REGINA – Saskatchewan has put money into a federal program to help other provinces and now it’s time to get some payback, says Premier Brad Wall.
Wall says he’d like Saskatchewan to get at least $570 million in new funding in next week’s federal budget. That’s the amount the province will pay into equalization this year.
Equalization transfers funds from “have” to “have-not” provinces so that poorer jurisdictions can offer government services at levels similar to elsewhere.
Wall says it doesn’t make sense that Saskatchewan continues to contribute so much at a time when the province’s energy sector is struggling.
“And so we’re not asking to get any more, we’re not asking to have our status changed. We like being a ‘”have” province,” Wall said Wednesday during the second week of campaigning for the April 4 provincial election.
Full Coverage: Saskatchewan Election 2016
“We’re just saying recognition … that Saskatchewan taxpayers are putting this money in at a time of energy sector challenge, recognition being having some equivalent amount of money come back from the federal government in the budget. I think that’s fair.”
Under the formula, the same six “have-not” provinces that received cash in 2015-16, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, will get payments again next year.
In 2016-17, Quebec will again get the most, about $10 billion from the nearly $18-billion program.
Provinces hit hard by the sudden drop in oil prices, such as Saskatchewan and Alberta, will continue to pay as “have” provinces.
“We’re not going to change the equalization formula, but I do think this would be a good opportunity for the federal government to recognize that the lag in the equalization formula calculation could be recognized and dealt with in this budget,” said Wall.
It’s been a difficult year for Saskatchewan’s bottom line.
The budget tabled last March had anticipated a surplus of just over $100 million. But the third-quarter fiscal update released last month forecast a deficit of $427 million.
The premier said any new federal funding would go to infrastructure or cleaning up old oil wells.
He has recently pitched a plan to Ottawa for $156 million to clean up old wells that aren’t being used as a way to create jobs for laid-off oilpatch workers. That $156 million is not included in the $570 million Wall asked for Wednesday.
Wall also said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is a Regina member of Parliament, has been listening to the province’s concerns and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau understands that times are difficult for energy-sector workers across Western Canada.
“And so now we’re looking forward to that understanding, which I believe is there, translating into action.”
© 2016 The Canadian Press