In a year marked by job losses and reduced income, shoppers in the province managed to spend nearly as much as they did in past years, according to figures in the latest Saskatchewan budget.
Retail sales declined by one per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year, meaning provincial sales tax revenue (PST) dipped rather than dropped.
Cole Thorpe, founder and owner of Prairie Proud, said the pandemic forced his company to return to its roots as a digital retailer. At the same time, customers began focusing on shopping local.
“People don’t necessarily realize, but those (purchases) are paying wages, that’s paying property tax, that’s paying rent to local landlords,” Thorpe said in an interview.
He said one of the few encouraging developments from the COVID-19 pandemic has been consumers’ willingness to shop local — something he noticed in particular over the holiday season.
In a statement, Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said, “Saskatchewan people showed tremendous resilience, shopping local and supporting local businesses through these challenging times.”
PST revenue is slated to represent 15 per cent of Saskatchewan’s revenue in the 2021-22 fiscal year, trailing only federal transfers and personal income tax as the most significant sources for income.
The 2021-22 budget has a forecast deficit of $2.6 billion, and the Saskatchewan Party government has stated it won’t balance the budget until 2026-27. COVID-19 expenses will account for $1.5 billion worth of spending, according the province’s forecasting.
The dire figures are buoyed in part by consumer spending that remained consistent despite government restrictions and job losses.
“It’s good news for the economy that the overall sales stayed as high as they did,” said Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.
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Of all Saskatchewan Crown corporations, only the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority brought in more money than expected in the previous fiscal year, though consumers were interested in more than just alcohol.
McLellan noted spending habits shifted when people realized they wouldn’t be travelling far for vacations. Home renovations, hot tub installations and trampoline purchases showed shoppers’ willingness to stay home.
“I think in 2021, we’re going to see a real pent up demand for domestic travel. People will get out and about in Saskatchewan,” McLellan said.
“And that’s great news for all of us.”