The Progressive Conservative Platform
Posted May 16, 2017
Jamie Baillie released his commendably detailed plan on May 11th, a week ahead of the other two parties.
The similarities to the Liberal budget are more numerous than the differences. The discussion below is based on the document and a subsequent discussion with Baillie.
(1) Infrastructure: The platform promises spending of $1 billion over ten years on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, and efforts to maximize federal matching. It is not possible to know whether this is less than, equal to, or more than what was contained in the Liberal budget. His plans for twinned highways are slightly greater on one of the affected highways.
(2) Economic Development: Baillie wants to replace NSBI’s payroll rebate program with an income tax reduction from 16% to 10% for large employers who add to their provincial payroll. The reduction would apply to the increase in profits concurrent with the increase in employment.
This would be less expensive than the current program—and the low tax rate might encourage employers who have the choice to cause more of their taxable income to be in Nova Scotia.
It could be attractive to big banks and domestic insurance companies, and telecom operators, but might leave out valued employers such as Admiral Insurance which provides service from Nova Scotia to customers in the United Kingdom.
This is an interesting idea, but there are a lot of kinks to be worked out.
Baillie is willing to consider resource developments in onshore oil and gas, and marine based salmon aquaculture if there is support from the affected communities, which he would encourage through revenue sharing.
This is better than the other two parties who want to obstruct wealth-producing opportunities from our natural resources.
He wants to spend $124 million over four years on film tax credits, an amount vastly higher than any tax revenue that might be produced for the government, and which has no chance of producing a self-sustaining industry.
(3) Health Care: The $120 million for health care initiatives is a little less than the film subsidies. Like the other parties this would fund more doctors, nurses, and primary care facilities; the PCs have a special emphasis on mental health.
Baillie thinks the administration of the health authority needs thinning, and he wants to review the plans for replacing services provided at the Victoria General.
The PCs will freeze Pharmacare premiums for seniors but do not provide for any cost in their budget.
(4) Public Sector Unions: Baillie’s plan depends heavily on achieving the same financial package with the unions that the Liberals have stipulated.
He nevertheless plans to repeal Bill 75, which legislated the teachers back to work. He says that the teachers he talks to want to negotiate on working conditions, not wages.
That is far from certain. If he reopens negotiations why wouldn’t they want to talk about pay? His plan risks a rerun of the work-to-rule job action. Will he then give up on the financial terms or introduce new back-to-work legislation?
(5) Taxes: The platform promises the same tax reductions over four years as the Liberals, worth $56 million for small business and $277 million for low and middle income earners.
Baillie disagrees with the carbon tax and will not implement one. The consequence is purely cosmetic. The federal government has said that it will if the province does not, and will give the money to the province.
(6) Balanced Budget?: The Liberal Budget forecast a surplus $179 million over four years. Baillie will use all of that, plus spend the same $54 million on gravel roads and rural internet as the Liberals, but which the platform does not count as an expense.
The big differences are $36 million for film incentives, a variety of initiatives on health care adding $85 million, $32 million for vocational training, and $14 million to revive the graduate retention rebate.
Baillie wants the universities to move their tuitions down to the national average. Moving the provincial contribution to universities up to the national average would cost $16 million per year, which is not in his calculations.
The plan as described is likely to run small deficits.
Summary: The PC plan is most distinctive on economic development. The new approach to employment incentives is worth investigating and they are the only party willing to engage with important resource industry opportunities.
Promises on roads, internet, and tax reductions are almost identical to the Liberal budget.
There is more money than the Liberals for education initiatives.
There are small differences in health care spending, with the Tories giving more resources to mental health.
Small deficits are likely.
The proposal to repeal the teachers’ back-to-work legislation is a bad idea. It risks sparking a new period of labour-relations tension and potential job action. At best it would result in new collective bargaining on working conditions, which is likely to be slower and less constructive than the process already underway.
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