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March 5, 2017

Making Accessibility Pay

Let's think about investment.  Like public education and modern infrastructure, government can make good investments.   This is an opportunity to invest in people.  As Bill Gates said to Warren Buffet "the best investment any of us can ever make is in the lives of others"

No matter how you slice it, Bill 59 is going to cost money.  Capital expenses will be significant, and the solutions proposed in the current Bill - extremely long or nonexistent time horizons and the prospect of wholesale exemptions - don't match the aspirations of the Act.  So let's face the truth and admit that access isn't free.  The good news is that every sign points to increased economic activity, government saving, and increased tax revenue.  Everyone will benefit from investing in access, and we should champion that fact.

Missing from Bill 59 is a the promise to identify and evaluate tax incentives, which are the most likely way to encourage investments of this nature.  The Minister of Finance will need to work hand-in-hand with the Minister of Justice to make access happen.

11 Kinds of incentives
Nova Scotia faces a ton of problems.  Some of them relate to a cavalier waste of human capital.  Too many people with disabilities on government support and too few participating in the economic life of the Province.  That's a great big problem and we have the tools to make it better.

Government must use it's fiscal powers to ensure that people with disabilities share in the promise of Nova Scotia.  I'm attaching a chart showing how to turn a profit by using incentives, just like retailers do every day.

 Here is a little more on four persistent problems that have accessibility as a central theme and how an investment will pay off:

Increasing government supports and declining revenue

The simple answer to this problem is jobs.  For every full-time minimum wage job enjoyed by a person moving from community support, government saves around $20,000 in expense and gains about $7,000 in revenue.  Government can do any number of things to encourage this:

  • Pay half the salary for such people for two years up to $10,000 (government is still $10 grand to the good annually)
  • Continue their Pharmacare or subsidize private supplementary coverage for 2 years.

After two years, government receives the full benefit in new tax revenue.

An aging population needing care

Aging at home is in everyone's interest.  Government can fix this problem almost instantly by giving credits for accessibility improvements, an expansion of current grant programs.  The payback is in fewer nursing facilities, new employment for housing contractors and increased property valuations.  

Vanishing workers

This is a cascading problem.  Uneven access to transportation and suitable housing keeps people isolated.  Limited access to higher education (Dalhousie Law School is less than one half of one percent students with visible disabilities) means inadequate training.  Limited employment opportunities in government (9.9% of the workforce self identifies as having a disability, yet only 3.9% of provincial employees do so - the lowest representation of the five groups the province identifies as important to employment equity).  Loan-burdened recent graduates leave the province for jobs.  There are many opportunities for intervention.

Not just government, but private employers stand to gain by diverting overlooked talent to productive work.  We need to get to work on a whole web of problems:  transportation, housing, higher education, and recruitment.  Quick fixes just don't work.

Cruise Ships and the changing face of tourism

238,217 passengers arrived in Halifax on 136 ships in 2016.  The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that 3% of their cabins be accessible.  This translates to roughly 7,000 passengers and probably an equal number of their companions.  Good tourism practice requires that they not be disappointed.  We're sitting next to millions of aging New Englanders.  Sharing the cost of accessibility through property tax credits will pay in increased traffic, higher HST, higher valuations, and in other, more subtle brand sensitive ways.


The lack of attention to these possible solutions to persistent problems is puzzling. Government needs to do the research, and more importantly commit to using the tools of fiscal policy to make access happen.

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