While some people are bound to benefit from restored funding to a handful of programs, the Saskatchewan Party government is losing credibility by continuing to reverse and tweak cuts announced in its 2017-18 budget after its finance minister pledged that it was “not prepared” to do so, according to the Saskatchewan NDP.
Since releasing the unpopular budget, which aims to shave about $600 million off a $1.3 billion deficit, the government has made at least six reversals, the most recent being two quiet updates to sweeping provincial sales tax reforms introduced in March that are expected to benefit the province’s construction and petroleum industries.
Opposition finance critic Cathy Sproule said the tweaks are concerning not just because they benefit major industries rather than families, but also because they suggest the government should not have made the changes in the first place.
“It’s fine if you stick to your guns and have a good reason for it,” NDP finance critic Cathy Sproule said. “I understand that; that’s politics. But when you’re flipping and flopping, it creates uncertainty. I think it creates credibility issues (and) incoherency. That’s what makes people nervous.”
The 2017-18 budget is the first step in the government’s plan to bring its books back into balance within three years. Sproule said that while she understands the need to “tighten the purse strings,” it is likely that most taxpayers would prefer a government that made decisions with good reasons and then stood by those decisions.
A government spokesman said in an emailed statement this week that it continues to listen to the people of Saskatchewan and has, “where necessary … made a small number of adjustments.” In a second statement provided Friday, the province said “there are ongoing updates and clarification of tax rules in bulletins as has been the practice by past governments.”
“Drilling and other downhole activities in the oil and gas sector are not exempt from PST,” the statement said. “Oil and gas companies and their service providers are required to pay PST on all equipment, parts, materials and supplies used to perform this activity. However, the PST does not apply to the service portion of this activity.”
The latest updates come almost three months after Finance Minister Kevin Doherty vowed that the government would not roll back any changes in its budget beyond restoring about $3 million of the $36 million in Crown corporation grants in lieu of municipal taxes it chose to redirect into its general revenue fund.
The government has since walked back numerous other cuts, including its decision to slash $4.8 million from libraries, and $600,000 intended to provide funerals for poor people — both of which it deemed mistakes. Last month, it extended access for some hearing-impaired children to its now-eliminated $3 million hearing aid plan.
It has not, however, changed course on its decision to shutter the Saskatchewan Transportation Co. The government expects the move will lead to $85 million in savings over the next five years, but it drew vociferous protests from passengers, activists and Indigenous groups. The green-and-white buses parked for the final time at the end of May.