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Throne Speech Debate (30 October 2006)

From Hansard - 30 October 2006

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Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’m certainly pleased to be able to reply to the Speech from the Throne, Mr. Speaker. And after what we just listened to, Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure whether I’ll be quite as energetic and quite as boisterous as the member opposite, but I know the member opposite always enjoys these debates and certainly livens this place up, Mr. Speaker.

But I think perhaps for a bit we’ll try and bring a bit of reason, Mr. Speaker, to this debate and perhaps put some real comments, legitimate comments, on the record rather than a lot of political rhetoric, Mr. Speaker, although we may have to indulge in a bit of that.

First of all, Mr. Speaker, I would certainly like to congratulate our youngest, our newest colleague, our youngest and newest colleague, the member from Weyburn-Big Muddy for the great speech that he gave this afternoon in the Assembly. It was certainly a . . . he set the bar high for future members, Mr. Speaker. And if that’s an indication of what’s to come from this young member, I think we are in for a lot of good things, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, before I get into the text of the Throne Speech, I thought I would like to make a few comments on the Minister of Finance’s announcement on Friday of the cut to the sales tax, Mr. Speaker. I looked at some of the headlines and articles in the papers from the weekend, and there’s a couple that caught my eye, Mr. Speaker.

One, the editorial page of The StarPhoenix headline is, “Sales tax cut cynical ploy.” And they go on to talk about how desperate this government must be to come up with a 2 per cent sales tax at this time when as late as last spring’s budget they said they couldn’t afford it and they weren’t going there. And the Finance minister talked about and was questioned during the summer months about a cut to the PST [provincial sales tax], and he at that time had indicated he had no intention of doing that. In fact I understand that the Premier two weeks ago didn’t even know that his government was going to be doing this, and here at the 11th hour they try to pull a rabbit out of the hat, Mr. Speaker.

But the other article that caught my attention is again in The StarPhoenix. It’s a column by Randy Burton, and the headline is “Tax cut signals NDP panic.” And I think, Mr. Speaker, that’s exactly what this tax cut is.

In the last six months, Mr. Speaker, there’s been a couple of polls taken that are public. One is a regional poll, Mr. Speaker. It occurred near the end of June, and it occurred in the Weyburn-Big Muddy constituency, Mr. Speaker, when this government, this NDP [New Democratic Party] government opposite, finished third in the polls, Mr. Speaker. I think my colleague made reference to it earlier this afternoon. I think we could aptly call this 2 per cent tax cut as the Weyburn-Big Muddy tax cut. And so if that in fact is the case, Mr. Speaker, I think the people of this province should look forward to another cut in the PST or perhaps some other tax cut, and we’re going to call that the Martensville tax cut, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, as columnist Randy Burton has pointed out, this is nothing more than a government that’s in desperation mode. He asks some very legitimate questions in his column. He says, did the Minister of Finance and this government look at other options that perhaps would be more beneficial to the overall economy? Did they do any analysis on spending a similar amount of money in cutting property taxes? And I would guess, Mr. Speaker, that the answer is no. I think they looked at the simple political fact that more people pay PST than pay property taxes, and so that’s what they were going with, Mr. Speaker.

When I look at this year’s Throne Speech, I thought a Throne Speech is a government’s vision for the next year. So in order to judge this year’s Throne Speech, I thought I should go back and look at last year’s and particularly in the environment area because we hear many times about . . . these people across the way are the defenders of our environment. They’re the green party in Saskatchewan. Well there is a real Green Party that actually does have a real grasp on environmental issues and is putting forward some credible environmental policies, Mr. Speaker, but these people prop themselves up and pretend that they’re the protectors of the environment.

So what did they say, Mr. Speaker, in last year’s Throne Speech, comments pertaining to the environment? Well he talked about a green strategy. They’re going to be bringing forward their green strategy. Well they underwent a year and a half or two years of work which culminated in a series of public meetings around the provinces on various issues dealing with the environment. In last year’s Throne Speech, they said they were going to be rolling this green strategy out. Well has anybody seen it yet? No. The answer is no. When I asked the Minister of the Environment this spring, in the spring sitting, where they are with their green strategy, well he said he hoped it’s going to be coming forward. Was it even mentioned in this year’s Throne Speech? No, not a word, Mr. Speaker, not a word.

