OTTAWA — If the Liberals are re-elected in three weeks, they plan to run annual deficits of more than $20 billion for the next four years — even after introducing revenue measures including a new 3 per cent tax on “multinational tech giants” and a new 10 per cent tax on luxury cars, boats and personal aircraft.
The deficits, outlined in the full Liberal platform released on Sunday, are built on billions in new spending, as well as a large tax cut that raises the basic personal exemption on income taxes to $15,000 for those making less than $147,667 annually. That cut will cost the treasury $5.6 billion when fully implemented in 2023-24.
The platform also includes a new promise to increase Canada Student Grants by up to $1,200 more per year and to give students a two-year grace period after graduation. It will cost $1.4 billion when fully implemented in 2023-24.
It does not, however, include the cost for universal pharmacare, or a timeline for implementing it. The Liberals have instead promised $6 billion in health care promises over four years, which includes holding negotiations with provinces on setting up pharmacare. The Liberals’ advisory panel has estimated universal pharmacare would cost $15 billion annually when fully implemented.
The Liberal platform was released with costing provided by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The plan calls for a deficit of $27.4 billion in 2020-21, and deficits for the following three years of $23.7 billion, $21.8 billion, and $21 billion, respectively.
Those numbers are all significantly higher than in this year’s spring budget, which projected a $19.7 billion deficit in 2020-21, falling to $9.8 billion by 2023-24. (All the deficit numbers, including in the platform, have a $3 billion risk-cushion built in.)
The platform adds a total of $31.5 billion in new debt over the four years, as compared to a PBO projection of government finances done this summer. There is no projection for getting back to a balanced budget.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, speaking in Mississauaga, Ont., emphasized the Liberals are focused on giving relief to lower-income and middle-class Canadians, not the wealthy. When asked about having no plan to balance the budget, he attacked the Conservative Party.
“The Conservatives are the ones obsessed with balancing the budget on the backs of services offered to Canadians, on the backs of education, on the backs of our healthcare system,” he said. “We’re making this year, for the next four years, a very different choice. We are choosing to invest in people and in their communities, and at the same time stay responsible so that our debt-to-GDP ratio continues to decrease every single year.”
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has said that if elected, his government would take five years to balance the budget.
Although our economy is growing strongly, we need to be prepared for what may lie ahead
Under the Liberal plan, the debt-to-GDP ratio will inch downward from 30.9 per cent in 2020-21 to 30.2 per cent in 2023-24. It notes Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio is “less than half of the EU average, and less than a third of where the United States is right now.”
The Liberals also say their plan “includes a number of conservative assumptions, which do not account for faster economic growth over the last number of months.”
Ralph Goodale, co-chair of the Liberal platform committee, insisted the budget has enough prudence built into it to handle potential downturns.
“Although our economy is growing strongly, we need to be prepared for what may lie ahead,” he told reporters on Sunday. “Our historically low net-debt-to-GDP ratio combined with growth that is even higher than projected in Budget 2019 means that our approach is working, and that we will be in a position to absorb the shocks that may come our way unpredictably.”
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, speaking from Burnaby, B.C., argued Canadians shouldn’t believe what’s in the platform. “They talk a lot, say a lot of nice promises, say a lot of pretty words, but in the end it’s empty promises and they hurt people,” Singh said, pointing to the decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline as one example.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer did not make public remarks on Sunday, but the Conservatives put out a release saying Trudeau’s “campaign promises added to his existing deficits will pile on $100 billion of new debt to the books.”
“Justin Trudeau’s never-ending spending will threaten the quality of our health and social programs,” the release said. “He will be forced to raise taxes to pay for his endless debt and deficits…Further, by reaching $823 billion in total debt, Trudeau will spend $35 billion on interest payments alone. That’s $35 billion that will not go to Canadians’ priorities.”
The Liberal platform has new revenue measures that will provide $5.2 billion in 2020-21, rising to $7.2 billion by 2023-24. However, the cost estimates come with “high uncertainty,” the PBO says, due to the difficulty of collecting the right data and predicting behavioural responses.
The new revenue includes a 10 per cent tax on luxury cars, boats and personal aircraft over $100,000, estimated to raise $585 million in 2020-21. A 1 per cent real estate speculation tax that will “put in place a consistent national tax on vacant residential properties owned by non-Canadians who don’t live in Canada” projects to raise $217 million in 2020-21.
The platform promises to ensure “multinational tech giants pay corporate tax on the revenue they generate in Canada,” estimated to bring in $540 million in 2020-21. The new 3 per cent tax targets “targeted advertising services and digital intermediation services,” according to the PBO, and would hit companies that take in at least $1 billion worldwide and at least $40 million in Canada.
A promise to “crack down on corporate tax loopholes that allow companies to excessively deduct debt to artificially reduce the tax they pay” is estimated to raise $1.7 billion in 2020-21.
A review of government spending and tax expenditures “to ensure that wealthy Canadians do not benefit from unfair tax breaks” is estimated to raise $2 billion in 2020-21, rising to $3 billion in 2023-24. This includes a promise to “modernize anti-avoidance rules to stop large multinational companies from being able to shop for lower tax rates by constructing complex schemes between countries.”
The platform also includes “additional federal corporate income tax revenues” from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project of $125 million in 2021-22 and $500 million in each of the next two years. “This money, as well as any profit from the sale of the pipeline, will be invested in natural climate solutions and clean energy projects that will power our homes, businesses, and communities for generations to come,” the platform says.
The largest spending measures in the platform are the income tax cut (costing $2.9 billion in 2020-21), increasing the Old Age Security benefit by 10 per cent ($1.6 billion) and a 15 per cent increase in the Canada Child Benefit for children under the age of one ($777 million).
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