Conservative election platform outlines plans to cut spending, return to balance
OTTAWA – The Conservative Party has released its costed 2019 platform, outlining how an Andrew Scheer-led government would get back to balanced budgets with more planned cuts than promised spending.
Over the course of the campaign—which is now nearing the finish line— the Conservatives have rolled out a series of promises, many being new affordability-focused tax cuts and credits. Today, the party offered up details on how it would return the federal budget to balance by 2024-25: by spending less than what it would amass in revenue and savings through cuts.
The platform titled: “Andrew Scheer’s Plan For You To Get Ahead” spans 103 pages and includes chapters on jobs, climate change, and a wide spanning section called “more help at home” that outlines the Conservatives’ plan for ethics, immigration, firearms, health, privacy, veterans and more.
The package comes the day after the final leaders’ debate of the campaign, and with 10 days to go until all ballots are cast. It combines already-unveiled commitments made by Scheer over the course of the election, as well as offering up new information on the party’s position going forward on other topics.
While already announced, the Conservatives say they are committed to balancing the budget in five years. The current projections from the party show that in the fifth year the budget would show a $667 million surplus. The Parliamentary Budget Officer currently pegs the deficit will be at $23.3 billion in 2020-21 without factoring in any party’s promises.
In total, the Conservatives estimate that the promises they’ve made, or policies they would enact if elected , would cost $6.2 billion in 2020-21, but would also bring in just over $6.4 billion in new revenue or savings, bringing the PBO-estimated deficit down slightly, to $23 billion. This is based on independent analysis done by the PBO.
The Liberals had projected the deficit would be 27.4 billion in 2020-21, the NDP say under their plan it would hit $32.7 billion in year one, and neither party has a plan or timeline to return to balance.
“A new Conservative government will live within its means,” reads the platform.
In supporting documents the party provided to reporters, the Conservatives opted to present potential scenarios with types of families as examples for how much each household would save based on the combination of measures within the platform they are eligible for.
Some of the bigger ticket items in the Conservative platform are:
- Implementing a Universal Tax Cut, which would reduce the tax rate on income under $47,630 which will cost $548 million in 2020-21 but would more than quadruple in the year following, hitting $5.9 billion by the end of a Conservative first mandate;
- Removing the GST from home energy bills, which the Conservatives estimate would save the average household in Canada $100 in 2020. This would cost $1.3 billion in 2020-21, and around the same amount each year going forward;
- Creating a Green Home Renovation Tax Credit, a 20 per cent refund for eco-friendly home improvements, which would cost $894 million in 2020-21, and $687 million in its second, and final year; and
- Making maternity and parental benefits tax-free by removing federal income tax from EI maternity and EI parental benefits in the form of a tax credit. This is estimated to cost $616 million in 2020-21 and rise gradually over time.
Scheer unveiled the document, which was provided to media in advance, from Delta, B.C.
“This election will come down to the choice between a government who thinks they can spend your money better than you, raises taxes, and makes your life more unaffordable – and a new Conservative government that will lower your taxes and put more money in your pocket,” writes Scheer in this platform, next to a photo of the leader backed by a row of Canadian flags. Similar to the Liberal document, the Conservative platform is peppered with photos of the leader out on the hustings.
The party says that over the final days of this campaign Scheer will be laying out what a new Conservative government would do in its first 100 days in office, should it be elected.
Scheer has faced questions throughout the campaign about when the cost of his package of promises would be made public. He had earlier signalled that it would come "with plenty of time" for voters "to make up their minds before they vote.”
Earlier today Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took aim before the document was public, saying that “you don't release your best work at 6 o'clock on the Friday of a long weekend.”
What the Conservatives would cut
As part of this vow to get back to black—something the Conservatives say is needed to protect social programs like education and healthcare—A Scheer-led government would table legislation requiring the federal government to maintain a balanced budget in every year, once the current deficit is eliminated.
“We will tie the salaries of the Prime Minister and ministers to the implementation of a balanced budget,” reads the platform.
Conservatives would also put in place what they’re calling a “pay-as-you-go” rule for all new spending, meaning for each proposal to spend, there needs to be equal savings to offset it.
How the Conservatives plan to get back to balance, though not within a first mandate, in part is through the following cuts:
- Cutting $1.5 billion a year by reviewing business subsidy programs, citing the $12 million that went to Loblaws under the Liberals for new high-efficiency refrigerators as one example;
- Eliminating the Liberals’ carbon tax, which would result in $222 million in savings in 2020-21, though that amount would drop over time;
- “Prioritizing” infrastructure spending, which would eliminate $1.3 billion in 2020-21 and billions more over time while still maintaining infrastructure projects underway, and adding other projects in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, though with a delayed timeline, 15 years instead of the Liberals’ promised 12.
- Cutting foreign aid by $1.5 billion and canceling scheduled increases to international assistance saving another $400 million in the first year, rising slightly over time;
- Imposing a three per cent tax— the same amount pitched by the Liberals— on revenues of large technology firms that provide a social media platform, search engine or online marketplace. This new big tech tax would apply on companies with worldwide revenues of more than $1 billion, and Canadian revenues of $50 million. The Conservatives say this would raise $410 million in the first year.
- Analyzing the tax gap, reallocating $750 million to the CRA to crack down on tax evaders, something the PBO estimates could pull in $3.37 billion by 2024-25; and
- Tightening public service operating costs to the tune of $823 million in 2020-21 but rising by a billion dollars in the following few years. The Conservatives say the 2020-2021 staffing levels in the public service would be maintained until the budget is balanced, but cuts would be made to expenses like consultants, travel and hospitality, and on conferences that public servants attend.
As well the Conservatives say they would “gradually” reduce the footprint of government real estate.
