Response to the 2017 Provincial Budget Saskatchewan Conference, The United Church of Canada

Saskatchewan Conference of The United Church of Canada is gravely concerned about the nature and impact of the provincial 2017 budget cuts announced March 22. (This statement was updated May 1 and May 15 to reflect recent developments.)

On March 22nd, the government of Saskatchewan released its 2017 “transformational” budget. Premier Wall had warned that “everything is on the table”, made necessary, he said, by the need to eliminate a $1.3 billion provincial debt, a debt caused mainly, we’re told, by the decline in the revenues from oil, gas, and potash.

As a Christian community which shares these treaty lands with diverse Indigenous and settler communities alike, we speak against the values that underlie this budget. A budget is, at heart, a statement about our collective values. This budget erodes community fabric, denies our communities full and respectful consultation, places exceptional burdens on vulnerable people, and violates Treaty relationships.  Our society is required to act with the compassion and justice that characterize the message of Jesus and that of the prophets and sages of every age. In this budget, the government has failed this test.

Taking action
The Local-Global Advocacy Network and the All My Relations Network ask that individuals, pastoral charges, and presbyteries discern which concerns they wish to address, with a focus on measures that will unnecessarily and unjustly cause hardship to many thousands of the province’s people, or which dishonour our Treaty agreements.  Please send a letter and/ or phone call to your MLA and to the Premier. Not sure who your MLA is? Look here. For full contact information, use this link.

Action options and a summary are now posted by the group Stop the Cuts.

Specific concerns about the 2017 Saskatchewan budget
Below we name just a few of the cuts implemented. We note with dismay that in almost every case, these cuts came with no warning and no consultation. How these cuts were arrived at is almost as damaging as the cuts themselves.

– The end of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC), and with it, the almost immediate elimination of the jobs of 224 staff. In the long term, this cut means the loss of the primary means of transportation for many citizens who have depended on the STC to get them to medical appointments, meetings, family visits, and so on. The disproportionate impact on low income people, the elderly, and rural and isolated communities will be enormous, and will eat away at our community fabric. A citizens’ Facebook group fro advocacy and education, Save STC, has been set up: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1256678351047292/

Major cuts to grants to public libraries: This has been reversed for now, after one of the biggest series of public demonstrations in SK’s history. However, long term funding is still in doubt.

Spiritual care. The government ended all base funding to the seven Saskatchewan members of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care. These are highly trained professionals who provide holistic care for hospital patients and their families. Pastoral care in times of grief and tragedy is at the heart of our communities. What does this cut say about our values in this province? We are now the only province in Canada that does not fund spiritual care. For resources on addressing this with government, refer to this post on our Conference’s Faith Formation blog.

– Even before the budget was released, the government announced that the Saskatchewan Pastures Program that has long provided ranchers and others with access to Crown land will be phased out. Fifty-one pastures covering 170,000 acres will be put up for sale or lease. Unique prairie habitat may be put at risk. Please see this overview from Trevor Herriot, in which he reviews point by point the impact of this disturbing decision.

Saskatchewan Conference President Rev. Krystal Sheremata has written to Premier Brad Wall to express opposition to the provincial auction of Crown land.  Please see her letter here and share widely (PDF). The letter is also posted to the All My Relations Network blog. In March, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations protested the auction, noting “The Saskatchewan government is completely disregarding its Treaty Land Entitlement obligations by selling off Crown land to the highest bidder and not allowing the First Nations the time they need to weigh their options on the selection and purchase of Crown lands.”

A reduction or end to the Grants-in-lieu program for cities. This program has existed since the 1930s and was ended with absolutely no warning. Municipalities provide a very wide range of day to day services which are especially crucial to low income people. These cuts, and the way they were carried out, will pose a major problem for 109 communities across the province.

These grants take the form of money sent from federal government agencies, provincial Crown corporations and municipal utilities to Saskatchewan cities in lieu of these government agencies paying municipal property tax on infrastructure. The provincial budget eliminated grants-in-lieu from the provincial Crown corporations SaskPower, SaskEnergy and TransGas to municipalities throughout the province. A few days after the budget, some of the cuts were reduced; Saskatoon and Regina’s 100% cuts remain in effect.

The cuts to education, i.e., to school operating budgets, that were announced as 1.2% ($22 million) have turned out to be 2.9% (more than $54 million) once the difference in the province’s and the school system’s fiscal years are taken into account. These cuts, as the Teachers’ Federation has said, will have a serious impact on the classroom through cuts to staffing and provision of resources.

The Saskatchewan Conference All My Relations and Local-Global Advocacy Networks.

Further information
A commentary from Dr Howard Leeson on the values of this budget. http://leaderpost.com/opinion/letters/premier-wall-should-either-resign-or-call-an-election-on-the-budget

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) statement on the auction of SK Crown lands.

Government release about changes to Social Services: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/family-and-social-support/information-on-social-services-program-changes.

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