While it is a running joke that we have been living in the month of March for the past year, Premier Scott Moe’s comments on the upcoming budget seemed almost determined to transport us back there.
Faced with reporters’ questions over the government’s decision to jettison its election promise to balance the budget by 2024, the premier cited the “variability of revenue numbers” for throwing the government off track.
Recall that almost one year ago the premier was forced to shelve the full budget and his promise to bring the budget back to balance in 2020 after the emerging pandemic forced the premier to admit its revenue predictions “really aren’t relevant today” and would be “very, very unpredictable” in the coming months.
Six months later, during the provincial election, it seemed those revenue numbers were predictable enough for the premier to promise a balanced budget by 2024. When asked about the very real possibility of those projections being undermined by the ongoing pandemic, Premier Moe stated: “We are confident of the numbers we have put forward to the people of this province.”
Indeed, Premier Moe seemed so confident with those numbers that he criticized the opposition for its refusal to set a firm date to balance the budget due to the unpredictability of the numbers, calling the NDP plan “nonsense.”
By late November, a month after their election victory and prior to the second wave of the pandemic, the government was once again confident enough in its numbers for the Finance Minister to reiterate its promise to balance the budget by 2024.
Of course we all know what happened in the following months, as the second wave of the pandemic overwhelmed health care systems and forced increased restrictions on commerce around the world.
Who could have predicted that a pandemic would be so unpredictable?
Once again, Premier Moe has had to rescind his promise to balance the budget, due to the unpredictability of the numbers. And in the irony of ironies, Premier Moe has now adopted NDP leader’s Ryan Meili’s position on the deficit—finally conceding that the unpredictability of government finances during a global pandemic means a fixed date to balance the budget isn’t really a promise that should even be made.
Indeed, to artificially constrain the fiscal measures a government can take during the greatest public health crisis in a century through arbitrary dates to balance the budget should have never been cast as the “responsible” position that the premier thought it was.
It was always painting Saskatchewan into a corner and now even the premier finally admits, it’s left too little room to maneuver when it matters most.