Economist and Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidate Erin Weir discussed his vision for the party and the future of the province with the Times-Herald Wednesday.
“One of the things I bring to the table in this race is a background in economics,” Weir said.
“To me, social democracy has always been about a more equitable distribution of income, and that’s fundamentally an economic question. I think, if we want to achieve social democratic goals, we need to have a fiscal and economic plan to do it.”
Weir has been an active member of the NDP in Saskatchewan for 15 years, and has served as an economic advisor to several NDP campaigns, federally and in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
He has also worked in the Department of Finance, Privy Council Office, and as an economist with labour groups including the International Trade Union and the United Steelworkers.
Weir identified an increase of the minimum wage to $11 an hour, indexing the minimum wage to inflation, increasing the minimum employment age to 16, introducing Quebec-style publicly funded daycare, and improving labour relationships by enabling parties to seek binding arbitration and introducing anti-scab legislation as keys to improving equality in society.
Also key to Weir’s strategy is the elimination of corporate donations to Saskatchewan’s political parties.
“It’s something that I advocated at the 1998 NDP convention... it’s something that I’ve believed in for a long time,” he said.
“I really believe democracy should be in the hands of individual citizens rather than organizations that have money.”
By removing big business interests from the political arena, Weir said, parties would be empowered to make the changes that need to be made.
Among those changes, he said, is reform of existing corporate tax and natural resource royalty structures to address outdated rebates and close loopholes.
Weir is specifically targetting the Small Business Deduction, which presently enables Canadian-owned businesses to pay a reduced tax rate of two per cent on profits up to $500,000.
“I think that goes far beyond helping genuinely small businesses,” he said, adding that his proposal would reduce the cap to $100,000 and reclaim about $200 million in lost revenue.
That revenue would then be used to provide an “investment tax credit” to small businesses that reinvest in Saskatchewan, Weir said, as well as to provide a rebate to small businesses for worker compensation premiums for employees in the first four years of their employment.
Weir also wants to shut down what he said is a system of tax writeoffs in the potash industry that “don’t make sense.”
“In the potash production tax system, companies are allowed to write off 120 per cent of what they invest in the province,” he said.
“I can understand companies being allowed to write off 100 per cent of what they invest, but I don’t know why we let them write off the additional 20 per cent, which is actually quite expensive — that’s costing the provincial government well over $100 million a year.”
Weir identified other loopholes in potash and oil mining that are allowing companies to skirt around the royalty and tax rates they should be paying.
In total, he said, “if the existing royalty and tax rates were paid, provincial revenues would increase by $1 billion a year.”
“Saskatchewan should get more than just the jobs of extracting natural resources... the resources belong to the people of the province, and we should charge the best possible price for those commodities,” said Weir.