Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid out his government's parliamentary agenda for the fall Tuesday and quickly found himself answering questions about his own use of the country's tax laws to manage his "family fortune" in light of his proposed tax fairness agenda.
"Wealthy Canadians are encouraged to use private corporations to pay lower tax than the middle class. That's not fair, and we are going to stop it," Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.
Trudeau said his tax fairness agenda isn't suggesting that anyone is breaking the rules, just that the system is set up to benefit the wealthy and has to be changed to work for the middle class.
Asked about his personal use of the tax code to manage his family's money and other land assets, including a property in the Laurentians, Trudeau said he moved his personal finances into a blind trust when he became Liberal leader and he is confident all laws are being followed.
"I no longer have dealings with the way our family fortune is managed, and I have been open and transparent about that, and have been entirely consistent in my desire to not be perceived to be bending or breaking any rules," Trudeau said.
"Obviously, we follow all the rules, and I am assured that the folks who are managing my personal finance are following all the rules."
Trudeau's own ethics filing reveals that private corporations play a significant role in his family's financial affairs.
Trudeau owns 7664699 Canada Inc., which he has put in a blind trust during his time as prime minister but which has also been paying him dividends. His brother Alexandre also has a private corporation, 7664737 Canada Inc.
The companies are the primary and secondary shareholders in a third private corporation, 176078 Canada Inc., set up in 1995 to hold the assets of their father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
Trudeau is also the joint owner with his brother of 9190-0563 Quebec Inc., set up in 2007. The company, which lists its activities as real estate development and the production and sale of firewood, owns a property with a chalet, which once belonged to their father, in the Laurentians community of Saint-Adolphe-d'Howard north of Montreal.
Liberal MP apologizes
Asked if he ever used income sprinkling or other measures identified as advantageous for the wealthy to reduce the tax burden with respect to his now shuttered public speaking company, Trudeau said he did not.
Liberal MP Randy Boissonault, Edmonton Centre, is one of several MPs speaking out about the changes. On his website, he posted a message Tuesday apologizing for the way the tax proposals have been rolled out and promising the government was willing to listen to concerns before implementing the changes.
Trudeau brushed away suggestions, however, his caucus is in open revolt over his government's proposals to change the way some businesses and wealthy individuals incorporate to pay lower tax.
"Canadians expect their Liberal members of Parliament … to be voices for their community in Ottawa, not just Ottawa's voice in their community," he said.
"That's why we are glad to hear people's questions and concerns, because as we move forward, which we will … we will ensure we are doing it the right way so that hard-working middle class small businesses, hard-working middle class farmers, do not get penalized by a measure that is aimed at wealthy Canadians."
But that explanation did not convince Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who said the prime minister's tax fairness proposals would hurt the people Trudeau says he wants to help.
"Liberals are desperately trying to change the message on this," Scheer said. "They have been doubling down all summer and refusing to acknowledge that their measures will affect local businesses."
"I don't buy that this is going to be targeted in any way. I think that this is nothing more than a cash grab that will hurt local businesses' ability to not only retain the workers that they already have, but to create new jobs in their community," he added.
Asked about his confidence there would be continued progress on the global climate front now that U.S. President Donald Trump had pulled out of the Paris climate change deal, Trudeau said there was still hope on the horizon.
Explaining that the provinces and big cities in Canada still managed to move forward with climate change policies independent of the last Conservative government — such as closing coal-fired power plants in Ontario and imposing a provincial carbon tax in B.C. — Trudeau said similar moves were happening south of the border.
"In the conversations I've had with Americans, whether they be congressional leaders or governors or mayors across the United States or business leaders who get the opportunities that come with the challenge of climate change, I am confident that the United States is still going to be moving forward in the fight against climate change," Trudeau said, "even if there seems to be a little less participation by the current U.S. administration."
The fall agenda
Trudeau also said that despite an improving financial situation for the government and a strengthening economy he would stick to his plan to reform the tax system from one that benefits the wealthy to one that is progressive.
Trudeau said part of the reason for that growth was the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit and infrastructure spending — noting that his government committed to spending on infrastructure over the ensuing decade and that any money not spent this year would be rolled out in the coming years.
Laying out his agenda for the fall, Trudeau said his government would pursue legislative achievements on a passenger bill of rights, political fundraising, national security, cannabis legalization and his tax fairness agenda.