Budget Debate - Motion for Approval of Budgetary Policy

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Speaker: — I recognize the member from Saskatoon Riversdale.

Ms. Chartier: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s my pleasure today to enter into the debate on the 2011-12 budget. Before I begin, as is customary fashion, I have a few people that I want to thank. Of course, my family. I have . . . As a mother of young children, I think the only people who allow me to be able to do this job really well is my support system. I have a wonderful husband who’s taken a leave from his job and is able to come with me here to Regina . . . [inaudible interjection] . . . SEIU [Service Employees International Union], as a matter of fact. My husband’s a union rep, if you were asking. But I appreciate my husband and all the support he provides me.

I’ve got great kids. My 13-year-old . . . I’m now the mother of a 13-year-old. You’ll notice that my hair’s a little greyer than it was last week. She turned 13 on Friday. So my daughter Hennessey and my daughter Ophelia, who is three, help me. My daughters are the big reason why I do this job. I look towards the future and see what this future might hold for them. My kids are my motivating factor for putting my name forward and letting my name stand as a candidate in Riversdale. My kids are my motivating factor.

I also just want to thank my mom and dad who make it a little bit easier for me to do my job as well, and my sister Michelle. I have a great staff person in Yvonne McCowan, who serves the people of Saskatoon Riversdale very well and helps to make sure that people have what they need. Yvonne is a tremendous help and a support. And so I just want to make sure that they know how much I really appreciate all that they do for me.

So, Mr. Speaker, there’s many issues I’d like to discuss today but I’m going to keep my focus fairly narrow. I’m going to talk about some budget items that fall short and fail the people of Saskatoon Riversdale and the whole province, for that matter. I’m going to talk about some housing, some health and safety issues, and care issues in particular. And I’ll talk a little bit about the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport, for which I have a responsibility as an opposition member to follow and understand.

So, Mr. Speaker, the Finance minister began his speech last week by acknowledging his family in the audience — his wife, his son, his daughter-in-law, and grandchildren — and ended his speech a bit choked up telling a story about a Saskatchewan-born daughter and her family who now get to come back to Saskatchewan because of this wonderful place this province now is and all it has to offer.

And I understand. I too have those sentiments sometimes of being a bit choked up. But when I think about my daughters’ futures here in Saskatchewan, I don’t actually have tears of gratefulness that they may be here because I genuinely am concerned about what this province will look like for them in a few short years. Will we be able to afford tuition with the few dollars we’ve managed to put away, or will the cost of an education continue to increase, making it inaccessible for so many? How will my daughter be able to even own a home here in Saskatoon? My 13-year-old talks about becoming a doctor. What kind of health system will remain if she chooses to go down this career path? Will our commitment to public, not-for-profit health care remain, or will our system be so eroded by a government that chose not to invest in the public system?

I think about my daughters’ peers, including the growing number of First Nations and Métis children in our province. Will they and their families have received the supports they need to overcome a legacy left behind by residential schools and systemic racism?

Mr. Speaker, these fears aren’t baseless. I chat with people on the doorstep, at my community office, at events, and out and about who share stories that illustrate they are being left out of the boom and that we do have reason to be concerned and to ask these kind of questions. We have growing numbers of citizens here in Saskatchewan who are relying on social assistance, record use of food banks in Saskatchewan, and working people struggling to make ends meet. Many people long for the day when they won’t have to live paycheque to paycheque.

So just a few weeks ago in the back-and-forth banter that goes on in this place, I was trying to make the point to the member from Kindersley that there were a lot of people left out of this government’s so-called boom, and I made the comment that I had people coming into my office on a regular and frequent basis who are struggling with the rising cost of living, who actively make the choice between paying for their housing, rent or mortgages, and paying for other necessities. The member from Kindersley shot back with something to the effect of, Danielle, that is just not true. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, the member from Kindersley was just trying to get my goat. I must admit my goat is fairly easily got. But I wonder, is this the sentiment of the government, that every boat is rising with the tide?
Unfortunately this just isn’t the case, and many people are being swamped by rising costs and lack of resources.

I’m close to completing my master’s in public policy, which I’m quite proud of. It’s been a bit of a struggle. And what I’ve learned from this and from my experience as a mother, as someone with a social work degree, as someone who’s been a reporter, is that there is no issue for which there is a silver bullet, a quick or instant fix. The problems we all face today are multi-faceted and require many different policy approaches.

The approach governments take to solving problems should not be ad hoc one-offs. Rather, I think for the major issues that confront our citizens, we owe them the long-term visioning and a comprehensive plan. I don’t think people expect us to solve all issues, nor do they expect them resolved instantly. But they do want to see what our plan is, when and how we’ll deliver it even if it’s in stages, and what the road signs are all along the way indicating that we’re getting there. Unfortunately this government is not offering us any of this long-term planning on some of the tough issues facing families today.

