Even the central economic policy of the Justin Trudeau government remains hotly disputed as voters begin casting ballots in the Oct. 21 federal election.
In their only English-language debate for the federal election on Oct. 7, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer sparred over tax measures that observers say are similar.
Trudeau’s signature policy since 2015 has been helping the “middle class and those working hard to join it,” reducing middle-income taxes while increasing them on the highest-income earners. His government lowered the rate for the middle-income bracket from 22 to 20.5 per cent. The 2019 Liberal platform promises to raise the level of federal tax-free income to $15,000, estimating it will save the average family $600 a year.
Scheer’s plan cuts the rate of the lowest tax bracket (up to $47,630) from 15 per cent to 13.75 per cent over four years, claiming average savings for a two-income couple with average salaries of about $850 a year.
In the Oct. 7 TV debate, Scheer said Trudeau’s tax policies mean 80 per cent of middle-class families pay more than when the Liberals took office. This often-cited figure comes from a Fraser Institute study, which calculates the effect of the Liberal government eliminating income splitting for couples with children, and cancelling the previous Conservative government’s targeted tax credits for children’s fitness, education, textbooks and transit.
The study calculates that the net effect of Liberal changes is $840 per year more in federal tax for the average family.
The Conservatives were the last major party to release their costed platform, promising changes that would save a retired B.C. couple $2,580 a year. The Liberal campaign fired back immediately, saying the Conservative plan scraps $18 billion in planned infrastructure, and cuts another $14 billion described only as “other operating expenses reduction.”
Scheer has promised to reinstate the fitness tax credit, up to $1,000 per child, with another $500 credit for children’s art and learning, which includes language, science, math or coding. Scheer has also promised a two-year tax credit program worth $1.8 billion for green-friendly home renovations, a promise the Liberals matched later the same day with an interest-free loan program for energy-saving renovations.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s platform targets the highest-income earners, promising to raise the top income tax rate for those earning more than $210,000 a year from 33 to 35 per cent. Singh also promises a one-per-cent “wealth tax” on “super-rich multi-millionaires,” those with $20 million or more in assets. The NDP says the wealth tax will generate “several billion dollars annually,” an estimate questioned by opponents who say the wealthiest people can shelter their assets and income.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May offers little in personal tax changes, other than increasing the tax credit for volunteer firefighters and search and rescue volunteers. The Green platform focuses on corporate taxes, proposing to raise the rate from 15 to to 21 per cent. May also wants a five-per-cent surtax on bank profits, and a tax on transnational e-commerce companies such as Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Uber that do business in Canada and pay no corporate tax here.