Thursday marked five years since Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took office, and the province’s leading and opposition parties wasted no time making public their differing opinions on Moe’s impact so far.
The Saskatchewan NDP held a press conference at the legislative building where leader Carla Beck and Jobs and Economy Critic Aleana Young took aim at provincial economic performance during Moe’s term.
“When we look over the Scott Moe years there’s not a lot to celebrate,” Beck said Thursday.
The NDP pointed out that, between January 2018 and December 2021, Saskatchewan’s GDP shrunk six per cent — the worst growth rate among all provinces.
“Let’s face it, sometimes when the team isn’t performing you have to look at the coach,” Beck said.
Between February 2018 and December 2022, meanwhile, Statistics Canada data shows Saskatchewan’s employment growth trailed all provinces by three per cent.
“We’ve also had the worst full-time jobs growth at two per cent,” Young added.
They also pointed out that the number of people aged 18 to 30 decreased to 194,309 from 204,789 in 2017.
“During his tenure as premier, 35,856 people have left through interprovincial migration. That is the worst record in Canada except for Ontario and I’m sure if people weren’t fleeing the GTA en masse during the pandemic unfortunately we would be dead last there as well,” said Young.
“If I had to distill it down to one thing, and this is something that we hear everywhere in the province,” Beck added, “is a real sense that this is a government that has stopped working with industry, working with employers, working with municipalities to build potential to attract people to this province.”
Asked how her party would reverse these trends, Beck said, “the baseline is working with these communities.”
“There’s no end to the opportunities that are there. We’ve pointed to the minimum wage, for example, which is making it hard to attract and keep young people in the province,” Beck said.
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“The solutions that are out there have to be built with those communities, with industry, with small businesses with the workers.”
Young added she’d like to see more support for small business owners.
“This is an entrepreneurial province and there is limited opportunity currently for people to get their foot in the door as small business owners.”
Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison, meanwhile, responded by accusing the NDP of “cherry-picking” data.
He celebrated the province’s accomplishments since Moe narrowly beat out former-civil servant Alanna Koch as Saskatchewan Party leader after outgoing premier Brad Wall retired.
“There are great things happening in Saskatchewan as a result of the government’s policies and incentives, and under this premier’s leadership. We have an all-time population high, with 1.2 million people now choosing to call our province home,” Harrison wrote in a supplied statement.
“We also have the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, with record numbers of women and Indigenous employment. We have the fastest growing economy in the country, with the Conference Board of Canada predicting that Saskatchewan will lead the pack this year and next year.”
“There are challenges, and there is more to be done. But, we are very proud of Saskatchewan and we are going to work hard to make sure this year is even better than the last,” Harrison’s statement added.
Global News requested an in-person interview with Moe Thursday, but the request was not granted.
One economist, meanwhile, says the claims on either side of the spectrum need more context to be evaluated.
He said that, while economic output may have shrunk since 2018, Saskatchewan still has the second-highest GDP per capita among Canadian provinces.
“There are good paying jobs here. But, if we’re not growing those jobs that pay that well, if we’re not creating new ones, we’re not going to bring in new people.”
He added that while job growth data shows room to improve, Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate is low and its participation rate is high.
“Yeah, we’re not maybe doing as well as we could. We’re seeing some outmigration because of that, but at the same time, with interprovincial migration, you’ve got to look at the age of the individual, what’s going on, why are they going?” Childs said.
“The data’s correct. They’re right. But what does it mean?”
Childs pointed out the drought of 2021 significantly impacted economic output in Saskatchewan.
He said, as the province recovers from that and the impacts of the pandemic, GDP data for 2022 might provide a more accurate look at provincial fortunes. Statistics Canada will release that data towards the end of this year.
As for the loss of younger adults, Childs says the trend could be in part because of population trends in previous decades.
“What was the big joke in the ’90s in Saskatchewan? Would the last person out please shut off the lights,” Childs said.
“What did you get your kid when you graduated from University? A plane ticket and luggage. If you’re leaving to go to Calgary as a 20-something in the ’90s, you’re not in Saskatchewan having kids.”
Regardless of his performance since 2018, Saskatchewan’s premier has indicated he has no plans to vacate the seat.
In a 2022 year-end interview with Global News, Moe said he intends to run for premier again in 2024.
“With the blessing of our caucus, I hope so. It is my intent to run,” he said in December.
“We’re closer to the next election than the last. Most certainly we’re looking not only at what we can achieve in the next year but what we can achieve in the next couple of years and beyond that. Our plan for growth out to 2030 has some targets that we want to be well on our way to.”