WE HAVE A BUDGET TO DISCUSS! Kevin Doherty, Eric Bell, and Dale Richardson dive deep on the 2023-24 Saskatchewan budget, including the $1 billion surplus and what the government is (and isn't) doing with it; what the NDP said in response to the budget; what this budget may be telling us about the next 18 months leading up to the 2024 election; and what actually mattered politically in this budget. Finally, the guys quickly react to the Experience Regina rebranding debacle and how the crisis communications cleanup is going. Thanks for listening!
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All Roads Lead To 2024
[00:00:00] this is the SKoop, the podcast that takes you inside Saskatchewan politics from the headlines to the back rooms. Here's former Saskatchewan party cabinet minister, Kevin Doherty, NDP insider, Sally Housser, and me Dale Richardson.
Dale Richardson: Okay, welcome back to another episode of the SKoop podcast. This is everybody's favorite Saskatchewan political podcast. We do this every week somehow,
Kevin Doherty: I have to stop you right there, Dale and, and
uh, I was at the budget yesterday and I was talked to Professor Jim Farney, who many well know in political
Dale Richardson: yes.
Kevin Doherty: And he, he come up to tell me, he listens to the podcast, he enjoys it, whatnot. And I said, well, of course you enjoy it. It's the best political podcast in Saskatchewan.
He said, it's the only political podcast in Saskatchewan, Kevin. So
Dale Richardson: that's, but we don't need to tell anybody that, you know,
Kevin Doherty: a shout out to Professor Jim Farney, who [00:01:00] just wrote a book, by the way, uh, released a book with a co-author on, uh, The politics are on the Catholic school divisions or the Catholic school boards in Canada. I, I, I don't know if I've got entire title, uh, that entire title correct or not, but it's, it's around that, uh, he specializes in, uh, doing research on, uh, on the, uh, separate school system and the politics around that in Canada.
So if you're interested in that, pick up, uh, Jim Farley's book.
Dale Richardson: I didn't know that that, that he focuses his research on that. That's very interesting though. Really interesting.
Eric Bell: Well, and of course Saskatchewan had our major, our Theodore case, uh, surrounded. Um, so that's a, you know, it's a big, big thing. I imagine we'll feature heavily in that book.
Kevin Doherty: Yeah.
Dale Richardson: Okay. So, uh, because Kevin jumped in, everybody knows that Kevin, Kevin Doherty is I, I is here and, uh, with us, uh, once again is Eric Bell, um, labor communicator extraordinaire. I, I, I, I've called you recently, so it's good to, good to have you back [00:02:00] with us. Um, yeah. And thank and thanks to everybody for, for listening.
Uh, Jim, Jim Farney and everybody else. And I think just to go back to him, I think he's one of the executive directors at the Johnson Chma Graduate School. My, my alma mater, I think, I think he's the in charge of the, the Regina campus. So
Kevin Doherty: believe that's right. Yep.
Dale Richardson: Thanks to him for listening. I think everybody is waiting, uh, waiting to hear what we have to say about the budget, which came out yesterday.
Of course, we do this Thursday. So, uh, it came out on Wednesday. Um, let me just really quickly, and, uh, Kevin, like you, Eric, uh, did you end up going to the ledge yesterday? I didn't, I didn't spot you anywhere.
Eric Bell: No, I actually, I, I was busy and, uh, doing a bunch of stuff in the morning, and so here at, uh, at work, we just sort of pulled it up at the, on the boardroom and, uh, TV and, and watched it there, which is probably the same experience I would've got, uh, at the ledge. I probably would've been in the basement, uh, watching it on the TV down there.
Dale Richardson: Right. [00:03:00] Yeah. We, we initially were in one of the overflow rooms, room two 18, and then somebody came in and said, there, there is room in the assembly. So, uh, my, my partner and I, we ended up sitting in the, in the speaker's gallery and as I said to many people afterward, the, they, those benches. Have not become more comfortable.
Uh, they likely never were comfortable maybe in 1950. Uh, but they, it was, uh, it's a long couple of hours cuz I think things wrapped up at three 30 ish. Kevin, you were on
Eric Bell: use your
Dale Richardson: you were on the floor, Kevin, right? You were sitting on the
Kevin Doherty: Yeah, I had a, I, I was fortunate enough to get a seat on the floor. Um, but I'll tell you, I missed my parking spot at the ledge. I can tell you that I had to, I had to park halfway down the wana park there somewhere on a back road and walk to the front door to get in through all the security and whatnot.
So I missed, I missed my parking spot.
Dale Richardson: Yeah,
Eric Bell: No lifetime parking privileges for for former members. Hey, [00:04:00] darn.
Kevin Doherty: no.
Dale Richardson: there's no, there's no gold plated pension and there's no parking spot. What, uh, the, the, the life as an X M L A, it's not a, it's not glamorous, I don't think
Kevin Doherty: Yeah, just dispel one of those other myths out there. We don't have lifetime parking privileges,
Dale Richardson: That's funny. Anyway, um, but as I was, I, I was talking to a few people. It was nice to, it's nice to go, go to a thing like the budget, because yeah. The number of people that, uh, as it sounds like a couple people maybe did with you, Kevin, many people talked to me about the podcast and said they're looking forward to this week.
But a couple people made jokes about the five star reviews that I often read, and, and of course we're very thankful for them. , a couple people did ask, do you ever get any one-star reviews that you just don't read out Dale? And I said, you know, that would be funny if, if we did that is if I go, well unfortunately we got a one-star review here and now this person doesn't have much many good things to say about us.
So, but here it is. Um, but that's all to say. I do have a couple of five star [00:05:00] reviews and I'll read them quickly cuz it's, it's nice to, to thank our, our listeners and read them out. This one is entitled Real Camaraderie. I really appreciate how they are. They are people. That means the three of us or any combination of, of us who are on here.
I really appreciate how they are people from different political parties, but they are just talking, not fighting too often. These days. Parties seem to be so antagonistic towards e each other. That's nice. I, I think that is, uh, that is for sure something that people like, uh, on the. then the second one, best Saskatchewan podcast.
