BY Jim Harding
This is the fifth in the Series “Up Against the Wall”.
Sask Party ads encourage us to not go back to the “bad times” of the NDP and as their lead narrows Wall may ramp up this narrative. Of course it’s always possible that the Sask Party doesn’t want us to look back because we might learn something about all of our governing parties.
Looking back is sometimes a good thing. Murray Mandryk is quite right that a Heritage Fund that saves resource revenues for a “rainy day” should be front and centre in this campaign. And he notes in his Feb. 26th column that the need for a Heritage Fund was raised by the NDP in the 2011 campaign.
Actually we have to go back a lot further, 45 years, to 1975, when Blakeney’s NDP created the first Heritage Fund. By 1981 this fund had $1 billion dollars in it. By the time Grant Devine’s Conservatives took power it was empty. In 1980-81, 56% of it was returned to the province’s Consolidated Fund, to help compensate for reduced federal transfers. More telling, 20% of it was spent propping-up the non-renewable industry; much of this went into the uranium industry. Only 0.3% was spent for renewable resources and environmental protection. Yes, less than 1%. (If you want details, see chapter 12 of my 1995 book “Social Policy and Social Justice”.)
Perhaps Cam Broten doesn’t want us to look back either. It is indisputable however, that had this NDP-created Fund been established as a truly public saving institution and a means to convert to a sustainable economy, Saskatchewan would be a very different place today.
Wall doesn’t want us to look back because it would show that his government also squandered economic advantages for political gain. Under his government, the provincial debt has mushroomed to the same size ($13 billion) that it was when the Romanow NDP took over from the bankrupt Grant Devine Conservatives.
After 2011 the Wall government did do some research into its version of a Heritage Fund. Its’ cautious Future’s Fund would have saved any resource revenue that exceeded the 5-year average. But as Mandryk points out, the Sask Party couldn’t even find the $100 million dollars as seed money for this Fund. Instead it had to borrow $700 million to fund infrastructure projects. This, on top of its $427 million dollar projected deficit for 2015-16, is a $1.2 billion deficit. This after a decade of bragging about the good-time boom years and moving Saskatchewan forward.!
The NDP has gotten some traction criticizing how Wall is spending its deficit. The $1.9 billion Regina Bypass project locks us into an expensive foreign-based P3; the land deals around the Global Transportation Hub are now being investigated; and the $1.5 billion spent on carbon capture and storage (CCS) was like throwing public money down the drain.
But the NDP doesn’t want us to look back too closely and find that it was their government that launched “clean coal”. Here the Wall government actually followed the Saskatchewan NDP down the wrong path, away from sustainability. It also did this with uranium and nuclear power.
Meanwhile Wall now stands almost alone in opposing a carbon tax. Even Reform Party founder Preston Manning now supports a carbon tax. Such a tax or levy could have created its own fund to help finance the conversion to a sustainable economy. Without a carbon tax the $1.5 billion that the Sask Party has spent on CCS has all come from the taxpayer and general revenue and has likely contributed to our accumulating debt. Meanwhile, under Wall’s Premiership Saskatchewan has earned the reputation as having the highest per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada and amongst the highest on the planet.
Cam Broten has had the opportunity to clearly distinguish his party from Wall’s backward-looking approach. So why hasn’t he made a carbon tax a central election issue? The fear of being labelled a “tax and spend” party is no excuse; a carbon tax would actually protect the average taxpayer as well as the environment.
Of course it’s important to talk about healthcare, long-term care and class sizes. But what about the big picture!
The dependence of our economy on toxic non-renewables, our continual squandering of resource revenues, our huge and inexcusable carbon footprint and the need to protect our environment and our watersheds, should all be at the centre of this campaign. Yet I looked at an NDP leaflet used for door-to-door campaigning in Regina and couldn’t find the word “environment” or “water”. Meanwhile, the Chinese state corporation Yancoal is full-speed ahead on a solution potash mine upstream from the Qu’Appelle Valley that could use 50% to 100% of the water used by Regina. This is not sustainable.
There is nothing in this NDP leaflet on the “climate crisis”; along with more extreme weather, this will become a water and food security crisis. One reason why the deficit and debt has grown so quickly under the Sask Party is because of ill-preparedness for flooding and forest fires, on the rise in large part due to unchecked carbon pollution.
Why is the NDP letting the Wall government off the hook on such crucial issues? If Cam Broten presented a real alternative, one embracing the vision of sustainability, he would increase voter turnout and increase his seats. And our province needs a stronger progressive opposition; otherwise we will all be “up against the wall”.