The federal government is working with H&R Block Canada Inc. to advertise its carbon-tax rebate paid through the income-tax system, as experts caution that Canadians may lose sight of the refund when they start paying the direct cost at the gas pump and on their heating bills.
Faced with a fall election, Ottawa is locked in a political battle with conservative provincial governments in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick over the carbon tax that kicks in on April 1. The levy − which applies in provinces that have not adopted their own broad-based carbon tax − will add roughly 4.3 cents to a litre of gasoline when it starts, rising to 11 cents as the rate climbs from $20 to $50 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted between this year and 2022.
The Liberal government is partnering with H&R Block to remind Canadians in the four provinces to claim “the climate action incentive payment” on their income-tax returns, which in Ontario is worth $154 for an individual and $307 for a family of four this year. The incentive will also climb as the tax increases in the coming years. The government is paying the incentive with this year’s tax returns to cover Canadians’ costs that will be incurred after the levy takes effect on April 1.
On Wednesday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna visited an H&R Block office in Vaughan, a city in York Region north of Toronto where suburban voters face long commutes with few options for public transportation. H&H Block – the country’s biggest tax preparer − is mounting store-front signage and social-media campaigns to alert people to the need to claim the carbon-tax rebate on their returns, with a filing deadline of April 30.
In Ontario, the Progressive Conservative government is attacking the federal carbon tax, saying it will hurt families and businesses. “We have heard promises of tax rebates from the [federal] government in an election year. It’s hard to find any Canadian who believes, at the end of the day, that any tax will result in more money in their pockets,” Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips said in an e-mailed statement.
Ms. McKenna said on Wednesday that eight out of 10 families in the four provinces will receive more in rebates than they will pay in tax. Ottawa will direct some revenue paid by small businesses and institutions, such as schools and hospitals, to individual households.
“We need to take action in ways that work, that make life affordable, and also create incentives for jobs that we need,” Ms. McKenna said in an interview. “People are willing to accept a price on pollution when you return the revenues."
However, two tax experts warn that the payment through the income-tax system is not as visible to voters as a direct tax at the pump or on their heating bills, and may not have the political impact the government hopes for.
“There is a huge risk that people don’t draw the line between what is essentially a tax refund and the carbon tax,” said Sean Speer, a senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School on Global Affairs and Public Policy. Mr. Speer said direct taxes − such as the carbon levy or the Goods and Services Tax − are more visible to consumers, while tax credits and other payments delivered through the income-tax system are less so. That’s why governments chose to deliver both GST rebates and Canada Child Benefit payments through quarterly and monthly payments, respectively.
Carleton University political scientist Jennifer Robson said the income-tax system can be confusing for many taxpayers. “There are both policy and political reasons to want credits/rebates to be visible,” she said. “For a healthy, effective tax system, we need transparency − taxpayers need to be able understand what they are paying or not paying and why.”
H&R Block senior tax specialist Lisa Gittens said roughly two-thirds of Canadians file their taxes without professional assistance, so it is important for Ottawa to get the word out about the rebate, which requires a separate schedule to be completed.