by Shantel Lipp Shantel Lipp
Shantel Lipp

I know you’re hopeful the Saskatchewan government will put out a budget that truly allows for growth. Before the end of March, our industry will have a look at whether the government will put its money where its mouth is. When the throne speech was delivered in October 2022, Scott Moe said, “Our government’s goal is to ensure that strong growth continues and that it’s growth that works for everyone. That means reinvesting in health, education and affordability measures, paying down debt and defending our economic autonomy so Saskatchewan continues to grow and create jobs.”

But it is on budget day, which this year is March 22, that we will see just how dedicated this government is to growth. Saskatchewan’s growth depends on trade and strengthening our ability to move what this province produces so that it reaches world markets, and that starts at home.

I see what is happening in our neighbouring provinces. To the west of us, Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation has allocated $8 billion for its economic corridors as part of its three-year capital plan. This year, the industry in that province will see the Alberta government increase its investment by $718 million compared to last year’s budget.

To the east of us, in Manitoba’s last provincial budget, that government announced a $2.4 billion three-year capital plan. The plan commits to investing a minimum of $500 million per year into highways. In addition, Manitoba allows for carry-over, which is necessary for the industry. Here at home, right now there are still approximately eight projects from the fall 2022 tender schedule that have yet to be tendered. The province won’t allow contractors to carry over work from year to year, but they also haven’t been able to actually get the work out that was advertised in the fall. 

I know you need government to understand that our industry can’t wait three months or longer for work to come out on the market. All the work that hasn’t gone out now can’t get done. Road bans will be starting soon and there’s no longer time to prep the material. There is that window over the winter months that allows you to crush and haul material, and it is closing. 

At a minimum, this situation around carry-overs needs to improve. If contractors were at least allowed to carry over a portion of the Ministry of Highway’s budget, that would allow for some certainty of work come spring. But what would be even better would be for Saskatchewan’s government to look at what Alberta and Manitoba are doing and take it one step further.

Those governments are making three-year commitments, but provinces would see more value from five-year investments. That will provide the industry and those supplying industry some certainty, but it’s about more than the industry. It’s about the economic growth it would encourage in this province and its benefits for living here.

The highways you build and maintain support trade. We know the world depends on what Saskatchewan produces – food, fuel and fertilizer. When you invest in the infrastructure that will get those goods to market more efficiently, you become more competitive in the world. Being more competitive means even more trade and that is what grows our economy. That economic growth can then generate revenues that support areas such as healthcare, education and social programming, making Saskatchewan an even better place to live.

It is inconsistent for a government to say it wants to grow the economy and then not invest in what will support that growth. Making five-year commitments is an opportunity for the Saskatchewan government. It helps build our reputation in the world for being reliable and competitive trading partners while telling voters the government of this province invests purposefully and strategically so a return on that investment is delivered.

Adopting a strategy of making longer-term investment commitments to grow the economy should start with looking at how the Ministry of Highways tenders projects. But it needs to go further than that. I will let you know following March 22 whether that is the direction this government is headed.