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From left to right, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper

Small-business issues have become a battlefield for political parties during this election campaign, with all parties actively trying to win over this key sector, which employs nearly eight million people in Canada. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released its survey of the party leaders on Thursday, showing details of the parties' positions on small-business issues. While all parties are in rare agreement on the small-business tax rate, they are far from aligned on other key issues such as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance (EI).

Despite Justin Trudeau's recent musings that the small-business tax rate is used by wealthy people to avoid taxes, the Liberals agreed with the Conservatives and the Green Party to drop the current rate from 11 per cent to 9 per cent by 2019. The NDP went a step further, vowing to get to 9 per cent in just two years.

In terms of the CPP, the Conservatives were the only party saying that they wouldn't raise mandatory premiums because they would "hurt middle-class Canadian families and small businesses, leaving them will less money every month." The NDP and Liberal Party instead say they will work with provinces to gradually increase CPP premiums, with the NDP saying that Canadians are "facing a retirement security crisis."

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The Conservative Party promised the biggest cuts to employee EI premiums, from $1.88 per $100 of insurable earnings in 2016 to an estimated $1.47 in 2017. The Liberal Party promised to lower employee premiums to $1.65, and to drop employer premiums from $2.63 to $2.31. The NDP didn't make any specific commitment to lowering premiums, but supports an independent process to set rates.

The survey asked party leaders their stances on government red tape. On this issue, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP said they are open to consultations with small businesses to try to eliminate unnecessary regulations. In addition, the Green Party proposed "Think Small First" legislation, which would require that all regulations need to consider the impact on small businesses.

When asked about Canada's skills and labour shortage, the Liberals said they would give $500-million to the provinces and territories each year for training programs and proposed significant investments in aboriginal education. "First Nations are the fastest-growing segment of our population and we have committed to invest significantly in First Nations education," the party said. The Liberals also promise to create more pathways toward citizenship for temporary foreign workers.

The NDP promises to bring in better labour-market information to identify skills shortages. The party would increase training through EI programs, and work with employers to increase on-the-job training. Like the Liberals, they would restore pathways to citizenship for temporary foreign workers.

The Conservatives pointed to their record of creating the Canada Job Grant and their recent commitment to expanding the Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit. In terms of immigration, the party talked about its introduction of the Express Entry system of bringing in immigrants quickly, and the increase in the number of nominations provinces and territories can make under the Provincial Nominee Program.

CFIB president Dan Kelly says he is pleased with the attention small-business issues have received during the campaign. "We are thrilled that the leaders from all major parties have made substantive responses to the top issues for Canada's small businesses," he said. "I am particularly pleased to report that all four national parties have committed to reducing the small-business tax from 11 to 9 per cent."

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