the Regina Bypass, which received $211.0 million, and $1.2 million for twinning Highways 5 and 39 from Regina to Estevan.
Nancy Heppner, minister of highways and infrastructure, said she was very pleased with this budget. “While provincial revenues have been hit, we don’t want to affect the economy. And if we stop building, that is what’s going to happen,” Heppner said. Heppner also mentioned this year’s budget presented a 27 per cent increase over 2014-15, which was a record year for infrastructure in the province.
Regina mayor Michael Fougere said he expected to see more investment in infrastructure; however he said he understood things can’t be done all at once. “When the economy begins to soften and there’s concern, that’s the time when the government should invest in infrastructure,” said Fougere. “We have seen that in 2009, 2008 with the slow-down, and we see that again now. It’s time to invest and they’re going to do that, and that’s good news,” said Fougere.
Some are worried that the budget will present cuts in areas like health and education.
A $157.4 million fund was allocated for planning and further construction of nine joint-use schools across the province, three of which are planned to be located in Regina. However, the concerns for many come for staff costs.
Barbara Cape, president of Service Employees International Union West, said she was disappointed. “They might be building new schools, but we don’t have the staff to provide the education,” Cape said.
“We are looking ahead to see what kind of operational spending there is,” said Randy Cline, vice-president of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. He added that there must be a balance between school plans and the support of teachers. “Teachers are trying to do the best to ensure students’ success, but they need the resources and supports to do that, and that is operational expenses,” Cline said.
Maintenance capital for health care received $27.8 million, which represents a 19.3 per cent over last year. But operational funding remains largely stagnant, according to Cape. “This budget leaves so much to be desired when it comes to health care,” said Cape, who added that people who work in the front line of health care see short staffing, cut of positions and growth of part-time and casual job positions.
"People who are actually suffering are residents, patients, and clients,” she said. In her opinion, the province is going to have a hard time finding people to work in health care and education.
The Saskatchewan Housing Corporation is another sector experiencing a major cut. From a $7 million allocation last year, the 2015-16 budget grants only $1.5 million, which represents a 78 per cent cut.
“Sask Housing is removing itself from the housing programs directly. We partner with them to provide what we can for housing,” said Mayor Fougere, who mentioned Regina’s vacancy rates went up to 3.3 per cent, which represents a success in improving the city’s housing.
Peter Gilmer, staff member of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said there has been no expansion in social housing in a time where the province has had a major housing crisis.
“Over the course of the last year we saw a significant loss of social housing,” said Gilmer. He said the provincial government needs to provide necessary resources to help projects that have been considered by the city. Gilmer said the increase of vacancy rates in Regina has not been accompanied by an increase in affordable housing, but instead has been followed by an increase of costs and rents in the city.