With the Saskatchewan election in full swing, the leading contenders for government have finally unveiled their election platforms. These generally consist of a collection of promises to be paid by you, the taxpayer, if the given party wins the high office.
Political promises can be divided into two categories: benefits are realistic, achievable, and would likely provide a valuable service to society; the rest are, in varying degrees, either attempts to bribe the electorate with their own money, or simply needless, foolish or detrimental ideas.
For this exercise, I’ll first assess the NDP platform and then move on to the Sask Party. Note that I’m not going to discuss the overall affordability of these platforms in the aggregate (hint: we can’t afford either platform, but the NDP stretch their credibilty with their $3.1 billion in promises). I just want to look at each promise individually and see if they are a good idea on their own merit.
So, is each plank of the platform a BENEFIT, or a BRIBE?
PST rebate on construction materials for new houses priced under $280,000, and PST rebate on the first $10,000 in repairs to homes more than ten years old.
BRIBE: Pure bribe to first-time home owners. Unfortunately for them, this will help increase demand for starter homes in the province, and this limit the supply of homes under $280,000.
$20 million into co-operative and community organizations to buy land for housing.
BRIBE: While this seems like a good cause, land purchased for these organizations cannot be used by private developers to build their own properties, which puts a squeeze on the housing market.
$2,000 grant to first-time homebuyers to cover closing costs and other related expenses for homes purchased under $280,000.
BRIBE: Pure bribe, for reasons stated above.
Interest-free loans to co-operatives and community organizations building new housing stock.
BRIBE: Bad idea. Removes incentive for potential rental home developers.
Next-generation rent control.
BRIBE: Dumb, dumb, dumb. Removes incentive for new rental development, diminishes quality, reduces rental space.
$230 million to create 2,500 new public rental spaces, with 1,000 to accomodate students, and upgrade existing units.
BRIBE: Again, a disincentive to rental suite developers, and it messes with the housing market generally. The government should not be in the business of ghetto-creation.
$20 million as part of “Housing First” approach to “end homelessness”.
BRIBE: Nebulous, and will likely not end homelessness.
750 new subidized affordable assisted-living units.
BENEFIT: We have to take care of those requiring assisted-living.
$500 annual property-tax rebate to senior homeowners and renters.
BRIBE: This should be a deferral on property tax, not a full-on rebate.
Credit for Caring refundable tax credit of up to $1,000 annually to individuals providing care to elderly or disabled relatives.
BENEFIT: Likely to be abused, but again we have to look after those who need looking after.
Guaranteeing lowest-cost bundle of utilities in the country.
$24 million into physician recruitment.
BENEFIT: The government is essentially the sole provider of medical services, and until that changes, they are responsible to recruit doctors, which requires money.
Establishing Community Access Hospitals to help communities which face shortage of doctors to keep their hospitals open.
BENEFIT: Well, it’s a bribe to small-town Sask but again, if they want to be service providers, they have to provide services. It would carry more weight if the NDP hadn’t closed so many hospitals when they were in power.
Double the number of primary health care clinics over the next ten years.
BENEFIT: Same as above. However, practically speaking, they should call in help from the private sector to achieve this.
Funding surgical care centres in smaller cities.
BENEFIT: Good idea, provided these are private health centres.
Bringing chiropractic care back into covered health services.
BRIBE: Private health insurance should cover these services.
$6 million additional to target staffing in major trauma centres and regional emergency rooms.
BENEFIT: It would be nice if our health centres would do more to find costs within their budgets already to do this.
Increasing access to midwifery services.
BENEFIT: Midwifery is demanded by more and more parents-to-be. Should be covered under our medical insurance.
Children’s dental health program.
BRIBE: Unaffordable. There’s a reason this was taken out of our provincial health program years ago.
$2.5 million additional to increase number of speech and occupational therapists with publicly funded positions and expanded recruitment initiatives.