So there you go people. Our, our message is hitting home here. Best Saskatchewan Podcast Five stars. Great to see a bunch of partisan hacks, not act like partisan hacks and have a good discussion. And the per and the user that wrote that, this is funny, was, uh, once when I had hair, that's what they wrote is their name, So
Kevin Doherty: I
could be. I could be any number of my [00:06:00] friends.
Dale Richardson: Yeah, it
Eric Bell: it's Wayne Manteca.
Dale Richardson: Yeah.
Eric Bell: know.
Dale Richardson: Wayne's got the great mustache though, right?
Eric Bell: Yeah, true. Yeah.
Dale Richardson: Really good mustache. Okay. The other, just before we get into the budget and, and, and I plan for us to really do a full deep dive on it, uh, because we, we mentioned, uh, the other week when, uh, the NDPs president resigned it, I, I just wanted to quickly talk about. Ja, uh, uh, James Thorstenson, the SAS Party's president now, uh, ex-president who this past weekend, uh, the, the, the SaaS party did announce that James was, uh, was stepping down. And, uh, I think that came as, uh, a, as quite a bit of surprise. Uh, James has been president for, I think, more than eight years. 2014, he was elected at a, at a SaaS party convention, and, uh, he's decided.
To step down from that, uh, from, uh, from that, uh, from that position. He, he was reelected in [00:07:00] 2021 at the party's last convention by a very, very wide margin. So I don't think anybody ran against him. But Kevin, any any quick thoughts, just, uh, maybe from your time working with, with James or, uh, thoughts on, on this news
Kevin Doherty: No, that one, that one, that one caught me off guard as well. I, uh, one of my colleagues texted me and said, what do you think about James's announcement? I hadn't even seen it or heard it, so it was, uh, then I saw it on Facebook. Um, you know, James is a, obviously, he's done a great job. Was, um, I'm biased this way, but he's done a great job as president of our party and working closely with that executive and, uh, and the party staff.
Um, You know, I give them full credit of, of really turning the SaaS party into a very professional political organization. Um, this is what we, you know, this is, we all work in the political realm. Uh, and political parties are, are professional organizations, the good ones. And, uh, there's a couple of good ones with respect to, um, Their party offices in both the NDP who have obviously a long history in this, in [00:08:00] this province and the SaaS party.
And so credit to James and, and Patrick Bun Rock, the, the executive director, uh, c e o over at, uh, the SaaS party. James is a rancher out in the Lloydminster area, uh, farmer rancher. And that's a long drive from Lloyd to all the different constituencies, uh, many, many times a month for meetings and functions and.
And, uh, just getting the executive together. Obviously you do a lot on Zoom or, or teams, but uh, uh, you have to put a lot of miles on the truck as James has. So it didn't, uh, you know, it, it caught me by surprise when he announced his resignation, but I guess, uh, I, I don't know what's going on in his personal life.
He just said he has other challenges he has to take on and so, uh, I don't think there was anything untoward about the, the resignation, just the timing of it. Uh, I guess to give lots of folks preparation or enough time to prepare for, uh, the convention this fall to, uh, to run if they're interested in running for the presidency.
Dale Richardson: Right. Um, Eric, because we, we talked about this not at length, but when the, [00:09:00] when the ADP's president resigned, uh, you know, obviously when these things happen, PE people may calm. Commentary about, you know, what may be going on behind the scenes or we get excited because there might be turmoil in the other camps, uh, you know, in the other camp.
Any, any thoughts from you on, on, on, on this resignation on the weekend?
Eric Bell: Yeah, I mean, uh, I, I obviously don't know, uh, as much about sort of the, the inner workings of, of the SaaS party as, uh, as you two might. But, uh, when you, when you kind of hear that, uh, He'd been in the, in the position for, for nine years. Um, that that is a really long time, uh, to serve as, as president of a party.
And, uh, yeah, I think, uh, you know, definitely when it comes to saying something along the lines of, I think the messaging was basically, you know, I've done this job for nine years. I have some other priorities I need to attend to. Uh, I, I need to step down. Uh, to, to deal with that. I think, I think, uh, in this case, uh, while it may be [00:10:00] unexpected, I don't think it, it is, uh, overly uh, overly shocking to kind of hear those reasons or kind of read into it in, in any other way.
I, I don't think there's there's any sort of underlying thing here. I mean, I, uh, Didn't, didn't know him very well, obviously, but, uh, he was definitely a, a fixture in, in the SAS party for a long time. And, uh, greats great. Hats great, great. Always, always very well dressed, very sharply dressed.
Dale Richardson: James, James Thorstenson is one of those guys where if you, because he always has his, his cowboy hat on or a a, a hat, but it's typically the cowboy hat. If you don't see him wearing it, he's a little hard to recognize at first. Uh, so whenever I see him without, I go, oh, I didn't recognize you.
Eric Bell: That's who that is.
Dale Richardson: Um, you know, I will say this and, and I said it, uh, when we talked about the NDP president resigning, um, if anybody knew about this, and obviously some did before it happened.
It, it didn't leak out. It wasn't, uh, you know, [00:11:00] the SAS party. They were very tight on the announcement and, um, whereas I don't know, Eric, maybe you, we can chat about this further down the line when you come back again next. But, uh, it seems like, because I said on the one episode Jeremy Sys, he seems to be quite, he has some connections with people on the NDP side who like talking about the inner workings and SAS party just doesn't do that.
They're very tight with things like that. So anyway.
Eric Bell: No, absolutely. They're much, uh, uh, much more able to keep, uh, a lid on things it seems, uh, in terms of, uh, the internal, internal goings on. Um, and I think a lot of that hap has to do with how the N D P uh, You know, handles their decision making. You know, we have, uh, um, there's the executive and there's also the provincial council, which is a, a body sort of made up of, uh, representatives from every constituency and they meet quarterly.
