REGINA — A good crop helped the Saskatchewan government finish the last fiscal year with a deficit almost $400 million smaller than initially forecast.
The province finished 2017-18 spending $303 million more than it took in. But that's $393 million better than what was projected in last year's budget.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said Thursday that a good harvest resulted in lower crop insurance claims. The government had a $429 million decrease in expenses primarily due to a year-over-year reduction in farmer payouts.
“It is definitely a good position that we're in from the last budget, however, there's a lot of things that are very unpredictable in budgets,” Harpauer said. “Budgets include a lot of entities and what strengthened last year's budget, quite frankly, was largely crop insurance.”
The increase in provincial sales tax to six per cent from five per cent meant the government took in $808 million more in PST revenue compared to a year earlier. But that was $36 million lower than the budget forecast.
“That has worked obviously quite well in helping us get back to balance and making our fiscal situation much stronger,” Harpauer said.
Oil and gas revenue contributed $657 million — an increase of $85 million over the previous year, but lower than forecast in the budget. Potash revenue totalled $309 million — up $68 million from a year earlier and $48 million higher than the budget forecast.
Opposition NDP critic Trent Wotherspoon noted the PST hike hit families hard.
“They may look at the short term and think they're collecting some more revenue there, but what they're doing is they're hurting our economy, they're creating job loss,” Wotherspoon said.
Harpauer said her government is on track to return the province to a balanced budget by 2019-20. The new budget released in April projects a deficit of $365 million this year and a thin surplus of $6 million in 2019-20.
Harpauer wasn't prepared to update the deficit outlook for this year and said there's concern with Wednesday's announcement that the U.S. Department of Commerce is launching a national security investigation looking into uranium imports.
Canada produced 14 kilotonnes of the ore in 2016, and all of that came from Saskatchewan.
“This is part of the uncertainty that is with every budget,” Harpauer said. “And this particular budget that we're in now, trade is a huge concern for our government and our province because we're a trade reliant province.”
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