Like you, I am concerned about what the provincial budget for 2022–23 DID NOT contain for work during this budget year.
With the spring tender now out, it has been confirmed that there is no money for new projects. Virtually all the work available from the Highways ministry has already been tendered.
I don’t need to tell you what is wrong with that, but it is something the public should be aware of so they can hold this government to account. What is not in the budget – and the message that sends – contradicts what the provincial government is telling voters about wanting to grow the economy past pre-pandemic levels.
The minister keeps referring to the government’s record of spending on highways. This is not in line with what the provincial government is saying about investing to grow the province.
Spending is a reaction to what’s happening now. Investment brings business opportunities to Saskatchewan and requires thoughtful planning. The two aren’t the same.
Private investments being made in this province are being promoted by the Saskatchewan government as evidence of its success. Those who make the decisions about private investments would be wise to wonder how committed this government is to truly supporting growth.
Without critical infrastructure – such as roads and highways — improving and expanding, growth in this province will be stifled. For a province dependent on trade that moves so much of our exports to international markets by shipping them out of province by trucks, it makes little sense why there is not more provincial investment in highways.
Saskatchewan is being looked at to produce more. Two of the world’s largest agricultural producers are at war, putting pressure on other countries, like Canada, to meet the world’s needs. We know potash producers are ramping up production to meet the needs of agricultural producers. Oil and gas production is also affected by the conflict and Saskatchewan is already seeing greater interest in drilling here with the April auction for drilling rights bringing in 10 times the revenue generated in last year’s April auction.
There is a plan for highways and it hasn’t been forgotten by the province. The budget once again references the Saskatchewan government’s 10-year Growth Plan, which came out in late 2019 to cover the decade between 2020 and 2030. The goals listed for highways in that 10-year plan are to build and upgrade 10,000 kilometres of highways, among other work.
During the 2020 construction season, more than 1,030 km of improvements were made. During the second year in the growth plan, more than 1,350 km of improvements were made. (In the 2021 Fall Tender Plan, there was $157.3 million in new highways projects. The 2021 Spring Tender schedule had new projects with an estimated value of $85.4 million.)
With nothing new this year, that means during the remaining six years in the plan, the provincial government has to average near 1,300 km a year to meet that target. I know, as an industry, you have the capacity to do that work, but it remains to be seen if that level of investment will occur.
The uncertainty and inconsistency burdens our industry. I hear how it makes it hard for you to know how to prepare for your futures when, from one year to the next, the amount of capital investment can swing up and down by tens of millions of dollars. The Saskatchewan government announced $846 million for the Ministry of Highways for 2022–23. This includes a capital investment of $452.5 million, which is nearly $70 million down from last year.
This inconsistency affects your ability create jobs and retain employees in the industry. It makes decisions about investing in equipment difficult. That is a message I will continue to bring to government.
We have a commitment from the province that we can deliver this message so it is heard by the treasury board. I look forward to that opportunity and will continue to keep you informed about how we proceed from the disappointment that was this year’s provincial budget.