Finance Minister Ken Krawetz released the Saskatchewan budget for 2015-16 on Wednesday, which has a heavy focus on health, education and social services. Despite the impact of current oil prices, which account for a $661 million decline in revenue from last year, Krawetz insisted this year’s budget is balanced, with a surplus of $107 million.
“One year ago today, the price of oil was just over $100 a barrel. Today, it is less than half that, which clearly creates some significant challenges,” he said. “But at the same time, there are many signs of continuing strength in Saskatchewan’s diverse and growing economy.”
Krawetz pointed to success in the potash industry and commercial crowns like SaskPower, SaskTel and SaskEnergy as contributing factors in keeping the province’s revenue up.
Investments in health, education and social services account for almost three quarters of the spending in this year’s budget, with an overall increase in these areas of just under two per cent.
Some of the main training initiatives in health care include $27 million to fulfil three medical training commitments, 120 medical residency seats and 20 new nurse practitioner seats. The budget also contains $10 million in new investments for seniors’ care, including a $3.5-million increase to the Home First Program.
“This budget places Saskatchewan’s patients first by investing in seniors’ care, reducing emergency department wait times, and investing in major capital projects,” Health Minister Dustin Duncan said in a press release. “First and foremost, our aim is to continue to improve patient care in the health system, building on our government’s record of reducing surgical wait times and recruiting new doctors and nurses.”
In order to shorten wait times there will be an investment of $4.7 million in programs aimed at reducing emergency department waits, an increase of $3 million. This money is aimed at supporting a system-wide approach to reduce wait times in emergency departments by addressing root causes across the system.
See “Budget,” Page 13
“This initiative is about more than changing how emergency departments work, that’s just where the bottleneck occurs,” Duncan said. “To reduce emergency room wait times, innovative changes must be made in all points where people receive care.”
Saskatchewan will see a boost in its overall investment in education by 14 per cent over 2014-15 to a total of $2.0 billion. The school operating funding for 2015-16, including money gained from the education property tax, will be $1.87 billion. This is up 2.9 per cent over last year.
“Our government is keeping Saskatchewan strong through continued investment in our students and our schools,” Education Minister Don Morgan said. “Even in times of restrained spending, supporting students and teachers in the classroom is vital for the future success of our young people and our province.”
Residents in need of social services will benefit from investment in programs for children, youth and their families. The Ministry of Social Services’ 2015-16 Budget will also address the needs of people with disabilities and those in need of housing.
Funds dedicated to these services will be in the sum of $3.0 million for foster and extended family care, $2.0 million for medically fragile children with complex needs and $1.0 million in preventative services to keep children from coming into the care of the ministry.
“I am proud of our government’s solid record of supporting Saskatchewan citizens who are most
challenged,” Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer said. “With this budget, we’re continuing to keep Saskatchewan strong by investing in programs and services that benefit those most in need.”