So those folks are a lot more privy to, uh, maybe some of the, um, uh, internal discussions and decisions that are [00:12:00] made than, than the way the SAS party operates. So I think it, it is easier to, for, for stuff to leak out in, in that way. And, and it does happen quite often.
Dale Richardson: Right. Yeah, no, that's a good point. I think you, I think you could be right there. So anyway, so yeah. All the best to James, whatever, whatever he's up to. And, um, And I, I didn't, I don't think he was at budget yesterday, but, we'll, I'll, I'll see. See him when I see him. Um, okay, let's move on to the big story.
This week, the provincial budget was announced Wednesday by the finance minister Donna Har Power, the the deputy Premier. Let's do a real full deep dive on this cuz I think people are, are interested in this budget. I think they want to talk about it. I think they. Uh, well, I, at least I wanna talk about the politics behind it.
So just a couple of very high level numbers. I, I'm not gonna go too into it. People can, they've seen the news. They know that the details, but couple high level things. [00:13:00] $1 billion surplus projected, um, revenue, government revenue is up almost 15% compared to last year. Total expenses are up about 6%. And the billion.
And Kevin, I, I'm gonna, Eric as well, I'm gonna need you to, I'm gonna lean on you for this. My understanding is that the billion dollar surplus is gonna go directly into paying off debt, but I'm a little confused on is, so there's for sure $1 billion that's gonna be going to debt repayment, but is there still a billion dollar surplus that is just sitting there anyway, am I correct on that, Kevin?
Kevin Doherty: So the, uh, well, I'm not sure how you're, you're interpreting that. So there's, there's a billion dollars in additional re excess revenue over what they're gonna spend this year forecast. So they're gonna take that billion dollars. It'd be like, you know, if, if, if you made a $50,000, uh, in salary and you got $49,000 in, in [00:14:00] total expenses, you got an extra thousand dollars when you're gonna put that against your mortgage or put that against, uh, your credit card debt.
Um, so it's not like you're still sitting with that thousand dollars at the end of the year. You've actually put it against something, um, uh, from a debt instrument perspective. So,
Dale Richardson: Good. Thank you. That's what I thought. I just wanted to, to confirm. Okay. A couple of other things. Uh, health budget, just about 7 billion, 6.9 billion. I I don't think that includes capital, uh, expenditures. It could be wrong, but, so that's about an increase of a, I think 6.7%. Um, No new taxes or tax increases, but also no tax rollbacks.
Uh, we, we had talked on last week's episode and I had done a Twitter poll about, you know, with the affordability stuff, if there's anything, uh, you know, rolling back the PST on fund or, uh, PST on, uh, uh, construction, that maybe they would, they would roll that back. But, but that didn't happen. [00:15:00] Um, N D P lines have been, uh, budget fails to.
Not enough spending or, uh, or movement to help people with the, with affordability or cost of living. Uh, in my note here was just in general not enough of anything, given the fact that there is this, this billion dollar surplus, which is, which is quite significant. So, um, Let's, let's break this all down.
Eric, I, I, I saw some tweets from you. They were quite spicy. I know you have some takes here, so I'm looking forward to this, but I'm gonna flip things around a bit for, for the listeners of the scoop, and I'm gonna start with this w with the both of you. What, what actually mattered in this budget that was announced this week?
If we're, if we're thinking about our favorite segment and you're looking at this budget, Politically, what actually mattered, uh, now and, and, you know, looking down the road as we go into the future. Kevin, do you want, do you wanna lead off here?
Kevin Doherty: Sure. Um, for me, I, I, I did a webinar earlier today with, uh, uh, [00:16:00] a panel discussion on this. Um, Dale Eisler, former journalist and, and senior official in the federal government, uh, moderated it along with Tina Bori Miller, former colleague of mine in the, in the government, and now works with Deloitte and PR Ramaswami, who's the C e O of the SaaS Chamber.
So I was asked that same question again and what stood out for me. And initially what, what, and I'll, I'll try to explain this in terms that, uh, doesn't sound too geekish with respect to numbers, but the paying down the billion dollars in debt and having sat in that chair, I, I put this out on Facebook last night.
You know, it, it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and prudence if you're the finance minister along with Treasury Board and the premier to be looking at a billion dollar surplus, uh, in cash that you're forecasting to. And applying that against debt because the, the, the pressure on you from your colleagues, the MLA's and interest groups and advocates for spending that money.
Recall I said a couple weeks ago, or last week that I, I thought they might come in with a small surplus. I was obviously very wrong on that, uh, with their forecasted revenues. Um, so becoming with a billion dollar surplus and [00:17:00] applying. Dale Eiser made a a good point. He said the, the, the language was they're gonna target it towards operating debt.
I don't know if that's just semantics or what, but that's what the minister was quite clear on in. Taking that money and applying it against operating debt. And here's why I say this is important. This is playing the long game here. And governments don't do this very often cuz they work in four year political cycles.
And when I was finance minister, I got criticized heavily for running deficits and building up debt in the province. And when are you gonna get control of this debt and start paying it down? So when you come across these, these, uh, windfalls if you will, or these uh, uh, significant revenue increases, Due to inflation, due to the resource sector, uh, because of what's happening in Ukraine, that's driving a lot of those commodity prices when you come across that kind of revenue windfall.
If not now, then when. When do you start paying down debt and, you know, fending off the challenge of wanting to spend that money or maybe provide some tax relief, um, at this point in time, I think shows the discipline of Donna Har [00:18:00] power in saying, and I heard her in several interviews say, uh, I'm not comfortable yet that we're in a stable position on our revenue base, such that I can afford to give up tax revenue.
Or spend and, and build this into the base of the operating budget four years ago, who saw a pandemic coming that absolutely threw every economy into a tailspin. So these things can happen, particularly when you're reliant on resource. We're not reliant on it. We're down, down to about 16% of our revenues have come from the non-renewable resource sector.
Anyway, quickly, what what stood out for me is the discipline and prudence to take a billion dollar in surplus and apply it against the operating debt as opposed to spending under tax.
