SASKATOON -- Saskatchewan’s economy could return to “normal” by the end of 2020, according to the Dean of the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business Keith Willoughby. 

But that, he says, will depend heavily on what unfolds following May 4 and May 19; the start dates for phases one and two of the province’s Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.

“[If] the incident rate remains low and the impact continues to be relatively stabilized as we’ve seen it here in Saskatchewan, I’d be thinking later on this calendar year, towards the fall, we could start seeing much more in terms of the normal that we enjoy,” he said.

Willoughby believes the lower population density of Saskatchewan, combined with fewer cases of COVID-19, have made the province “a real test case for the rest of the country” when it comes to loosening restrictions surrounding the virus and seeing how the economy responds.

“As you see the restrictions [loosen], and then when you combine that with consumer confidence, I think those will be the bellwether signals for us as an economy in this province and country,” he said.

But Willoughby admits, it’s difficult to predict how the economy will respond coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard to look back and see where we could draw a line of reference,” he said. “It’s wider than say SARS in 2003, it’s different in terms of the 9/11 impact in the early part of the 21st century, it’s different from the 2008 housing meltdown and things that happened there.”

“Mike Tyson the boxer says 'Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.' and if you think of all of the plans that we’ve had, this is an atypical series of events,” he said. 

“It will definitely now create that impact on that scenario by which governments can test their policies and make decisions that they feel are for the best interest of their citizens.”

Willoughby believes the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy could be felt for years to come, and may affect Canadians through taxes.

“The governments, provincially and federally, have done a lot of work trying to restore confidence through different support programs, obviously that’s going to add to our debt load,” he said. “There will have to be decisions made as far as how that debt is going to be carried. Somebody’s going to have to pay for this.”

Those aren’t the only big decisions looming for the provincial and federal governments, Willoughby says, in the process of getting the economy back on track.

“The balance between public safety and economic viability,” said Willoughby, could prove to be a challenge. 

“Weigh it too heavily on public safety, you’re going to curtail economic viability, and there are hundreds, thousands lives and jobs that are going to be impacted. On the other hand, there are people that say if you don’t address public safety, then this thing gets rampant, and people die.”

Board chair of the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce Chris Sicotte believes that Saskatchewan businesses can rebound from COVID-19.

“I really do think that Saskatchewan people, Saskatchewan citizens, we’re the type that are going to be able to recover from this,” he said, adding that it will be the responsibility of consumers to make sure local businesses are able to profit coming out of the pandemic.

“We need to make sure that, as consumers, that we’re also supporting those businesses as well, locally, so that once those restrictions are lifted we’re continuing to utilizethe services of those merchants, of those businesses, of those agencies locally. Because that’s the only way that everybody’s going to be able to survive through this.”