Sask Party platform touts modest promises, oil sector optimism

By Lasia Kretzel
March 19, 2016 - 6:59pm

Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall says his party is offering residents “affordable ideas” in an election that is all about the economy.

Before a packed Saskatoon-Southeast campaign office Saturday, Wall unveiled the party's platform which lays out $105.4 million in new spending commitments over four years. Wall said that equals 0.002 per cent of their overall expenditures in a fully-costed platform.

"It's easy to make a lot a promises. The challenge is keeping them within a fiscally responsible framework and so we didn't make a lot," Wall said.

In a platform that relies heavily on the party's past record, the Sask Party plans to run a $259 million deficit in the upcoming budget, but return to surplus for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Critics have already argued that running a deficit goes against Wall's own Growth and Financial Security Act, which states provinces must run balanced or surplus budgets. There are provisions in the legislation which allow for deficits "if extraordinary circumstances cause a decline in revenues in a fiscal year.

"I would say an oil drop price to $30 or $40 is a serious situation we need to deal with," Wall said, adding he would make amendments to the legislation.

Wall said raising taxes wasn't an option for his party.

The budget also promised to start rebuilding the rainy day Growth and Financial Security Fund to $500 million with oil revenues once the price of a barrel hits $75USD. Oil revenues on top of $75 would go towards debt repayment and the eventual creation of a Saskatchewan Futures Fund.

Wall said based on private sector forecasters, the party expects oil to rise past $75 within the next four years.

Other Sask Party promises included in the budget were already announced over the past two weeks. They include:

- A Highways 2020 plan to repair roadways which will invest $2.7 billion over the next four years.

- Creating a Graduate Retention Program First-Home Plan which allows provincial graduates to use up to $10,000 in GRP credits towards a down payment on their first Saskatchewan home.

- Starting in 2017, allowing seniors with household incomes below $70,000 to defer all or part of the education portion of their property taxes until they sell or transfer their homes. Wall said this would not affect education's funding increases in their budget.

- Individual funding for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

- Improving health care through private CT scans, reducing regional health authority costs by $75 million to hire more long-term care staff, increase funding for Canadian National Institute for the Blind and expanding remote medical robotic technology.

- Expanding the use of solar power with the target of having 50 per cent of Saskatchewan's energy coming from renewable resources by 2030.

- Allowing home-based food businesses to sell low-risk food products directly to consumers and retailers.

- $330 annual non-refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical first responders.

- Converting 40 government-owned liquor stores to private and adding 12 new private stores.

The party would also create a new Commercial Innovation Incentive which would reduce the Corporate Income Tax rate on income earned from commercialization of patents from 12 per cent to six for 10 years. The party would make the first $100,000 of the Research and Development Tax Credit refundable.

Wall said his party would have announcements on First Nations and Métis initiatives in the near future.

A summary of the platform will be mailed to every Saskatchewan home and is available on the party’s website.

NDP drive home key platform points

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten was at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market to reiterate his party's plans to cut the cost of living for middle class families.

"It's about cutting the waste, improving services and giving a reasonable cost of living so people have more money in their pockets at the end of each month," he said.

The NDP have promised to raise the the personal tax threshold to an unspecified amount, and create a new tax bracket for those making above $175,000 annually.

The party has also promised to lower utility costs for SaskPower customers. The change may not affect those who get their utilities from local providers like Saskatoon Light and Power.

"What we need to do is bring affordability for the share holders of our crown corporations," Broten said.

Broten did not put a price tag on how much money the province would take in if utility costs were lowered saying the cut would be "delivered through the crowns."

The NDP platform is available on the party's website.

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