Conservatives' $60B health care promise amounts to just $3.6B increase in first five years: PBO

·6 min read
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a copy of his party's recovery plan as he campaigns in August in Ottawa. The federal election is Sept. 20. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a copy of his party's recovery plan as he campaigns in August in Ottawa. The federal election is Sept. 20. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Conservatives have released a costing breakdown of their platform commitments that says a government headed by Erin O'Toole would deliver $52.5 billion in new spending over the next five years, with no plan to return to budgetary balance before then.

The costing, carried out by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, projects how much Conservative platform promises would cost over the next five years.

The platform calls for $52.5 billion in new spending over five years, with $29.6 billion planned for 2021-22. The costing predicts a deficit of $168 billion in 2021-22 that would decline gradually to $24.7 billion in 2025-26.

The Conservatives say they would meet their campaign commitments by redirecting $35.8 billion in spending planned by the Liberals over the next five years.

The Conservatives intend to cancel the Liberals' child care plan, which would free up $26.7 billion. Some of that money would go toward O'Toole's promised child care tax credit, which the PBO said would cost $2.6 billion over the next five years.

One of the biggest financial commitments the Conservatives have made during the election campaign is to increase the annual rise in health transfers to the provinces from a minimum of three per cent now to a minimum of six per cent.

WATCH | Conservative Party releases cost of its election platform:

The Conservatives say that adjustment to the Canada Health Transfer would inject $60 billion into health care over the next 10 years.

The PBO's costing, however, says that boost in the health transfer would amount only to $3.6 billion in new spending between now and 2025-26.

According to the PBO, 2021-22 would see no health care funding increase under the Conservatives' plan, but the extra funding in 2022-23 would amount to $304 million before rising to $329 million the following year, $901 million in 2024-25 and $2 billion in 2025-26.

Unlike the Liberals, who are promising to allocate funds specifically for mental health under a proposed new Mental Health Transfer, the Conservatives say they would encourage the provinces to fund improved mental health services using the extra money in the Canada Health Transfer.

$1.8 billion GST holiday

A Conservative official speaking on background said that because of the pandemic, health transfers are already scheduled to be high in the short term and the full effect of the promised boost to transfers would not be felt until the back half of the decade.

The Conservatives' promise to double the Canada Workers Benefit, up to a maximum of $2,800 for individuals or $5,000 for families, is expected to cost $24 billion over the next five years — $1.3 billion this year, rising to $5.7 billion in 2025-26.

The Conservatives are promising a Canada Seniors Care Benefit, which would give $200 per month per household to any Canadian living with and taking care of a parent over the age of 70. According to the PBO, that commitment would cost about a $500 million a year, totalling $2.49 billion over five years.

The Canada Investment Accelerator — which the Conservatives say would provide a 5 per cent tax credit for any capital investment made in 2022 and 2023, with the first $25,000 refundable for small businesses — would cost $13.8 billion over five years, says the PBO.

The one-month GST holiday the Conservatives have promised to provide in the fall would come at a cost of $1.8 billion.

Another significant item in the Conservatives' plan is $9.7 billion in funding for fiscal stabilization, all of which would come in 2021-22.

A Conservative official speaking on background said about half of that money would be used to make retroactive payments to provinces hit hard by the collapse in the price of oil: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Over the next five years, the Conservatives carbon capture plan would cost $2.5 billion while its "Natural Climate Solutions" plan would cost $1.5 billion.

Leaders prepare for debate

Like the other four federal leaders set to square off in a televised French-language debate in Gatineau, Que., at 8 p.m. ET tonight, O'Toole has been behind closed doors much of the day, preparing.

The move to release the platform costing comes after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spent days attacking the lack of specifics in O'Toole's plan. On Tuesday, Trudeau said he would not refer to O'Toole's electoral program as a platform because of the lack of detail.

"There are no tables at the end of it, like there are in the Liberal platform, to show what the expenses are over the coming years, how much every promise will cost and what the fiscal trajectory is," Trudeau told reporters in Montreal.

WATCH | Trudeau challenges O'Toole's budgeting, position on firearms:

In a potential preview of an attack line voters could still hear on the debate stage, Trudeau accused O'Toole of "not doing his homework" and claiming he can "magically" balance the budget within 10 years.

Conservatives said platform was 'costed internally'

Trudeau unveiled his party's platform at an event in Toronto last week, a document outlining $78 billion in new spending over five years but no path back to balanced budgets. While most of the costing relies on Liberal projections, the independent Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) has examined 11 of the party's platform promises.

The Conservative plan released in August included a statement that the platform had been "costed internally" and was being reviewed by the PBO. The party promised to include the watchdog's costing in "subsequent editions."

Pressed on the issue in Ottawa Tuesday, O'Toole said the party expected an update from the PBO "shortly" and blamed the delay on Trudeau's decision to call a snap election.

"That was a process that Mr. Trudeau set up. We could not access the PBO until the campaign began," he said. "We will update Canada's Recovery Plan as soon as we get that confirmation."

A reporter noted that other parties had released costing estimates in past campaigns without the help of the PBO, which was created in 2006.

WATCH | O'Toole says he's waiting for the PBO to put a price tag on his platform:

The PBO began responding to requests from parties to estimate the costs of their campaign proposals on Aug. 15, the day of the election call.

The PBO tweeted Tuesday that, since the start of the campaign, it has received more than 100 requests to cost electoral proposals and had returned 75 completed estimates to the parties.

"We release these costing estimates on dates selected by the parties that placed the requests," the PBO said in the tweet.

The PBO website has so far posted 13 reports examining campaign promises: 11 for the Liberals and two for the New Democrats. The 2019 election, which was called on the fixed election date, was the first to see the budget watchdog examine campaign promises by the parties.

Debates set for today and Thursday

The NDP also has not released the costing of its platform. An NDP spokesperson told CBC News Tuesday the party will be "releasing our full costing in the coming days."

The Bloc Québécois and Green Party have released platforms, but neither one has been costed.

The five party leaders participating in Wednesday's event — Trudeau, O'Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul — will also face off Thursday in a high-stakes English-language debate.

Canadians will head to the polls in just 12 days. Advance polling opens on Friday.

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