BENEFIT: If they’re needed, so be it, but wouldn’t a market-driven approach to these services be more efficient than making them simply campaign promises?
Additional $2.5 million to support children with autism, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other childhood disabilities.
BENEFIT: Fair enough.
Adding 750 new and replacement long-term beds over the next four years.
BENEFIT: Sounds a lot like Obama’s “created or saved X jobs” language, but we have an aging population. These are likely needed.
Increase access to respite care.
BENEFIT: Fair enough.
Refundable tax benefit of up to $1,000 for private special care homes.
BENEFIT: But also a bribe.
Funding for Alzheimer’s Society for eight First Link program co-ordinators.
BENEFIT: Why not? We’re promising everything else.
Additional $45 million over four years for community mental health services, and develop ten-year plan for mental health services, included the use of primary care teams.
BENEFIT: The more we can do to help with mental health services, the better.
Create and fund 40 new mental health services beds and 80 supportive-living unit beds.
BENEFIT: This is probably necessary.
Re-build mental health centre in North Battleford.
BENEFIT: Long overdue.
Changing and simplifying tax and royalty structure to make sure residents are getting “their fair share”.
BRIBE: Any changes to the royalty structure should be market-based, not politically motivated.
“Use It or Lose It” policy for forestry resource leases.
BENEFIT: Probably necessary, but should be market-based, not politically motivated.
Eliminate small business tax.
BRIBE: Seems like a benefit, and it is, except that it excludes all other businesses. Therefore, it’s a bribe.
Creating a Northern Economic Strategy.
BRIBE: Simply another slush fund for northern Sask likely to fail.
Working with businesses to provide on-the-job skills training programs for new jobs or where training is required to retain jobs.
BRIBE: Bribing small businesses. Training should be an investment by the industry or business to reflect market demands.
Increasing income payments to disabled citizens, starting with $200/month increase.
BENEFIT: Probably a good idea, but where does the $200/month figure come from? Is there an economic basis for this? Or is it an all-out bribe? Tough to say.
Doubling to $400/month the level of working income that recipients can keep while receiving assistance so that they can better transfer out of poverty.
BRIBE: Provides a disincentive to get off welfare.
Increase basis income supplement for low-income working familites by $100/month.
BRIBE: Same as above.
Setting a “fair minimum wage to bring it over the poverty line” and index to inflation.
BRIBE: Will increase unemployment, punish small business owners.
Repeal Bill 5.
BRIBE: Punish Sask taxpayers, non-union workers, and consumers to gain union support.
Repeal Bill 6 to remove barriers to form a union; Repeal Bill 43, which threatens rights to demonstrate or rally.
BRIBE: Same as above.
Repeal Bill 80.
BRIBE: Same as above, and reduces competition in the labour market.
Establish Social Economy and Co-operative Development Fund to provide start-up grants and expansion funding to our co-operative enterprises and community-based organizations.
BRIBE: Takes money out of the economy and build up a socialist slush fund.
Revamp crop insurance to provide more coverage options and extend coverage to more producers.
BRIBE: Crop insurance should be provided by the market, not the government. Regardless, any changes should be driven by the market rather than politics.
Support the Canadian Wheat Board.
BRIBE: For inefficient monopoly and against farmers’ property rights.
Negotiate Resource Revenue-Sharing arrangement with First Nations communities.
BRIBE: Bad idea for many, many reasons.
Honour our constitutional duty to consult and accommodate when making decisions that directly affect First Nations and Metis communities.
BENEFIT: Only a benefit as this is a promise to do what the Crown is constitutionally bound to do. There’s no reason this should be in an election platform.
Create Revitalizing Communities Fund to address improvements and repair water and sewage systems, municipal facilities and streets.
BRIBE: Would be a benefit if it were just left to general revenue to fund these initiatives. Has “slush fund” written all over it.
50% of Provincial Disaster Assistance Program payments paid up front; Provide mobile water remediation units to communities immediately after disaster; and Establish provincial disaster training facility.
