Reaction continues to pour in from northern and Aboriginal stakeholders over Wednesday’s provincial budget – some bad and some good.
Athabasca MLA Buckley Belanger says he fears job cuts could be coming to northern Saskatchewan from what he sees in the budget.
Belanger says the forest fire program is a key concern.
Numbers in the budget show a $3.2 million decrease in forest fire operations.
The NDP MLA says at this point it is not clear what the government intends to do.
“That is the biggest thing that I am worried about is to make sure is that what happens in these budgets, they give us the public document to say for example how many more positions they want to cut,” he says. “But they are not specific to what the cuts are and what the positions are.”
He says he should know more about potential cuts in the coming days.
Belanger adds there’s also no sign of any new highway projects in the north, housing programs or a plan to address health care needs.
The Athabasca MLA says this is inexcusable when you look at the resource wealth being taken out of northern Saskatchewan.
The chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says he also has concerns with the budget.
Perry Bellegarde says it does little to address the high unemployment rate and poverty among the province’s First Nations people.
He is also highly critical of government efforts to find foreign workers to fill jobs.
“You find a balance between bringing in the immigrants,” he says. “Why take a plane to Ireland? Why not take a bus to Little Black Bear? The fastest growing segment of Saskatchewan’s population are Indigenous peoples. So invest in that segment, that’s the key thing.”
The FSIN chief did have some praise for the budget however.
Bellegarde welcomes the $3 million the government has set aside to fund recommendations of a joint task force on Aboriginal education and employment.
The report will be released next month.
He also welcomes funding for new job training programs but he says overall the budget falls flat.
Bellegarde says work must begin now so that next year’s budget has some real measures to help Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal community.
University of Saskatchewan professor Dave McGrane says the provincial government should hardly be touting this budget as a great one for Aboriginal people.
The 2013 budget does add about $11 million to Indigenous programming but it also takes away money in key areas such as close to $1 million from Treaty Land Entitlement allocations and over half a million dollars from an Aboriginal consultation fund.
McGrane says the Sask Party government puts the sole focus for Aboriginal people in this budget on jobs and training and it is unclear whether it has really put in enough dollars in to achieve this goal.
“There is a lot of emphasis around Aboriginal education, getting Aboriginals ready to enter the workforce,” he says. “However, we are talking only about $4.5 million spread out over two or three years here. So, this is really a drop in the bucket in terms of what people like Eric Howe have been saying and what really needs to be done to increase Aboriginal education in the province and ensure they become a full part of the workforce.”
The budget also takes about $1.1 million out of money targeted toward Aboriginal post-secondary initiatives for a loss of a little over five per cent.
However, it does increase funding to First Nations people is in the amount of money it transfers as part of the gaming agreements which saw a $6.1 million increase or nine per cent.
Nevertheless, the vice president of an Aboriginal trucking company in the north is welcoming the government’s move to change the royalty structure for uranium mining.
Dave McIlmoyl runs Northern Resource Trucking, which is 70% Aboriginal-owned — and about 30% of its workers are Indigenous.
He says the change to the uranium royalty structure is the boost his industry needs.
“The change to the royalty structure I think is very positive,” he says. “Any time you can make the northern uranium industry more competitive it attracts more investment to northern Saskatchewan, it means more jobs, more training, more infrastructure in the north and that’s what the north needs.”
The CEO of Athabasca Basin Development also believes a change to the uranium royalty structure will spur economic growth in the north.
Geoff Gay says Saskatchewan used to have the number one uranium industry in the world but has slipped to second in the last number of years largely because of a cumbersome royalty structure.
He says he is confident the changes will lead to new mines and expansion.
“The north has a lot of demands and there is always going to be need for more infrastructure for communities,” he says. “But from a business standpoint, we are hopeful that the focus on the north continues.”
The mayor of Pinehouse is also giving the budget a thumbs up.
Mike Natomagan calls it a positive and progressive budget that takes the concerns of the north into consideration.
He says he likes the fact there is more money for job training and education and the changes to the uranium mining royalty structure.
“Absolutely, there is a little bit of everything – more so I like the fact that it is encouraging companies to investigate in the north, see what’s out there, because we have a very young population in the north and we need to do something with that.”