March 15, 2017 8:01 pm
Updated: March 16, 2017 8:16 am

Fuel tax exemption among issues brought up in wide-ranging SARM ‘bear pit’ session

WATCH ABOVE: With the provincial budget one week away, rural leaders had the opportunity to face off with cabinet ministers during a “bear pit” session at the SARM convention. David Baxter has that story.

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Delegates at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention faced off with members of the provincial cabinet in a “bear pit” session. The delegates had around 90 minutes to ask the ministers anything they wanted.

Lindsay Nobbs, councillor with the RM of Miry Creek near Swift Current, said the Chinook School Division projected a $2.7 million deficit and turned it around to a $1.3 million surplus.

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“Why then, after the last provincial election in April, was the Chinook School Division notified by the provincial government that the division’s surplus accounts would be frozen so to speak?” Nobbs asked.

Education Minister Don Morgan said these surplus accounts are not necessarily frozen. Divisions just have to go through a different process to access their reserves.

“Now with summary financial statements the money that they spend is the same as us projecting a deficit within the [general revenue fund],” Morgan replied. “So we’ve said to the school divisions we don’t want you to use reserves without working with us first.”

On Tuesday, Premier Brad Wall addressed the possibility of having to cancel or modify tax exemptions for farmers on goods like fuel.

READ MORE: Future of fuel tax exemptions considered as Sask. aims for balanced budget

This hit home for delegates like Dan Cugnet, a councillor with the RM of Weyburn.

“I’m just curious if that is on the immediate radar of the government?” Cugnet asked.

“Coupled with rising commodity prices and this impending carbon tax we could see a significant change to what we as producers and farmers and ranchers pay for fuel,” he added.

Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said the proposed carbon tax would be as damaging to agriculture as it would be to the oil industry. As for tax exemptions, he said difficult decisions had to be made.

“We’re forced to consider everything in this budget, and that’s one of the things that’s been considered,” Stewart said.

He added that more information will be released with the provincial budget on March 22.

The budget was a common theme in numerous questions, and cabinet is remaining tight lipped until next week.

“So I hope you look at that budget next week with the idea behind it that it is a plan, I think it’s a workable plan, it’s required some difficult decisions, and it is a fair budget,” Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said.

Challenges surrounding rural ambulances being able to find remote calls were raised in the closing minutes of the bear pit. The delegate wanted to know why they can’t simply text GPS coordinates to first responders if they’re unable to give a land description.

Health Minister Jim Reiter said that this conversation involves several ministries working together, and they hope to have that option available in the “not too distant future”. However, he doesn’t know the exact timeline.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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