Monday, January 16, 2012

New book critiques Wall policies

By David Hutton
The Star Phoenix
January 13, 2012

Saskatchewan’s economic momentum will dissipate if the provincial government doesn’t install stronger public policies geared toward social problems, a number of University of Saskatchewan professors argue in a new book.

The book — New Directions in Saskatchewan Public Policy — is the first academic critique of Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government, analyzing and suggesting solutions in areas of immigration, taxation, climate change, urban affairs, poverty reduction, labour, aboriginal affairs, and health.

“The government is riding the economic boom and not making social investments,” said University of Saskatchewan political studies professor David McGrane, the book’s editor, at a campus press conference Friday.

“The government needs to invest in social infrastructure to create long-term benefits. Good public policy is needed to ensure our economic prosperity continues beyond what may be a short-term economic boom.”

In his chapter, McGrane argues the Saskatchewan Party government should hold the line on taxes and install a carbon tax and a harmonization of the federal and provincial sales tax that provides rebates.

Thus far, the Wall government has rejected the idea of installing a harmonized sales tax, which has caused political turmoil in British Columbia, where it was voted down in a referendum last summer. The tax shifts a portion of the burden from businesses to consumers and imposes a tax on many items that weren’t previously subject to PST.

McGrane said it could be installed alongside rebates for low-income people.

“If you’re going to do it in Saskatchewan, do it now and you’ll have four years to sell it to people,” he said.

Ryan Walker, a professor of urban planning, focused his critique on urban growth and the province’s sprawling cities. Walker said the provincial government could play a lead role in how the province’s big cities, Saskatoon and Regina, develop through a provincial growth management strategy. The time is now, during a period of fast growth, to tackle the issue, Walker said.

The major cities are currently sprawling at an unsustainable pace, he said.

“One of the problems is if we don’t focus on how we’re growing we could end up with an enormous tax bill,” Walker said.

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