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Nova Scotia tax breaks borrow from Common Book of Corporate Prayer

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Photo: Taber Andrew Bain/flickr

We shouldn't be surprised.

Not after federal finance minister Joe Oliver last week made the case -- without embarrassment -- Ottawa didn't need to do an independent analysis of the cost-benefits of a $550 million tax credit for small business because the self-interested lobby group Canadian Federation of Independent Business told him it was a good idea.

The CFIB's -- ahem -- analysis concluded the tax break would create "25,000 person years" of employment. The Parliamentary budget officer -- an independent spending watchdog -- crunched the numbers and countered with just 800 jobs over two years.

"We don't do analysis on every expenditure," Oliver said, batting away opposition questions.

And so it is in Nova Scotia where the McNeil government last week released "Charting a Path for Growth: Nova Scotia Tax and Regulatory Review," a commissioned report by former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Laurel Broten.

Broten begins, predictably enough, with the "inescapable" facts: aging population, stagnant economy, spending too much, taking in too little.

Her recommendations are sweeping: "flat-lining total program spending at today's levels over the next five years," imposing a carbon tax, eliminating HST exemptions for everything from heating oil to children's diapers, raising personal income tax exemptions while reducing top end personal and corporate income tax rates…

While Broten appears to have read deeply, there is no reference anywhere to progressive voices like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that don't sing from the Common Book of Corporate Prayer.

Worse, there is nothing but the most rotely predictable, unsubstantiated analysis of the impact, say, of reducing income taxes for those who earn over $150,000 a year. Will "rewarding risk-takers, dreamers, doers and builders" really boost entrepreneurship and investment, or just fund more winter golfing vacations?

And what about the notion of freezing all program expenditures for five years to eliminate the deficit to… reduce top personal income and corporate taxes.

How many key public services would be eliminated? How many public sector jobs would be lost? How many jobs in the private sector, which depend on spending by those in the public sector, would disappear too? How would that chart a path for growth?

None of that is addressed in this report. We shouldn't be surprised.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Taber Andrew Bain/flickr

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