Category Archives: Federal Politics

Will federal tax review lay the groundwork for real tax reform in next budget?

Will a low profile review of federal tax expenditures lay the groundwork for tax fairness in the Spring federal budget?

Last Spring, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that his Liberal government would be undertaking a comprehensive review of tax “expenditures” found in the federal tax code. According to Morneau, the aims of the review are to simplify the system and make it more progressive. In the process, he hopes to find $3 billion in savings. A panel of “external experts” was appointed “to ensure that the review is informed by a range of perspectives”.

While little known to the general public, the review is of enormous importance. Every year, Ottawa spends about $110 billion on programs such as health transfers to the provinces, the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, and other line item programs that comprise the federal budget. These expenditures, as with all direct spending, are put before Parliament for examination. Through this “Estimates” process, information on the costs and impact of these programs is available to the public.

Far less visible and transparent is the roughly $100 billion the federal government forgoes annually in so-called “tax expenditures”. These exemptions, deductions, credits, rebates and surtaxes are not subjected to the same kinds of parliamentary accountability mechanisms that are applied to more direct government spending. Moreover, many of these expenditures (including all exemptions and deductions), while legally embodied in the federal tax code, have huge implications for the fiscal situation of the provinces in that they also define the tax “base” against which all personal and corporate income taxes are levied at the provincial level.

Given the sheer scale of these tax expenditures, there is a strong argument for subjecting this hidden tax spending to the same oversight and public debate as any other spending. This is especially true given just how regressive (i.e. favouring the affluent) many of these expenditures are. If the government wants to provide billions of dollars in tax breaks to the richest Canadians, it should have an obligation to justify these gifts to the vast majority of Canadians who don’t benefit from such largesse.

The last comprehensive evaluation of the federal tax system was the Carter Commission of 1966. It’s clearly time to take a top to bottom look at our tax system to see if it is the truly progressive system the public deserves. Continue reading

Justin Trudeau’s big infrastructure mistake

port-mann-bridge-construction

It is a mistake to have private asset managers invest in projects funded by a new infrastructure bank expecting a return of 7-9% when the government can borrow long-term at 2%.

November 14 was a big day for the Trudeau government’s infrastructure plans.

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Trudeau attended a “summit” for foreign investors focussing on investment in areas like infrastructure, technology, natural resources, and renewable energy.

The summit was hosted by Blackrock Capital Investment Corporation, the world’s largest asset management company with $5.1 trillion dollars under management. All told, BlackRock brought two dozen of its clients to Toronto from around the world to meet with Trudeau. Blackrock clients include many of the world’s largest pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and other institutional investors.

Cabinet ministers attending the event included Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr, Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains, Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly, and Minister of Health Jane Philpott.

Earlier in the day, the Liberals met with Canadian institutional investors such as the CPP Investment Board, the Caisse de dépôt , Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, OMERS, and Brookfield. Continue reading

What the New CPP Agreement Means for You

pensions CPP

The agreement  reached in Vancouver to enhance the CPP last week was historic in nature. Still,  some people will benefit far more than others. Many Ontario workers, for example,  would have been better off with the provincial pension plan that was abandoned by the Ontario Government within days of the signing of the CPP accord.

There is no question that Canada’s finance ministers reached an historic agreement in Vancouver on June 20. There is also no question that the changes in CPP design that the ministers agreed upon represent an eventual increase in CPP benefits for all workers when compared to the current CPP design.

That said, two additional questions need to be asked when assessing the agreement:

1)      To what extent are the workers most in need of a boost in their retirement savings getting the increase in benefits they need to truly retire in dignity and security. In other words, are the CPP changes agreed upon in Vancouver targeted towards those most in need ; and

2)      Are Ontario workers – who comprise almost 40% of the Canadian labour force – better off under the new CPP regime than they would have been under the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) that was scheduled to be fully implemented in 2019 – the first year of a 7-year phase-in of the agreed upon CPP changes that won’t be completed until 2025? This is relevant given that with the signing of the CPP accord, the Ontario Government moved within days to kill its ORPP initiative.

Background to the Vancouver agreement

Before answering these two questions, it is important to provide some context to the discussions that took place in Vancouver on June 20th.

