Erasing the province’s billion-dollar deficit will require bold moves, but a University of Saskatchewan professor says his solution is “a no brainer.”
U of S economist Eric Howe says improving the levels of education and employment for Indigenous people would boost the provincial economy by up to $90 billion dollars.
“The amounts are huge,” said Howe, who has authored two studies on the issue in recent years.
Such action could spark an economic boom for the province, one that would not be subject to the whims of global markets or commodity price fluctuations.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Howe said.
“It would require beefing up current programs and investing in new ones, but the payoff would be tremendous.”
According to Howe’s studies, a more educated and skilled Indigenous population would mean billions saved by the provincial justice, health and social services ministries.
Their increased earnings would also contribute to more spending and an expanded provincial tax base.
For example, a First Nations woman with a high school diploma earns hundreds of thousands more dollars over her career than one without.
If that same woman earns a degree or diploma, career earnings balloon even further.
“The more you learn, the more you earn,” he said.
Howe said it’s simply a matter of public and government will.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron agreed with Howe.
“We’ve been saying this for years. Let’s work together,” Cameron said.
Cameron said helping Indigenous people succeed will help everyone, and Howe’s numbers are proof.
Cameron gave his own example.
It costs $100,000 a year to imprison a First Nations person, but just a fraction of that amount to provide them with education and job training.
“Certainly, investing in education is far more efficient. It economically makes more sense to invest in education rather than incarceration,” Cameron said.
As a start, the provincial government should at least guarantee existing programs are safe from deficit cost-cutting.
Howe and Cameron said provincial government needs to take responsibility. But they said industry, the federal government, First Nations leaders and individuals must also play their part.