Dale Richardson: Eric, as I said, you had some, uh, you had some great tweets in response to this budget, so, uh, feel, feel free to to say those again, those, uh, what you said and, and elaborate even further with your spicy tweets.
Eric Bell: Yeah, I don't know if they were, if they were that spicy. Um, but, uh, uh, yeah, just, uh, one, one thing about, um, you know, that Donna Har power did, uh, [00:19:00] mention too is that, and it's kind of a, a hard thing to. To sell to people too. Probably just, just to add on to Kevin's point that paying down the debt does free up, I think 43 million in that they would normally be spending in debt servicing costs.
Um, so that's kind of, uh, uh, you know, it's paying down debt, uh, to, to free up money elsewhere, which is, it's probably, uh, also a good thing. But yeah, my, my sort of reaction, um, originally to this budget was I did call it, Once it came down, you know, thinking of the predictions we made last week and what we might see thought, uh, my initial thought was, wow, uh, you know, if all this talk of a billion dollar surplus and or a huge surplus, uh, that, that we were coming, uh, uh, towards, uh, and, uh, you know, uh, Announcement of, uh, all that funding to municipalities, uh, at the Sarm Convention the week before, uh, I was, I was definitely expecting, uh, a lot more, uh, in [00:20:00] terms of the budget.
It was, it was quite, uh, a boring, uh, budget, uh, you know, frankly, um, which I think, uh, maybe the, the government might see, uh, as a good thing. But, uh, you know, to, to have the surplus that we have and to, uh, Use it, uh, kind of in this, in this time that we are, we're facing of, of inflation and, and increasing cost pressures everywhere to, to only, uh, increase spending in, in certain spots at, uh, at levels that, uh, everybody, uh, especially in healthcare and education is seeing, uh, you know, We'll, we'll, you know, barely cover the cost of inflation and, uh, do nothing to address the, the challenges that we're we're facing.
Um, was, was definitely I think, uh, Disappointing. Um, you know, uh, the other thing that, uh, quote that I picked up on was, um, when a reporter asked, uh, the finance minister, you know, what's in this budget, uh, [00:21:00] for working people or the average working person, and she said, uh, nothing. Um, and, uh, I, I'd kind of thought that, uh, you know, uh, the government would at least, uh, provide some sort of additional, um, relief, whether that would be in the term, um, in the form of like, uh, a tax credit or a little maybe, uh, money off of your power or energy bill or, uh, you know, anything to, to address the cost of living.
I, I was really surprised to see that there was absolutely nothing there. Um, I think, I guess that they, uh, gave out those $500 checks, uh, late last year, and that was kind of just, uh, all that, all that workers were, were gonna be given. So, uh, it's, uh, in terms of how, uh, some of the, I guess, major stakeholders are reacting, uh, I don't think.
You're gonna see a lot of, a lot of happy, uh, happy [00:22:00] healthcare or happy, uh, education, uh, stakeholders and, uh, especially from, from the unions, I think they were looking for a lot more. So, yeah. Uh, my kind of view on this is, uh, uh, definitely a bud, a budget that, uh, misses, misses the moment in a lot of ways, and, uh, was, was kind of a, a disappointment in several levels.
Dale Richardson: Yeah. You know, I, I'll be honest, I was a little surprised as we talked about last week. You, you know, we talked about the PST on fund 20. Kevin said, las week 22 million in, in, in government revenue. From that, that is not a big number by, by any means, but, So I was surprised that something like that, if they are projecting this, this surplus, that something like that, it, you know, it's 22 million out of 1 billion is a very, very, very small amount.
But that clearly speaks to how, as, as Kevin you said, just how careful and cautious and, uh, Careful and cautious. The finance [00:23:00] minister is on, on, on this whole thing at this point. And, and, and on that, Kevin, I, I was wondering, and I think, I think our, our, our friend, marine manager kind of got to it in one of his, one of his columns.
Uh, today I think it came out that this. Tell me, tell me about the history. I think there's a lot of history at, at play, and I think Mur Murray kind of wrote about it, that the, the grant divine, uh, era fiscal management to some extent, it's, it doesn't, like, I, I wasn't around for it, it's, people just talked about it. But I think that it is still, it still looms large with many people in the, in the SaaS part, your world, that they, they think about we, we, we, we cannot replicate or we can't get close to the, you know, to those issues that. Um, that that government had does is that history playing into this very cautious, uh, concerned approach to, to this budget and recent budgets, Kevin?
Is that if we, we cannot go crazy and the finance, I, I think it is to her [00:24:00] credit, and I've talked about this before, it, it is to her credit that she's taking this approach, but just do you think there's something to that, that they're really careful of the history on this, on this whole.
Kevin Doherty: pick a budget and I'll tell you what Murray Mander is gonna criticize about it because if you reduce taxes, he blames you for running a deficit, right? If you, if you , if you're increasing spending all over the place, he says you're a spend thrift and, and you're going crazy on the spending and you get control.
So I, I don't pay a
Dale Richardson: pretend that, let's pretend that Eric, let's pretend that Eric wrote this column and not Murray, uh, you know, and he made that critique. What do you think?
Kevin Doherty: yeah, just to go back, uh, uh, uh, you know, to my friend Eric, I, an additional 431 million into the health budget is not nothing. An additional 192 million in the education budget is not nothing. You know, the additional monies into the social services budget is not nothing. Show me a health minister in Canada that's getting a 6.7% bump on the largest line item in the budget.
That almost takes up 50 cents of every dollar that we spend in this province, and they're getting a, he's getting an almost paulman. I joked with him yesterday at the budget. I said, [00:25:00] what was your voice not heard at the cabinet table? Did you not get anything done there? And he kind of looked at me and I started laughing.
I said, 6.7%. I mean, ministers of the past, uh, ministers of health would, would've died to get a 6.7% lift. So I, you know, let's keep it all in perspective. It's, and, and I, I get the talking points of the opposition and, and, uh, But this was, I, as I said in the webinar earlier today, Donna Har Power is playing the long game here.
