The Conservative platform put forward by Andrew Scheer delivers tax cuts for the relatively affluent, to be paid for by largely unspecified cuts to spending on social programs and public services. That is a poor deal for ordinary working families who get much more each year in program benefits like public health care and post-secondary education and child benefits and public pensions than they pay for in personal income taxes.
Despite his past claims to be a fiscal conservative, Scheer promises to balance the federal budget only at the end of the next Parliament, in 2024. That means he is, like US President Donald Trump, prepared to run deficits to finance a package of poorly thought out and regressive tax cuts.
There are good reasons to deficit finance investments which boost the economy and our future well-being – such as the investments in clean energy and pharmacare proposed by Jagmeet Singh and the NDP. But it makes very little sense for the federal government to borrow to fund tax cuts for middle and upper income Canadians.
The key Conservative promise is to phase-in a so-called Universal Tax Cut. This involves cutting the bottom federal personal income tax rate, which kicks in at a personal income above about $12,000, from 15% to 13.75%.
As David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has shown, the maximum tax saving – about $375 per year for an individual – will go to almost every person earning more than $47,000 per year, which is where the second tax bracket kicks in.
Individuals earning less than $47,000 per year will not get the maximum amount, and low income earners will get very little. A person earning $25,000 per year will get less than $50 in tax savings per year.
On top of this tax measure, the Conservatives plan to repeal some recent changes to the tax treatment of private corporations. These are often misleadingly referred to as small businesses, even though many function mainly as tax shelters for the investment income of wealthy professionals.
They propose to allow private companies pay the low small business tax rate on investment income of more than $50,000, which means assets of more than $1 million (assuming a rate of return of 5% on passive investment income.) This means that a wealthy lawyer can pay a small business tax of about 15% on investments, not the much higher top personal income tax rate.
The Conservatives also plan to allow owners of private corporations to pay lightly taxed dividends to their spouses, even if that spouse plays no active role in the corporation. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that 97% of the tax savings will go to families with annual incomes of more than $150,000, and one third will go to families with annual incomes of more than $500,000.
Add it together, and the plan is to deliver tax savings of well over $500 million per year to wealthy owners of private corporations. It is often claimed that they need these vehicles to save for retirement, but they are being used on top of RRSPs and TFSAs which already shelter retirement savings
In order to pay for his tax cuts – which also include bringing back some “boutique” tax credits – while moving slowly to a balanced budget, Scheer will have to cut spending significantly. Some of the cuts have been detailed – such as a 25% cut to international development assistance. But most cuts are very vague.
The Conservatives say they will spend $6.7 billion less on infrastructure investments by 2024-25, without specifying which projects will not be funded. It seems likely that the axe will fall on transit, energy conservation, alternative energy and affordable housing programs, which have been promised but have not yet started under the Liberals.
The Conservative also promise some $5 billion in cuts to “operating expenses” which boils down to a stretched public service and, perhaps, pay cuts.
Add it all up, and the Conservative platform is of little benefit to most of us.
Andrew Jackson is the Senior Policy Advisor for the Broadbent Institute.