Last year’s Throne Speech, they talked about a climate change package. So they’re going to develop this climate change package to deal with a number of issues, and the biggest one of course is greenhouse gas emissions. Was there mention of it this year? Not a word, Mr. Speaker. Again they prop themselves up as the protector of the environment, and yet when it comes to bringing some concrete plans forward, we see nothing.

So what are some other organizations that are knowledgeable in this area have to say about this government, Mr. Speaker? Well just recently the David Suzuki Foundation issued their 2006 report, and it’s the 2006 Status Report of Provincial Climate Change Plans. So what does that report say about Saskatchewan? Well I’ll read you what it says, Mr. Speaker. It says Saskatchewan remains the Canadian jurisdiction with the fastest growing greenhouse gas emissions and the highest per capita emissions in Canada of some 62 per cent above 1990 levels — 62 per cent above 1990 levels. We’re the highest per capita jurisdiction in Canada. And is there a plan? In bold print, Mr. Speaker, “No climate change plan . . .” These people have no climate change plan. Yet they’re the protectors of the environment, and they’re going to make all these good things happen in the environmental field, Mr. Speaker.

So what have they got? Well the Suzuki people say Saskatchewan doesn’t have a plan, but they merely have a perspective. Well what does that mean, a perspective? Well they have some sort of an idea that maybe climate change is something that should be addressed, and maybe someday we may do something about it. Well, Mr. Speaker, I don’t think that’s good enough. I don’t think the people of this province think it’s good enough.

But in order to compare what’s happening in Saskatchewan, see how we measure up . . . I mean the people have already told us, but what do they say about other provinces? Well let’s have a look. Let’s have a look, Mr. Speaker, what the same report says about Manitoba. It says Manitoba, our neighbouring province — governed by an NDP party — what are they saying? What are they doing? They have “A reasonably strong climate change plan . . .” Manitoba has “A reasonably strong climate change plan . . .”

What has Saskatchewan got? Nothing. They go on to say that Manitoba’s plan is possibly the most ambitious or their 2002 plan was probably one of the most ambitious in Canada. I believe in this year’s report Quebec came out with a new plan, and I believe they’re rated as probably the strongest plan.

Well what about that neighbour to the west of us? You know the ones that the people across the way don’t really like that much and perhaps they’re fairly envious of? What do they say about Alberta, Mr. Speaker? Well they say that at least Alberta has a plan. These people aren’t entirely happy with the plan, but they do have a plan. And they say, interestingly enough, one of the strengths is that it’s “A promise to buy 90 % of government power from renewable resources.” The Alberta government has made that promise. What do we hear? Have we heard anything similar from these people? Not a word, Mr. Speaker. Not a word.

So, Mr. Speaker, when we look at how Saskatchewan stacks up to our neighbours out to the East and the West, I’m afraid we don’t stack up very well, Mr. Speaker.

So we heard last year that they’re going to work on this climate change plan and address this whole area of climate change. They don’t even mention it this year because they haven’t got any idea of how to really go about it I would think, Mr. Speaker.

One other thing — so last year what else did they say? They talked about the forestry sector, and they’re going to work with the industry to capture new opportunities. Well I wonder how’s that going for them, Mr. Speaker. How’s that going for them? Ask the people of Hudson Bay and Carrot River how it’s going for them. I think the people there are saying don’t help us; please stop helping us because, if you help us, we’re going to lose more mills. I think that’s what’s happening, Mr. Speaker.

This year though, they said, well we’re determined to continue to help. So the forestry operation that we do have, that’s still operating in this province, I’m guessing . . . I hope I’m wrong, but I’m guessing by the end of this year or at the very earliest, longest, the middle of next year, we may not have a forestry industry left if these people continue to work the way they are, Mr. Speaker.

So then what was the . . . What else did they say in last year’s Throne Speech in the environment area? They talked about agroforestry. And you know what they said they’re going to do, Mr. Speaker? They’re going to convert, over 20 years, they’re going to convert 10 per cent of all of Saskatchewan’s arable land to agroforestry. And this year they said, well we’re going to enhance our plan.

Well let’s see how they’re doing. Ten per cent of Saskatchewan’s arable land is somewhere over 3 million acres. So how are they doing, Mr. Speaker, with this agroforestry plan of theirs? Well I haven’t got the latest numbers, but I’m guessing if they’ve got 2,000 acres in agroforestry we’re doing real well.

