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Government cuts must be fair

Posted on March 7, 2017 by Maple Creek

By Murray Mandryk

If the Saskatchewan Party government is going to ask us all to make sacrifices in the March 22 budget, it needs to do two things.

First, it needs to give us the best, most up-to-date manner as possible on where we stand, financially, and second, it needs to make sure the pain is spread out as evenly as possible.

Admittedly, we are still a couple weeks away from that budget, so we don’t know how far or unfair any cuts or tax hikes may be.

One also has to be fair and recognize that a government is pretty limited in what it can tell us about an upcoming budget.

But government can be clear about the details of finances to date and it can be consistent in how it treats everyone who will be saddled with the costs.

Sadly, there isn’t much to suggest Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government is fully taking these two needs into consideration.

While the government clearly can’t yet tell us what’s in the 2017-18 budget until it releases the document on March 22, it can be as frank and open as possible about the 2016-17.

In fact, because this year’s budget’s $1.2-billion deficit is dictating the need for austerity in next year’s budget, it’s especially important we have the most up-to-date information on the 2016-17 budget.

For reasons that can only be described as puzzling, Finance Minister Kevin Doherty is not releasing the third-quarter update (the budget estimates) of 2016-17 budget until the day of the 2017-18 budget.

Ostensibly, Doherty is telling us the numbers “just aren’t ready”  – largely because it’s now more complicated to accumulate numbers because they now also include the Crown corporations.

Moreover, Doherty said it’s too much trouble for the Finance Ministry to put a third quarter report and prepare a budget.

However, given that we’ve had third quarter reports in the past – well before the release of next year’s budget in the spring – Doherty’s reasoning doesn’t make sense.

Sure, not seeing the third-quarter numbers now is not the biggest deal. After all, Wall has already updated us on the 2016-17 budget deficit he said is now $1.2 billion.

But if government can tell you that it’s now calculated a $1.2-billion deficit – three times what it initially announced at the budget – surely it can show us the numbers that demonstrate how it arrived at its calculations.

It’s all in the name of fairness and fairness should especially apply to those in the public sector facing job loss.

If there is going to be job loss, the rest of us should certainly be expected to do our share. And logic would dictate that means more than doing without the public service that those losing their job would have provided.

Any sense of fairness in a time of austerity would have to also include some tax hikes.

After all, we’ve all benefitted from tax breaks. Isn’t it only right we all suffer when we can no longer afford them?

And fairness must be evenly applied to all losing their jobs.

For example, there are 12 CEOs and 62 vice-presidents in the province’s 12 health regions that stand to lose their jobs as the Sask. Party government moves to eliminate the boards.

How many will CEOs and VPs will lose their jobs is unknown, but we will be shelling out millions of dollars in severance.

That’s because these individuals have signed employment contracts that, legally, have to be honoured.

But in that vein, the government also must honour the contracts of those unionized workers dismissed.

That will mean even bigger severance payouts and less chance of balancing the budget this year.

But it’s also the fair thing to do.

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