Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer, left, delivers her budget speech at the Legislative Building in Regina on Monday, June 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

Second pandemic budget in Saskatchewan as COVID-19 variants hit hard

REGINA — Saskatchewan is set to table its budget today outlining how the province plans to manage the continued spread of COVID-19 in the coming year.

Premier Scott Moe has said the novel coronavirus and uncertainty around revenues means the government is unlikely to be able to eliminate its projected $2-billion deficit by 2024.

Moe made that promise during the campaign for last October’s general election in which the Saskatchewan Party won its fourth straight majority.

That was followed by a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the fall and winter that led to capacity restrictions for restaurants and retailers.

The 2021-22 spending plan comes as Regina and surrounding communities battle a spread of more infectious virus strains that has resulted in the shutdown of in-person dining at restaurants and indoor event venues.

The province has been offering emergency payments to small businesses hurt by its public-health orders since last December.

Although the budget will be the first presented since Moe was reelected premier, it’s his government’s second spending plan tabled during a pandemic.

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union is urging the province to do more, including wage top-ups, to support front-line workers in the pandemic.

Acting president Roseann Strelezki says in a statement that most of the financial support provided to workers has come from the federal government, and she believes the province has room to spend.

The budget reveal is the start of an eight-week spring sitting of the legislature.

The number of members in the assembly will be restricted to fall in line with COVID-19 distancing rules.

The 48 Saskatchewan Party representatives and 13 Opposition NDP members are also being asked to stay put in Regina because of a travel advisory in place for the capital.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2021

The Canadian Press

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