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Rapid Recap: Saskatchewan’s Election Ready 2024 Budgets

 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024 – Today, Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer released the Moe Government’s 2024-25 Budget. This budget includes a record $20.1 billion in spending, an increase of $1.5 billion, or 7.9%, over last year’s budget. The budget features a projected deficit of $273.2 million, though the government predicts a surplus in 2025-26 from increasing revenues driven by a growing population, labour force, and economy.

Saskatchewan Budget 2024 focuses on investments “in classrooms, care and communities” with increases in school operating funding, health funding and municipal revenue sharing for Saskatchewan communities.

The budget features a record $7.6 billion investment through the Ministry of Health including funding to expand patient care and increase access to services. This is an increase of $726.4 million, or 10.6%, over the previous year. The government will provide the Saskatchewan Health Authority with nearly $4.7 billion, including an operating increase of $248.3 million, or 5.6%, compared to last year.

Health Care Commitments

Health care is once again a central focus of the budget this year. Clear health care priorities include women’s health, cancer care, investments in infrastructure, increasing access to primary care and supporting health care workers.

Capital Investment

  • $516.8 million record investment into building new health infrastructure, including new hospitals and health centres. This new funding will support projects such as construction of the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital redevelopment project.
  • The 2024-25 Budget includes an increase of $179.3 million compared to the previous year for health care infrastructure. This investment will support a number of ongoing major infrastructure projects, including:
    • $180 million for construction of the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital redevelopment project;
    • $55 million for construction of the Weyburn General Hospital replacement project;
    • $27 million for construction of the La Ronge long-term care (LTC) project;
    • $21.9 million to complete construction of the Regina General Hospital parkade;
    • $20 million to support procurement and design activities on the Regina LTC specialized beds project;
    • $10 million for construction of the Grenfell LTC project;
    • $4 million for long-term care upgrades to meet programming and infection and control needs to deliver care safely in Regina;
    • $3 million to continue work on the Saskatoon Urgent Care Centre;
    • $2.8 million for the St. Paul’s Front Entrance Expansion project;
    • $2.5 million to advance the Estevan LTC redevelopment project; and
    • $1.5 million to advance the Watson LTC project.
  • Over the next four years, the Government of Saskatchewan plans to invest more than $2.6 billion in health care infrastructure.

Senior Care

  • $43.4 million to stabilize services and programming for Saskatchewan seniors. This includes a new funding model for third-party, long-term care facilities and alternate level of care beds that allow for care in settings other than hospitals.
  • $1.5 million increase for continued investment in critical and intensive care services as part of a multi-year strategy to expand Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity. The funding increase supports recent recruits and new positions for clinical staffing at Battlefords Union Hospital and Yorkton Regional Health Centre, as well as new positions for Prince Albert Victoria Hospital.
  • $5.1 million to increase medical imaging capacity and decrease the waitlist for MRI and CT scans.
  • $7.5 million increase to enhance emergency medical services (EMS). This investment will support additional EMS and community paramedicine positions to further enhance and stabilize services, including in rural and northern communities. The 911 system will be modernized to accept texts, videos and photos.

Mental Health and Addictions

  • $34 million increase for targeted mental health and addictions initiatives, which include plans to achieve 500 new addictions spaces, wraparound supports for homelessness and 30 new complex needs emergency shelter spaces.
  • $29.2 million in increases for targeted initiatives to address addictions and vulnerable populations, including:
    • $7.7 million increase for complex needs emergency shelters for individuals receiving withdrawal management and health care support, and connect them to follow-up services such as inpatient addictions treatment, housing and income assistance supports;
    • $7.4 million to annualize 2023-24 commitments, including counselling through Family Services Saskatchewan, addictions spaces added in 2023-24 and police and crisis teams;
    • $6.2 million to add a further 150 new addictions treatment spaces;
    • $5.7 million for wraparound supports in supportive housing as part of the Provincial Approach to Homelessness Plan (PATH);
    • $1 million toward the development of a central intake and navigation system for addictions services;
    • $1 million toward the development of a provincial opioid agonist therapy program; and
    • $200,000 for transitional housing supports for pre and post addictions treatment through Oxford House.
  • $4.7 million is targeted to mental health initiatives with a strong focus on children and youth, including:
    • $1 million to expand the Mental Health Capacity Building Program in schools;
    • $150,000 for Prenatal Outreach and Response Teams through Sanctum Care Group;
    • $120,000 for Saskatchewan youth homes; and
    • The remaining $3.4 million in targeted increases will fund commitments such as psychiatry support services in Saskatoon and Prince Albert, and BridgePoint Centre for Eating Disorders virtual programming.

Community Care

  • $14.5 million increase for primary care programs, including:
    • Extending a primary care pilot in Swift Current;
    • Further integrating nurse practitioners in support of physician clinics;
    • Enhancing HealthLine’s 811 services;
    • Increasing access to chronic pain clinics in Regina and Saskatoon; and
    • Improving testing capacity and expanding access to testing for sexually transmitted and blood borne infections.

