by Phil Ambroziak

Proponents of a new long-term care facility in Meadow Lake will have to wait at least another year before shovels hit the ground.

The provincial government tabled its 2016-17 budget yesterday afternoon (June 1) and absent from the document is any form of funding for the new Northland Pioneers Lodge. This is the second year in a row Prairie North Regional Health Authority officials have been disappointed by the province’s decision to keep the project on the back burner.

“Unfortunately, it is true the budget for the coming year does not contain funding approval to proceed with the development of the new Northland Pioneers Lodge,” stated PNRHA executive director David Fan. “It is too bad because this project was essentially put on hold last year because of a similar situation where the province was facing some significant financial issues.”

Fan, however, said he is not surprised by the news, or lack thereof, because he anticipated provincial spending would remain tight again this year.

“Given the challenges the province is facing, it stands to reason why this hasn’t received the green light to go to tender,” he noted. “At the same time, however, I remain optimistic this government is committed to the project, something we started working on back in 2009.”

According to finance minister Kevin Doherty, the budget is designed to keep Saskatchewan strong by controlling operational spending and investing in people and infrastructure. It contains no tax increases and no new taxes.

“By keeping taxes low, controlling spending and investing in much needed infrastructure projects like highways, schools and hospitals, we will help Saskatchewan’s economy through a difficult year,” Doherty said.

Saskatchewan’s economy is expected to rebound in 2017, with GDP growth predicted to be 2.5 per cent following an expected 0.6 per cent decline in 2016. The budget forecasts total revenue of $14.02 billion and total expense of $14.46 billion for a projected deficit of about $434 million. This is largely due to a drop of nearly a billion dollars in non-renewable resource revenue.

While the province does intend to spend $71.4 million on health care capital this year, projects include a power plant upgrade at Saskatoon Royal University Hospital, electrical renewal projects at Regina’s General and Pasqua hospitals, completion of construction at the Kelvington Integrated Care Facility in addition to increased capital maintenance.

“The government clearly has significant challenges as it relates to revenue,” remarked Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison. “We made the decision, and not lightly, not to fund any new long-term care projects this year. It’s not just Meadow Lake.”

Harrison went on to say, however, the delay now provides those involved with the project more time to go over details and ensure everything is right before construction begins.

Fan, meanwhile, is asking his staff and the community to continue to provide their support through fundraising endeavours.

“This project will proceed, hopefully by next year when the government has managed to turn things around,” Fan said.

With an estimated price tag of close to $40 million, the new long-term care facility will be funded 80 per cent by the province while the additional 20 per cent will come from the city and the RM of Meadow Lake.