Sask. Premier Scott Moe talks housing, agriculture supports and a greener economy

Click to play video: 'Challenges dealing with drought and affordability: Premier Scott Moe'
Challenges dealing with drought and affordability: Premier Scott Moe
The Saskatchewan government is dealing with drought issues in the province along with challenges surrounding the cost of living and housing – Aug 11, 2023

Global News’ Chris Carr sat down with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe to review several hot topics around the province.

The two discussed agricultural supports, housing, inflation, the Saskatchewan Income Support Program and the push towards a greener economy.

Carr: I’d like to start with the province’s Ag producers. Many farmers are feeling pretty desperate right now. As many as 20 rural municipalities have declared a state of emergency, areas ravaged by drought. What are you hearing from producers right now and the challenges they’re faced with?

Click to play video: 'Premier Scott Moe outlines his vision for Saskatchewan'
Premier Scott Moe outlines his vision for Saskatchewan

Moe: Well, just that, and yet again this year, like in some areas last year, and many of them are the same areas. We have a lack of rain that is impacting our Ag industry, not just the crop industry, but certainly our livestock industry as well. We had made some decisions last year to expand some of the water access that folks had to expand some of the access that they had to feed as well, and to really ensure that on the grain side, that our crop insurance system is working and being responsive to Ag producers.

Carr: We hear the calls for immediate help, but we also hear the calls for the long-term solutions. SARM among those pushing for the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation expansion, a plan that would more than double the irrigated land in the province. How realistic is this and how soon could we see something like this?

Moe: I think it’s realistic, but it is a generational investment that will happen not just in two and three years, but will happen over five, ten, 15 and 20 years with respect to the irrigation. And that is an important investment for agriculture, for municipal water security, as well as for water security, for the Ag value added industry that we’re buying here.

Carr: Not just farmers or Ag producers looking for support to these days, many feeling the pinch. The financial strain first rising costs, inflation, then interest rates rising as well, putting a strain on household budgets. What is the province hearing from people who are struggling to afford even the very basics?

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan farmers, ecosystems battle drought across province'
Saskatchewan farmers, ecosystems battle drought across province

Moe: Well, the inflationary pressures that we’re feeling, whether they be in small business, the Ag industry, the retail industries or whether they be in our personal family households are very real. And there’s challenges there that we have looked at addressing in any way that we can in this province. We had affordability tax credit cheques of $500 that went out this past year. But I think as we find our way to this coming year, find our way to three strong financial years at the provincial level.

There may be opportunities for us and to listen to Saskatchewan people as to how we are going to use potential balanced budgets or surplus budgets like we have had the last couple of years here in Saskatchewan to support Saskatchewan people. The last two years we’ve used that surplus to pay down what was a pandemic deficit that was present due to supporting Saskatchewan people through a difficult time. And now I think it’s time for us to project how we can do what we can to keep taxes low and to keep life more affordable for Saskatchewan families.

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Carr: Housing is under the spotlight right now. I’d like to pick up on recent comments by the Prime Minister on affordable housing, Justin Trudeau saying last month, quote, “Housing isn’t a primary federal responsibility and the provinces and the cities need to step up and do their part on this file,” so how would you characterize the roles and responsibilities on this file and how they might be changing?

Moe: Well, first of all, the federal government does need to be a partner when we are working through whether it be the regulatory environment or the funding for various types of housing in our province, most certainly in Saskatchewan, where we have significant housing shortfalls, as in our Indigenous communities and northern communities, where that is the primary responsibility of the federal government. And so there are areas where the federal government can actually address underfunding, chronic underfunding over decades gone by.

So the province is here with housing stock. We’re constantly working with organizations and people on how we can make that available to them, working on the regulatory environment to ensure that we have additional housing stock that is that is coming on the market through our developers, in our communities, but also looking to the federal government for them to address some of the inadequacies in funding that they have had.

Click to play video: 'Freeland says solutions for housing crisis are ‘simple to say, hard to accomplish’'
Freeland says solutions for housing crisis are ‘simple to say, hard to accomplish’

Carr: We were talking earlier about provincial and federal roles when it comes to housing. Specifically, some are talking about the challenges around the Saskatchewan Income Support program. The concerns of community-based organizations are well documented on this. They say rates are too low for the cost of living and there are many barriers to accessing services. How is the government assessing and monitoring this program to ensure it’s working for the province’s most vulnerable?

Moe: I think the minister in the government proper is always assessing what we can do to support individuals in our communities better, whether that be inflationary pressures we’re feeling or whether it be those that may need a hand up from time to time, which is how the the income assistance program came to be. It was a merger of two previous programs where community based organizations actually had some valid assessments where there was clawbacks.

For example, if an individual was collecting income support and maybe earned $300, or $400 or $500 in a month, those dollars were actually clawed back. The income support programs that we have came about through listening to community-based organizations and individuals in our community, and that continues today as we are always looking at how we can make those supports better, how we can make those supports more impactful, and transitionary supports for Saskatchewan individuals and those with families.

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Carr: One of the issues that some have pointed out is the payment directly to landlords from the province. Is this something the provinces may be looking at tweaking?

Moe: Always looking at not only tweaking, but there are programs in place where those dollars can flow directly to landlords here today. And so it’s been something we have heard about from community-based organizations and others. But there are opportunities for exactly that to happen. And so, always looking to to change programs to make them more impactful for those that are using them. And in this case, it really is a transitionary support to give people a hand up, a hand up to ensure that they can find a better spot in life one and two and three years down the road.

Click to play video: 'SUMA calls for revamp of the Saskatchewan Income Support program'
SUMA calls for revamp of the Saskatchewan Income Support program

Carr: Many are excited about the opportunities in Saskatchewan when it comes to transitioning to a greener economy, the potential for uranium and small modular reactor (SMR) development, rare earth elements right here are being done in Saskatoon. What are the opportunities you are most excited about when you look at the transition to a green economy?

Moe: Well, I look at all of the the products that we produce here in the province and one, for the products that are being utilized today, we produce some of the most sustainable products available on Earth. That needs to be recognized and it is recognized by our customers, and we would hope that it’s also recognized by the coalition government that we now have federally.

And some of the policy that is coming forward from the federal government as we transition to lower emissions, whether that be in ag production, whether that be in our energy production, both oil as well as uranium, or whether it be in the mining industry that we have here in the province where the most sustainable today need to continue to be into the future. And so here is a point where you’ll see the Saskatchewan government most certainly protect our opportunity to grow into the future, which we’ve always spoken of.

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Click to play video: 'Mining’s importance to Saskatchewan’s economy'
Mining’s importance to Saskatchewan’s economy

Carr: What is your vision for the province for the last half of 2023 and as you look ahead to 2024?

Moe: Well, I think as we look ahead, we have a couple of surplus budgets now when it comes to the legislative process. We need to ensure that, as you know, we’re experiencing very volatile resource prices globally, that we are doing everything we can to not only use those those surplus budgets to support Saskatchewan families in whatever way that may be, inflationary pressures, etc.. But most certainly that we are a Saskatchewan government that is representing Saskatchewan people to ensure that we are protecting that opportunity to grow our province and protecting our children’s opportunity to stay here, but also protecting what we’ve already built over the last decade or decade and a half in the province. And I think it’s quite great what is happening here in Saskatchewan, and we need to ensure that continues.

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