One of these tough issues for families right now is housing — rather, the lack of affordable housing. Doesn’t matter where you go in the province, it is an issue. Might look different in southwest Saskatchewan than it does in northeast Saskatchewan, but talk to anyone on the street throughout the province and you’ll hear about housing struggles of one sort or another.

It’s odd that on an almost $11 billion budget, the only housing mentioned in the $147,000 mailer that’s landing in all our mailboxes is, and I quote, “Up to $1.5 million in up-front provincial incentives to apartment builders to offset the cost of education property tax on as many as 650 new units per year.” And I quote, “Support for Municipal Affordable Home Ownership programs that provide homeowners with grants for home purchases.”

Mr. Speaker, this is a drop in the bucket, and not to mention it’s a contradiction with a budget that says there’ll only be 300 rental units in 2011 and ’12. This government has been given so much and has done so little with these vast resources we now have in this province.

The Minister of Social Services’ announcement yesterday of an affordable housing plan is a bit odd, even more odd than the limited amount of money announced for housing in the budget. You’d think if you’d planned to put a strategy in place, you would have put it in your budget document and you put it in your promotional document as well, especially considering how housing — or rather the lack of affordable housing — is one of the key problems facing us all over Saskatchewan today. We’ve experienced housing prices that have made home ownership unattainable for many and skyrocketing rents in the last three years. And I’d like to ask too, isn’t this government in the middle of a consultation process that will culminate in a housing summit in just a few weeks? Why would you announce a housing strategy before your consultations are wrapped up or before you’ve brought everyone together to discuss the issue thoroughly?

The government has tried to dress up a few items in a fancy package but I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, this isn’t enough for families who are suffering from rising costs of housing right now. People need help, not in a year from now, not in two years from now. Their suffering is immediate and needs to be addressed immediately. I hear frequently from people whose rents have gone up 30 to 40 per cent in the last four years, and they are being forced to make difficult decisions, as I’ve said before, like prioritizing rent over food or medication and other necessities in life.
This should not be happening in Saskatchewan where our government has a budget spending close to $11 billion. I think that the question people need to ask themselves, is life really that much more affordable now than it was for them four years ago? What is their quality of life? For many people in Saskatoon Riversdale and other parts of the province, it has diminished. They ask, as my colleague from Regina Rosemont has asked, the boom for whom?

In the same election propaganda that’s in our mailboxes, the government goes on to say, I quote, “We are investing in public safety.” I am the daughter of a police officer and live in a community where safety is definitely on people’s minds. I’m glad for the investments in the gang database and this government carrying on the former administration’s investment in police positions. But again this government has picked winners and losers, this time putting our health and safety at risk.

The story in today’s StarPhoenix, “Ambulance gaps found,” highlights this issue. Ambulance employees in Saskatoon are alarmed the province has chosen to ignore the needs of the province’s land ambulance services and paramedics in the budget despite warnings there are urgent public safety risks that need to be addressed. There were a group of paramedics from Saskatoon, Mr. Speaker, here just a few weeks ago, explaining to MLAs their concerns, and they have met with the Ministry of Health in the fall to ask the government to heed recommendations from a report this minister commissioned in 2008.

Right now in Saskatoon, there are an increasing number of zero alerts, which means there are no ambulances or paramedics available to respond to emergency calls in Saskatoon and area. Zero alerts are happening for more than 40 minutes a day on average, which equates to 11 full days a year. There are no ambulances available to respond to emergency calls because all ambulances and paramedics are often attending to existing calls or delayed transferring patients at hospitals. These zero alerts are especially dangerous in emergencies such as heart attacks, serious accidents, and respiratory distress when minutes can mean the difference between life and death. The minister said he would respond to these recommendations in the 2010-11 budget, but the government has yet to supply funding on any of these 19 recommendations.

According to these paramedics, EMS [emergency medical services] is in a real crisis. This government has chosen to fund STARS, a helicopter-based ambulance service, to the tune of $5 million in this budget, as the minister said, “to supplement our existing air and ground ambulance services.” Well it sounds like our ground ambulances need more than supplementing right now, Mr. Speaker. In our conversation with these paramedics, they were totally in favour of STARS and acknowledged it was one of the government’s promises, but they want people to understand that road ambulance services are the core of our system and need to be fully functioning as citizens expect first.

For example, in Saskatoon right now there is no helipad, and there will not be one until 2015 with the building of the children’s hospital. So people from rural areas can be transported to Saskatoon via helicopter, but they will be sitting at the airport right now waiting for the ground services ambulance to pick them up.

