Economic policy of the Stephen Harper government
Since its election to power on January 23, 2006, the Conservative Party of Canada led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper adopted several positions and policies in regard to the economic issues of Canada including various tax cuts, exemptions and credits as well as discussing the issue of fiscal imbalance among provinces and measures to cope with more troubled sectors of the Canadian economy.
- 1 2006 Budget
- 2 2007 budget
- 3 2008 budget
- 4 2009 budget
- 5 2010 budget
- 6 2011 budget
- 7 2012 budget
- 8 Softwood lumber dispute
- 9 Manufacturing and forestry sectors crisis
- 10 Auto industry crisis
- 11 Fiscal imbalance
- 12 See also
- 13 Footnotes
The first federal budget of the Conservative government was released on May 2, 2006 by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
The Conservative government promised to lower the federal Goods and Services Tax from 7% to 6% for the first budget and to lower it to 5% by 2011. There were some concerns from activists, that the cut would only benefit the rich. Some retailers have raised their prices to compensate...  Finally, there were also possibilities that some provincial governments take advantage and raise their provincial taxes. During the 2006 election campaign, the Martin government proposed income tax cuts for lower-middle income earners. The Liberals have claimed that the GST cut would effectively result in a tax increase for those in the lower-middle income bracket. The Conservatives argued that the GST cuts would benefit all Canadians, including low-income earners and those outside the workforce who do not pay income tax.
The first GST cut went into effect on July 1, 2006, and no provinces have raised provincial sales tax as a demonstrable result. Nova Scotia raised the provincial sales tax 2 points as part of deficit-fighting measures under the Dexter government; this was put in place on July 1, 2010. The second cut was later announced in the 2007 Throne Speech and officially confirmed on October 30, 2007 during an economic statement update on the country finances.
It was met with dissent by the Liberal and New Democratic parties and mostly positive reception from the Bloc. The Liberals and NDP voiced disapproval over the Conservatives following through on their election of their design.
While it initially appeared that the only way the Conservatives' budget would pass would be with the support of the Bloc Québécois, the budget passed third reading without dissent on June 6, 2006 when the members of the Opposition accidentally Economist Yves Fortin has challenged the reasons for the change in tax regime announced by Flaherty and disputes the Harper government assertion that the Trust structure has led to lose of tax revenue because of trust conversions in his research paper. Income Trusts and Tax Leakage: Is there a problem?
Analyst Gordon Tait has also raised concerns about the lack of consultation and misconceptions surrounding the change in tax policy on Trusts in The Inconvenient Truth About Trusts
A December 11, 2006 Income Trust Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers reviewed the surveys and studies conducted in 2004 and 2005, the economic benefits and impact of income trusts in Canada. The report concludes that Income Trusts do have a place in Canadian capital markets and the 'Tax Fairness Plan' is unfair to Canadian Investors who hold Trusts in a tax-deferred Registered Retirement Savings Plan or a Registered Retirement Income Fund
In a year-end interview with the Canadian Press, Harper mentioned that this was "the toughest decision for the government". The Canadian Press voted the Harper Government and Jim Flaherty 'Business Newsmaker of 2006' for the announcement to tax Income Trusts on Halloween.
Analyst Cameron Renkas refutes the Department of Finance assertion that the United States and Australia have taken action to shut down flow-through structures. In his research paper Digging Deeper he gives a perspective on how the United States taxes publicly traded flow-through entities and Master limited partnerships, the US equivalent of Canadian Income Trusts.
In a January 12, 2007 paper Yves Fortin outlines his concerns regarding the claim of tax leakage. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stated in his October 31, 2006 policy statement "If left unchecked, these corporate decisions would result in billions of dollars in less tax revenue for the federal government to invest in the priorities of Canadians, including more personal income tax relief"  but Minister Flaherty has not documented his allegation nor has he cited any research to back up his claim. Mr. Fortin's paper A Recipe For Tax Loss gives several examples on how the tax on income trusts could lead to a loss in government tax revenue, not a gain.
