At the end of 2016, 980 CJME senior reporter Sarah Mills sat down with Premier Brad Wall for his annual year-end interview.
In this look ahead, Wall shares his thoughts on the opportunities and challenges for 2017.
Balancing act: the provincial deficit
Sarah Mills: It has been several years since we have met for these interviews now so this year I thought I would try something new. Let’s call it word association. I will say a word and then you can expand for me on the word. Okay?
Premier Brad Wall: Okay, what could possibly go wrong?
Wall: We’ve got to balance the budget. You know, we’re not going to delay.
It is interesting to see what is happening today in Canada where jurisdictions are saying, yeah we’ve got a huge deficit, but we’ll balance it in five years or six years or after the next election.
I’ve never understood promises that take governments to the next election because you don’t know if you’re going to be the government. But that is the same sort of thing that happened in the 80’s.
Governments of all stripes did the same thing they kind of punted, they kicked the can down the road on getting the budget back to balance…We are not doing that in Saskatchewan, other jurisdictions can do that if they want.
‘Everything is on the table’
Mills: Are you concerned in being able to reach your goal because so many of the things are out of your control – like potash and oil?
Wall: The finance minister has said everything is on the table – it is, including exemptions.
Right now we don’t want to raise taxes that would dampen our investment climate. That’s why we are seeing an increased investment in energy right now in our province where they are not investing in other provinces.
But there might be some loopholes we could close on exemptions, so we need to have those on the table. We need to look at expenditures, but 60 per cent of government expenditures are HR, salaries.
You know, in my home community, I know of some small oil companies that met with their staff months ago when this was really starting, the downturn was starting. And they just said, ‘Look, we can lay off some people in this room or we can reduce wages? What do you think?’ And every example I have heard of this – including in Weyburn – those staff rooms said, ‘No, no, let’s reduce our wages’ – led by the owner by the way.
Maybe we need to have that kind of approach in government.
The carbon tax debate
Mills: Carbon tax
Wall: We just don’t think the timing is right.
It disproportionately impacts sectors that are already reeling. And in our case, it is the sectors that underpin the growth.
You know, we pay for hospitals and highways and schools based on agriculture, mining, oil and gas, some large manufacturers, large industrial companies like Evraz. We would like to have more of them, but the ones that we have, all of those would be disproportionately hit hard by a carbon tax.
And this notion from the government that you can take all your carbon tax and eliminate income tax really frustrates me because the point is, if we have lost jobs because those sectors are no longer competitive, those ones that I just listed, what good is income tax relief to someone whose lost their jobs?
On what’s next
Wall: 2017 is good. I am hopeful about it.
We’ve been in this trough of commodity prices for a long time. People don’t remember it has been a couple of years now. But we can see signs of some strengthening.
We can see signs that companies that maybe we were last in and we’re going to be first out because I hope in part because of some of the policies of the government.
Crescent Point announced increased capital expenditure, 80 per cent in our province. Raging River has done the same thing. I think you are going to see some value-added agricultural projects come along.
And while the budget is going to be difficult – and while we’ll make some decisions that will frustrate and people might be opposed to – the long term interests of the province are served by a strong economy. I think we will begin to see some real strengthening in 2017.
Mills: Thank you.
Wall: Thanks to you.