Ontario plans to introduce a tax credit for parents who pay for their children's activities, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced on Monday, but critics have said the government is trying to undo the damage caused by the HST.
While the plan would complement the federal children's fitness tax credit, unlike the federal program, Ontario's credit would include non-fitness activities, such as visual arts and language learning.
The provincial tax credit would also be a refundable credit that benefits low incomes families.
"It can be a real challenge for parents to make ends meet today, and this is one more way that we can help parents pay for those costs associated with raising healthy, active, engaged kids," Mr. McGuinty said at a YMCA in downtown Toronto.
The government's proposed tax credit would allow parents to claim up to $500 of eligible expenses per child on sports, arts and other activities incurred on or after Jan. 1, 2010.
Families would receive a refundable tax credit worth up to $50 per child under 16 years of age, and up to $100 for a child under the age of 18 with a disability, Mr. McGuinty said.
"For our low income earners, even in cases when they're not paying any tax at all, we will still come to the table with up to $50 or $100," he said.
But Progressive Conservative MPP for Nepean-Carleton Lisa MacLeod said the HST, which is now added onto the cost of children's programs, has made it difficult for parents, and this credit doesn't make up for it.
"They're basically trying to undo the damage that they have done by putting HST on children's sports registration," said Ms. MacLeod.
"So when parents start to enroll their children in ringette or indoor soccer, or the big ticket item, hockey, they want to soften the blow, she added.
The progressive conservatives brought the idea of tax credit forward two years ago said Ms. MacLeod, adding it was rejected by the government.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath also said families registering their children in after-school activities this fall will be hit hard by the HST.
"The government basically put a tax on children's activities and then a couple months later turns around and provides a tax credit," said Ms. Horwath.
"The tax credit, in many cases, won't make up for the amount of dollars being gouged from families," she added.
Under the proposed plan, physical activities that are eligible for the federal credit would already be automatically eligible for the Ontario credit.
Activities that are not related to sports would have to be supervised, suitable and not part of a school's curriculum in order to be eligible, and would include programs such as drama, choir or Girl Guides.
The premier said the government heard from parents who said, in addition to sports, they would like to enroll their kids in art, dance and music.
The credit would provide about $75-million each year to assist the cost of registering kids in programs and would benefit 1.8 million children, the government said.
McGuinty said $50, when combined with the federal credit, is significant for parents.