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Saskatchewan releases budget – no plan for surplus until 2026-27

Total debt is expected to rise from a forecasted $23.6 billion this year to $36.4 billion in 2025.

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Saskatchewan’s government announced its second budget since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, without projections of a budget surplus until 2026-27.

“The pandemic is indeed creating costs for the government, but every family and business has found ways to save money, and the province needs to do that as well,” said Todd MacKay, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Prairie Director.

“Spending is going up in 10 out of the 11 major budget categories.”

“It’s good to see the Saskatchewan government set a target to balance the budget, but it needs to work harder to hit that target earlier.”

Compared to the province’s previous budget, spending will rise by 6.3 per cent, prioritizing $6.54 billion for health care, $3.75 billion for education and $1.56 billion for social services and assistance spending.

The province will allocate $90 million in health-sector-related spending to accommodate its response to COVID-19, including the mass vaccination rollout, expanded testing, more personal protective equipment, and support for contact tracing.

With a $3.1 billion capital budget – the same as the last year’s – this budget marks the start of $11.6 billion in capital spending planned over the next four years.

Crown corporations lead this budget with $1.6 billion, including $937.6 million by SaskPower to meet increased demand for power infrastructure.

The province plans to spend $553.2 million on transportation, most of which goes to highway upgrades.

The budget dedicates $189.9 million for education capital, including work on 16 new schools and $162 million in healthcare projects.

After a drop of real GDP growth of 4.2 per cent last year, the budget projects a 3.4 per cent real GDP growth in 2021.

Saskatchewan projects $14.5 billion in revenues this year with $7.2 billion from taxes, a rise of 6.1 per cent from the previous fiscal year.

This includes $2.9 billion in transfers from the federal government and $1.3 billion from non-renewable resources.

Some other vital assumptions include a West Texas Intermediate oil price of $54.33 US per barrel and $191 US per tonne for potash, providing $505.1 million and $431.8 million in royalties, respectively.

With plans to balance the budget in 2026-27, the province looks significantly better than Alberta’s plan, which has no timeline to balance the budget, and Quebec’s budget plans to balance the books in 2027-28.

Saskatchewan is still behind Nova Scotia, and its plan to balance the budget in 2024-25.

“Tackling the deficit won’t be easy, but it won’t get easier if we procrastinate,” said MacKay.

“We’re already spending three-quarters of a billion dollars on interest payments, and we need to get a handle on spending before interest costs chew up even more budget.”

The Saskatchewan budget now projects a deficit of $2.6 billion. The province’s taxpayer-supported debt is projected to hit $17.9 billion this year and soar to $25.2 billion by 2025.

This year, Saskatchewan will spend $755 million to cover the interest charges on the debt.

The province will have projected deficits of $1.7 billion, $ 1.2 billion and $770 million before the next provincial election.

Total debt is expected to rise from a forecasted $23.6 billion this year to $36.4 billion in 2025. But at 19 per cent, the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio is tied with Alberta for the lowest among provinces.

Dhaliwal is an Edmonton reporter for the Western Standard

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Vulnerable Albertans 18+ can receive fourth COVID booster

Eligible individuals can begin booking fourth dose appointments beginning January 20 with AHS or at participating pharmacies by using the Alberta vaccine booking system or by calling 811.

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Those 18 and older who have specific immunocompromising conditions can now book their fourth booster five months after receiving their third dose, said Alberta Health.

The decision announced on Tuesday in the provincial COVID-19 address is in line with recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization (AACI).

“We remain committed to protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant, and vaccinations continue to be our best tool in preventing severe outcomes,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a statement.

“We continue to rely on the latest research to guide our decision-making, and with evidence showing immunocompromised individuals benefit from a fourth dose, we are pleased to provide them.”

Eligible individuals can begin booking fourth dose appointments beginning January 20 with AHS or at participating pharmacies by using the Alberta vaccine booking system or by calling 811.

“I know that the approximately 80,000 Albertans who live with immunocompromising conditions will be relieved to receive these additional doses,” said Minister of Health Jason Copping.

“At the same time, the best way for all of us to protect ourselves and one another is to continue getting whatever dose we are eligible for. I encourage all Albertans to continue to sign up for their booster doses as soon as they can.”

