Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online
UPDATE: The press conference on Aug. 23 revealed the total expenditure to be $450 million.
In a social media post the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 22, Premier Scott Moe announced $500 “affordability tax credit cheques” for everyone in Saskatchewan over the age of 18. The money is as a result of high resources prices, including oil and potash, which, he noted, has now put the province in a surplus. And those cheques are going to total nearly half a billion dollars.
It’s a move reminiscent of “Ralph Bucks,” a “Prosperity Bonus” in which the Alberta government in 2004 sent $400 cheques to Albertans. The difference is that Alberta had paid off its debt by that point and was in surplus for some time, whereas Saskatchewan will just now be returning to surplus, and has worked up a substantial debt due to COVID-19 and low commodity prices since 2014. Indeed, for most of that period, the deficit in Saskatchewan’s budget was almost exactly equal to the drop in oil revenues.
Moe has been hinting at doing this for some time now, including at a recent town hall in Arcola on Aug. 4. He also noted at that time that debt reduction could be another avenue of dealing with additional funds.
Here is the text of Moe’s announcement:
Tomorrow, Saskatchewan’s finance minister will present the first quarter update for this year’s provincial budget. It will show that Saskatchewan as economy is strong, more people are working, exports are up. And the provinces finances are improving much faster than expected. That’s largely due to our resource sector – things like oil, potash and uranium resources that belong to everyone in Saskatchewan. Higher resource prices are driving our economy and they are creating thousands of new jobs. And this has greatly improved our budget position from a deficit to a surplus.
And that’s good news.
But it also means the cost of almost everything that you buy has gone up. You own the resources, and you should benefit when those resource prices are high.
So this fall, we’ll be sending a $500 affordability tax credit check to everyone in Saskatchewan, aged 18 and older to help with some of those rising costs. Our finance minister will provide more details about this tax credit tomorrow. When she presents the complete financial picture. She will also announce some other important measures, like paying down debt and helping our small businesses in Saskatchewan.
We are able to do these things because we have a strong and growing economy. our industries are driving growth, creating jobs, and they’re keeping Saskatchewan strong. and that means that we’re able to help you deal with these rising costs.
That’s growth that works for everyone.
Earlier this year, the NDP called on the provincial government to increase the Saskatchewan resource surcharge during the current “windfall” of resource revenue and write $125 million in cheques to Saskatchewan people to assist them in dealing with rising costs. The NDP also propose using a further $125 million from this increase to invest in “the generational challenge in health care” and into a fund for energy-efficiency building retrofits.
The current population of Saskatchewan is 1,186,308 as of April 1, according to the Saskatchewan Dashboard. According to the Government of Saskatchewan website, 2021, the population 18 years and older was 950,546, meaning if they all get a cheque, the payout will total roughly $475 million, nearly four times what the NDP had called for. The actual amount turned out to be $450 million, according to Finance Minister Donna Harpaeur, on Aug. 23, based on 900,000 people receiving cheques.
In an emailed statement, NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said, “While Saskatchewan families have been struggling with historic inflation rates, rising cost of living expenses and record gas prices, the Sask. Party sat on billions in windfall revenues. Not only did they sit on these windfall revenues, but they also increased taxes and utility rates, adding to the hardships many Saskatchewan families and businesses were already facing. They should have offered this relief months ago as we’ve been calling for, in addition to scrapping their new taxes, utility increases and fee hikes. While other provincial governments acted to provide affordability relief, the Sask. Party has waited until right before their byelection call. This money belongs to the people of Saskatchewan, not the Sask. Party. The Sask. Party will consistently put their political interests above the wellbeing of the people of Saskatchewan – as they have done with these ‘buy’-election bucks.”
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