Analysis

Spin Cycle: Is Justin Trudeau really going to empty your wallet?

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has turned to game-show tactics in his bid for re-election. The point being, of course, is that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is going to cost you money. Is that true?

Tories say Liberal promises would cost families and businesses thousands, but what's the whole story?

Harper illustrates cost of Liberal tax changes with a family in Waterloo. 1:41

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has turned to game-show tactics in his bid for re-election.

In this final week of campaigning, Harper shared the stage with a family and then a business owner.

Each took their turn peeling bills from a stack of cash and laying them on the table as a comical "ka-ching!" sound effect filled the room. The point being, of course, that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is going to cost you money.

The spin

"The Liberals think Canadians should pay more tax," Harper now announces in his stump speech.

He then outlines a number of areas where he feels families and businesses will come out far behind under the plan of his rivals as opposed to his own.

His guests on stage pile up the cash in front of them to represent a tax break the Liberals — the Conservatives say — will eliminate.

The quick rinse

"Ryan and Nicole would lose $3,360 in annual child care," Harper said on Monday as he introduced the Ropp family at a campaign stop in Kitchener, Ont.

That amount refers to the monthly universal child care benefit payment the family receives for their three children.

It's also the amount before taxes are paid on it, so without knowing how much the family makes, it's difficult to say how much of it they are keeping at the end of the year.

The bigger problem with this claim is that the Liberals aren't proposing to "eliminate" the universal child care benefit — instead, they want to replace it with a different child care benefit.

This tax-free monthly payment is based on income and, according to the Liberal promise, would be worth more than the existing benefits for all families with income under $150,000 a year.

"Under a Liberal government, the Ropps would also lose the advantage of income splitting, which would cost them an extra $1,770 a year in taxes," Harper announced as more cash was laid out on the table.

It is true the Liberals propose to eliminate income splitting for families, which is worth up to a maximum of $2,000 in tax credits.

The Liberals point out, however, they would cut the middle income tax bracket by 1.5 percentage points — which would save every individual making between about $45,000 and $90,000 up to a maximum of $670 a year in taxes.

Trudeau says Harper attack on Liberal tax plan is "desperate" at rally in Ottawa. 1:36

Another $1,125 was laid on the table because that is, apparently, what the family gets back from claiming tax credits for children's fitness, children's arts and because Ryan is a volunteer firefighter.

Harper says Trudeau will rebalance the budget by "taking away another $6.5 billion in tax credits and deductions."

The Liberals have promised to eliminate some "boutique tax credits," especially ones they say only benefit the top one per cent of income earners.

Since the Liberals haven't said which tax credits they will cut, their opponents fill in the blanks for them. Both nature and politics abhor a vacuum.

On Tuesday, Harper introduced Dino Ari, who owns a small pizza joint in Toronto.

"Under a Liberal government, the annual amount that [a business owner] has to contribute to employment insurance for his employees would go up by about $560," Harper claimed as Dino started laying out his money.

Harper's math on this one is right, but his characterization isn't quite fair.

In the last budget, the Conservatives promised to cut EI premiums in 2017 to $1.49 per $100 of income from the current $1.88.

Trudeau has said that if elected, a Liberal government would lower the rate to $1.65. So, EI premiums won't be going "up" by that amount, they just won't go down as much as under the Conservative promise.

The difference for employers works out a maximum of $113.97 per employee making about $51,000 a year.

Harper then made a similar claim when it comes to the individual EI premiums each employee has to pay. 

The same nuance applies to them with premiums under the Liberal plan being a maximum of $81 more a year in 2017 than under the Conservative promise.

"It gets worse for Dino," Harper went on to say.

"Under the Liberal plan what Dino has to pay into [the Canada Pension Plan] for his employees would be much worse, another $3,700."

Again, the Liberals have provided a vacuum here that the Conservatives are all too pleased to fill.

The Liberals have promised to "enhance CPP," as part of an effort to make retirement more secure for more people — but they haven't provided a number.

So, the Conservatives are borrowing the number being used by the Ontario Liberal government as it moves ahead with the creation of an Ontario Registered Pension Plan.

It's proposes a 1.9 per cent contribution to the retirement scheme for both the employee and employer.

The current federal rate for the CPP is 4.95 per cent.

The final rinse

The Conservatives aren't wrong to say that if all of these tax breaks were reversed, it would cost Canadian families and businesses thousands of dollars.

However, that isn't what's actually being proposed.

The Liberals say under their plan, nine out of 10 families will be getting more than they are now. Some of the remaining 10 per cent will break even — while those making more than $200,000 will likely be paying more.

So, on that, the Conservatives are also correct in saying the Liberals are campaigning on a promise to raise taxes — just not on the same people their rivals point to.

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