Saskatchewan Economy Minister Bill Boyd promoted the provincial government's recently released Saskatchewan Plan for Growth during a luncheon hosted by the Estevan Chamber of Commerce on October 26.
Boyd highlighted many of the plan's planks, including: attaining a population of 1.2 million by 2020, reducing to the small business tax to 10 per cent; continuing to balance the budget; eliminating $400 million in debt by 2017; decreasing the provincial drop-out rate; changing student evaluation practices; addressing the skilled labour shortage; attracting more immigrants; engaging First Nations people; and encouraging the development of the natural resources and agriculture sectors.
Fiscal responsibility, with balanced budgets and debt reduction, would be the foundation of the plan, Boyd said.
“When we are going around the world, and we are talking to companies about investing in Saskatchewan, and adding to their existing investment, one of the first things that they ask you right away …. is, of course about taxation levels, but then they also want to know about the debt levels in your province,” said Boyd.
The skilled labour shortage is also an issue, he said. If the province is to reach 1.2 million people in a little more than seven years, there will have to be at least 60,000 more skilled workers in the province.
Boyd said a program would be created to train farm workers. They're now working with large and very expensive equipment, and Boyd believes there needs to be a training program for the advanced technology used on modern farms.
“Not everybody wants a trade, not everybody wants to go through a university education, but certainly I think there is a good opportunity in that area in agriculture for the farms of today and tomorrow for the young people of Saskatchewan,” said Boyd.
They will also work with the federal government on Saskatchewan's immigration needs, he said.
The province needs to be more aggressive in terms of innovation to take advantage of the opportunities created by agriculture, oil and gas, and mining, he said. Saskatchewan is a trading province. The vast majority of the province's products are being shipped around the world, so it's incumbent for the province to promote the province globally.
The Growth Plan calls for exports to double in the next few years.
"We've seen significant growth in that export market already," said Boyd. "We're seeing very significant growth in the oil production here in Saskatchewan. Going forward, we expect that will continue to grow. In the area of agriculture, we've seen significant exports."
Forty bushels an acre was, at one time, considered a bumper crop. Now it's not unusual to have at least 50 or 60 bushels an acre.
Mining is also expected to generate a lot more in terms of exports.
Once the province has paid down its debt, a Heritage Fund will be established to ensure that future generations enjoy the benefits of the resource sector. Former University of Saskatchewan president Peter MacKinnon has been picked to manage the fund.
Boyd said they still have to finalize many of the fund's details.
"We still have a fairly significant amount of debt here in the province," said Boyd. "We have paid down 44 per cent, but clearly we have more to go."
He does expect that they will be able to pay down debt at a greater clip than the $400 million called for in the growth plan, especially if the economy grows, and if they enjoy growth in potash that they're expecting.