Friday, April 09, 2010

On interprovincial policy

Erin's latest deserves some followup on a couple of points. But before dealing with the specific topic of royalties, it's worth asking more generally how much Saskatchewan should focus on trying to coordinate policy of any kind with with other provinces.

It's easy enough to say that to the extent a policy is worth implementing in Saskatchewan, it's equally worth coordinating with other provinces to make sure the benefits are more widely applied. And that may be a particularly compelling point when it comes to setting matching tax or royalty rates in order to avoid a race to the bottom.

But there are a couple of concerns that I've dealt with mostly in the context of the TILMA which are worth pointing out based on their broader application.

The most basic is that the essence of interprovincial agreements in their current form is to limit each province's ability to make future decisions for itself based on the direction of voters. And while I'm particularly concerned about that limitation when it comes to the ability to formulate social policy, it seems to me to be no less problematic based on which choices are being restricted.

Mind you, this concern can be minimized if a province merely sets an internal policy of matching policies with the provinces around it, rather than seeking binding agreements. But that in turn eliminates any ability to hold other provinces to any standards.

The second main question I'd have with the concept of interprovincial coordination is that of the development of provincial niches. While I'm obviously not a fan of the decades-long race to the bottom when it comes to corporate responsibility, I'm not sure that one size fits all is necessarily the right outcome either. And indeed I'd figure that a mix of provinces including different types of regulatory, tax and royalty models (while working to limit any truly frivolous variations) could well lead to a broader base of economic development than a system where the factors affecting business decisions are increasingly uniform across the country.

So without getting into the nuts and bolts of tax policy for now, I'll offer up the question for discussion: should we be primarily looking to develop an economic model to be implemented across provincial boundaries in the near future, or working on developing a distinctive niche for Saskatchewan?

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