Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston believes he's found a way to raise wages for lower earners in Nova Scotia while also boosting business retention and growth.
With all signs pointing to a looming provincial election call by the governing Liberals, Houston made his party's first economic-themed announcement on Monday, the so-called better paycheque guarantee.
The program would allow corporations to get back 50 per cent of what they pay in corporate taxes to use as a subsidy the following year with the condition the money go to employees. The plan is targeted at "working families," so the Tories would exclude the top 20 per cent of a company's earners from qualifying.
"The corporations of this province will have a choice," Houston told reporters during the announcement at a Halifax brewery.
"They can pay money to the government in taxes, or they can pay it to the working families of this province that are making things happen."
The program applies to any of the province's more than 30,000 corporations paying taxes, regardless of size. While some details remain to work out, Houston said the program would be audited to ensure companies are sending the money to workers as required and include "stiff penalties" for those who don't follow the rules.
But what the numbers actually look like for workers depends on a variety of factors, including how many companies take advantage of the program, a company's tax burden and how many people they employ.
Using recent budget figures, the program could result in more than $200 million in corporate income taxes being removed from the provincial treasury. But Tory officials say they believe the money will eventually be recovered in other ways, including higher personal income tax payments and people spending increased wages on things they need.
In the past, Houston has shied away from the idea of a substantive increase to the minimum wage, citing concerns about the burden it could create for small businesses. He said Monday's announcement is a way to acknowledge the cost of living continues to go up while people's wages do not, and attempt to do something to help a broader group of people get ahead.
"They all deserve support and this is the type of idea that can support working families across the spectrum in this province."
Houston said he believes regional manufacturing will re-emerge following the pandemic and he thinks a program such as the one he announced Monday could help stimulate that effort and attract companies to move their operations here. The intention is for the program to run as a five-year pilot, but Houston said he expects it to factor into growing the economy beyond that.
The party will release a full platform in the next week that will cost all promises, said Houston.
"The reality is that this province will run deficits for the next couple of years. This is the time when we have to invest in people and we have to invest in infrastructure."
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