Hopefully STARS won’t land at the airport at a time of a zero alert. STARS may be a good idea, but it doesn’t fix the entire ambulance system, and this government has ignored major concerns of land ambulance providers to the detriment of our citizens.

As a mom of young children who has often the opportunity to be in contact with many other young parents, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about child care. In this budget this government has promised 500 new child care spaces to the tune of $2.1 million. Mr. Speaker, this is not enough. I’m coming from the perspective . . . I’ve been an at-home mom and I’ve also been a mom who has worked outside of the house. I’ve needed child care, and I’ve not needed child care. I’m a big believer that there’s multiple ways to support a family, again that multi-pronged process or a vision. It’s not either family cares for the children or the state. It’s not an either/or. It can be both. And I think our NDP policy document talks a bit about a multi-pronged strategy to support families.

The reality is we are about 28,000 spaces behind Manitoba, and Manitoba doesn’t think they’re where they need to be, and we are the lowest in the country according to a recent YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association] report. Unless we have real investment in this area, we will continue to lag so far behind and fail our children and their parents.

I also just have to point out when you increase spaces, you also have to increase the resources to support these spaces. The spaces have been increased, Mr. Speaker, but the government positions that support the licensed child care spaces haven’t. So if a child carer has a question or an issue or needs help with something around regulations, the response time from the ministry is far longer than it should be. So our children and those who care for them are not getting what they need to do their jobs well.

Mr. Speaker, I’ve talked a bit about housing and a bit about health and safety and supporting families. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss the budget for the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport. In particular, Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a little bit about heritage, an area this government on the surface seems to have supported in the budget with an increase to the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation, which undoubtedly they appreciate. I want to go to the document, the plans for 2011-12 that outlines this ministry’s key priorities . . .

The Speaker: — Order. Order. Order. Order. Order. I would ask members if they have a debate they want to get involved with other members that they either go either behind the bar or find another location so that we can hear the member from Saskatoon Riversdale. The member from Saskatoon Riversdale.

Ms. Chartier: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So again I want to talk a little bit about heritage. So we look to this government’s plans for 2011-2012 and look at the key priorities: “identify ways to strengthen practices in heritage conservation,” and, “support heritage stewardship and heritage conservation in Saskatchewan.” How about funding the Heritage Foundation to what they really need? And how about — and this is the most important one, I think, or a biggie — not simply signing off on the de-designation of a heritage property because it will make renovations easier and because perhaps another minister or the Premier told you to make it happen.

I’m referring specifically, Mr. Speaker, to the whole mess of St. Peter’s and Carlton Trail. Last spring, last spring, Mr. Speaker . . . We talk about supporting heritage. Let’s not de-designate a heritage property at the whim of some renovations happening when the support could be provided to make those renovations happen and still stick to the heritage guidelines. At St. Peter’s last year . . . Well The Heritage Property Act states that the minister can de-designate without consultation, but it also suggests that a minister could consult. I wonder what the people in the ministry were recommending to the minister? I would bet that it wasn’t to go ahead and de-designate without consultation.

This was a total mess at St. Peter’s. An elevator has been added, and not that the elevator isn’t necessary, but it could have been done in a heritage-sensitive manner. And before they even got to the windows, Mr. Speaker, the property was de-designated as a heritage property. The people in the community had no say over this. The minister just expediated the process when asked to do so, who knows by whom. Was it the Minister of Advanced Education? Was it the Premier who had this request? Because I can tell you I’m sure the ministry wasn’t asking for this. Who thought this was a good idea? This was coming from a previous . . .

The Speaker: — Order. Order. Why is the member on his feet?

Hon. Mr. Norris: — Mr. Speaker, to ask leave for introduction of guests.

The Speaker: — The member from Saskatoon Greystone has asked for leave to introduce guests. Is leave granted?

Some Hon. Members: — Agreed.

[The Assembly resumed the adjourned debate on the proposed motion by the Hon. Mr. Krawetz that the Assembly approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, and the proposed amendment to the main motion moved by Mr. Wotherspoon.]

Ms. Chartier: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So as I was saying, the people in the community had no say over the de-designation of St. Peter’s as a heritage property. The minister sped up the process when asked to do so, again by who knows whom. It wasn’t the Minister of Advanced Education or the Premier who thought this was a good idea. And as I was just saying, this was from a previous minister who stated in estimates that he had a great interest in built heritage. Goodness help the person or program who becomes of interest to the same minister next time around.

I also want to talk about the once-thriving film and television industry. In a budget document for TPCS, Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport, the plans for 2011-2012, one of the key actions was “building on the work of the film industry task force.” Well if you want to build on the work of this task force, you should start by listening to the recommendations and consider implementing them.

