Saskatchewan’s Status Quo Budget Ignores the Climate Crisis and the Affordability Crisis
Dear Fellow Greens,
Within the last few weeks, we have seen the Saskatchewan Provincial Budget released, a new IPCC report on Climate Change issued (called the Last Chance Report) and on CTV, W5's 1/2 hour program showing that we have Asbestos in our drinking water. Our current provincial government wrote one of those and paid absolutely no attention to the other two. The SaskParty has been warned for a decade about the issue of Asbestos Cement Water Pipes, yet again it ignores in its budget this clear threat to human health. Furthermore, as far as this Budget paying any attention to the IPCC Report and the Climate Crisis, it only advertises Saskparty irresponsibility by pouring money into fossil fuels and pretending to have a climate action plan. Saskparty "efforts" depend on virtually useless carbon capture and nebulous speculation about problematic "small nuclear reactors" in the dim future, after the Climate Crisis has become truly unbearable.
The IPCC has put out its final, massive Sixth Assessment Report. We have all had 30 years worth of reports from the International Panel on Climate Change, as it published its first report in 1990. Kaisa Kosonen, a climate expert at Greenpeace International, said: “This report is definitely a final warning on 1.5C. If governments just stay on their current policies, the remaining carbon budget will be used up before the next IPCC report [due in 2030].”
In the Environment Budget Balances Stewardship and Economic Growth, the SaskParty tries to convince us they are environmentalists by throwing in some words like “stewardship” and “sustainable.“ But once you look past this attempt at greenwashing, the environment budget is really mainly about economic resource activity in the province. Saskatchewan has the worst climate change causing emissions in the country. The SaskParty has sold nearly two million acres of crown land in this province since 2007. This province has no legislation in place to protect our grasslands, which are an excellent carbon sink to absorb carbon. Our province still doesn’t have a Wetlands Protection Act. We had hoped to see some concrete climate action in this year's budget. Instead we see more of what we have seen before. Misquoting a certain U.S. state governor, Saskatchewan is where environmental policy "goes to die."
As seen on CTV’s W5, asbestos cement water pipes which have reached the end of their life cycle are causing asbestos fibres to end up in our water supply. The provincial government needs to be looking to the health of Saskatchewan people. Regina mayor Sandra Masters, in a recent 620CKRM interview, mainly falls back on repeating old Health Canada claims, and repeats such pablum as “We need to spend money on infrastructure, and we probably need both levels of government to continue that work.” We all know at this point that asbestos is hazardous to human health. Asbestos fibres, inhaled while showering or consumed in our water, can cause health problems -- especially cancer -- up to 40 years later. It would simply be the responsible thing to deal with this problem now by replacing those aged pipes, instead of waiting for this problem to result in an overburdened healthcare system years down the road. The statistics are bloodcurdling: in Swift Current, 73% of the water mains are asbestos cement pipes; 75% of the water mains in Weyburn are made of asbestos cement; almost half the water mains in Prince Albert are asbestos cement; Saskatoon has 352 kilometres of asbestos cement pipe, and Regina 600 kilometres! Moose Jaw has 98.5 kilometres of these asbestos pipes. Often these pipes are in our cities' and towns' oldest, poorest neighbourhoods. Our elected officials must realize that safe drinking and bathing water is a human right.
“The SaskParty 2023 Budget shows them robbing from Public Services in order to put a billion dollars to our provincial debt. Now they will try to convince you that this is being fiscally responsible, but these savings are not worth what this is going to cost us. Early investment in our deepening problems ("upstream") saves money in the long run. Actually, cutting healthcare funding and education spending is just padding the books on the backs of voters. So the government plans to spend a 2.5% increase on operational funding for schools? Let’s compare that with Alberta, which recently received a 5.2% year over year operational funding increase for Education -- or Manitoba, which saw a 6.1% increase. Why are Saskatchewan students being shortchanged and falling behind our neighbouring provinces? Inflation, as well, is above 5%, so this funding increase in Saskatchewan actually amounts to a decrease. When we next look at Healthcare, here we see a 6.7 % percent hiccup in funding. This is paltry, considering that our healthcare system is teetering on the brink of collapse -- and the federal government just gave the province a massive injection of cash, with pretty much no oversight on how it’s spent. Our healthcare system needed a life giving investment and instead saw a minor increase that doesn’t even really keep up with inflation.
MLAs gave themselves a 3% pay raise, which amounts to around $375 a month for the lowest paid MLA’s. Members of the Legislature already make some of the highest wages in the province. SAID (Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability) recipients and those on the Seniors Income Plan will receive an additional $30 per month. Every MLA should have trouble sleeping for shame when comparing those numbers. SAID recipients need $300 more per month, MLA’s don’t!
55% of Saskatchewan people report being worse off financially right now than they were a year ago. The SaskParty would have you believe that ONLY by increasing and expanding the sales tax can we reduce our province's reliance on resource revenue. The Saskatchewan Green Party would instead increase taxes on the highest income earners, on corporations, and raise royalty rates. The SaskParty has LOWERED taxes on those groups that could well afford the opposite, while making it harder and harder for the poor to simply survive and not end up homeless. We had windfall resource revenues -- resource corporations can afford to be taxed! Lower income people can’t. Affordability is a massive issue for most people right now, and some relief is needed. This was the time for a compassionate government to decrease the provincial sales tax.
This budget was nothing but a lead-up to next year's provincial election. The SaskParty will assuredly drop a budget next spring which will be intended to buy your votes with your own money. There will be increased spending in 2024, but it’s needed now. Eroding our public safety nets to the point where they can’t catch us when we fall, and then patching on a “financial bandaid” during election years is the sign of a government that cares for nothing except holding on to power.
Be welcome to reach out if you would like further comment;
Naomi Hunter, Leader of the Saskatchewan Green Party