The Conservatives are promising to deliver billions in tax cuts and a balanced budget in five years by reducing spending by more than $53-billion in areas such as infrastructure and government programs. The proposed cuts came a day after Andrew Scheer said he had already outlined all of his planned changes.
The Conservative Leader released his party’s platform in Tsawwassen, B.C. on Friday, a community south of Vancouver.
The platform explains for the first time how a Scheer government would deliver on its pledge to erase the federal deficit in five years, while also delivering an across-the-board income-tax cut and targeted tax breaks for various demographics, including public-transit users and parents of newborns.
“What I’m here today to say is that better days are coming," Mr. Scheer said as he unveiled his spending plan which promised voters “if you pay income tax, you will pay less under my government.”
The biggest spending cut proposed by the Conservatives, to make up for the resulting shortfall in tax revenues, is an $18-billion reduction in infrastructure spending over five years. The party said the change is triggered by a plan to take the existing 12-year allocation for infrastructure spending – worth $187-billion – and stretch it out over 15 years.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities decried the infrastructure cuts, saying in a statement that local governments across the country have an “urgent need for increased investment.”
The Conservative platform promises “appear to move in the opposite direction,” FCM President Bill Karsten said.
Mr. Scheer is promising to cut infrastructure spending while at the same time building a new tunnel in Vancouver, another in Quebec City and two subway lines in the Toronto area.
The second largest cut in the platform is a plan to save $14-billion over five years on federal government operating expenses, which are not detailed. The party suggested possible measures could include freezing government staffing levels, shrinking work space for civil servants, and reducing the amount spent on consultants.
“We’re going to protect core services while we make government more efficient," Mr. Scheer said Friday, in defending his plans.
The raft of new cuts was revealed a day after Mr. Scheer told Canadians in the official French-language debate that his spending reductions had already been disclosed.
“We’ve already announced where we will find savings for Canadians," the Conservative Leader said Thursday night.
Also not detailed is a plan to raise $11-billion over five years through enforcing the “CRA tax gap,” a term used to describe the difference between what the Canada Revenue Agency should theoretically collect and the amount of revenue that actually comes in to Ottawa. The measure suggests more aggressive auditing and enforcement by the federal tax authority.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, which has been assessing the fiscal credibility of election platforms, gave the Conservative platform an overall “pass.” The institute handed out a “good” grade for responsible fiscal management, and a “pass” on realistic economic and fiscal assumptions and transparency.
However, the institute’s chief economist, Mostafa Askari, cautioned that delivering on the savings will be more difficult than introducing tax cuts.
He said that the proposed cuts are “bigger” than those implemented by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government.
Mr. Askari said the infrastructure spending cuts won’t help improve economic growth, and the overall cuts in program spending could effect the “the quality of services” that the government delivers.
The timing of the platform’s release – on a Friday afternoon before the long weekend in which advance polls are now open – could mean that the details receive less attention and scrutiny than if they had been released earlier during the campaign.
Ahead of the platform release, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused the Conservatives of trying to hide their spending plans.
“You don’t release your best work at 6 o’clock on a Friday of a long weekend,” Mr. Trudeau told a Friday morning rally in Ottawa.
The Conservative platform projects $52.9-billion in deficit spending over the next four years, which is more than a $9-billion improvement over the status quo fiscal projections produced by the PBO that all parties are using as a starting point for costing their campaign pledges.
The Conservatives say they would reduce the deficit from $23-billion next year to $4.8-billion by the end of their first four-year mandate. They say the budget would be balanced by 2024-25 — which would be the first year of a second mandate.
In comparison, the Liberals say they would run a $27.4-billion deficit next year; in four years, the deficit would shrink to $21-billion.
With all of the leaders’ debates now over and just a little more than a one week left in the election, the Liberals and Conservatives remain deadlocked in the public opinion polls.
According to Friday’s daily tracking survey from Nanos Research, the Liberals sit at 35-per-cent support, while the Conservatives are at 33 – all within the margin of error. The New Democrats are at 15 per cent, the Greens at 9 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 5 per cent and the People’s Party at 1 per cent.
The poll was sponsored by The Globe and Mail and CTV, with a total of 1,200 Canadians surveyed from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked: “If a federal election were held today, could you please rank your top two current local voting preferences?” A report on the results, questions and methodology for this and all surveys can be found at http://tgam.ca/election-polls.