The industry just a year ago was reeling from a recession, and it still hasn’t recovered, and the loss of a key pillar of the film and television industry when we had the SCN [Saskatchewan Communications Network] fading to black, then privatization last year. So the film and television industry had to believe in this task force process that was launched last spring and was set to report in October. They were positive and optimistic, and the government led them to believe they could believe in it.

It was incredibly collaborative effort. I mean, this is how consultation should be done and work should be done. It was collaborative between the government and the film industry leaders. And it wasn’t just about asking the government for money, but it was about how do you grow, how do you continue to support and grow an industry that has provided so much out-of-province investment, jobs to our skilled youth, and much to be proud of?

Then the report came out in October, and the film and television industry hoped for and expected action. They were told that they had to wait for the budget despite the fact the industry was asking for the immediate implementation of no-cost items, like enhancing the series incentive and simply restating the existing tax credit relative to how other jurisdictions are marketing theirs. They waited for the budget, Mr. Speaker, and this government didn’t deliver.

Manitoba, a similar province, spends about three times as much on their film agency as we do at SaskFilm. This includes equity and development funding. We didn’t see any sign of this in the budget despite the fact there should have been some savings from the privatization of SCN. There was about $3 million actually, Mr. Speaker, that could have been put back into the ministry to support arts and cultural organizations, including the Sask Arts Board, including SaskFilm, including more to the Heritage Foundation. This $3 million from SCN could have been rolled back into the same ministry, Mr. Speaker.

One of the things that the film industry is concerned about, last spring the ministry announced a Saskatchewan series incentive which waives the rent on our sound stage for a pilot for the first year of the series. This was great and it brought the film InSecurity here, but the film industry has been asking this government to enhance or expand this to other productions. This came out of the task force report that the government was an active participant in. It doesn’t cost a thing, particularly if the sound stage is sitting empty, which it is.
And I think that that leads to some concerns that this government is not supportive of the film and television industry and hasn’t been in this budget. And I know this is speculation and fear, but people are thinking that this sound stage is sitting empty so in a short year or two the government can say, oh well, that’s clearly an NDP white elephant, and let’s sell it to private investors. Whether or not that’s the case, that’s how people are feeling, Mr. Speaker.

The reality is the film and television industry saw five consecutive years of production values well over 60 million. Then the recession hit, and it tanked, and it hasn’t recovered. Last year’s production values dropped to 17 million, a 70 per cent drop, and are expected to be even lower this year. Other jurisdictions, including Manitoba, stepped up to the plate last year to support their film industry to help them remain competitive, and it has paid off in increased production, jobs, retaining skills and talent — all these things the government says it wants to do.

So this is not the budget that the film and television industry had hoped for. And quite contrary to this government’s stated desire to attract and retain skilled young people, this inaction means we’ll be losing more young people.

I just want to, I know my time’s coming to a close here, Mr. Speaker, but I just want to touch on the cultural and arts sector in general. So arts organizations all got a 1.5 per cent increase across the board. So the reality is, Mr. Speaker, everyone, all these organizations are getting squeezed. This 1.5 per cent increase basically covers off human resources obligations, increases in things like rents and other annual costs, and it isn’t really going to the organizations.

And we have to look to a government here who last spring announced a policy that they’re very proud of and one that we’d anticipate they’d put legs on it. That’s the Pride of Saskatchewan, Mr. Speaker, the first cultural policy they’ve said in 20 years that they’ve touted and seem to be very proud of. But this budget doesn’t seem to be putting legs to this policy, Mr. Speaker. Rather then you’re seeing a trend towards special, we’re all seeing a trend towards special initiatives. They’re going away from providing core service delivery in, again, that comprehensive way and going towards one-off initiatives.

Again for me, going back to my comments about the need for a vision, again this isn’t a big vision and a long-term plan that I see this government using or embarking upon with the arts sector. If you think, if this government thinks one-off programs are going to be enough to implement policy, we should be very afraid for our arts. So again overall funding to arts organizations in constant dollars is not keeping pace, and our arts and culture organizations are suffering, Mr. Speaker.

So winding down here, I’ve spoken a bit about housing, about health and safety care, and about some issues from Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport. I think that the thing that stands out for me about this budget is how could you have access to so much revenue, almost $11 billion, and manage to produce such an uninspired budget lacking overall policy vision? So for this reason, I will be supporting the amendment, and I will be voting against the budget. As well actually that’s not the only reason. I don’t believe that this budget addresses the needs of the people of Saskatoon Riversdale or the rest of the province. So again I will be supporting the amendment and will be voting against the budget. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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