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Stephen Harper offers new fitness tax credit after budget gets in shape Add to ...

Stephen Harper is dangling more tax relief pledges in front of Canadians, promising a new fitness tax credit for adults and a doubling of an existing break for kids' sports fees.

The pledges would give voters a tax break worth up to $75 for adult fitness expenses and boost existing relief for parents of kids in sports to a maximum of $150 from $75.

The Conservative leader offered the pledges during a campaign stop in the Ottawa area Sunday as he stumped with regional candidates.

Mr. Harper promises to double the current fitness tax credit for children to cover $1,000 of sports and recreation fees.

The existing break covers $500 of fees, and if parents claim the full amount they save $75 per kid on taxes owing.

This tax cut would take effect when the deficit is eliminated. The Tories said they would also make the children's fitness tax credit refundable, which means even if people don't owe taxes they can take advantage of it and receive a cheque.

"Parents know that regular exercise is a key part of their children's development and gets kids started on a lifetime of healthy, active living," Mr. Harper said at a Greco gym in Kanata, Ont.

"We recognize that the cost of activities like sports or dance can place a strain on family budgets."

The Tories are also planning a fitness tax credit for adults that would give people breaks on gym memberships and other athletic expenses.

This second measure for adults would not take effect until the federal budget is balanced, which is currently forecast to take place in four years.

"Extending the fitness tax credit to include adults is good for the personal health of Canadians and can reduce costs to our health care system overall," Mr. Harper said.

The Conservatives timed their latest announcement to coincide with the Liberal Party's release of its election platform of promises Sunday.

The Tories are using these latest pledges to contrast their party with the Liberals, alleging their opponents would on balance raise taxes and spend more while the Conservatives would be offering extra tax relief.

The adult fitness tax credit would cost $275-million in foregone revenue.

The doubling of the existing children's fitness tax credit would only cost $30-million, the Conservatives say.

The existing children's fitness tax credit, which took effect in 2007, cost Ottawa $115-million in foregone revenue in 2010, according the federal Finance Department. It is claimed at least in part by 1.4 million families annually.

The doubling of the kids' fitness credit would only cost $30-million, the Tories say, because they do not expect many people will have eligible expenses that far exceed the existing $500 limit.

Neither of these new promises were in the 2010 federal budget the Conservatives tabled March 22. That fiscal plan was shelved after the Tories were defeated by opposition parties March 25.

The Tories since early in this political race have emphasized tax cuts over program spending in their pledges.

In the first week of the campaign Mr. Harper promised a tax cut for families with children, saying that if re-elected he would allow parents of children under 18 to share up to $50,000 of income for tax purposes.

This would allow the higher-earning spouse to flow some of his or her income to a partner who's in a lower tax bracket.

The "family tax cut pledge," the Tories said, would allow as many as 1.8 million households to save on average $1,300 in taxes. This promise would also not be enacted until Ottawa's books are balanced.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff poked fun at the timeline of the Conservative promises as he responded to an online question as part of an event in Ottawa to release his party's platform. Mr. Ignatieff was asked for his position on the Conservative pledge to allow income splitting for families.

"Focus on the key fact. It's a promise that will not take effect - whether it's good or bad - for five years," he said.

"[Mr. Harper]did the same thing today. This morning he promised some tax credit or something that a family only gets in five years," he said. "Let me tell you something about the Liberal Family Pack. We can do it now."

NDP Leader Jack Layton accused to Conservatives of putting the health of Canadians on hold.

"It seems to me he is interested in people getting healthy after the budget deficit is slain. I think it might be advisable to come up with a plan to allow people to become healthier now," Mr. Layton told reporters after a campaign visit to a sugar shack in Gatineau, Que.

"And if we had more family medicine and more family doctors advising families on the state of their health, I think that would be a stronger step right now to getting people healthier," he said.

Mr. Layton said this is why he is worried that the job of negotiating the health accord with the provinces, which expires in 2014, is in the hands of Mr. Harper.

"I don't think he's going to have that proper sense of balance and that sense of the importance of our public health care system," he said. "It's not something he's been very committed to."

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