The task for the finance ministers meeting in Vancouver was to see if there was a formula for reform that had a chance of getting 7 provinces containing two-thirds of Canada’s population (the amending formula for the CPP) to buy into. This was always going to be a challenge given that B.C., Saskatchewan and Quebec had been clear in the previous federal-provincial meeting in December, 2015 that they had little appetite for any sort of CPP/QPP enhancement and Manitoba’s brand new Conservative government was almost certain to join this “sceptic” group. Continue reading

Climate change policies hit corporate push back

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Addresses Paris Climate Change Conference

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Addresses Paris Climate Change Conference. Despite Trudeau’s high profile Paris claim that “Canada is back”, almost all the heavy lifting on the climate change file is being done at the provincial level.

Prime Minister Trudeau received considerable media attention earlier this week in his appearances at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

But beyond the photo-ops starring our telegenic PM, the question still remains as to what exactly Canada is bringing to the table in Paris?

The context

The purpose of the Paris UN conference is to somehow reach an agreement covering the post-2020 period that would require participating countries to set carbon-reduction targets that, while not legally binding on individual countries, will be considered “moral” obligations.

What then is Canada proposing to contribute to the fight against global warming?

On the international front, Trudeau has already announced that Canada will contribute $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, doubling Canada’s current contribution. And in Paris he also reaffirmed a campaign pledge to invest $300 million in research and development on clean technology.

But the far trickier issue is how to reach the domestic emissions targets already established here at home.

Trudeau has committed to reducing Canada’s carbon emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. That’s the same target set by the Conservatives, the difference being that the Liberals regard it as “a floor, not a ceiling.” Most importantly, within 90 days of Paris he plans to host a meeting with the premiers to firm up the specific carbon-pricing policies and investments that will be required to make good on that pledge. Continue reading

Is Canada finally getting a national pharmacare program?

Pharmacare health minister Jane philpott Trudeua

Health Minister Jane Philpott has been tasked by Prime Minister Trudeau with finding solutions to Canada’s prescription drug affordability problem.

Momentum has been building for a national pharmacare program since a June meeting of provincial health ministers.

Canada’s new Health Minister, Jane Philpott, says she plans to be in touch with her provincial counterparts to begin the preliminary work of establishing a new health accord which, according to some health experts, could include at least the broad outlines of a national pharmacare program. The 2004 Health Accord expired March 31st, 2014 after the Harper government refused to renegotiate it.

So what can Canadians expect from their new federal government when it comes to making prescription drugs more affordable?

In contrast to other policy areas, the Liberal election platform planks on pharmacare were strikingly vague.  According to the platform:

“We will improve access to necessary prescription medications. We will join provincial and territorial governments to negotiate better prices for prescription medications and to buy them in bulk – reducing the cost governments pay to purchase drugs.”

Not too many clues here as to where the new Trudeau government might end up on pharmacare. That said, Ontario’s Liberal government  has been a strong provincial advocate for an aggressive approach to drug coverage and was extremely critical of the Harper government’s hands-off approach to the issue. Given the close ties between the two Liberal governments, most observers expect the new federal government to be active in future national pharmacare talks.

That next health ministers meeting is expected to take place on January 21-22, 2016 in Vancouver and federal health Minster Philpott has said she will be attending. Continue reading

Trudeau, Wynne Pension Visions on Very Different Paths

15-10-28 trudeau wynne cpp hug

Despite the big hug and a short-term promise by Trudeau to help implement Ontario’s new pension plan, a look beneath the surface reveals serious obstacles to reconciling Wynne’s and Trudeau’s pension visions.

Prime Minister Elect  Justin Trudeau has promised to do what Stephen Harper pointedly refused to do – help Premier Kathleen Wynne implement Ontario’s new pension plan.

But reconciling Trudeau’s long-term vision of enhancing the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) with Wynne’s “ready-to-go” Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), could prove tricky.

Trudeau to help on short-term implementation issues

The Conservative government refused to change federal regulations to help establish and collect contributions for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), which is due to start collecting premiums in January, 2017.

In fact, the pension issue had become a significant point of conflict between the federal Conservative government and the Ontario Liberal government. During the recent campaign, Mr. Harper went so far as to say that he was “delighted” that his decision not to help Ms. Wynne “is making it more difficult for the Ontario government to proceed.”

But what a difference an election makes! The two Liberal leaders had a brief meeting at Queen’s Park on Tuesday and there appeared to be a complete meeting of the minds on the pension issue – at least in the short term.

