Tories eye tariff reductions to mitigate Canada/U.S. price gap: report

Stephen Harper speaks to media (CP file photo)It looks like the Harper Conservatives are reverting to populist pocketbook politics in the lead-up to the 2015 election campaign.

The National Post is reporting that the federal government is looking to reduce tariffs as a means to combat the U.S./Canada price gap on things like consumer electronics.

Internal documents obtained by the National Post reveal the government’s concern at prices it says are, on average, 15% higher than those paid by U.S. consumers before taxes.

It says the government tried to reduce the price of baby clothing and sports equipment in the last budget by removing tariffs that were as high as 18% on hockey skates.

The government document said that success [in previous reductions] would provide a rationale for further action.

A 2012 BMO Nesbitt Burns study illustrated some of the price differences between Canada and the United States: a pair of running shoes was 37 per cent more expensive in Canada, a lawnmower was 31 per cent more expensive and a kid's backpack was 26 per cent above U.S. prices.

In February, a Senate finance committee report suggested that tariffs were one of the key reasons for a Canada/U.S. price gap.

Any respite for cash-weary consumers is going to be politically popular.

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The Tories are also 'helping' consumers battle high cell phone prices by creating more choice in the marketplace. In January, they'll hold their 700 MHz spectrum auction and have vowed to "aggressively pursue policies that ensure consumer interests are at the core of all Government decisions."

And there are rumours that the government's throne speech in October will include promises of other consumer-friendly measures such as an air passengers bill of rights, credit card regulation to combat fee gauging and a consumer bill of rights.

The Post's John Ivison calls it a "consumer first" agenda.

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It's an agenda that will likely bode well for the Tories.

While the media often pays a lot of attention to Senate scandals and leaders' personalities, voters are often more concerned about their pocketbooks.

This populist strategy could also help the Tories steal votes away from the Justin Trudeau and the Liberals who are clearly trying to attract the middle class and the NDP who have long touted themselves as the voice for the working man.

The 'working man' is going to like paying less for running shoes and backpacks.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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