Plans aimed at jobs, families, seniors, homeowners
The first two sections of the Conservative platform focuses on their plans for jobs, families, and homeowners. This includes measures like:
- Introducing 15 weeks of employment insurance leave and other supports for adopting parents, which the platform just says has a ‘small” cost, no actual number;
- Allowing first-time homebuyers to take out 30-year mortgages, and removing the "stress test" for renewals, neither of which are stated to cost the government anything;
- Bringing back two Harper-era boutique tax credits: The Children's Fitness Tax Credit and Children's Arts and Learning Tax Credit. The cost combined in 2020-21 for these is $297 million;
- Boosting the government’s contribution to the Registered Education Savings Plan by 10 per cent for every dollar parents put in, up to $2,500 a year. This measure is projected to cost $56 million in the first year it’s implemented, which is slated for 2021-22;
- Expanding the Age Credit by $1,000 with intent of helping low and middle income seniors, estimated to cost $553million in 2020-21 and rising incrementally over time; and
- Reversing Liberal small business tax changes related to income sprinkling and passive income, which will cost $500 million in 2020-21 and also rising slightly each year over.
The Conservatives are also pledging new supports for famers, fishers, and to eliminate the existing interprovincial trade barriers.
Innovation-focused environmental approach
The Conservatives’ climate plan came out in June, billed as Canada’s “best chance” to meet the Paris targets without a carbon tax, but the proposals lacked any estimates on how successful this slate of policies would be at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In Friday’s platform the policy proposals--aimed at supporting green technology innovation and protecting the environment—include costing on various aspects:
- A 15 per cent tax credit for public transit, called the “Green Public Transit Tax Credit” which is projected to cost $227 million in 2020-21, increasing slightly over time;
- The plan to force large-scale polluters to reinvest in clean energy technology, instead of paying penalties to the government, which the Conservatives are calling “Green Investment Standards” but is essentially a price on pollution for large emitters. This is set to cost $8 million annually.
- Launching a “Green Expansion Accelerator” to provide funds to industries proven to reduce emissions in other countries, which would cost $500 million in 2020-21, the most it would cost out of the three years the program would run; and
- Launching the “Canadian clean” brand, in which the Conservatives would stamp Canadian products as such, marketing them as “the cleanest in the world” to global customers. This would cost a combined $20 million in its first two years.
The Conservative platform also promises to repeal Bill C-69, the contentious environmental regulation legislation passed by the Liberals, build the Trans Mountain Pipeline, appoint a minister to consult with Indigenous right holders, create a “national energy corridor” and end the shipping traffic ban on B.C.’s North Coast.
Prison reform, penalties for conflict of interest breaches
After centering much of its criticism on the Liberal government’s legal and ethical scandals and conflict of interest controversies over the last four years, the Conservative platform offers several proposals on how they’d govern differently.
Among these promises is putting in “real penalties” for breaking the Conflict of Interest Act, which Trudeau was found to have done twice, but received no financial or administrative penalty.
Conservatives would introduce legislative changes to reverse the burden of proof for whistleblowers and place it on the employer, and expand protections for those working on government contracts in the private sector.
“Public servants who come forward to do the right thing and disclose wrongdoing in the interest of Canadians should not fear for their job security or face intimidation from their employers,” reads the platform.
A Conservative government would also close the loophole in the Conflict of Interest Act that allows cabinet ministers to indirectly hold shares, a step taken in light of the controversy that surrounded Finance Minister Bill Morneau in the last Parliament.
As already announced, the Conservatives would allow the RCMP to access documents deemed to be a cabinet confidence, and launch a judicial inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin scandal, which will total $20 million after it’s completed in two years.
The platform also says that the Conservatives would increase the oversight powers for the ethics and lobbying commissioners, toughen the lobbying restrictions for people who have been criminally charged and implement former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose’s proposal to make it mandatory that all judges in Canada take sexual assault law training.
The party platform also offers several corrections, gang, human-trafficking, drug, and justice-related promises. These include tying parole eligibility to job skills training; tabling legislation to allow judges to “lock up the worst criminals for the rest of their life”; ending statutory release; ending unescorted day passes from prison; ending the prison needle exchange program because needles are “dangerous weapons” that put correctional officers at risk; requiring full-body scans for anyone who enters a prison; and changing the Criminal Code to identify gangs and to toughen sentences for violent gang crime.
On the Conservatives’ domestic agenda
The Conservatives’ platform also outlines the party’s positions on a wide variety of domestic files. Among the costed elements are spending $25 million annually to make admission free to Canada's national museums, for Canadians and international tourists; and replacing MRI and CT machines at a cost of $250 million in 2020-21.
The Conservatives say they would also extend EI for parents whose infant dies; develop an autism strategy; tackle cyberbullying; “prioritize genocide survivors, LGBTQ+ refugees, and internally displaced people” as refugees, and direct the immigration department to match employment backgrounds of newcomers to the employment needs of companies that rely on temporary foreign workers.
Indigenous-centric commitments span just two pages with the Conservatives saying they would “remove barriers to prosperity”; modernize Indigenous governance; keep up with the Liberals’ plan to clear drinking water advisories on reserves; and develop a missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls “action plan.”
Foreign policy, terrorism
Scheer has also spent considerable time chiding Trudeau on his record on international relations. In this platform he vows to “reclaim” Canada’s role, while making “greater overtures” to India and Japan.
Scheer would reopen the office of religious freedoms, at a cost of $1 million, and move Canada’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which would cost $2 million total.
A Conservative government would also allow CSIS to disrupt terrorist threats, and introduce new laws that would prosecute Canadians who travel to designated terrorist hotspots, while putting in new protections for their children.
As for military procurement, Scheer’s plan would see the CF-18s replaced, a second interim Navy supply ship procured, and submarines replaced.