Analysis

Justin Trudeau's plan for the middle class launches spin war

As the election clock ticks and each party stakes out its turf, spinning is a job for experts. So, when Justin Trudeau made his pitch for a middle-class tax cut, the Conservatives picked a practised spinner to respond — and quickly.

Is the Liberal plan a tax cut or tax hike? Depends where you sit

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's announcement of a plan to cut taxes and boost benefits for middle-income earners while rolling back tax-free savings account contribution limits and raising taxes on the top one per cent of taxpayers had Conservative Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre talking about the 'Trudeau tax.' (Canadian Press)

As the election clock ticks and each party stakes out its turf, spinning is a job for experts. So, when Justin Trudeau made his pitch for a middle-class tax cut, the Conservatives picked a practised spinner to respond — and quickly.

There wasn't much time. Trudeau finished his speech less than an hour before the daily House of Commons question period. It wasn't obvious how the Tories would meet the challenge. After all, how is a tax-cutting party supposed to trash a tax cut?

As we all wondered, one columnist — the National Post's Michael den Tandt — raced to Twitter to get a jump on how the Conservatives might hit back. He didn't think it would be easy.

Clearly, this called for a professional, not a pundit.

The Conservative war room called for Pierre Poilievre, and came up with the answer in a flash. The minister of employment immediately appeared in the House with his talking points so perfectly prepared that he recited them repeatedly, word for word, throughout question period.

Forget trashing the tax cut. Poilievre's idea was this: call it a tax hike. 

Now you see why he's in the cabinet and Den Tandt's writing columns.

Again and again, Poilievre insisted Trudeau's tax cut — reducing the rate on incomes between $44,701 and $89,401 by one-and-a-half points — was actually a "Liberal tax hike" and a "Trudeau tax" because ... the Liberal leader also pledged to scrap the expanded tax-free savings accounts offered by the Conservatives.

Here's how the line went: "The Liberal leader announced today that he'll raise taxes on people earning less than $60,000 a year. Most of the people who've maxed out their tax-free savings account earn less than $60,000 a year. The Liberal leader admitted he would raise their taxes. Mr. Speaker, he would replace our family tax cut with a Liberal family tax hike."

Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre says a Liberal plan to boost child benefits while redrawing tax brackets and canceling an increase in the TFSA contribution limits would increase taxes for those earning less than $60,000. 1:28

Gather round, ye pundits, and observe the skill in this approach. Poilievre did not waste his time on what is, clearly, a real Liberal tax hike proposed by Trudeau: increasing the rate for those making more than $200,000 a year to 33 per cent from 29 per cent.

No, that wasn't the tax hike Poilievre was talking about. There's no point in complaining about a tax on the rich when lots of folks like taxing the rich.

Instead, the minister weeps for hard-working stiffs with modest incomes because they will lose the chance offered by the Tories to save tax on the income from the savings which … OK, most of them don't have. That's why they don't "max out" their tax free savings accounts now — even before the Tory pledge to raise the limit.

But let's not get bogged down in the details. We're talking politics here, not punditry. So Poilievre kept pointing us over here, at the tax-free savings accounts, and not over there, at the tax cut. His tweet said it all:

And, while he had us all pondering the infamous "Trudeau tax," he never mentioned that — when not preying upon struggling Canadians everywhere — Trudeau would cut the tax rate for those of modest incomes to 20.5 per cent from 22 per cent. And he'd also enrich child care benefits. So, if you forget all that, sure, it's a "Trudeau tax."

And, the Conservatives, unlike columnists, don't have to come up with something new every time. So be prepared to hear about the "Trudeau tax" again. And again.

About the Author

Terry Milewski

Terry Milewski worked in 50 countries during 38 years with the CBC. He was the CBC's first Middle East Bureau Chief, spent eight years in Washington during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations and was based in Vancouver for 14 years before returning to Ottawa as senior correspondent.

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