Saskatchewan forges ahead with infrastructure upgrade plan

The city of Saskatoon.



REGINA -- While federal NDP infrastructure critic Olivia Chow denies advocating the idea of a new 1% sales tax to pay for municipal infrastructure improvements, Saskatchewan already has an upgrade plan in place.

The province's rapid population growth has created a huge demand for new and improved infrastructure, which is part of the reason the government created the "Saskatchewan Plan for Growth."

Unveiled last month, the plan includes a commitment to spend $2.5 billion over the next three years improving infrastructure and highways, without creating new taxes.

"We are looking at other ways to deal with the infrastructure demands and we certainly have them in our province, but there are many other ways other than just increasing taxes," Minister Responsible for Highways and Infrastructure Don McMorris said.

To keep its promise, the government will make infrastructure funding a priority during future budgeting processes, which could mean making cuts to other programs and services.

The plan also includes the creation of a new Crown corporation, SaskBuilds, to finance new, innovative infrastructure projects through public, private partnerships.

And $150 million will be transferred from the Growth and Financial Security Fund into SaskBuilds so work can start right away.

While economist Jason Childs said raising taxes to improve the nation's infrastructure is an interesting idea, the proposal is flawed.

"The single biggest hole in this whole proposal is the federal government doesn't have the authority to grant municipalities the right to collect a sales tax - municipalities exist as creatures of the provinces, not of the federal government," Childs said. "It has got to be in negotiations with the provinces and it's not obvious that the provinces are willing to cede that tax room to municipalities."

As for Saskatchewan's stand on those types of negotiations, McMorris said, "Absolutely not."

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