POLITICS

Saskatchewan politicians return for spring sitting of Regina legislature

03/01/2015 10:00 EST | Updated 05/01/2015 05:59 EDT
REGINA - Premier Brad Wall says he expects debate during the spring sitting of the legislature that starts Monday to focus on growing the Saskatchewan economy in light of low oil prices.

Wall has said the budget, set to be tabled March 18, is the most challenging his government has had to put together.

"We've had challenging fiscal times before — in 2009, when basically potash revenue fell to about zero and oil touched $33 (a barrel) for a time," he said last week. "Through that year the economy continued to grow."

He added that the government is planning to present a balanced budget.

Low world oil prices that are hovering around US$50 a barrel translate into a revenue shortfall of between $600 million and $800 million, he said.

The government is also planning to introduce a tax incentive to double exports by 2020 to keep a promise made in October's throne speech. Wall has said that would boost job creation in the manufacturing and corporate sectors.

He would like to see a debate on how to secure Saskatchewan's economy in the lead-up to the next election, which is expected in April 2016.

Opposition leader Cam Broten said he wants to address problems in the health care and education sectors.

"Despite these years where we've seen ... revenues balloon in a major way, things that matter to families still aren't being addressed," he said. "Why don't we have the very best schools in the country? Why is there medicine going on in the hallways of our hospitals?"

In the fall sitting, the New Democrats raised numerous cases of alleged seniors neglect in care homes. The concerns have led to an investigation by the ombudsman into seniors care.

Broten said the Opposition will continue to raise issues related to what he calls the "seniors care crisis."

He predicted that last fall's debate over the government's Lean project, which aims to streamline health care spending, will also spillover into the spring sitting.

The New Democrats have suggested that the $40-million contract with a U.S. consultant has failed to improve the province's standards. That contract is to end in March, but Broten said it continues to damage provincial health care.

"The whole template and model and approach that has been set in place ... that's continuing to roll out through the ministries, through the regions, so we'll be watching very closely for additional expenditures on that front."