Typically, we await the provincial budget with reservations about how it will affect our families, communities and the services we provide daily in our workplace to our patients, clients, residents and students. We hope for the best and we think that we prepare for the worst.
The Sask Party budget 2017 was anything but typical. Good jobs have been slashed (over 500 provincially) – through the loss of health care programs, the loss of the STC bus line service and with the privatization of government cleaning contracts. Further to that, we are anticipating deep cuts within the education sector and across all health regions. And we all know that fewer good jobs will not build a strong local economy.
Now we can see what Transformational Change will bring in the form of one provincial health region (PHR) as government has dictated an end to the hearing aid program, the parent mentoring program, podiatry services, pastoral care services and the travel immunization clinic. This will result in MORE layoffs in health care across the province. Seniors have been hit real hard; while we cannot get a guarantee for safe staffing levels in long term care (LTC), about 50% of our LTC residents will pay well more for their care. Immunizations currently done in travel clinics will be done in the private sector and likely at a much higher cost (same as private for-profit MRIs) yet the risk associated with not having same does create another cost burden to our health care system and this has likely not been considered. We all see these short-sighted cuts to service as a fundamental shift in thinking; government wants to change our expectations of what medicare should be, into something much lesser.
In our education sector, this budget has already triggered meetings with members in the Chinook School Division that will see cuts in maintenance, and quite likely in the classifications of Education Assistants, Library Assistants, and Administrative Assistants. While we appreciate the role of teachers in the classroom, their role is only one part of the education team. Without maintenance staff, we lose valuable staff with expertise to keep the heat and lights on in our schools. These costs will actually increase without in-house expertise because schools will now rely on outside contractors who will charge more and work on their own timetable.
While the Sask Party has relented on the move to collapse school divisions, they have cut the overall education budget by 6.7%. It is undeniable that this will be felt in the classrooms. At the same time, the Sask Party has cut public library funding and reduced funding to the Universities by 5%. We appreciate that investment in education for the benefit of future generations results in our best overall return for a bright future, so why doesn’t our government see the damaging effects of these decisions?
In terms of offloading, the Sask Party government has shown some real gall. Fewer dollars will go to municipalities, towns and cities so taxes will be going up in many communities. In our community-based sector, we already have capacity, retention & recruitment issues. Provincial funding reductions will be realized where funding comes out of health, justice, labour market development or child and family community services. We are shifting away from providing need services for the most vulnerable in our society, while at the same time, reducing corporate tax rates for more wealthy businesses and individuals.
Last but not least, the Sask Party budget continues with a streak of ‘stubborn tenacity’ to increase corporate tax breaks and AT THE SAME time, they have increased consumption taxes and removed exemptions on children’s clothes, insurance, certain foods. So in terms of fair choices – these do not have any appeal in Budget 2017.
How will this roll out? At SEIU-West, we know that budget 2017 was just a day (March 22, 2017); however, this day marked a shift in how our government views us and our communities. Premier Wall said that ‘everything is on the table’ to be reviewed for cuts – but that is not what he did; instead, he determined winners and losers and did not show true leadership in sharing this budget crisis across all areas. We do not share this view and we will do our best to continue to build solidarity among our membership and across our sectors and within our labour movement so as to share our collective objection to these decisions. We want to build a strong economy for working people across Saskatchewan and we will continue to offer up solutions that can get us there.
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