According to a statement issued after the meeting, the new federal Liberal government will “direct the Canada Revenue Agency and the Departments of Finance and National Revenue to work with Ontario officials on the registration and administration of the [ORPP].”

Registration refers to the fact that unless a pension plan is registered under the terms of the federal Income Tax Act, employee and employer contributions are not tax deductible. Once registered, pension contributions and investment earnings are tax-exempt until benefits are paid to a retiree.

Administration primarily refers to piggy-backing ORPP premium deductions on the existing CPP payroll contribution infrastructure. Ontario had issued a request for proposal for a third party to help administer the plan because of the outgoing Conservative government’s refusal to co-operate. Now it won’t need that third-party partner, which means the ORPP should be less expensive to operate. Continue reading

Five Key Issues Facing the Trudeau Government

Trudeau

In its first few months, the newly elected Trudeau government will be facing a range of issues including infrastructure, pensions, and a middle class tax cut.

In this post, Canada Fact Check takes a look at five key issues facing the newly elected Trudeau government for the period leading up to, and including, the early-Spring budget.

Infrastructure

The new Liberal government’s top priority will be to quickly implement its high profile infrastructure program.

Trudeau says a Liberal government will run deficits for three straight years and will double spending on infrastructure to stimulate economic growth.

According to a Liberal policy paper, the Liberal fiscal plan would see “a modest short-term deficit” of less than $10 billion for each of the first three years and then a balanced budget by the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

The policy paper suggests that over the next decade the Liberals would spend $125 billion on new infrastructure investment — about twice the amount the Conservatives had committed for infrastructure. Much of this new infrastructure would be financed through a new Canada Infrastructure Development Bank.

Liberal infrastructure investments would focus on three areas: public transit, social infrastructure such as affordable housing and child care, and environmental projects like clean energy.

Projects funded would reflect the priorities of the provinces and municipalities. Continue reading

What you need to know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

15-10-11 TPP

Current rules under the North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA) require that 62.5 per cent of auto parts come from North America in order to avoid tariffs. Under the TPP, content requirements are lower and this may cost Canadian jobs. A 45-per-cent level will be  required to be considered duty-free for some parts and 40 per cent for other components.

 

 

What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) ?

Canada, U.S. and Mexico have long had special access to each other’s markets under NAFTA.

Instead of a group of three as under NAFTA, twelve countries would share in the advantages of TPP membership. Broadly speaking, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is similar to NAFTA in that it involves pledges to reduce or eliminate tariffs on a wide range of goods and services. It also sets out rules for resolving disputes and provides a modest attempt to set some minimum employment standards in the twelve member countries.

Could anything stop the implementation of the TPP?

The TPP deal still requires the approval of the U.S. Congress and many Democrats and some Republicans are expressing strong reservations about the deal.

For example, just days after the signing, leading Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she couldn’t support the TPP. Continue reading

Trudeau, Mulcair vow end to Harper Employment Insurance changes

employment insurance photo

Both Trudeau and Mulcair have promised Employment Insurance changes to make it easier for jobless to qualify for unemployment insurance.

Just 36.6% of unemployed workers are receiving Employment Insurance benefits – an all-time low in Canada, according to recent government numbers.

In 1990, 83% of the unemployed received benefits, but coverage declined to 42% in 1998 — when the former Liberal government redesigned the program to make it far less generous. After further changes by the Conservative government in recent years, the beneficiaries-to-unemployed ratio fell below 40% in 2012 for the first time in almost 40 years.

In 2013, the ratio of beneficiaries-to-unemployed dropped to 37% after the government implemented further restrictions, requiring Canadians to accept any job deemed “suitable” — even if it’s unrelated to a worker’s career and comes with a 30% pay cut. In Toronto, the ratio is closer to 20% meaning 80% of Toronto’s unemployed are ineligible for Employment Insurance. Continue reading

Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau clash in debate over taxes and family policy

Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair all have very different family policies.

In last night’s debate, Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair put forward  very different tax and family policies.

In this post, Canada Fact Check examines the different proposals put forward by the three major parties regarding personal taxes and family policy.

The NDP has proposed a $15-a-day national child-care strategy, the Conservatives’ family tax package features income splitting, and the Liberals have released a proposal that creates a new Canada Child Benefit. Continue reading