REGINA - The Saskatchewan government says it remains on track to become the only province to balance its budget this year.
But declining revenues from resources such as oil and potash, along with increased spending, leave the government with a razor-thin projected surplus of $8.8 million — down from $95 million forecast in last year's budget.
While the surplus is thin, Finance Minister Ken Krawetz says it's still a surplus and that's more than other jurisdictions can claim.
"You are going to see as we have started to see the projections by other provinces, we may again be the only province with a balance and a surplus," Krawetz said Friday after the release of his third-quarter fiscal update.
Story continues after slideshow
The Northwest Territories were the only jurisdiction in Canada that saw a negative growth rate in 2011, largely due to a decline in diamond exports. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
New Brunswick's economy flatlined in 2011 due to lacklustre business investment and a pull-back in government spending. Source: StatsCan Photo: Shutterstock
Business investment grew strongly but consumer spending was weak in Atlantic Canada's most populous province in 2011. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
Business investment grew rapidly but foreign trade declined in Canada's smallest province in 2011. Source: StatsCan Photo: Shutterstock
Canada's most populous province didn't grow as strongly in 2011 as it did in 2010, but a big jump in imports and exports helped to keep the province in positive territory. Source: StatsCan Photo: Canadian Press
Consumer spending helped keep Quebec afloat in 2011, despite a major slowdown in business investment into the housing sector. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
Heavy rains and flooding put a damper on economic growth in Manitoba in 2011, but the province still saw a significant increase in consumer demand. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
Business investment in housing in B.C. in 2011 grew at double the rate of 2010, helping the province to a solid economic performance. Source: StatsCan Photo: Canadian Press
Construction for the oil, gas and mining sectors boomed in Newfoundland in 2011, helping to propel the island to one of the higher growth rates seen among Canadian provinces. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
Nunvaut's 4.6 per cent growth rate in 2011 is nothing compared to its 16.6 per cent growth rate the year before, but the territory booming gold and silver mining sectors are still humming along nicely. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
Growing oil exports and a housing investment boom drove Saskatchewan's economy to an impressive growth rate in 2011. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
The fastest-growing province in Canada in 2011 saw its exports jump a formidable 9.2 per cent over the course of the year. Source: StatsCan Photo: Canadian Press
The Yukon hasn't been thought of as a boom region since the Gold Rush of the 19th century, but mineral exploration is still driving its economy today. At 6.5 per cent, the territory had the fastest economic growth in 2011 of any Canadian jurisdiction. Source: StatsCan Photo: Alamy
The update shows the province plans to spend $190.4 million more than expected in last spring's budget. Extra costs have come in the area of flood assistance, teacher pensions and benefits, crop insurance and snow and ice removal on highways.
The bottom line on the revenue side is being stung by softening resource prices. But that is being offset by more tax revenue. Income tax revenue is forecast to be $314 million more than the budget.
"We have seen revenues decline by almost $600 million in non-renewable resources. That's pretty tough to be able to handle and probably in the past that would have meant that we would have had a deficit budget, but this year in Saskatchewan, we are seeing growth," Krawetz said.
Total revenue is forecast to be almost $11.4 billion, while expenses are pegged at $11.39 billion.
The government debt sits at slightly more than $3.8 billion. That rises to $9.2 billion when debt from Crown corporations is factored in — up $950 million from last year. The government attributes the increase to borrowing requirements by electrical company SaskPower.
BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic concurred with Krawetz's take on Saskatchewan's standing in Canada.
"The bottom line: resource revenues continue to weaken in Western Canada, but stronger income taxes have cushioned the hit in Saskatchewan," he said in a note. "The province remains alone in currently targeting a balanced budget."
The provincial Opposition, however, is not impressed. The NDP points to an increased dividend the government is taking from its provincially owned corporations, a drawdown on the province's $660-million rainy-day fund and the increase in Crown debt.
"We see a surprise raid of $120 million from our Crowns, we see a drawdown on our rainy-day funds and we see debt is in fact increasing," said finance critic Trent Wotherspoon.
"This isn't a good picture for the Saskatchewan people."
Krawetz says the new budget is to be delivered March 20.
"I can tell you that it will be a balanced budget," he said.
"It's going to be a pressure type of budget, absolutely ... We are going to have to be prudent. We are going to have to be fiscally responsible. Those discussions are under way right now."