Which political party helps Saskatoon and Regina? Hint: it’s not Erin O’Toole’s

Election 2021 | Paul Dechene | September 17, 2021

If current polling can be trusted, the Conservative Party of Canada is on the edge of a come-from-behind victory in Sep. 20’s federal election.

Yay? I suppose, if you’re the sort who longs for a return to the true-blue days of Stephen Harper’s slash-and-burn economic policies. Because despite making noises about spending on this and that, CPC leader Erin O’Toole’s central election promise is to balance the budget within 10 years.

Just starting to recover from an economic recession caused by a global pandemic? Cleaning up from the first summer of an infinity of climate disasters? Nations of the world shifting away from the Prairie’s fossil fuel cash cow? Historically low interest rates you could leverage for massive investments in society?

Conservatives don’t care.

They’ve been beating the balanced budget drum for so long they can’t dance to any other rhythm. Even if the timing for their Stop-Spending Salsa is off.

Oh sure, O’Toole claims he’ll be able to achieve this ill-advised return to balance through economic growth. [1] There won’t be a single cut to services, he says. He’ll even throw in a GST holiday, tax credits aplenty and a tax panel with the goal of bringing down tax rates.

But remember when another right-wing brain-genius [2] claimed he could pay for a massive tax cut for his wealthy friends through economic growth? That didn’t work out so well, and the United States is still recovering from that misadventure.

Despite their reputation for being the parties of financial acumen, conservative economic policies the world over rarely live up to their billing. As a result, it always seems their quixotic quests after balanced budgets end up in the same place: austerity measures.

And the austerity is always aimed at the same targets: the poor, women, people of colour, students, the arts… everybody who can’t be relied upon to vote conservative, in other words.

Since budget balancing really took off in Canada in the 1980s and ’90s under both PC and Liberal governments, we’ve seen a massive shift of debt obligations downward from the federal government. Yes, the feds have done a wonderful job of balancing their books and even slashed the national debt for a while. But at the same time this was happening, we’ve seen provincial and municipal debt loads balloon. They’ve had to do all that borrowing if they wanted to maintain the infrastructure and services the federal government stopped supporting to achieve their budget-slashing priorities.

With Erin O’Toole at the helm of a minority government, we’ll once again start that race towards a zero deficit. And that puts in jeopardy so much of the infrastructure investment we’ve seen in Canadian communities over the last six years.

And here’s the thing: despite Scott Moe’s constant complaints about how hard done-by Saskatchewan has been under the Trudeau government, the truth is we’ve made out extremely well, with billions of dollars flowing into this province from federal coffers.

Let’s take a tour of some of the big-ticket items that Regina and Saskatoon have benefited from, shall we? [3]

Federal Investments in Regina

  • College Avenue Campus Renewal: $28,649,548
  • SaskPower Battery Energy Storage System (BESS): $13,114,675
  • Railyard Renewal Project: $11,222,507
  • Globe Theatre Revitalization: $10,831,697
  • Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant Electrical Capital Upgrade Project: $10,291,000
  • Transit Fleet Maintenance Facility: $9,716,666
  • Winnipeg Street Overpass Project: $9,600,000
  • Forcemain Upgrade to McCarthy Boulevard Pump Station: $7,500,000
  • Other transit improvements (including new buses and paratransit buses): $6,115,701
  • Wastewater and storm water collection system rehabilitation: $2,500,000
  • Landfill Gas Collection and Recovery System expansion: $1,300,000
  • TOTAL: $110,841,794

Federal Investments in Saskatoon

  • Collaborative Science Research Building: $29,012,692
  • Northeast Sector Evergreen Reservoir: $14,678,775
  • Wastewater Treatment Plant North 40 Forcemain Twinning: $12,680,000
  • Wastewater Treatment Plant Digester Tank: $9,500,000
  • Recovery Park improvements: $7,800,000
  • Spadina Lift Station: $7,200,000
  • Landfill Gas Expansion: $3,200,000
  • Children’s Discovery Museum: $3,000,000
  • Remai Modern construction: $2,249,886
  • Active Transportation Plan — Sidewalk Expansions: $2,000,000
  • Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan improvements: $1,000,000
  • TOTAL: $92,321,353

Emergency Relief

The lists above don’t include the millions that have streamed in to support affordable housing in both cities — investments that have been a huge help for low-income families and individuals who’ve been struggling through Canada’s housing crisis. These lists also leave out the massive amount of pandemic-related emergency spending we’ve seen in the last couple years.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates Saskatchewan has benefited to the tune of $8,109 per person through federal COVID relief funding, while Sask. businesses collected upwards of $1.6 billion in Canada Emergency Wage Subsidies.

In fact, while the provincial Saskatchewan Party likes to pretend it’s the defender of the little guy, the CCPA found that, of all the COVID-19-related funding spent in the province, 90 per cent has been federal dollars.

Who’s got your back in a crisis, eh? Surprise! It isn’t conservatives.

Money We’re Owed

Thing is, all this spending is long overdue.

For over a decade, cities across Canada have been ringing the alarm about their burgeoning infrastructure deficits. One of former-mayor Pat Fiacco’s signature achievements was to bring all these communities together at two national infrastructure summits at which they tried to figure out how to deal with that problem.

Many solutions were proposed but they always came back to the need for the federal government to recognize their responsibility to Canadian cities. Property taxes were maxed out and if municipal infrastructure was to recover, the feds had to start ponying up for housing, roads, recreation facilities and cultural infrastructure the way the kid with the deepest pockets and lion’s share of taxation power should.

And finally, a government came along and started spending on infrastructure in a way that previous governments hadn’t. Municipalities across the country started rebuilding their communities to be more liveable, more prosperous.

Sure, the federal government had to run big deficits to make this possible. But because they did, municipalities were able to start shrinking their infrastructure deficits.

With the risk of an anti-spending Conservative government looming, the rebuilding of the Canadian city could come to an end before it really took off.

I guess we should’ve enjoyed it more while it lasted.

[1] Fun fact: Reducing the deficit by growing the GDP is something the Conservative Party used to mock Trudeau for suggesting.

[2] You get that I’m talking about Donald Trump, right?

[3] These are by no means exhaustive lists.