Saskatchewan deficit jumps; government points to potash, oil price drops

REGINA – Low resource prices are being blamed for a big jump in Saskatchewan’s deficit last year.

The final, audited numbers for the fiscal year that ended in March show a deficit of $675 million — a big change from the $107-million surplus the government originally predicted.

Finance Minister Kevin Doherty says the deficit is due almost entirely to falling oil and potash prices.

“Obviously the price of oil and the price of potash and the volatility in the Canadian dollar continue to affect the province’s finances and slow down our economy,” Doherty said Friday. “We acknowledge that. We recognize that both in the last fiscal year and what we’re forecasting this fiscal year.”

Doherty also said the province was counting on receiving federal assistance for wildfire costs before the end of the fiscal year, but that didn’t happen.

When changes in provincial pension obligations are added in, the deficit totals $1.5 billion.

The falling resource prices prompted Standard and Poor’s to downgrade Saskatchewan’s credit rating last month, to double-A plus from triple-A.

Doherty said the province will continue to work toward returning the province to a balance budget in 2017-18, but he added that can be a fine line to walk.

He said he believes people understand the impact of less resource revenue on the Saskatchewan’s finances, but he’s also hearing that they don’t want government funding cut and they don’t like deficits.

“They understand what’s going on here, but they don’t want to see their government doing anything crazy. They don’t want to see us massively slash programs. They don’t want to see us jack up taxes considerably to try to meet a balanced budget.”

— With files from CKRM