Parties are making big promises, but at what cost?
TORONTO -- There were plenty of questions about the dollars behind the election promises on the campaign trail Wednesday, as the major parties rolled out a range of spending and saving policies, in some cases without the independent costing that is supposed to reassure voters.
The Liberals promised more money for pensioners, the NDP rolled out its plan for an income-based dental care program and the Conservatives vowed to cut back on corporate payouts to the “wealthy and well-connected.”
But taxpayers need a lot more information to evaluate each party’s fiscal platform, says Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“It’s very easy during an election to make very big promises. It’s much, much harder in reality to realize them,” he told CTV News on Wednesday in Ottawa. “And, of course, any money that you borrow today is money you have to pay back tomorrow. So I’m very interested in seeing all the parties’ costed fiscal plan that’s going to explain how they’re going to pay for their big promises.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau unveiled a plan to increase old age security by 10 per cent when pensioners turn 75 and to increase survivor benefits paid under the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan by 25 per cent. The OAS increase is projected to cost $1.63 billion in 2020-21, rising to $2.56 billion by 2023-24.
Trudeau wouldn’t answer whether CPP premiums would increase, saying only: "That's a conversation we're going to be having with the provinces.”
Trudeau has made about $4-billion worth of campaign promises in the first week of the election campaign.
But all those figures are courtesy of the Liberal party. The Liberals enacted legislation allowing federal parties to submit their election platforms for non-partisan costing to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but so far, only a handful of costings have been released.
None of them come from the Liberals as of Wednesday, but Trudeau says all of that is coming.
“I can assure you that we have been and are working with the parliamentary budget officer on costing elements for our platform,” Trudeau told reporters on a campaign stop in Fredericton, N.B.
“We will be releasing a fully costed, fully responsible platform in the coming weeks, including all the work done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer on specific measures.”
The idea behind the PBO is to implement standardized accounting methods that allow voters to easily compare how much the platforms of each party will cost. But the PBO only costs out individual promises. It doesn’t evaluate an entire platform or whether a party in power could balance a budget.
Sahir Khan, executive vice-president of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, largely applauded the work of the PBO as a “big step” for voters trying to understand the feasibility of a party’s platform.
“This is the first time we’re seeing a source of funds presented for ideas. We’re seeing a lot of announcements, a lot of money going out the door, and it’s the first time we’re seeing ‘Okay, this is how we’re going to pay for it,’” he told CTV’s Power Play. “I think it’s a lot harder than it looks.”
Kahn said his organization will be examining the numbers once the PBO has costed each promise and will be evaluating the platforms as a whole.
Wudrick says it’s particularly concerning that the Liberals have not released any PBO costings because “they were the ones who implemented this new PBO service. They were the ones that rightly identified a need for that service and yet they are the only party that’s not using it. So I think that should raise some eyebrows.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer promised Wednesday that if his party is elected, it will review all business subsidy and innovation programs – amounting to about $7 billion annually – and axe funding that doesn’t benefit Canadians. He’s confident that will amount to at least $1.5 billion.
Scheer, who has announced about $9 billion in program spending so far this campaign and submitted seven proposals to the PBO, said his government will balance the books in five years.
“You can expect for the rest the campaign that we’ll continue to make announcements about how a Conservative government will make life more affordable, so we can leave more money in the pockets of Canadians so they can get ahead. We’ll also showcase exactly how we’ll accomplish the goals of returning back to balanced budgets so the government stops borrowing money,” Scheer said at a campaign stop in Hamilton, Ont.
Wudrick says five years is too long to balance the budget but that his organization supports of the Conservatives’ universal cut to income tax.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rolled out a plan to provide dental care to about 4.3 million Canadians without workplace or private insurance plans. The plan would apply to all those in households making less than $90,000, with free care to those with less than $70,000.
Singh says the PBO determined the plan will cost about $860 million a year. That’s a priority for an NDP government, said Singh, pointing to corporate tax cuts as a place his party will target.
Wudrick warns that the PBO costing doesn’t include the possibility that private insurers would drop their own coverage, which would drive up the cost.
The Green Party released its platform Tuesday without PBO costing, but vowed it is coming “shortly.” The party wants to make it mandatory for all parties to submit all of its platform promises to the PBO.