REGINA - The Saskatchewan government is planning to introduce a tax incentive to double exports by 2020, amend legislation to "modernize" Saskatchewan's organ donation system and vows to never spend another tax dollar on building publicly owned liquor stores.
Those promises were made in Wednesday's throne speech, which was delivered under tight security at the provincial legislature, after a soldier was shot and killed near Parliament Hill in Ottawa earlier in the day.
The ceremony before the speech was moved inside due to concern for military personnel and international diplomats who attended the event. Police officers swept the building beforehand for any security threats.
The throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield, outlined in broad terms the Saskatchewan Party government's plan for the next legislature session.
There were no specifics on what the tax incentive will involve, but Premier Brad Wall said more details would be released when the budget is announced.
"We need to see more diversification," he said, adding that the province has been "aggressive" on trade missions to attract foreign investors.
In September, the premier heralded a report released by the Saskatchewan-Asia Advisory Council, which made 45 suggestions that included more Asian language studies in schools and increased recruitment of international post-secondary students from that continent.
The throne speech highlighted that.
"To further support our exporters, my government will maintain its emphasis on international engagement, particularly in Asia, the fastest-growing region in the world," Schofield said. "Our efforts to strengthen trade ties in Asia will be guided by these recommendations."
Marilyn Braun-Pollon, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said business owners will like the direction of the throne speech, but there is room for improvement.
"We're looking at balanced budgets, sustainable spending, we're addressing shortage of qualified labour," she said. "We also like the fact that they are going to be looking at how (to) address the rail backlog issue."
She added that she wants to see more competitive income tax rates and lower tax rates for small businesses.
"We know being competitive is a moving target," she said. "But there are a number of things that will have business owners nodding."
The speech championed the importance of free trade, more efficient agricultural transportation and SaskTel's expansion of high-speed Internet to rural communities.
It also promised improved access to adult education and a strategy for fighting mental health and addiction issues.
"In the coming months, the commissioner appointed to lead a review of mental-health services in the province will release a 10-year mental health and addictions action plan," Schofield said. "The plan will inform our efforts to improve services and supports for patients and their families."
The government also said it will work to decrease wait times for surgery and to amend legislation to "modernize" Saskatchewan's organ donation and transplant programs.
Health Minister Dustin Duncan said he will be proposing amendments to the Human Tissue Donor Act.
"We could then make regulations to purchase things like corneas," he said, adding there are about 100 people now waiting for corneas and the average wait time is two years.
"For now this is specifically about the cornea issue," he said, adding that if successful, the amended legislation could pave way for new regulations surrounding other types of transplants.
In education, the government said it plans to continue building new schools to deal with population growth.
The speech also reaffirmed the government's commitment to move away from building publicly owned liquor stores.
"My government will not spend one more taxpayers' dollar building liquor stores," Schofield said. "Instead, those capital dollars will be used for highways, hospitals, schools and bridges.
"New liquor stores in the province will be built and operated by the private sector."
Wall said a discussion paper, which "canvasses all of the options" for the future of the province's liquor industry, will be presented formally by the government during the legislature session.
"Whatever change happens in terms of liquor retailing, from our perspective, beyond what we've done already, we would need a mandate from the electorate," Wall said.
NDP Leader Cam Broten said the government's position on liquor stores could leave a "big hole in the treasury."
"Let's remember that public liquor stores make money and provide a lot of benefits to Saskatchewan people through the revenue that is generated," he said, adding that while reforms need to be made to the liquor control system, it offers a valuable resource.
He added that he was generally disappointed by the speech.
"I wanted to see much more action," he said. "It's good to have good GDP numbers, it's good to have the (statistics) that can be touted, but what really matters is how that benefits people here in Saskatchewan."
Before the throne speech, the NDP released a list of 25 issues that Broten said should be on the government's to-do list for the next year. It included a comprehensive anti-flooding strategy, reducing the province’s reliance on temporary foreign workers and addressing inequities in the education of aboriginal children.
Broten said the Opposition welcomed a poverty reduction strategy announced in the speech.
"It ultimately comes down to the actions," Broten said. "(It's) a good step but there's a lot of evidence that needs to come forward to show that it will go the distance."
Wall said the throne speech took on a different meaning compared to previous years after the shooting in Ottawa.
"I'm not sure that anybody in that house was really focused (on the speech)," he said.
"I think there is a resolve here, and anger and a determination that we're not going to let whatever is happening here, seemingly in an organized way, stop something as important as a feature of democracy in our province."