Do Canadians want tax cuts?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The Harper government is musing about tax cuts — surprise surprise — just ahead of the 2015 election campaign.

At the onset of a two-day confab with business leaders about the state of Canada's economy, Finance Minister Joe Oliver suggested that the impending budget surplus gives the government some flexibility.

"I’m talking about reducing taxes for Canadian families and individuals, yes," Finance Minister Joe Oliver told reporters, on Tuesday, according to the Canadian Press.

"We’ll also be able to look at individual areas where prudent spending will be appropriate, and of course reducing the debt is another issue we’re going to be examining."

Tempting the electorate with some fiscal goodies, such as tax cuts at election time, is a tried and true tradition in Canadian politics. In 2006, for example, the Harper Conservatives promised to cut the GST by 2 percentage points.

And to be fair, since coming into office, the Tories have been aggressive tax slashers: they often boast that they've cut taxes 140 times saving the average Canadian family of four $5,500 each year.

Regardless, the common refrain from a lot of people is that taxes in this country are still too high.

On Tuesday, the Fraser Institute made headlines for its latest report describing that Canadians spend more money on taxes than on food, shelter and clothing combined.

[ Related: Canadians spend more on taxes than basic needs: report ]

Meanwhile, Trish Hennessy, a director for the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Ontario, says that tax cuts aren't a good idea.

"After almost 15 years of tax cuts dominating the political agenda in Ottawa, it's time to get real about the consequences," she told Yahoo Canada News.

"Federal revenues, as a share of Canada's economy, are at their lowest level in 70 years. Think about that. Seventy years ago we didn't have universal public health care. We didn't have a public pension program that greatly alleviated seniors poverty. University was unaffordable to everyone but the elite. These are but three examples of public programs that our tax contributions fund – and that benefits all Canadians.

"Meanwhile, there is a growing body of research that shows federal tax cuts – especially the latest round of income splitting – are a gift to the rich, not the rest of us."

Hennessy also suggests that perhaps Canadians don't desire tax cuts — that it's not a priority.

"What's the main priority for most Canadians? Protect public programs from erosion and cuts. Good jobs. Better retirement security. Affordable child care. That's the conversation I'd like to see Ottawa lead," she urges.

"There's this interesting question Environics Research asked Canadians a short while ago: what do you do that makes you feel like a good citizen? The number one answer was 'volunteer', the second answer was 'kindness', the third answer was 'I pay taxes.'

"At some level, I think we can appreciate that taxes are a necessary part of funding the fundamentals, like good public services. That's where the focus should be on Parliament Hill."

Hennessy's belief — that Canadians don't necessarily want tax cuts — is supported by at least one other survey.

In 2012, the Broadbent Institute, the left-leaning think tank named after federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent, was touting a survey that suggested that more 80 per cent of Canadians were in favour of a tax hike on the wealthiest Canadians, while 64 per cent said they were willing to pay "slightly more" taxes to curb Canada's growing income gap.

What do you think? Would you be wooed by a political party offering tax cuts in the next election?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

(Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press)

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