‘Spinning’ Sask. finances ahead of the election
REGINA – Take a spin and see where you land.
The Saskatchewan NDP have turned three options laid out by the finance minister this week (tax hikes, deficit or draconian cuts) into a makeshift carnival game as a way to call on the government to provide a clearer picture of how bad the province’s fiscal problems are.
“No family in Saskatchewan should have to spin this wheel and take a gamble on their future,” said NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon, who didn’t want to take a crack at the game either.
Wotherspoon criticized the government’s $262-million deficit forecasted months ago and the lack of a fiscal update yet on the third quarter that ended on December 31.
“For the government to deceive Saskatchewan people of the true financial position and the hole they’ve put Saskatchewan people in … is wrong,” he said.
The Sask. Party government has committed to providing an update in February, but not one that is fully audited, as the Opposition would like.
In the lead-up to the spring election campaign, the books have a much different look than they did ahead of the 2011 provincial election.
In October of that year, oil topped $85 U.S. per barrel. Fast forward to January 2016, and crude is only worth $31.
After the 2015 budget forecast of $57 and a revised $49 per barrel, a financial update could be challenging, according to University of Saskatchewan political scientist Joe Garcea.
“This is a time governments and particularly people responsible for the budget just dread,” Garcea said.
He suggests providing one budget before the election then another one after may not be prudent. Most voters, Garcea says, aren’t as concerned about exactly when the numbers come out.
“What people care about is what it’s going to look like at the end of the day. ‘When do we have to start worrying? When can we sleep a little bit easier at night?’ ”
Provincial auditor Judy Ferguson says fully scrutinizing a financial report wouldn’t be feasible before the election. Reviews of budgets released in March typically aren’t completed until June of those years.
About a month-and-a-half before election campaigns kick into overdrive, the NDP have yet to present their own budget plan. When asked when that would happen, Wotherspoon only told reporters to expect it “in the coming weeks.”Follow @mikemckinnon
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