OTTAWA — The Conservatives are promising to recover jobs lost from the pandemic, stimulate the economy with spending incentives, and ensure that Canada is prepared for future health crises, if the party was to form government.
To mark day two of the federal election campaign, the party released “Canada’s Recovery Plan,” a 162-page document that expands on the pre-election promises they unveiled in the spring. The promises aren’t costed out by the Parliamentary Budget Officer yet, but party officials say that’s in the works.
The spending commitments are for the most part short-term investments, minus a few proposals that would have long-term implications such as boosting the annual growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer to provinces to at least six per cent, and a new child-care plan that would aim to make services more affordable for low-income families.
O’Toole positioned his party as the only one with a viable strategy to transition Canada out of economic havoc, as he stood in front of glossy magazine-like posters of the platform document that features the leader in a casual t-shirt with a headline that reads “The man with a plan.”
“As poorly timed as this election is, it presents Canadians with an important choice about our future. On one hand, the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens with their collective failure to focus on a plan for Canada’s recovery after the pandemic, their failure to plan for jobs or really anything, and on the other hand, Canada’s Conservatives, who will focus relentlessly on creating jobs, increasing wages, and getting Canada’s economy back on track,” he said, speaking to reporters.
JOBS & THE ECONOMY
To fulfill the promise to restore one million jobs lost from COVID-19 in one year, the party would help incentivize job creation by establishing the Canada Job Surge Plan which would pay up to 50 per cent of the salary of new employees for six months following the phasing out of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland set the expiry date for the CEWS in October.
They would encourage companies to spend money by providing a five per cent investment tax credit in 2022 and 2023, encourage wealthy Canadians to invest in small businesses by providing a 25 per cent tax credit on amounts up to $100,000, and provide a business loan of up to $200,000 for small businesses in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors.
The Conservatives would also implement a national rapid screening program so that more employees can return to the workplace now and in the circumstance of a future pandemic. This includes providing Canadians with readily available at-home rapid test kits.
For low-wage workers, the party is proposing to double the Canada Workers Benefit up to a maximum of $2,800 for individuals and $5,000 for families. Instead of a year-end tax refund, they would push the money out in quarterly direct deposits.
They also propose to double the Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit for the next three years and spend $250 million over the next two years to build the Canada Job Training Fund to encourage workers to learn new job skills.
Under the Conservatives, Employment Insurance sickness benefits would also expand from 15 to 52 weeks.
FAMILES AND CHILD CARE
Canadians should expect a GST “holiday,” whereby all purchases made at retail stores for a month in the fall will be tax-free. The party says this will help both families and retailers hard-hit from the pandemic.
On surging housing costs, the Conservatives have committed to build one million homes over the next three years, “arrest and reverse” inflationary impacts of foreign buyers in the housing market, enhance public transportation, and make mortgages more affordable.
The Conservatives would also scrap the Liberal’s $30 billion child-care plan, which would bring down the cost of child care to $10 a day per child across the country within five years, and instead transform the existing Child Care Expense Deduction into a refundable tax credit covering up to 75 per cent of the cost of child care for lower-income families.
“We’re going to help all parents, all parents immediately. Not some, six years from now. Parents know what’s best, particularly with the flexibility needed for families coming out of the pandemic and with shift work and other things, we’re going to help all families,” he said on Monday. “It’s an approach that’s not only fair, it gives immediate help. Not more Liberal promises that will never come.”
Party officials said that any money already transferred to the provinces through the Liberal’s plan wouldn’t be revoked. However, O’Toole dodged questions about how this proposal would actually increase child-care spaces, another facet of the issue.
The party would also allow expectant parents to claim the Canada Child Benefit as early as seven months into pregnancy, as opposed to at childbirth and provide up to eight weeks of paid employment leave in the case of stillbirth or child’s death.
Noting the cracks that the pandemic has exposed in the health-care system, the party is pledging to increase annual funding guaranteed to provinces for health-care spending by setting the growth rate at six per cent, as opposed to three per cent.
They say the move will inject $60 billion into Canada’s health-care system over the next decade.
A rather prominent platform pillar is the party’s pitch to introduce an action plan on mental health that would require provinces to use a portion of government funding to improve treatment services locally, encourage employers to add mental health into benefits packages by offering a 25 per cent tax credit on the cost of the additional coverage for the first three years, allow mental health charities and non-profits to access a grant program worth $150 million, and establish a nation-wide suicide hotline.
“Mental health and addiction were serious problems before COVID hit. After a year of lockdowns made them worse, these are crises that our government needs to address,” the document reads.
To tackle the opioid crisis, the Conservatives would spend $325 million over the next three years to create 1,000 residential drug treatment beds and 50 additional community centres.
The document also includes a section about pandemic preparedness. Beyond ensuring a necessary stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), it states that a Conservative government would ramp up vaccine research and make Canada a competitive jurisdiction for pharmaceutical innovation. They would also reinstate the tariff on imported PPE “to recognize and secure the longevity of Canadian manufacturers of PPE.”
ENVIRONMENT & CLIMATE CHANGE
In line with their “Secure the Environment” plan released in April, the party would focus on conserving 17 per cent of Canada’s land and water, with a goal to raise the target to 25 per cent, end sewage dumping – though they fail to outline how – and ban the export of plastic waste unless the exporter can prove it will be recycled.
In the document they also describe their proposal for a Personal Low Carbon Savings Account, which O’Toole has said adamantly is not a carbon tax as the money doesn’t flow through the government’s purse.
As opposed to the current rebate system, the party has pitched to create an industry-led program that accumulates funds based on individual fuel consumption, which Canadians can then use on environmentally-friendly purchases like a bicycle or transit pass.
He has said Canadians will be able to monitor their carbon footprint in their personalized accounts and make decisions to reduce it.
Among other items, they will also require 30 per cent of light duty vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030.
The platform release drew reaction from Justin Trudeau as he toured Quebec for his own campaign announcement.
“Canadians have worked too hard for change since the Harper years to settle for what the Conservative Party is offering, too hard to let the Conservative Party cut the programs that families, workers, and businesses rely on, as they said they would have,” the Liberal leader said. “These are the same people who won’t commit that all of their candidates will be fully vaccinated. That approach won’t protect Canadians or create good jobs. It won’t launch a strong recovery or secure our future.”
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a statement Monday about what help for the hardest hit sectors should look like across all party platforms.
They want to see a replacement program for the pandemic wage subsidy and the rent subsidy, debt relief by forgiving interest payments on COVID-19-related government backed loans for small and medium-sized enterprises, and a commitment not to introduce new taxes on businesses.
“The pandemic has already closed nearly 200,000 Canadian businesses so far, or roughly 15 per cent of Canada’s primary job creation engine. We can’t fail those businesses who did everything they were asked to keep all Canadians safe by letting them fail now,” said the chamber’s director of parliamentary affairs and SME policy, Alla Drigola Birk.
O’Toole said they will be releasing an “updated” version of the platform document with PBO costing.
The Conservative leader has particpated in only virutal events since the launch of the election campaign on Sunday.