Analyst Dirk Lever wrote on January 15, 2007 "We cannot understand why any Canadians would support double taxation of retirement benefits - it affects all of us eventually". Mr. Lever has also cited several flaws in the Conservative government's policy in his research paper Deep Dive into Tax Issues: Canadian Pensioners Taxed Twice on Canadian Corporate Dividends. In the report Mr. Lever asks:
- Why are Canadian Pension Benefits are taxed twice on Canadian Corporate Dividends?
- Why are foreign investors allowed more favorable tax treatment than Canadian retail investors?
Special hearings by the Finance Committee commenced January 30, 2007. John McCallum, the Liberal Finance critic has called on Minister Flaherty to explain the reasoning behind the change in Income Trust Tax policy. In a February 8, 2007 news release John McCallum is quoted "Essentially they released close to a thousand pages of public documents, not one of which brings Canadians any closer to understanding what type of information or calculations led the Minister break his election promise and tax income trusts, either the Minister is in contempt of the committee’s motion or he had absolutely no data from his own department before shutting down the sector and destroying tens of thousands of Canadians’ life savings. The first possibility is disturbing, the second is deplorable." The Conservatives have the support of the Jack Layton and the NDP on this issue.
In a July 9, 2007 interview on Business News Network, former Conservative Alberta Premier Ralph Klein criticized PM Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for their mishandling of the Income Trust issue and for not keeping their word on Income Trust taxation. According to the Canadian Association of Income Trust Investors the change in tax rules cost investors $35 billion in market value.  Stephen Harper specifically promised "not to raid Senior's nest eggs" during the 2006 Federal Election. 
Flaherty presented the 2007 budget on March 19, 2007. No income tax or GST cuts were announced but there were tax credits (of up to $310 per child) for some families with children under 18. It was confirmed that the budget will passed the House of Commons as the Bloc Québécois supported it due to the additional money that the province of Quebec will receive as part of the equalization payment system.
The budget passed 174 to 109 in the House of Commons in first reading. It would later pass the second and third readings in June.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest had applauded the budget, as his province would receive over $2 billion in additional equalization payment. However, Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams argued that Harper broke a written promise to shield revenues from oil and natural gas revenues that the two provinces are receiving; Harper has denied this and accused Williams of misinforming the province . In addition, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert argued that his province will receive no new money and alleged that the Conservatives were favouring Ontario and Quebec at the expense of other provinces, which MP Maurice Vellacott has disputed. Other premiers including New Brunswick's Shawn Graham, British Columbia's Gordon Campbell had some reservations. However, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said that the budget represented "real progress" for his province.
During the second vote on the budget Conservative MP Bill Casey voted against the budget in protest of the treatment of the 2005 Atlantic Accord on offshore revenues. He was removed from the Conservative Caucus afterwards. Premier MacDonald later urged all his province's MPS to vote against the budget after a letter Flaherty that was published in a Nova Scotia newspaper. 9 of the 11 MPs voted against it in the third reading. After the 2007 passed, the government started to work on a comprise with Nova Scotia to settle the dispute. Many Ontario-based and Western-Canadian columnists have supported Flaherty's budget, citing figures that indicate that the per capital income in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia has improved significantly, at the expense of Ontario, and that allowing the Maritime provinces to keep both equalization payments and resource revenues would hurt Ontario even more. .
October 2007 economic statement
On October 30, 2007, the Conservatives tabled an economic statement (similar to a mini-budget) and announced various tax cuts and exemptions. Overall, the government proposed a total of $60 billion in tax cuts over five years, including $14 billion in corporate tax cuts by 2012 (or a drop of 33%), a 1% drop of the GST to 5%, an increase of the basic personal tax exemption to $10,100 per year by 2009. The stated goal of the corporate tax cuts was to set Canadian corporate tax rates as the lowest in the G7, although this would require the provinces do matching tax cuts. The lowest personal tax rate will be reduced from 15.5% to 15%, effective January 1, 2007 back to the same level as when the Conservatives were elected in 2006. Economists said that with the large surpluses the federal government accumulated as well as high tax levels, there was another room for significant tax cuts.
