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Conservatives get it right with universal tax cut pledge

September 17, 2019
Conservatives get it right with universal tax cut pledge

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

The Conservatives’ announcement of a straightforward, broad-based cut to the lowest income tax bracket rate by 1.25 percentage points will come as music to the ears of cash-strapped Canadians.

For a two-income household, it works out to savings of up to $850 per year. There’s no loopholes, no carve-outs, no fine print. If you pay income taxes, under the Conservative plan, you’re going to have more money in your pocket. Full stop.

After years of gimmicky boutiques, the simplicity of it is almost jarring.

And the amount is significant. The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s official costing of the proposal projects that once the credit is fully in place – the Conservative plan is to cut the lowest rate from 15 to 13.75 per cent over three years – it will mean nearly $6 billion more in the pockets of Canadian families.

Interestingly, the last party to promise this kind of tax cut wasn’t the Conservatives. It was the Liberals.

In the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals made a promise to cut the middle income tax bracket from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent. Once in office, they implemented it right away, signing it into law as one of their first acts in office.

Unfortunately, the Liberals also squeezed taxpayers on other fronts: carbon taxes, payroll taxes, small business taxes (thankfully mostly walked back) and an escalator tax on alcohol.

Nonetheless, the Trudeau income tax cut was an important move that broke with an increasingly frequent tendency from all parties to promise narrow, boutique-style tax credits and deductions instead of simple, broad-based tax cuts. Why all the gimmicks? Not because they made for good policy, but because they helped scoop votes at election time.

The result of adding countless boutiques measures has resulted in an ever-expanding tax code (at last count, the Income Tax Act was 3,300 pages or 1.1 million words) and a confusing buffet of distortionary credits for whatever target groups held electoral importance to the government of the day. It was one giant, never-ending game of playing favourites, with different special interests jockeying for special treatment.

It sounds like the Conservatives have gotten the message, and are getting back to basics with a simple, clear policy that doesn’t play favourites, and makes everyone better off.

With a majority of Canadians saying that affordability is one of their top election issues,  this kind of tax relief can’t come soon enough.

Try as they might to address affordability issues with clumsy, top-down approaches – such as price controls, subsidies and expensive programs – governments have a terrible track record at being able to make life more affordable, mainly because one-size-fits-all bureaucratic approaches are just not very good at meeting the unique needs and circumstances faces by different Canadian families.

(Indeed, the Trudeau government’s most popular program, the Canada Child Benefit, shows the Liberals recognize that simply sending money to families based on need – so they can spend it on their own particular priorities – beats a government-run daycare program.)

There’s no getting around it: the best way for governments to help Canadians make ends meet is to simply leave more money in their pockets. The Conservative universal tax cut does just that – to the tune of $850 a year.

Here’s hoping the other parties get the message too, and come forward with their own plans to cut taxes for Canadians.

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