While Harper is gone, his provincial equivalent continues to rule Saskatchewan. With Saskatchewan’s provincial election on April 4, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party are setting themselves apart as the party that openly represents business interests.
Shortly after the Paris attacks, Premier Brad Wall sent Trudeau a fear-mongering open letter warning about Syrian refugees. Worried about losing Big Oil’s interest in Saskatchewan since the drop in oil prices, the Wall has propagandized a false choice between jobs and the environment. When confronted with hunger strikes after his government made the choice to privatize food services at correctional centres with a company known for its dismal human rights records, he said, “if you don’t like the food, don’t go to jail.” Faced with an increasing population with growing health care needs, Wall attacks our public health care system by allowing pay-for-profit MRI scans in Saskatchewan, and opening the doors to a private plasma donor company paying people to donate blood.
So Brad Wall envisions a society where low-income people sell their blood in order to scrape by, and the rich can jump queues to get their health care. A society that regresses to forms of torture when imprisoned, and a society that allows oil companies to break treaty rights while destroying our environment so the 1% can continue to make billions.
Since forming government in 2007, Wall and the Saskatchewan Party has lowered corporate tax rates from 17 to 12 per cent. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan's royalty rates on resources like oil are now lower than many other oil-producing areas such as Alberta, North Dakota, even Texas. The tax cuts and low royalty rates, in conjunction with low oil prices, has resulted in tough times in Saskatchewan. Rather than adopting progressive tax strategies and royalty rates, the Wall government's attachment to conservative ideology has led it to make up the revenue shortfall by raising tuition fees, privatizing, and making cuts to programs and services.
Health care workers have reported that since the privatization of laundry services, blood-stained laundry is being returned as “clean.” What does that say about the government’s regard for the safety of health care users and their health care providers? What about the hundreds of good, unionized jobs that were lost to an out-of-province corporation, and having them replaced by low-wage jobs?
The MRI and CT scans are being supported by the rhetoric of “choice” yet this is a false rhetoric that only benefits the rich. Health care should be improved in a means that helps everyone and that ensures those with the most need are served first, not those with bigger wallets.
We hear privatization is the solution when faced with problems, yet as Chomsky aptly points out: “that’s the standard technique of privatization: defend, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” It is ironic to hear Wall defend his private CT scan policy: when asked questions around privatizing health care, Wall argued that the debate should move “past ideology” and toward results. Has privatizing MRI scans helped decrease wait times in Alberta? Absolutely not – their wait times are 3 times longer than in Saskatchewan. If the government was willing to provide adequate funding, more scans could be done by the public, including the just-opened scanner at the new Moose Jaw hospital. However, this new facility is only operating at partial capacity – why is that? The Wall government has made a decision to neglect public health care in favour of private – they do not want to put funding where it’s needed most. So where is the money going?
Education has faced cuts and defunding: a report with the CCPA found that this sector was underfunded by nearly $2.4 billion had it been matched to the percentage of provincial GDP, a funding initiative that had been met by previous governments.
Since 2010, we have seen hundreds of cuts to Educational Assistants as more than half of the province’s school boards have had to cut these positions, due to funding. At the same time, Saskatchewan’s population has grown, including the number of children. Class sizes and workloads have increased dramatically in recent years, but that education funding has not kept up. While the Sask Party tout numbers during the election, suggesting they are spending more money on education than any previous government, have they not considered the amount that must be adjusted due to increased needs and population?
During the election, privatization has been a large focus. Beyond health care, the Saskatchewan Party government announced last fall that, if re-elected, it will privatize 40 of its 75 liquor stores and add 12 new private outlets in various communities. They support this initiative by suggesting it will allow more selection and cheaper prices. What they fail to mention is that over the past five years Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming has paid the province about $230 million a year in profits from liquor sales. That amount is enough to run both Heartland Health Region and Cypress Health Region for a year, and is about what the Ministry of Education grants each year to K-12 schools in Saskatoon. And where will the private profits end up? In the hands of the few.