The opposition parties criticized the mini-budget as the NDP leader Jack Layton mentioned that the budget did little for impoverished Canadians, and that big corporations such as oil companies and major banks will receive hefty tax breaks. The Liberals were critical of the GST cut as being not an efficient tax-relief but did praise the corporate tax cuts. The mini-budget, a confidence motion did pass 127–76 but without support of any opposition party as the Liberals abstained from voting as they did with the Fall 2007 Throne Speech.
The 2008 budget was tabled on February 26, 2008. No new tax cuts were announced in the budget, but Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the creation of a new Tax-Free Savings Account, where an individual can deposit up to $5,000 a year. Flaherty said that it is the "single most important savings vehicle since the introduction of the RRSP". Funding was also announced for public transit, infrastructures, hiring new police officers, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, a new Student Grant Program (replacing the Millennium Scholarship Fund) and for the manufacturing sectors. In addition, the government announced the creation of a new independent crown corporation to administer the Employment Insurance System while gas tax rebate fund to the cities was made permanent. 10.2 billion dollars will be spent on the payment of the national debt.
As did in the past, the 2008 Conservative budget was met with mixed reactions. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, while criticizing the budget as modest and being "one mile wide" and "one inch deep", said that the party will support the budget due to measures announced surrounding the manufacturing sector as well as environment due to avoiding a spring election. Both the Bloc Québécois and the NDP announced that they were voting against the budget.
The NDP explained that the budget failed to address the need for average workers while the winners were banks, polluting industries and the well-off. Social programs got one-time commitments while corporate tax cuts were granted for many years. They further mentioned that tax cuts for big business take priority over new spending on the order of 6 to 1. 
The Bloc cited that there was insufficient funding for the forestry sector and no major announcements for the province of Quebec.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan mentioned that the budget came short in regards to the manufacturing sector and told that it was "missed opportunity for Ontario and Ottawa to work together during a tough economic period". Buzz Hargrove, from the Canadian Auto Workers Union also mentioned that the budget was a step in the wrong direction for the auto industry Quebec Finance Minister Monique Jerome-Forget also criticized the budget by saying that it does not reflect the priorities for Quebec including the province's forest sector and post-secondary education. The Minister did praised however the permanency of gas tax rebate for the municipalities.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation director John Williamson mentioned and applauded that the registered savings plan was "very good" for the middle class. Economist Andrew Jackson, from the Canadian Labour Congress, mentioned however that the plan will give little to the average worker while Don Scott, a taxation specialist, added that the program may incite some investors to contribute less to their RRSP. The creation of the new savings account also had positive reviews from several Canadian newspapers including Le Devoir, La Presse, The Globe and Mail and the National Post. Aaron Freeman, policy director for the Environmental Defence, criticized the government for having no clear direction on the environment making reference to the suspension after 2008 of the tax-rebate program on fuel-efficient vehicles but praised the funding for transit and for the protection of consumers from toxins in products.
McTeague private member bill
Liberal MP Dan McTeague tabled a Private Member's Bill that proposed to give parents substantial tax breaks for saving education money; taxpayers who deposited $5,000 into a RESP for their children's post-secondary education would earn a $5,000 tax deduction, similar to the deduction allowed for contributions to a RRSP. Under the Tax-Free Savings Account, introduced in Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's 2008 budget, there was no deduction for annual contributions.
Though McTeague's bill passed through the Canadian House of Commons on March 5, 2008, after Speaker of the House, Liberal Peter Milliken, approved the bill for debate, it is constitutionally decreed that any money measure that does not have royal recommendation, that is, if it doesn't originate from the Crown, is to be considered unlawful. So, any private member's money bill must be regarded as a Motion of Confidence. Flaherty served notice to the House of Commons on March 11 that he would introduce a motion to nullify the bill by including a provision to do so in legislation implementing the federal budget, which is automatically a confidence motion. The RESP bill was the first time since 1840 that the Commons had attempted to force a change to the government's budget.
