Mayor Clark leads resistance against provincial austerity

By in Opinions

In response to substantial cuts to provincial funding for the City of Saskatoon, announced in the 2017-18 provincial budget, Mayor Charlie Clark and City Council are taking a stand. Facing the effects of similar cuts to education, students will benefit especially from Clark’s leadership.

The most significant financial challenge for the city is the elimination of grants-in-lieu, which affects municipally owned utility revenues for provincial Crown corporations — like SaskPower and SaskEnergy.

This funding reduction from the provincial government — totalling $11.4 million per year after 2017 — came as a surprise to the city, which had already released its operating budget in December. Sadly, Saskatoon is hardly the only one suffering as a result of the 2017-18 provincial budget, with cuts to municipalities across the province.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and City Council plan to take action against cuts.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and City Council plan to take action against cuts.

For students at the University of Saskatchewan, the budget cuts will be felt acutely. The Meewasin Valley Authority had its provincial funding reduced by $409,000 — nearly half of last year’s contribution. While we might not immediately think of the MVA as providing a service for students, the riverbanks are an integral part of the city, and reductions in funding put this beautiful ecosystem at risk.

Further, by May 31, the provincial government will fully eliminate the Saskatchewan Transport Company, which provides long-distance bus services throughout the province. For students who live outside of Saskatoon and do not own a car or do not wish to drive, the STC served a major function in getting home to visit family and friends at a reasonable — and yes, provincially subsidized — cost.

Similarly, the Saskatoon Public Library has lost 100 per cent of its provincial funding, making it entirely reliant on municipal revenue for its operation.

Still more worrisome for students is the province’s 5.6 per cent reduction in funding to the U of S, and its demand that the university allocate an additional $20 million to the College of Medicine. In conjunction with other reductions in provincially funded services for students and the suspension of the First Time Homebuyers’ Tax Credit, tough times lie ahead.

Certainly, the provincial government must find a way out of a deficit created through over-reliance on resource revenue and overly optimistic economic forecasting. However, students, municipalities, post-secondary institutes and public-service employees should not be the ones shouldering the burden, while corporate tax rates are simultaneously reduced.

This uneven application of austerity, combined with the provincial government’s preposterous lack of consultation and communication with those whose funding they have stripped away, has done much to create adversaries at a time when the province needs co-operation more than ever.

At the very least, we do have someone speaking out and defending our interests. In the face of Premier Brad Wall’s very rich encouragement to dip into reserves and spend more responsibly, Clark has taken a hard line and made it clear that the citizens of Saskatoon should not be disproportionately responsible for remedying the provincial government’s financial mismanagement.

Rather than meekly accepting the cuts, Clark and City Council are pursuing other avenues, such as court injunctions to restore the GIL funding and levy market-price municipal property taxes on provincially owned infrastructure, like schools and Crown corporation buildings.

In the wake of an austerity budget, which students at the U of S will feel the brunt of, we might take a lesson from Clark and the City Council in how we respond. Complacency and apathy often preclude us from acting when changes are small. Though many will be adversely affected, the 2017-18 budget may at least spurn on some action on the part of the student body, to fight for their own interests.

Jack Fotheringham

Photo: J.C. Balicanta Narag