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Health, social services, crop insurance drive late-year Saskatchewan budget adjustments

The Saskatchewan government says the opening of the Jim Pattison Children's Hospital contributed to the need to adjust health spending.
The Saskatchewan government says the opening of the Jim Pattison Children's Hospital contributed to the need to adjust health spending. File / Global News

Saskatchewan’s cabinet approved a $369-million late-year special budgetary warrant through an order in council signed on Feb. 12. This funding is spread across 11 government ministries.

These special warrants routinely happen near the end of the fiscal year to account for unforeseen spending that comes up throughout the year.

The Ministry of Health saw the biggest spending increase, valued at $123.5 million, much of which has to do with “operation pressures.” According to a government spokesperson, this includes operating the new Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital and integrating business systems — a combined $63.7 million.

Additional increases include $24.5 million for Saskatchewan Prescription Drug Plan “utilization pressures”, $16.5 million covering services for out-of-province Saskatchewan residents, and $9 million to cover more cancer drugs and services under the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency.

This warrant also covers $9.8 million to the province to put into health to increase the amount of surgeries in an effort to reduce wait times. That announcement was made in October.

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It’s not uncommon for health to require more funding for increased utilization during mid and end-of-year funding adjustments. In November’s mid-year fiscal update, health expenses were up $35 million.

READ MORE: Higher surplus forecast by Saskatchewan government

Social services is another ministry that routinely sees the need for mid-year funding increases, and this year is no exception. That ministry required an extra $13.35 million. Social service expenses were on budget as of the November mid-year update.

The ministry needed an extra $9.85 million to run child and family service programming. This is to handle increased calls for child protection officers, pressures on program delivery and growing caseloads, according to a government spokesperson.

NDP Caucus Chair Carla Beck linked these demands to mental health and addictions challenges to increased demand for health and social services.

“This is something that until we start investing early on in preventative measures, those budget lines unfortunately are going to continue,” Beck said.

The remaining $3.5 million in social services is to cover costs from helping evacuated residents from the Pikangikum First Nation in northern Ontario in July.

READ MORE: First Pikangikum evacuees reach Regina, more to arrive on weekend

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Saskatchewan’s agricultural sector had a tough year, and that means higher-than-anticipated crop insurance claims. The program needed an extra $8.2 million.

According to the province, much of this is due to wildlife damage claims. These resulted from the early snow in the fall, leaving farmers with a combined 1.3 million unharvested, insured acres left in the fields.

Snow delaying harvest in Saskatchewan for farmers
Snow delaying harvest in Saskatchewan for farmers

Education saw a $13.2 million funding adjustment through the year, mostly due to $11.9 million in capital costs.

The way the information is shown in the publicly-available order in council is opaque, with a government branch and amount beside it indicated.

This has Beck calling on the release of a third-quarter fiscal update ahead of the provincial budget.

“Until we see a third-quarter financial update, which we should see, I think it’s really hard to tell if this is new spending, or if this is already announced spending, or if this is shuffling money around,” Beck said.

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READ MORE: Saskatchewan’s new net metering program still under fire

Last year, the province released its third-quarter financial report on the same day as the 2019/20 budget.

The most expensive line item in the special warrant is the province moving money from one area to another.

The wildfire management budget, valued at $170 million, used to be under the Ministry of Environment, but now goes to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) in government relations.

The total costs listed under environment in the special warrant values $174.5 million.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan government to incorporate wildfire, emergency management into public safety agency

A SPSA spokesperson said this part of the warrant represents final accounting work associated with moving the wildfire budget from environment to the SPSA.

The remaining $4.5 million in the environment file is earmarked for the ministry’s climate change branch. According to a ministry official, this was to help fund the Net Metering Program rebates from the fall.

Last year’s end-of-fiscal-year special warrant was worth $194 million.

The 2020/21 provincial budget is scheduled to be unveiled on March 18.

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