At a recent press conference, the NDP expressed concerns about the Saskatchewan budget. They said they were especially troubled with changes to the active family tax credit, the graduate retention program, elder medication and child care expansion - most of which the government said were modified to ensure their continuity.
“This budget takes away from hard working Saskatchewan families, makes life more expensive, not a little more affordable,” said NDP Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon. “And we’ve recognized for some time that this government just doesn’t get the affordability pressures that families are facing.”
Regarding the active family tax credit, the Saskatchewan Party made changes as to what income thresholds are eligible to receive it. Only families receiving a combined income of less than $60,000 will be able to take advantage of the benefit and the NDP sees that as wrong.
Finance Minister Ken Krawetz defended the decision by saying the changes are being put in place to ensure the program remains sustainable and that low-income families in need will still benefit from it.
“The program itself has not changed. All we’ve done is adjust whether or not families would be eligible at new income levels,” Krawetz said.
Another alteration that was made was to the graduate retention program.
“They’ve taken away their commitment to graduates,” said Wotherspoon.
“The graduate retention plan, where students have made the commitment to go to school, where they’ve worked hard to graduate, where they’ve taken on paying the second highest tuition in Canada and as a result many are graduating with significant debt, despite working along the way. And now this government is breaking that promise to those hardworking graduates. We think that that’s wrong.”
But Krawetz said that the program has grown beyond the governments “wildest dreams” with over 50,000 people currently benefitting from it he said that the reason for the changes are along the lines of the ones made to the active family tax credit - sustainability.
“We want to be able to continue with the graduate retention program so that is why we’re spreading it out over a longer period of time. The individuals that will qualify for that type of refund will still be able to qualify for the same amount,” he said. “We’re just extending it over a greater length of time. Before the limit was seven years and now we’re extending it over 10.”
See “Sask. budget,” Page 9
He said this allows government to be able to keep the program but avoid receiving the higher cost at the front of the program, which is what has happened in the past.
One of the other issues in the budget that’s ruffled some NDP feathers involves the senior’s drug plan. This is another program where the income threshold was reduced, again to ensure sustainability, and now thousands of seniors are suddenly ineligible for the medication subsidy.
“We’re concerned when this government’s made this choice to kick more than 6,000 hardworking and middle class seniors off the seniors drug plan,” Wotherspoon said. “They’ve worked their entire life, have contributed and paid their taxes with a progressive tax system and we believe they should be entitled to the seniors drug plan as a commitment.”
The issue of childcare spaces is another piece that the NDP feels could have been better addressed. The Saskatchewan Party is adding to the number of MLAs in the province, which the NDP feels is unnecessary, and said the money for that could have instead went to childcare.
“We certainly don’t need three more MLAs,” said Wotherspoon. “That comes at a cost of $1 million a year and it’s symbolic in a way because we don’t need three more MLAs. It’s going to cost us a million dollars a year and that’s equivalent to 250 child care spaces that they could have created with those dollars. And it’s in the same budget that this government has decided to scrap an investment in child care expansion.”
However, Krawetz said there are still some funds available for childcare but did acknowledge a pause to reduce government spending.
“This year there are still some dollars there that are available within the Ministry of Education for some additional daycare spaces but this is a one year pause that are on many other things that you’ll see in government that we decided to do this year.
“We had to ensure that we controlled spending and daycare for this is just one of those items.”