A Meadow Lake MLA and Minister of the Economy who put hundreds of hours into the creation of the provincial budget says cuts were justified.
Last week, Saskatchewan locals learned about a 58 per cent cut to library funding and the decision to shut down the Saskatchewan Transit Company (STC) which will leave 224 people out of work. While some are losing their jobs, Jeremy Harrison said it's necessary in order to balance the $1.2 billion provincial deficit.
“There is a bit of a disconnect between government revenues and the economy as a whole," Harrison said. “We have the strongest job creation record. Even last month we led all of Canada in job growth with 8,000 jobs created. The economy is continuing to perform well but, the impact on government revenues from the collapse in resource prices has had a huge impact on our revenue situation.”
According to Harrison, for every person who rode the STC it was costing taxpayers $100 in subsidies. The MLA added the company hasn't profited since 1979 and the government couldn’t justify operating it anymore.
“I have a great deal of empathy for those who are impacted by these decisions,” Harrison said. “These are not taken lightly and not taken easily. These are real people being impacted by this. It is something we’ve kept very much in mind. These decisions have to be made when we are subsidizing tax payers to the tune of $100 per rider.”
Harrison said the STC won’t be sold but it opens up an opportunity for a private company to take its place, something the MLA is sure will happen.
As for libraries, local library directors are expecting staff cuts and in some cases whole branches could be lost all together. It was another difficult decision according to Harrison.
“When we have to balance off the core priorities of government and fund education and social services along with the libraries ... not to take away from the great work that is being done but, these are the sort of decisions we had to make,” he said.
According to Harrison, library usage is down due to all the technology available with Internet access.
“I think we have seen library usage, from what it had been historically, to a fraction of what it was.” Harrison said. “People have access to the internet which is basically a library of everything ... there are options for accessing that information that perhaps didn’t exist in years past.”
Harrison added there are no further plans to cut regional library funding. He couldn’t make any promises because even though this budget is based over the next three years, budgets are still discussed annually.
Harrison believes there is opportunity for schools and regional libraries to work together.
“I think there is opportunity, frankly, for synergies between regional libraries to work with the school system or even particular schools with regard to access to libraries,” Harrison said. “There would be lot of benefits all the way around so I am sure those will be explored.”
The next tough decision Harrison brought up was the discontinuing of grants in lieu of tax on Sask. Energy and Sask. Power buildings which has the biggest affect on Meadow Lake. The city is looking at losing $60,000 to $70,000 in grants they had budgeted for.
“What we did do was maintain the revenue sharing grant as it is,” Harrison said. “There was a lot of discussion about how we would manage it moving forward. I am very committed to maintaining the grant how it is. I was the Minister of Municipal Affairs when we brought the grant in. I think it provides stability and certainty for municipalities.”
Ultimately Harrison said it was all about returning to balance.
“It is very important for the province,” Harrison said. “Despite the fact we have had very challenging revenue circumstances facing us. Other jurisdictions in Canada have chosen to take a different approach. Look to the West of us, they are running $10 billion a year deficits as far as the eye can see with no plan to get back to balance.”
On Twitter @realgreghiggins.
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