Liberals promise lower taxes, cellphone bills in pitch aimed at middle class

BRAMPTON, Ont. — Justin Trudeau promised Sunday to provide Canadians more relief from their tax and cellphone bills, part of the Liberal leader's effort to steer his campaign back toward the issue of affordability and away from the blackface scandal that has dogged him since last week.

Speaking in the backyard of a suburban home in Brampton, Ont., Trudeau was looking to one-up the tax plan presented last week by his rival, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, by promising that if re-elected, he would make the first $15,000 of income tax free for most Canadians.

"Our plan lowers taxes the most for people who make less, gives the middle class some breathing room, and ensures that the wealthy don't get an extra hand up," said Trudeau, who was flanked by local candidates.

"With this tax cut, we'll lift about 40,000 people out of poverty — twice as many as the Conservative plan — and make life more affordable for Canadians."

The Liberals said they would accomplish the feat by raising the basic personal amount by almost $2,000 by 2023 for people earning under $147,000 a year. It would save the average Canadian $292 a year, Trudeau said.

Under the current formula, Canadians don't pay income tax on the first $12,309 earned. That would increase to $13,229 under the Liberal plan and $15,000 by 2023, compared to $13,092 under current projections.

The plan is expected to cost $2.9 billion in the first year, increasing to $5.6 billion in 2023-24.

Trudeau refused to discuss how his government would pay for the measures announced Sunday, nor whether they would add to the federal deficit, which was $14-billion in 2018-19 and remains a major blight on the party's promise-made, promise-kept record. the Liberals promised to balance the budget by the end of their first mandate, but have instead gone in the opposite direction.

Trudeau said the Liberals would release a fully-costed platform later in the campaign, and that Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio — his preferred metric for measuring the health of Canada's balance sheet — would "continue to decrease every year."

The Liberals claimed their tax plan would benefit most families more than the one proposed by Scheer, who promised last week to cut the tax rate on the lowest income bracket — the one charged on income up to $47,630 — from 15 per cent to 13.75 per cent over four years.

The Liberals have said they would begin to phase out the benefit of the new credit for those making over $147,667, and that those making over $210,371 would be no better, but also nor no worse, off than before.

In a statement, the Conservative party said Trudeau "cannot be trusted to deliver for Canadians middle-class families."

The party said its proposed tax relief measures, including eliminating GST from home heating, cancelling the carbon tax and reintroducing transit and arts tax credits, would provide greater tax relief than the Liberal plan when taken together. 

Trudeau also promised to cut cellphone bills by 25 per cent. He said he would encourage companies to reduce their bills by that amount over the next two years, and if they are unable to meet that target, the Liberals would introduce further competition.

Navdeep Bains, the incumbent for Mississauga—Malton who served as Trudeau's innovation minister, said the government could achieve their aims by including them in policy directives aimed at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The NDP have also made promises around cellphone pricing, which include capping cellphone and internet services, introducing a telecom consumers' bill of rights, requiring service providers to offer basic plans and affordable unlimited data plans for cellphones, and ending caps for internet plans.

Brampton is one of the province's most diverse cities, with a large south Asian population, where some 73 per cent of the population are visible minorities, according to the last census.

In 2015, the Liberals swept all five of the area's ridings.

But on Sunday, Trudeau continued to face questions on revelations that he had appeared in brown- or blackface multiple times before he was elected. Despite repeated questions, he once again declined to say how many times he wore blackface, and whether he wore it after the most recent documented instance in 2001.

"I think there are a lot of Canadians through the past days who are reflecting on and learning more about the racist history of blackface," he said.

"That is something ... that we are all talking about and I am certainly reflecting on deeply, as we pledge ourselves as a party and as a government to move forward to continue to fight racism, discrimination and intolerance, wherever it may be found."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2019.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press