We started to shift the, the revenue base of the province several years ago to get away from the fluctuations and the volatility in the resource sector, which we have seen where it went from about 25% of revenues down to below 10% of revenues in the course of two years. Now, try to manage a budget when your forecast revenue drops by that much in any business or household or anywhere else.
So what Donna, what Minister Harper is trying to do here is stabilize the revenue base without being so reliant on non-renewable resource revenue. At the same time focusing, they were criticized last fall by the opposition for sending out [00:26:00] $500 checks to everybody. Why not focus it on single moms with a couple of kids or what have you, or the elderly?
So now they've targeted and focused their spending in specific areas, the major priorities that the provincial government's responsible for it, healthcare, education, social services, the justice system. And they didn't raise any taxes to keep that stability in place and are paying down debt. I think it was a prudent, responsible approach in the long game that they're playing here only 18 months out from an election.
Right. And the minister has said that, we'll take a look at this. If you look at the forecasted surpluses over the next couple years, next year's $200 million, and then it drops below, well below 200 million. That's 1% of the. A 1% contingency fund cushion, if you will, forecasted out. So it's not like they're swimming forecasting like they're swimming in cash forever.
In a day they're taken when they got these windfall revenues they did last year, went from a 450 million deficit to a 1.5 billion surplus, spent 500 million sending the $500 [00:27:00] checks out, put that additional billion against the operating debt as it do in this year. So, you know, minister Har Power is obviously very disciplined and she's got her colleagues to go along and the premier to go along with her.
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Dale Richardson: Eric, one of the, one of the challenges for the ndp, for the opposition that I've always perceived, Budget is that there are so many stakeholders, and particularly from from the NDP side of things that they, they generally would align with. I'm thinking, you know, the union's, obviously healthcare employees, although, you know that's not, you know, 100% people.
I work in healthcare, vote for the N D P, but education, you know, CBOs. Often I think there are so many stakeholders that it's hard. I, because there are so many, it's hard to focus the approach that comes, that comes after a budget where, where there are things to criticize, always, you know, there, there's, even in the greatest budget ever, there's likely gonna be something that one, one can, one can pick upon.
Looking at this budget, if you, if you [00:29:00] were, if you were advising, the leader and the MLA's and the opposition office, what, what are one to two or three things that you would want them to focus on, uh, that, that you think would be, would be really effective, challenges for the, for the government to deal with here.
Eric Bell: Yeah, I mean, I, I think, um, you, you're right, it is challenging, uh, to every, everybody has their, their take on the budget and everybody's probably reaching out to, um, you know, the, the finance critic, uh, Trent Wotherspoon and, and, uh, and trying to, uh, you know, . Delve deep into, into getting the, the opposition to address their, their issues.
Um, but, uh, I would really, uh, stick to, um, the, uh, the lack of, of any cost, of living relief. You know, I think there, uh, really is, um, space for, uh, for the opposition to, to write, to criticize the government, uh, on this. Um, you know, there's a survey that I, I can't [00:30:00] remember where it came from, um,
Dale Richardson: Angus Reed, I think.
Eric Bell: Was it Angus Reed that had that only, um, that 55% of, of people's, uh, feel that they're worse off than they were a year ago, and only 15% of people in the province, uh, feel that they're, they're better off, uh, financially.
So, um, I think, uh, you know, people, uh, are are looking. Or might be looking to their government to, to offer them, uh, some more, more cost of living relief, uh, in terms of, uh, you know, their, their taxes and their power bills and, and everything that keeps going up while their, while their wages are stagnant.
Um, so that would be a, uh, a focus, uh, for me that I would, I would sort of say would be worth focusing on. And, and they kind of have been trying to, I know, um, they've been, I've been seeing the, the more jobs, bigger paychecks, uh, Thing on there, on the, the podium that, that, uh, Carla is using when she does press conferences lately.
Um, and I, I [00:31:00] would also just, uh, uh, keep on, uh, them on the healthcare front as well. I know, um, like Kevin said, 6.8% Yeah. It, it is not nothing. Um, for sure. Um, but there's a lot of problems I think, in terms of how, um, uh, the money's being spent, uh, in terms of, uh, You know, whether that be, uh, private surgeries, uh, that, that the government's, uh, exploring, spending money on, um, that the, the federal government has kind of warned about in the past.
Um, and, uh, perhaps risking, uh, additional clawbacks there. Um, but as well as, um, this issue that's come up on, um, uh, the hiring of, of private, uh, Essentially private nurses, uh, to, to work and then fill some of the gaps in the healthcare system that's costing, uh, a lot of money. Uh, things like that that I think, uh, they could focus on, [00:32:00] on the healthcare front, uh, as well going forward.
Dale Richardson: Kevin, uh, just, just as we start to wrap up here, the kind of main content of the, of the budget, um, I'm sure there's gonna be lots, lots more that's gonna gonna happen. That might unfold as we talked about last week with things coming up. But I, but you touched on something. I, I think that's important that, you know, that the approach with this budget, the one thing that really stood out to me is that it's, it is setting up next year's budget, which, which is an election budget.
You know, that all roads lead to l lead to 2024, I think. And if, if it, if it does turn. That the approach that the resource revenues crash in the next 12 months, which they've, they could very well, we've, we've seen that happen in the province. It'll turn out to be very, very prudent. And if they don't and they potentially have a even larger surplus, then the government is set up extremely well for, for the 2024 budget [00:33:00] and, and, and for the election in, in the fall of that year.
So, um, yeah. Do you, do, do you agree with this, Eric, as, uh, as well do, do you think that ultimately this is, this could be the strategy to conserve, be very conservative of this budget and, and things likely could, could be very good next year?
Kevin Doherty: Well, a co, a couple of things. So the next next year's budget will come out again around March, the election's, not till the fall, right? So there's a good six, seven months in a lot of cases people can't remember. It was in last year's budget. People like us remember that. Go back and look at the numbers and everything, but you ask a number of your friends at the bar this weekend, you know, what was even in this week's budget, if they were directly in.
