Stephen Harper is sticking to his plan to cut employment insurance premiums, a day after the Liberals rolled out their own proposal to reform the EI system.
The Conservative leader reiterated his government's budget promise to further reduce payroll deductions by reducing EI premiums to $1.49 per $100 by 2017.
Harper made the re-announcement Wednesday during a controlled question-and-period with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in Welland, Ont. All three leaders of the main federal parties spent the morning campaigning in Ontario, where the fate of the province's ailing manufacturing sector is a key issue.
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The Harper government said in this year's budget announcement it would cut EI rates from the current $1.88 per $100 committed to $1.49 in 2017.
On Tuesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said that he would also cut rates if he forms a government on Oct. 19, but only to $1.65 per $100, in order to bring in other changes to the EI regime.
According to Trudeau, the reforms would generate $2 billion more in revenue for the federal government than the Conservative plan. A significant portion of that money would be invested in other programs in conjunction with the provinces, he said.
The Tories quickly framed Trudeau's announcement as a payroll tax hike that they say would force small businesses to reduce wages and cut jobs. The criticisms echoed those the Conservatives levied at Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair for committing to expanding the Canada Pension Plan if they are elected.
"Let's be clear: both opposition parties are talking about enormous, enormous increases to payroll taxes in this country," Harper said this morning, adding that "these are not trivialities."
Harper went on to describe Trudeau as being outright hostile to the needs of small business owners. He pointed to an interview with CBC News in which the Liberal leader asserted "that a large percentage of small businesses are just ways for wealthier Canadians to save on their taxes."
"This is somebody running to be prime minister that thinks a large percentage of the small businesses are tax scams. I mean seriously, seriously," Harper said to applause from the audience.
"Small and medium-sized business is the backbone of this economy."
The Tory leader is scheduled to spend the day campaigning in southern Ontario. He will be in Kitchener, Ont., for a rally this evening.
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