Fiscal responsibility matters to me.
Under the leadership of Premiers Romanow and Calvert, and with the support of our caucus teams, I delivered five consecutive balanced budgets for Saskatchewan (1998-2002 inclusive), more than any other Saskatchewan Finance Minister in the last six decades.
Outside 16 years as an elected member, I’ve worked 22 years in the private sector as a lawyer and corporate executive. I believe in a healthy and vibrant private sector as well as an activist government. Progressive taxation and government policies that provide education, health care and social programs to promote greater equality of opportunity require a healthy economy that generates wealth.
My commitment to fiscal responsibility and policies that promote a healthy economy is well known.
Ryan Meili proposes to "invest in people," even in lean times.
Is this sensible?
Friends, when times are tough, that is especially when people rely on their government to make strategic investments in people.
When I speak of strategic investments in people, I mean spending measures that will make a positive and long-term difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities. Our party has always stood for that approach, in both good times and bad.
Government's role is to help people up, not keep them down.
An example of "investing in people" is the Building Independence Program introduced in the 1998 budget, strongly supported by Premier Romanow, conceived under the direction of Social Services Minister Bob Pringle and delivered during the tenure of Social Services Minister Lorne Calvert. Similar to the Family Income Plan of Premier Blakeney in the 1970s, the program ensured that working families with children under the age of 18 would not be worse off working than they would be on welfare. They would receive monthly income supplements and health care benefits to ensure they could afford dental care, optometric and prescription drug services.
We spent a lot of money on it. And it saved us even more money – because people could afford to work without losing income and depriving their families of needed health care. The number of people on social assistance went down. It was a strategic investment in healthier individuals, families and communities. It was an investment that would make sense whether a government was operating at a surplus or a deficit.
In recent Sask Party budgets, money was "saved" to fight the deficit by eliminating family income supplements for children once they turn 13. (Do they eat less or wear less expensive clothes when they become teenagers?) That move discourages low-income families from going to work by making it more difficult for them to do so. Is this an example of good fiscal management?
Even in tough times, it's better to spend $100 on youth recreation today than $100,000 putting someone in jail 10 years from now.
Other recent "savings" include denying people on social assistance the right to earn $200 per month without having their monthly income payment reduced. At the same time, payment for their children's school supplies in the fall was eliminated. Does this encourage greater self-reliance? How exactly do they get money for school supplies if not allowed any extra income? These decisions are being made in the name of fiscal responsibility to solve huge government deficits.
Cutbacks to the Aboriginal Court Worker Program and elimination of the Fine Option Program whereby people can work off traffic fines as an alternative to jail have also been introduced to balance the budget. It won’t take many more people landing in jail to nullify these "savings."
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance, someone once said.
Education, at a time when we need to educate and train a booming youth population, was cut by 6.7% in the last provincial budget.
These sorts of spending cuts, brought in at the same time as tax cuts for the highest income earners in the province, need to be reversed.
Ryan Meili has honestly placed before us the fact that we need to make strategic spending choices now for the long-term health of our society, budgeted and reported in the usual way pursuant to Public Sector Accounting Board requirements.
The road ahead will not be easy. The finances of the province are in bad shape. Restoring fiscal soundness will be a challenge. Social investment that has been taken away needs to be restored.
Can we afford to invest in people in these difficult times?
The better question is: can we afford not to?
Those who want a more just and equitable society must speak the truth. Those who advocated solutions for the problems of their times – solutions like public hospitalization and medicare – were frequently labeled as dangerous radicals.
Some will perhaps label Ryan Meili in a similar way, suggesting that his ideas are impractical or that he doesn't understand economic development. Let us not to be among them. Let us recognize what is fair, needed and responsible to provide a more inclusive and egalitarian society for everyone.
As a strong believer in fiscal responsibility, a healthy economy and activist government, I will proudly cast my ballot for Ryan Meili as the next leader of our party.