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U of R professor Jim Farney

For the first time since before the turn of the millennium, Saskatchewan’s government will not be tabling a provincial budget between March 18 and April 6. This is of particular importance to Saskatchewan residents, given a provincial election is scheduled for April 4.


As residents will want to know where the province stands financially before they head to the polls, premier Brad Wall has stated that a full third quarter financial report will be released.


“We’ll be releasing it prior to the writ being called and the writ will be called sometime, I’m guessing, in early March,” said Kevin Doherty, minister of finance. “It’s typically a 28-day writ period. The premier hasn’t made that decision yet as far as I know, but he’s the one responsible for when the writ is dropped and we go into election campaign. (The third quarter report) will be out sometime around the last week of February or the first week of March.”


As for a budget, Doherty said if the Saskatchewan Party is re-elected, the earliest the province is likely to see a budget is mid to late May due to legal processes and debate of the throne speech following the election.


Although the report will shed light on the province’s finances, the information offered in the third quarter report will differ greatly from the perspective granted by a provincial budget, according to Jim Farney, associate professor of political science at the University of Regina.


“The economic update is going to fill some of that (information) gap,” said Farney. “It will tell us what the government thinks its position is, but a budget is really a forward-looking document and because you’ve got to put numbers to things, a fairly detailed forward-looking document. We won’t have that before the election.”


“This time around, because the economy has not been so good, because oil is low, because the dollar is dropping, the government is going to have to make some big changes,” said Farney.  “Probably (there will be) cuts, because I can’t see this government raising taxes, and I don’t think we’re likely to see that picture put out in front of us without a budget.”


Because the report will provide the only numbers available, Farney said citizens should keep their eyes on a few areas of importance.


“I would expect to see an accounting of what the fallen resource prices and the fall in the dollar has done to government revenue,” said Farney. “I would look carefully for things like transfers in from the Crowns, which traditionally both NDP and Sask Party governments have used to try and backfill holes in the budget.”


“I would see if they project a deficit or not,” said Farney. “It’s hard to see how they won’t, but how big is it? Even little things, like often they’ll identify what the price of oil is going to be. Not having a crystal ball right now, if getting to (the financial picture) they think they’re at requires $50/barrel oil, they’re probably being too optimistic, and they’re being too optimistic for political reasons – they want a small deficit. That would be the type of thing I’d look for.”


Of course, while campaigning before an election, every party puts forth an economic plan within their party platform. However, Farney said a campaign platform is not as revealing as a budget.


“A tabled budget has numbers developed by the ministry of finance attached to everything,” said Farney. “While it’s not perfect, you can go back and see the assumptions they’re making for all of their projections. No party platform is going to be that detailed or that fully costed.”


The last report issued by the minister of finance on Nov. 30, 2015 indicated the province was facing a deficit of $262.2 million.