#skvotes 2016

Black Market Butter Tarts: 2016 Sask Party Platform

Or as I’ve taken to calling it, “The Best We Can Do Right Now”.

Their 2007 platform contained 140 commitments. In 2011 they pledged at least 35 commitments.

2016’s Sask Party campaign platform contains six (6!) new and guaranteed campaign commitments.

(Yes, it also lists a bunch of promises and announcements made while they were still in government, but those weren’t counted in the 2007 and 2011 totals either.)

One of those promises is $70-million more for highways over three years. It’s pandering to the Sask Party’s rural base, of course, but us city-dwellers do use highways too, so why not.

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The budget for highways for 2015-16 was $842-million, meaning $70-million over three years is about a 3.5 per cent increase, so “surge” is a bit, um, equivocal, but still. It’s good.

Adding CT scans to the 2-for-1 scheme is cool too. If some Richie Rich wants to go buy themselves a CT or MRI and take me or my kid along for a free ride, I’m cool with that, and I fail to see why others are not.

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Reducing admin – aka cutting middle management – in Saskatchewan health regions and turning that money into more healthcare providers is great. Kinda wish they’d never allowed health region admin to bloat up in the first place, but better late than never.

They’ve promised property tax deferral for low-income seniors. This basically means the provincial government puts a lien on Grandma’s house, and then Grandma doesn’t have to pay the education portion of her property tax. When she dies sells the house, whatever she owes in back-taxes is automatically paid to the government and the lien is removed.

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The City of Saskatoon already has this program, and variations exist in almost every other province in Canada. The Sask Party’s option is safe, and fair, in my opinion.

(I mean, okay, if Grandma owns her own home and still brings in $69,999 per year, I’m not entirely sure she qualifies as “low-income”, but whatever. As per my previous blog post, I’m all for making Saskatchewan seniors’ lives a bit more awesome. Unless they bring in over $70,000 per year, in which case a) I applaud their fiscal prudence; and b) they can pay on time like the rest of us.)

What can you say about more robot doctors in Northern Saskatchewan, and this CNIB announcement, besides ‘awesome’?

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The Sask Party also announced they will commit to individualized funding for Saskatchewan children with autism… this one just confuses me.

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Why now? Why individualized? Why is this a guaranteed commitment, as opposed to, for example, this platform’s promise of a tax credit for volunteer first-responders, which is contingent on a $75 USD per barrel oil price? Why is this a priority when the Sask Party government has already increased autism funding from virtually non-existent in 2007 to $8.1-million? At an additional $12.6-million over 3 years, why is this the second-highest cost promise in their 2016 platform, underneath highways?

Anyone?

I’ve already blogged the fact that I think the Graduate Retention Program announcement – up to $20,000 of free taxpayers’ money handed to a couple of kids fresh out of university for the down payment on their $400,000 house – is el crappo. Anyone out there who works hard to contribute to the Saskatchewan economy should feel the same way.

So those are the new guaranteed commitments in the Sask Party’s 2016 platform.

Then there’s what I think might be a first in Saskatchewan politics: commitments with strings attached, like the one I mentioned above for volunteer first-responders:

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Elsewhere in the platform, “as the province’s finances strengthen” is clarified as when oil prices go back up to $75 USD per barrel.

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The sheer chutzpa required by the Sask Party to include this one in their platform is astounding.

In 2011, their platform listed the Growth and Financial Security Fund (aka the ‘Rainy Day’ Fund) balance as three-quarters of a billion dollars, and projected it to be at almost a billion dollars in 2016.

Is the Rainy Day Fund now empty?

If so, why?

Since oil climbed to over $100 USD per barrel almost three years after that projection, and didn’t really hit bottom until the beginning of January 2015 – how, and when, did our three-quarters of a billion dollars in savings disappear?

If ‘eight years of balanced budgets’ is the answer, does that mean spending until your busted-broke is “balanced”? We couldn’t have, oh I don’t know, lowered our provincial expenses, instead of destroying our savings?

For a party vying for re-election on their ability to manage the economy, I cannot fathom why anyone thought including this in the platform was a good idea.

Perhaps they figured it’s transparent – ‘here’s where we are, and here’s where we want to go’ – but instead, not only is it an unnecessary reminder of a serious negative on their part, it’s contingent on something that could be considered, at the moment, delusional.

Don’t shoot the messenger – I’m not making it up when I suggest that a future WTI price of $75 USD per barrel is, perhaps more kindly, a fantasy. The US Energy Information Administration’s WTI short term projection, dated March 8, 2016, is $34 USD per barrel in 2016, and $40 USD per barrel in 2017.

Could it climb to $75 USD in 2018? Or even before the next provincial election in 2020? You tell me:

“The expectation of continuing large inventory builds is a major source of uncertainty in the price forecast… Additional uncertainty stems from the pace of global economic growth and its contribution to oil demand growth, and also from the responsiveness of oil producers to sustained low oil prices.” – US Energy Information Administration, March 8, 2016.

I really want to know what it’s like to sit in a room with the people who write this stuff. Do they actually say to each other, “You know what, let’s just make some shit up”?

Do they look each other in the eye and agree, “Technically, it could reach $75 within a reasonable enough period of time to justify making these promises to voters with a straight face.”?

Or do they just roll around on the floor laughing at us?

Finally, while there were not as many absurdities in the Sask Party’s 2016 platform as there were in the NDP’s, it wasn’t free of them altogether.

Can somebody please tell me who lobbied for this one, so I can ensure I never, ever eat at their establishment again?

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What exactly is the government’s definition of “low risk foods”?

‘It may be full of cat hair, but it won’t kill you?’

In respect to selling “direct to consumers”, I believe Farmers’ Markets have existed in Saskatchewan for decades. I shop at the Farmers’ Market all the time, where I purchase from producers, including home bakers, who I can see, talk to – and frankly, judge, for myself.

Further, I shop there by choice. But if I’m in a coffee shop, there’s no way I want to ask the server whether the baked goods were prepared in their public-health-certified commercial kitchen, or bought on Kijiji.

At least this promise might generate new sweat-shops sources of income for some, but what about the people whose paying job it is to prepare these foods in restaurants? I don’t know all the economics of paying for ingredients and staff, versus someone at the back door with a trunk full of butter tarts, but this doesn’t exactly feel like a job-creating measure to me.

Seriously folks, the Sask Party’s 2016 platform is meh. I appreciate the low-key tone given the current economic climate, but wish it contained the big vision-and-hope message that was infused into their 2007 and 2011 campaigns. This reads like that of a party keeping its head down and saving its energy for a more challenging race that lies just around the corner, not so much one focused entirely on the next four years in Saskatchewan.

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