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the fourth COVID-19 dose will help “individuals with certain immunocompromising conditions” and will provide “additional protection” against the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Qualifying conditions include:

  • Transplant recipients, including solid organ transplants and hematopoietic stem cell transplants.
  • Individuals with malignant hematologic disorders and non-hematologic malignant solid tumors prior to receiving or receiving active treatment (chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy or having received previous COVID-19 vaccines while on active treatment), excluding individuals receiving solely hormonal therapy, radiation therapy or a surgical intervention.
  • Individuals being treated with an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody such as Rituximab.
  • Individuals with chronic kidney disease on dialysis.
  • Recipients of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T-cell therapy.
  • Individuals with moderate to severe primary immunodeficiency (e.g., DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome).
  • Individuals with Stage 3 or advanced HIV infection and those with acquired COVID-19 immunization.
  • Individuals undergoing immunosuppressive therapies (e.g., anti-B cell therapies, high-dose systemic corticosteroids, alkylating agents, antimetabolites, or tumornecrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors and other biologic agents).
  • Individuals on certain medications for autoimmune diseases, including rituximab, ocrelizumab and ofatumumab.

“Youth ages 12 to 17 with the preceding conditions continue to be eligible for third doses. Fourth doses have not yet been approved for this age group,” said the release adding, “third doses have not been approved for youth under the age of 18.”

Hinshaw said the province has recorded 3279 new cases within the last 24 hours while 8995 tests were recorded for a positivity rate of 39%. Hinshaw has earlier stated actual cases are likely 10 times higher due to lack of testing.

Hinshaw also confirmed 1,089 are currently in hospital — 51% of those hospitalized are due to COVID-19 while 49% are cases with COVID-19. Currently, there are 104 people in ICU — 74% due to COVID-19 while 26% are cases with COVID-19. Nine deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter with the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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AHS uses undercover agents to bust restaurant for accepting dog photos instead of QR codes

The test shoppers entered the restaurant at different times on January 11 and were permitted access after showing a photo of a dog and their personal identification.

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Alberta Health Services (AHS) has shut down a Red Deer restaurant for allowing patrons to show dog photos in place of proof of vaccination.

The Granary was ordered closed to indoor dining on Friday after complaints to an AHS executive officer resulted in two test shoppers busting staff for accepting photographs of a dog instead of scanning vaccine passport QR codes.

The test shoppers entered the restaurant at different times on January 11 and were permitted access after showing a photo of a dog and their personal identification. It was reported a staffer pretended to scan QR codes with a tablet.

The owners have been told the indoor dining area is to remain closed until they produce a written plan on how they plan to implement the restriction exemption program moving forward.

The owners will also have to provide confirmation they have trained staff about the program and will be required to attend an administrative hearing with Environmental Public Health.

The restaurant took to its Facebook page on Friday to explain the circumstances to its patrons and offered up free coffee for all to-go orders throughout the weekend.

“To our valued guests, we had an unfortunate circumstance at our front door which involved one of our underage hostesses, and the requirements for the REP program.  We are taking the weekend to retrain and regroup,” it said.

“We look forward to serving you again as soon as we are ready to reopen.  In closing, we would like to remind everyone of the tremendous pressure being placed on front staff, and please remember to be kind.”

The restaurant has since opened again and is currently offering free rapid testing on site.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter with the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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MLA Barnes demands greater punishment for corrupt politicians

“This suspension is a staggering under reaction designed to shield one of the Premier’s cronies,” said Barnes.

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Independent Alberta MLA Drew Barnes is outraged that Justice Minister Kaycee Madu was only being suspended after he called Edmonton’s police chief about a ticket he received.

That action led to Madu being suspended Monday night by Alberta Primer Jason Kenney.

“This suspension is a staggering under reaction designed to shield one of the Premier’s cronies,” said Barnes, the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat.

“It is inexcusable that any minister’s first instinct upon receiving such a ticket is to swing influence in an attempt to get his ticket fixed. It’s just another indicator that the culture of Redford-era cronyism remains alive and well within Premier’ Kenney’s inner circle.”

After being fined $300 for speeding in an Edmonton playground zone, Madu phoned Dale McFee, the city’s chief of police, to discuss the ticket with him. 

“It is particularly galling that this minister is currently overseeing changes that will deny procedural fairness for thousands of Albertans when they face similar traffic fines,” said Barnes.

This follows the removal of traffic courts in Alberta, the previously most accessible part of the justice system now no longer available to citizens.

“Under this minister, you are considered guilty until proven innocent, unless, of course, you happen to have the local police chief on speed-dial,” said Barnes.

“It seems the minister, like the Premier, considers himself above the law. Albertans deserve better. The real question is, why hasn’t he been fired yet?”

“Over the past year, Premier Kenney has repeatedly punished both ministers and MLAs for daring to question his leadership, but when a real case of misuse of power comes along concerning one of his handpicked cronies, the fix is in. That’s not justice; that’s cronyism.”

McFee said he received the call about the ticket from Madu, saying Madu brought up the issue of racial profiling by police to stop drivers.

“This is the Minister who continues to encourage legal action against pastors and small business owners for allegedly violating the very same health restrictions that the Premier and his cronies violated on the Sky Palace patio,” said Barnes.

Ewa Sudyk is a reporter with the Western Standard
esudyk@westernstandardonline.com

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