Saskatchewan throne speech focuses on affordability measures

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province is to provide tax relief for the construction of new homes and make it easier for people to build rental suites in a bid to address affordability.

Moe, speaking ahead of the Saskatchewan Party government's throne speech on Wednesday, said the province plans to rebate 42 per cent of the provincial sales tax for the construction of a new home.

It also plans to introduce a program that would help homeowners build rental suites within their primary residence. The dollars would be offered through a grants accessible online.

"We want to do what we can to help those that are aspiring to home ownership and to augment, in fairness, some of the federal programs that have been brought forward," Moe said.

Saskatchewan, like other provinces, has seen average rental prices increase due to higher demand and lower vacancy rates.

The premier said the government chose not to expand the rebate to all construction due to the cost to government revenues.

"We had a look at where the most significant need is in the province. Is it rental properties? And I will say that there is a need for that, but what we have found, significantly, is actually in the home ownership space," he said.

Moe added that other affordability measures, such as a break on the gas tax or other rebates, also have costs.

"We need to be prudent with the dollars because fiscal accountability and balancing the books here is certainly a priority for this government," he said.

Moe said the province plans to introduce a program that would provide "financial incentives" to low-income families.

The Opposition NDP said the province's plan is underwhelming.

Leader Carla Beck said three long-term care homes are closing in Regina, but the government is not doing anything to keep them.

Beck said the province is also not offering anything innovative to address health-care pressures, such as long wait times in emergency rooms and for surgeries.

"I didn't see a plan, I didn't see a vision, I didn't see any recognition of the very real challenges and concerns that are out there," she told reporters.

"We see more self congratulations, platitudes, and pointing to (former premier) Brad Wall's record. I understand why he might not want to point to his own record, but the government needed to show some contrition and needed to show they had some plan."

Moe said the province plans to hire more staff and build more health centres to address long wait times.

The province has also announced a new mental health plan that aims to add 500 addiction treatment spaces.

"My government will not be supplying illicit drugs through our publicly funded health-care system," read the throne speech.

Randy Goulden, president of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, said cities have been asking the province to help address mental health and addictions issues.

"We were pleased to hear some of the initiatives around that," she said. "We very much want to hear some of the beds that have been spoken about."

Last week, the province passed a bill that prevents children from changing their names or pronouns at school without parental consent.

"Today, you don't even hear the premier mention it," Beck said. "They say one thing, and if it doesn't work, they distract and divide."

Moe said the pronoun issue wasn't included in the speech because the issue has been dealt with.

Moe also plans to continue his fight with Ottawa over environmental policies he says would hamper the province's economy.

The premier intends to use the Saskatchewan First Act, passed in the spring, to study how Ottawa's clean electricity regulations, clean fuel standard and proposed emissions cap could affect the provincial economy.

The province's Economic Impact Assessment Tribunal is to analyze the policies. Moe has pledged Saskatchewan's electricity grid can get to net-zero generation by 2050, but not meet Ottawa's proposed target of 2035.

"It makes no sense, especially at a time that our national government should be promoting Canadian oil and gas as a reliable and environmentally sustainable option to countries facing shortages," read the throne speech.

Moe said Saskatchewan has a lot to offer during a time where there's global uncertainty.

"When you're buying your Shreddies and your Quaker Oats, you should make sure that they were produced in Saskatchewan," he said.

The government plans to introduce four bills this fall, including one that would raise the legal age from 18 to 19 for vaping and smoking.

Another bill would give people the right to wear poppies at work to mark Remembrance Day.

The province also plans to expand cancer coverage for firefighters under workers' compensation, as well as relieve human trafficking victims of negative credit incurred through coercion.

Saskatchewan's next election is scheduled for next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press