Premier Brad Wall says the province has plenty of infrastructure projects ready to go if the federal government offers any amount of stimulus money to Saskatchewan and Alberta.
On Monday, Bloomberg news reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would consider fast-tracking $1 billion in infrastructure money to the west to stimulate the economy in response to the downturn in oil prices. The report also said that money was already ear-marked for infrastructure projects by the previous government but it hadn’t been delivered yet.
“This is very hopeful. I mean if it’s true that the federal government is indeed looking at some specific ways to help the west with respect to the economic challenges that are being faced in the energy sector, it’s very positive,” Wall said.
He noted that there has been no official request for funds or and he has not heard any specific details about how much money might be provided in a stimulus package to Saskatchewan. When it comes to big infrastructure projects, the province does have a list of plans.
“Those include twinning (Highways) 39 and 6, which is something that we would like to do anyways,” he said. “I’m not saying these are asks of the federal government at this point, I’m saying htat we have projects we could present today if need be, that are ready to go.”
Wall added that building a bypass in Sasktaoon would be another major project on the list.
He also pointed out that Saskatchewan and Alberta are funding equalization by $500 million this year, despite the crunch of oil prices, and this could help make up for that.
“I was saying at the end of the year that one way the federal government could recognize the fact that Alberta and Saskatchewan taxpayers are funding equalization this year without money coming back is to perhaps to provide a little more assistance in infrastructure support than we would otherwise be eligible for on a population basis,” Wall said.
NDP Opposition leader Cam Broten said it’s important to have more federal money coming to the province, but said the economic situation shouldn’t be as dire as it is. He said the SaskParty government drained away the rainy-day fund during years of economic prosperity.
“When we look at dollars coming into the province for infrastructure, that’s good, but what we can’t have is the track record that we’ve seen with the SaskParty by Mr. Wall when it comes to how those dollars are spent,” Broten said.
He pointed to rising costs for projects like the Regina Bypass and said the government is sending contracts out of province and out of the country.
“If we’re spending infrastructure dollars, it’s necessary to make sure that it actually does stimulate the provincial economy,” Broten said, noting that contracts for those infrastructure projects should go to Saskatchewan companies.
While the premier has been talking about relative strength in the diversified economy for the province, he did note that the oil prices will present a deeper and longer-lasting challenge than people were predicting. He said the province is talking with small oil-field service companies and operators about other ideas to stimulate work specifically in the energy sector.