Wednesday’s provincial budget must eliminate spending on wasteful pet projects and move the dollars directly into what matters most to Saskatchewan families, says Cam Broten, Leader of the Opposition New Democrats.
“After a decade of resource wealth, parents want to know why their schools are run down and have leaky roofs, but nothing’s being done about it,” said Broten. “Patients want to know why waits in emergency rooms are out of control, and why hallway medicine and long delays have become the status quo. Families want to know why seniors care homes are short-staffed with caregivers consistently run off their feet and struggling to provide even basic care.
“We can afford to do so much better, but not if the Sask. Party government keeps blowing our resource wealth on its misplaced priorities and wasteful pet projects. This government should use the dip in oil prices to cut its own waste and finally start spending wisely on what really matters to Saskatchewan families today.”
The Sask. Party government is spending roughly $14 billion per year, several billion more per year than in 2007. Broten argues that the Sask. Party government's misplaced priorities have caused it to miss the opportunity to use Saskatchewan’s prosperity to build a legacy of better schools, dignified seniors care homes and hospitals with no waits and no hallway medicine.
- Dedicate adequate funding to repair run-down schools, starting with the most urgent structural and safety needs. The government must reveal reports and inspection records on crumbling schools, which detail at least $1.5 billion in necessary repairs, even without engineer inspections on all older schools.
- Commit to work with teachers to implement a multi-year plan to cap classroom sizes based on class composition, starting with early years.
- Add enough educational assistants to bring the ratio of educational assistants to students who need extra help back to 2006 levels.
- Ensure appropriate academic resources are available in each school to assist with learning, including acceptable internet speeds.
- Shrink wait times by shrinking bloated administration and redirecting those resources to front-line delivery of care.
- Immediately stop charging patients for ambulance transfers between health facilities, and cap the amount patients pay by eliminating the per-kilometre charge.
- Commit to maintain public hyperbaric treatment within our province.
- Develop a multi-year plan to repair crumbling hospitals, like Royal University Hospital, and immediately commit to properly use under-utilized facilities, like Saskatoon City Hospital.
- Re-establish regulated minimum care standards in seniors care homes, including appropriate staff-to-resident ratios.
- Expand home care services, to provide more support for seniors to stay in their own homes as long as they want.
ECONOMIC DIVERSITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
- Fix this government's flawed procurement policy, resulting in better value for Saskatchewan taxpayers and more work for Saskatchewan companies.
- Immediately pass and proclaim The Buy Local Day Act, and develop a promotional campaign to raise awareness about the value of supporting local businesses.
- Deliver more education and training opportunities for Saskatchewan people, including First Nations and Métis people.
- Fund a proactive comprehensive drainage and flooding strategy.
- Invest in proven renewable power to clean up our electricity system and deliver benefits to Saskatchewan businesses and communities.
- Re-establish a film employment tax credit as good or better for the film industry than the credit the Sask. Party government eliminated. That credit provided a return benefit of $44.5 million, annually, to the province.
- Create a heritage fund to save for the long-term.
CUT WASTEFUL SPENDING
- Put an end to the hiring of all Lean consultants.
- Immediately close the Lean Kaizen Promotion Offices, which cost roughly $20 million every year.
- Cut hundreds of highly paid permanent Lean specialists, immediately saving millions every year that can be redirected to the front lines of care.
- Reduce the size of the bloated health administration, shifting those jobs to the front lines of care, where they're desperately needed.
- Stop flying health care administrators to the United States for John Black Lean field trips, which include a tour of an airbag factory in Utah.
- Stop taking health care workers off the front lines and forcing them to attend "Kaizen Basics" and other John Black Lean training, which includes folding paper airplanes and memorizing Japanese terms.
- Stop the endless John Black-style workshops in health care that cost $35,000 a piece, and rarely result in lasting improvements.
- Slash the government’s spending on private consultants, which has increased by 228 per cent and costs taxpayers more than $120 million each year – even though the auditor says this government can’t explain what at least 70 per cent of these consultants are doing.
- End the multi-million dollar contract with the premier's American lobbyist, which includes having highly paid consultants lobby American news outlets to interview the premier.
- Reallocate government jobs to reduce the high number of communications staff and transfer some of those positions to the short-staffed child protection workers in Social Services.
- Eliminate vanity projects, such as the sponsorship of exclusive parties in Toronto and Hollywood.
- Eliminate the $5-million research gift to the American manufacturer of the failed, dangerous smart meters.
- Recoup all losses for the smart meter debacle, including the $18 million of Saskatchewan taxpayers’ money currently being held by the American manufacturer as part of a future purchase agreement.
- Stop the pricey P3 rent-a-school scheme. In addition to the wasted money, the controversial P3 method is causing delays in building the schools communities need now.
- Stop handing so many government contracts to out-of-province and out-of-country companies without a proper value-for-money assessment. This is failing to get best value for taxpayers while Saskatchewan companies can often deliver better value for money for Saskatchewan taxpayers.
Some of the government’s waste can’t be recouped.
The government plowed ahead with the enormously expensive $1.6-billion carbon capture pet project without a proven business case. At its best, the project can only reduce the amount of carbon Saskatchewan produces by less than 1.5 per cent – but no refund is possible for this project with highly questionable returns. Neither is there a refund for years of staff time put into vanity projects like the proposed Premier’s Library, a museum modeled after the American presidential libraries, which would house the premier's manuscripts, photographs and fine art. Nor can every dollar of inappropriate travel be refunded – like a cabinet minister’s trip to Ghana and London, which was revealed to be primarily a vacation with family and friends; or a Crown CEO’s trip to a Hollywood pre-Oscar party. The Sask. Party’s is plowing ahead with its selfish plan to spend millions of dollars to add three more MLAs to the legislature, and already passed a law to make it happen. It also can’t recoup years of legal fees, spent fighting for its illegal essential services law all the way to the Supreme Court.
“That kind of waste can’t keep happening,” said Broten. “Somehow, despite over a decade of resource wealth, this government hasn’t saved a dime and overall government debt has climbed to more than $19 billion. This government's spending priorities must change. Because it can’t just be about the province doing well, it has to be about people doing well.”
Broten added that this government’s spending decisions are lacking transparency. The third-quarter update on whether the province is has deviated from the current year’s budget was not released this winter.
The Opposition New Democrats strongly oppose any government effort to recoup the small dip in revenue caused by low oil prices by raising property tax directly or by shortchanging municipalities on the sales tax revenue-sharing deal. Instead, Broten demanded that the revenue reduction be managed by eliminating the government's wasteful spending.