Economic crisis and parliamentary dispute
Prior to the 2009 budget, on November 26, 2008, Jim Flaherty released an economic statement to which according to many experts would measures to deal with a significant worldwide economic slowdown that started earlier during the year where millions of jobs were lost in several sectors across the world including thousands in Canada particularly in the auto sector in southern Ontario. While announcing that there will be no deficits in 2008–09 fiscal year, he added that any measures to deal with the economic slowdown would result in a deficit though the government that the situation in Canada compared to the other G7 countries is not as bad. He also added prior to the announcement that a "technical" recession was possible. Many economists and groups predicted significant deficits after 2009 and for a couple of years and urged Parliament to quickly adopt a stimulus package to encourage spending. Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page had forecast a deficit of between 4 and 14 billion dollars.
Flaherty announced two controversial measures including the suspension of the right to strike among government workers which previously approved a 6.8% pay hike for the next 4 years (2.3% for the first year and 1.5% for the following three). The minister also announced a significant reduction of funding of political parties resulting in election results with a lower value per vote. It had also announced the possibility of cut spending by as much as $2 billion on various programs as well as the sale of various federal properties. It has also reduced the pay raises and bonuses of several bureaucrats and politicians including the cancellation of a three percent raise for MPs and cut unnecessary traveling.
The opposition parties threaten to topple the government on a non-confidence motion in relation to the economic statement. The opposition criticized the lack of immediate economic stimulus packages to help cope with the struggling economy as well as the political party subsidies cuts which the latter was reversed by the government one day later and would not be included on a bill. This led a political crisis and the subsequent suspension of the Parliament on December 3, 2008 as the opposition threaten to defeat the government on a confidence motion that was set for December 1 and later one week later before the prorogation of the House. While the budget was scheduled for the early-spring, pressure due to the economic crisis and the opposition parties forced the government to move ahead the budget set for January 27, 2008, one day after Parliament resumes. On December 20, 2008, the government announced it would spend approximately $30 billion in order to stimulate the economy while forecasting a deep deficit for a five-year period.
A $33.7 billion deficit for the 2009–10 fiscal was announced during the deposition of the budget on January 27, 2009 with a projected deficit of $29.7 billion for the following year as well as additional deficits until 2013 for a total of $85 billion over five years while Flaherty also announced a $1.1 billion deficit for the end of the 2008–09 financial year. It is the first deficit announced since the 1996–97 fiscal year. $12 billion was earmarked for various new infrastructure projects including roads, internet broadband access with additional funding for renovations on aging infrastructures as well as for green infrastructure projects. $8 billion was also announced for social housing renovation projects, $1.5 billion for job training, $2.7 billion for short-term loans for the auto industry as well as various income and corporate tax cuts and tax credits up to $20 billion for individuals and $2 billion for businesses. Among the tax measures included were a new home renovation tax credit of up to $1350, the extension of the EI benefits by five weeks for the next two years as well as the increase of the basic personal amount to $10,320 before any payment of federal income tax. The government estimated that the $40 billion in economic stimulus and other measures would create close to 200 000 jobs while it forecast a one percent growth of the economy over the next two years.
The Liberal Party, now headed by Michael Ignatieff who replaced Dion during the prorogation of the Parliament, supported the budget but also proposed in return an amendment, which passed 214–84, The amendment would force the government to present occasional reports on the progress and costs of the budget. Both the NDP and the Bloc Québécois opposed the budget. The Bloc cited the lost of transfer payments for the province while the NDP cited a lack of funding for the vulnerable and also criticized the infrastructure funding as well as pay-equity reforms introduced in November. Six Liberal MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador also expressed opposition to the budget citing that the province would lose up to $1.6 billion in transfer payments as it no longer collects equalization. Ignatieff permitted his members to vote against his party lines. The budget passed 211 to 91. Among popular opinion, a Strategic Council poll indicated that 62% of Canadians were in favour of the budget against 38% who were not in favour while Canadians were split on whether the government failed the economy in Canada.
Softwood lumber dispute
In late-2006, the government led by Trade Minister and former Liberal Minister David Emerson, settled a lengthy dispute with the United States over softwood lumber in which its southern counterpart paid back nearly $4 billion in tariffs.
