Health remains the largest expense in the provincial budget, accounting for nearly $5 billion.
Yet the provincial government insists on saying “no” to a new CT scan for St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan, even though the highly sought-after machine could be brought to Estevan without costing provincial taxpayers a dime.
Estevan's case for a CT scan soared in credibility last year, when it was revealed that the local health committee has secured enough funding to not only purchase the machine, but operate it initially. Some would classify it as too good to be true, but it's very, very real.
All the provincial government had to do was say yes, sign the necessary paperwork, send out the self-promotional press release and silence the biggest medical equipment need of a city.
We understand that the government is skittish about this proposed project. After all, critics will say it's going to scream privatized health care or a private-public partnership (P3). Those critics have been sounding the “medi-scare” alarm bells about the Saskatchewan Party for 15 years.
Others would rip the government because it's giving St. Joseph's a CT scan based on its ability to purchase and operate the technology, and not because it needs such a device.
But those critics would fail to understand, or admit, that the Sun Country Health Region doesn't have a CT scan; that St. Joseph's is a highly logical location for such a machine; and that the southeast region accounts for much of the $1.6 billion in oil royalty revenues going to the provincial government this year.
Despite all the money coming to the southeast, the government won't authorize much-needed medical equipment that won't cost them anything in the short-term. The only cost will be the time that Health Minister Dustin Duncan has to spend warding off privatization conspiracy theorists.
There's good news in the budget. Grading will occur on Estevan's truck route. The day in which heavy trucks are rerouted around Estevan is getting closer.
The government reaffirmed its commitment to twinning Highways 39 and 6 from Regina to Bienfait. Pre-construction work will happen this year.
And the government has finally decided to bring all of its expenditure reporting together, instead of separating it into operating and Crown corporation expenses. Balanced budgets are about to have a little more credibility.
There are the typical budget goodies, with money for health care, education, highways, infrastructure, municipalities and other vital services, although this budget is high on restraint, and low on new spending. Economic growth is projected to be 2.2 per cent, which is a relatively modest number for post-boom Saskatchewan.
But until Estevan gets its CT scan, a budget should get an incomplete grade from local residents.