(SK) Government to blame for deficit crisis

(SK) Government to blame for deficit crisis

Postby Oscar » Sat Jun 10, 2017 1:43 pm

Government to blame for deficit crisis

[ http://thestarphoenix.com/opinion/edito ... cit-crisis ]

Published on: February 13, 2017 | Last Updated: February 13, 2017 6:00 AM CST

A little more than a decade ago, this province was growing and the price of oil was climbing. By 2007, government had a rainy-day fund of $1.5 billion, much of the Grant Devine debt had been paid back, and the skies were as bright as could be.

Instead of setting that rainy day fund aside, or investing more into it, Premier Brad Wall and the Sask. Party government squandered it, plus borrowed billions of dollars.

They built 60 kilometres of road around Regina for $2 billion. At first, government said the bypass would cost $400 million, but soon that figure skyrocketed — great news for the French corporation paid to build this megaproject.

The government spent hundreds of millions on consultants when ministry staff could have done the same job for much less. In a review of contracts SGEU obtained via a freedom of information request, two major IT consulting firms billed the province between $100 and $310 per hour per employee. Spending on consultants soared by an incredible 582 per cent in the Ministry of Health between 2008 and 2014, and by an astounding 780 per cent in the Ministry of Highways.

They blew $47 million on smart meters, and $33 million on LEAN. They added three MLAs to the Legislature for $700,000 per year. Wall gave a 25 per cent raise to his chief of staff and a 33 per cent raise to his communications director. His executive council — his senior political staff — had a 74 per cent payroll increase between 2009 and 2016.

Then oil prices dropped. Almost immediately, the province was broke.

The last time oil was at this price, the province could afford to maintain public services, so why not now? Because it owes $15 billion in debt. We’re still paying for consultants and locked into secretive P3 projects. Worse: the Sask. Party government spent the province’s savings.

Now this government is trying to cut its way out of a deficit crisis on the backs of workers, telling public sector employees they must accept wage freezes or rollbacks to avoid layoffs.

Why should working people subsidize nine years of mismanagement and waste? Public service workers raise families here and contribute to our economy. Wall’s expectation that they should sacrifice because he spent frivolously is unfair. Meanwhile, he’s the only premier in Canada who still accepts a corporate-funded “top up” from his political party. Where is the same “good will” and “good faith” he demands from government workers?

When times were good, the Sask. Party government and out-of-province corporations benefited. Now that times are bad, the government wants workers to pay. Maybe Wall is forgetting, or choosing to ignore, a few things. Public employees didn’t cause this deficit. Their wages have barely kept up with inflation. Contrary to what he would have people believe, public employees have not been a major contributor to rising government expenditures. Public service jobs were cut by 15 per cent in the middle of the economic boom.

Wall is using the deficit crisis to try to roll back fair wages and get rid of unionized workers. When his government told 251 custodial staff — the lowest paid government workers — it was going to solicit proposals from private companies and replace them with even lower-paid employees, it demonstrated its lack of concern for the realities of working people.

If this government was making decisions on the basis of what’s best for the economic health of the province, it wouldn’t have privatized 39 profitable public liquor stores, giving away millions in public revenues to business owners and out-of-province corporations. That money could have gone toward the deficit, or for vital public services.

We could have a balanced budget if this government hadn’t mismanaged public finances. Instead, the Sask. Party government is showing us it cares more about ideology than the welfare of Saskatchewan people.
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Bob Bymoen is president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union
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