If they, if they were directly impacted or working in that area, they might remember, but, so let's, let's not, you
Dale Richardson: But doesn't, but doesn't, sorry, Kevin, but doesn't, wouldn't, couldn't that give the government and, and, and conversely, uh, the opposition, doesn't that give them six months to, to hammer home a, for the government? What is in that budget for and for the opposition, what is not in the budget and what they would want to see [00:34:00] instead?
I mean, that, that's a long runway for
Kevin Doherty: Absolutely. So that's why, you know, I give Minister Har Power and Treasury Board in the cabinet and the premier, a lot of credit in the sense of how they're trying to bring some stability, some predictability to the revenue base of this province. So we don't have those wild fluctuations. I had a deficit double on me because of a pension adjustment.
Can anybody listening to this besides the accountants, explain what a pension adjustment is, which is a non-cash item in the budget that absolutely affects nobody's life in one manner whatsoever. But the deficit doubled. So now I'm trying to explain in the 32nd sound clip why my deficit went, you know, doubled in the matter of, of a, of a few months because of an accounting procedure. So, you know, you're absolutely right. There's, there's a long runway after next year's budget between when the budget's brought down and when the election happens, good or bad for the government. What they're trying to do, in my estimation, is provide shock absorbers that if in fact what happens, what you just said were the, the natural resources, uh, the revenue, uh, non-renewable resource revenues go crazy.
Either way, they've got some provisions then [00:35:00] to either pay down more debt, invest back into those priority areas, again, reduce some taxes if it goes to the negative. They have some stability with respect to their, their other revenue bases, uh, to continue providing the services and not run massive deficit because of it.
So again, I thought it was a very prudent approach. Um, it takes a lot of. It takes a lot of discipline as a human being to sit there knowing you've got a billion dollars sit on the side of the table that you could spend or reduce taxes with and not take that. That's been a criticism of governments, of all political stripes across the country for years.
Right? So I, I think, and you get no political bump for it, paying down a billion dollars in debt last year and a billion dollars this year. There's zero political bump for it. Nobody's gonna be talking about that after this weekend.
Dale Richardson: Maybe, maybe with some really, really strong conservative types like,
Kevin Doherty: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe, but, but again, it's not a vote getter.
Eric Bell: And yeah.
yeah, Kevin's totally right with that. Like the, the NDP when they were in government did a lot of, of [00:36:00] paying down debt and a lot of, uh, times when they, they were quite frugal and, uh, , miserly in how they spent, and it really, it, it didn't do them any favors at all, . So, yeah,
Kevin Doherty: And the, and the flip, the flip side is true on the, on the federal level, you know, this prime minister and this government have realized that nobody pays attention to the debt or deficit,
right. It's just spend, spend, spend. And, and the budget will balance itself eventually. Well, no, it doesn't.
It takes a lot of hard work.
Dale Richardson: But it didn't, but it didn't hurt 'em in the end. And I
Kevin Doherty: know that's what I mean.
Dale Richardson: that, you know, I, I, I, I don't, yeah, no, I don't like it. But that was a bet that they made
Kevin Doherty: That's why I'm saying you get no political bump going the other way by paying down debt and being prudent and responsible and, you know, mindful of, of the chickens coming home to roost eventually. And when potash and the perfect storm happens again when potash and agriculture and oil and gas and uranium all crater those commodities. Well, then you've gotta still pay everything you've built into this budget, uh, from your base, uh, your [00:37:00] base expense perspective. So you've gotta have some stability and predictability in that, in that revenue base.
Dale Richardson: What's, what's one thing for both of you that and, and maybe. You didn't deep, uh, dive deep enough into the, into the budget, but what's something that wasn't highlighted that much yesterday that may pop up either, either positively or negatively, or, you know, as we talked about last week, that might become a thing in the, in the next little while as things start to unfold.
Eric, did anything jump out that you kind of thought, oh, that, that could be, could be something perhaps for the opposition to, to jump on that wasn't huge on, on budget.
Eric Bell: Uh, that wasn't huge. Uh, not that, not that I, uh, I can really think of off the top of my head. Uh, you know, I, I think it's just, uh, Coming down to, um, the, the fact that, you know, there really is if, if you, you know, talk about how people don't know about what's going on in the budget [00:38:00] usually, you know, if, if there had been something for, for the government to, to tout, uh, to the individual like a, a form of a tax credit or something, they, they could really, uh, really hammer that home.
But the, the way the budget is, is laid out. It, it is, um, There, there's really nothing, uh, that I think that, uh, an individual would, would take home from the budget and, and really remember. And so I think, you know, by the time this is out of the news next week, yeah. You're absolutely right that like people won't be talking about this budget over the weekend and they probably won't be talking about it.
Uh, when the month is over. I will give a shout out and it was covered, uh, a little bit, uh, in the paper yesterday and, and it had been announced before, but the, the, um, Commitment to funding of second stage, uh, shelters, uh, for people, uh, fleeing, uh, interpersonal violence. I know that, uh, my friend Nicole Saar had had, uh, pushed for that for a really long time and, uh, uh, Saskatchewan still has, has a, [00:39:00] has a big problem with, uh, domestic violence.
And so I think that that was a, was a good thing, uh, in the budget. And it was, it was good to see that that funding was provided.
Dale Richardson: Yes, I agree. Kevin, any, any little
Kevin Doherty: Well, yeah, it, it's just the numbers, the quantum of the numbers we're dealing with now, you know, 7 billion health budget now. It wasn't that many years ago, 7 billion was the total budget of the province. You know, now we're up.
Dale Richardson: well, when I started as Kevin, when I started in at, at the legislative building as a young whipper snapper in health, I, the budget was maybe I, it might have been a little bit less than 5 billion, so it's up 2 billion in in a
Kevin Doherty: I mean, we're approaching 20 billion now in revenues and, and, uh, slightly less than expenses if those numbers hold, if the forecast holds. So, you know, these, this, this is a direct reflection of, well, a number of factors. Obviously the, the commodity's doing well. Uh, inflation obviously gives a boost to any organization that, that, that taxes on a consumption tax basis.