BENEFIT: We should be better prepared to respond to disaster.
Develop long-term plan to make early learning and childcare program the best in the country.
BRIBE: While laudable, this is clearly a bribe to middle-class families, as you will see.
Add 10,000 new early and childcare spaces.
BRIBE: Government services crowding out the private sector.
Capping fees at licensed childcare facilities while ensuring they have funding necessary to provide high-quality service, and review current subsidies and income cut-off levels.
BRIBE: Supply-side economics at its finest. (Also, shouldn’t the review of current subsidies and income cut-off levels be done before they decide to cap fees?)
Create one-stop, online registry for licensed childcare services.
BRIBE: Actually, not a bad idea if they were a sole supplier of services, but as with all childcare services, this is a bribe to the middle class.
Refundable tax credit of up to $1,000 to families in which one parent is staying at home to take care of children three years and under.
Ensure children in care are truly protected with more and better-trained staff.
BRIBE: Great objective, but there’s no specifics on this.
Providing more financial and staff support to foster families.
BENEFIT: Better to err on the side of over-funding when it comes to supporting foster families.
Additional $1 million annually to community organizations providing support to new Canadians.
BRIBE: Pandering to ethnic communities.
$10 million over four years in recreation and fitness programs to ensure access is not limited by income.
BRIBE: How? By subsidies? Would low-income earners provide financial info to fitness centres in order to qualify?
Expand availability of nutritious food programs to children.
BRIBE: Paternalistic programming under the assumption that parent can’t feed their own kids, thank you very much Jamie Oliver.
Ensure wage equality through a plan with CBOs.
BRIBE: Again, no specifics, but likely to cost more with little benefit.
Introduce Seniors Bill of Rights to enshrine right to “age with dignity, access programs and services they need at a price they can afford, be able to remain in their communities and be protected from abuse and neglect.”
BRIBE: Expanding the scope of “positive” rights (as opposed to “negative” rights) to include the unobtainable and practically but though unevenly unenforceable.
Additional funding for senior centres to assist with operating costs.
BENEFIT: Seniors vote, so this is a bit of a bribe, but this notion has merit.
Implement “violence-elimination strategy”, including 40 new community policing stations, additional “community justice services and alternative measures programs”, $5 million toward gang-elimination strategy, and an additional $2 million annually for family violece outreach and additional safe accommodation.
BRIBE: Save for the final promise, this is an unobtainable goal with unrealistic means. Violence will never be eliminated, nor will gangs. We can do our best to mitigate both, but the strategy in itself seems far-fetched.
Additional staff and resources to fight child exploitation.
BENEFIT: Not sure exactly what this means, however. Are they talking about child porn?
Fund designated firefighter positions to help meet recommeneded safety standards.
BRIBE: Community fire-fighting is a municipal matter.
Extend cancer coverage currently provided to firefighters under Workers Comp to volunteer firefighters, and provide funding to municipalities to cover these costs.
BRIBE: I’m surprised Workers Comp covers cancer for firefighters, as our general health insurance should also cover this. In any case, it’s a bribe targeted toward municipal authorities and volunteer fire fighters.
Increase highways budget.
BENEFIT: Normally this would be a bribe, but Sask’s roads are still looking like garbage, especially in the north.
Establish “Safe Rural Roads Fund” to repair all secondary and grid roads.
BRIBE: What’s with all the “funds”? Rural roads should be earmarked in annual budgets, not in a separate fund.
Expand “our clean and renewable energy sources” to provide 50% of electricity by 2025.
BRIBE: Ridiculous notion to spend billions on inefficient energy sources, which will significantly destabilize our energy security while having no effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
Additional 400 MW of windpower by 2015 plus biomass, geothermal and solar power.
BRIBE: See above.
Develop low-impact hydroelectricity projects and biomass power plants in the north.