Cancer Care

  • $248.9 million for the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency (SCA), an increase of $26.1 million, or 11.7%. This will allow the SCA to increase volumes and allow patients to access the most effective and leading-edge oncology drugs, therapies and treatment options.
  • $3.5 million increase for breast cancer care and screening initiatives that will include technology enhancements and new diagnostic imaging equipment, as well as the development of a Breast Health Centre in Regina.

Recruitment

  • $11.6 million increase to stabilize rural and remote staffing, which supports 250 new and enhanced full-time permanent positions in nine high-priority classifications added in 54 rural and remote locations.
  • $6.7 million increase for the Saskatchewan Rural and Remote Recruitment Incentive (total annual funding of $8.7 million). This will fund existing program recipients completing their first and second-year service agreements and extend the intake for this program.
  • $1.5 million new investment for students enrolled in health care training programs located in other provinces where Saskatchewan has invested in specific training seats.
  • $1.1 million increase (total annual funding of $1.5 million) to enhance clinical placement capacity within the Saskatchewan Health Authority to support expansion of training seats.
  • $1 million increase to the Rural Physician Incentive Program to support rural physician recruitment and retention.
  • $1 million in new funding to enhance resources for clinical leadership and support for nurses working in rural and northern locations.
  • $3.6 million this year in new opportunities for students to train in health sciences programs in the province:
    • Physician Assistant: A new two-year master’s program at the University of Saskatchewan will accept 20 students annually, beginning in fall 2025;
    • Speech Language Pathology: A new two-year master’s program at the University of Saskatchewan will accept 40 students annually, beginning in 2026-27;
    • Occupational Therapy: A new two-year master’s program at the University of Saskatchewan will accept 40 students annually, beginning in 2026-27; and
    • Respiratory Therapy: A three-year diploma program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic will accept 20 students annually, beginning in fall 2026.
  • $4.1 million investment for training and settlement supports for in-demand health occupations including:
    • $2.4 million to support training seats for continuing care aids, licensed practical nurses and medical lab assistants; and
    • $1.8 million for credential recognition supports, such as streamlined and accelerated assessments, training and licensure pathways and settlement programming for internationally trained health care workers.

Analysis: An Election Ready Budget

With the next election scheduled for October 2024, this is the last budget of the current Saskatchewan Party Government led by Premier Scott Moe. Similar to last year’s budget, Budget 2024 speaks to fiscally conservative themes with no new tax measures and no tax increases. Accordingly, it features only a modest deficit while investing in health and social policy areas that will be important during the upcoming election campaign.

Outside of health commitments, the budget allocates $3.3 billion for the Ministry of Education, up 8.1% over last year’s budget. This includes an increase of $247.8 million to support Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 students, early learning, child care and libraries. This comes as the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and province remain at odds over a new contract, with the last one expiring in August of 2023.

The budget includes $42.4 million in municipal revenue sharing, an increase of 14.2% from the previous year, for a total of $340.2 million in unconditional support for municipalities in the province. $719.4 million is allocated for the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety, which includes more than $228 million to fund RCMP operations and $21.6 million for the RCMP’s First Nations Policing Program. An investment of more than $250 million will be provided to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General to support the province’s justice services and community wellbeing, including $31.7 million for programs and services to reduce interpersonal violence.

The budget continues to deliver the more than $2 billion in affordability measures for Saskatchewan residents announced in previous budgets. It also invests $741 million in transportation infrastructure and the small business tax rate reduction, to a rate of 1%, is being extended until June 30, 2025. There is also $40.6 million allocated to the Ministry of Trade and Export Development to support its efforts to expand Saskatchewan’s presence in international markets and attract investment into the province.

What’s Next

The legislature is currently scheduled to sit until May 16. With the general election scheduled for October 28, 2024, the writ drop is expected on September 30.

recent poll indicated that Premier Scott Moe is currently the second most popular Premier in the country with a 53% approval rating, though this is down from 60% last year.

While the Saskatchewan Party is polling ahead, its nearly unassailable position in the polls has begun to weaken somewhat. Polling from the past six months have placed them anywhere from 2% behind to 13% ahead of the NDP, a sharp contrast to their 29% lead in the last election.

The Saskatchewan Party continues to highlight its record on health care while in government. This includes investing a record $5.8 billion in health care in 2020-21 — a 67% increase since forming government in 2007— investment in mental health and addictions, the construction of four new hospitals, hiring more health care workers, building new long-term care homes, adding new MRI services and funding cancer treatment.

NDP Leader Carla Beck was critical of today’s budget with critiques focused on affordability, the retention of health care professionals, and fiscal management. The Saskatchewan NDP’s website features several petitions that are likely indicative of the party’s health care priorities including petitions related to rural health care, wait times, breast cancer diagnosis, mental health and addictions and reducing rates of self harm.

If you have any questions about today’s budget, please contact your Santis Health lead.