The Sask Party is particularly supportive of public-private partnerships (P3s). Over the past several years, this government has either signed or is in the process of signing these long-term contracts in long-term care facilities, roads and schools. We’ve seen the extra billion dollars that the Regina bypass has cost us as a P3 – not only that, but the company that was given this contract, Vinci, has a history of blacklisting employees who speak out on safety violations.
Saskatchewan is not learning from other provincial mistakes: the Auditor General of Ontario reported in 2014 that 74 P3s in Ontario were not cheaper than traditional procurement, were often delays, and did not transfer risk to the private partner. Most recently, a report by the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy examined P3s and found that: "The clearest advantage that (P3s) offers is to politicians, who are able to transfer to private partners the risks of miscalculated construction costs and revenue projections...For taxpayers, the deals can often work out worse than if the government had simply pursued a fixed-price design-build Public Sector Alternative (PSA) arrangement." It is clear that these decisinos are purely ideological, and do not benefit the working class.
And despite numerous denials, the Wall government has sold our Crowns like the 2012 privatization of Saskatchewan Information Services Corporation (ISC). ISC saw over $22 million in profits in 2015 – instead of going back into the public, this profitability is now lost amongst private hands.
In a true conflict of interest, the Wall government has created a government agency, Sask Builds. This Board consists of three Cabinet ministers and two SaskParty MLAs. SaskBuilds is in a conflict of interest because of its mandate to promote the use of P3; it can therefore not be trusted to impartially evaluate P3 projects. What is more, the government has steadily added to the SaskBuilds budget – in fact, the budget of Saskatchewan's P3 promotion agency has grown faster than the combined budgets of two key government watchdogs, the Saskatchewan Ombudsman and the Auditor.
With the P3 project of the carbon capture plant, SNC-Lavalin has the contract—a scandal-plagued company known for its corrupted business practices. This project has also solidified Saskatchewan’s dependence on coal. Known to be the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, Wall continues to support this high pollutant. While the U.S. and China have begun to shift away from coal-powered plants—Ontario has already banned the use of coal for power—why would the Wall government want to pursue a dying sector that is so unhealthy for us? On a global scale, utility companies are decisively moving towards renewables; but instead, the Sask Party has secured the fossil fuel electrical generation for many years to come.
Wall has propped himself up as the voice for oil and coal throughout Canada, suggesting that he is standing up for workers in this sector. Yet this sector is not focused on meeting the needs of workers, communities or the environment; it’s about maximizing the profits of big corporations. Out of the top earning 50 companies is the world, 19 of them are fossil fuel based companies. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives completed a study which found that a five-billion-dollar pipeline resulted in mostly short-term construction jobs, while permanent jobs are few due to the capital intensive nature of these industries.
What we’re seeing today are mass layoffs. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta lost 52,800 jobs in 2015 and Saskatchewan came second, with a loss of 6,800 jobs. At the same time, Saskatchewan has the potential to be a Canadian mecca for renewable energies due to its solar and wind resources. What is more, the green economy produces 6 to 8 times as many jobs if invested in clean energy and efficiency - and we’re already seeing this start to happen. Canada already employs more people in renewable energy than in the oilsands. In the US, there are more people working in solar energy alone than in coal. Cleantech now accounts for over 11 per cent of Germany’s thriving economy, and continues to grow.
The Sask Party’s opposition is the NDP, but they seem set on repeating the same mistakes that cost the federal NDP the election. In the federal election the NDP led the polls when campaigning on a $15 minimum wage and universal child care, and declined when campaigning to “balance the budget.” When we look to the US, Bernie Sanders has reflected movements for $15 minimum wage, free tuition and universal health care.
The Saskatchewan NDP have proposed a number of good policies, such as the elimination of provincial student loans, a Housing First strategy and has promised to stop privatization. Yet their climate change initiatives do not contain any progressive taxations on high polluters. The NDP policy around the minimum wage is not enough to meet the growing cost of living, either: a goal of $13.25 by 2018 is not enough.
It is clear that movements will be the force in pushing politicians to make progressive policies – what is also clear, is that Brad Wall and the Sask Party are the last to listen.
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