BRIBE: See above. Also, there’s no such thing as “low-impact hydroelectricity”. When you flood large sections of rivers, you’re going to have an impact.
Maintain grants to cover 35% of costs to install renewable electricity sources of up to $35,000; Increase solar hot-water system grants to $1,500; Introduce a new homeowner’s grant of $1,500 for solar energy space-heating systems; Increase payments to those feeding into the system, and provide buy-back rate incentives; and List 100 kW limit on installation size for new renewable energy projects to enable co-operative projects.
BRIBE: Huge, wasteful, useless bribe.
Double annual funds for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, funds for R&D, initiatives for conservation and consumption awareness.
BRIBE: See above.
Legislate emission-reduction targets to match 2007 Sask Energy And Climate Change Plan, including reducing emissions to 38% below current levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
BRIBE: See above.
Establish energy efficiency standards in new buildings and adust the Building Cod to legislate these standards in all commercial and residential construction.
BRIBE: Remember those millions to be invested in rental units above? Yeah, double it.
$20 million over four years to support community-based recycling initiatives.
BRIBE: Big bribe to those middle-class families who actually recycle.
Adjust land-use legislation to better protect wetlands and ther ecologically sensitive regions, and strengthen actionable environmental impact assessment legislation.
BRIBE: Saskatchewan’s NDP — killing industry since 1932.
Re-instate protection for 3.5 millon acres of habitat removed by current government.
Fund full-day kindergarten, expand pre-kindergarten education.
BRIBE: Bribing middle-class families.
Reverse cuts to educational assistants.
Improve access to technological and specialized learning for children with disabilities.
BENEFIT: Fine by me.
Provide additional resources for children still learning English.
BENEFIT: Such as?
Promote life-skills education within the K-12 curriculum including financial literacy, citizenship, nutrition and wellness classes.
BRIBE: Shouldn’t K-12 programs already be providing “life-skills education”?
$10 million over four years to increase number of aboriginal students graduating high school by 50%.
BRIBE: Because throwing money at that problem has done so much already.
Freeze post-secondary education tuition and regulate fees.
BRIBE: First, it’s not their mandate to set tuition or fees at PSE institutions. Second, tuition and fees aren’t the barriers to education; finding sufficient employment following graduation is.
Providing access to student loans to more students by increasing maximum-allowable family-income levels.
BRIBE: Hitting up the middle-class voter again.
Establish subsidy to offset extra financial demands on students who must relocate to attend PSE institutions.
BRIBE: Does this include all kids from small towns and other cities? This would be quite expensive and completely unnecessary.
Additional 100 graduate student bursaries to attract top graduate students.
BRIBE: Because the world needs more graduate students, especially those who don’t qualify for scholarships.
Extend income tax tuition rebates for post-grad students.
BRIBE: A strong economy wouldn’t have to bribe students to stay in the province.
$5 million over four years to offer more courses on First Nations reserves, in remote locations, and other areas where they are needed.
BENEFIT: To a point, however. How much education could $5 million provide in these places?
Additional $2.5 million annually to regional colleges.
BENEFIT: See above.
Enhance distance-learning infrastructure for online or televised classes.
BENEFIT: See above.
Expand and update training opportunities with a goal of creating 10,000 new spaces.
BRIBE: Seems like a laudable goal, but why 10,000? And who decides which spaces are needed?
Re-commit to balanced budgets.
Introduce long-term plan to pay down debt.
Report on summary financial statement basis so that all government finances are presented in an open and transparent manner.
BENEFIT: I think. (To be honest, I don’t know how this is different than the current budget reporting, although I gather it has something to do with the Crowns. Which should be privatized.)
Stop privatization of Crown corps and public services.
BRIBE: To stop privatization, we should at least start privatization.
Return focus of Crown corps to provide affordable services to residents.
