50-50 Platform comparison: the policies in common
Among the taunts and insults that Canada's political parties have thrown at each other this campaign has been the allegation of idea theft.
In response to the Liberal platform released last Sunday, NDP Leader Jack Layton said the Liberals have been copying his party's policies since the Xerox machine was invented.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper also chimed in along those lines. But the Liberals aren't the only ones who can be accused of lifting ideas from another party.
In fact, there were a number of measures in the recent Conservative budget that the Liberals and NDP had been calling for and which now form the basis of the Conservative platform.
The leaders are trying their best to set their parties apart from each other. But many of their policy announcements to date sound more alike than they do different.
They can argue with each other over who stole what from whom. But, in the meantime, voters have to sort through what exactly is being promised and so here we offer a handy cheat sheet on some of the overlapping promises and what you need to know about them.
Loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses
The promises: Liberals and Conservatives have both proposed forgiving a portion of federal student loans for family doctors and nurses who commit to practising in underserved rural areas.
They are also promising to forgive the exact same amounts - up to $40,000 for doctors and up to $20,000 for nurses and nurse practitioners, a promise the Conservatives say will cost $9 million a year.
The catch: The forgiveness is capped at $40,000 when today's doctors are graduating with $150,000 in average debt, according to the Canadian Medical Association.
The NDP has a loan forgiveness policy too, but it's slightly different. They pledge to forgive the full loan, no matter the amount, for a family doctor who commits to staying in a family practice for at least 10 years; it doesn't matter where they practise, rural or urban, because the shortages are everywhere.
The edge: The Liberals go further than the Tories because they are also promising to pump $40 million over two years into rural health initiatives.
The NDP goes further still because it would commit cash to help the provinces hire 1,200 new doctors over the next decade and 6,000 nurses over six years, not just shift them from urban to rural areas. Their plan also forgives full loans, not partial amounts, for all family doctors not just ones willing to work in rural areas.
But the NDP plan comes with a much heftier price tag, which the party estimated in 2008 at $125 million over 10 years.
More cash for seniors
The promises: The Conservatives promised to help the lowest-income seniors in their budget by increasing the amount of Guaranteed Income Supplement cheques by up to $600 for a single senior and by $840 for a couple.
The investment would cost the government an extra $300 million per year.
The Liberals and NDP are promising to more than double that investment to $700 million per year, with, for the Liberals, the full amount beginning in the second year of a mandate.
The edge: Hard to say in this case, as the targets are so different. The Liberal and NDP proposals are more generous overall.
The Liberal money would go to more seniors who claim the GIS while the NDP cash is targeted to the 250,000 seniors who live below the poverty line. The amount of the top-up will depend on how far away they are from that line.
The Conservative plan would benefit 680,000 of the lowest-income seniors. But to receive the full benefit a senior's non-government pension income would have to be less than $2,000 a year.
The promises: The Liberals and the Conservatives are both promising a Volunteer Firefighters Tax Credit worth 15 per cent of a maximum $3,000 for those who perform at least 200 hours of service.
That works out to be between $350-$480 a year depending on the individual firefighter's tax bracket.
With both plans, firefighters would have to choose between getting an existing tax exemption on any honorariums they receive from their municipality or this new tax credit. They'll have to do the math to figure out which one's better for their wallet.
The edge: The Liberal version is what is called a refundable credit (unlike the Conservative one), which means volunteers can receive the full credit, provided they put in the hours, regardless of whether they have enough income to qualify for a deduction.
The promises: In the budget the Conservatives promised to spend $400 million to bring back the ecoENERGY retrofit program for one year. The program gives grants to homeowners of up to $5,000 to offset the costs of making homes more energy efficient. (The NDP was a big supporter of the program and had been calling on the government to extend it.)
The Liberals have now introduced their own version of this called the Green Renovation Tax Credit. It is worth up to $13,500 for renovations that make the home more energy efficient.
The NDP is promising help for home renovations, too, but it is aimed at families who are making room for an elderly family member.The NDP is pledging forgivable loans to cover 50 per cent of renovations up to a maximum of $35,000.
The edge: The Liberal and NDP programs are permanent, while the Conservative version is only for a year and proved so popular the last time that the government had to cut people off from applying for it.
The promises: The Conservatives promise a Family Caregiver Tax Credit, a non-refundable 15 per cent tax credit that may be claimed against a maximum $2,000 in income. It's for caregivers of someone who is likely to be dependent on them for care for "a long and continuous period" and who already qualifies for an existing tax credit.
Their plan allows caregivers to claim the enhanced amount under one of these credits.
Estimated to help 500,000 caregivers, it would provide a maximum benefit of $300 a year and would cost $40 million in its first year, $160 million after that.
The Liberals promise the Family Care Tax Benefit, which would be worth up to $1,350 tax-free per year. The new benefit is aimed at low-income and middle-income people who may not pay into Employment Insurance (because they are self-employed, retired or quit their jobs to care for a loved one) and therefore don't qualify for the government's existing compassionate care benefit.
It is estimated to help 600,000 caregivers a year at a cost of $750 million annually.
The NDP promises a new Caregiver Benefit, and like the Liberal one, it's modeled after the Child Tax Benefit to assist low and middle-income earners. It would be worth up to $1,500 per year.
The edge: The Liberal and NDP plans are more generous but they are also targeted to certain income groups. The biggest downside to the Conservative credit is that it is available only on taxable income, which means that anyone who left the workforce to care for ailing family members won't be able to claim it.
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