So how long is that going to take? If we’re going to convert about 3 million acres, and if we’ve only got 2,000 acres over the last couple of years, we’re somewhere about five ten-thousandths of a per cent along our way. So we’re really moving down the road here. I mean we’re, you know, I think perhaps we’ll see the next ice age before we see their plan in effect, Mr. Speaker.

So, Mr. Speaker, one other thing. The Throne Speech talked a little bit about agriculture and talked a bit about highways. And highways, Mr. Speaker, is one thing in my constituency that is a very controversial issue. And I should tell you what this government has done to some of the highways in my constituency, particularly Highway 22 between the junctions of No. 6 and No. 20. This is a chunk of highway . . . We’ve got a grain terminal there. It’s used by many producers to deliver their grain. There’s heavy traffic on that chunk of highway, Mr. Speaker. It’s been in a state of disrepair for the last six or seven or eight years.

And what’s the answer? What is their answer, Mr. Speaker? The people of the area have been asking that this government does something about this highway. And so for six years they haven’t done anything, you know. But finally this summer they did something. You know what they did, Mr. Speaker? They turned it back to gravel. That’s their answer. A busy highway where you have 40 semis a day, perhaps, crossing that highway. And I’m not exaggerating because the majority of grain deliveries to the terminal situated along that highway come in from over that . . . from the west, over that stretch of highway.

On hot summer days I’ve been over that highway in the middle of the day. There’s so much dust there that you’d think you’re in a snowstorm. It’s an unsafe highway. School buses travel that highway. People of Earl Grey are fearful that we don’t have a tragic accident because of the unsafe driving conditions.

Within the last three weeks, Mr. Speaker, there’s been a couple of very serious accidents. Luckily no one was killed. One of the accidents an individual, because of the dust and the heavy traffic, lost control, spun off into the ditch, hit a power pole, and the communities in the areas were without power for several hours, Mr. Speaker. That’s the answer that these people have for highways.

Another highway in my constituency, 310, between Balcarres and Ituna, the people of that area have been asking of this government to do something about it for many years. That highway extends on up to Foam Lake so we . . . I think that highway’s been in the news enough that I don’t need to describe the condition of it.

What is the answer of this government? Well we’re not going to fix it unless local governments pony up and put some money into helping fix the highway. It seems to me, isn’t that a provincial government’s responsibility, to provide the infrastructure so that people can travel safely, children can come to school, that business can do what they need to do, Mr. Speaker?

But no. What do they do? They say no, we’re not going to do anything unless you folks put some money into it. And so what they’ve effectively done is they’ve pitted council members one against another within councils. They’ve pitted one RM [rural municipality] council against another, Mr. Speaker. They’ve created hard feelings within the area, and then even if the area begrudgingly says, well I guess this is the only way we’re going to get our highway fixed . . . And one RM led the way. They didn’t agree with it but they felt this was the only option they had. They’re levying an extra mill a year for five years to help fix this highway.

Even after all of that, what are they told? Well okay, we may look at the highway. We may fix a couple of kilometres a year. It’ll take another 14 years to do 30 kilometres or some such thing, Mr. Speaker. By the time they get one end of it done, the other end will be wore out, Mr. Speaker.

And that’s the direction of this government, Mr. Speaker. But to top it all off, Mr. Speaker — as I mentioned we’ve got an RM that’s levying one mill per year for five years to help fix the highway — what do these people who are digging deeper into their pockets to not only look after their municipal needs but now help fix a highway, what do they see in their newspapers in their mailboxes, Mr. Speaker?

Look, Mr. Speaker. Can you imagine? Can you imagine, Mr. Speaker? Can you imagine $300,000 spent on an ad campaign? That $300,000 could have been put into fixing highways, Mr. Speaker, but no, they launched off on an imaginary ad campaign that, at the end of the day, is it going to help? I don’t think so, Mr. Speaker. In their document they say, they explain that the way equalization works and that the . . . there’s a formula that works on the basis of a province’s ability to raise its own revenues. And then what do we do because of political desperation? They weaken that position, Mr. Speaker.

So, Mr. Speaker, for all those reasons that I’ve outlined, Mr. Speaker, I certainly cannot support the main motion and I certainly will be voting for the amendment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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