BRIBE: Introducing residents to open markets would provide affordable services to residents. Just because utility or insurance rates might be kept lower, we pay for it through a lack of choice and subsidization of the Crowns.
Establish one-stop toll-free telephone line and making all online services more accessible to people with disabilities.
BENEFIT: I guess, but why just stop at making services more accessible for people with disabilities?
Create “Bright Futures Fund” to designate portion of royalites to benefit residents in the future.
BENEFIT: The other portion should go toward paying down the debt, after which all royalities should be invested in the fund.
The Sask Party promises were more difficult to track down than that of the NDP, and their platform document requires a serious editing job. They mixed up their promises with their track record, which makes sense as tehy are running on their record, but causes some difficulty when shifting through the 49-page document. Even so, in general they still provide a bit more detail on specific promises than the NDP’s plan, and they made a better effort to cost it.
Keep taxes low.
Keep natural resource rates [i.e., royalties] stable and encourage investment and job creation in resource industries.
BENEFIT: Good, although there’s some caution here as to how the government “encourages” investment and job creation.
Reduce red tape and barriers to growth through legislative accountability measures, public reporting and targets for red-tape reduction.
BENEFIT: Good, but would like some specifics. As in, define “red tape”.
Establish one-stop business portal to streamline government services for businesses.
BENEFIT: Is this reducing “red tape”?
Promote trade in key export markets.
BENEFIT: Good enough, but watch out for the excessive trade junkets.
$2.2 billion in highway and transportation infrastructure over four years.
BENEFIT: Which is what occurred during the past four years.
Build new power infrastructure, including new clean coal plant, and improve cellular and high-speed internet coverage.
BRIBE: With benefits. We need more power, but clean coal is unnecessary. They could also improve cellular and high-speed internet coverage by allowing for an open market for telecoms in the province (or, at least, encourage the feds to do so).
Invest in innovation, PSE institutions, and “knowledge economy.”
BENEFIT: Okay. How?
Support enhanced oil recovery research at U of R, and establish Institute of Global Food Security at U of S.
BRIBE/BENEFIT: Enhanaced oil recovery research should take place, but industry should take the lead on this. The other institute is likely needed, and it’s good it’s taking place in Saskatchewan, although again industry should take the lead.
Create more training opportunities, including improving education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Metis people.
BENEFIT: Again, benefit with a bit of bribe. Employment outcomes, no matter their ethnic background, should come through the private sector, at least primarily.
Grow Sask population through incentives for young people to stay and move to Sask, promote job opportunities in Sask, and attract new Canadians to Sask.
BRIBE: Monetary incentives are not necessary — if you allow for a strong economy, people will come. However, acting as an agent to attract people to the benefits of the province is part of the government’s role
Double wind power capacity by 2015.
BRIBE: I didn’t list off many old promises from commitments made in the past four years, but this one was special. Especially stupid, that is. Bad idea, Brad. Bad.
Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship of $500 annual scholarship (for up to four years) for any new high school grad toward Sask PSE institution.
BRIBE: This is a bribe.
Saskatchewan Advantage Grant for Education Savings of 10% of annual contribution to a child’s RESP account to a maximum of $250 annually.
BRIBE: This is a bribe.
Seniors Affordability Plan to increase almost $1,000 annually.
BRIBE: But probably a good idea. Still a bribe.
Seniors in Personal Care Home Benefit to give low-income seniors with over $3,000 annually beginning next year.
BRIBE: This money would be better off given directly to care homes to improve services.
Expand $150 annual Active Families Benefit to all children and youth under 18.
BRIBE: Huge bribe.
Expand PST exemption on children’s clothing to youth under 18.
BRIBE: Huge bribe.
A new $10,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.
BRIBE: Huge bribe.
Sask Advantage Housing Plan to create 4,600 housing units over the next five years.
BRIBE: Another example of government disincentivizing private sector investment. That said, part of this plan is meant to support Habitat for Humanity, which is a worthwhile charitable endeavor that does not impact the housing market as severely as other programs.
