Voters’ pocketbooks took centre stage on the campaign trail Friday with three of the major party leaders offering boutique tax credits and regulatory changes that they said would leave a little more money in Canadians’ wallets.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau put forward a suite of minor changes for small businesses to lower some costs for business owners. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pledged to bring back the transit tax credit – introduced by former prime minister Stephen Harper and axed by Mr. Trudeau. And NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pitched a cap on cellphone and internet bills.
At a campaign stop in Trois-Rivières, Que., on Friday morning, Mr. Trudeau promised to cut red tape for small businesses, including a plan to eliminate the fee on the HST and GST portion of a bill that merchants must pay to credit card companies every time a card is swiped. Instead, the swipe fee would only be applied as a percentage of the total amount before tax.
Mr. Trudeau said the change to swipe fees would allow business owners to “reach new heights.” The Liberals said the proposal would save businesses nearly $500-million a year in fees.
The Retail Council of Canada said that while savings would be significant, there is concern that credit card companies would bring in higher fees to make up for the reduction in swipe fees.
“Government will have to stay vigilant to ensure that relief that it has provided to businesses and consumers is not bled off by other players in the payments ecosystem,” said Karl Littler, senior vice-president of public affairs, in a statement.
If re-elected, Mr. Trudeau said a Liberal government would cut the cost to federally incorporate by 75 per cent, to $50 from $500. He said the party would also eliminate all business advisory service fees, such as mentoring and training costs, from the Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada and Farm Credit Canada.
The policy announcement would be in addition to the tax-rate cut for small business that the Liberal government has already brought in, to 9 per cent from 11 per cent. However, it also comes amid a strained relationship with the small-business community after Ottawa introduced changes in 2017 that sought to restrict how income could be spread among family members who contribute to a business.
Mr. Scheer is proposing a 15-per-cent public-transit tax credit, which would apply to the cost of monthly transit passes, weekly passes and electronic fare cards when used for an extended period. Eligible passes must allow for unlimited travel on local buses, streetcars, subways, commuter trains, commuter buses and local ferries, according to the news release.
“For so many Canadians, public transit is the only way to get from Point A to B and transit costs can be a significant out-of-pocket expense," said Mr. Scheer as he stepped off a bus at a Go Transit bus garage in Mississauga, Ont.
The Liberals nixed the boutique tax credit in the 2017 budget citing evidence that it wasn’t leading significantly more people to use public transit. At the time, the government said the money spent on the tax credit would be better used to build more public transit to expand access.
Mr. Singh used his Friday policy announcement to underscore the NDP’s repeated line of attack in the first week of the campaign that the Liberals and Conservatives are in bed with big business.
“Governments in Ottawa have continued to allow the powerful, the wealthiest to have things easier for them and harder for everybody else," Mr. Singh said in Toronto as he announced a New Democratic government would take, on average, $10 off cellphone and internet bills.
Mr. Singh said an NDP government would bring in a mandatory “affordable” basic plan and unlimited data plan. He did not say how much those plans would be. The party’s news release also said it would force an end to data caps on internet plans.
Robert Ghiz, president and chief executive of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, said a lot of political arguments about Canadian wireless are “old news or outright misconceptions.” Mr. Ghiz said politicians should instead focus on investments in Canada’s wireless infrastructure and the sector’s accomplishments, including a significant reduction in mobile wireless prices between 2014 and 2018.