By Murray Mandryk
The problem for Premier Brad Wall’s government is even good news isn’t necessarily great news.
For one thing, good news in this time of economic recovery will be compared with the great news of early in the Saskatchewan Party government’s first mandate.
By all measure, the good news of today surely is not as good as the good news of the nearly 10 years when a booming economy created astronomically good numbers for the then-newly minted Sask. Party administration.
For another thing, any hopeful sign of a return to prosperity is needed to give voters some hope that things will get better sometime soon.
But that’s a problem for impatient voters.
Or at least, it’s a big of problem for the Sask. Party government to make the argument that the province is on the road to recovery when it’s also reminding the voters the government is taking some very unpleasant steps to deal with the budget imbalance caused by consecutive deficits.
But at least when it comes to the economic front, there are some signs of good news.
For example, Minister of Economy Jeremy Harrison recently announced manufacturing sales in Saskatchewan increased by 22.7 per cent in February 2017, compared with a year earlier.
This was the second best increase in Canada and well above the national average of 6.8 per cent.
“Once again, Saskatchewan has experienced strong growth in manufacturing sales, leading the west and well above Canada’s average,” Harrison said in a prepared statement. “These numbers point to a manufacturing sector that is strong and resilient, offering a diversity of high quality products to markets across Canada and the world.”
This was followed by positive signs in the oil sector where there were double the number of wells drilled in the first three months of 2017 (856 wells drilled) compared with the first three months of 2016 (399 wells drilled).
“An increase of more than 450 wells drilled is an optimistic indicator for our oil industry and, by extension, Saskatchewan’s economic outlook for the year ahead,” Energy and Resources Minister Dustin Duncan said.
But perhaps most hopeful were the 2,000 more jobs in March 2017 compared with March 2016, the second consecutive month in which Saskatchewan has seen a year-over-year job increase.
“Saskatchewan’s economy is strong and resilient and the job numbers today are an encouraging sign,” Harrison was quick to state.
Of particular significance was the increase in trade jobs (6,900), professional, scientific and technical services jobs (6,000) and manufacturing jobs (3,700).
Also, full-time employment increased 6,000, which is a welcome sign.
But this takes us to the dilemma for Wall’s Sask. Party government, now hacking away at regional libraries and town and city budgets and the Saskatchewan Transportation Company about to see its last fares.
All of these severe cuts and closures were premised on a long-term struggling oil-based economy.
It now seems the oil sector is recovering along with employment, especially in critical areas like manufacturing. So were the all draconian budget measures really necessary?
Wall and company are right to argue the budget and the economy are two different things, but there is little doubt that austerity measures were tied to economic problems, especially those in the oil sector.
Remember all the talk that public servants should be willing to take a 3.5-per-cent pay cut because of all those unemployed in oil? Well, what happens now that those in oil field are starting to be rehired?
Moreover, many of these cuts hammered away at the heart of both Saskatchewan’s rural and urban infrastructure, leaving people to wonder what will be left.
Wall and his government are in a situation where even good news isn’t quite as good as it once was.