The Conservative Party of Canada today released its full 160-page election platform — an ambitious agenda that promises billions of dollars in new spending to prop up an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike past Conservative platforms, this one embraces a robust role for government in the economy through large cash injections to help businesses weather the pandemic crisis over the next two years.
The multi-billion dollar plan has not yet been costed; the party says the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has not finished studying the numbers.
O’Toole said a Conservative government would balance the budget in ten years’ time. The federal deficit for this fiscal year alone is expected to be $381.6 billion.
“You’ll probably notice ideas that you haven’t heard from Conservatives like me before. It’s time for Conservatives to take inequality seriously, because that’s becoming more of a problem in our country,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says in the opening paragraphs of the document.
A Conservative government led by O’Toole would end the Liberal party’s plan to create a national child care program; the party would instead flow money directly to parents to cover those costs.
The platform also promises to spend much more money on health care by boosting the annual growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer to at least six per cent from its current rate, which is tied to inflation. The party says the more generous health transfer to the provinces would cost the federal treasury nearly $60 billion over the next ten years.
But the centrepiece of the plan is a promise to create a million jobs. To accomplish that goal, the party is offering even more money than the Liberal government has budgeted for the country’s pandemic-struck employers — part of a push to recover all jobs lost over the last 18 months.
Since the last vote in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of nearly 27,000 Canadians and pushed unemployment rates to levels not seen since the 2008-09 financial crisis.
For businesses: ‘investment accelerator’ and a hiring subsidy
Through its Canada Jobs Surge Plan, the party is promising that a Conservative government would pay up to 50 per cent of the salaries of new hires once the existing Canadian emergency wage subsidy (CEWS) is phased out. Before the election was called, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland extended the CEWS program until the end of October.
To spur business spending, the party vows to create a “Canada Investment Accelerator,” which would provide a 5 per cent tax credit for any capital investment made in 2022 and 2023.
It also would introduce something called the “rebuild Main Street tax credit,” which would provide a 25 per cent tax credit on amounts of up to $100,000 that Canadians personally invest in a small business over the next two years.
And as part of the proposed “Main Street business loan,” a Conservative government would provide loans of up to $200,000 to small and medium businesses in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors to help them “get back on their feet.” Up to 25 per cent of such loans would be forgivable, depending on a company’s revenue.
The party maintains the government’s current Canada emergency business account (CEBA) program, which offers $60,000 loans to virtually all small businesses, is “too small.”
To support restaurants, the Conservative party is promising a billion-dollar benefit. For one month, a Conservative government would provide a 50 per cent rebate for food and non-alcoholic drinks purchased for dining in at restaurants between Monday and Wednesday.
To help ailing retailers, a government led by O’Toole would implement a “GST holiday” — a month-long break on federal sales tax — sometime this fall. All purchases at a retail store would be tax-free for a month.
He said these sectors have been “hanging on by a thread” because of public health measures like lockdowns. The Conservative plan, O’Toole said, “will help them them thrive and help us get a growing economy. We want to make sure we help some of the people hit hard, some of the vulnerable.”
O’Toole’s team is also promising to deliver a “raise” to low-income workers by doubling the existing Canada Workers Benefit up to a maximum of $2,800 for individuals and $5,000 for families. The party also is promising to pay the money as a quarterly direct deposit rather than a year-end tax refund. The program is only available to individuals earning less than $24,573 a year, or families with household incomes of $37,173 or less.
The Conservative government would scrap the $30-billion Liberal child care program — which the government has said would reduce child-minding costs within five years to just $10 a day per child, nationwide — and instead convert the existing child care expense deduction into a refundable tax credit to cover up to 75 per cent of the cost of child care for lower income families.
Provinces that have signed child care deals with the federal government would be able to keep the initial tranche of money that already has been paid but, moving forward, a Conservative government would direct most child care funds to parents themselves.
“This will massively increase the support that lower income families receive and provide more assistance to almost all families. We will also pay out the deduction over the course of the year so that families do not have to pay the cost of child care and then get the money back later,” the platform reads.
O’Toole said he would do away with the Liberal plan because it doesn’t help all parents.
Critics maintain the Liberals’ approach to child care funding unfairly punishes parents who care for their own children. Cardus, a faith-based think tank, has said a program focused on publicly funded daycare spaces “devalues the work parents and other caregivers do outside of an institutional setting.”
The Conservative leader said his tax credit would “help all parents.
“All parents — immediately, not some years from now. Parents know what’s best. We’re going to help all families and lower income families will have 75 per cent of the costs covered. We’re going to empower families.”
The party projects that a family with an income of $30,000 would receive up to $6,000 to cover child care costs, more than the $1,200 they can claim today. The party says that, under its plan, a family with an income of $50,000 would get $5,200.
O’Toole to ban foreigners from buying homes for two years
Beyond job-creation measures and child care, the detailed platform includes a number of populist-minded measures — a tougher regulatory stance on cell phone companies, a crackdown on grocery price fixing and new legislation to “open banking so Canadians can connect with fintech companies that can provide a better offer for banking services.”
A Conservative-led government would also order the Competition Bureau to investigate bank fees. O’Toole said he would allow foreign telecommunications companies to offer cell phone service to Canadians to drive down prices, “provided that the same treatment is reciprocated for Canadian companies in that company’s country.”
To address the issue of affordable housing — Canada’s sky-high average real estate prices are typically higher than those in Western countries — O’Toole would ban all foreign investors from buying homes here for at least a two-year period.
In the last federal budget, the government pitched a one per cent tax on foreign-owned vacant homes to reduce home price inflation driven by foreign nationals scooping up Canadian homes.
The platform also includes O’Toole’s climate plan, which calls for a reworked version of the existing carbon pricing regime. Instead of sending tax money to Ottawa, the Conservative plan would see the levies paid on fossil fuels banked in personal “low carbon savings accounts.”
“Our plan will ensure that all Canadians can do their part to fight climate change, in the way that works best for them, and at a carbon price that is affordable,” the platform reads.
During the Conservative leadership race, O’Toole promised to privatize and “defund” the TV and online division of CBC while leaving CBC Radio and the French-language services of Radio-Canada untouched.
In the platform document, however, O’Toole said a government led by him would instead “review the mandate of CBC English television, CBC News Network and CBC English online” and “assess the viability of refocusing the service on a public interest model like that of PBS in the U.S., ensuring that it no longer competes with private Canadian broadcasters and digital providers.”