When prices go up and you're taxing, uh, you're gonna get a boost there. But this is also a reflection. [00:40:00] Of the number of people in the province now we're at 1.214 million people, uh, lo second lowest unemployment rate in the country. So when you got that many people working and your population is growing, obviously your your taxers are gonna be, uh, growing as well.
And, and that's what we're seeing with respect to these numbers that we're the ministers now dealing with.
Dale Richardson: Well, we will see what, uh, what happens with this budget. If it, if more comes out, there's some nuggets that were in there that either become problems for the government or who knows what, or as Eric said it, it could be outta people's minds by the end of this week, or at least by the end of the
Kevin Doherty: Sorry, Dale. One other thing I would say, you know, and I for people that have any interest in looking at the actual budget documents is, is it's, to me, it's always interesting to look at pages 70 and 71, which does a, a intercity comparison of, of, you know, we talk about the cost of living. Uh, and Eric's raised that several times and rightfully so.
Um, but there's comparative charts there with respect to income of $40,000 or a family of, of. With two kids at [00:41:00] 75,000 or a hundred thousand or 125,000. So it gives a comparison of Regina living in Regina versus every other major city across Canada in the various provinces. And, you know, I get it. I, I've used that in the past to tell people that that context is important.
And someone will say to me, well, I don't live in Vancouver. I don't live in Montreal, so I don't care what the cost of living is there. I care about the cost of living here, but context is important. And so I. Strongly encourage folks, if you're going through the documents, just have a look at page 70 and 71 for that comparative chart.
It's very enlightening.
Dale Richardson: 70 and 71. There you go. Should we talk about experience Regina and their. Ver very quickly, and they're, uh, rebranding fiasco because I, and the reason I why I'm bringing it up is there's, turned out to be a lot of politics involved in this.
So, uh, Eric, why don't, why don't I start with you? Um, just really quickly, you know, le like I have, I've, I've created my own problems, uh, as, uh, as we often do, and for those of us [00:42:00] that work in politics. But what did you make of it? Um, The whole thing. And how, how is the cleanup going so far for the people that are, that are managing it?
I guess from a crisis comms perspective, what's, uh, what's your thought on this whole thing?
Eric Bell: Yeah. Another, um, another series of, uh, municipal Regina Boondoggles. It seems it's , seems like Saskatoon saskatoons overdue for something. I, I'd like to see them making, uh, making international headlines, but, uh, yeah. What a, um, a real, um, Public relations, uh, nightmare. And I think it, it, it didn't do any favors that it was unveiled on a Friday and then everything got to sort of build up over the, and sort of crescendo over the weekend, uh,
Dale Richardson: That's a good point. That's a good point.
Eric Bell: Into what, uh, the whole experience Regina debacle, uh, became and really like, uh, the, the, the tagline of experience Regina.
Like, there's nothing wrong with that [00:43:00] tagline in, in my mind. It, it's actually probably, uh, uh, pretty good. But it was, it was kind of the, um, The, uh, the other sort of supplemental , uh, aspects of it, uh, from, from both, uh, local, some, some local businesses, uh, and, uh, and through the, uh, experience Regina, formerly tourism Regina, uh, social media accounts that, that, uh, really, uh, set people off.
And this, you know, idea that we should lean into, uh, the fact that our, our city rhymes with a, you know, a. Female body part. Uh, I think anybody, uh, who gave it a little more, uh, thought could have identified a couple of, of problems with that. Uh, so, uh, it's, it's been, I've been surprised every day to see, uh, another story about this.
You know, it, uh, there was the Monday apology and then there was the reaction from city counselors, and then there were [00:44:00] city counselors demanding a special meeting. Uh, and, uh, so unfortunately, I, I don't think we. We've seen the last of this, uh, it's, it's really, uh, too bad that, uh, you know, this what should have been a probably successful rebranding has really gotten off on the wrong foot.
And, uh, I was joking that, you know, if things keep going at this rate, the city might have a different name by the end of the month, because, you know, it's, it's just been that, that much of a, of a, of a mess. But hopefully, uh, you know, they they find their way out of this because, uh, you know, tourism, uh, and, uh, attracting people to the city is, is something that, uh, is super important.
So, yeah. Uh, handled, uh, not well. Lots of, uh, lots of cleaning up to do, and I'll be interested to see if anybody, uh, takes a fall or, uh, faces the majority of the, the blame for this [00:45:00] at the end of it.
Dale Richardson: Yeah, well, I've got thoughts on that, but, but, but Kevin, um, you know, as I said, we've all been been a part of things that just sometimes don't land as, as intended with the public. That's just the nature of. Public life sometimes and things happen. But what did, uh, uh, from, from your, uh, vantage point, what did you think of this whole thing and, uh, and the, and the crisis cleanup in the days since?
Kevin Doherty: Couple of observations that, uh, I was speaking to a, I saw the mayor of Regina at the budget yesterday, and I, I
Dale Richardson: Yeah. So did I,
Kevin Doherty: anything new in your world, your worship. And she gave me a look like it was, uh, Not a fun look. Uh, but, uh, uh, the best. So a friend of mine yesterday said The best line he's ever heard about that particular reference or joke that that has been. For years was Jerry Seinfeld. 12 years ago, Jerry Seinfeld was in Regina, walked on stage. The very first thing he said to the audience was, Regina, I'll bet [00:46:00] you're sick of that joke. And the place went crazy. Like, yeah, we're sick of that joke. And, uh, he never referenced it again. He didn't have to say anything.
He does. Just the, the, the subtlety of that kind of humor I thought was hilarious. Uh, a friend of mine told me I wasn't at Seinfeld, but he was there and said it was brilliant. Um, Another friend texted me this week and said, do you think uh, Tim Reid should be fired over this? I said, no. I mean, he, uh, they made a mistake.