Reduce wait times for surgery to more than three months by 2014.
BENEFIT: Especially if they utilize private sector to remove some of this backlog.
Forgive up to $120,000 in student loans for doctors in rural or northern communities.
BENEFIT: Service providers need to provide an incentive.
Forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for nurses and nurse practitioners in rural or northern communities.
BENEFIT: Same as above.
Add 20 new training seats for nurse practitioners and expand their scope of practice.
BENEFIT: Same as above.
Expand pilot projects to increase the use of emergency medical technicians and mobile health services personnel in health care facilities while ensuring EMT is competetive across province.
BENEFIT: Same as above.
Launch STARS helicopter service.
BENEFIT: Absolutely. Terrific program.
Move long-acting insulin from exception drug status listing to full formulary listing.
BENEFIT: Why not?
Expand the Children’s Insulin Pump Program to people 25 years old and younger.
Increase autism services by $4 million over four years.
BENEFIT: Much needed.
Add new police officers, prosecutors, support staff and use GPS to reduce crime by high-risk violent offenders.
BENEFIT: Much more beneficial — or, at least achieveable — than the NDP’s “gang-elimination” strategy.
Support the PA Community Mobilization model and expand across the province.
BENEFIT: I think. I don’t know much about it, to be honest.
Continue to invest in K-12 education while improving student achievement.
BENEFIT: But weak, man. The education system should be doing this as a matter of course.
Create 2,000 new child care spaces.
BRIBE: Government stepping in where the private market should be.
Develop 25-year Sask Water Security Plan to ensure water resources are protected and managed.
BRIBE: Unless I see more details, this sounds nebulous and potentially far-reaching.
Additional $10 million over four years to build new campsites and improve park infrastructure.
BRIBE/BENEFIT: Have private firms bid to build and operate campsites, but other infratructure could be funded by the government. For now.
Annual $2,500 grant to make community indoor rinks more affordable.
BRIBE: Just another bribe to community officials.
Expand access to the Sask Assured Income for Disability program from 3,000 to 10,000 adults.
BENEFIT: Even if some abuse occurs, this is a worthwhile cause.
Increase monthly benefits for SAID persons.
BENEFIT: See above.
Work with disability organizations to recruit and retain front-line workers.
BENEFIT: But need more detail.
Deliver increased revenue sharing to municipalities equivalent to 1% PST, or $235 million next year, and establish infrastructure cost-sharing program with feds.
BRIBE: Pandering to municipal officials who cannot control their own spending.
Work with First Nations and Metis organizations to eliminate the current gaps in education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Metis people.
BRIBE: Not because this isn’t desirable, but the goal itself is nebulous and, frankly, potentially unattainable.
Continue to improve crop insurance programs and other services for farmers and ranchers.
BRIBE: Again, not that this isn’t worthwhile, but without specifics, it is pandering to the farm vote.
Continue to reduce debt and balance the budget.
Reduce civil service by 15% over four years.
Continue to support the Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act.
BRIBE: Results in inefficiencies, poor service, and continuing reduction in choice.
Keep utility Crowns publicly owned, keep rates low while improving service.
BRIBE: It’s not the smart thing to do — it’s the politically expedient thing to do.
Using my own count, the NDP made 98 promises, of which 34 would benefit the province while 64 were assessed to be bribes. The Sask Party, again, are campaigning on their record. They made 46 promises as far as I could gather, of which 24 would be beneficial while the remainder were bribes or, at least, partial bribes.
Neither party really astounded me with their platforms. That said, the NDP, who if elected would would add at least a quarter to our current operating budget, would be far and away the most detrimental to the province, both in terms of the amount of bad ideas as well as their relative number of bad ideas to good.
It should be said, however, that the Sask Party had less good ideas than the NDP. However, as they cost their platform to be about $400 million in additional spending, they are the least worst of the two main options considered.