Liberals pledge to boost Canada Child Benefit, remove tax from maternity leave
MIDGELL, P.E.I. -- Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau travelled Tuesday through Atlantic Canada, hoping to remind Atlantic Canadians why they handed him every seat in the region four years ago and dangling election promises aimed at families with young children.
If re-elected, he promised that Liberals would boost the Canada Child Benefit for children under age one and make maternity and parental leave benefits tax-free.
Raising children is expensive and challenging, particularly in the first year, and this would help, Trudeau said.
"In those first few months with a new baby, when it's a struggle to get enough sleep, let alone get to the top of your game at work, it can be an even bigger concern," he said. "People should be focused on spending time with their baby, not worrying about how they'll pay their bills."
The Liberals are promising to increase the Canada Child Benefit by 15 per cent for children under one, which Trudeau said would be an increase of up to $1,000 a year for some families. The party also promised to remove federal taxes from employment insurance cheques for maternity and parental leave.
They contrasted their plan with a similar one from the Conservatives, who pledged to make maternity and parental leave tax-free through a non-refundable 15-per-cent tax credit.
The Liberal plan exempts benefits from tax at the source, Trudeau said.
"You'll get every dollar right when you need it since no taxes will be taken off the EI cheque when new parents receive it," he said.
Trudeau said the Liberals would also introduce a new leave for adoptive parents so they get the same benefits as other parents. This measure will help make LGBTQ couples eligible for parental-leave benefits.
It would amount to an extra $7,000 in payments for the average family claiming the proposed new leave, Trudeau said.
The Liberal leader arrived in Newfoundland in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday and then travelled to Prince Edward Island in the afternoon for a campaign event with Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay.
His whistlestops in the region included time set aside in the afternoon to film an election advertisement in P.E.I. aimed at Atlantic Canadian voters.
Trudeau's former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, who is playing a key role in the Liberal war room for the campaign, joined Trudeau in P.E.I., as did the federal Liberal party president Suzanne Cowan. Both grew up in Nova Scotia.
It was the first time Butts -- who resigned as Trudeau's principal secretary in the midst of the SNC-Lavalin affair -- has joined the leader's tour since the campaign was launched on Sept. 11. Party organizers said he was there to help with the ad shoot.
The Liberals won all 32 seats in the Atlantic region in 2015 and the Conservatives, NDP and Green parties have been working to capitalize on a feeling among some voters that the region has been taken for granted by the Liberal government.
The cancellation of the Energy East oil pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick, a dearth of Atlantic MPs in Trudeau's cabinet and the decision to name Toronto MP Navdeep Bains as head of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency have been fodder for opposition parties heading into this campaign.
Trudeau refused to acknowledge this sentiment Tuesday, pointing to commitments he has made to the region on immigration and infrastructure through the Atlantic growth strategy as proof he does care about the Atlantic provinces.
He also made sure to mention former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's name, in both Newfoundland and P.E.I., accusing him of "betraying" Newfoundland and Labrador on the Atlantic Accord -- a federal-provincial agreement on offshore resource revenues.
Harper had become deeply unpopular in the region before the 2015 election, thanks in part to his Conservative government's cuts to employment insurance, reductions in federal jobs and lingering resentment over his talk years earlier of a "culture of defeat" in Atlantic Canada.
"Let me tell you about P.E.I. and Atlantic Canada it's a culture of honest, hard work and Islanders and Atlantic Canadians deserve no less from their federal government," Trudeau said during his speech in P.E.I.
However, some seats long considered safe for the Liberals could be in play in this election.
Turnout for Trudeau's rally Tuesday evening at MacAulay's farm in Midgell, P.E.I. was significantly smaller than the crowd he drew in Summerside when Trudeau visited the Island in 2015 and was one of the smallest of the rallies the Liberals have been holding almost every night since the campaign began a week ago.
Organizers blamed frigid temperatures for the lower turnout.
For his part, Trudeau sounded as buoyant as ever, encouraging his Atlantic supporters to make phone calls, donate to the party and "go knock doors," just as he has at events across the country over the last week.
On Wednesday, Trudeau will continue touring the region, with stops in Fredericton, Salisbury and Moncton, N.B., as well as Truro, N.S.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2019.