The Liberal Platform
Posted May 23, 2017
The Liberal platform is essentially the same as the budget that was presented at the end of April, with the elements repackaged in partisan red. The budget was immediately followed by an election call so the details did not get much attention.
As such, it includes $1 billion of promised new spending, spread over four years. There are more than 60 different items. Most of them cost less than $2 million a year when fully developed: trails expansion for hikers ($1 million), sterner enforcement of maintenance orders ($.44 million), broadened school breakfast program ($1 million), opioids/addictions action plan ($1 million), and dozens of others.
Each is no doubt focused on a particular interest group, but taken altogether they don’t add up to a lot of money in a budget that exceeds $10 billion dollars a year. The provincial government spends more than $1.2 million every hour in every day of the year.
The big-ticket items include (annual cost in the fourth year shown in brackets)
- Enhancing rural internet ($14.5 million)
- Implementation of classroom conditions as recommended by the Council ($20 million).
- Phasing in pre-primary for four-year-old children ($49.4 million).
- New collaborative clinics for primary care ($34 million).
- More medical residents ($6.75 million).
- Increased income assistance for disadvantaged Nova Scotians ($20 million)
- Reduced taxes for small businesses ($14 million)
- Reduced taxes for individuals making up to $75,000 ($86.8 million).
Even with these promises, the Liberals can credibly forecast modest surpluses of less than $100 million. That is, in large measure because, of their past actions and future intentions on public sector wages embodied in Bill 75, the back-to-work legislation for the teachers.
That choice used up a lot of the political capital that the Liberals had accumulated, and is the most distinctive feature of their offering to the voters. Interestingly, there is not a word on the topic in the platform document.
Both the NDP and the Tories say they will repeal Bill 75, but neither includes a cost for larger wage settlements in its platform costing.
The NDP don’t deny that this will lead to larger settlements and add to the enormous deficits they are projecting.
PC leader Jamie Baillie says he supports the Liberal goal and that the teachers he talks to say the dispute is about working conditions, not salaries. To expect a new negotiation would not include wages is either naïve or disingenuous. The small deficits, already likely from their program, could balloon.
The Liberals understand the need for private sector-led growth. But, having used up their political courage on public sector wage settlements, they have been weak-kneed on any economic development opportunity that might offend someone.
They have banned fracking.
They say they want to spend $2.8 million a year developing aquaculture, yet they are continuing the five-year-old moratorium on new marine-based salmon developments, easily the best opportunity for growth in the sector.
Having belatedly given miners the promised relief on fuel taxes, they are investing a minuscule $1.5 million in related education and research.
Together with promises for innovation, export growth, and wine development these add up to $16.5 million per year, about three quarters of the annual handouts to the film industry.
That said, their film industry policy is less bad than the other two parties, who want to provide unlimited refundable tax credits. At least the Liberal system provides some transparency on where the film subsidies go, and gives the government the opportunity (so far not exercised) to limit the amount they spend.
In the same timorous vein, while supporting the move toward collaborative clinics the Liberals want to provide doctors practicing on their own with the flexibility to choose where and how they practice.
The Liberal and PC platforms are similar in many places, while the NDP is on another planet.
The PCs want to spend a little more on health and education and are likely to run small deficits, which will likely become much bigger if they follow their commitment to repeal Bill 75.
Even with their $1 billion worth of promises, the Liberals have a clear path to sustainable balanced budgets.
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