Manufacturing and forestry sectors crisis
During the Throne Speech, Harper also addressed issues surrounding the economy because of difficulties in the manufacturing and forest sectors due to the loss of numerous jobs at several companies including the 3 majors automakers in the United States and several small to large forest companies over the past few years due to lower US demand, a stronger Canadian dollar, the softwood lumber dispute, rapidly rising gasoline prices since 2003 and growing fears of a US recession caused by a mortgage and housing crisis. On January 10, 2008, the government announced a $1 billion relief fund for single-industry communities that were hit hard by recent closures particularly in the forest and manufacturing industries but also the fishing sector. The funding, coming from a budget surplus for the fiscal year, was to be split between the provinces and territories based on the proportion of the population and not by the number of jobs. The plan was to focus on job training and economic development creation. However, the plan and funding is conditional pending that the 2008 federal budget would pass legislation.
While some praised the plan as a good step in helping the industries affected by the mass closures, the budget approval condition imposed by Harper drew heavy criticism from the Opposition parties, union groups and some provincial politicians some them calling it an "election platform". Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Quebec Premier Jean Charest also mentioned that the funding is a small fraction of what both provinces had invested in total in the troubled sectors and Canadian Auto Workers Union President Buzz Hargrove mentioned that it would not even be enough to upgrade a single auto parts plant. Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union mentioned it would take over $10 billion in federal aid to make significant positive impacts and improvements. The funding was made official in the 2008 budget which also featured the extension of the accelerated capital cost allowances for businesses until 2012–13.
Auto industry crisis
Following a $17 billion bailout announcement from the US government on December 19, 2007, the Canadian government announced the following day a $2.7 billion aid to the auto industry including General Motors and Chrysler. The Ontario government also contributed to $1.3 billion for the industry which has been hit hard by the recent economic downtown initially due to record oil prices which resulted in a sharp drop in the sales of new vehicles, including pick-up trucks and SUVs. The lower demand resulted in massive layoffs and production shutdown at several plants across southern Ontario in addition to plants across the US. Harper told at a press conference on the announcement: "This industry, the three automakers, need serious restructuring We are doing this on the assumption that, obviously, we cannot afford—United States or Canada—a short-term catastrophic collapse, but on the other hand we're doing this with the knowledge that the automakers must change their way of doing business in a very serious way and must bring their products and their costs in line with the marketplace".
During the 2006 campaign, Stephen Harper promised the provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, to deal with the issue of fiscal imbalance. When the 2006 budget was announced, there was commitment to deal with the matter, but little money was used for it. No funding was used when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a $13 billion surplus. The Bloc Québécois threatened to topple the government if the Tories did not give an additional $3.9 billion to Quebec. Support for the Conservatives in Quebec was up during the 2006 election campaign due to Harper's promise to deal with the matter.
On January 16, 2007, an article in a Montreal newspaper, La Presse, reported that the federal government would give an additional $1.5 billion in transfer payments with another $500 million for post-secondary education and infrastructures.
Several premiers from other provinces criticized the plan. Saskatchewan Finance Minister Andy Thompson asserted that the government was using revenues from the oil industry of the West to gain votes in Quebec.
During the 2007 budget, on March 19, 2007, Flaherty announced an extra $2.3 billion will go to Quebec, while some provinces will get extra money for social policies.
In July 2008, the government concluded an infrastructure deal with Ontario until 2014 worth over $3 billion. Much of the funding would be used mostly for infrastructure repairs and upgrades including the Trans-Canada Highway as well as for rapid transit projects in the Kitchener-Waterloo area and broadband coverage in rural areas of eastern Ontario. In the same month, a Crown share dispute over oil royalties was resolved with Nova Scotia getting a total of $870 million.
Following a meeting with all premiers after the 2008 election, the federal government removed Newfoundland and Labrador from its list of provinces receiving equalization payments due to revenues from its offshore oil platform Hibernia. In contrast, the federal government added Ontario due to its struggling auto industry and which will receive $347 million while Quebec will receive over $8 billion starting in January 2009.
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