Liberals offer tax cuts to businesses, hoping to offset minimum wage concerns: Fisher

Queen's Park analyst Robert Fisher weighs on in whether the tax cuts the Liberals are offering will win votes from business owners.
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered his fall economic update on Tuesday afternoon, offering tax breaks targeted at small business. (Ontario Legislative Assembly)

The fall economic statement announced tax cuts for business owners and incentives to hire young workers. Was this a campaign move for the election in June? Queen's Park analyst Rober Fisher explains.

Listen to his full interview with Rebecca Zandbergen of CBC London by clicking the play button or read an edited and abridged transcript below.

Queen's Park analyst Robert Fisher ponders if the Liberals are trying to buy the small business vote. 4:48

This tax cut was the headline item in the fall statement, of course. Was this a strategic move as we move towards the provincial election?

Having had some extra time to think about this, very strategic. We are 200-plus days away from what used to be called a consultation with the public. This has everything to do with the next election. Tax cuts for business are all about placating an important sector of the economy, a sector that's upset, and very concerned about the move to the $15 minimum wage.
In [Mr. Sousa and the Premier's] view, an increase in the minimum wage that's delayed, is an increase in the minimum wage that's denied. I think you're going to hear a lot of that line from the Liberals between now and next June.

Does it offset the concerns around minimum wage or not, these tax cuts?

Well that's the number one question. When you look at this issue, it's so critically important to them to try to get it right. Their view is that it's going to be a lot of help, and it's going to offset the impact of the minimum wage changes. Business and the Conservatives have quite a another view. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses have been saying that they welcome the tax cuts if it were not for the changes to minimum wage.

Veteran political analyst Robert Fisher delivers his insights into Ontario politics every two weeks. (CBC)

The one example they're giving is the $1000 to hire a young worker 15-29 years of age, and the $1000 to keep that worker on staff is not, in their view, going to be a deciding factor for an employer to hire somebody in the first place.
Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown is certainly talking about it still, and said if his party was in power, they would phase it in over five years. How is that message being received?

It's kind of the first real policy we've seen from the Tories. It's interesting and I think it provides a very clear compare and contrast for voters between the Tories and the Liberals. Delaying, as Brown promises, would means the minimum wage wouldn't reach $15 until 2022, so that's about the time of the next election.

Generally speaking, I think businesses out there would support a slower approach. It's not that they're opposed to increasing the wage, they just want to see it slowed down. Either way, for the Liberals right now, the number 15 is significant. The $15 minimum wage, and by the time of the next election, the 15 years in power, both I think centrepiece issues in campaign 2018.

Meanwhile we're hearing form the NDP leader that the economic statement didn't talk anything about hydro bills or more money for health care. Why weren't these areas addressed in the update? 

Because the Liberals would argue that they've already done that. They've put millions into opening new hospital beds across the province. They argue that they've cut hydro rates. Again if we're talking election strategy, it's strategic for [Andrea Horwath] to place herself front and centre on these two issues. People need more help on the hydro bills and the hospitals are overcrowded. In her view, it's an underfunding problem. So it's an attempt to draw clear differences with the Liberals as we approach that provincial election.