03/03/2013 06:00 EST | Updated 05/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan Budget Belt-Tightening Key Says Brad Wall


REGINA - Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says a tightened budget will be a big part of the spring sitting of the legislature which starts Monday.

Wall says the government needs to keep overall spending increases to under four per cent.

"We made some difficult decisions through the budget planning process and our funding partners ... are making those decisions as well, but it'll be balanced," Wall said at the legislature recently.

There won't be "wholesale cuts or eliminations of programs ... but you're going to see a tightened budget."

The premier said the province has been talking about belt-tightening for several months, so hopefully any changes won't shock people. The province faced much hue and cry when, without warning, it eliminated a film employment tax credit in the budget last March.

But the pinch may not be felt in all areas.

"You'll still see very aggressive infrastructure investments. That's part of our growth plan. We know a growing province needs that infrastructure investment and you're going to see that manifest in the budget," said Wall.

The budget is to be tabled March 20.

The spring sitting will also pick up where the fall sitting ended with big changes for labour and a plan to privatize Information Services Corp., the Crown corporation that handles land and personal property registries.

The Saskatchewan Employment Act, which melds 12 workplace-related pieces of legislation into one omnibus bill, is expected to be passed this spring.

Among other things, the proposed legislation says people with disabilities can't be paid a lower minimum wage. The legislation allows for people to work either five eight-hour days a week or four 10-hour days a week.

On the labour relations front, the legislation would enshrine a 14-day cooling-off period before a strike or lockout could happen in the event of contract talks breaking down. Unions could still fine members who crossed picket lines, but they'd have to get a court order to collect.

Union leaders who were on the government's advisory committee have urged the government not to rush to pass the bill. They say there should be a fuller review on the intent of the changes and whether there could be unintended consequences.

But Wall says it's ready to be passed.

Changes are also coming for the Opposition New Democrats with the election of a new leader on Saturday.

The winner will take over from John Nilson, who has been interim leader since Dwain Lingenfelter resigned after a crushing defeat in the 2011 provincial election. Lingenfelter lost in his own constituency and the party dropped to nine seats in the 58-seat legislature.

Saskatoon-based doctor Ryan Meili, Regina MLA Trent Wotherspoon and Saskatoon MLA Cam Broten are vying for the party's top job.

Nilson says the NDP wants to build on the momentum of the leadership race.

"I think that what we all will do is pull together and work to make sure that the interests of Saskatchewan people are presented by the Opposition," he said.

"Whether it's nine plus one or whether it's one of our nine that becomes the leader, we're ready and we're excited and we're going to continue to ask the questions that people in Saskatchewan are asking us to ask on their behalf."

Nilson says health care is a priority, but the party is also concerned that schools and universities are struggling.

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