Uh, he owned it. He apologized. Um, that's what, what, uh, good leaders do. And uh, it was unfortunate. It got to this point. I, you know, my observation was where the capital city of a province, can we not be more aspirational than that for crying out loud, like, you know, let's. Let's be a little bit different, but not that kind of different and, and be aspirational and, and, and a place that people look up to and, and respect and aspire to.
I mean, it's named after the name of a, in a royal family for God's sakes. Let's, uh, anyway, I, I'm, uh, that's all I have to say on that.[00:47:00]
Dale Richardson: 2 things from me on it. There was a very good letter to the editor in the Regina Leader Post today. I'm not, I'm not sure if you guys read it. It's, uh, it's, I got it here. It's entitled Reels, which of course stands for Regina Exhibition.
Eric Bell: Association. Limited.
Dale Richardson: Limited. Thank you. So yeah, ba basically, uh, the, uh, the nonprofit organization that runs the brand center and, and the exhibition Mosaic Stadium as well.
So re's lack of real tourism experience created a real mess. And of course, this refers to the fact that tourism Regina, in the last six months was folded. Operations at Real, and I didn't even realize this, but Tim Reid, who of course has been the ceo, e o at Real for a number of years, also the c e o of, uh, tourism Regina now, this experience, Regina name, and that this letter to the editor, I think, I think is bang on.
It's something that, um, for me personally, it has not made a lot of sense rolling in the, the tourism. Into, [00:48:00] um, into a, a place that that puts on large events. And I understand what the intention was to, you know, to drive even bigger events for the city, but I, I, I think, I think this, I think it nails it.
Exactly right. Um, and, and I'll put a link in the show notes for this. The other thing is I don't, I don't understand why the mayor. Has been the face of it for the last couple of days. Um, for this whole thing from a, you know, Tim Reid, to his credit, was the person signing the apology, starting last weekend.
And, you know, with the social media posts, he did some media on it where he apologized and said, uh, you know, mistakes were made. And then the mayor started, she did Gormley first, and then she was on c BBC this morning. I didn't listen to it yet. I'm sure Stephanie Langer. Fired some, uh, some questions at her as Stephanie does.
but I don't understand it. I I don't understand why she would be going out and taking the fire away from Tim Reid and, and, and his organization and. [00:49:00] basically throwing herself under the bus on this whole thing. From a communications perspective, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. So, uh, I, I realize she's the mayor and is technically this, this lead spokesperson for the city.
But, It's a tough task for the mayor to, to have to take on, uh, on, on such a, you know, crappy issue. So
Eric Bell: Well, Yeah. And you've, she's, you know, with it, it just, it seems like it's another, another, uh, debacle at City Hall when, like, when City Hall really isn't re responsible for that. Like, they had no, they had nothing to do with the, with the campaign other than, you know, Being there for its launch. Um, yeah, it is, it is interesting.
And it's, it's definitely not doing, gonna do her any favors politically to do that in the long run. And the, the, you're right about, about real and, and, uh, experienced Regina sort of combining, like I also did think that was. Uh, an interesting move and it, it has, um, kind of upset, I think some of, some other [00:50:00] sort of regional, um, you know, associations, um, uh, because who are seeing, you know, the city's focus being all around real, and you know, why not the warehouse district and why not downtown?
Like why does everything have to be all real all the time? So yeah,
Dale Richardson: agree with that. I agree with you. So anyway. Wow. We'll see what happens in the next few days. We'll, we'll see if anything else transpires, but uh, yeah, I, I it's not, it hasn't been great. So, uh, I don't, uh, but, but I feel badly for all the people involved cuz uh, as I said, I've, uh, had to, had to manage some, some. Shitty things in the past, and, and it sucks. It sucks, honestly, when you're in the thick of it, it's not great. It's not fun. So anyway, that's it. Thanks to to the both of you. Thanks Eric. Thanks Kevin. Great conversation about the budget. I'm sure there's gonna be more to, more to talk about from that in the weeks to come.
And, and we, we definitely will be, we will be discussing that. I, I should say thanks to our title [00:51:00] sponsor, the Saskatchewan. construction Association, fantastic supporters. I, I'm certain they were happy with, uh, with the budget news yesterday, I think, I think the highways budget increased over, over 500 million.
So that's, um, that's good news for people that are building, building roads and highways in this, in
Kevin Doherty: We're live there next week. Are we not Dale, at the uh, sas Camby Construction.
Dale Richardson: March, March 31st. Yes. Friday 10:00 AM at the, at the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association Convention. Eric, you tell me you're not gonna be able to be there. Unfortunately, you're, you're in Toronto,
Eric Bell: Yeah, it's, I was gutted to, uh, to find out when my flight was leaving and that it's not gonna, not gonna work out cuz I, I was, I was hoping I'd be able to make it work, but, uh, no, unfortunately I will not be there, but it'll be, it'll be great. I'm sure the first live recording, I believe
Dale Richardson: First in-person one,
Eric Bell: first in person.
Dale Richardson: I, I, I've seen Kevin once. I, I didn't even see you at budget yesterday, Kevin. I've seen you like once in the last year [00:52:00] in person, I think So anyway, yes. We'll be, we'll be doing that March 31st, next, uh, next Friday. And if anybody else would like to have Kevin and Eric and I, uh, perhaps appear at a, at a live event, one of your conventions or something you're doing, Please reach out and, and we can, we can discuss that. So, uh, we're, we're, we're quite a nice group to hang out with and to hear, hear, talk about politics and stuff.
So anyway, thanks to everybody for listening, and we will see you next week.
This has been The SKoop. Kevin Doherty is a senior strategy advisor at Prairie sky strategy. You can learn more about his email@example.com. Sally Hauser is the senior manager of public affairs for Canadian strategy group. You can learn more about her firstname.lastname@example.org. That's CDN strategy.com and I'm a podcaster and public affairs professional.
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