Inside Politics

NDP proposals to help veterans, seniors could cost millions: Tories

The government has quietly wrapped up its first -- and possibly last -- attempt to turn the tables on inquisitive opposition members by using the Order Paper to highlight the potential pricetag attached to various NDP-backed private members' proposals by costing out three seemingly Conservative -- or, at least, Conservative voter-friendly -- initiatives backed by New Democrat MPs: 

  • M-254 - Cutting passport service fees for seniors by 50 percent (Brian Masse)
  • C-270 - Providing free passports to veterans, retired Mounties and their spouses (Peter Stoffer)
  • C-243 - Allowing the spouses and partners of veterans, RCMP pensioners, retired public servants, MPs and judges to continue to collect an annual allowance or annuity after the death of the main beneficiary, even if the relationship began after they had already reached 60 years of age((also Stoffer)

According to the answer provided in the House by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird yesterday, the first two proposals would likely require the office to undertake a lengthy consultation process, as Passports Canada is, after all, a "cost recovery agency."

Given those parameters, the fees for regular adult and child passports would almost certainly have to go up to cover the lost revenue -- which, as far as the idea of providing free passports to veterans, RCMP members and their spouses, would likely be 'significant," while halving the rate paid by seniors could total $225 million over the next four years, although that number would likely vary in the future, based on demographic shifts within the population.

As for the idea of easing up the rules surrounding survivor benefits so as not to exclude later-in-life relationships, the Office of the Chief Actuary concluded that removing the marriage-after-retirement restriction would bump permanent liability costs by just over a billion dollars, and cost an additional $15 million per year in service costs.

Meanwhile, a motion from NDP MP Libby Davies urging on the government to exempt affordable housing from the GST (M-142) prompted a reminder that, for the most part, it already is, at least as far as residential rents, and cost the government approximately $1.3 billion in 2012.

If it were expanded to cover "qualifying non-profit organizations," however, which currently get refunded 50 percent of GST paid on certain expenses, or if the definition of 'affordable and non-profit housing' was expanded, it could constitute a "substantial additional fiscal cost" according to the unnamed department tasked with tallying the total.

As for Jinny Sims' plea to restore the refugee health program (M-409), the response notes that, as a result of those cuts, the government "expects to save approximately $100 million" over the next five years, which would be lost if the decision was reversed. The department also calculated the cost of reopening 19 local offices across Canada, which would work out to a "loss in savings" of $5.2 annually. (Note: I wasn't able to match this question up with any outstanding NDP private members' business.) 

 Finally, putting a price tag on Don Davies' bill to remove the GST from batteries used in medical and assistive devices (C-369) proved to be fundamentally "unfeasible," as specialized batteries are already exempt, and the cost of general-use batteries varies too widely to estimate the cost.

A quick recap: Last week, the government revealed its calculations on how much revenue would be lost if it adopted Irene Mathyssen's proposal to allow laid off workers to use their severance pay for a one-time tax-free RRSP deduction -- up to $285 million a year, depending on take-up -- but was forced to admit it had no idea what would cost to restore the now defunct Federal Apiarist position to monitor bee-keeping in Canada 

The first round of cost estimates were tabled last month, and projected that just 4 of the dozen-odd NDP bills and motions put under the microscope could result in annual revenue losses of up to half a billion dollars. 

(It's worth noting that NDP MP Francoise Pilon has challenged the government to back up those numbers, which, a spokesperson for his office informed me via email, differed dramatically from those provided by the Library of Parliament for his bid to permit up to $2,500 to be retired from an RRSP for pre-paid funeral arrangements.) 

 As yet, only NDP MPs have had their private members' business put under such scrutiny - which that party will, no doubt, take as confirmation that as far as the Conservatives are concerned, they're still the government-in-waiting.

Then again, the initial flurry of filings in March, no further costing requests have been received, which suggests that the government either ran out of willing volunteers on the back benches, or, more likely, has at least temporarily dropped the whole idea after it failed to deliver those hoped-for headlines warning of the drunken sailor-style spending sprees that would result if the Official Opposition were put in charge of the country. 

 (Of course, now that I've written the above, watch for a new series of questions to show up on tomorrow's Notice Paper, just to prove me wrong.)


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